The October Curse – Open Heart Story
By Cynthia Lee De Boer
The sun was rising behind the mountain range illuminating its form and lighting the sky a fiery red while dark gray heavy clouds warned of a coming storm. A single tree, barren of leaves stood ominously in the foreground as if picked from the set of a horror movie. The only thing lacking was the eerie music that often accompanied such scenes. This was the view from my tiny hotel room. I opened the door, briefcase in hand just as a strong gust of wind whipped through my open coat and hair causing every fiber of my being to stand on guard. The freezing chill of autumn reached deep into my bones touching my very soul.
Many people may have viewed this as a beautiful fall sunrise ripe with possibility of the coming rain feeding mother earth, but the harsh cold reminded me of death, and I wondered what lurked in the shadows of that gnarled tree and this creepy town. I hated this time of year, the end of summer, the biting cold, the harsh winds, the short days followed by the dreadfully long nights. The darkness just never seemed to end. And now the plea from a frightened young woman brought me to this gloomy town.
As a detective, I was always involved in untangling the lies from the truth but lately every job concerned an unexplained death. Over worked police took what appeared on the surface to be fact and never spent any time digging for the real truth. The fact that I solved cases already closed made me very unpopular with the authorities. My achievements also brought me a lot of fame and assured my clients that I would find the answers they hoped for. This case was no exception as I was faced the infamous October curse.
Every October a member of the Augusta family would die in what seemed to be an accident always under suspicious circumstances. Four years in a row beginning with young Albert’s death on October 20. His parents died in a previous car crash on the same stretch of highway several years earlier. This left him in the care of his mother’s sister, Aunt Sue and Uncle Hank. At only nineteen years of age Albert died when his car crashed through a guard rail, burst into flames and plummeted over a thousand feet into the sea. Uncle Hank’s statement that he rounded the bend just as Albert’s car crashed through the railing didn’t ring true for Katherine. She never trusted her cheating uncle and since there were no other witnesses, his stood as truth. On top of that, Albert’s body was never recovered. Katherine buried her brother’s empty coffin next to her parent’s graves.
On October 10th of the next year Grandpa Edmund ended up at the base of the staircase. The downstairs maid Terry raced towards his screams for help but there wasn’t a thing she could do. She arrived at the landing just as his body hit the floor for the last time. He was still strapped in his wheelchair, the wheels were spinning and his neck was broken. Strangely he held tight a murder mystery book opened to a page dealing with a character that died in the same manner. The memories of his terrified screams, his broken body and those spinning wheels haunted Terry. She quit within days of this so-called accident. No one else was said to have been home but the brake on the chair was in perfect working order. Someone must have pushed him down the stairs, but who? And why kill an old man?
October 18th of year three claimed Aunt Sue’s life. Some said the fact that she was an avid knitter made her death quite fitting. She too, suffered a fall down the staircase but this time she didn’t make a sound as she fell and her body wasn’t discovered until the noon meal was to be served. The coroner estimated her time of death to be approximately 9:00 am. One of her knitting needles was sticking out of her chest. It had punctured her heart and was the definitely the cause of death. Even though Sue’s knitting was strewn around her body the coroner ruled her death as suspicious because he believed it was highly unlikely that the needle would have entered her body during a fall. The fact that no scream was heard was a clear indication that she was most likely dead before falling down the stairs. Once again, a member of the house staff found the body. This time it was the cook Marie and she was said to be the only other person at home. The police quickly dismissed her as a suspect and soon after she too left the mansion along with her husband, the chauffer. This left Clay the groundskeeper and Lana the upstairs maid to handle all the duties of the mansion. The family’s attempts to hire new staff were unsuccessful. No one wanted to work for a cursed family.
Last year claimed Cousin Brian on October 22nd. Brian was Aunt Sue and Uncle Hank’s son and Ruth’s older brother. He was an amateur painter, full time drunk and womanizer. His good looks came from both sides of the family but unfortunately he didn’t inherit any of aunt Sue’s sweet qualities. He was a carbon copy of his father, taking advantage when and however he could. The family fortune enabled him to keep up the pretense of being a successful artist and important contributor to society. The fact was he never accomplished much of anything except the ability to empty expensive bottles of brandy faster than anyone else in his small town.
Brian’s charred body was found in the ashes of the tiny cottage he used as his studio and love nest. The fire department estimated that the fire engulfed the studio within minutes around 2:00 am. The coroner surmised that Brian passed out drunk with a cigarette in his hand, which started the fire. The fire quickly turned into an uncontrollable inferno due to all the painting supplies. The center beam of the roof had collapsed on top of Brian crushing his head but the coroner was sure smoke inhalation was the cause of death long before the beam fell. The fire went unnoticed due to its location and the direction of the wind that night. The studio was over a mile from the main house and the wind was blowing away from the mansion and into the uninhabited pine forest behind the cottage. Brian often stayed overnight at his studio so no one went to look for him until he missed afternoon drinks. It was his sister Ruth that discovered the burnt rubble and called the fire department. While the firemen sifted through the charred ashes Ruth called every one of Brian’s hangouts in hopes that he’d made it out alive and was somewhere sleeping off another drunk. Ruth was just finishing her last call when the firemen discovered Brian’s body. She never accepted the smoking cigarette theory because that was the one vise her brother didn’t have. He hated the smell of them and said they ruined the taste of his precious brandy. There was no doubt in her mind—her brother was murdered!
Only three members of the Augusta family remained. They included Katherine, Albert’s younger sister, Uncle Hank and Cousin Ruth. Katherine and Albert had always been close and became practically inseparable after the death of their parents. Understandably, she was devastated by her brother’s death and never believed it was an accident. Albert was an excellent driver and always took special care on the stretch of rode that claimed his parents’ lives.
Uncle Hank seemed to be the handsome simple-minded bumbler. Katherine believed it was all an act because in her words, “The old fox is constantly watching everything and everyone. He always manages to win favor in some rich divorced or widowed woman’s eyes.” To say that Katherine didn’t trust her uncle was an understatement.
Hank was Aunt Sue’s husband and even though he wasn’t a blood relative the estate would always provide for him. This was one reason his wife’s death didn’t bother him. He even chuckled when the knitting needle was found to be the cause of her death. He hated her constant knitting and made no bones about it. Everyone knew he hadn’t shared a bed with Sue since she found him in the arms of another woman decades earlier. Her faith prevented her from divorcing her wayward husband but decided she would never allow him to touch her again. This was when knitting became her love. Katherine and even her daughter Ruth felt sorry for her but couldn’t do anything to change her mind about divorce.
Cousin Ruth was the late Cousin Brian’s sister. She was a gentle soul who constantly made excuses for his drinking and raved about his art to anyone who would listen. In truth, she was the true artist of the family. Ruth was an amazing designer and seamstress. The elite of society sought her out for her beautiful gowns and unusual costumes. Each creation brought Ruth a new challenge, a huge amount of money and created a large backlog of orders. Ruth’s talent made her a wealthy woman and she didn’t want, need, or take anything from the family. She would donate any automatic funds from the estate to her favorite children’s charities in the family’s name, never taking credit for the donations. She was younger than her brother Brian but became his guardian, always watching out for him and cleaning up any trouble he got himself into. After Brian’s death, she had even more time to devote to Katherine. Ruth was fifteen years older than Katherine and happily took on a motherly role.
The person responsible for the October Curse seemed an easy choice; everything pointed to Uncle Hank. He hated his father in law Grandpa Edmund because he saw through Hank’s act and never wanted his daughter to marry him. Brian’s negative qualities were magnified by Albert’s goodness infuriating Edmund. There was no secret how he felt about his wife and her demise garnered more attention for this now poor widower. Brian’s death was the one that didn’t quite fit. Why would he kill the son he loved so much? Perhaps Brian found out that his father was responsible for the accidents and threatened to tell all. Perhaps, being his father’s son, he was blackmailing his father. After all Brian would have jumped at such an opportunity, ripe with endless possibilities. And finally every death increased Uncle Hank’s wealth. He was a prime suspect but I knew there was more to learn. Katherine was my client but I couldn’t even get her to open up about the dark stranger seen either before or after every death. Who was it, what was his connection and why was everyone in the family scared to discuss his existence? ……………..