The Hidden Fireplace

#flashfiction inspired by yesterday’s Daily Prompt on the website of J C Cauthon
[1404 words]

“Oh Jon, it’s perfect” Maddie had positively cooed as she raced out of the car and up to the rose-trimmed entranceway to the cottage. “Hurry up” she’d called back to him “we don’t want to risk losing it. We need to get in there and let loose with the full charm offensive.” Jon knew there was no point in expressing caution, Maddie was in love and unless there was something actually wrong with the place, this was going to be their new home.

Six crazy weeks later, they were back. The cottage was now empty, the elderly couple had moved into the assisted living development they’d been telling Maddie they’d agreed to, only because it made their only daughter feel better. Still, Maddie had clearly charmed them – the old lady in particular – as they’d spent ages looking over the cottage together. The Estate Agent had told Jon she was determined it would be Maddie and no-one else who’d be allowed to buy her home.

The movers didn’t take long. Jon and Maddie had only brought the barest minimum with them. Their old flat had been very modern and Maddie wanted only pretty or old furniture here. She was even planning to replace their kingsize bed with something old-fashioned. Jon was doing his best to keep her enthusiasm in check but knew that she was the homemaker, not him. Still, he’d been surprised when he came home one Friday night to an evening meal comprising of all his favourites: a salad of crayfish and prawns, a big T-bone steak cooked on the rare side just as he liked it, with gorgeous french fries and a side salad, and finally a melting hot chocolate pudding with big dollops of clotted cream. She’d even opened a bottle of his favourite Fleurie – Maddie was planning something.

“I’ve got brilliant news darling” she’d said putting a cup of coffee in front of him. Jon had checked her waistline doubtfully – she’d been drinking after all. “No, not that silly. Not yet. Nothing’s ready.” Maddie continued after picking up her own coffee cup “no, I’ve been given a sort of sabbatical to do up the cottage in preparation.”

As usual, Maddie had everything beautifully planned out. She’d been tucking away a bigger chunk of her salary than Jon realised into savings. She’d put in her half into the “new home” fund but had been putting extra aside for what she’d called her “baby fund”. They’d spoken about this, so Jon wasn’t entirely surprised. After all Maddie wasn’t the sort to scrimp on a new baby and he known she’d want only the best, but he was very surprised to discover that she’d saved quite that much. Apparently, she’d always intended to spend some time doing up their home in anticipation of the happy event.

Four weeks later, Jon kissed Maddie at the door as he headed to the office. Rather than her usual business attire, Maddie looked cute as hell in dungerees and sneakers with her hair tied back in a kerchief. She’d told him that first order of the day was having a good clean out in some of the unused rooms. Days went by and spring arrived, and Maddie was making progress. Now there were paint splodges on her clothes and she was constantly haunting Ebay and local charity shops for what she called her “little finds”. And she was good at it. Some stuff just need a little wipe down or polish, but most needed to be given the Maddie touch.

When summer arrived, Maddie and Jon moved into the back bedroom whilst Maddie did up the front one. The weather was warm and Jon was looking forward to the two weeks when he’d be joining Maddie in working around the cottage. They slept with the windows open, no curtains, but then they were so rural there was no-one to overlook them. Till that night when Jon woke to Maddie shaking him “I can hear noises Jon. Someone’s moving around.” Despite being unable to hear anything, Jon had rapidly dressed and checked, both indoors and out. “Nothing there!” he’d mumbled, climbing back under the covers. But Maddie had woken him again, twice more, insistent that there was something, until he’d stayed awake with her till daylight. Luckily it was the final day at work before his holiday started.

But it kept happening. When the weather turned cooler, they closed the windows and that’s when it all changed. Jon woke to Maddie sat bolt upright in bed “it’s coming from the fireplace”. Puzzled Jon asked “what fireplace?” “The one that used to be there” Maddie told him, pointing at the opposite wall. “Mrs Bradley told me that all the rooms used to have fireplaces until the central heating was installed. When they got older and cleaning the fireplaces became too much work, their daughter arranged for them to be sealed up.” Jon sat up and listened “I can’t hear anything sweetheart, can you still hear it?” “No, not anymore. It’s all gone quiet”.

This happened again, and again, until Jon wondered what on earth was happening. Maddie insisted she could hear something and Jon only heard silence. She couldn’t even really describe what the sound was, simply that it was faint, but enough to wake her. “I never hear anything during the day when I’m working in the room, only after dark.” Jon went back to work, but still it continued. Jon was getting tired and work on the cottage had slowed right down, as Maddie was now sleeping during the day. Not knowing what to do, Jon decided to visit the previous owners to see what they could tell him about the work on the fireplaces.

“I’m sorry Mr Clark, but Mrs Bradley passed away not long after she and her husband moved here. But Mr Bradley would be happy to talk to you, although your request has puzzled him somewhat.” The matron sat Jon and Mr Bradley down with a cup of tea and biscuits, and left them to talk. Jon explained what had been happening and Mr Bradley looked saddened. “Are you planning on having children?” he asked. “Why yes, although I’m not sure what bearing that has on the fireplaces?” “We blocked up the fireplaces not because of the work, or the dirt, or even the central heating, but because my Dora was worried about young Bobby getting into mischief once he started walking. I persuaded Dora to stay with her sister while my brother and I did all the work, my brother being a builder you see.” Jon interrupted “no I don’t see.” “You will lad, you will” Mr Bradley insisted.

“Only thing is, Dora’s sister lived by the seaside. And there was an accident. Young Bobby slipped and fell, face-down into a small pool … he drowned. She was devastated was my Dora. All the work we’d done here for nothing.” “I still don’t see” Jon said insistently. “She was never the same afterwards. I tried to persuade her to leave, but she insisted that he spoke to her you see, young Bobby. At night-time.” Jon frowned “and you think that’s what Maddie is hearing?” “That’s what I fear. Dora wouldn’t leave here before because she didn’t want Bobby going unheard. But then she met your wife and she changed her mind. I think your wife must’ve heard him too.” “But that’s preposterous” Jon shouted.”Yes lad it is, but what other suggestion have you got?”

Furious, Jon had gone straight into town and engaged a Surveyor to check the place over. He’d asked him to engage a builder to help with the investigations if needed. He needed to get to the bottom of it. The Surveyor delivered his report in person. Jon had thought it was the country-style of customer service, that is until he saw the look on the man’s face. Having delivered his damning report in brief, the Surveyor handed over the envelope containing the full details and left. There wasn’t a fireplace left in their cottage. They’d all been ripped out and filled in, not simply sealed up.

By the time that autumn was upon them and following many a visit to mental health professionals, Jon’d had to accept that there was no fireplace, except for the one hidden deep inside Maddie’s mind. The one that was driving her quietly demented, just like it had done to Dora Bradley.

 

© Debra Carey 2017

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