Sarah sat in a high-backed chair, eating her breakfast and looking out over the constant construction being done on her house. A large window allowed her to see all the way down to the ground from her seat seven stories above. A light knocking took her attention away from the men who looked like ants working below.
“I’ve brought the architect to see you, mistress,” said Elizabeth, one of her loyal servants.
With a wave of her hand, Sarah signaled for him to be allowed in.
“Good Morning, Mrs. Winchester,” the architect, Mr. Johnson, greeted her. “I’ve got the plans laid out for the next eight rooms you wanted built on the front of the house.”
He placed a thick cylinder of rolled up papers down on the table for her to unroll and look at. She did so, clucking her tongue every so often in displeasure. She called Elizabeth back in, and ordered the servant to bring her a pen and ink. Mr. Johnson sat silently as she drew over his plans, completely still. He never complained when she did this; usually she added more rooms or staircases, which meant longer hours and more pay for him and his men.
After fifteen minutes, she handed the papers back to him, silently, continuing to eat her breakfast. Mr. Johnson looked over her revisions, his brow furrowing slightly.
“Mrs. Winchester…did you intend for this staircase to lead to nowhere?”
She stopped, mid-bite, and looked up at him.
“It will confuse the spirits,” she said seriously. “Build me thirteen staircases on each floor which lead to nowhere but the ceiling. See to it that you install a few doors which don’t open up into rooms, only walls. I want thirteen panes in all the windows, just as you have done on every other part of the house. And I want no arguments or funny talk. I pay you to build, not to advise me.” Mr. Johnson blanched slightly, and inclined his head as he left the room.
Sarah regretted having been sharp with the man, as he was actually quite good at his work. But the judgment she’d seen in his eyes had upset her.
He did not believe in spirits. Or curses, for that matter. He did not believe that a curse hung over Sarah Winchester, as the wife of the man, Oliver Winchester, who invented the Winchester Rifle. She had all the money in the world, and yet could bear no healthy children. The death of their one and only daughter, Annie, had marked the beginning of the curse. Now her beloved Oliver was dead from tuberculosis. How he had suffered towards the end!
After Oliver’s death, she had sought out a spiritualist to help her in her grief. But the spiritualist had told her she was haunted by the spirits of all those who had been killed by a Winchester Rifle. Sarah had seen hokey women in turbans with rings through their noses and bracelets half-way up their arms speak of curses; but this woman was nothing like those women. She had been prim and proper, more like Sarah than some fortune-teller gypsy. Her eyes were dark and serious, and she said everything matter-of-factly.
“But … what can I do?” Sarah had asked the dark-eyed woman, frantically.
“You must build a house for them to live in,” said the woman. “They will haunt you always. You must never stop construction, or this will anger them greatly.”
Sarah had taken this advice with a grain of salt. She decided that, if she were only haunted by spirits she couldn’t see, then she would not take on constructing a never-to-be-finished house. But that night, she had met her first spirit.
The room had gone cold. She’d asked Elizabeth to fetch her robe, and as the servant left, a man with a bloody jacket had crossed through her bedroom. She’d stifled a scream as he turned to look at her; his eyes were only white, and held no color. His form was a dusky blue-gray, and she knew at once he was a ghost. As he disappeared through her wall, she heard whispers for the first time. Moans. Soft chortling.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up just remembering it all.
“Elizabeth,” she called. Elizabeth appeared a moment later. “I’d like to take my coffee in the living room.”
“Which one, mistress?” Elizabeth asked, hesitantly.
The absurdity of the question struck Sarah as incredibly amusing. “Whichever one is easiest, dear heart!”
As Elizabeth left, she watched out the window once more. She imagined what people would write and say about her in the years to come. They’d call her mad, superstitious, and gullible. History would not be kind to her.
Then again, people were never overly kind to begin with.
She took her coffee in the living room, sipping while reading a magazine.