One of my fondest and clearest childhood memories is of sitting on one of the many wraparound porches so popular in the South, eating watermelon, listening to the grownups debating various topics. On such lazy summer afternoons, a favorite question often bantered back and forth was which came first? Was Charm House named after an original family whose surname was Charm, that then resulted in the family modeling the house to match its new name, or was it such an attractive house that this most appropriate name just naturally arose to any who saw it? Not that many people ever saw it. Charm House sat on a dirt road off the main thoroughfare of Foster Flat, if the small town could be accused of having such a thoroughfare.
No, Charm House sits at the end of a long, ever-narrowing, almost unnoticeable road. One would think the two large stone pillars on either side of the road’s entrance would stand out more, thus making the entrance to Charm House more observable as well, but they’ve been covered by a thick growth of English Ivy for so long that few people even know they exist. But every once in a while, a small sign appeared on the side of the road:
In its day, Charm House had been one of the most well respected and popular boarding houses in Western North Carolina. Even though it had always been off the beaten track, word-of-mouth spread, so it was rarely vacant. Then, the War of Northern Aggression had broken out at Fort Sumter, and the isolated location of Charm House proved to be an advantage. Even the large stone pillars that marked the entrance to Charm House camouflaged themselves under a veil of ivy, and the lone sign was removed. Many years later, that very same sign would appear on rare occasions for a few days at a time. The local residents would awaken to see the sign next to one of the pillars. They’d shake their heads knowingly and make sure their loved ones knew to stay away. A few days later, the sign would be gone, and the same residents would breathe a sigh of relief.
Such was the case on a muggy summer afternoon as Sebastian Haverstock drove his ’65 Ford truck along US 25 approaching Foster Flat. It was a day of regret for Sebastian. He regretted deciding to grow a beard after returning from his second tour of duty in Viet Nam. He regretted even more not taking the time to fix the air conditioning in his truck, ignoring the advice that “it’s a lot hotter down there” from the few people who knew of his plan to travel south.
But he was on a mission to find the truth of a rumor that had haunted his family for over four generations, and hopefully, in so doing, lay the groundwork to build a new life for himself.
At the moment, he was more aware of the heat and the constant ache in his right knee, where a sizable piece of shrapnel still resided. This chronic pain was topped by the stabbing pain between his shoulder and neck, as though someone had taken the bayonet from his duffle bag and planted it in his back. He also regretted not stopping at that gas station over fifty miles back, but he was determined to make it to Foster Flat before calling it a day. Then he saw the sign:
Bed & Breakfast
He knew B&B’s tended to be more expensive than Motel 6’s and the like, and making a habit of staying at them would deplete his minuscule savings. That would jeopardize his mission before completing its objective. But he also realized he’d not seen anything resembling an economy hotel in the last two hundred miles.
Besides, he’d been good so far in pinching pennies. He deserved at least one night with a decent meal and a comfortable bed, not to mention the warm feeling of home that came over him as he read the sign. As he turned onto the narrow graveled road between the two hidden pillars, the feeling of coming home grew. Strange, he thought. I’ve never lived in the south or anywhere remotely like this place. Still, the feeling grew stronger as he pulled to a stop next to the most aptly named house he’d ever seen. Everything about it reeked of charm, from the steep Victorian style roof to the emerald green shutters along each window, to the light yellow paint that looked to be in need of a touch up if not a full new coat. Probably more expensive than I can afford, he thought, as he contemplated turning around.
The thought evaporated as the front door opened and out stepped the most exotically beautiful woman he’d ever seen, dressed to match the same period as the house itself. She reminded him of Vivien Leigh’s portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, complete with the flaming auburn hair cascading in ringlets down to her shoulders and the dark emerald dress that matched her eyes.
It felt like he’d stepped back in time to his great-great-great grandfather’s era, which, considering his mission, made this the perfect place to launch his investigation. As he lumbered from the truck, stretching his aching back and shoulders and gingerly flexing his knee, the sign on the side of the road slowly faded into oblivion.
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