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I know not really why I came to Belle Haven, Virginia, or how I became so utterly involved in the narrative of a certain Eliot Bennet. Even before my first initiation into the small town life on the eastern coast, I had little comprehension of how drastic my change from New York City would be when transferring for a summer project in the south. First and foremost, I accepted the challenge of this delegation for the summer months in hopes of creating some distance betwixt myself and certain members of other parties I would much prefer to leave unspecified. Nonetheless, I worried how my transfer might seem to my wife, Michelle, and our four small children. Some distance might be beneficial, I assured myself, and today I am quite thankful for that singular decision. It seems all like a daze now: the flight, the paperwork, the phone calls. I remembered promising my sons that I would return, swearing to myself that for once I would vow to remember my own promises.
Still, I was rather surprised to find myself standing alone in the small Belle Haven airport with a briefcase in one hand and a duffle bag in the other. A rather tall blonde woman walked over to me, wearing blue jeans a green tank top.
“Hey there!” she said with a friendly smile. “Are you Mr. Carter?”
I nodded and assured her that I was.
“It’s wonderful to meet you!” she said, shaking my hand. “My name is Paige Bennet. I’m Eliot’s sister. Thank you so much for coming out on such short notice.”
After a brief discourse on how my flight had been, she took me over to a red truck and gestured for me to climb inside, whence she drove me to a large white southern mansion with thick columns lining the veranda. My mouth gaping at the manor before me, I clambered out of the car with my luggage and slowly followed Paige inside the house. She continued giving me the inside story on life in Belle Haven and how it was the talk of the town that the local schools had installed their first computers.
Eventually, I began to avert my attention from the lady to the house and I listened as we climbed the front steps and entered into the foyer. In front of me was a large staircase, carpeted with a crimson runner, which opened upward towards on the left and the right to higher floors. A golden cornice lined the edge of the walls in the hallway, which parted into a parlor on the left and a sitting room on the right. The finest furniture I had ever seen were set up against the walls and were decorated with rare antique china or magnificent gold candelabras that sparkled in the dim lighting. I had never before seen anything that came remotely close to matching this place’s beauty and splendor.
Blinking, I followed Paige up the stairs, reminding myself to take careful note of everything she said.
“...don’t know why. He was always normal and down to earth. He was the smartest of the bunch—of him, Jesse and me. Whenever there were parties and things, he wouldn’t want to go. He’d stay home to read and other strange things like that. The only one who liked him was Mom, but she died back when we were little. I think I was only four, so I don’t really remember her. But he’d talk about her all the time.”
Just then, a shiver ran down my spine as I heard a ghostly, almost inhumanely groan from upstairs. In spite of myself, I stopped short on the landing and stared upward from where the sound had come. When Paige noticed that I had stopped walking, she hurriedly gestured for me to follow her again.
“What was that?” I asked, hoping my voice didn’t sound as nervous as I felt. This was definitely a different sort of case than the kinds I was accustomed to.
“Eliot,” Paige said with a sigh, pulling her blonde hair behind her ear. “He’s the one I was telling you about.”
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked a little hesitantly.
“Didn’t you listen?” she scolded softly, continuing up the stairs again with her back to me. “I just told you. He’s changed somehow. But we don’t really know. One day, he was absolutely fine and normal. He’s a teacher at the local school and everything. He was engaged to my friend Alyssa and they were going to be getting married this Christmas. But one day, he seemed to have forgotten everything. He was insistent on getting back to somewhere he thinks has been, though he has not been out of Belle Haven in years. He refuses now to have anything to do with poor Alyssa and has just about broken her heart...but he also seems to have forgotten how to work such things as a cell phone or computer and not even his books will console him.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat.
“What are you wanting me to do?” I asked, my voice cracking.
“I want you to help him,” Paige said simply. She had stopped at the top of the stairs in front of a door and now reached out her hand to knock on it. With her hand in the air, she paused and looked towards me for a minute. “And I want you to figure out what’s happened,” she whispered so softly that I could scarcely hear her. Before I could respond, she had opened the door and stepped inside.
It was there that I saw a complete ruin of a man, if such could even be called a man anymore. There was a sense of careless power in his gaze, one of frenzied agony and scornful hatred and I happened to be the object of his stares. As I walked into the room after Paige, I felt the surreal feeling that I was digging myself into a pit, one which I could not surmount. He sat across from me, hunched over in a chair with a mad look on his face of bitter apprehension.
He spoke not an intelligible word, but just murmured nonsense to himself. From his broad hands there hung a simple strand of pearls and cameo vignette, the sort of which women used to wear as ornaments.
“What is that he’s holding?” I asked, pointing to the pendent.
“We don’t know,” replied Paige. “But he refuses to let it go.”
It was on this day that my summer in Belle Haven began. Piece by piece I learnt this tale from the inhabitants of the town and I began to sew together some formulation of what actually occurred to turn such a prestigious man as Professor Eliot Bennet into the man I met that day. My formulations based solely on the evidence forthwith and the speculations of the townsfolk are included hereafter. The true tale, my dear, is up for you to decide. I wish you the best of luck.
Dr. James P. Carter, P.I.