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Rhody Radio episode transcription has been been made possible by the American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.


A Very Scary Christmas Special with FUFT with Liz

You are listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.

Today’s episode contains some salty language, and is probably best suited to our grown-up Rhody Radioheads.

[Intro music - “The Demons Dance on Christmas”]

Hello, my name is Liz Gotauco. By day I’m the Children’s Services librarian at the Cumberland Public Library, where I share sweet stories with area kiddos. But as soon as I clock out of work, I’m a storyteller for adults, sharing saucy, weird, and sorta f*cked up fairy tales and folktales. Today I’ve put together a seasonal offering for those who like their Christmas stories dark and macabre. Perhaps you resent the swift changeover from Halloween to Christmas. Perhaps you long for the Victorian days of old when we sat around the fire sharing ghost stories. Or maybe you just need a little variety from whatever Hallmark has been regurgitating this year. Whoever you are, put aside your merry, for today we’re having a Scary Christmas.

[music - another slice of “Demons”]

It seems that in the new-ish millenia, dark holiday traditions have been having a heyday in American culture, especially the violent companions and alternatives to Santa Claus figures. I’d argue that David Sedaris opened that door in his 2004 story collection Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim with a deep dive into Amsterdam’s Sinterklaas and his politically incorrect henchmen. Eight years later, Dwight Schrute introduced primetime audiences to the switch-wielding, fur-clad Bels[h]nickel, a character of German folklore who tosses sweets to kids but flagellates them if they’re too eager. More recently, the Alpine beast Krampus, another scary assistant notable for his uncomfortably long tongue, has seen a revival in his native region as well as memeification in the US! But of course they aren’t the only Christmas Boogeymen. Let’s check out who else we should be wary of this season.

[“Coventry Carol” transition]

Frau Pertcha is one of a bunch of Germanic winter goddesses who were celebrated in the Pagan tradition and eventually assimilated into Christmas culture. Like the aforementioned scary Santa sidekicks, Pertcha visits to make sure everyone is behaving themselves during the twelve days of Christmas. Pertcha isn’t satisfied to just beat on naughty children, though! If you incur her disapproval, she’ll cut you open, take out your guts, and stuff you with straw and stones instead. Now, Perschta isn’t all evil. Like many gods and goddesses, she has two very different sides to her personality. She can be as benevolent as she is malevolent. She’s considered a guardian of children, as she had a very maternal persona when she wasn’t turning you into a human scarecrow. She also had a goose foot and a dress made of feathers, so some folklorists believe she may be a predecessor of Mother Goose. This puts a whole new spin on storytime rhymes. Little boy blue, Come blow your horn, The sheep's in the meadow, The cow's in the corn. But where is the boy Who looks after the sheep? Frau Perchta disemboweled him while he was asleep.

[“Coventry Carol” transition]

Iceland is home to an entire family of deadly Yuletide disciplinarians, collectively known as “The Yule Lads.” Gryla is the family matriarch, a humongous ogress who has an insatiable appetite for naughty children. Children are the main ingredient of most of her meals, but her favorite method is to cook them into a big stew. Sometimes she’ll show up at your parents’ door, begging for a child to spare, so you definitely need to stay on your parents' good side. Other times, she skips the middle man and hunts for kids directly. Now Gryla doesn’t work alone: she has thirteen adult offspring, the aforementioned “Yule Lads.” These guys are not very scary - they’re hungry pranksters at heart.

But the family pet, a giant black feline called The Yule Cat, is more Gryla’s likeness: he is out for blood. The Yule Cat prowls the city and peeps into your windows to make sure you received new clothes for Christmas! If he doesn’t see new clothes on display in your room, he eats you up. It’s hard to say what the Yule Cat’s motivation is here. Is he a classist jerk, devouring poor children whose parents couldn’t spare a penny for a new sweater? Or does he just want to make sure you appreciate the clothes your family provided for you? The latter seems more likely, as you can sometimes appease the Yule Cat by artfully showcasing clothes you already own. He’s like a monstrous feline Tim Gunn or RuPaul. You better make it work, b*tch!

[“Coventry Carol” transition]

The Christmas bogeyman who truly deserves a horror franchise, however, is Hans Trapp. Hans Trapp scares children in the French region of Alsace-Lorraine. His persona was inspired by a real person, who sounds like he was a bit of a chore, but not nearly as monstrous as his legend makes him out to be. The real guy was a knight named Hans von Trotha who lived in the 15th century. Trotha was awarded a bit of property, formerly owned by a local abbot. The abbot disputed this, having some prejudiced feelings against Trotha. In exchange for their poor opinion of him, Trotha dammed up a local river, leaving the abbot’s monastery cut off from the water supply. When the abbot demanded they get access to this very vital resource back, Trotha destroyed the dam so that the river flooded the abbot’s lands. The local clergy was so angered by this, they managed to get their domestic dispute seen by the Pope himself. Trotha continued antagonizing everyone involved, and eventually the pope excommunicated him.

It seems, though, that pissing off the Pope has even stranger consequences, for over the years, Hans von Trotha became known as Hans Trapp, a much darker figure of legend. No longer was he simply a knight and a dicey neighbor; he was a hulking sinner who made a pact with the devil himself! Folks told tales that he dressed as a scarecrow, swindled and mugged local travelers and peasants, and murdered small children. Worst of all, he had a taste for human flesh. One story sees an unlucky shepherd boy fatally cross paths with Trapp, and the man decides the child would make a delicious roast! As punishment for this crime, God strikes Hans dead with a bolt of lightning right to the noggin. In some legends, Hans is made to travel around with St Nicholas in penance, ensuring kids behave themselves on Christmas. This is probably not the community service I’d pick out for a murderous cannibal but God is merciful, I guess?

[“Coventry Carol” transition]

The idea that Santa Claus hangs tight with cannibals doesn’t always match the jolly, grandfatherly figure we have been raised on in the US. That being said, recent popular media has been experimenting with less squeaky clean versions of Kris Kringle. Kurt Russell portrayed a very slick, if fat-phobic version of the man in “The Christmas Chronicles,” J.K. Simmons voiced the intimidating, reluctant toymaker in the animated 2019 film Klaus, and one of our most recent silver-screen Santas, played by Stranger Things’ David Harbour, viciously slays a bunch of bounty hunters in Violent Night. So it seems we have come full circle to some of the early stories of St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas, unsurprisingly, is the patron saint of children, but he also claims brewers, sailors, pawnbrokers, repentant thieves, and most shockingly, SINGLE PEOPLE among those he protects. (I personally find this shocking as a long time single person, because we never get shout-outs in these old stories!) But before he got reframed into a chimney-hopping, rosy-cheeked roly-poly gent, St. Nick was saving unmarried women from prostitution, punching heretics right in the face, and rerouting waves during hurricanes to save endangered ships. But his most grisly legend is the perfect inspiration for a Violent Night Sequel, if you’re listening, Mr. Harbour. It’s the story of St. Nick and the Evil Butcher.

[music - “A Christmas Tale”]

Once, long ago, three little boys found themselves out and about way past dark, lost and hungry. They knocked on the door of a butcher’s shop. The owner answered, let the boys in, and offered to fill their bellies. But then, the butcher killed the boys, dismembered them, and hid their remains in a salting barrel.

Seven years passed, and no one had heard hide nor hair from these three boys. As far as we know, they were the butcher’s only victims. At least, they were the only important ones according to this story. For one night, St. Nicholas himself knocked at the butcher’s door in a rage. “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, HO HO HO!” he cried, or something like that, and waved his hands over the salting barrels. He appealed to God, praying that the children would rise up alive again! Thus, the boys were resurrected, thankfully in one piece!

This is the type of legend where I wish we got a few more details. For example, why the hell did St. Nick wait so long to avenge these boys? Were the kids resurrected at the age they died? If so, what did their families think when the boys were found again, seemingly frozen in time? Did the boys keep the memory of that terrible night, or did God do them the solid of wiping the trauma from their minds? Did they smell like cured meat for the rest of their lives? We don’t get answers to these questions. But in some regions, we do find out a little more about the butcher’s fate, for occasionally the butcher ends up being Hans Trapp himself! Get outta here, Star Wars Extended Universe, I’m all about the Santa Claus Extended Universe now!

[Music - “A Christmas Tale”]

Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, people sometimes skipped the cozy, feel-good Christmas lore to enjoy depressing tearjerkers and terrifying ghost stories. Anyone who has read Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Little Match Girl" or the work of M.R. James is well aware of this. (Side-note: Hans Christian Andersen would have f*cking loved “The Christmas Shoes.”) One of these sad and spooky tales from days gone by is “The Mistletoe Bough.'' a 19th-century horror story that I am obsessed with. Originally, it was published as a short poem by Samuel Rogers titled “Ginevra” but it has been retold many times from there. A folk ballad written by T.H. Baily and Sir Henry Bishop in the 1830s really pushed the story into popularity. Henry James wrote a gleefully gothic twist on the tale, as did Susan Wallace. Alfred Hitchcock references the tale in his film Rope, and more recently, Alvin Schwartz and author Kate Mosse both retold it splendidly in their respective spooky story collections.

Of these many versions, the tale mostly follows the same path and is set in the same era (but for Henry James’s sensational twist, which you really do have to read). So I have written my own adaptation, in a modern setting with modern motivations in mind. And by “modern” I mean “1990s,” because I’m an elder millennial and 90s nostalgia is hot right now. This is my own take on Ginevra’s tragic story, “The Secrets of the Old Oak Chest.”

[music - “Our Love is here to Stay”]

“The Secrets of the Old Oak Chest” An adaptation of “The Legend of the Mistletoe Bough” by Liz Gotauco. December 2023.

Jennifer Baron - no, wait, it was Jennifer Lovell now - boy, that would take some getting used to - took her first deep breath in at least twelve hours. The day had been a whirlwind, as most wedding days are, even weddings without the distinction of uniting two of Norfolk’s wealthiest families. Actually, Jennifer thought to herself, that might be the first breath I’ve taken in a full year and a half. For there were many times over the course of her engagement that she wasn’t entirely sure she or her family would actually make it to the big day without killing each other.

The Barons and the Lovells had been pillars of Massachusetts society as long as anyone could remember. It was rather shocking to consider that the two families hadn’t united their wealth through marital union sooner - if you weren’t privy to local politics. Historical feuds between the titans had fueled town gossip for decades. Mostly instigated by land disputes, business fall-outs, and petty social snafus, the one drama the families had never indulged the town in was a classic star-crossed lovers scandal. So when Henry and Laura Baron’s only daughter and Alfred and Elsa Lovell’s younger son Sam hit it off at a Christmas mixer in New Haven, all eyes became firmly glued to their every move, from that first public makeout sesh awkwardly scored to the strains of Ace of Base, to tonight, the most high stakes wedding Jennifer’s social circle had ever dreamed.

Jennifer had known Sam Lovell as long as she could remember. Any family-friendly event her parents trotted her off to was sure to see the Lovells and their own tikes in attendance too. But they ere always seated at separate kids tables, and any playtime stolen together felt a little fraught. It wasn’t until they’d spent some years away at boarding school that Jennifer had reflected on the embarrassing history of the Baron/Lovell feuds and her own desire to be free of that mantle. So she regarded Sam in a different way by the time the two got a moment alone together at his frat’s holiday kegger. If their open hearts were aided by her spiked cider and his Olde English, the sentiment had stuck well past the hangovers.

Jennifer smiled across the room at Sam as she finished up their signature cocktail, her second or third - a Christmas punch nodding to the very cider she’d been drinking at their first rendezvous (albeit in crystal rather than Solo cup). Jennifer handed the empty glass off to a server, deciding between that and the champagne, she’d hit her limit. Then she spied her mother and Sam’s mother headed toward her, bickering once again over who would take home the centerpieces. Suddenly the bride was back at the bar. The wedding coordinator, a level-headed Southie broad named Susan, met her there. “Have you eaten yet?” she asked.

“I already told you, the brunch was fantastic,” Jennifer replied airily.

Susan eyed her sternly, providing the maternal attitude Jennifer’s own mother severely lacked. “You have to eat some dinner.”

“When would I have time?” Jennifer retorted. “Even the few moments I’ve had to sit down at the table have been taken up by my guests’ over-eager desire to see Sam and I suck face.” If she never heard the chime of fork to glass again, it would be too soon.

Susan smirked, before leaning down to tug the dropped waist of Jennifer’s Monique Lhuillier gown, repositioning its large bow. “Well, that’s your fault for decorating your chairs with mistletoe.” She slid her eyes shrewdly to the punch Jennifer was draining. “Maybe that’s your last one? At least before you get some of that overpriced chicken down your gullet.”

Jennifer gasped in mock surprise. “I KNEW they up-charged us on that plate!”

The beeping of Susan’s utilitarian watch alarm interrupted their camaraderie. “Bouquet time!” Back in planner mode, she smoothed the bride’s dusky curls under their pearl-encrusted circlet with practiced fingers, straightening the tear-dropped pearl between the bride’s perfectly plucked brows. Lastly, she gave the girl’s shoulders a quick squeeze before leaning in to whisper, “But then you’re off the hook for the rest of the night.”

The cluster of peonies and eucalyptus arced through air towards the grabby hands of the single gals. Sam’s sister Jamie reached up with a triumphant whoop, fingers brushing berries off the branches, while cousin Kate managed to sink one hand voraciously into the once artful piece. The two ladies began shoving at each other, and Sam appeared, mercifully tucking his new wife’s arm in his to lead her away.

“The dance floor is the closest thing we get to being alone for another ninety minutes, so let’s take advantage,” he murmured, laughing as Jennifer stumbled tipsily. “Are you gonna make it?”

“Just Weekend at Bernies me if I pass out.” Jennifer kicked off her navy slingback pumps, then slumped her head on Sam’s shoulder, wishing once again everyone else would melt away into an atmospheric December mist. Alas, they were already being interrupted by great-aunt Rosie and her disposable Kodak. Jennifer smiled for the camera, but hissed in Sam’s ear through gritted teeth. “Let’s run away together immediately.”

The camera flashed, and Sam swung her around with a slick spin. “We’ll be doing that in less than twelve hours. Goodbye mama bears, hello Jamaica.” He reliably played Mr. Sensible to her dramatics as usual.

“Yes, but we’re expected to come back from that eventually.” Jennifer pointed out. She spied her Grandpa Arty and Sam’s grandfather Lloyd standing shoulder to shoulder, smoking cigars in stoic, manly silence. Earlier in the night, they’d had some kind of pissing contest over giving the newlyweds extra cash for said Jamaican honeymoon. She sighed, and ran a hand through Sam’s blonde locks for comfort. “Do you ever wonder if maybe we made a mistake?” she mused, only half-joking. “That combining our two horrible families will magnify their horribleness into a giant monster blob of horror?”

Sam kept it light. “Well, I for one always thought Mothra and Godzilla should just commit already and unleash baby Mothzilla on the world.”

“I know,” Jennifer reminded him. “You already made me read that weird section of your diary.”

“First off, it wasn't a diary, it was a literary exercise,” Sam asserted. “And secondly, I shared that with you in confidence. That night was a very important step forward in our relationship, and I don’t appreciate you judging it.”

Jennifer threw her head back to squint at her husband with bleary affection. “I would never judge you. Not even for asking me to dress up as Sexy Dr. Ruth and teach you all about my—”

“Ooookay!” Sam interrupted, beet red. He kissed her at length, to stop the words, and also just because. “This is a family event!”

Jennifer smiled sincerely and snuggled back into him. “Mothzilla would be a cute baby name!”

The string quartet, her mother’s pick, finished up an old Berlin carol. Then the band surprised the crowd, bride included, when the violinist, almost as if on cue, began plucking out the intro to Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants is Another Baby.” Jennifer gaped, and Sam grinned. “You know I wouldn’t let the night go by without ‘our song,’” he laughed, giving her a squeeze.

Their dance was over too soon, and a godfather or a weird uncle or someone was tapping her shoulder to cut in. “It’s not too late to run…” she whispered ominously.

Sam held the unwanted guest off with a raised hand and touched his forehead to Jennifer’s. “How about I distract this guy, and you go get some air?”

Gratefully, Jennifer pulled away and blew a kiss, quickly stealing behind the nearest pipe-and-drape to whatever lay behind. She ended up in the kitchen, and quickly crossed through in embarrassment, waving away offers of assistance. Once she closed the door behind her, she found herself in the Lovell’s dining room, awash in a glow from one of Mother Lovell’s twelve Christmas trees.

The Barons had fiercely taken on the tradition of paying for the wedding, but the Lovells had managed to assert some control by cornering them into hosting the wedding at their estate, the Bramshill House. Initially, Sam and Jennifer had pitched hosting a small event at the cafe of their first official date. But her mother had nearly fainted, and Sam’s had laughed the idea off caustically. The couple bartered their parents down from hotels and resorts with a five-year waiting period to one of their family houses. “Home for the Holidays, right?” Jennifer had weakly suggested, and the sentiment touched both families enough to agree to an “intimate” Christmas wedding for two hundred people.

As the exhausted bride ran her manicured hands down the sparkling ornaments of the dining room tree (decorated in a pear and partridge theme), it occurred to her that Sam had never given her a full tour of Bramshill House. If she took a little stroll now, she could avoid the overheated party for a while, with good faith that Sam would come looking for her if she lingered too long.

So that’s what she did. From the dining room with its yellow valances and Hepplewhite chairs she found the oval parlor, where glass icicle ornaments splashed rainbows on the high white wainscotting. She meandered through the recently updated library with its jewel-colored Nutcracker tree to the children’s rec room, which had been preserved for future Lovell grandchildren. It boasted a full arcade and the only tree that Mrs. Lovell allowed to look a little homespun with handmade ornaments.

Jennifer soon got bored of the downstairs, which she was vaguely familiar with anyway, and took to the more private rooms on the second floor. She spent some time poking around Sam’s childhood room in hopes of finding an embarrassing memento, but it was Jamie’s girly bedroom and its walls still plastered with magazine cutouts of Andrew McCarthy and headbanded Corey Feldmen that really made her cackle. Next to that, the master bedroom door was cracked open. Did she dare step foot into the matriarch’s lovenest?

Speak of the devil and she will appear. Her mother-in-law’s voice could be heard calling. Quickly, Jennifer hitched up her gown and jogged down the twisting and turning hallway, as far as she could go. She laughed to herself, reaching her hand out to the door of what appeared to be an office. She pushed through and didn’t stop until she’d opened a rustic door on the opposite wall, revealing a musty staircase.

Oh, stop! Not a mysterious old attic! she thought, squealing quietly to herself. She glanced over her shoulder, then stepped inside gingerly, closing the door behind her. She’d always loved exploring old New England attics, ever since devouring those Nancy Drew hardbacks from her childhood bookshelf. What kind of skeletons do the Lovells keep up here?

When she reached the top of the flight, Jennifer groped the wall for a light switch, and then spied the silhouette of a hanging cord. Her fingers fumbled around the string, but when she pulled, the lightbulb rattled with no spark. No matter - her eyes were adjusting, thanks to the moonlit windows, revealing the undisturbed blanket of snow they’d been blessed with the day before. She stopped at one, admiring the peaceful scene. Turning away, she ran right into a curvaceous figure, and screamed.

The figure didn’t react, and Jennifer realized it was an old dress form. “OK, OK, maybe exploring a century-old house drunk and alone was a bad idea,” she murmured to any judgemental ghosts. The solitary, muted air of the Bramshill House attic suddenly made her very self-aware. Her feet throbbed, her vision was hazy, and she was feeling a little weak with no wedding dinner to bolster her. She scanned the room for a chair, or a chair-like blob. Seeing an old settee in the corner, she rushed toward it, then yowled when her knees bumped against an enormous, hard box. Cursing, she bent down and placed her hands on the offending block.

Jennifer giggled as her fingers alighted on a solid, engraved wooden chest. Could this trip to the attic be any more cliche? She knelt, no longer

self-conscious about the state of her gown, poking and prodding the heavy latch at the lid’s center. She blew a raspberry in disappointment when it didn’t budge. Sitting back on her heels, she imagined what her old crone of an in-law might keep in such a trunk. Prohibition-era hootch? Letters and documents proving the illegitimate heirs to the Lovell fortune? Poached animal hides shamefully hidden, lest the more progressive elites judge the elders’ secret penchant for trophy hunting? She had a sudden surge of determination and grasped the latch with both hands. She twisted and turned and – pop! Those hours of weight-lifting for perfectly bare bridal biceps had paid off! The latch sprung, and Jennifer eagerly pushed the lid fully open.

Nothing. Well, not nothing. Some old linens lining the bottom. But the weight of the trunk just seemed to be its own heft. What a crock. Why the hell did the Lovells have a trunk this big if nothing interesting was inside it? Hell, she could fit her entire body in there, layers of silk taffeta and all. Jennifer was amused at that thought, and climbed inside. It took a little work, but she did it, the underskirts of her gown shimmied up under her head. That must be it, she thought to herself. My husband’s ancestors were old robber barons, and this trunk once shepherded the bodies of competitors off the property.

Now that she’d settled herself inside the trunk properly, she was surprised at how comfortable she was. She imagined a sales pitch to Monique Lhuillier herself: Give your wedding gown a second life, as your most comfortable couch cushion. Gain a husband, and turn your dress into your husband-pillow! Lean into its glamorous comfort with your mate and recall that perfect moment of your wedding when you finally shoved everyone else out the door, and did your best to consummate your union despite “The Electric Slide” being stuck in your head on a loop.

The faintest strains of the strings could be heard even at the tippy top of the enormous house, and Jennifer had to admit that the band was doing a lovely job. She should go back down for one more dance, not to mention a huge tip for the jazzy Swedish pop cover. In just another minute, she assured herself with a soft smile. Her gaze drifted over the gabled ceiling hazily, eyelids growing heavy. Now that I know this place is here, maybe it will become mine and Sam’s secret getaway spot for future family festivities, she thought to herself as she nodded off, rolling onto her side so wearily, she didn’t even notice the trunk lid lurch closed on top of her as the party roared on.

[Music: “Grey Cuckoo”]

Since Jenny had left his side, Sam had been tossed from relative to relative for endless queries about when they’d have a baby, goodnights from the oldest relatives and those with children, and one too many ball-and-chain-jokes from his groomsmen. It was a full hour before he realized that Jenny was still taking a break from the party. He flagged Susan down and asked after his wife. The planner assured him she’d track the bride down so he could keep enjoying himself. Still, he tapped his foot more out of anxiety than to the music. He scanned the crowd, trying to engage at appropriate places in a conversation about a recent historical win by the Bruins, or something. He caught sight of Jenny’s “something blue” pumps, which someone had placed carefully on a chair after they’d been left on the dance floor. He half-hazardly hoped that wherever she was, her feet weren’t cold.

Jenny and Sam had found each other when they were mutually reveling in the escape college was providing from their overbearing families. Tonight wasn’t the first time she’d confided her desire to disappear and make a life of her own. But Sam had always held hope that he could crack the code to a happy family life with his folks. So as they’d grown closer, Jennifer opened her heart to exploring how the Barons and Lovells might make their way in the world together. The two made a solemn vow to hold one another steady through the tougher parts. Since then, it had become unbearable to weather a storm of Lovells without her by his side. So where had she gone now, when the Barons and Lovells were at their most Baron-and-Lovellest?

He cut off his brother Tom, who was waxing on about his own Aspen honeymoon, when he saw Susan crossing the ballroom, shrugging her shoulders at him. She weaved her way through the lingering dancers. “I can’t find her nearby. Some of the staff saw her in the kitchen awhile ago. You have a huge home. Do you think she’s hiding? Or maybe got cornered by a wandering guest during her break?”

“You’re probably right,” Sam agreed, and waved the groomsmen over. He sent the boys on a quick tour of the downstairs and the house perimeter, then a more thorough tour when that search proved fruitless. By now, the guests had realized something was amiss. Sam himself decided to join the search, and the disappearance of the bridal party was very glaring. So Susan took charge, handing out wedding favors and ushering the guests out the door, declaring the newlyweds couldn’t wait any longer to keep their hands off each other. But it was long past midnight when the bridal party, the parents, and the anxious groom were back in the ballroom with endless questions and no Jenny.

"Do you think it’s a prank?” Kate asked wryly. “Did you check the closets and the wardrobes–”

Mrs. Lovell laughed. “Yes, Jenny seems like just the bride to play hide-and-seek on her wedding night.” The statement was not a compliment.

“Are we sure we checked everywhere?” Sam asked, his voice hitched. “She was a little sauced tonight. She could have tripped outside or gone back to the guest house and fallen asleep…” His eyes darted doubtfully to Jenny’s shoes again.

Tom shook his head. “Katie and the girls checked there, and Ma checked the gazebo and the pool. Dad and I even went up to the attic with a big old flashlight. There’s no sign of her.”

Mrs. Baron scoffed. “This never would have happened if we’d had booked The Langham!”

His mother-in-law’s tone infuriated Sam, but he could see her bravado was covering up tears in the corners of her eyes. He stepped to her side and took her free hand, the other enclosed in her husband’s. “Let’s do another round,” Sam said, noting how his family rubbed their temples and groaned. “I’m sorry, is the mysterious disappearance of my wife offending you?”

"We have looked everywhere!” Tom protested. There was a long, heavy silence before he spoke again, with some reluctance. “Maybe she bailed.”

“How dare you suggest such a thing!” Mrs. Baron snapped, while her husband responded with much nastier words. But Sam’s father had grunted in agreement.

Mrs. Baron flashed a glare at his dad. “Well? What the hell is that supposed to mean, Alfred?”

Mr. Lovell tried to shrug his way out of it. He responded gingerly, for Sam’s sake. “She just seemed pretty miserable tonight, that’s all.”

“Who wouldn’t be?” Sam scoffed defensively. “We rarely got a moment to enjoy our night! This event has been about everyone but us. But she wouldn’t leave!” He looked around at his family, who weren’t giving him a lot of support at this moment.

Kate finally spoke up again. “I’m pretty sure I saw her purse back at the guest house. If she left, she didn’t take anything with her.”

“She wouldn’t leave!” Sam insisted again.

Mr. Baron threw his hands up. “That’s it, I'm calling Chief Hardy.”

“Well, make sure he’s discreet,” Mrs. Lovell badgered.

“Ma!” Sam snapped. Thankfully, his father was showing the Barons to the nearest telephone.

Despite the hectic day and the heartrending search, it would be a sleepless night for both families. By morning, the grounds and the neighborhood had been combed several times over. No sign of Jenny had turned up. Missing notices were posted, and guests were questioned. Jenny’s belongings were undisturbed, the biggest indicator that she hadn’t set foot off of the Lovell’s estate. But as days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months, with no trace of the young woman, people had to assume that Samuel Lovell’s bride had left him high and dry.

[Music: “Grey Cuckoo”]

“Hand me that dust rag,” Jamie called over her shoulder, wiping a bit of grime off her forehead with her sleeve. “I don’t think a single thing up here has been touched since the Kennedy administration.”

The Lovell siblings had gathered for the fourth or fifth time in the last couple of months since their father had passed. They were in the middle of estate law hell. Everyone even minutely related to them had demanded an extensive combing of Alfred Lovell’s will. The court proceedings had become so tedious, and the in-family bickering so obnoxious, that Jamie had organized a thorough inventory of Bramshill House as well as Alfred’s other holdings, to ensure nothing of value was carried off by a second-cousin who couldn’t even remember their father’s name.

Sam tossed a disposable duster from his perch at the window. He was only here as a favor to Jamie, who was in the middle of a custody battle and seemed to need the drama of the inheritance to distract her from the drama of her divorce. This house held nothing of interest to him, so his own stakes were very low.

Since Jenny disappeared twelve years earlier, his initial dreams of a heartwarming future with the Lovells had vanished too. He sought to put as much space between himself and his family as possible. He found work across the country, trading in New England winters for the temperance of Orange County sunshine. He hadn’t married again, though some form of love had grounded him here and there. He only returned home for occasional holidays and family events if they were held at the Nantucket house or the lodge in Colorado. Very occasionally, he wanted to check in with the Barons, but there was no hope for any reconciliation between the two families after that terrible night. It took putting Jamie’s needs first to step over the threshold of Bramshill. He had dreaded it, but found himself mostly numb to the experience. Not pleasantly so, but at least he didn’t fall apart. And the family had respectfully avoided bringing up the last time they’d all gathered together under this same roof.

Jamie was clearing boxes of thickened dust in disgust. Sam saw her gag as a spider web caught her cashmere, and had to laugh a little. “I don’t think this foraging is going to result in the lost treasure you’re hoping for, sis.”

Tom was in the corner, poking around the furniture to see if there was extra storage space in the eaves. He caught sight of the wire dress form and steered it over, his hands encircling its tiny waist. “No treasure, but I think I found my third wife,” he joked, cozying up to the headless mannequin.

His sister rolled her eyes and tore open the box, ruffling through yellowed paperwork. “Well, hell if I’m letting Katie get her hands on Great-Grandma’s rumored silver spoon collection,” she huffed. “Ugh, it smells awful up here. Did one of you bring up the toolbox?”

“Yes.” Sam leaned over to grab the rusty antique. Why did his family even have a toolbox? No one did their own handiwork at this place. But he rifled around inside and found a wrench. “You ready to attack this trunk?”

He joined Jamie and knelt to deal with the latch, but the thing was caked in mold and dust. Jamie pulled a fresh duster head out of the box and didn’t even bother attaching it to the handle. She just began wiping the sides of the oak trunk’s metalwork. She stopped abruptly. “That’s weird.”

Tom turned his head, and Sam crossed to his sister, both intrigued by Jamie’s surprised tone. “What is it?” But he saw the answer before the question finished exiting his lips. A small bundle of silk taffeta and tulle were poking out on one side of the trunk from beneath the lid. It was covered in dust like most of the attic’s contents. But the startlingly white folds betrayed the lack of age compared to the curtains and linens that littered the rest of the attic.

Sam felt a wave of nausea as a lost childhood memory stirred in his brain. An epic game of hide and seek, when age six, he’d crept off to the attic and hidden in this same linen trunk as a kid, only to get stuck. Tom and his cousins heard his terrified cries and pounding and had released him. Some years later, Punky Brewster aired their iconic episode when Cherie had almost lost her life, getting stuck in a broken fridge during their own game. The family laughed when sensitive tween Sam had started bawling from some unexpected PTSD. Sam’s eyes caught Tom’s, and he could tell they were remembering the same thing.

“Open the goddamned trunk,” he ordered hoarsely.

Tom grabbed a drill and Sam a screwdriver, and the three siblings began dismantling the lid. When the last hinge dropped, they hesitated for a moment. Then Jamie and Tom took charge, hoisting the corners of the lid between them to remove it entirely.

They dropped it with a thud at Sam’s cry. Tom reached for his brother, whose knees had buckled. Jamie’s hands flew to her face. “Oh my god. Oh no, oh no, no, no, Sam…!”

Nestled in stained white tulle and silk, the delicate bones of Jennifer Baron stared up at them. Her russet curls cushioned her smiling skull, the teardrop pearl of her bridal circlet hanging limply over her forehead. She could have been a relic of days when Bramshill House was first built, right down to the Victorian oak coffin.

Sam reached out to touch her hair delicately. His watery gaze meandered down to the gold and diamond bands sparkling against Jenny’s fragile fingers.

“I told you she’d never leave.”

[transition music]

Time to lighten the mood! Thanks for listening today! And thanks to Dave Bartos for encouraging me to join in the fun of local librarian podcasting. If you enjoyed the tales I told today, you may enjoy following me on social media, where I host F*cked Up Fairy Tales, a comedic storytelling series of the world’s most silly, sensational, and sadistic folk and fairy tales. You can find me almost anywhere online as @Cosbrarian. That’s C O S B R A R I A N.

Rhody Radio is proud to be a resident partner of the Rhode Island Center for the Book and brought to you by library staff and community members all around the Ocean State.

This episode was made possible in part by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities seeds, supports, and strengthens public history, cultural heritage, civic education, and community engagement by and for all Rhode Islanders.

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Thanks again, and Crappy Holidays! Sorry, I meant happy… HAPPY Holidays!

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