Chapter One: Under a Blue Hunter Moon

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

In the late 1920’s, Jonathan Watson, eighth son of an immensely wealthy railroad tycoon, travels to Montana to find a new life. Unfortunately, the home he chooses has a tragic history.

Before there were any stories about the Eddy Street Massacre House, there was just a big, old, empty house that nobody wanted. By the early 1990’s, it had been unwanted for so long, and for so many reasons. Mostly, it was because too many people had died there. Even the most brazen and ambitious local historians could not keep track of all the people who had met a tragic end on the property, which meant that the absolute number of deaths had been an ongoing debate in official circles for a long time. But, once upon a time, there was only one death that people actually cared about.

The original owner, Dr. Oscar J. Craig, had died in the house of natural causes, and no one had ever had any reason to suspect otherwise. After all, Professor Oscar Craig, the first President of the University of Montana, was not a young man when he first began construction on his luxury dream home. It was to be the finest home of its kind in Missoula, Montana. After a decade of endless delays, constant frustrations, and terrible accidents, the bedeviling mansion was finally complete. However, poor, beleaguered Professor Craig only lived in the house for a few short years before dying.

When Dr. Craig died, everyone began to believe the house was not only haunted, but also very unlucky. Therefore, despite its size, beauty, and proud legacy, nobody was willing to take it on at any price. People with enough money to purchase and maintain the mansion were too often greeted by the sight of ghostly forms in the windows, or dark, disembodied shadows in the halls. The years wore on, word spread rapidly, and soon no honest person would consider crossing the threshold.

So, the house sat alone with only its ghosts to ruffle the tattered shades, gaze out its windows, and move time slowly towards its terminus. Years came and went, dragging on ceaselessly, and the house slowly changed. Its grand facade took on a forbiddingly grey and unlit distemper, which served to invite further corruption and sadness to inhabit the desolate corridors. In misery, the mansion became infested with drunks, thieves, and other ne’er do wells.

They were the only ones who didn’t mind sharing a room with spirits who tapped, and shrieked, moved things about, and brazenly walked about as pitchy black shadows that were visible both during the day and night. Uncaring time marched forward and, by the 1930’s, the Eddy Street mansion had been abandoned for nearly twenty years. Each of its rooms were filled with the inert, unsober bodies of homeless drunks and addicts, as well as the hopeless shells of glassy-eyed drifters, who spent their time polishing the mansion’s steps with vomit, and tearing holes in the walls looking for hidden treasure.

However, everything changed when the house was shown to Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Andrew Watson. The Watsons had never heard the whispers about a dire haunting. They were strangers to Montana, and not ones who were likely to linger about abandoned properties, taking in the foul air of oppressive tragedy. Still, there was something fascinating about the old mansion. And, certainly, they had no need to care that the place was filled to the rafters with wicked bankrupts, that it had been plundered to its cellars, robbed to its bare stilts, and was littered with all manner of foul detritus. After all, these were all problems that could be easily solved with lots of money.

Luckily, Jonathan Andrew Watson was widely regarded as the richest man present in the state at that time. And after two years of traveling, he knew that his wife, Erma Patricia, needed a settled project, and desperately so. For her, it had been a difficult transition from Manhattan to Montana’s vastly depressing wilderness, which was filled with dazzling beauty, and little else. However, Jonathan Andrew loved the sense of peace that only the high mountain vistas, which seemed to end only a scant heartbeat shy of eternity, could provide. It was something he had not found anywhere else and, once found, it was not something he was willing to let go.

Month following month, they had traveled further and further into the unwashed hinterlands of Western Montana. And, with each passing day, every barren, endless mile succeeded, Erma Patricia’s dismay grew more dense, became more crystalline in feature, so that it might be invisible and overlooked by others, but was a hard and heavy weight that she carried secretly in her heart. Where others saw raw beauty filled with possibilities, Erma Patricia could only see waves upon waves of mountain ranges irretrievably separating her from any notion of civilized life.

Day by day, her husband’s wandering feet brought them closer and closer to the edge of the map, and she despaired that Jonathan Andrew would only find happiness at the very ends of the earth. A place where skyscrapers and feather beds would be an even further gone memory, if such a thing were possible. A life of woolly discomfort lived out in largish burlap tents loomed impossibly close, and she felt powerless to escape such a wretched fate. But, Erma Patricia hesitated to share these fears with her husband.

Firstly, she had been brought up to believe it would lie ill of the proper duties of a wife. But mostly, Erma Patricia was frightened that if she shared this picture of life, this awful and lonely destiny with Jonathan Andrew that he would callously sweep aside her fears, and rush headlong to bring her quaking vision into inescapable reality. Then, her life could only continue as it had come to be, with Jonathan Andrew growing happier every day while she painted on her false smile and hid her misery. Erma Patricia knew she would do it, she would do it forever, if necessary. She believed it was her duty, but she dreaded it.

Only the fact that she loved Jonathan Andrew more than anything kept her from fleeing back to New York City on the soonest available train. Still, if there was any way to avoid a destiny lived out on the desolate edge of the known world, she was determined to find it. But, as each day passed with no fresh answers to her prayers, Erma Patricia began to accept that her best days were behind her; New York City was behind her. Only a vulgar, rustic hell awaited her at the end of their long, meandering journey. So, on yet another day, another beautiful, but cheerless day, Erma Patricia gazed out the window of their chauffeured limousine, and pretended to join in her husband’s mirth and jovial, high spirits.

Jonathan Andrew Watson, her beloved husband and the eighth son of an immensely wealthy railroad tycoon, was falling in love with Montana, she could see it. It was written all over him. The boredom that had always hung about him, the unshakable gloom that had worried her so in younger days, was gone and for that Erma Patricia was glad. Truly, she wanted him to be happy, dizzily happy, if possible. But, did it have to come at the price of a constant, inexhaustible pull towards a life she did not want? It seemed unavoidably so. Because, for all that Erma Patricia wished it, she could not want this bemountained destiny that Jonathan Andrew hungered for.

So, with despairing eyes, Erma Patricia took in another day of touring available properties. This time, it was in a town called Missoula. For Jonathan Andrew, Missoula was nothing more than another stop along the trail of their ambling westward adventure. He had no specific intention of buying anything. And for Erma Patricia, it was just another day in some mercy-forsaken town that made her wish to be anywhere else than where she was. Getting up that chilly October morning, there was no reason to think Missoula would be any different from the other dozen or so Montana towns they had visited. Beautiful, yes. They were all beautiful. Beautiful, lovely, sometimes even devastatingly so, but also completely devoid of anything that could ever replace what she had left behind.

When Erma Patricia first laid eyes upon the property at 228 Eddy Street, it made a poor impression. There were hobos on the steps, and black holes where expensive stained-glass windows had once been. Cockeyed hanging shutters, peeling paint, and a chimney missing half its bricks completed the portrait of neglect. A cold chill ran down her spine. Instantly, she hated it. The house stood impassively, stalwartly dissolving, shaken to unfragile ashes by indifference and constant misuse. Its visage seemed to invoke something unearthly, something cold and foreign.

Erma Patricia was shocked. She was unused to seeing such blatant poverty displayed before her: puddles of excrement crowded the sidewalk, crumpled piles of trash filled the yard, and empty liquor bottles still wrapped in brown paper bags littered the front porch. Erma Patricia turned her head away in disgust, nauseous at the sight. Maybe it had been beautiful once, as the bland broker who accompanied them garrulously claimed. She hated him. The man never shut up, especially about this Eddy Street property, but she didn’t even like to look at it.

However, before Erma Patricia could overrule her senses, and demand that the driver move on; she looked to Jonathan Andrew expecting his demeanor to mimic her own. Shockingly, and to her horror, he wore an expression she had never seen before. She saw a mix of stunned amazement and anxious hunger boiled down into a blanket mien of fraught desire. Most worrisome, he did not appear able take his eyes from the place. Erma Patricia spoke his name, quietly, gently. He did not hear. Then, she was forced to practically shout in the small space, which awakened him immediately.

He said nothing, just looked at her. Shocked disdain immediately flooded his handsome features, as if she were the one who had suddenly lost all sense of comportment. Then, he returned his rapt gaze to the house. The broker’s face split into an obscenely pleased smile. Erma Patricia’s first thought had been that the atrocious site ought to be condemned, but Jonathan Andrew was strangely agog, his tender mouth uncharacteristically agape. Erma Patricia was stunned and abashed and, worse, there was nothing she could do.

So, she held her silence, and her mouth in a firm line. Soon enough, they were off to a better block; but from then on, Jonathan Andrew only wanted to talk about the derelict Eddy Street mansion. Weeks passed, and Erma Patricia finally began to see the house Jonathan Andrew’s way. By then, they had gone to visit so often that she felt she might as well already live there, although they had yet to cross the threshold.

With all the no-accounts skulking about, it was far too dangerous for them to do more than look out from the safety of their limo, and speculate about what could be. After three months spent in a modest hotel, but the best Missoula had to offer, Erma Patricia finally relented, and agreed to make the mansion her new home. All in all, it wasn’t so bad, or so she told herself. The town was beautiful, if not a little barren and isolated. There were worse places and, in the last two years, she had seen far too many of them.

She decided to try to see the best in things. Besides, it was hard to deny her heart, and Jonathan Andrew was her heart. Over the course of their prolonged stay, Erma Patricia had even come to like the mansion slightly more. As she came to learn its history (for the chatty broker considered himself something of an amateur historian, and definitely an expert on the mansion), its trenchant sadness slowly began to make sense.

One night, while braiding her hair into a single long plait before bed, Erma Patricia had a flash of understanding. Perhaps, it was all meant to be. Maybe she and Jonathan Andrew were the ones who were meant to save the frightful mansion from utter ruin. It was hard to deny that it had the potential to be a large, enviable home. And, Erma Patricia knew that only a truly exceptional home could make her forget about life in New York City. There would never be anything under Montana’s broad and deep blue sky that could compete with the Manhattan she’d left behind, but if Montana was where Jonathan Andrew believed that he could be happy, then she would set the wishes of her own heart aside, and try to fill the void as best she could.

Surely, Erma Patricia convinced herself, even such a charmingly backwards hamlet in the middle of nowhere could offer something, something...It simply had to. The past couple years had been especially difficult for them. More so than any of the other places they had visited, the fact that they were not from Montana had been a particular issue. It was as if it was simply not acceptable to be from someplace as grand and far away as New York City. The few members of the haughty, but ragged mountain gentry with whom they did spend their time never saw fit to let them forget it either.

For Erma Patricia, it was frustration without end. These people didn’t even know what money and power were all about. How could they? They were pleased to orbit their lives around cattle and snow and sunsets, never dreaming, or even caring, that the world held so much more. In Erma Patricia’s mind, these mountain friends were nothing more than a bunch of moneyed peasants; dirty-handed sorts who made their paltry fortunes digging rocks from out of the earth. Meanwhile, her husband, Mr. Jonathan Andrew Watson, was one of the heirs to the P & W Railroad fortune, while she herself also came from a very good and wealthy family.

Still, she knew that they needed friends in order to settle down and build a real life. And, if all there was to choose from was a bunch of jumped-up, gold-mining paupers, then so be it. Erma Patricia knew that she still needed to make a good impression and try to fit in, for Jonathan Andrew’s sake, if nothing else. Perhaps, she thought, restoring such an important piece of Missoula’s history could turn things around. Montanans might not like transplants, but with the right investment of time and money, certainly the steel-jawed, mountain aristocracy would come around. After all, there was not much in the world that money could not buy.

As she began to accept the plans as reality, Erma Patricia’s mind swirled with images of what she could do for the house, and how beautiful it could be. Fancy dinner parties and holiday gatherings danced in her head. She smiled, imagining how impressed her new mountain homestead friends would be. She could show them what having real money meant. Perhaps, and she found herself smiling at the idea, it would not be so bad after all. Erma Patricia prided herself on being a good wife and, as the best of wives, she would learn to love the restored mansion, and their new life in it.

She resolved to write to her friends in New York City, and send them invitations for a new adventure. Surely, they would turn up out of curiosity, if nothing else. It was plumb boring in Montana, but she’d neglect to mention that. Perhaps, they’d be too distracted by the beautiful scenery to notice. Her mind whirled, and a stubborn determination set in.

Eventually, she would find ways to fill the mansion’s grim hallways with laughter and mirth. She would decorate it with the most expensive furnishings that could be brought in by mail-order. And, of course, she would bring her own special dash of unabashed aplomb to the unloved manse. Yes, they would be happy. Or, as happy as clams taken out of the sand could ever be, Erma Patricia told herself.

Before signing the papers, Erma Patricia and Jonathan Andrew never thought to ask questions beyond what they had already been told. Questions were for lawyers, as was paperwork. Unfortunately, the Watson’s lawyers never thought to ask about hauntings or ghosts. Dubiously, the close-lipped sons and grandsons of the old-time Copper Kings, their supposed friends, also never bothered to mention that the mansion was haunted. However, the mountain gentry all found it to be a great jest, and laughed heartily in private, taking bets as to how long Erma Patricia and Jonathan Andrew would last. It was much the same with the Missoula City official who gleefully came calling to collect their cash, and hand over the keys to their new life.

Once Jonathan Andrew felt that he and Erma Patricia were in accord (for he did suspect what was in her heart, even though he would not condescend to say so), he had not hesitated to plunk down the cash to buy the Eddy Street mansion. He hurried to do it, as if he were competing against a dozen other motivated buyers, instead of being the only interested party, ever. He did not bother to negotiate. Such behavior was beneath him, or so he had been brought up to believe. The price was the price, and Jonathan Andrew counted himself lucky to hand over what amounted to a lifetime’s wages for a house that no one wanted. A house most people in town would not live in, even if they were paid a king’s ransom to do so.

For a brief moment in time, it appeared that the old mansion had escaped its own tragic and inimitable destiny. For that moment, 228 Eddy Street might not have become known as a filthy and disreputable needle mill and later, the site of a terrible killing spree. Suddenly, and without notice, the resources with which to manifest a happy ending had appeared. But, it was not going to be easy. First, there was a great deal of work to be done. The restoration process was going to be long and arduous. Not only did all of the resident hobos, beggars, and drunks have to be removed, but the house would have to be stripped back to chaste lumber in order to be re-built better and grander than ever.

The Watsons were not about to spend all that time in a smallish hotel room, even if it was the best in town. Once the mansion was purchased, Erma Patricia insisted that they head back to New York for a while. Jonathan Andrew was too pleased to not relent, even though he hated all the hustle and bustle, the endless social obligations, and worst of all, time spent with his overbearing father and seven brothers. They were the ones who ran the business, invested the enormous earnings, and fed their ever-growing, green-eyed empire, the P & W R.R. Co.

His father and brothers were titans of industry, but Jonathan Andrew never had a mind for business. He had been born a poet and artist; just a quiet, brown-eyed, artistic soul. In a room full of wolves, he was the sheep. ‘Useless’ was the term his father and brothers used most often, whether or not he was in the room. Only his mother seemed able to love him in spite of his gentle nature, his bashful inadequacies. And, when she died, he had no more reason to stay in New York City.

Enduring all of his family problems again was too much for Jonathan Andrew to even think of handling. After a few weeks in New York, he proposed the one thing that could tempt his beloved wife away from everything the city had to offer. After all, Jonathan Andrew knew his wife well enough to know that she would not turn down a year-long cruise around the world on a luxury liner. And, in this, he was not disappointed. Within a week, Mr. and Mrs. Watson were packed and on their way.

Back in Missoula, work on the Eddy Street mansion had begun, and continued at a breakneck pace. However, none of the ghostly problems that plagued the original construction site had abated, even if the passing of years had dimmed their memory. The site was still haunted by strange accidents, pernicious sightings, and bizarre turns of bad luck, just as it had been before. Some of these stories drifted to Erma Patricia and Jonathan Andrew, but such troubles were more than a world away, and therefore easily cast off. It was just too hard to focus on bad news when they were touring India’s sun-kissed coastline, sunning themselves along the French Riviera, or deep-sea fishing in Alaska’s cold, blue-green waters.

Besides, they figured, delays and problems were only natural for such a large project. Workers who quit, died, or fell ill were quickly replaced, and the work continued on unabated. Mostly, the Watsons heard facts and figures, projections and postponements. Not accidentally, the stories they did not hear were the supernatural ones from the people who worked the site. The foreman, Henry Cook, a no-nonsense bear of a man, was not about to jeopardize the heftiest paycheck of his career by passing on a bunch of superstitious nonsense to the rich, new owners.

It was not that he had no reason to believe what his people said. He worked the longest hours, and had seen and heard as much or more than anyone else. Sometimes, the cold fear he encountered at the site kept him up until the wee hours. It would not be until he saw the sun break the horizon that he felt comforted enough to sleep. And, by then, it would be time to return to work. But, no matter, a job was a job, and the money he was making at 228 Eddy Street would support his family for years to come. If the rich Watsons were foolish enough to live in a house everyone knew was haunted, then that was their business, or so supposed the tough foreman.

Then, after three years of extended travel, three years of delays and setbacks that they never saw or felt, word came that the house was complete. Finally, it was time for them to move in. Later that same year, Erma Patricia and Jonathan Andrew Watson moved themselves and their gargantuan mounds of luggage into the newly redone mansion. From that day forward, and for several decades thereafter, the Watsons seemed to live the happiest of lives. They loved each other, their children, and their fine, beautiful home. Over the years, their family expanded to include seven children.

Eventually, Erma Patricia and Jonathan Andrew became pillars of the community. They supported the arts, and were seated members of various important boards. They also financed many charitable efforts to support those in need in their adopted community. Their children also grew to be models of success. With the backing of their parents, they pursued good marriages; as well as careers in education, business, and the military.

On the outside, life for the Watsons seemed as perfect as life for anyone could be. Money, family, health, happiness, and success were the hallmarks of the Watson family. Not one of the family members could have wished for anything more, which is why what happened next utterly confounded everyone in the town. On the night of a rare blue hunter moon, in late October, almost thirty years after they moved in, Mr. and Mrs. Watson left 228 Eddy Street, and Missoula, Montana, forever.

Very early on the morning of the hunter moon, Erma Patricia and Jonathan Andrew Watson were seen leaving the mansion. It was an especially early hour, even for Erma Patricia and Jonathan Andrew, who were known as the neighborhood early birds. The sound of a puttering yellow cab had awakened their sleepy neighbors who had watched the proceedings with tired, befuddled interest.

The cab approached the curb, and left its incandescent lights on as the Watsons approached, each with only one hastily-packed suitcase in hand. Without looking back, they loaded their suitcases in the trunk, climbed into the back of the cab, and left. The taillights of the cab were the last anyone ever saw of them. Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Andrew Watson never again returned letters or calls from their old friends and neighbors back in Missoula.

Word eventually came that they had simply vanished into their old world of wealth and privilege back East. And, that was the last anyone knew of them. After some time passed, it was discovered that their latest limousine had been left behind. It had sat untouched in the old garage, gathering cobwebs, until it was secretly hauled out by one of their grandchildren, and sold to a collector. Before that fateful morning of the blue hunter moon, no one had ever seen the Watsons go anywhere without their latest limousine and driver. And, certainly, no one could remember ever seeing them in anything as pedestrian as a bumblebee yellow cab.

All anyone knew for sure is that the Watsons were gone, gone to New York City. If not for their grown children, no one would have ever known what became of them. Several of their grown children decided to stay in Montana, but none of them ever lived in the house again. The 228 Eddy Street mansion simply became another piece of property in the Watson family’s vast holdings.