I pull the veil over the face of Sarah Lockwood Pardee. The next time I raise it, it will reveal Sarah Winchester.
Around me, a hive of energy. Mother fusses over something, I don’t know what. I’m staring at my reflection, swathed in meringues of white.
Was ever a girl so lucky as I?
Beyond the age of attracting a suitable husband, or so many thought. Yet here I am, about to marry William Wirt Winchester, heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. A good man who comes with a fortune which will provide for me, my children, my children’s children, until the end of time.
I plan on thirteen, to fill the house we’ll buy together. When I told William, his cheeks flushed pink petals. I explained thirteen is my lucky number, he didn’t laugh the way most do. He simply tucked my hand in his elbow, and whispered that we’d best get on with it then.
Mother twitches with impatience, holds my bouquet out.
“Time to get married.”
I pluck one peony out so there are the perfect thirteen.
Thirty-eight years of bustle has somehow never managed to fill the lonely void. Winchester House crawls with people, but none believe in the curse of my inheritance. They smile, they indulge my whims, but they don’t hear the whispers of the ghosts which won’t settle.
The curse took my husband.
My little Annie, only a few weeks old.
The other twelve before they even came.
A builder asks if I’m sure of the number of panes in the newest window. Yes. Always thirteen. Bathrooms, staircases, chandelier candles. The constant fortification of thirteen is all that prevents me from sinking under the weight of grief—not for my family, which is a grief I can shoulder with other widows and bereft mothers. But the other grief, over lives which weren’t taken by God, but something more sinister.
I do not know what it would be like to sleep without a lullaby of hammers. I don’t want to. I’m afraid of hearing the voices my family’s livelihood silenced.
The true inheritance of the Winchester rifle.