Copyright 2013 Jessica Reece
Published by Jessica Reece at Shakespir
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Stepping off of the ferry, I was instantly overcome by the salty tang of Puget Sound behind me and the earthy crispness of the line of evergreen trees ahead. A queer feeling of homesickness had been shadowing me all day, but now that I was so close to coming home, I was suddenly feeling anxious. It had been so many years since I’d been back, and it had just gotten harder and harder to visit as more time passed.
I stopped at the service window to purchase a bus ticket that would take me from Bremerton to Belfair. A crooked smile crossed my face as I recalled the horror on my friends’ faces when I explained that I wasn’t taking my car with me to the Cottage. The smile quickly faded as I invariably thought of why I no longer had any interest in driving. There were nights that I still woke abruptly, the sounds of screeching metal and crunching glass echoing from the depths of my nightmare.
Shaking my head, I turned back to the ticket booth attendant, and realized with some irritation that he still hadn’t printed my bus pass. Just as I was about to tap the window to get his attention, some high school kids, voices loud and boisterous, passed behind me. I couldn’t stop the brief stab of envy for their oblivious laughter and light-hearted antics. Once again, my thoughts drifted to the past, and a sigh escaped before I could rein it in.
The clang of a cash drawer drew my attention back to the ticket counter. When I turned around, the man had gone back to reading his book, but my ticket was on the counter.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, irritation coloring my voice, but the man didn’t respond and never looked up from his novel.
I grabbed the telescoping handle of my suitcase and made my way over to the Park-N-Ride bus shelter. As I approached, a woman near my age smiled brightly and waved at me. I couldn’t remember if I had seen her before, but her smile was so enthusiastic, I couldn’t help but return her greeting.
She hopped up off the bench and came walking briskly toward me. Just as she got to me, I stopped, unsure if she meant to actually hug me. I flinched involuntarily as she came another step closer, and then she walked right past me. Embarrassment flooded my cheeks, as I realized the friendly woman was actually greeting someone behind me. I laughed at myself and settled onto the bench to wait for the bus. My mind drifted back to the conversation I’d had with my best friend about my trip.
“I don’t get it Josie,” Anne said. She flipped her hair back in a motion that I knew meant she was aggravated. “Why are you going there?”
“What’s not to get?” I asked, flippantly. “I just haven’t really felt like myself for a while, and I need to get away. The Cottage will be perfect.”
“But you haven’t been back there in years. How do you know it will even help? How long will you be gone?”
“I won’t be gone too long, “ I reassured her, feeling bad that she was so obviously worried about me. “A few weeks, tops. I’ll be back before you know it.”
She just sat there, gazing off into the distance with a little frown crinkling her forehead.
The harsh squealing brakes of the bus jerked me back to the present, and as I boarded I thought about what waited for me in Belfair. The Cottage had been empty for almost ten years, since the unexpected death of the woman who had raised me as more than just a granddaughter. Thinking about her was painful, still, even after all this time. It was like a raw spot on my soul that was exposed, as if it had never calloused over like the rest of my heart. I shied away from that pain and forced my attention to the scenery speeding past the bus windows.
Life goes on, whether we want it to or not, and the inescapable proof of that was just on the other side of the glass. Some places I recognized, the landmarks familiar from my childhood, but so many that we passed were changed or even gone entirely. It created an overall sense of disorientation, and fostered the mildly disquieting thought that I was the one who hadn’t changed at all. I chuckled ruefully as my melancholy wanderings, and sighed. That was about as far from the truth as one could get.
I followed a fellow passenger off the bus, getting off a stop early. I felt the need to walk a bit, and the extra time would help me get myself together before I had to face the Cottage. No one had bothered to talk to me on the bus, but I was actually thankful for the lack of small talk. With so much turmoil inside, I probably wouldn’t have been a good conversation partner anyway.
All too soon, I found myself at the head of the quarter-mile drive that led to the secluded little house. The trees lining the driveway had overgrown so much, the upper boughs created a living canopy. It obscured daylight so much that it more closely resembled a tunnel. The leaves moved in the soft breeze, causing what little dappled light that reached below to twinkle and ripple. The whole effect was strange, and made me feel like I was walking under water.
Birds chirped and insects buzzed busily as I made my way towards the house. It was very dreamy, as though I’d stepped into another world the moment I stepped off the sidewalk. A few minutes later, and I was out from under the shaggy green canopy, greeted by the sight of the modest home I’d once known and loved so well.
Unexpected grief slammed into me, and I dropped my suitcase without even being aware of it. I felt myself wobble, and wondered if I was going to faint. How stupid, I thought to myself. I was hardly the fainting type. Shaking my head, I looked around with some embarrassment at being seen, before I remembered how secluded this property truly was.
Memories began chasing themselves around in my head, almost too swift to follow, of happier times long ago. Playing hide-and-seek in the woods around the house, screeching joyfully while running down the riverbank, waking to town for a coke and some candy with my allowance—back when you could actually let your children walk that far without worrying about some stranger swiping them right off the street. I felt the tug of a smile stretch the corners of my mouth as I recalled those happy, carefree days.
That fleeting happiness faded quickly, however, as I took in the state of the house. It was really a bungalow, but I had romantically named it the Cottage—with a capital C—when I was very young. So many of my imaginary adventures centered on the Cottage and the magic I had wholeheartedly believed in then. In fact, my enthusiasm and thirst for adventure had so enchanted my grandmother that she had a wooden plaque made that simply said “The Cottage” that she hung over the front door.
The Cottage looked more like a run-down shack at the moment. The outer walls, which had once gleamed bright yellow like daffodils in the sun, were faded and grimy. Part of the eaves had been damaged in some storm, and the remnants of a nest stuck up in unkempt tufts where a bird had taken advantage of the protected spot. Roses, tended with such a loving hand once upon a time, had grown wild and dense up over one wall, and were now actually creeping toward the front porch. Blackberry bushes had spread along one entire side of the yard and up into to the trees that had been the pillars of imaginary forts and besieged castles in my youth. The lower trunks were barely visible now, covered with a thick prickly mat of vines slowly clawing their way up toward sunlight.
Everything emanated such an air of neglect, even someone who had never been here before could easily tell that it had once been a well-loved home. Now it just looked lonely. A stab of guilt shot through me, and I realized I was not at all prepared from this. I didn’t know what I had expected but maybe it was a mistake to have come here, after all.
My feet seemed to disagree with that sentiment, however, and I began walking toward the porch. I put my hand on the railing and my foot on the first step. Suddenly, a hush fell around me, a silence so abrupt and intense I whipped around, certain something was behind me.
Dust motes floated lazily through the morning sunshine. Overgrown, knee-high grass which had been waving gently in the breeze a moment ago, stilled. Instead of the background buzz of insects and birds and animals, there was a silence so profound I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears. My eyes scanned the span of grass and driveway, searching out some threat, but nothing was there.
Abruptly I let out the breath I didn’t know I had been holding, and with a soundless sort of whoosh all the sounds and movement that had been strangely muted came rushing back. It was just as if there had been no odd interruption moments before. I stood still for a minute, waiting to see if the strange experience would repeat itself, but nothing happened.
Wondering at such a weird phenomenon, alert for any other strange events, I stepped up all the way onto the porch. It creaked under the weight of my feet, but that was it. I fished my keys out of my pocket and took a deep breath. I opened the door, and the odd silence from minutes before was completely forgotten as I stepped across the threshold into the home I had not visited for more than ten years.
The air was still and dry, if a little stale, but there was no hint of the mildew I had expected that was notorious in the Pacific Northwest. A fine layer of dust coated most surfaces, and I could see a few cobwebs in the corners. Overall, however, it was not in nearly as bad a shape as I had been thinking.
Most of the furniture was where it had been the last time I had seen it, before my grandmother’s death. Afterwards, I had been so devastated with grief I couldn’t bring myself to come back and take care of the house or her belongings. The cleaning company I had hired at the time had obviously done an impeccable job. The interior was in remarkable shape, considering how much time had passed since people had last been here.
Dust covers protected the sofa, tables, and chairs like ghostly sentinels keeping watch over the lonely house. The pictures and artwork that had once adorned the walls had been packed and placed into storage long ago, but their outlines were still easy to make out where sunlight had faded the walls around them. Those stark squares and rectangles made me feel as though the house had eyes, staring at me balefully while accusing me of selfishness and abandonment.
I shook my head, and forced my thoughts away from such morbid directions. Looking around, I quickly made a mental list of the supplies I would need to freshen the place up. I began by gently pushing open the drapes on all the windows, trying not to disturb too much of the dust, and opened them to let fresh air in.
I realized suddenly that I’d left my suitcase out in the yard, and decided to take a quick walk around the property to see what kind of shape it was in. The sun was still shining brightly but somehow seemed much lower in the sky than it felt like it should have been, given the time. I looked at my watch and was startled to see that nearly three hours had passed since I had first set foot inside the house.
Frowning, I walked over to my suitcase and as I bent down, movement flashed in the corner of my eye. I stood up quickly, just as a small doe was crossing the driveway about twenty yards away. She stopped suddenly when she saw me stand, and watched me warily. For a brief, indescribably moment, I felt that she saw me, saw into me, and I felt something deep inside me shift. The world tilted crazily, and the next thing I knew, I was laying on my back looking up at the sky and trees overhead.
I sat up quickly, looking around for the deer I’d locked eyes with right before the queer feeling had bubbled up and spread through me. She was long gone, it seemed. Shakily, I got to my feet, and realized I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for several hours. I told myself all these strange things must be due to low blood sugar or something. I abandoned my plans to walk around the property and decided to walk into town for some food and cleaning supplies before it got dark.
Unlike my experiences earlier in the day, nothing unusual happened during my trek into town or on the way back. In fact, I actually found myself enjoying the walk, and forgot all about the weird things I felt as I settled into the Cottage and began freshening the place up. A little window cleaner, a duster, and some fresh flowers was enough to make a significant improvement. The housework kept my mind occupied, and when I was done there was a wonderful homey feeling to the place.
After a late dinner of fried chicken and salad, I curled up on the makeshift bed I’d made on the couch. I couldn’t quite bring myself to sleep in the either bedroom yet, and besides, I was sure the bed linens needed to be aired out. Before I knew it, I was nodding off, my book open and forgotten on my chest, and finally fell into an undisturbed sleep.
I liked the wild look to the house, I decided, as I hung the sheets and comforter on the clothesline in the back yard the next morning. In a way, it literally brought to life the untamed, adventurous worlds I had so vividly conjured up as a child. Those memories were bittersweet in their contrast to the loneliness that permeated the house now. Where things had been warm, bright, vibrant with imagination and happiness, now an air of melancholy clung just as tenaciously as the dust that coated the surfaces inside the house.
I finished hanging the bed sheets, feeling surprisingly cheerful about the fresh sun-kissed way they would smell when I pulled them from the line later in the afternoon. There was almost nothing in the world I enjoyed quite as much as the smell of freshly dried laundry off a clothesline. Leaving the wicker basket by the sheets, I decided to take that walk around the property now. At the very least, it would keep me busy, and away from the painful memories hiding unavoidably in every corner.
I wandered along one edge of the yard, in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. I was struck, once again, by the various sounds of life all around me. Birds of all kinds sang merrily in the trees, and flitted from branch to branch on their busy bird tasks. Branches cracked and snapped overhead as squirrels chased each other in frantic races to steal food from one another, sometimes stopping to chatter imperiously at each other. Behind it all was the soft, constant susurration of the river at the bottom slope of the yard.
Plants, trees, grass, and wildflowers had all grown so lush and dense, it was hard to make out the original property lines. Blackberry bushes had wound themselves thickly around anything strong enough to hold their weight. Their gnarled vines were sharp and bristling with inch-long thorns, and they’d run rampant everywhere. I was reminded of the fairy tale princess in Sleeping Beauty, and her castle that had been covered and hidden behind deadly thorny briar bushes during her hundred year sleep.
A sigh escaped me at the thought that there was no prince looking to rescue me from my all but deserted castle. What a silly, morose thought. I mentally recited a list of all the things that I’d accomplished, instead of looking for someone to start a family with. I was a successful author, not counting my current writer’s block of course, and had won several awards. I gave speeches regularly all over the country, and had taught several seminars on creative writing. One of my novels had been turned into a television mini-series and I had been approached about the possibility of turning another novel into a screenplay.
I wasn’t wealthy, by any means, but I was more than comfortable. There was no reason to suddenly be pining after some fairy tale prince. I just had never made time, despite my friends’ endless attempts to set me up with their male friends. Besides, since my accident, I really hadn’t had any desire to spend time with anyone, let alone try to meet someone new.
Besides the overgrown plants and bushes everywhere, there wasn’t a lot to see in the yard. The trees that lined both sides of the yard had gotten wild and wooly, and between that and the blackberries, they were creating a living, impenetrable fence. The main yard, front and back was covered in knee-high grass dotted everywhere with wild flowers. For the time being, I was secretly pleased with the natural, untamed state and didn’t have any reason to change it. Besides, I wouldn’t be here long enough to tackle the yard.
When I reached the back porch, the door was ajar. I stopped, frowning, trying to remember if I had pulled it shut behind me. I glanced around, concerned small animals may have gotten into the house. I decided that was pretty unlikely, and went inside, pulling the door firmly shut.
My thoughts strayed to the reason that I had decided to come back here at all. I was a successful, some might even say prolific, writer and always had a new storyline or two percolating in my brain. In fact, it was sort of a running joke amongst my friends that I had pens and notebooks stashed everywhere just in case I had an idea that needed to be written down. They were in my purse, my laptop bag, my car, my bathroom, my bedside table, even in my kitchen. At times, I had felt that the ideas bouncing around in my head was more like a curse rather than a gift.
Lately, it seemed that my “curse” had gone missing. I had not had a single idea since my accident, and it was almost physically painful to have such profound writer’s block. I assumed I must have hit my head and suffered a concussion in the accident, but my doctors never mentioned a brain injury. Months passed, and though my body healed, my ability to write remained mysteriously absent.
It was such a painful experience, in fact, that it had driven me to visit this place that I had secretly sworn I would never visit again. I simply swapped one pain for another, or so it would seem. I was still hoping that the change of scenery, even with its accompanying emotional baggage, would be enough to jolt me back to myself. I’d only been here a day, though, so maybe I was expecting too much too soon. Keeping myself busy with household chores seemed the easiest thing to do at the moment, so I got to work starting a more thorough cleaning inside the house.
By the time I was finished with beating the dust off the drop cloths, sweeping all the floors, wiping down tables and counters, and washing windows, the sun was dipping behind the treetops. I gathered the bed linens from the drying line and made up both beds, though I hadn’t decided yet if I was going to sleep in my old room or in the master bedroom. My former room had been turned into a guest room after I’d left, but the master still looked just the same as it had always been.
I made a light dinner of some cheese and cold cuts I got in town. I made a glass of sun tea that I’d set out earlier to brew in the sunshine, and took my dinner out onto the front porch to eat. For the moment, I let myself enjoy the peace around me, and the simple pleasure of eating. Later, I decided to sleep in my old bed. I couldn’t bear to sleep in hers when I still missed her so much.
I awoke with a start, temporarily disoriented about where I was. The shadows in the unfamiliar room contributed to my confusion, until I remembered where I was. Suddenly I realized I was awake, but couldn’t recall what had roused me from my sleep. All around me were the soothing sounds of nighttime from my childhood. Soft wind blew through the trees, crickets chirped in the grass, and frogs croaked near the river, but still I couldn’t shake the feeling that something had woken me up.
I slipped out of bed, and after putting on my robe and slippers, padded out to the kitchen. Without turning on a light, I poured myself a glass of water. Looking out the kitchen window onto the backyard, I didn’t see anything unusual. The feeling that something was not quite right continued to nag at me, and I slowly made my way to the front of the house.
Listening intently for any sound that was out of place, I tried to identify the feeling that I couldn’t shake. I turned in a slow circle, looking out each of the three windows in the living room. All I saw was the silvery glint of moonlight on the grass and trees. Trying to convince myself that I was just a victim of my own over-active imagination, I turned to go back to bed.
Something flashed in the corner of my eye.
I whirled around and nearly dropped my glass, by nothing was behind me. My heart pounded, and my breath was coming hard and fast as I tried to recall what exactly I had seen. It was just a brief flash of light, and I couldn’t be sure if I’d seen it inside the house or if it came from outside. Try as I might, I couldn’t assign it a shape, or even a degree of brightness. I was, however, certain it wasn’t a flashlight, and I knew there was nothing out in the yard that would reflect moonlight that way.
Finally, I began to wonder if I had only seen the faint beam of the nearest neighbor’s headlights shining through the trees and bushes that grew between our properties. It didn’t seem very likely. I couldn’t think of anything else that offered a rational explanation, however.
A need to know exactly what I’d seen drove me out onto the porch. I stood still and quiet, listening for the sound of a car engine, or a car door slamming shut. There was no sound that was out of place. Several minutes went by before I decided to step out into the yard. I wasn’t sure why I was compelled to go out into the grass, but I went anyway. The grass was soft under my slippered feet, and the crickets quieted temporarily as I passed. Stars glittered overhead like diamonds on black velvet, and the crescent moon shed a soft glimmer over the lawn and trees.
I stopped in the middle of the yard and waited.
It struck me suddenly that that’s exactly what I had been doing since stepping foot in the Cottage: waiting. An undeniable sense of expectation filled me. All at once the strange hush that I had experienced earlier fell again. The silence was absolute, and so deep it felt like a blanket was laying across everything. I held perfectly still, expectation turning to apprehension as the silence dragged on.
Slowly I became aware of a soft gleam of light off to the side near the trees at the head of the driveway. It was shimmering with an iridescent glow just barely brighter than the moonlight, but without any discernible shape. It seemed to glide slowly along the tree line just above the wildflowers. I was stunned, mesmerized by the amorphous light which had by now made its way around the yard so that it was directly in front of me.
It shimmered and shifted in such a way that it seemed that I couldn’t quite see it when I looked at it directly. When I turned my head slightly, I was able to make out much more from the corner of my eye. The rippling movement made me think of sunlight sparkling on water, but with many more colors—some I’m not even sure I could adequately describe.
Suddenly I realized that I’d been holding my breath, and I let it out in a great rush. There was a subtle shift in the ball of light, and as crazy as the thought was, I had the undeniable feeling that it was aware. I had no measurable way to explain that feeling, but I was absolutely certain it was aware of me and my observation.
Without warning, it seemed to expand in a bright, glittering pulse, and then streaked across the lawn straight at me. Fear gripped me like a vise, constricting my throat, and I stumbled backward. I lost my balance as I tripped over my feet, and fell. In a heartbeat, the ball of light was flashing past me, no through me, oh my god!
The strangest sensation of being doused in ice water swept through me, and time slowed down exponentially. I fell—though it felt more like drifting—backwards, and the ground reached for me with greedy hands. In an instant the icy feeling vanished, along with the luminous orb, and I positively swooned into a dead faint.
I was wet.
Why was I wet?
I lifted my head to try to figure out why I was soaked, and sat straight up as I realized I was lying on the lawn. I glanced around in confused alarm, but I was alone.
It was just before dawn, with the dim gray light of the early morning sky was enough to see clearly, but everything was hushed in a sleepy, natural sort of way. My pajamas and robe were damp from the dew that had settled around me after my collapse the night before. But wait, why had I fainted? Odd bits of memory floated through my mind, and the harder I tried to snatch them, the more elusive they became.
Shaking my head in puzzlement, I got to my feet. I realized I was shivering, and was chagrined to think that I’d lain in the wet grass for several hours. At least it had been a relatively mild night, otherwise I might had had to deal with hypothermia.
Heading inside, I took my time warming up in the shower. I pushed aside any thoughts of making sense of the night before until I was able to make some breakfast. I played with my scrambled eggs, pushing them around the plate, feeling at turns intensely curious and terribly anxious about what happened last night. I really had no appetite, and finally dumped my plate into the sink.
As I stepped to the sink, sunlight glinted along the top of the stainless steel toaster. Like a wave crashing over me, I remembered what I’d seen during the night, and I staggered against the counter. It was the light, the strange, awful, light that had drawn me outside and then left me in an unconscious heap in the grass.
My mind raced through all the possibilities: hallucination? Headlights? Overactive imagination? Gas pocket? Will-O-Wisp? Ghost? Aliens? As each thought grew more outrageous, I shook my head in exasperation. There was no natural phenomena I could think of to rationalize my experience, and I dismissed outright the idea of anything as silly as wisps or aliens. In all the time I’d ever spent here in my youth, not once had I seen or heard anything indicating the house was haunted. That left me pondering the likelihood of hallucination or overactive imagination.
It was a particularly distressing thought, since I had made my living—and quite a good one at that—based on the contents in my head. The idea that my formerly endless imagination might be suffering from some kind of disease or disorder was acutely upsetting. I harbored a deep, secret fear that I would someday lose my mind, falling into an internal world from which there was no escape.
Morbidly, I wondered if it would be a long, slow, creeping descent into insanity, or more like a tidal wave crashing through my brain, sweeping away everything in front of it. If I were truly honest with myself, I would have to admit that there was a sort of romantic horror surrounding the thought of madness; like many of my favorite historical authors, I sometimes felt overwhelmed with my gift. It consumed most waking moments, one idea or piece of inspiration chasing another like a whirling dervish, desperately seeking life through my writing.
Had it finally started then? The spiraling shift from lucidity to murky obscurity? Shaking my head at my own dramatic ponderings, I decided action was better than inaction. I tidied the kitchen, then got dressed to walk into town.
I decided to start at the library, since that seemed the most likely place to have any historical information on the Cottage. I passed a few familiar faces on my walk, though I couldn’t recall their names, now. I realized I must have been away longer that I’d thought, since no one seemed to recognize me. I no longer felt like the girl I’d been when I used to live here, and perhaps time had changed me enough that the people I had called my friends and neighbors once, couldn’t recognize me any longer.
The search at the library turned up nothing I didn’t already know, and after two hours I decided to give up and head back to the Cottage. The librarian didn’t even look up from her paper as I returned the pencil and scrap paper I had used for taking notes. I shook my head at the thought of small town lack of hustle and bustle. This was the kind of town where no one was in a hurry, ever.
Standing on the sidewalk, I blinked my eyes against the bright sunlight. A career as an author, in addition to natural inclination, had made a night owl out of me. I felt a little foolish, embarrassed even, to be exposed to the bright light of day where everything around me was perfectly ordinary. Chasing after ghosts, or whatever it was that I was chasing, seemed a ridiculous waste of time. I’d come here to try to find a way to break through the awful writer’s block that had gripped me for months, and it was about time I got down to that.
On the walk home, I detoured through the city park, and took my time along the path. In addition to my habit of always having some sort of pen and paper handy for the times that inspiration struck me, I also usually kept a small digital camera in my purse. There had been many times a scene or a storefront or even a group of people had caught my eye, and knowing I might draw inspiration for a story later, I’d snap a few photographs. I hoped to find something along my walk home today that I could use, and took several photos in the park.
My meandering journey home was uninterrupted, and I noted curiously, somewhat isolated. I didn’t see another person or even a car on the road all the way back to the house. It wasn’t unheard of, but usually there was at least some traffic on the main road. For some reason, that observation brought my anxiety back full force from the other day. Every time I looked back over my shoulder for someone driving past or walking on the sidewalk and found nothing, that anxiety ratcheted up another notch.
By the time I reached the entrance to the driveway, I had increased my pace until I was jogging. I stopped, bent over to catch my breath, and tried to shake off the feeling of apprehension that had grown with each step. When I stood up again, I suddenly felt hesitant to continue down the winding, shadowed living tunnel that surrounded the driveway. I tried to tell myself that is just the contrast between the bright sunshine at the street and the dark, dappled shadows under the canopy. But the nagging feeling that something sinister waited in the darkness ahead would not go away.
A few minutes passed, and I began to feel silly just standing at the head of the driveway, peering suspiciously up towards the house. Giving myself a little admonishing shake, I started down the drive. Under the canopy it was hard to tell what time of day it was. Enough sunlight filtered through the leaves to allow a dim amount of visibility, but not nearly enough that it banished the shadows. The breeze playing with the branches overhead caused the shadows to leap and retreat unexpectedly.
Goosebumps prickled my skin and the little hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I forced my feet to take slow, measured steps even though a tiny voice inside was screaming at me to run. Intellect warred with instinct as I moved deeper into the shadows. Suddenly I couldn’t fight the rising tide of fear any longer, and I broke into a run, making a mad dash for the house.
Heaving and panting, I burst out from under the claustrophobic cover of the trees into the grassy clearing in the yard. I skidded to a stop in the middle of the yard, and whipped around to face the driveway, half certain that something would come bounding out after me any second. My breathing was harsh in my own ears, and I was aware that my muscles were trembling with tension.
The seconds ticked by, but nothing happened. No monsters jumped out at me, no bogeyman came flying forth from the changeable darkness. As my breathing returned to normal, my cheeks flamed hot with embarrassment at my childish reaction to what amounted to some shadows in the broad daylight.
Finally I turned toward the house. The stark fear that had filled me so completely just moments ago had greatly dissipated, but a nagging feeling of being watched stubbornly stuck with me. Stepping onto the porch, I took one last look at the driveway. Everything looked as normal as it had since I came flying out of the shadows. I went inside, determined to try to get some writing done. Hell, I chuckled to myself, maybe I could write about the weird things that had happened over the last few days.
Before I left Seattle, I’d decided to leave my laptop behind. In the past few months, I’d found myself all too frequently browsing the internet instead of getting any writing done. So I made the drastic decision to disconnect from that technological temptation and use my favorite form of creation: simple pen and paper.
Some writers treated themselves to fancy journals and notebooks when writing by hand, but I preferred plain, one subject spiral notebooks. Each fall I stocked up on them when they were priced ridiculously cheap during the back to school sales. At twenty cents each, it wasn’t uncommon for me to leave the store with an entire case.
I was asked, once, by a curious cashier it I was a teacher. Were they for my classroom? When I replied that no, they were all for me, she gave me an odd look and we finished our transaction in awkward silence. Later, I wondered if it was, indeed, so strange. I had always done my best writing by hand, on paper, and left edits to the computer. There was something so viscerally pleasing about the feel of a pen in my hand, about the way the tip moved across the paper.
I had never really shared it with anyone, but even as a young girl I’d felt that every blank piece of paper held the promise of a story in its spotless façade. Pulling a story out of the paper was, for me, akin to a sculptor drawing something out of the crude lump of clay before them. Sometimes I was surprised by what I plucked from my pages, and sometimes I felt an immediate connection as though I was the only one the tale wanted to reveal itself to, but either way, it was always an adventure.
That creativity was a deeply intimate process for me, one which I’d held close to my heart. Even when teaching creative writing to students, I never quite revealed my deepest feelings about my process. Writing was in every sense of the word, my greatest joy, and most exhaustive labor. The loss of that flow, the loss of that deep instinct for a story just waiting to be told, since my accident, was as profoundly debilitating to me as losing a limb might be for another person.
In my secret heart of hearts, I’d sometimes wished that I’d lost a leg in that accident instead. I was acutely ashamed of such an insensitive and selfish wish, but it was there nonetheless. Writing was who I was; I didn’t know how to relate to the world—or even myself—if I wasn’t a writer.
Sitting at the kitchen table, a new spiral notebook waited for me. Pen in hand, I wracked my brain for an idea, any idea. Nothing. The connection seemed as lost as any needle that had thoroughly lost itself in a haystack. I glanced around the room, absentmindedly taking note of dust motes dancing in the sunlight streaming through the windows, the faint ticking of the clock on the wall in the kitchen, and the damp loamy scent wafting up from the river.
I started a writing exercise I had learned long ago, and one that I frequently taught my students. Looking around the room, I began jotting down as many details as I could in five minutes. My brand new pen was skipping and writing poorly, however. I was irritated, as it was my favorite brand of pen, and it was new. Oh well, I shrugged, there was sure be a lemon once in a while for any item.
My gaze drifted back to the clock on the wall. Suddenly I was caught up in a memory from long ago, sitting at the table with my grandmother. Both of my parents had been killed in a car accident when I was five. I was staying with my grandma that weekend, and I remember the brittle, controlled sound of her voice calling me inside the house from my adventures in the yard.
When I entered the house, she was standing at the kitchen counter with the phone receiver in her hand. Her face was pale and I could see her trembling from across the room. I never could quite remember her words, after she told me about my parents.
I remembered sitting perfectly still on the hard wooden kitchen chair. Barely breathing, I had just stared at the clock. It was nothing special, that clock, just a plain white wall clock. My parents were supposed to pick me up at five o’clock, like they always did when I spent the weekend with grandma. If I just held still enough, I could hold the truth of the words that threatened to change my life forever far, far away, until the clock reached five. Then everything would be okay.
I would hear their car coming up the long driveway before I could see it, and I would hear their voices—their lovely, warm voices—as they came up onto the porch. They would step inside the house, and I wouldn’t even be mad about grandma playing such an awful mean joke on me. So I sat in a tense little ball, watching the clock as if my life depended on it.
Five o’clock came and went, and they didn’t come.
I refused to move, still. My grandma, who had always just accepted my stubborn and strange ways, sat with me. Tears streamed silently down her face as she held my hand. The following day I woke up in my bed, and even as a stubborn willful five year old, I knew it was real. I knew things would never be the same again.
Snapping out of my reverie briefly, I realized I had tears on my cheeks. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cried for my parents, or for my grandmother. She had been my only family, and her death just over a decade ago had been devastating.
Not that anyone would have known, I thought ruefully. She had tried so hard to shelter me from the world, and when I stormed out at eighteen to make my own way, it had torn the fabric of our relationship in ways we could never seem to mend. I made a point to always come home for the holidays, and for birthdays, but in my youthful arrogance, in my hunger to leave my mark on the world, I forgot that I was also her only remaining family.
I sold my first novel at twenty-one, and was caught up in the glitzy world of a pseudo-celebrity. Pride and success made me a stranger, and I drifted further and further away from the woman that had raised me with so much love and devotion. That love began to feel more and more like a terrible burden, an obligation that I told myself I was too busy for. I knew I had hurt her terribly with my rejection.
Two more best sellers followed my debut novel, and within three years I began teaching writing workshops. She came to one once, and waited to see me afterwards. We had coffee, and I made it clear that I had better, more important things to do. I knew, even as I was doing it, that I was purposely exaggerating my impatience to get away from her. For days afterward, I’d picture the hurt on her face, and I’d pick up the phone to apologize. Guilt and shame always stopped me, however, from completing that call.
She died four months later from cancer. She had never told me she was sick, and I was haunted for weeks by the thought that she had come to see me that day to tell me about her illness. But I had dismissed her, and she had died before I could tell her how sorry I was.
As I looked around the kitchen where we had shared so many meals, the table where we had so many conversations, I was filled with a deep sadness at the losses that had shaped my world. Even though the house had been empty of life for ten years, it still held an echo of the warmth that had filled these walls at one time. I realized how very much I missed her, and missed the life that I used to have.
The thing that continued to confuse me, though, as I sat there was the fact the after she died, I was a whirlwind with my writing. My grief drove me the way a coachman might drive a team of horses in a mad dash—mercilessly and without pause. Since my accident, though, that driving force had vanished altogether. I felt like the proverbial ship stalled in the doldrums without even a hint of a breath of wind. Muse, inspiration, motivation, call it what you will, it had abandoned me completely.
I lowered my head onto my arms and gave up on fighting the waves of despair that washed over me. I felt broken, as though pieces of me had been scattered to the four winds. And the most cutting cruelty of it all, was that that I couldn’t even write about it.
Maybe coming here had been a mistake.
I thought I would find peace, but things just seemed more chaotic than ever. The blank notebook in front of me stared back accusingly, but refused to give up whatever stories were hidden in its pages. It wasn’t going to give up anything, at least not today. Disgusted, I pushed myself up from the table and stepped to the kitchen to make dinner.
I was restless after dinner. It was too early to go to bed, and I wasn’t in the mood to watch either of the channels the ancient, rabbit-eared television in the corner could get. The night was clear and mild, and I felt the urge to take a walk. I still felt a strange apprehension about the canopy shading the driveway. I decided to walk down to the river instead.
Through the gloaming I could see small animals scurrying to complete their end of day tasks. Squirrels raced up and down tree trunks, a rabbit or two had ventured out from under the thorny protection of the blackberry bushes, and birds called to each other as they flitted from branch to branch. The path was overgrown, but I had walked it thousands of times in my youth, and I made it to the riverbank without any trouble.
Frogs croaked out their throaty love songs at one another, and crickets trilled an unbroken melody as I approached. I found a couple smooth stones, and skipped them out onto the river. The ripples glittered in the moonlight. I sat down on a log that had washed high on the bank after last season’s floods, and I gazed out over the moving water.
The river was mesmerizing, in its own way. The waxing crescent of the moon was not quite bright enough to fully illuminate the area around me, but it was enough to cast a gleaming silver sparkle to the waves and currents as they moved downstream. Shadows danced among the glistening stream, reminding me of the twirls and twists of a disco ball on a dance floor.
Finally feeling one too many mosquito bites, I headed back up towards the house. I was brought up short, heart suddenly slamming in my chest. Halfway between me and the house was…I didn’t know what it was. It was light, shimmering and sparkling around itself in an incredible, never ending gambol. It was similar to the phantom from the other night, but rather than a nondescript shape, this vision in front of me had a defined shape.
I waited, breathless, as it coalesced further into a clearly recognizable form of a woman. I couldn’t make out any specific features, and perhaps it was simply the impression of femininity. Robes flowed around its body in a ghostly wind, and it seemed to hover just above the grass. It radiated an inner light that was all colors, but none, and failed to illuminate anything around or below it.
I was struck by the dramatic contrast between the apparition before me and the phantom from the other night. I felt no fear, no horror, other than an apprehensive wonder of the unknown. I gripped the skipping stones in my hand, wound as tightly as a bow, with expectancy. The air was heavy with it, and I felt it thick in my lungs.
My limbs felt weighted, sluggish, as if molasses flowed through my veins instead of blood. I was rooted to the spot, and time seemed to tick by interminably slowly. The figure began to float closer—no, float wasn’t really the right word. She…flickered gently from one place to the next, advancing towards me inch by inch, in a fluttery lustrous dance.
Her movement was enthralling, and I could not tear my eyes away from her. The closer she came, the more I was convinced that I knew her. The growing feeling of familiarity was like the sensation of déjà vu. There were no features, no definite lines or delineation on the softly glowing profile, but yet I absolutely knew that I knew who this was.
With a start, I realized how very close the ghostly figure had come, and alarm began to grow as I noticed that she stood directly between the house and myself. There was no indication that her forward motion had slowed, and I had nowhere to go but backwards. I took a step away from her, and suddenly the swirling, changeable pattern of light swirled faster and with more intensity.
I took another step backwards, and this time there was no mistaking the change in my impression of her. The light emanating from her became stormy and chaotic, and my passive uneasiness blossomed into full blown fear. Any idea I had previously of benevolence vanished, and was replaced with a feeling I somehow intuited as spiteful. Wondering at such a strange thought, I nevertheless believed it was accurate.
Another step backwards, and I moved from the grass to the pebbles on the riverbank. The turbulent light within her dashed around faster and faster. Colors changed dizzyingly, with reds, oranges, and purples sparkling and snapping. The feeling of alarm evolved quickly to panicky distress and I was flooded with waves of antipathy washed over me from this unexpected specter.
She continued to advance, and when I stepped back once more, I felt my heel sink into the mud that was close to the water’s edge. I stopped my retreat, despair creeping into my mind that I wouldn’t be able to escape. I glanced around wildly, desperate for rescue.
My muscles were tight and tense, and my breath came in little rasping pants. The breeze from the river at my back raised goose bumps on my skin. Stars twinkled faintly overhead, though it was hard to wrench my eyes from the wraith that still advanced.
The strain of uncertainty retched up yet another notch, and suddenly I couldn’t stand another second of this supernatural standoff. I bolted to the side, stumbling through and over muddy pebbles and thorny brambles. I tripped over a blackberry runner and crashed to my knees. I scrambled on all fours, making a mad dash up the bank towards the lawn leading to the house.
Thorns, rocks, and sticks scratched deep bloody scrapes into my palms, but I kept going. The frantic dash of my flight sounded obnoxiously loud in my own ears. I had the hysterical thought that I was probably chasing away all the deer and rabbits within a mile away with all the noise I was making.
I was convinced I could feel the icy cold breath of my pursuer on my neck, and I burst forth in a fresh spurt of speed. I leaped onto the back deck, and nearly crashed into the wall as my wet muddy feet flew out from under me. I scrambled to my feet and fumbled for the door, imagining ghostly fingers reaching for me.
Finally my uncoordinated hands got the doorknob to open, and I practically fell inside. Slamming it shut behind me, I leaned against the door and slid to the floor in a quivering, terrified heap. The wild thought that a door would certainly not be able to stop a ghost flashed through my head, but I was paralyzed with fear and remained huddled on the floor. For several minutes I tried without success to slow my gasping, and frantic heartbeat.
Still I waited. I didn’t know what else to do, and I was still reeling from fear and adrenaline, so I waited some more. My legs began to cramp in my crouched position, and I finally pulled myself up off the floor. Unwilling to look out the window yet, I just stood leaning weakly against the door.
Gradually I found the courage to turn to the window. Instead of the ghastly, spectral face I expected to be leering in at me, all I saw was the broad expanse of the backyard. Moonlight bathed everything in a faint dreamy glow, but no ghost wandered there.
Doubt crept in my mind on creepy crawly feet, chipping away at my certainty of what had been happening the last few days. Looking out on the nighttime stillness, I couldn’t help but wonder now if I had somehow imagined everything.
Maybe I was sick. Maybe it wasn’t some organic mental illness, but instead some form of meningitis of other infection. I resolved to call the family doctor in town in the morning to make an appointment. I had several more hours to pass before then, however.
Glancing out the window once more to reassure myself that my ghostly visitor had not returned, I grabbed the edge of the curtain and yanked it shut. I locked the back door as well, feeling silly as I did so, but deep down it gave me a small measure of comfort.
I knew I would never get to sleep tonight, not after the fright—real or imagined—I just had. I made a pot of coffee and took my mug into the living room. I grabbed one of the books I’d brought with me and curled up on the sofa with a blanket.
Like my laptop, I’d left my Kindle at home so that I wouldn’t be tempted to waste time instead of trying to find inspiration to write. Besides, there was something special about holding a book in my hands. In fact, my friends had frequently teased me about my preference for paper over electronic literature, especially considering my profession. My own novels regularly sold more copies via e-readers like the Kindle and Nook than they did paper copies in actual stores. But something about the smell and texture of a real book in my hands comforted me on an almost spiritual level.
I hoped I could tap into that comfort, now, as I waited for morning. Every little noise of the night seemed to be magnified; the creaks and groans of the house settling its bones, the chirrup of the crickets outside singing in the night, the guttural love songs of bullfrogs, all seemed to have been turned up too loud in my ears. I realized that I’d read the same page three times and not a single word had registered. I resigned myself to a restless night, and a few hours later finally dozed off in a fitful sleep. The television played softly in the corner, electronic witness to my anxiety and isolation.
I stood at the kitchen counter, bleary-eyed and fuzzy headed, and listened to the phone ringing at the other end. After twenty rings, I hung up the phone. This was the third time I had tried to call the doctor’s office and no one had answered it yet. I was aggravated, on edge, and lack of sleep had made me groggy.
Deciding that it would just be better to head into town and stop at the office to make my appointment after breakfast, I took a shower to try to clear my head. An hour later I was walking into town, thoughts thick with confusion as I kept returning to the events of night before. I had exhausted all rational possibilities, and then laughed bitterly at myself for even trying to rationalize something so strange.
I was never one to believe in the super natural. Perhaps it was losing my parents so young; the stark cruelty of that loss has been so very final that even my young mind had stayed rooted firmly in reality as I coped with their deaths.
My novels never delved into the ghostly or preternatural and I had no interest in those unknown realms. I wrote about things that were real to me: love, loss, and relationships. Hell, I’d never even been interested in reading ghost stories, or watching movies about the supernatural. These face to face experiences with the unexplainable were completely out of my depth.
The plan I had formulated during breakfast would hopefully bring me some answers. I was going to the doctor’s office first to make my appointment, then I was going to the library to try to make some sense of what I was dealing with. In the bright light of day, I had to admit some doubt about what I’d seen and felt. But when I saw the dark circles under my eyes in the mirror I couldn’t escape the fact that something was happening, even if I didn’t have an explanation yet.
Unlike yesterday, I didn’t find any joy in my solitary hike into town. I was blind to the bright glittering sunshine, and deaf to the cheerful sounds of nature all around me. The strange and terrifying confrontation I’d experienced last night seemed a whole lifetime away from this pleasant morning walk. In fact with each passing minute, disbelief regarding what had truly happened began to grow. The possibility of a supernatural reason felt sillier and sillier, even though the alternative was fairly sobering.
I shoved the thought of mental illness away and tried to clear my thoughts until I had something to worry about. Don’t borrow trouble, I quoted to myself. It was one of my grandmother’s favorite phrases, and I heard it often as a child. So that is what I tried to do now—clear my mind, and let go of the trouble that I was borrowing.
I arrived at the office of the only doctor in town, Dr. Billett. He was a family doctor that had been around forever. He had even been my doctor as a child, and it appeared he was still going strong well into what must be his seventies. The modest waiting room looked like it was furnished with the tables and chairs that had been past their prime when I had last been here. Everywhere I looked, the décor screamed “small town doctor” and it was a stark contrast to the fancy updated offices I was accustomed to seeing in Seattle.
There was no one behind the counter when I stepped up to the patient window, and there was no bell to ring for service, so I sat down in one of the chairs to wait. I was alone in the waiting room, and had time to really look around and I waited. The paint was peeling in one corner and all of the magazines I browsed through were at least a year old. The overall atmosphere was slightly shabby and unkempt, and the longer I looked the worse it appeared. I began to wonder if I shouldn’t just make an appointment with my family doctor back home.
I looked up when I heard some papers rustling behind the desk. A matronly woman was pulling some charts down from the shelf behind her and setting them on the desk in front of her. Just as I stepped up to the counter the phone rang and she picked up the handset to answer. She sat down to speak to the person on the other end, and it sounded like they were having some sort of crisis. I sighed loudly in frustration.
I waited for several minutes, but from the sound of the receptionist’s voice, it would probably be several more before she would be finished. I sighed again, and decided to come back after my trip to the library. I slapped my hands against my thighs in frustration, and winced at the pain in my scraped and scratched palms. Well, I had some proof that parts of last night were real anyway, even if it was only my own hysterical flight from a hallucination, I thought ruefully to myself.
I tried to tell myself that the next couple hours I spent at the library weren’t a total waste. But I had so much trouble taking most of what I read seriously. It all seemed like so much gibberish, really. I wasn’t sure what I had hoped to find, but I felt a keen sense of disappointment as I returned the books to the stacks. My hand knocked a small thin book to the floor as I was putting the last book back. It didn’t have a dust jacket, and the spine was worn. As I picked it up off the floor, I opened it to see what the title was, and something about it struck me: “Restless Souls,” by M. H. Carlton.
I browsed through the first few pages and for the first time in almost a week, felt like I might find something that would be helpful to me in this little book. The premise of “Restless Souls” was that some souls failed to move on after death, and they manifested their distress about that in way that living people might not recognize as signs of ghostly activity. Mr. Carlton believe that the feeling of being watched, sudden and irrational fear, the sensation of prickles on the back of your neck, among other feelings, were evidence of attempts made by the deceased to make contact. His hypothesis was that when souls couldn’t accept their deaths, they remained stuck somewhere between this world and the next. Sometimes, he said, they didn’t even know they were dead.
I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the apparition I’d seen was, in fact, my grandmother, or maybe even my mother. For some reason, the thought of the two women I loved most in this world suffering because of the circumstances of their death, or perhaps even their inability to accept it filled me with profound sadness. My heart ached at their loss, and tears slipped down my cheeks unnoticed. Along with that painful thought came the hope that there was some way I could ease their suffering. Mr. Carlton had no suggestions on that matter, however, and at the end of my library visit I felt more confused than ever.
“Restless Souls” implied that once a person’s soul was caught in the in-between, there was no redemption, no soulful reconciliation. Limbo itself was their purgatory, one in which there was no absolution. The helplessness that accompanied that idea was, for me, even worse than the thought of either of them in pain.
All at once I felt angry. Furious, even, at the unfairness of it all. Losing my parents so young, and then losing my grandmother, and finally losing my identity as a writer since my accident. I slammed down the book and rushed out of the library. I gulped in great deep breaths, bent over and head swimming with such strange ideas.
Fatigue rushed over me and I decided to head home for a nap. I forgot all about stopping at the doctor’s office, the bone-deep weariness weighing down my limbs all I could think about. I went straight home, and nothing strange happened, though I did feel that same odd tingle of anticipation at the head of the driveway. The walk under the leafy canopy was completely uneventful, and a few minutes later I collapsed onto the sofa in a deep sleep.
It was dark outside when I woke up, and I was momentarily disoriented about whether it was night or early morning. I got up and went to the kitchen for some water. A little spike of fear skittered through me as I peeked out the window. There was nothing out on the lawn but some silvery moonlight.
I sat back down on the couch, my pen and notebook in hand. I willed an idea to come, any idea, but that door remained firmly closed. Suddenly I thought of my camera. I hadn’t looked through any of the photos yet, and I hoped to find some inspiration there.
Normally I would just insert the camera’s SD card into my laptop, but I would have to settle for looking through the pictures on the camera viewing screen. I fished it out of my purse, and sat back down on the couch. I turned it on, pressed the menu button, and started scrolling through the pictures I’d taken. Every single one was blank, or rather, it was just a bright white square on the little device.
Stunned and uncomprehending, I continued to cycle through the photos, or lack of. I didn’t understand what I was looking at. If the SD card was corrupted, it shouldn’t show that there were any files to view. I took the card out of its slot and reinserted it. When I turned the camera back on, nothing had changed at all. It still showed eighty-three photo files, but every single one was the same, blank, white square.
With each click of the next button, my anxiety grew. My camera had worked just fine last time I used it, and I had no reason to think it was broken or damaged. I was positive the memory card was fine. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but every instinct was telling me something was really, really wrong. Unbidden, the thought popped into my head that all the pictures reminded me of…nothing. As if they were literally pictures of nothing.
I felt panic rising in my chest, and I stood up quickly as if to flee, but hesitated. I had no idea what I wanted to run from, or where I could possibly go. Something wasn’t right; in fact something was horribly wrong, and instinct told me that the knowledge was approaching swiftly. It felt like a wave rising, gaining force as it gained momentum. Soon it would come crashing down on me.
Restless, anxious energy washed over me, and I began to pace back and forth between the kitchen and living room. My thoughts whipped around, snapping from one idea to the next like a flag in the wind. Things had been so strange since I got here, and I couldn’t escape the nagging thought that they were all related. I followed each idea like I was tracing a thread in a spider web, but somehow the center of the web continued to elude me.
Overwhelming anxiety, time-stopping silences, objects moved and doors mysteriously opening and closing, and most distressing of all, my ghostly visitors, all added up to some puzzle that I couldn’t make sense of yet. A sense of urgency thrummed deep in my veins, an urgency that told me it was critical that I solve the puzzle before it was too late. I could no longer ignore the obvious possibility that something supernatural was at work, but what exactly was happening was still far beyond my comprehension. Again I ran through all my odd experiences hoping for a glimmer of understanding.
The empty notebook on the coffee table as I paced into the living room again. I sat down abruptly, and stared at that blank paper. I twirled my pen between in my fingers, wondering where to start. Finally I began making a chronological list of every strange and terrifying thing that had occurred since I arrived at the Cottage. Each line seemed to thunk into place, like the turning of a cog in a great machine.
Nobody in town seemed to recognize me, or even to see me.
The startling silence when I first stepped onto the porch.
Fainting in broad daylight.
Doors opening and closing on their own.
The glowing orb in the yard.
Waking up wet in the yard.
Pursuit under the driveway canopy.
The ghostly woman attacking me down by the river.
Phrases from “Restless Souls,” the book that had captured my attention at the library, began to drift through my mind. One in particular kept coming back to me, over and over, so I added it to the bottom of my list. Sometimes these souls that were caught in limbo didn’t even know that they were dead. My eyes were glued to what I had just written, pen frozen a few inches above the paper. That line seemed to echo over and over in my head, and as I stared at it, my eyes went out of focus.
The figure I’d seen down by the river had been so familiar to me. Even without clearly defined features, I was certain I knew her. I wanted to help her. I wanted to, I don’t know, help myself. I wanted, needed to understand what was going on.
I still couldn’t tear my eyes away from those words. There was a deep truth hidden in them, if I could just make sense of it. I felt it deeply, right to my bones, but my frustration over the elusive answer made me want to scream.
I looked at my list again, and felt again the urgency of the approaching tidal wave double in its intensity. The answer was here, I knew it! I slammed my hand down on the table and suddenly the glint of light from the lamp sparkling off of my glass of water caught my attention.
The water was perfectly still.
Time seemed to slow down, crawl, and even stop. Everything around me seemed to coalesce to one tight, focused, spot on the table. I was perfectly, absolutely fascinated by that water glass. One heartbeat, two, ten, and I knew it was coming to me a second before it crashed into my brain with the force of a freight train.
I had slammed my hand down on the table with so much anger, the glass should have wobbled, possibly even have fallen over. But it hadn’t moved. Not a single, solitary ripple.
All at once, like a frenetic cinematic montage, images flashed through my head. Like a nonstop tape on fast forward, I was remembering everything from the past several months, starting with my car accident.
I had been struggling with the novel I was currently working on, and had just left my best friend Anne’s house. We’d been having a conversation about my brief sabbatical coming up, which she didn’t understand. I left her apartment, upset and distracted. I never saw the truck that ran the red light, slamming into the driver’s side of my car at more than forty miles an hour.
I’d spent a while in the hospital and heard doctors say it was a miracle anyone had survived that accident. Bits and pieces of those memories flashed strobe-like through my mind. Laying alone in the hospital bed, alone. No one had visited me, and I never seemed to see or speak with a nurse.
Suddenly, I flashed again on the doctor talking with someone about the miraculous survival of her patient, and with blinding, shocking, painful clarity I could see that she was actually talking to the driver of the truck. Not to me.
Then I remembered the newspaper I had seen. When I first saw it lying on the patient table for the hospital bed next to mine, it was folded in half, and I could only see part of the headline facing me. “Author Josephine Harper…car accident.” In my mind’s eye I could see the entire headline now.
“Author Josephine Harper killed in tragic car accident.”
Sometimes these souls that were caught in limbo didn’t even know they were dead.
Memories whizz-flashed again, this time to the ferry ride. The ticket agent that didn’t see me. Couldn’t see me. The people in town who looked right through me. The phone that rang and rang, because I wasn’t actually able to call anyone, ever again.
As all of these revelations came flying one after another, the room had grown brighter. With a start, I realized just how very bright it had become. I whirled in a frightened circle. It wasn’t true! It couldn’t be true. The wave was finally crashing down me, and there was no escape.
I collapsed in a heap on the floor, tears streaming down my face at the awful, unwanted truth tearing down the walls of my denial. Brutally, and without mercy, it ripped apart the lie I’d managed to believe since that awful day I was killed.
The light had grown unbearably bright now. I lifted my head, unspeakable sorrow flooding my heart at what I’d lost. I felt hollowed out, empty, like the shell that I was, I realized abruptly. As I raised my head, the blinding light seemed to be coming from all directions at once.
A figure, brighter than the rest of the white light illuminating the space, emerged. With sudden, stark lucidity I understood why this ghost of mine looked so familiar. I’d always been told how alike my grandmother, mother, and I looked. I thought I was being haunted by one of them, but deep down where I was honest with myself I had rejected the idea that either one could have caused me such fear and distress. Now I knew why.
The specter I kept seeing wasn’t my grandmother. She wasn’t my mother. She was me.
That realization crashed down on me, driving out every doubt with a deafening clamor that felt like a thousand bombs exploding. Pain splintered though me like shards of glass, and I put my hands to my head as if to stop it, too, from exploding. The figure grew closer to me, the light emanating a kaleidoscope of colors. It held out a hand to me, and I felt compelled to reach out. Our fingertips touched, and an intensely blinding light, exponentially brighter than before, blasted through the room.
The dazzling light slowly faded. As it did, the room came back into darkened focus. A hush descended over the Cottage. Dust covers remained in place, protecting the furniture, and the sense of lonely neglect returned to the house. The clock ticked quietly in the kitchen. Crickets and frogs both called continuously to their lady-loves. The light continued to dim, growing ever fainter, and then finally vanished altogether.
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A car accident turns famous author Josephine Harper into a recluse struggling with writer's block. In an effort to overcome her writer's block and get back to normal, she decides to visit her childhood home in Western Washington. The Cottage, as it was name by Josephine at a young age, is a magical place surrounded by blackberries, roses, shrubs, trees, and a river. All is not quite as Josie remembers, however, and she soon discovers that the strange things happening around her are leading her to a mysterious revelation that may change everything she understands about the world.