Monday, October 26, 2009

Home (A Hallowe'en story)

Note to readers: This is my adaptation of a story I heard told by a professional story teller years ago on the Jay Leno Show.

Nights on end, she dreamt the same dream: a lonely cottage in the woods.  At the window, a solemn, ancient face. In the space beyond, only darkness. A sense of inevitability, of inescapable fate. She would start awake, haunted by the vision, sensing somehow that it held her final destiny.

So urgent and frightening was the vision that she came to dread her nightly repose; found herself fearing sleep, avoiding it.  Friends noticed the circles under her eyes, her haggard appearance.  "Some time away," a friend suggested.  "Go away for the weekend.  There is an inn on the coast that will provide the perfect setting."

And so, she set out on a drive through the coastal mountains, winding along the narrow roads, through the dense, mossy woodlands.  The road map lay open on the passenger seat beside her as she drove.  She glanced down to reference it quickly...

The shock of impact transformed the windshield into a crystalline spider web.  The car hood crinkled around the bole of a tree.  Steam hissed from the radiator.  She brushed the hair out of her eyes; was amazed to see blood on her hand.  A long moment to gather.

She must find help.

She climbed out of the car and set off down the road.   The mists had risen, obscuring vision.  Trees were pillars of gray shadow.  The night was cold and still, like a crypt.  No breeze stirred the air; no creature rustled in the fallen leaves.

She walked long, alone.

And then came upon a cottage.

A single light shone through a smoky window pane.  A thread of gray smoke snaked out of the chimney to be lost in the mist.  Realization came slowly; her heart rose to her throat at the recognition.  It was the very cottage from her dreams. 

Unable to stop herself, she passed through the gate, made her way to the dark, thick door on the stoop.  She paused to listen:  hushed footsteps.

She swallowed, then knocked.  The movement beyond ceased.  But none came to the door.  She knocked again.  Still no answer.

As she slowly raised her arm to knock a third time, the door opened.  A withered, old man, holding a lantern.  He peered at her with solemn eye, his cheeks sunken and gray. 

"What... what is this place?" she asked.

"This is my home," he said.  The voice was tired and dull, as if reciting a ritual.

"But who lives here?" she asked.

"Only I," he replied.  "No one else will live in this cottage."

"But why?"she asked.

"Because," the old man replied, "it is haunted."

"But what is it?" she asked.  "What haunts it?"

He dropped his eyes.

"It is haunted," he said, " you."

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