Monday, August 31, 2015

The House - Short Story

The large house stood proud perched atop a knoll overlooking downtown Clairville. Susan was relaxing in the den,  sitting in her favorite chair with a glass of Chardonnay trying to put the days events out of her mind.  Her work as public defender demanded all her time and energy. Being home before 10 at night seldom happened but when it did,  Susan took advantage of those few minutes of calm before retiring for the night.  There it was again,  or so she thought.  She held her breath,  sat perfectly still and listened but there was nothing.  A figment of her overactive mind she thought.  
The house was a large manor style built in the early 1960s for a wealthy businessman.  He had wanted many children and built a house with enough rooms to accommodate them all.  Tragedy fell early when his wife died in childbirth for his first child.  He fell into a deep depression and reclused to the house for many years.  One day,  the front door left was open but he was nowhere in sight,  and was never heard from again.  His nearest relation,  his brother shuttered the house and it sat unaccompanied until Susan traced the owner and made an offer.  The house seemed in remarkable shape,  considering that it sat empty for over 50 years. It stood three stories tall, an imposing structure in its day and still remarkable.  The original 5 acres had since been parceled off and smaller dwellings now surrounded the majestic house.  Many rumors abounded about the secret rooms and passageways but were never proven as the builder handed over the only drawings to the owner and they were never made public. Susan often thought of these rumors and noted many of the rooms seemed smaller than they should be but she never gave it more thought than that.  
The weather had turned and fall was in the air. Leaves were dropping and the wind was howling this night.  She dreaded this time of year and vowed to get a lawn care contact to deal with all the leaves. The builder had seen the need to plant nice shade trees all around the house and they were a Godsend during the summer but not so during this time of year.  There is was again,  she swore she could smell cologne, or perfume.  It was something.  She stood up and,  picking up her empty wine glass,  walked barefoot to the kitchen.  She looked around,  half expecting to see her ex boyfriend cooking up his favorite meal,  veal parmigiano. No,  she need to put that thought  out of her head,  Dave had left her two years ago,  or was it the other way around? She remembered the constant fights over her long hours,  the missed dates,  and finally him walking out the door,  never to see him again.
Susan made her way up to the bedroom,  crawled under the down duvet, and was asleep in minutes.  The alarm made a shrill cry deep in her head,  the glowing red numbers reading 05:01 far too early she thought. Susan had a deposition this morning and she needed a few quiet hours to finish the required paperwork.  She made her way to the bathroom,  brushed her teeth and got into the shower.  She made the water as hot as her skin could bear it and stood under the rain head,  closing her eyes and planning her day's activities. Stepping out of the shower,  she dried herself and reached for her brush.  Her movement was automatic,  reaching on the right side of the sink,  but it wasn't there.  For a minute,  panic set in,  then she glimpsed her brush on the left side of the sink.  She must have been tired yesterday,  she always put her brush on the right.  
Half an hour later, Susan was enjoying a nice cup of freshly ground coffee with a croissant. She knew she needed to lay off the croissants every day but it was one of the few indulgences she gave into. Finishing,  the dishes went into the dishwasher,  and a few minutes later,  the front door closed,  the deadbolt latched,  and quiet one again engulfed the large house.
A few minutes later,  a creak broke the silence of the house. In the den,  an innocuous wall panel opened, slowly, cautiously.  Darkness from within was broken by the light filtering in thru the open curtains. A small figure of a man slowly emerged,  his bare feet shuffling on the floor.  He was hunched over,  the clothes hung off his emaciated frame. Every step was calculated, timed to conserve as much energy as possible.  The cadaverous skeleton of a man slowly made his way to the kitchen.  A normal 30 second trip took him almost 5 minutes.  Inside the kitchen,  he slowly made his way to the garbage.  He knew the present tenant often threw away a half eaten sandwich.  He also knew she wouldn't miss anything from the garbage can.  He opened the lid but to his dismay,  it was empty.  He went to the fridge and looked inside.  He knew he could take a small amount of certain things without raising suspicion.  There was a half eaten salad,  he carefully took a few lettuce leaves,  a small piece of tomato,  two pieces of cucumber and a bit of carrot.  This would have to do him until tomorrow he thought to himself.  
As he closed the fridge,  he caught sight of fresh croissants on the cupboard. He had seen them before and knew Susan indulged frequently.  He had heard her talking when she had company and knew her name,  knew her business,  her thoughts. He would often lay on the floor when he heard her talking,  listening to her every word.  He heard her singing when she was in the shower.  How he longed for companionship once again. However,  right now,  his stomach was once again protesting, and protesting loudly. He could no longer bear it.  He remembered two months ago when he took her croissants, he heard her rummaging thru the kitchen loudly, cursing like a common dock worker, looking for her croissants.  Finally,  he heard her mumble something about losing it, about being time to cut back on her hours and then silence.  Silence until he heard the door slam as she left the house without eating.
His hands were resting on the tasty treats, he could almost taste them now,  it seemed like he could taste them thru his fingers.  His mouth was watering,  savoring the potential treat.  His stomach could take no more,  he was just about to take them when he heard the key in the door,  the deadbolt unlatching, then the front door opening.  Fear gripped  him,  but he knew he was far too weak to make it back to the den so he froze, not knowing what to do.
Susan silently cursed herself as she reached the bus stop.  She had left the house far too preoccupied with the day's upcoming events that she had forgotten her brief on the desk in the den.  She made a quick call to her intern explaining that she would be a few minutes late and started back for the house.  In her high heels,  walking anything but at a normal stride was all but impossible so she didn't even try.  She resigned herself that she would be late.
Arriving at the house,  she quickly unlocked the door,  then the deadbolt and made her way to the den.  She quickly snatched up the manila folder, dropped it in her large purse and made her way back to the front door.  She had just finished locking it and was at the bottom of the steps when she remembered her intern probably  hadn't eaten and there was a croissant on the cupboard.  She hesitated for a minute,  calculating the extra time needed to go back in the house,  plus the pain of climbing those 10 steps to the front door and then turned to go.  Something was gnawing at her, she couldn't quite place it. There was something in the house that seemed out of place.  She decided to climb the steps,  fumbling in her purse to find her keys seemed to take forever.  She need to get a better system she thought,  one of those keyless combination type entry locks.  After what seemed like an eternity,  she found them and opened the door.  She made her way to the kitchen and saw her croissant right where she left it.  She grabbed it and put it in he purse. As she was leaving,  she poked her head in the den,  nothing out of the ordinary she thought.  A few minutes later,  she was walking down the street with her brief and croissant,  thinking that this would be a good day.
He heard footsteps making their way to the den.  He had left the hidden door slightly ajar and hoped she wouldn't see it.  More importantly,  he hoped she wouldn't come in the kitchen.  A minute  later, the footsteps retraced their route back to the front door,  then the familiar latching of the deadbolt.  Gathering all the strength he could muster,  he shuffled as quickly as possible back to the den.  The adrenaline from almost getting caught gave him new found strength and a short time later,  the panel closed.  
Susan got home earlier than usual,  her deposition had gone better than she had hoped and she had decided to celebrate by quitting early and opening a nice bottle of Chardonnay,  ordering an all dressed pizza and sitting by the fire in the den.  She enjoyed the silence,  the break from the hustle and bustle of the busy Law office where she spent more time then in her house.  Work weeks of 90 or more hours were not uncommon and were expected by the senior partners. She gazed into the fire,  burning brightly,  the dry wood crackling and spitting out burning red embers. She needed this to put the day's hectic events out of her mind. What she also needed was a man holding her,  listening to soft music.  Well she decided that if there was no man,  then at least she could listen to some soothing music.
Susan made her way to the bookshelf behind the desk.  She pressed the power button,  tuned to her favorite station and thought to herself,  today was a good day.  She turned to return to her seat when she saw something that didn't look right.  The wall panel seemed to have separated from the wall.  She walked over,  thinking that she would now need to find a handyman to repair the wall.
Susan went over to investigate,  seeing if perhaps she could just take a hammer to it but upon closer investigation noted that this wasn't a wall panel. She put her fingers into the opening,  this isn't a panel she thought to herself,  it moved.  She started pulling gingerly,  afraid the entire wall might fall down on her but to her surprise,  it moved like a door.  It was a door she saw,  but what would a door be doing here she said to herself.  She continued pulling and the door opened fully revealing darkness.  She did notice a sweet sickly smell,  the same smell she had experienced several times before.  Her mind was racing,  wondering what she had discovered.  What secrets lay in the darkness.
Darkness enveloped her as she stepped thru the door.  She put her hands out and walked forward about two steps when her hand brushed against a large spider web. She pulled it back quickly and backed out. The light from the den did little to penetrate the dark.  Susan thought to herself that she needed a flashlight,  something she didn't have.  She would have to get one tomorrow and then she could investigate.  After leaving the door slightly ajar she returned to her chair,  her Chardonnay and her pizza,  planning her adventure on the morrow.
The next morning,  Susan checked on the secret door before going to work.  It was still slightly ajar,  just as she had left it. Susan had a hard time concentrating at work,  her mind was elsewhere,  elsewhere on that door,  and what lay behind it. She quit a bit early and rushed to the local ACE hardware store where she bought a high intensity 11 led lantern.  She also bought an extra set of batteries on the recommendation of the salesman.
Susan unlocked the front door and rushed into the den.  Her stomach clenched, blood rushed to her head,  she felt panic and fear.  The panel was closed,  she looked around the room,  expecting to see someone but there was nobody.  Somebody had to be in the house she thought.  Susan took her shoes off,  her instincts on high alert,  ready to sprint at any minute.  She turned,  trying to act normal,  and made her way upstairs to the bedroom.  She was trying to stay calm, easier said than done she thought. She knew exactly where her handgun was,  and she had the lessons to show how to use it.  She had spent many hours of practice at the local range.  
When she reached the relative safety of the bedroom,  she felt like she could finally breathe. She opened the door to her night table and there was the glock,  right where she left it.  She checked the magazine,  it was full,  inserted it,  and loaded the breach. She now felt safe. She changed into an old t-shirt and jeans and made her way back to the den.   She ran her fingers along the moulding and pulled lightly.  She could feel it give slightly, then it opened fully. She switched the light on and entered a small narrow hallway. Cobwebs were everywhere but the main path was clear,  as if someone passed here regularly.  She had gone but a short distance when she encountered stairs.  The steps were narrow and steep with no handrail.
Susan reached the narrow landing and followed the aisle to the left.  What she saw astonished her,  she came out into a small room furnished with a small bed,  table and book case,  filled with pictures.  On every wall hung several pictures of a young couple,  or of a young woman.  Susan suddenly felt like she was intruding on someone's private life.  But then she thought "this is my house". She felt she had the right so she moved forward.  At the opposite side of the room,  she saw another narrow opening. She was wondering what she would encounter.  Her light in one hand,  her protection in the other,  she moved forward,  forward into the unknown she thought and silently laughed at the absurdity of what was happening right now.
The small opening led to another set of stairs,  these ones even steeper than the last.  She had to hold onto the wall to keep her balance so she put the safety on and put the handgun into her waistband.  Just like the thugs she thought and once again,  she silently laughed.  She slowly started up the steps, amazed at this unknown secret hidden right under her nose.
She finally reached the top and once again, turned to see another opening just ahead.  Cautiously,  Susan moved forward,  taking baby steps. When she reached what looked like a small room,  she held the light out and screamed. There,  lying on the floor was what could only be described as a skeleton. A small frail looking man with long white hair,  clothes that hung off his emaciated frame, lying on the floor.  Susan was sure he was dead,  the stench was unbearable but then she detected movement.  She moved closer,  trying not to gag and called out to him.  The body didn't move but she was sure she heard a whisper, a whisper for help.  Susan took out out her cell phone and dialed 911.
It was Sunday afternoon and Susan was in the den, a fire helping to ward off the winter chill.  She was curled up in her favorite chair reading the latest edition of the American Bar Association Journal. She was engrossed in the story of the former judge who had been sentenced to jail for 5 days for contempt. The initial sentence of one day had been extended to the present 5 for being defiant in front of the trial judge and despite repeated warnings, he had kept talking. For his own protection,  he was being held in a single cell. Susan had heard of this judge,  knew of his antagonistic attitude in the court room and had silently hoped she would never have the occasion to meet him.  
The doorbell rang, bringing Susan back to reality. She opened the door to find two sharply dressed men, one elderly and one middle-aged holding a large bouquet of flowers.  Upon seeing them,  she smiled and went out and hugged the elderly man.  He was still a bit unsteady on his feet but he now had a bit more meat on his bones.  Susan invited them into the den. The den had been redecorated slightly,  with pictures of a young couple prominently displayed either side of the fireplace.  This did not escape the elderly man's gaze and he nodded approvingly. The middle-aged man stood up,  put his hand on the man's shoulder and said,  "my brother would like to say something."  In a soft voice,  barely audible, he said "I want to thank you for finding me when you did,  my life was over.  I now have a wonderful family to help me and I think I have also gained a new daughter". He then pointed to the pictures,  pictures of a much younger him and his new bride. "I could not bear to go on with my life after the love of my life died" he continued.  "I hid in this house and wished the world would just go away and leave me in peace but people would always stop by so I figured the only way to get peace was to pretend to go away. Once everybody thought I was dead,  I was finally alone,  which is all I wanted. I lived by scavenging at night but when you moved in,  my movements were curtailed.  Now I see what I did was wrong and wish I could somehow start all over again.  When I heard you talking,  my thoughts went back to many years ago,  to happier times." Susan was watching him with keen eyes, she could see the tears in his eyes,  the pain that he suffered all these years.  Susan said" you are most welcome here anytime you wish." With that,  he thanked her many times,  then with the help of his brother,  slowly made his way out the door.  Susan never saw him again,  but she did hear from his brother on occasion, he went on to live for another 15 years with his new family.

The End.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Island - Short story

Sometimes at dusk we would see him come out from the hidden interior of his island. For years we had no idea who he was or what he did until the darkest night of the year.  It was the summer solstice and there was no moon that night.  A light breeze was blowing and the night air had a slight chill to it.  We left our small cabin in the woods early that night,  thinking that this would finally be the night when our questions might be answered.
Several years ago,  we bought a small cabin in the woods on Beaver Lake.  It was our weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives in the big city.  A small getaway with a loft bedroom looking out over the lake.  We would light a fire and sit by the window enjoying the calm serenity of our &escape from the city& cabin as we affectionately called it.  Only one bedroom with a primitive kitchen and outhouse, water was drawn from the nearby well and brought in by hand.  A far cry from our luxurious  penthouse in the city but we somehow felt more at home here than our city digs.  
It was a cool November  evening when we first saw the stranger emerge from within the Island,  or so it seemed.  We had just bought the cabin and were determined to use it as much as possible.  At first we thought we were both imagining things but the shape and movements confirmed a man.  He seemed a small man,  hunched over and he seemed to be carrying something over his shoulder in what seemed to be a bag.  The bag was almost as big as him.  At first,  we both thought we were imagining things.  He seemed to float across the water and disappeared into the far woods.  We never saw him come back.
The Island was fairly large with no buildings and near the far shore.  It looked like the Island was connected to the mainland by a shallow causeway. We had hiked around the lake when we had first bought the cabin and noticed large no trespassing signs on the island.  We didn't dare cross with those menacing signs promising that trespassers would be shot.  Some of the signs showed bullet holes in the rusty metal.  
This particular night,  we scouted a small hidden alcove in the trees where we were sure we wouldn't be seen.  Our only companion was a small bag of trail mix and a bottle of water.  We had been crouching in a cramped position for what seemed like hours and felt foolish spying like this.  Suddenly,  we heard a rustling of the bushes and could barely make out the silhouette of the man carrying a bag in the darkness.  He had a slight limp,  favoring his left foot. He seemed to be laboring under the weight of the bag. He moved slowly,  as if thinking where his next step should be. It seemed like hours before he disappeared in the thickness of the trees,  winding his way up the slope. Just before we lost sight of him,  he stopped in his tracks,  slowly turned around and then it seemed like he was looking directly at us.  A shiver went up my spine,  thinking that he had somehow spotted us. It was almost as if he knew we were there all the time. After what seemed like an eternity,  he turned and continued on his trek. When we were sure he was long gone,  we scurried out from our hiding spot and ran back to our cabin like a couple  of scared teenagers found out for the first time.
Back in the safety of our small cabin,  we feasted on granola bars and opened a bottle of white wine. Not exactly gourmet fare but we were grateful for the cool wine.  We were determined that we would find out when he returned and more importantly,  eventually where he went.  We mounted a vigil by the bedroom window where we had an unobstructed view of the island. We didn't dare light a fire to ward off the chill for fear he would somehow see us spying on him.
It was nearing daylight,  the first signs of light showing in the eastern sky when we finally spotted the stranger making his way back to his Island.  Somehow,  he seemed to have more energy,  his limp seemly having been miraculously cured during the night.  Of course this was improbable but didn't stop us from coming up with all sorts of strange reasons the following day. He was just about to disappear back into the darkness of the woods when he stopped and looked directly at our cabin.  It seemed as if he was looking right into our eyes.  We both looked away and ducked below the window, like young children caught in the act. After a minute,  we mustered up the courage to peek and noticed he was gone.  We looked at each other and thought there was no way he could have possibly seen us.  All the same,  why did he stop just then and look right in our direction?  That question would haunt us all day as we went for a cooling swim in the cool clear lake water and again over dinner of barbecued hamburgers and cold beer. Our curiosity peaked,  we were determined to solve this mystery. The fact that he somehow seemed to know exactly where we were didn't deter us and we made up of minds to go out again soon.
That night,  we didn't dare go out for fear he would be more attentive of his surroundings and be on the lookout for us.  The following day,  shortly after breakfast,  we loaded up the back packs with ample water and snacks and set out.  Our goal was to try to see where he went and more importantly what was in that sack he carried.  After a few false starts,  we found a well worn trail thru the woods that seemed to come from the direction of the Island.  Our hopes piqued ,  we set out at a brisk pace.  The trail seemed to take the longest route possible but upon closer reflection,  made good use of the terrain so as to eventually reach the summit of the hill with barely a slope.  We had reached the summit barely winded but to our consternation,  couldn't see the destination, only a narrow winding trail going down into the thickly wooded forest.  
An hour later,  we could see what appeared to be a clearing a short distance ahead. We pressed on,  our curiosity piqued with renewed vigour. As we stepped out into the small clearing,  we both stopped at the same time,  our jaws dropping and wondering if the incredibility of what met our eyes was indeed real.   Nestled in the small clearing stood a small Tudor style house built entirely out of stone.  A smaller building partially finished stood off to the side with a pile of rocks ready for the last wall.  The walls were crafted expertly with each rock seemingly fitting perfectly with its mate.  The front door was hand hewn from a single piece of white oak, with two letters exquisitely carved into the front,  C.D.. Openings either side of the door were provided for windows,  not yet in place. The roof shingles seemed to be individually hand made.
Looking at each other,  we knew we had to explore further.  We walked up to the door expecting it to be locked, but it opened effortlessly on well oiled hinges. We entered a well lit room with dark paneling and a large fireplace.  There were signs of burnt wood embers still in the hearth. The room was completely bare but for one large wooden rocking chair facing the far window.  Questions went thru my mind,  wondering why this hermit of a man would build such a cabin so far out in the woods. We were about to leave when we heard a noise behind us.  Turning at the same time,  my heart stopped when,  standing there was the hermit of the man looking at us with disdain in his eyes.  What are you doing here and who are you he bellowed.  I'm sorry I proffered, we didn't mean any harm.  We were just curious my wife added, she went on to explain where we lived and how we saw him on many occasions going into the woods at dusk. I added that the workmanship of the cabin was second to none,  a real beauty and that he should be proud of himself.  At this point,  he seemed to exhale deeply,  as if he was somehow relieved. He walked over to the far wall and sat heavily in the rocking chair. Up close,  we could tell he was quite old with a weather beaten face.  It was like the weight of the world was lifted from his shoulders.
Many years ago he started, I bought this land with my wife and I promised her I would build her a cabin in the woods where we could retreat from the noise of the city. She wanted a stone cabin and the only place where we could find just the right stones were on that little island.  We both cleared the land and started hauling stones every time we came up. About 10 years ago,  she fell sick and never recovered.  She made me promise to finish the work without her.  Last year, I fell and broke my leg.  It took me 3 days to reach help. Since then,  I haven't been able to carry on as before and now, I fear I may not finish. We could see tears welling in his eyes,  knowing how important this project was to him.
For the next few hours,  we listened to his story,  realising the hard life Andrew, as we found out what his name was,  endured.  An immigrant from poor Polish parents,  he made his life by opening a small shoe store. Devoutly Catholic,  he met his wife at church and the first time they spoke, it was evident they had a lot in common.  
Later that afternoon, as we made our way back to the cabin,  we vowed to help Andrew realize his dream.  We would use our vacation time to help him finish his work. The next day, we put on our dirtiest, grubbiest clothes  and made our way to the island.  Standing on the far shore,  we called after Andrew but there was no answer. Making our way across the shallow causeway, we followed the well worn trail until we came to a natural rock quarry. There was no sign of Andrew,  no sign of a cabin or life on the island.  As we had come this far,  we put as many rocks as we could carry in our backpacks and started toward the unfinished cabin. We were half expecting to meet up with Andrew along the path but we were disappointed.  We were grateful for the gentle slope while carrying the rocks and made good time to the cabin. There was still no sign of Andrew so we left our bundles of rock in the small pile that he had started.
For the next three weeks,  we repeated the same task,  hoping that we would meet up with Andrew again.  By now , there was quite a sizeable heap of stones,  more than enough we were sure to finish the last wall. Under a tarp behind the house was mortar,  sand and a wheel barrow. We could only imagine how many trips were needed to hand carry everything this far into the woods.  Two weeks later,  we stood in front of the finished shack.  Still after all this time,  there was no sight of Andrew.
Later that night,  as we sat by the fire looking out over the lake,  our thoughts went out to Andrew, wondering what had become of him.  The cabin in the woods was finished,  dedicated to the woman he loved.  Autumn came and went and still there was no sign of our friend.  We closed up our cabin for the winter and set off back to the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Spring came late this year and we were anxious to return to our home away from home. The cabin was just as we had left it. We were hopeful that we would meet up with Andrew,  wondering what his reaction to the finished cabin would be.  Spring and summer passed and still, there was no sign of Andrew.  Several times during our stay,  we would make the long trek to the cabin in the woods only to find it exactly as we had left it. We had resigned ourselves to the fact that something had happened to him and that he would never see his dream of the cabin finished realized.
Autumn had arrived and the leaves on the trees had turned and fallen.  We had decided that on our last day before leaving, we would make one last trek to the cabin.  Upon reaching the clearing,  the distinct smell of smoke assailed our nostrils. We both looked at each other, wondering if Andrew had returned.  We ran to the cabin and saw smoke coming from the chimney.  Our hopes restored, we knocked on the door only to have them dashed when a middle aged man opened the door.  We stood there dumbfounded for a minute until he spoke.  He addressed us by our names yet we had never seen this man.  He went on to explain that Andrew was his father and that he had fallen ill last year.  It was only then that he found out what his father was doing and promised to fulfill his dream. He went on to say how dumbfounded he was when he first came up mid summer expecting to start work on the cabin only to see it finished.  He took a picture and showed it to his father one week before he passed away.  He said he seemed to finally be at peace once he saw the finished cabin. We went on at length about how we first met Andrew and when we no longer saw him,  how we undertook to finish his cabin,  which he built in the memory of his wife.
We left the cabin late afternoon and wound our way back to our small cabin.  Closing up for the winter one more time,  we reflected on how our lives had been enriched by this chance encounter with the man on the Island.

The End.

Monday, August 3, 2015

to market, to market

I would never have believed this if I hadn't seen this with my own eyes.