The radio hummed distant to my ears, little more than a nuisance fighting to be heard over the whipping winds outside.
For a moment my eyes were drawn to the car’s side window with a halfhearted wonder of what lay beyond, but nothing I caught held my eye for longer than a fleeting moment. Perhaps what I passed could be called by some a town, but to me it closer resembled a collection of sheds than it did of real homes. A sign a few moments ago had announced it as the township of Norwell. I almost laughed.
Township seemed to give the place an elegance it did not deserve. It was a poor excuse for a medieval village, let alone a township. But it was, quite unfortunately, the closest ‘township’ to where Sally had stationed us for the next month. I had my arm out the window, trying to catch air that didn't want to be caught and was bored beyond what I had any right to be. Sally was in the seat next to me and had her head back with her eyes closed. In her ears were those shiny little machines she called headphones. A misleading name since they went in her ears, not her head. She had promised me they weren't harmful, but I still didn't trust them. Anything that small and that loud was either radioactive or nuclear, or some other form of danger I wanted nothing to do with. The device, eye-something, rested gently in her slack grip, folded neatly in her lap. I smiled then, knowing there was no one to see it. With one eye on the road, and one on her, I pushed a grey threatening hair back behind her ear. It took a few tries but I got it to stay. I stared at her sleeping frame until that annoying warning noise filled the car, the one where the tires were nearing the road’s edge. I hated it. But they did their job as they called my eyes back to the asphalt that wound left and right through the tress, always teasing at an end that never seemed to come. My legs ached. Man, I hated car rides. I stole a glance at the back seats reassuring myself as the next minute dragged on. Polished to a gleaming charcoal black, my typewriter sat patiently, trying to reflect the face of its master as I craned to see it. I smiled and the smudgy reflection did the same. The smile quickly turned to a grimace; I really had to work on those. A sigh escaped, something Sally would have probably scolded me for, had she had heard. Something about keeping my mind stress free, but her chest rose and fell steadily with a slumber I longed to share in. I had never wanted this kind of pressure, that wasn't how I worked. The material came when it wanted to, not when some fat publisher demanded it so. My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel, making them like snow capped mountains in the distance. Beside the typewriter was both my solution and problem. The potential and the potential of demise. Two hundred and fourteen finished pages, and over three hundred blank. The story I was working on, I had wanted to give up on it, and I still did actually. It had begun to feel more and more sour the further through the blank stack I got. Apparently though, the demand for my work was too high to stop writing. If I didn't need the monthly cheques they sent, I would have long ago given them the departure I so longed to give them. It involved a finger.
"Turn left - onto Gilthford Drive - in 500 meters".
I blinked, looking at the radio. What did it just say? There were too many things in this car that were far too advanced. I was about to begin hammering at the radio when I remembered Sally had given me another pointless machine. One I had immediately thrown in the back as she had fallen asleep. The voice spoke again as I neared the apparent turn, and almost sounded like it knew it was lying screen down on the floor of the car. I strained my failing eyes looking for Gilthford Drive, which was of course nowhere to be seen. I wasn't the biggest fan of technology.
"You just passed it dear.”
Sally sat up, hair falling across her face like it did when she had been sleeping. She wore a groggy smile, one that touched both her eyes. She had been waiting for me to miss it, I guarantee it.
"I didn't see it dear,” I said trying to sound angry. It didn't work. She giggled as if she wasn't the forty-seven years she was. A smile spread across my own face, I couldn't help it. She had that way about her that got me every time. Even decades later.
"One day or another you'll come around," she said staring out the window into the forests that lay just beyond. We had been driving twelve years, non-stop. Well, I had. Or at least that’s what it felt like. The whole trip had been her idea, they always were. A way for me to meditate and seek the inner peace I so desperately needed. Or again, so she said. I didn't believe in any of it personally, but I believed in her, so I played along. But maybe the scenery would help with the writing, soothe some things out. If nothing else, I did fancy the quiet.
"I don't doubt it,” I said at last, turning the wheel in a full circle. We were alone. In fact I hadn't passed a single car in at least half an hour, which was another thing here I wasn’t used to. The lack of people. Long ago I had decided that we as a species were meant to stick with each other. Sounds kind of weak, I know, but cities are where it’s at, for me at least. Sally had been born and raised on a farm, and almost as a rule, was in every way my opposite. But it’s why we worked.
"It'll be on our left now.”
I smiled thinly, "I know dear.”
She giggled again and patted my stubbed check, her smile growing warmly. I slowed the car as we pulled into the stretched driveway that hopefully led to the cottage. A turn blocked my view of whatever lay beyond. A gate barred our way, one fighting a losing battle against the elements. I threw the parking break on and got out of the car for the first time in what felt like at least a decade. I pictured layers of dust falling from me as I stood. I was greeted with silence, save for the low buzzing of the engine as it rested. There was almost nothing else, no wild animals calls, no bird chirps. I wasn't an expert on nature, but I had always assumed birds and all those other lovely things rarely ever stopped. I rolled my shoulder as I walked to the gate. I really hated car rides. With a groan of displeasure I could have matched, the gate rolled open, inviting us in. I walked back to the car curious as to why the forests were still so quiet when suddenly the car lurched forward without me. I frowned as a quickly disappearing sunroof rolled open and a pale hand stuck out in a wave. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed.
It took me almost ten minutes of dancing through swarms of bugs before the cabin came out from behind one last turn. It was quaint, and despite being literally in the middle of nowhere, I actually did find it rather appealing. There were two stories, each with a set of bay windows that overlooked the road I was fighting through. The woods retreated back from the building, leaving the whole thing in a large clearing, with the odd tree daring its way from the borders. The car was parked just inches from the door and a very smug looking Sally waved from one of the ground floor windows. I raised a hand in return, as though I hadn’t just been forced to crawl through a horde of mosquitoes. There was a gazebo a few feet to my left with a prime looking picnic table taking shelter underneath, but I wanted to get inside and away from the straggling bugs. I crossed the last little bit of space and moved to open the door but as I did, the handle wouldn't turn. Through the thin walls came the wild bubble of Sally's laughter. I laughed too, despite my best attempts to keep a passive face, and walked back to the trunk of the car. I pulled out a cooler almost as old as I was and dragged it behind me, back to the gazebo. I sat on a surprisingly comfortable bench and opened the lid, going straight for Sally's favourite wine. Making sure to keep her attention, I opened the cork of one of the bottles and began to drink straight from the bottle, careful to keep eye contact. From all the way over in the gazebo, I could hear the click of the door unlocking. I tipped an imaginary hat in her direction.
"Well played" she said, waking out of the cabin wearing a poorly-maintained displeased smile. It was my turn to laugh again as I grabbed her hand and pulled her back into the cabin.
"Common, give me the grand tour," I said looking around. "You've certainly been here long enough.”
The inside was pretty much what I had expected. Well furnished, bright and cozy. The kind of place that we had paid ten grand for. I gave another mental shudder. There was a dining room, with a solid oak table better suited for an army, and a separated kitchen. A set of stairs led to the second floor that Sally was climbing up to, trailing an arm behind on the banister. I heard her voice as she disappeared around the corner.
"Come see your new writing room.” I followed her wincing, as the boards beneath my feet seemed to sink deeper. The hallway I walked into was dimly lit by the light of flicking oil lamps, strung out unevenly along the walls. There were only two doors, one at the very at end and one open wide, above the back of the cabin. Sally's face popped out of the open with a grin. I gave a low chuckle and entered my already decided new writing room. It was bare, but she knew that was how I liked it. I looked around, realizing it was probably more of a closet then an actual room.
"So?" She asked, the curiosity clear in her voice.
"It'll do” I said. My typewriter was already set up, no easy feat, resting below the only window. I put my arm around Sally as I went to see outside. The view from the back of the building was obviously the reason we had paid so much. Laid before me like a painting, some hundred yards down, spread the Emerald Lake, it’s name reflecting the water’s colour perfectly. The woods had been cut back, exposing a path from the back porch of the cabin all the way to the sandy beach that was losing ground against the approaching tide.
"You can start now,” she said slipping her hand from mine. "I'll take care of the rest. This trip is about you". I turned just as she passed through the aged doorframe.
Her laughter floated up from down the stairs.
Hmm. I finished what she couldn't, which really only meant setting my petty instruments in the OCD way I do. I almost never used it, but I always wrote with a pen beside me, it was probably more metaphoric then anything, but it just felt wrong being without it. I also keep nearby my glasses, which I despise more then life itself, as well as a wine glass and a coffee mug. I'm addicted, probably to both. I raised the blank stack of paper off the ground and to the hulking machine that would soon consume it. Hopefully to spit out words that would make the publishers happy, but who really knew with these kinds of things? But no matter what it ended up with, it was the only piece of equipment I really loved. I’d figured out at the beginning of my career that it was stories that make the world go round. Music, art, books: they were all some form of a story or another. The most direct and controlling one though was without a doubt, words. That was why I loved the hulking piece of metal that lowered my car every time I drove it around. It created the stories, and I was merely the vessel that pushed a few keys down now and then, although I didn't think that A34x on the front of every book was as appealing as Jack Dune. I sure did have one hell of a cover name. I fed the first page into the hammer atop and re-read page two hundred and fourteen.
“His hand trembled as he raised the gun to his eye. He didn't want to kill her, he had never wanted to kill anyone, but that wasn't the way things worked. It wasn't the way he worked. A bead of sweat fell from his forehead and spiralled down to splash on the cold metallic surface his hand was so firmly griping. The beretta seemed to hum in his grip, eager to fire. It longed to kill the girl in its sights. The ecstasy had entered the man’s veins, the molten fire slowly making its way to his heart. It was only a matter of time. His hand began to squeeze together, the trigger less then fraction from igniting the bullet lodged in its hammer. The girl’s face was the picture of composure, not even teasing with a hint of fear. The man let his breath slowly dissipate, watching with curiosity as it froze an in-”
"Here" she said with a twinkle in her eye, putting the wine glass in my hand. I raised my eyes from the page and smiled as she poured a more then generous cup.
"You know me too well" I said, taking a hefty drink.
"You have no idea,” she laughed, again leaving me alone. I called out after her.
"When's dinner dear?"
She backed up until I could see her through the open door again.
"What ever do mean sweetly?" She asked, straight-faced. "I thought you were going to use your extremely manly abilities to go out and catch us some food?"
“You're man enough for the both of us," I said turning back to my work, grateful for the wine. A feigned gasp of surprise came from behind me, but I could hear through it to the smile. I winked out the window to the dying light, cast by a sinking sun, hoping she saw the reflection. I could see the appeal of the outdoors, so long as one was indoors. I tried to turn back to the page but something about the water held my eyes for a moment. It was so perfectly calm and quiet, almost as if someone had actually replaced the window with a painting. I tried to find words that could describe the sight, and a few came to mind, but they weren't the words I was searching for. I knew the feeling well, the right word was just behind a thin layer, so thin you could make-out the shape, but never clear enough to fully see. I groaned frustrated, knowing the feeling for what it was: writer’s block. The unfortunate thing about the block with me was that when I had it with one story, I had it with all. I stood from the chair of my new writing room and downed the remaining wine, which was no small feat. The boards creaked under my weight as I left the room and I damned them to all hell’s, knowing Sally was listening for that exact sort of thing.
"That you Hun?"
I sighed heavily, trying to make it loud enough to be heard.
"Yes ma'am, its me.”
"How's the writing?” Again I felt the need to sigh.
"Almost non-existent dear, something about the view just plugged me up.” I heard the shuffling of pots and pans from down below.
"Well then, there's a gun in the cabinet, I'll need three rabbits and a flamingo.” I laughed, deciding it was safe to come down the stairs.
"Dear, I think shooting a flamingo is quiet illegal in these parts, especially when considering the fact they only live in zoo's.” I turned the corner to see her grinning face, covered in a hundred different cooking ingredients already. I smiled, wondering how she could have managed to do that so quickly.
"Now, which cabinet holds this gun? I will get you a flamingo worthy of your cooking!"
"I don't know,” she said between laughs, wiping some of the tomato sauce from her face. "But I'd start in the spooky cellar.”
I nodded once with mock seriousness and saluted, drawing another giggle. I left the kitchen, back into the hallway that both the stairs and living room met from. Against the wall with the front door was a heavy set looking cabinet, one that filled most of the room between the door and the stairs. I smiled despite myself, and made a show of throwing the doors open. My smile began to dissolve, turning sour. Inside, resting on a rack, was a gun. A real gun.
"Yes my little writer?"
"Tell me you were joking when you asked me to kill a flamingo." I could hear the pause as she considered my tone.
"I was joking.” I nodded, knowing she couldn't see me.
"Then why is there an actual gun in the front cabinet?” The patter of footsteps came from behind and stopped before reaching me. I felt a hand rest on my shoulder.
"I didn't ask for that,” she said.
"Are they even legal here?" I didn't get a response so I grabbed the thing off the rack. It was heavy, and cool.
"Is that a good idea?" she asked. I turned, holding the thing in front of me.
"I don't think it's loaded,” I said running my hand over the stock. It was a pretty thing, not that I liked it though. I hadn't held a gun for well over a decade.
"It's just a hunting rifle," I pulled back the hammer, "see, empty".
She hmm'd and turned away back into the kitchen. "Some hunter probably forgot it here and the rental agency missed it," I yelled over my shoulder. I received another grunt in response as the clicking of pans resumed. I returned the rifle to its stand and eyed it once more before closing the doors.
Dinner was good: Sally had made her world-class linguine. We talked lightly, easily forgetting the gun and my first failed day at writing. If Sally was disappointed, she hid it well behind the laughs and smiles. We left the table when the plates screeched empty, to sit outside on the porch facing the water. If anything it was even more beautiful in the twilight. The sun had left us completely, fleeing behind the distant mountains to give partial room for the moon. The water remained still, almost eerily so, and only a single floating animal or bird shattered the mirror like complexion. I inhaled as a silence lapsed between us. A comfortable silence.
"Should we get a dog?"
I turned my head until I was looking my wife in the eyes. I just laughed.
We retired early, the long ride up taking a toll on both of us. Some more than others. I vaguely remembered the days when sitting for six hours didn't seem to be an exercise. When sleep came, it came easily, like it had all my life. Sally had on more than one occasion made fun of me, disbelief always heavy in her voice, but I have never had a nightmare. Nor had I ever awoken for anything but morning. I was a real sleeper through and through.
That's why it came with big surprise when my eyes opened themselves at 3:33am. I stared up at the ceiling, thinking it was morning. I made to get up when I heard the shallow breaths of Sally beside me. In all the twenty-three years of marriage we could claim, only on our anniversary had I ever beaten Sally awake. And even then, I hadn’t even gone to bed. I looked to the curtains in our room and failed to see the light I was sure burned bright behind. I stood uneasily, it was… night-time? I shook my head as my feet found their places on the floor boards. Perhaps age was taking this from me next. For a moment I stood stupidly, not really knowing what to do. Then it hit me. The words I had been searching for earlier, to describe the lake. But it was more then just words, I had been hit with a story. I ran to my room and threw open the door, running to my typewriter. I loaded the machine like I was loading a rifle and my life depended on it. My fingers hit the keys running. Ah, how I loved it when a story hit.
“It rose smoothly from the water, returning to the world for the first time in centuries. It felt good, perhaps even better than the times before. He was here, they both were. It hovered inches above the lake, leaving the waters below undisturbed, even as it had risen from them. It moved silently off of the lake to the shores beside, careful to feel for others. It sensed nothing. Years of waiting had made it a patient being, but the time for patience had passed. It was now its time for…”
My head hurt. I raised it carefully off the desk it had apparently been laying on. I noticed with no little amount of concern that I had fallen asleep in my writing room. The memories of the night before returned to me and I turned to look at my writer, wincing at the light streaming through the window. A page half finished, rested between its iron jaws. I tore it off not caring about condition for once, and was about to read it before I noticed a stack of papers I didn't recognize. Curious and a little fearful I picked up a page and read the first line.
“It rose smoothly from the water, returning to the world for the first time in centuries.”
I frowned with the mounting confusion. Had I written this? My first and only ever paranormal fiction book lay half finished in the basement of our old house. I wrote crime, real, sinister and true crime. Not this... ghost stuff. I racked my mind, trying to recall the late hours of last night, but gave up when I couldn't. It had come from the writer though, the font unmistakably mine. Maybe I had just drunk too much. But I noticed something in the next moment that forced my heart to double in its pace. I noticed that there was a page underneath the one I had picked up. And one underneath that. And yet another below that. After a mad scramble I counted forty-three pages in all. Forty-three pages of complete, non-spaced text. Even the best couldn't write that much in a single night, let alone myself. I brought a shaking hand to my forehead, my head was really killing me.
I rose out of the chair and stumbled my way to the one bathroom the cabin had, searching for Advil. Vaguely through the pounding in my head I heard Sally shift in the bedroom.
I paused in my search for the drugs to focus on speaking with an unwavering voice. "Fine, just a little headache.” Breathing a little sigh of relief I found the reassuring blue on white container and popped back three tablets. I opened the bedroom door to throw in a weak smile before heading back to the writing room. Sally rose from the bed and came to stand behind me after I had sat down again, resting her hands on my shoulders. I almost shrugged them off.
"You’re up early, and I don't think it's November 6th yet.” I smiled through the pain and nodded once, sending another wave of nausea through me.
"Guess I’ll have to start the whole lucky process again,” I said. A hand traced my cheek before pulling away.
"How about some bacon and eggs?" She asked.
"Sounds good,” I answered after her as she walked down the stairs, her morning gown flowing after her. I pulled my hands out from under the desk, holding all forty-three pages. My head had calmed somewhat and I thought I could stomach reading. But did I want to? I sat staring out over Emerald Lake, feeling the weight of the mystery story in my hands. A weight heavier than some forty odd pages could ever claim. I knew I had been searching for words concerning the waters, but I had obviously gotten something else entirely. I decided to blame it on the wine, I had probably just written forty pages of absolute gibberish. That, anyone could do in a night. It would be easy to check, just a simple flip through the pages would tell me enough, but I made no move to scan the manuscript. What if I found a story? Worse, a good story? I dropped the pages in the garbage without a second thought.
A half hour later I was dressed, shaved and showered. The smells of a morning’s breakfast wafted their way through the thin floors. Not that I was complaining. My head had stopped hurting completely and despite everything, I felt oddly good. And good meant ready to write. Well, almost.
"I was thinking of going into town today.”
Sally looked up and across the table we were eating at. She smiled slightly, like she was trying to hide it.
"I can go get whatever it is you need,” she said. I tried to make it look like I was considering it.
"I'd rather just go myself, you've already out done yourself with such a scrumptious meal.” She laughed swatting away the compliment with her hand. She saw right through me.
"Than let me come with you.” Again, I tried to make it look like I was open to the idea.
"I'd prefer some alone time. I promise to bring a note pad and jot down some ideas.” She nodded, giving in. I winked and spooned up the last little bit of eggs from my plate. She really had made a great meal.
"I won't be long,” I said standing and moving to clean the table. She nodded andpushed me out of the way.
"Don't worry about this, go do what you have to do.”
I smiled and kissed her on the cheek in the same motion as reaching for the keys.
The town of Norwell was not far from the cabin. A fifteen minute drive for most, ten for the likes of me. I pulled smoothly into the parking lot of the town’s only coffee shop and strained my neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the lake. I saw the glittering water through the tree line facing the shops along the main street. Well, the only street really. I locked the parking break and got out, stretching my legs. Strangely enough the lot was empty, my Lexus sitting lonely. I frowned as I pulled my wallet from my pocket, entering the shop. Wasn't it a Saturday? A pretty girl in her mid twenties stood behind the counter laughing as she saw me inhaling the all too familiar smell. I approached the counter, still somewhat lost in the smell. There were few things better than good caffeine.
"You look almost like you’re in withdrawal,” she said.
I laughed, even though I probably was. I held out a mock shaking hand. She laughed again as I took a look at the menu.
"Just a regular for me" I said pulling out a five. She took the money and gave me three back.
"Is it always this dead on a weekend?" I asked, taking another look around.
"No, I can't remember the last time I've had a day like this, and I've been here almost two years" she said without turning from her work.
She nodded as she finished, handing me a cardboard cup filled with the golden liquid I loved so much. The shake in my hand now wasn’t intentional and I smiled my thanks. I was almost out the door before her voice stopped me dead. Any other day I would have probably kept going, but this morning… well, something was different.
"A long time.”
I turned around, thinking the sentence was another crack at my addiction, but the girl behind the counter wasn't smiling anymore. She actually looked rather uncomfortable. "Sorry?"
"It's waited a long time,” she said again. I frowned, not entirely sure I understood what she wanted.
"Is that some sort of movie?" I asked, trying to kill the growing awkwardness.
"It's waited a long time.”
Ok… last time I came to get coffee from town. I hated myself for suddenly feeling the hair on my neck rise. Her eyes scared me more then anything she was saying. They were lifeless, resembling a grey stone better than the eyes of a young girl. I wanted to bolt back to my car but I wondered suddenly if the girl might need help. Was she in some weird seizure? Quietly I closed the door behind me and took a wobbly step forward.
"Are you ok?"
She blinked twice and clearly looked me up and down twice.
"Umm… Anything else I can help you with, sir?"
I was about to say 'yeah you can tell me what the hell that was' but decided if I was being pranked, it wasn't the best thing to say. I felt some of the blood return to my face, so I tuned and left without another word. I stood outside the shop, breathing deeply, trying to decide whether or not to go on. I guess it really didn’t take much to get to me. I took a sip of the coffee and the remainder of my loose nerves were calmed. Just some stupid kid thing. From where I was standing I could see almost the entire main street. For a small town it seemed like there were an abundance of stores. All the way from hunting to massage parlours and back. One caught my eye, the sign of a treble clef crossed with a guitar swinging lightly with the wind. I made my way to the music store and pushed through the heavy glass doors. Again, I found myself alone with the sales clerk. This time, some young guy wearing a shirt with Nirvana on it. The sidewall to my left was covered with vinyl records and being the old fashion guy that I am, that's where I started. I could listen to music as I worked but only if it suited the piece I was writing, and being a strictly crime writing author, it was rather varied. I pulled out an ACDC record and scanned the back before the kid, now to my right, spoke quietly.
"A long time.”
I spun on my heels, dropping the record in my hands. I didn't even hear the shatter as it hit the ground.
"What are you saying?" I asked.
But he said nothing, his eyes bearing into mine with the same flat look as the coffee girl. My mouth moved, searching for words it couldn't find. After a moment of looking ridiculous I said the only thing that came to mind.
"You like Nirvana?” My voice sounded strained to even my ears. Still though, the kid said nothing, his glazed eyes unblinking.
Sweat began to form on my forehead and I felt my hands take up another shake, one that had nothing to do with coffee.
"It feels good.” The kid said, his mouth barely moving. I nodded, thinking as fast as I ever had. It was like I had walked into a novel and the entire town was bat wing crazy. I began to walk backwards to the door, no long caring if I was being punked or not. I was far too uncomfortable to care. I stopped when I felt the smooth feeling of the door handle. I twisted violently, keeping eye contact with the kid. The handle didn't turn, it didn't even budge. What? I spared a glance over my shoulder looking for anything that bared my way. Nothing. There was nothing. The glass doors were unobstructed and it didn't even look like they had a lock. I turned back around to face the kid, and my heart stopped. He was gone. Nobody stood behind the counter. I whirled back around to force the door open, twisting the knob every way. When it refused to move I began banging on the glass. Then a smell reached my nose, the smell of cigarettes layered heavily in clothing. This time I turned slowly, filling every bit the cliché. He stood not three feet from me, his breath reaching my face as he exhaled heavily through his mouth. His eyes had me frozen, the icy hand of fear gripping my heart. His eyes would have been better fitted on a corpse.
"You’re both here," he said, his monotone voice filling the empty store.
It was then that I remembered. Remembered the first book I had ever tried writing. The one that lay half finished in the basement of our old house, filled with dark words. A genre I swore to never attempt again. The story centered around a husband and wife, isolated and hunted by something. I didn't think I had ever gotten far enough to write whatever it was that hunted them. Although I did remember one scene, one I wrote that took place in a music store. With a man and a boy. With a man and a possessed boy. The icy fingers that clutched around my heart squeezed hard and I found my breath refusing to come. The kid across from me tilted his head sideways, viewing me with those increasingly frightening eyes. He twitched once I and I nearly jumped, my back now pressed against the resistant glass. Then it was gone. The grey eyes that had moments ago looked so inanimate became once again human as the kid blinked twice, just like the girl had.
“Anything else I can help you with sir?”
I turned the door handle again and it opened without even a groan in protest. I ran.
Get to the car. The same thought ran over and over through my head as my breath came more and more ragged. It had been awhile since my last workout, and I could feel the stress building in my legs, but it was easy to ignore. I was running down the main street, my feet the only sound echoing out in the ghost town. The soft pat-pat-pat doing nothing to calm my nerves. What the hell was wrong with this town? I slowed as I saw the hunting store sign, receiving hefty thanks from my body. I was crossing the street before I even realized what I was doing. The bell above chimed to announce my entrance and I ran straight to the far wall, not willing to look the newest retailer in the eye. Who knew what this one would be like? Rows upon rows of boxes stretched out on long shelves before me and I scanned the numbers as fast as I could, hoping to all things good the man now staring at me wouldn't speak. No, no, no, there! The reassuring number twenty-two, plastered on all the boxes in the row. I grabbed three and pulled all the cash from my wallet, dropping it on the ground.
"Keep the change,” I mumbled, still refusing to meet the mans eyes. I turned and had one foot out the door when he spoke.
"It'll be here soon.”
I was home in minutes, pushing my Lexus to the very brink of it’s abilities. I flew into the long driveway and nearly rolled the car as I turned the bend, sighing in relief as I caught sight of the cabin. I jumped from my seat and took the boxes of bullets with me, clinging to them like a lifeline. Vaguely, I registered smoke rising from the hood of my car. I opened the door and rushed inside, trying to keep noise to a minimal.
"Back already?" Her voice came from the kitchen. I gritted my teeth but responded anyway, opening the cabinet hastily.
"Yeah, town just didn't suit me.”
"Well,” she said pausing, "I could use some help preparing dinner.” I had the cabinet open and the rifle in my hands. My fingers shook as I pushed the first bullet into the chamber.
"Sure thing, I'll be right there.” I locked the hammer in place and returned the gun to its rack, hiding the boxes behind, and stuffing a few extra in my pocket. As I closed the doors she came out from the kitchen. I almost couldn’t believe what I was doing.
"Everything ok?" I smiled, hoping it looked convincing.
“Yeah.” I ran a hand through my hair, meeting her eyes. "Actually no. Something is wrong with that town.” She came closer, putting a hand on my side. Concern visible in her eyes.
I sighed realizing it was going to sound stupid.
"These kids, they ahhh… They just said some stuff.”
She smiled and the concerned look left. "Kids are kids, they say stuff but they almost never mean it. Remember us?"
I nodded, "but they knew thin-” I was cut off as she stood straight and kissed me, running a hand down my face. I smiled and backed away, trying to talk again, but she was already leaving.
"I found something today," she said over her shoulder. I sighed, it seemed I was doing a lot of that lately.
"Yeah, and what was that?" I asked.
"Some old manuscript of yours, almost had as much dust on it as your old Carlo. Remember that thing? I wonder who's driving it now, what was the man’s name-”
She trailed on, but I had stopped listening at the mention of my old manuscript. It couldn't be, could it? There was no possible way. I felt a cold sweat break out all over, as my hands retook their shake.
"Where is it honey?" I asked, my voice little more then a squeak.
"I put it in your room, maybe you should read it again, spark some new inspiration or something.” I walked dazed to the stairs and climbed with a rapidly failing confidence. I turned the corner and opened the door to my writing room, and there next to my typewriter, was indeed a stack of papers. My fingers were numb as I picked the first page up.
“Hunted” it read in my unmistakable font. I dropped the page and watched it sift to the ground, my fear threatening to overwhelm me. I had officially walked into the middle of some horror story. I fell back into the chair, seeing black spots at the corners of my vision. I willed them away, fully knowing a panic attack was the worst thing that could happen right now. I calmed my breathing and picked up the page again.
“The twisty road angered him: he had never been one for long car rides. He didn't care for the outdoors either, it was his wife who had tempted him with promises of a free mind. It had been getting harder and harder for him write and his wife had seen this. 'The scenery will help' she had said…"
"The scenery will help…” the phrase drifted off my lips and into the otherwise still room. Those were her exact words. The ones that had gotten me here. I exhaled again and forced my eyes back to the page, skipping to the end.
“He stood speechless as his car drove away without him, seemingly empty save a ghostly hand that waved from the sunroof. He laughed despite himself, and frowned quickly after, surprised. Maybe the scenery was helping. Just when he thought the trip might do him good, he felt a sharp prick on his leg and groaned when he looked down to see the forest’s smallest hunter, draining him of his blood.”
If my breathing had been sharp before, it was now razor edged, coming only on its own accord. The page fell from my hand as I stared slack jawed at the lake. It had described everything to a T, missing nothing. This manuscript I had written so long ago, was now a prophecy. I turned back to the remaining pages and pulled out the last one, page forty-eight.
“The bullets felt heavy in his hand, heavier then they should have. He imagined himself having to use the rifle and the tremor in his hand erupted, nearly costing him half of them to fall. He pushed hard finally getting a cylinder into the chamber. He shook the box and stuffed a few of the metallic weapons in his pockets. The smartest thing he had done all day. Just as he was closing the cabinet he heard the soft patter of his wife's bare feet on the oak floors behind him.
"Everything ok?" she asked. He nodded, hiding the truth poorly.
"Yeah" he said. The wife titled her head and took a step closer. The writer ran a hand through his greying hair, a tell he'd had since child hood. The wife recognized it for what it was.”
I stopped reading, refusing to believe my eyes. Maybe I was committed, sitting in some cell right now and this whole horror show was taking place strictly in my head. It was almost a comforting thought. I emptied the garbage onto my desk, again stacking the papers I had written the night before. My heart took another blow as I found the first, labeled in the right hand corner as page forty-nine. It fit like a puzzle. I had restarted right where I had left off almost twenty years ago. Together, my manuscript totalled ninety-one pages. Almost half of that written subconsciously. It was time to go.
I just finished stowing away my writer when the knock came. One loud, single knock. I was still upstairs in the room, hands full with the manuscript. Sally called from downstairs, "I'll get it!"
Icy dread spread throughout me like wildfire and I dropped the papers, rushing to the top of the stairs. The word 'stop' caught in my throat as Sally opened the door.
Standing there in the open, with that same lifeless expression, was the music store clerk. If Sally noticed the look, she didn't say.
"Can I help you?" She asked cheerfully. For a moment the kid just looked at her. I began to slowly make my way down the stairs, tensing the entire way. The gun.
"No, not me," the kid said finally. The voice so flat it could have passed as an old man’s, and not the hippie it came from. Sally took a step back and I hurried my descent, brushing by her to the cabinet. She tried again, her voice straining.
"Ahh, than who can I help?"
"It," the monotone voice replied.
"How?" A pause, then another tilt in his head.
"You can tell him to finish.”
"Finish what?" Sally asked, her own voice finally cracking.
"The story.” I froze as my hands wrapped around the gun. What had he just said? 'It' wants me to finish the story? I spun; the rifle now knocked against my shoulder as I moved Sally behind me, facing the kid.
"Leave, now" I said. Sally gasped as she saw the gun. His eyes never even glanced downward, and he showed no hint of fear or acknowledgement of the weapon I didn’t really know how to use.
"It wants you to finish the story.” The kid said again.
"Who!" I screamed, spittle flying from my mouth. I felt myself growing feint with fear as the blood evacuated my face. The boy grinned then, a sinister grin that promised nothing but torment. It was so manic that it scared beyond even his crazy words.
"It" he said again. I raised a shaking thumb to the safety and flicked it off. I didn't trust my voice enough to yell again. Sally spoke softly from behind me,
“Freedom.” This was too much. I moved forward and grabbed hold of the door, pulling it in with me. Before it closed a whisper made it by that almost made me reconsider closing it.
"It’ll have her soon”.
Neither of us moved. I was staring at the closed door and she at the gun in my hands.
"Was that him?"
I nodded once.
"What now?" I looked around and dropped the gun so I was holding it by the barrel.
"We get the hell out of here," I said. She nodded and left without another word. A second later I heard the suitcase click open and the noise of things beginning to pile in. I didn't take my eyes away the door. There was no peephole, nor a glass side, so I had no way of knowing if the kid had actually left. I shouldered the gun again and mustered the little amount of sanity I had left and turned the handle. He was gone. I heaved a sigh of relief and slammed the door, throwing all locks to the right.
The last step of the stairs protested my weight as I carried my hefty typewriter down. I set the suitcase by the door, and the hulking machine on top. From the corner of my eye I could see the cabinet with the gun. I knew I shouldn't take it, but I also knew leaving it behind was almost as dangerous. With a practiced sigh I opened the doors and leaned the rifle against the wall. Sally wouldn't be happy. I called out, one ear on the front door, “you ready?” There was no reply.
“Sally?” Nothing. A new kind of fear gripped me as the words ran through my head.
‘It'll have her soon’. It couldn't be, it had been less than two minutes. I snatched up the rifle with a quick hand, there was no time for messing around now. I turned the corner with a string of curses under my breath, ready for anything. I caught the back door closing as I did. Part of me relaxed, but another tensed. She should have heard me from even the back deck, why hadn't she answered? The stock slid from my shoulder until I was holding it tightly pressed to my hip. Sweat dripping from my palms.
"Sally?" Nothing. I jogged to the door and then through it to the back deck, twisting left then right. The silence of the woods hung heavy, unnerving me. But what followed was worse. As I turned to the lake, my heart gave a single cry of misery, and than stopped working all together. There, walking the dock as if all were normal, was my wife. Alone. I broke into a run as she neared the edge of the floating barge. I had seen termites living in healthier wood. I made it to the base when she stopped and turned around to face me. I didn't have the strength to gasp what was happening. Her eyes were gone, replaced with those stones of charcoal darker then night. I could feel the life seeping out me, sinking through my body and out my feet. The gun was suddenly too heavy to hold.
"Finish.” Her voice didn't even belong to her anymore. The once velvet melody now dull and grey. My tongue felt like lead as it formed words without permission.
"What are you?" I tried not to hear the hopelessness in my own voice. She smiled slowly, but it was a smile that corrupted the beautiful face.
"Old.” I nodded like that was the expected answer. My knees buckled, no longer seeing the point of standing, and I hit the ground hard. A sob racked through me, and the black dots of panic climbed back into my vision. I looked to her through blurry eyes.
"What’s happening?” The thing before me cocked its head like they all did. It twitched once.
"Finish the story,” it said before stepping back and falling into the emerald waters.
A scream ripped through me, loud enough so that I felt the burn as I sprinted to the docks edge, fear finally giving way to fury. The water was less than three feet deep but there was no sign of my wife. Not even a ripple in the water. She was gone.
I lay motionless as I watched my life crumble around me. Finish the story? Why the hell…? The question kept my mind from imploding. What possible reason could this... thing, want with a story? I stood, not even realizing I had fallen, and dragged myself to the cabin. I threw open the back door and went straight for the writer. A thought had occurred to me, if it needed me to finish, maybe I had some power. I sat it down at the kitchen table and began to write, wondering if perhaps this was insanity.
“The writer’s wife was gone, and in a way so was he, his body little more then an empty shell without her. The situation appeared helpless but in some ways the writer was grateful for the voided emotions. If he was empty inside, he could fill himself with whatever he chose. And he chose rage, a rage he could channel in the only way he knew how. Through his pen. Well, metaphorically speaking. He now sat at the kitchen table he had shared with his wife little more then two hours past. The thought brought a pang of pain, but he was quick to push it away. There was no room for anything but determination if what he had in mind was to work. His fingers raced upon the keys faster then they ever had before. He wasn't certain but he had the feeling that time was not on his side. He began with the lake.
“-Chapter twenty three-
She was gone, yet still there. The writer’s wife lay at the bottom of Emerald Lake, trapped, but somehow alive. The thing inside her was old like it had told the writer. And strong. But it had a weakness like all things did. It too was trapped, ted to the Emerald Lake like a kite was tied to its wire. It needed the writer to be free just as the writer needed it to free his wife. It had roamed Earth before, but not for centuries and the thought of being free of it’s watery cage again was one too good to pass up. So it had taken the wife from the writer, thinking it would force him to finish the story. And it would, but not the way it intended. The wife's eyes blinked once, then twice, then stayed open. She saw through the clear water to the skies above, surprised to be alive. Surprised to be breathing. Yet she didn't fear, or hurt, the writer was seeing to that. Suddenly she could move her legs and arms, enough so she thought she could stand. So she did. She took a breath of air and smiled, happy to be free.”
I sat back, moving my hands nervously. Hope was slowly blooming in my chest. Could it be that easy? I was almost too scared to check, but I stood anyways. Almost stalking my way to the back door, my hands shook. I turned the handle and resisted the urge to close my eyes: I knew that would do no good. I walked over the threshold, and back outside. I didn't even notice that the forests were no longer silent. Loud even. There was no movement from the dock and I felt hope slipping, but I held firm and refused to let it leave. Whatever happened, I would not do what it asked. The thought gave me a small sense of purpose. The dock shifted under my feet, but I didn't notice that either. I had eyes only for the water’s end. The clear, emerald water. I reached the last plank, going far enough so that my toes hung out over the edge. I leaned, staring down. Nothing. I waited. Nothin-
There was something. Seeming to come from nowhere.
Bubbles that reached up and out of water, popping with small, soft plops. Just as suddenly as the bubbles, two eyes appeared. Two bright, blue eyes attached to my wife.
My knees grew weak again and a sigh of total relief escaped. She was there. It had worked. I fell to my stomach and dipped both arms into the water, grabbing Sally under the arms. It was so cold I was surprised it wasn't all ice. She looked up and blinked when she saw me staring down from above, curiosity clear in her eyes. How she was breathing I had know idea, but I didn't care anymore. We would get away and leave everything behind, even my writer.
I was done, for good.
When her face broke the water she stood on her own accord and heaved a great breath of air as a smile slowly spread across her face. Word for word, it had worked. I helped her onto the dock and embraced her, refusing to let go.
"Are you ok?” The words seemed distant my ears, even though I was sure they came from my mouth. I felt a tight nod against my shoulder and I squeezed even harder.
I pulled back after an eternity and held her by the shoulders, her sparking eyes looking deeply into my own. I suddenly wanted very much to get away from the water.
"We are getting as far away as we possibly can.”
She nodded and I grabbed her hand, pulling hard towards the cabin. A bird called somewhere in the distance, and it stirred an old thought, deep in my mind, but I shoved it down. Leaving was the only important thing. I half dragged Sally into the cabin and vaguely felt her hand slip out of mine. I didn't turn back in my haste. Where the hell were the keys? I ran to the cabinet where we had found the gun and ran my hand over the top, mentally wincing as I felt the dust gather.
I was pulling my Daffy Duck key chain when the shot cracked through the air, just like like a whip. It was louder then it should have been, the sound amplifying off of the cabin walls before reaching my ears. And something ripped through me.
I looked down to my chest to see a delicate rose was slowly blooming where my heart should have been. I almost smiled, admiring its beauty. But as the rose wilted and morphed into an isle of dripping red, so too did my appreciation. I understood then, but strangely felt no fear when as the realization dawned. I had written the very scene I was staring at hundreds of times, always curious of how it looked in real life. Well, now I knew.
I turned, trying to ignore the wet feeling against my chest. Sally stood with the rifle, unwavering as her very blue eyes bore into mine.
I had only one question.
"Is she alive?”
The thing looked at me with the cool gaze of a predator. Under it, I recoiled.
"She never was.”
It watched curiously as he died, twisting once in life before laying still in death. The writer had finished the story, and that's what was important. The words had fulfilled their purpose. It paused once before leaving, looking back over the emerald waters to think. It was very pleased with the story's ending.
It always was.