A paranormal mystery that twines the paranoia that accompanies trauma with a murderous past
For the first three months I sheltered in Bishopville, and only in my periphery, a flash of something big and angry passed me when I walked back from checking the post office box. The mass hovered outside direct sight and brushed by after I stepped onto the pavers that led to the three step porch and the front door of the cottage. I knew if I turned I wouldn’t see a thing. So I didn’t even try; avoidance was my favorite routine at that time. I’d fallen into the habit of ignoring all the warning signs for the last few years of my life. Not that ignoring the snarling beast in the room will do you any good—it’ll still bite you the moment you step too close. Despite all this experience which had taught me so little, I ignored the heebie jeebies that giant mass of ill will tossed at me daily. I hurried my step to a sprint after I reached the sidewalk in front of my cottage and focused on the cracks between the pavers. The sight of my scared rabbit scurry probably attracted the thing even more, but I was too wrapped up in healing to bother with fighting it off.
The cottage my father rented for me had a few of its own mysteries: the furniture was dark walnut-stained oak of the Empire Period, the glass-globed lamps were hand-painted with wild birds and a large, blue-enameled stove graced the small kitchen. If I closed my eyes and concentrated, I could conjure wide, sweeping fields all around the little house with the stream filling a side pond. The road before the current back of the little house was stamped dirt. In the early afternoon, horse-drawn flat wagons of people and vegetables, bales of hay or firewood traversed the road. Sometimes a single, noisy vehicle motored by with one or two passengers. When I let myself imagine this other world, I felt the shoulders of the little cottage relax on its foundation. A sigh of roof timbers and a shivering in the old panes of glass in the front windows accompanied ease in my tense back and aching muscles. Recreating this world was taxing but let me sleep without dreams of my other troubles.
In the little bedroom that looked out on the tangled heap of the former grocery, an odd stain crept out from under the bed. At first, I thought the wood floor was stained by an inadvertent spill of coffee, syrup or some other amber-colored and then darkened liquid. But the stain only felt sticky in the morning when I first set my feet on the floor to rise; the rest of the day, the irregular splotch was smooth from years of scrubbing like I did to remove it. I tried oil soap, kitchen floor scrub and finally bleach. When scrubbed, the odd spot released the sweetest scent that I later identified as rose. Could it be a remnant of a spill of perfume? The stain did not disappear only to reappear later like the Canterville story, but that thought actually broke my morose mouth into a slight smile.
In October when I finally bought a nice oriental from the hodgepodge store on the next street, the owner asked if I planned to use it in the bedroom. The older woman’s eyes told me she knew about the stubborn spot that crept under my bed. I nodded and spoke for the first time that week, “Do you know anything about the cottage?” My voice croaked out of a rusty throat.
The woman’s face broke open into wrinkles, jowls and crooked, yellowed teeth, but she was standing in the only pool of light in the dusty place. Something nudged me into smiling back; there was nothing threatening about this particular mass of energy. The woman was pure ornery humor. “You look just like your grandma, Miss Kylie. Yes, I know all about the cottage and your family. Your daddy wanted us to look out for you here, but it looked like you wanted to be on your own for a while. Would you like to have lunch with me tomorrow?”
I nodded, but the iron taste of fear was clutching the insides of my mouth. I swallowed and imagined blood. “Yes,” jumped out of my sour mouth before I could stop it. Exactly how alone I’d been for months floored me. I hadn’t even noticed the silence with my busy brain shouting all that time. I extended my right hand for hers; it was the acid test.
Her eyes glittered like marbles—a smoky blue that is nearly gray, bagged eyelids hooding them but exposing honesty. She shook my hand, and I was sure of the goodwill emanating between us. I whispered, “My name is Kylie Timmons, and you’re right, I needed to be by myself for a while.”
She became serious and squeezed my hand, “Good to actually meet you, Kylie. I’m Agnes Burley and my husband,” she looked through the narrow aisle toward the back of the store, “who is out back somewhere, is Walt. Your daddy and Walt were in the same grade. But I remember your family, Miss Kylie. I’ll tell you all about them.”
A wisp of unease floated through me, so I shivered. “The cottage has something to do with my family?” I cursed my one-track mind; a very nice woman was offering me information, and I was chewing, as my dad would say on the same old bone.
She nodded. Perhaps it hadn’t occurred to her that I would come without any information, “Oh, yes. The little houses, the grocery and the pond are all a part of your family history. Even the big house on the other side of the pond once belonged to your people. What have they been teaching you over there on the western shore?” She cackled out a little chuckle to show she was kidding. “Your father leased your cottage from us; we own a whole passel of places over there near the river and the pond.”
I smiled at the reference to the geography that now separated me from my old life in the city. The divide of the bridge spanning the Chesapeake Bay was wider than the few miles it traversed. On this side, I could live in the little cottage for months without anyone questioning my presence. The tenant who lived upstairs hadn’t even been introduced for a few weeks, and after three months, we only nodded coming and going.