This story is entitled, “What is Circumspect? by Sophie Wilde.” For around a year, my family and I lived in a century old farmhouse on the coast of Virginia. I’ve tapped that experience many times as inspiration for my writing. This story is one example. Hope you enjoy!!
What is Circumspect? by Sophie Wilde.
“Hmm,” she murmured aloud, ever so lightly tapping her fingertips to the keyboard — lightly tapping but not really making contact, not really allowing thoughts to mesh with concrete word.
“Deep sigh,” she expounded again, aloud. For this had become a habit, there was no one to listen.
Here I am alone on the very second day of the experiment. The first day didn’t count. It was too busy stocking up on eatables from the grocery, eatables for a month. One-month alone Sophie Wilde, with no human contact except a fifteen-minute conversation every night with your editor on Skype.
She stopped typing,
And again, whose brilliant idea was this?
Oh yes that’s right, mine or was it his?. Restlessly, she strummed her fingers across the keyboard as if it were some kind of piano. The house around her creaked. It was windy. It was October in a hundred-year-old farmhouse on the coast of Virginia, and its walls creaked. Its doors creaked. Not much in the house didn’t creak.
Evening 8:30 PM on the dot:
“How was your first night Sophie?”
His name was Stephen, Stephen Archer, and he smiled broadly. He was youngish, divorced guy, about fortyish, five to seven years older than she, and not bad looking. Although until just this moment, she hadn’t taken the time to notice.
“You are paying me for this? And it’s the second night.”
“You bet baby, any insightful observations or just vacant ramblings on your first night alone?”
That’s right. He always called her baby. That’s why she hadn’t noticed if he were good looking.
“Second night Stephen.”
He nodded, grinned, and took a sip from a beer bottle. Damn, she hadn’t bought beer, but wine yes, wine and a bottle of bourbon.
“So, you’re all stocked up sweetheart.”
She sighed, “Yeah,” she thought across so many hundreds of miles he might not be so irritating. “Yeah, all snug as a bug Stephen.”
Midnight or so,
She was keeping a journal beside her bed, the old-fashioned kind with pen and paper. She’d moved into the house, completely furnished. It was an old farmhouse that Stephen Archer had rented for her from just a photo off the internet. She still remembered clearly that curious conversation some months ago in his Richmond office.
“So, do you think solitude makes people crazy?”
She looked at him quizzically, although over time she’d come to feel she really didn’t look at him at all. “Depends on the person, depends on the solitude,” she delivered rather slowly and decisively. In dealing with men, particularly in the workplace, she’d found it imperative to be exact and never hesitate, otherwise they would intuit it as some sort of softness.
He stared at her keenly for a moment as though considering, but she tried not to notice too much. She’d made a practice of never looking at him too closely. “So, Sophie Wilde, I’ve come up with an idea, if you’re not too faint of heart to give it a try.”
She frowned, faint of heart? Clearly, he was trying to push her buttons.
“What idea?” she said curtly, but with enough off-handedness to make it clear that she didn’t expect too much.
He smiled again, and she did happen to catch his expression this time. He seemed amused, sort of like the cat that had the mouse exactly where it wanted it. “Halloween’s coming up. How about I stick you in some old isolated farmhouse near the Rappahannock for the month? You keep to yourself, completely, and send me an interesting column at the end of each week.”
“You’re kidding,” she said blandly.
He nodded, “Hey, if you’re concerned I could send Sam or one of the other boys.”
He did know how to push her buttons. “But what if there’s just nothing interesting to report?”
“Well then, it’s a little getaway for you on my dime. And no TV or radio.”
And in addition, no shopping or visits to any stores. That’s why the big stock up, just nothing but her and the house. Of course, walks were allowed but no visiting. She’d just be the eccentric recluse that moved into the neighborhood for a month.
She stared despondently at the blank page. She should write something, record something, but she’d never been particularly big on diaries.
I don’t like my room.
She scribbled down with irritation. The master bedroom on the second floor was filled with antique cherry wood furniture, and the other two bedrooms were completely empty. So much for being furnished, and she used that word loosely. So, she’d designated one empty room as her yoga room, and the other had yet to be labeled. But she’d brought her sheets and satin comforter from home, her apartment in Richmond. They lent comfort. They connected her to what she really was.
She walked through the graveyard at dusk. There was actually a graveyard not far from her house behind an old Baptist church. She expected that for the most part it would be quiet and unoccupied.
Does solitude drive people crazy?
It was a question that she turned over in her mind as she watched the light slowly eek out of the cloudy sky overhead. She’d wrapped herself in a crocheted black shawl that she’d inherited from her grandmother upon her death. Her sisters had wanted jewelry and china, and she had wanted the shawl. It felt like her grandmother, carried her stillness.
She walked on, the earth beneath her feet crunching with the leaves that had already begun to fall. “How did you get here Sophie Wilde?” She whispered to herself.
A breeze cascaded through her blonde hair that she’d pulled up into a loose bun. And then she stopped — just a few yards away there was a man kneeling near one of the graves. He seemed consumed with his own thoughts and hadn’t even looked up to note her approach. So as quietly as she could, she turned, starting to head in the other direction.
“Please don’t leave.”
She froze in her steps. Remember, remember reclusive, she turned around slowly. He was standing up now — an odd looking fellow, long brown hair just past his shoulders, dressed in strange attire, some sort of suit, but clearly antiquated. “I didn’t want to disturb you,” she called out.
He began to walk toward her, and she felt a nervousness flutter up to her heart. Was this visiting — a random conversation at dusk in a cemetery? He had longish black hair, a beard and mustache, not clean-cut like Stephen Archer, although somehow neat in its flamboyance. “Disturb me?” he smiled, pausing just a few feet away from her. “There isn’t much here, except you and your thoughts. It’s refreshing to see another face.”
She pulled her grandmother’s shawl more tightly about her, feeling a chill pass through her in the night air.
“I was just taking a walk.”
“You live in the old Greenwall house.”
“Um, you mean the farmhouse.”
“Yes, just down the road.”
“I didn’t know it had a name. I’m only there for a month. In fact, I should get back.”
He nodded, glancing around them, “Perhaps you should. It’s getting late Miss—”
He waited. He was waiting for her name. And she wondered if she should give it. For things tended to change once you gave a name. “Sophie Wilde.”
“Yes, Sophie Wilde, just so you know it isn’t wise to be about at night here. The land is still untamed. I’ll walk you home.”
She felt trapped. She was breaking the rules but how could she refuse, how indeed?
Evening, 8:30 PM
“How you holding up princess?”
Stephen Archer was munching on a bag of potato chips. He was probably working late to meet a deadline. Just that possibility reminded her of how she ached to be back in the city. “Nothing much to report.”
He glanced up from something on his desk that he was examining while waiting for an answer.
“Really? Nothing? Hmm, this could all be a bust.”
“Yes, it could be an entire waste of time.” It hadn’t even crossed her mind to tell him about the man that she’d met in the cemetery, the man who’d walked her home at a brisk pace, the man whose name she hadn’t even asked for, and he hadn’t offered. While of course, he had hers.
“Well, I expect some creativity this weekend, for your column.”
“I’m sure I’ll come up with something.”
He grinned, although she felt keenly his mind was elsewhere. “I’m counting on it.”
Life has settled into a maudlin routine. And tonight, her column was due. So, she’d decided on the topic of memory — memory and how it fills the spaces when so many aspects of life become empty.
She had avoided going out after her last encounter, except for quick walks thoroughly up and down the road in front of the farmhouse. It was odd, for much of the day a quiet road; and then once and awhile vehicles, mostly trucks bent on arriving at some other destination, came zooming down it as such a pace that someone could be easily killed if they took a false step. Clearly, this wasn’t a destination, just a space that people hurriedly passed through.
Memory — back to topic.
The largely empty farmhouse held several rooms upstairs. The one designated for yoga held The Engagement.
That particular bundle of memories had taken up approximately three years of her life around the age of twenty-five. There were two years of courtship, one of engagement, and its aftermath.
Of course, it wasn’t something that would be spoken about in her column. It was just the idea that memories in solitude take on a larger shape, begin to breathe, and walk like living things. Was this madness? Was this the beginning of madness or just the natural order of life? Where there is space, it will be filled with something. The absence of living makes room for the past to live again.
That was good. She’d use that.
She emailed her column earlier in the afternoon and rewarded herself afterwards with a walk in the cemetery. It was close to dusk, but this time it was empty. She passed the grave where he’d been standing, the odd gentleman in the antiquated clothes.
The inscription read: Amelia Lecord, died 1937, perhaps an ancestor.
“Hmm, some strange introspection Sophie Wilde, are you sure you’re doing all right there?”
She wrapped her grandmother’s shawl more tightly around her. There was a chill in the house tonight. “You didn’t like it?”
“No, it was genius. You should write a book. Why don’t you spend your time writing a book?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“You know, you should. You run very deep. There’s a market for that out there.”
She smiled, but it was all fatigue.
She entered the room, The Engagement room, just to look and see what was still there. As she walked within in her mind, like a broad expanding canvas, she could see the lovely house, the Victorian house they’d picked out for the reception. It would be decorated with violets and pale pink roses. “Will your fiancé be joining you today?”
She walked the room, seeing in her imagination what it would have looked like; how it would have smelled, fragrances.
It was cruel of her to come here, to come here, to put herself through this. But she wanted to just touch the texture of her dream before it was taken.
“No, he won’t be.”
And then she’d turned and left without a word. And called later and cancelled everything.
The following evening at 8:30 PM
“I never asked you Sophie. How come you’re not married or claimed?”
“I suppose but given this odd arrangement of ours I thought we could share a bit.”
She looked at him, his face, his expression, placid, calm, and unreadable. “I was engaged. It fell apart.”
He nodded, “He cheated on you?”
Her eyes widened. How could he— “Why would you say that?”
“You know, it’s funny. I have a barometer for people. And you, you’re very mistrustful. Something must have made you that way.”
She’d thrown a blanket across the wooden floor of the second room. There was something fascinating about an empty room, even devoid of draperies — just silent, open, echoing. She sat cross-legged at the center of the room. She’d already spoken to Stephen that evening. It was clear that he was anxious to go. He had dialed in from home, probably on his way out to meet someone, maybe a date, maybe a group of friends. There were a few friends she had left behind, some family. Told them all she was going into seclusion for a month, and they’d accepted it more readily than she’d expected.
“Perhaps, you should take some time to re-evaluate your life Sophie, what you really want. I think you’ve been in a rut for a while.”
That was her mother. Her mother had applauded the break-up of her engagement, but somewhere along the way had decided the road to liberty was being in a rut.
She closed her eyes and breathed, breathed deeply, clearing away the rubbish — only allowing her mind to soak up what was around her. And then in the distance, she heard it, a strange tapping from downstairs. She opened her eyes, staring at the doorway. Maybe it was a branch rubbing the house somewhere. It was a windy night. So, she waited, and it continued.
She stood up and headed down the steep stairs of the Greenwall house. The staircase in itself was horrible, horribly steep. At the top you could see your way straight down. A fall, a misstep, would be damaging. She made her way down carefully, tentatively, expecting all will be resolved by the time she was finished. But as her bare feet touched on the first floor of the house, she recognized what is was. Knocking, someone was knocking at the front double doors.
They were two white, slim wooden doors, side by side that led onto a screen porch at the front of the house. A screen porch that she wasn’t at all sure she had locked up tonight. She might not have. She couldn’t remember.
Again, the knocking and it jolted her. She was alone here, alone in the house, in this place, this quiet deserted place.
And then a pause at the door. She breathed deeply, waiting, silently. She wouldn’t answer, and they would go away.
She stood frozen behind the double doors waiting, waiting.
Then quietly but strongly, “Sophie, Sophie Wilde, I’ve come to check on you. A storm is coming.”
It was him. She recognized his voice, the man from the cemetery. “I’m all right.” She spoke through the door. “You don’t need to worry.”
There was quiet. Maybe he’d left, moved on. But then again, “It’s all right Sophie. It’s all right to let me in you know. I won’t hurt you.”
Her hand brushed the door. Two minds, the city girl, would be insane to let anyone in now, and the other — the one caving to the solitude, caving inwardly, collapsing. “I can’t now. Thanks for the warning.”
“Take out your candles and your flashlights. You may lose your lights.”
Her heart was hammering, with fright, with confusion. “Thanks, I will.
And then she heard the quick slam of the screen door on the porch as he left. She should go out and lock it, but she wouldn’t. She pulled a chair in front of the doors that lie in the slender hallway. She would sleep in the living room tonight, on the sofa with candles and flashlights.
She walked around the house at mid-morning to inspect if there was any damage. Power had gone off from around midnight until five or so in the morning. As she walked around the house, she picked up stray branches that had been downed here and there. She wore short boots that crunched in the mass of fallen leaves. It didn’t seem too terrible. There was some stray debris on the roof but not enough to cause serious concern.
As she turned the corner of the property, she saw him approaching across the field. The man from the cemetery dressed just the same as the first time she’d met him. There was enough time for her to retreat into the house. It would be rude, but it would maintain her contractual isolation. But she didn’t. She stood there, branch still in hand, and waited.
“Sophie Wilde I’m glad to see you braved the storm well,” he said as he crossed the final distance between them.
“Yes, it wasn’t too bad, although I lost power.”
He stopped in front of her, maybe a yard’s distance between them. He was actually in the same clothes, that short leather burgundy-colored jacket, but antiquated in style, dark pants, and white shirt. “I do want to apologize. I think I frightened you at your door last night.”
She smiled, “Yes a bit. I’m a city girl. You can’t be too cautious.”
He nodded, “Yes, and you are in the house alone, a vulnerable position to be in.” She glanced away feeling uncomfortable at his odd comment. It was kindly meant though.
She turned back to him suddenly struck by a thought. “You know, I don’t even know your name.”
“No, I suppose we haven’t been properly introduced. But perhaps if you’re kind enough to offer me a cup of coffee, we can remedy that.”
There was a heavy wooden table in the dining room, a very rustic piece in the style of a long picnic table made out of dark wood. Sophie had served the coffee there and perched on one side on its long bench while Mr. Joshua Thorn was on the other. Odd, in the daylight hours, she felt no trepidation about inviting him in. But last night, well then it had been inconceivable. “I see, so you write for this newspaper in the city,” he inquired.
“Yes, for about five years now. While I’m here, I send in a column at the end of each week. It was my editor’s idea.”
“And I’m here now helping you break the rules.”
She smiled at his disarming frankness, being a bit astonished at how refreshing it was to talk to someone face to face. “Well, the rules were a bit opaque, and I consider them open to interpretation.”
He was an unusual man, Joshua Thorn. He had pulled his long hair back today in a ponytail — a style that oddly seemed to suit him. He wore a beard and mustache, but it was well-kept, keeping with that out of synch aura that he seemed to project. “I’m sorry. Where do you live exactly?” she asked.
“Not very far. I have a place on the other side of the cemetery.”
“Well, I appreciate the warning last night. I hope you weren’t insulted by my reaction.”
He smiled again, as though he somehow found her amusing, “It was natural Sophie Wilde. Now let me ask you. Are you planning to tell your editor friend about me?”
She sipped her coffee, not really having considered that possibility at all. “I don’t know.”
Eleventh Day — later
Secrets — The Nature of and Purpose of:
She was only halfway into the month and had already broken the cardinal rule. No relationships with the outside world. She was ostensibly not in too deep not to turn around and establish boundaries.
“Why don’t you grace me with your presence tonight? I’ll fix you an early dinner at my house?”
It was difficult to tell him no. He was charming, so charming in that old-world way of his, so mannered, so compelling. She’d paused in her writing. How long had it been since she’d actually been attracted to a man? Not since her debacle of an engagement. She’d closed herself off, just as she was in this house — sealed off from life.
But he was here too in her isolation, a breath of hope. Why shouldn’t she?
“I can’t,” she’d answered.
And then he smiled, as though it was not unexpected. “I see Sophie Wilde, the rules. You’re breaking them but not too much.”
She nodded, “Yes, not too much.”
She dropped the pen. She hated writing by hand.
And then he’d said something else, something unnerving. “So, I wonder if there is another storm tonight, and I come by knocking again, if you’ll abide my entrance or not.”
It was an uncomfortable, awkward moment. She was not at all sure what he meant, if it was in innocence or if it was not innocent at all. So, she hadn’t answered. And then he’d left. He must have left, although strangely now she didn’t remember him leaving. She wasn’t sleeping well, not well at all. It must be that.
“I’m beginning to believe this was a mistake.”
She stared at the screen a bit blankly. Her thoughts were elsewhere. She thought about the unnamed room upstairs — the other was The Engagement but that one, maybe that one was Secrets.
“Sophie,” his voice was louder, more emphatic. She surfaced from her thoughts.
“Yes, sorry Stephen.”
“I said this might be a mistake.”
She stared at him a bit more blankly, feeling a pull elsewhere again. “Why would you say that?”
“You are being careful? Locking doors and such?”
A slight chill crossed the threshold, crossed and prickled her skin. “Yes, of course, why are you asking?”
“I don’t want to worry you, but I believe it’s best to be aware. There have been some deaths, a few miles away from you, closer to the town.”
She straightened up, fear suddenly bringing her back in connection to the present. “You mean murders?”
He frowned. Was that such a difficult question? “Hard to say yet. There has been no cause of death found, just two people. One in a field and one in their house, dead — inexplicably. Do you want to call this off?”
She thought about her room upstairs, just named Secrets, as of yet unexplored — tantalizing. Did she want to call this off? “Not yet Stephen, not just yet.”
Yesterday, it rained, and I spent much of the day sleeping. Strange, for no reason I seemed abnormally tired. I tried to consider what Stephen had said, about the deaths in the area, but for some reason I feel disconnected to it. Rather, it doesn’t feel at all real to me. This solitude has touched me in a strange way, as though I’m a fraction of a step apart, somewhere else from everyone and everything else.
“Do you believe in other dimensions?”
Joshua Thorn smiled with amusement at her. It was nearing dusk, and on impulse she’d decided to take a walk in the cemetery. The weather had dipped a bit, the wind blowing more brutal. And she wasn’t at all surprised to find him there, almost as though he expected her. “Other dimensions, Sophie Wilde. Now that’s a question. I believe some of us live out of step with everyone else, if that’s what you mean.”
“Some of us?” She asked with curiosity.
“Yes,” he nodded. “I include myself in that assessment. Now whether you join me in that grouping is something you might need to decide.”
“What do you think of me?”
Stephen Archer looked at bit surprised. It wasn’t her nature to engage him in any manner that was remotely personal. “In what respect?”
“In any respect that comes to mind.”
He frowned. He was suspicious, cautious, expecting traps where there may be none. “I think you are an amazing writer. You should write a book.”
“Really? That’s what you think about when you look at me.”
He leaned back in his leather swivel chair. He was at the office, late again. And oddly enough, she wondered why this evening. “Oh, when I look at you? When I look at you Sophie Wilde, I think you’re beautiful with your blonde hair, and gray eyes and lovely body. And I always wonder why you are alone. Then when you speak I understand why.”
“What does that mean?”
He laughed, “That’s it. The aura you give off. The I’ll rip to pieces aura if you get too close.”
She stood there staring at the screen with her mouth open. She shouldn’t have drunk a second glass of wine at dinner. She shouldn’t have let Joshua Thorn kiss her goodnight after he walked her home. That was why she panicked. That was why she wanted to connect to her world again through Stephen, and ill-advisedly stumbled through this door. “I don’t do that,” she whispered.
He wasn’t smiling now, just staring at her intensely. “Are you ready to come back yet Sophie?”
“I don’t know,” she murmured.
Oct. 14: Column Day
She was spending the morning doing yoga in the room of Secrets. She still had no earthly clue why she called it that or if she should continue doing so. The other room — the Engagement Room — she simply had begun to avoid, as though it were tainted somehow. Strange, how an imaginary abstract label could become so tangible to the mind.
She cleared her thoughts, breathing deeply, and closing her eyes. She sat on a mat that she’d unrolled in the middle of the room with her legs crossed. “Are you ready to come back yet Sophie?” the question still hung in the air, floating about. Was she? And if she wasn’t, why not? Was this solitude beginning to get comfortable for her? All this reflection, the inner ramblings — in some respect did she prefer being cut off from the mainstream of life?
She breathed in deeply and then exhaled.
“All worthy questions, Sophie Wilde.”
Slowly, she opened her eyes to see Joshua Thorn standing in the doorway of her room.
She felt stunned, confused. “How did you get in?”
“The front door,” he murmured. “You left it open.”
Her mind went blank. That didn’t seem likely. He walked through the doorway and began to circle the room. “I was wondering why you call this the room of Secrets. It’s fairly empty just now.”
“I—I’m not sure.”
He continued to look around as he slowly circled her along the walls, near the long window covered by white gauzy shears. “It seems an odd designation. Secrets take up space and time and energy. Perhaps you were thinking of keeping secrets here.”
“I don’t know. But you’re one.”
And then he stopped circling and turned to her, “I am one of your secrets? That’s right. I am the broken rule.”
Her heart was beating madly with fear in her chest. “Why are you here?”
He smiled for the first time since he entered the room. “To tell you there’s a full moon out tonight. And everything tends to change with the full moon.”
She opened her eyes again, and the room was empty. The first thing she did was go downstairs to check the front door. She turned its knob, and it opened easily onto the screen porch. It was windy outside, and the door there flapped violently ajar in the breeze.
Imagination: The Role of Imagination as It Usurps Memory
She was convinced of it or rather convinced herself of it. The idea that memory, which once had dominance, was now supplanted by imagination—that thing that expands and fills the vacant spaces.
She wrote all morning, expanding her theory until she beat it succinctly into the proper volume of a column. She actually thought it was quite good. And sometime around 1:00 in the afternoon, after she’d emailed it to Stephen Archer, she had time to sit down and really consider what had happened.
How Joshua Thorn had entered her house through a door she’d known to be locked, soundlessly ascended to the second floor of her old horrible creaky house, and almost vanished from her sight. Although in all fairness to what was plausible, he hadn’t vanished in front of her, just when she’d turned away or closed her eyes. She couldn’t absolutely remember.
So, had he, had he been here at all or as her column suggested been an amplified product of her foolishly indulged imagination? And tracking on that thread had she met him at all or was he a figment simply dreamed up to keep her company in her solitude?
She sipped the cup of tea, blueberry tea, that she’d brewed just fifteen minutes earlier.
If indeed she were to dream up a man to keep her company, what would his attributes be?
Charming? – Yes
Comforting? – Perhaps
Handsome? – Yes, but not in a safe way, in an unusual way
Dangerous? – In some respects, but certainly not to her personally
Mysterious? — She paused. Perhaps she was onto something here. Mysterious absolutely. Someone to stimulate her mind. Who had said that — a woman had to first be seduced in her mind and then her body? It was blank, perhaps it had been her. Did Joshua Thorn fit the bill? Yes, he did, which was horribly upsetting. Because if she had simply made him up then, as Stephen Archer had indicated, solitude does indeed induce madness.
So, she would do the only thing she could. Wait for tonight, wait and see if there is a full moon, then she will know that the information he gave her was accurate. And he was real.
“Well, I give it to you Sophie, that was a thought-provoking article,” and then he hesitated.
She had decided to wait until after their conversation to go out, to go out and look for Joshua’s full moon.
“Well, I’m glad you liked it.”
“Liked it? I was riveted. But I have to tell you that I’ve decided to pull the plug on this experiment.”
She felt stunned, as though he’d reached through the screen and physically slapped her across the face. “You what?”
His face looked very solemn, grim if you like. An expression she rarely remembered seeing on the face of Stephen Archer. “I want you to pack up and be out of there in the morning.”
“Why? I thought you liked the columns.”
“I do. They’re brilliant. But my gut tells me something is very wrong with you.”
She couldn’t think, and all she could think was the work she’d done. The rooms upstairs, The Engagement, and Secrets, which still had to be unraveled. The weaving she’d done here with her mind; the reality she’d created. It was a web, a massive web that she couldn’t just walk away from. She shook her head, “No, no, I’m not ready.”
“Sophie,” he leaned into the screen. His voice was different now, not hard, not biting, but soft, concerned. “It’s time to come back Sophie.”
She shook her head turning off the monitor, and then the computer. She rose from her laptop, as though she were in shell shock. And then she picked up the sweater that she had laid across the table and put it on. She wouldn’t deal with this now. She would go outside to see if it was a full moon.
“It isn’t wise to be about at night here. The land is still untamed.”
Joshua’s words when they first met, but she would just slip out for a few moments, not long at all. Just to see. It might well be her last chance to see. She walked through the front double doors of the house out onto the screen porch. The sky was pitch black, almost, except for the dim light of a few stray stars. She couldn’t tell from here, not from the porch, whether or not the moon was full. So, with shaky fingers she unhooked the latch to the door and stepped out into the night. The air smelt strange, of burning leaves. She moved around the side of the house, and in the distance could see a soft glow. Overhead, it was cloudy. So, she walked further toward the light, toward the direction of the cemetery. The burning smell got stronger, and the leaves crunched beneath her boots. She continued to look upward. If she saw it, the moon, she would return home. In the distance, the light continued to glow but fluctuating. The truth seeped in. It was a bonfire. She stopped walking, and in the night sky, covered beneath the shifting, mutating clouds she finally saw the moon—the full moon.
“You see, I told you.”
She heard the movement behind her, though moments earlier it hadn’t been. “What else did I say?” his voice almost in a rasp in her ears.
“Everything tends to change with the full moon.”
She wasn’t sure, wasn’t at all sure that she wasn’t speaking to herself. And then, she felt the pressure of his hands on her shoulders and his warm breath on her neck. “Yes, yes it does. And now I’ll show you why it’s the room of Secrets.”
And the flames that moments before were miles away seemed to be just in front of her eyes.
“Do you think I can take her home soon?”
The doctor looked up from his desk into Mr. Archer’s eyes. He certainly didn’t want to give him false hope, but there was reason to be optimistic. The new drug had roused his wife out of her catatonic state. He stood up, trying to rationalize a way to walk the tightrope between hope and reality. “Mr. Archer, Sophie has made great strides, but she also has created a sort of alternate reality—a bridge if you will, between where she’s been existing and your world. It may take some time before she entirely comes back to us.”
“So, what do I do in the meantime Dr. Thorn?”
He shrugged, “Honestly, play along. Be comforting and play along. By the way, she’s decided I’m some sort of supernatural werewolf creature.”
Stephen Archer frowned, “And me?”
“Still her boss, some sort of newspaper editor. But she’s knows you told her it’s time to go home.”
“Well, that’s something.”
“Yes, in a way it’s encouraging. Your wishes have made some impact on her reality.”
“You know she was a brilliant writer, before the accident.”
“Clearly, it’s her imagination that has kept her from, well, falling apart. As I said play along.”
Stephen Archer nodded, then left the office heading down the hall to his wife’s room.
The rest of the night was a blur. Somehow, she had returned to her house. Well, the Greenwall house. She couldn’t be at all sure now where home was. Joshua Thorn had brought her into the night, near the wild erupting bonfire. And she’d seen the others dancing with abandon beneath the full moon, writhing and mutating beneath the flickering shadows. And Joshua Thorn had beckoned her, enticed her to join them. But she’d pulled away, running through the darkness in terror, and hearing him, chasing her, him, and then the hot fetid breath of an animal.
Somehow, she’d gotten back into the old house sobbing, blocking the doors. She’d spent the night in terror on the sofa downstairs, not truly getting any sleep until the dawn came creeping through the thin drapes.
She heard a tapping at the door. It was early. She checked her watch, just after seven. She hesitated. It could be Joshua, and he would drag her back into the darkness. So, she just waited, silently hoping whoever it was would just leave, just go away.
“Sophie,” she heard a voice through the door.
She shivered. Someone was calling her, but it wasn’t Joshua. She rose from the sofa and moved slowly toward the front hallway. Again, a pounding on the screen door. What if it was a trick? What if it was Joshua? He might kill her this time. He might be responsible for the deaths of all those other people — the ones who were just found dead, no reason, just stopped living. Why would someone do that, just stop living for no reason as though they’d simply had enough of this world, as though it were just too difficult or too painful to go on?
And then she heard a crash and she lurched back in fear. Whoever it was had kicked the screen door in. She turned and leapt toward the stairs frantically, as she heard another crash as the intruder barreled through the double doors that she’d blocked with a chair. She bolted into the room of Secrets, to its center. And sat on the floor with her knees drawn up to her, ducking her head so she couldn’t see. If she didn’t look, they wouldn’t be real, imagination, just imagination.
She heard the creak of the door but kept her head bent down. Perhaps, she had created it all, perhaps the moon hadn’t been full, or perhaps she had made it so.
“Sophie,” a voice said softly. “I told you it was time to leave.”
She was crying, crying with fear. All her things, all the things she had created here to keep her safe and warm, where would they go when she was gone?
“Sophie,” Stephen’s voice beside her now. He was kneeling beside her.
“But there are two more columns to finish.”
He lightly touched her hair. “I know. If you’re not ready, I’ll stay here with you until you’re done.”
She looked up into his face, the tears still pouring down her cheeks. “You would do that for me?”
He smiled, taking her hand in his. “I would do anything for you.”
Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert
First Appeared in White Harbor Road
White Harbor Road is the last stop where life’s burdens and hardships evolve into something unexpected. In this collection of short stories Evelyn Klebert takes us to a paranormal place of healing and transformation. In “White Harbor Road” a woman seeking escape from her life meets a mysterious stranger who has been awaiting her appearance for years. “What is Circumspect by Sophie Wilde” is the tale of a writer in self-imposed exile who stumbles across an unexpected horror in a small town. A discontented wife finds solace in the company of an enigmatic Englishman in “A Few Moments With a Stranger.” “The Lake” finds a young woman in the aftermath of a broken engagement rediscovering her worth through the eyes of a horror writer, and a chronically ill woman finds new beginnings as her path crosses a man with an other-worldly secret in “The Tear.”