Author’s Note: Due to family related issues, D. Wallace at Mythos of the Mirror has handed over the monthly speculative fiction prompt to Carol Forrester at Writing and Works. Thank you to both of you for keeping this prompt going.
The picture for this month was so captivating I just had to write something.
So, here is my take on it. Sorry if it’s a little long….
They say loneliness and darkness can play tricks on a person’s mind. The combination can make one hear things that aren’t there. They make one….see things. See things that….I don’t know.
After all of this time, I still don’t know.
Maybe it was the loneliness.
Maybe it was a trick of the night’s darkness.
Who can say?
The first night I spent in Shellabye’s Cottage….
There was no moon.
There were no stars.
There were no lights, no power. So, I went to bed early. I was alone for the first time in a very long time.
And that wasn’t going to change. Not after that whole ugly break-up with Genevieve. I didn’t want anyone to tell me what to do, when to do it, and all of those assorted nag lines.
Things weren’t always so bad between us. There was so much love and happiness when we started. But things never stay steady. Things fluctuate. Things go up. Things go down. Sometimes they come back up again. Sometimes they just stay down.
Our whole relationship never came back up after that first bad argument. Funny thing is, I can’t even remember what it was about. So, it couldn’t have been all that important.
It’s such a funny thing how people can change like that. How priorities can shift. How such big deals can become very small nothing deals.
Anyway, we broke up. Never divorced. Just broke up. Like a chunk of ice dropping off an iceberg. Thunk! into the water and float away. I packed up my bags and left. Fortunately, we never had kids. So, that was that relief.
I left her without any real destination in mind. I just wanted to get away from her and from anything or anyone that would remind me of her. Several train tickets and inquiries later, I found myself a place to stay: Shellabye’s Cottage.
It was a nice enough place made out of rocks and shells. Kind of small and personal. Just the place to be when one wants to be alone.
Genevieve wouldn’t have liked it. She would have said that it reminded her of a mausoleum or something from a horror flick. Not that what she would have said mattered. She wasn’t with me.
I came alone. Just me and my Toughman overnight bag. I should have packed more clothes, but I had been in such a rush I’d just grabbed the first suitcase and stuffed as much clothes into it as it could hold. She had yelled at me the whole time. I had yelled plenty back.
I have a bad feeling I may have packed mostly underwear.
It wasn’t likely that Genevieve and I would ever get back together. It wasn’t likely we’d even talk to each other again. We had both said some pretty hostile stuff. Stuff that would be hard for man or woman to overlook.
The power went out half-way through the day. It’s hard to do much of much without power. So, I gave up and went to bed. I laid flat on my back and stared at the ceiling fan. I kept expecting it to start up.
It didn’t start up.
The blades stayed stationary. No sound. No motion. Nothing.
I don’t remember how, but I drifted off to sleep. My last thought was of her.
I woke up a lot later than I’d expected.
The power was still out.
The house was dark. It was so dark I could inhale the darkness’ ink. I could feel it in my lungs – sticky and gooey and clumpy. I could taste it in my mouth and in my throat — black ink, black licorice, blackberry jam.
I could almost feel my pupils widen in a desperate search for light, any light.
But there was none.
Darkness reigned supreme.
In the dark I thought of Genevieve. I thought about how irritated she’d be about my lack of action. She would pull out her cell phone and call the power company. Or she would order me to stop moping and do it myself.
I thought of Genevieve and I missed her. I missed her so much more than I’d expected.
I asked the darkness, “What will I do without you?” not expecting an answer in my head or out loud.
I didn’t get an answer, but the floorboard near the door creaked. Maybe it was something that happened a lot. Maybe it was the house settling.
Maybe it was…
I couldn’t think of anything beyond house settling.
The floor creaked again and again.
Maybe it was my imagination, but the creaks sounded like they were coming closer. But I didn’t hear any footsteps.
Just the creaks.
They sounded like they were coming across the room in slow, measured creaks.
I laid as still as I could. Maybe it was my imagination, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe there really was some other person, some other thing, in the room with me.
And it was coming towards me.
I stared up into the darkness, listening, barely breathing, barely thinking.
The creaks stopped.
I stayed still.
I didn’t breathe.
I hoped that there was nothing to hear.
But I listened.
I expected a sound.
It was so dark.
It was so quiet.
It was too quiet.
I was going to hear something.
I knew I was going to hear something.
There was something in the room with me.
I knew it.
I knew it!
The floorboard right next to my bed creaked – a long, sustained creak.
I couldn’t breathe at all.
I couldn’t move.
I could do nothing but stare up at the ceiling.
Then, something flashed.
A small glimmer. Like moonlight on a knife’s blade, something glimmered above my face.
My heart pounded. Sweat beaded all over me.
I stared into the darkness and it stared back at me. I could see it in the darkness…two eyes.
There was no mistaking it. The white part of the eyes seemed to glow. The colored part were an old black and white movie shade of gray. The pupils were not round. They were slits.
The rest of her face slowly appeared, lit only by the whites of her eyes.
A sardonic smile.
A soft cotton-weaved scarf lay loose over her head and over her shoulders.
She was almost pretty, but there was an unsettling design to her face. The longer I looked at her the more she looked like a man. I couldn’t explain it, other than it had something to do with her high forehead and her lack of obvious hair.
The grayed lighting highlighted the shape of her face…and the shape of her skull.
She opened her mouth to speak.
The lights finally came on.
I was alone, lying flat on my back.
The fan blades started up again and I was alone.
I grabbed my Toughman luggage and ran out the door. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to make it right with Genevieve, but I would do my best to fight for her. I would try to make things right between us again.
I would never return to Shellabye’s Cottage ever again.