“So, where are you from? Town’s too small to not know everyone.” Tom asked as we walked towards the bridge.
I looked at him a little sheepishly, not wanting to delve into my past. But he had a way of drawing things to the surface. I got the feeling he was trying to get me to admit to something in particular.
“Don’t worry about it, Cosmas,” he said with a hint of accusation. “We’re all running from something, aren’t we? Running, and always pulled back.”
We walked in silence for a moment while we approached and I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Something felt wrong.
I had been so bent on meeting Tom again for the last week or so, and the truth was he seemed like a great guy. Even the friend I’d been wanting. He told me a bit about himself on the walk over and we clicked like brothers. He was a bit dark and brooding but he was also relatable and outgoing. I liked those qualities.
What I didn’t like was the growing apprehension I felt as we crossed the bridge and stood before the woods. It wasn’t quite a stark terror but the sudden anxiety threatened to turn it to such.
I think he sensed it in me, and that I was about to bolt because he grabbed my arm and stared at me with a new intenseness.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, but I thought he knew already, maybe even better than I did.
“No-, nothing,” I stammered. “I don’t know.” My terror intensified.
Tom didn’t pursue me that night. He stayed back and watched with a certain knowing. What was it about that man that drew me? And frightened me?
I spent another several days pondering these things. I wondered to myself how I could have been so taken aback by those woods. I’d never been in them. They weren’t particularly foreboding.
On the fourth day after our encounter, I sat on my sofa in the twilight. Just thinking.
I suddenly had a strong memory that shook me. In truth it was more like a feeling. I felt like I was transported to a different time and I smelled something…old. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant. It reminded me of old wood. And wallpaper.
There was the sound of a child’s laughter and I stood up quickly in another panic.
The memory faded and I stood there in my dark living room for a moment. I stood there, and I wept.
And wiping the tears from my face I made my way to my bedroom and made a decision.
I was going to find that house in the woods.
The early morning was dead calm. I wanted to make my way before the town woke up. I couldn’t really explain why though. It seemed there were a lot of things those days that I didn’t understand.
I packed myself a small stash of food. Wasn’t feeling very hungry that day and the tightening in my chest and stomach wasn’t helping matters much.
I couldn’t help but wonder if I might run into Tom on the way as I left the house and made my way west once again. The man seemed like a magician who might pop up at any moment. That day though, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see him. His apparent unseen knowledge had me increasingly anxious. But I walked on.
I’d like to say something special happened when I entered the trees. Maybe it would have validated my feelings, but when I broke through the brush, I looked up only to see a regular old forest. At least at first.
The terrain was very flat and even though the forest floor had lots of underbrush I thought I could make out the remnants of an old path here and there. So, I followed that.
As I made my way for the next 10 minutes or so I began to notice how eerily quiet everything was. An occasional bird would let out a caw, but that was the extent of the noise aside from my tromping and the sound my breath.
Again, I was expecting Tom to sneak up on me when I noticed something ahead. It was a cairn. A stack of rocks to point the way to what I only assumed was the house that Tom mentioned.
For the first time I felt something different about this whole situation. I felt intrigued. There must really be something out there. I only hoped it wasn’t too far as I wasn’t prepared for a long trip.
The cairn led to another, and another. They were about 300 feet apart and not very easy to spot in the overgrown wood.
From the last one I walked roughly straight until I broke through the tree line. There stood before me a magnificent sight. Magnificent but also sad. A large and once proud home loomed behind a lush emerald field with the woods continuing as a backdrop.
The structure was rundown and obviously in need of repair but remained an impressive construction.
I crossed that field slowly, not knowing what to expect, if I was expecting anything.
I heard that laughter again and froze. It stopped as quickly as it came. The source was lost on me and though I had to fight myself I continued towards the house.
The creak of the wide wooden stairs leading to the porch was almost comforting as I came to the front door. I didn’t imagine there was anyone here and I remembered Tom saying as such. But I called out anyway.
I thought I heard a light rain start on the roof of the porch as I opened the front door and stepped part way in.
Immediately I was hit with the smell of old wood and wallpaper. The same “memory” I had in my living room the night before. A great conflict brewed in me that day. I could have run and forgotten all about the house and part of me wanted nothing more.
Another part of me couldn’t resist the mystery. To this day I still don’t know how I feel about the choice I made to step all the way in and shut the door.