Come, take my hand and walk with me for a while, now, before the winds and snows chill the air. Tell me the stories again, memories of child’s play, school times, learning how you grew from then until now, or maybe we could just become lost in the warmth of silent companionship. Words can sometimes be so overrated when a look, a smile, can say so much more. Let’s go down the lane and see the last of the honeysuckle and bittersweet vines as their summer color starts to fade. Leaves are turning color and starting to fall, carpeting the ground in a blanket of color. I’d like to tell you of places I’ve been and things I’ve done. Tell me of your journeys and the things you’ve seen. Let’s sit for a while on the old rail fence and look out over the meadow, a place so familiar, yet somehow now changed. I guess that happens with time, doesn’t it?
I’ve missed you all these years…….
He woke, tears in his eyes, not knowing why. Strange…! The dream seemed so real. It was like he could hear the soft voice in the back of his mind…, but now it was gone. The cat raised its head and looked at him as if to say “why are you awake? It’s only 6 o’clock “! Why was he awake…, it’s Saturday and no alarm had gone off…, except the one in his head !!! He got up and went to look out the window. The light of pre-dawn was beginning to waken a sleepy world. As he looked more closely he could make out what appeared to be footprints in the dewy grass from near the front of the house, across the lawn to the path. He knew they were real. They’d been real those times before, except he was the only one who saw them. This hadn’t happened all summer though…, or was he just too busy to notice them…, or Ghost had scared the intruder away.
Wide awake now, he gave up on the idea of another hour or two of sleep and went to the kitchen to make coffee. Ghost, his ever-present shadow padded silently at his side. He fried some bacon and a couple of eggs and fixed a slice of toast for himself, reserving a half slice of bacon as a treat for the little beggar at his feet. Coffee done, he settled down at the table for a quick breakfast.
He was beginning to feel like he was being haunted. Being haunted by some spirit that had attached itself, herself to him. The thing that had started to bother him though, was that there seemed to be a sense of familiarity with this spirit, a deep down feeling that somehow he knew her and she knew him. Yeah, at this point he was pretty certain it was a her.
It was September 21st. Tomorrow, he thought, would be the autumnal equinox. For him that signaled the transition from his beloved warm days to the cool of autumn and that followed by winter’s cold, his least favorite time of year. Ah, well, it had to happen, unless he moved to the deep south and that wasn’t likely to happen any time soon.
He finished breakfast, cleaned up the dishes. With no further thought, he washed up, shaved, and got dressed. He put on a sweatshirt and went outside, intending to go for a long walk…, but then noticed the footprints on the lawn and decided to follow. Along the path, trees and shrubs were beginning to attain their fall colors and the breeze deposited some of them along the trail down to the lake. There were no footprints on the path, at least none that he could see. As he neared the end of the woods he noticed what seemed to be a little used trail that lead off to his left and decided to explore.
After a few minutes he reached a clearing that opened onto a broad, scenic view of the lake and surrounding meadow and, in a strange way, it felt familiar to him. As he rounded a large bush he was met by an old split rail fence that enclosed the ruins of a dilapidated cottage that was mostly in ruins as the porch roof had collapsed and the windows were either broken or missing, obviously for some time now. Greeting him as he passed through the doorway was a room full of dusty, rotting, furniture…, a musty smelling sofa with the filling spilling from the torn cover, a dust covered kersosene lamp with tilted chimney, and a dirty, ash filled fireplace. Hanging above the fireplace was an old violin and bow, beneath that were brackets that he imagined that, at some time must have held an old shotgun or rifle. The kitchen was not quite so bad, but still, was dusty and dirty. Dishes and long since spoiled food sat in Mason jars on the shelves. There was still cutlery and silverware in the drawers, and pots and pans carefully hung above the stove. It looked as though sometime, a long time ago, the resident had just walked away and never returned.
He carefully climbed up a rickety stairway to a bedroom loft. It was furnished simply with a bed, still showing the remains of a quilt and sheets on the mattress, all in a sad state of dissipation. On the dresser a crystal bowl held a few pieces of tarnished silver jewelry. He examined a ring and it intrigued him and was pocketed as a keepsake of this visit. Across the room was a chair and a washstand that still held a pitcher and bowl along with a brush and set of combs. In the drawers were towels and washcloths that were in reasonably good condition. Then without thinking much of it, he crossed the room again to the dresser and opened the drawers. Inside he found sweaters, lace shawls, simple dresses, and other women’s clothing. It seemed odd that there were no shoes or boots anywhere in the room. …Mysterious….
He retreated back down the rickety staircase to the living room and was drawn back to the sofa. Beside it on the end table with the lamp sat a picture of a young woman, maybe in her teens or early twenties, the picture was so faded it was hard to determine. What was obvious was that she was quite pretty…, hair pulled back, wearing a light colored gown. He started to return the picture to the table but stopped and placed it in the jacket pocket with the ring.
Behind the cottage was the remains of what may have been a garden with a small bench and a broken trellis…, roses had gone wild and spread over the end of the bench. To the right was the remnants of a vegetable garden or herb garden. Some of it had also gone wild, propagating itself with seeds that fell from the plants from year to year. Behind it was a pile of wood, shingles, and some garden tools, all that remained of a shed that had fallen apart. Among the tools he saw the old rifle that had probably hung over the fireplace. It was weathered, worn by the elements, rusty barrel and trigger. He carefully picked it out of the pile and brought it back to the house, placing it back in the brackets. The room looked complete now…, more or less.
He looked around, preparing to leave and go back to his house. Strange, this place looked so familiar, though he knew he’d never been here before, at least he didn’t ever remember anything like this. Back outside, he stopped long enough to pick a few strawberries that were ripening along the fence and a blossom from the wild rose, then turned and went back up the path.
Back at the house he deposited his “treasure” on the kitchen table, putting the rose in a glass of water on the sink. He picked up the ring and, remembering an old trick his grandmother had taught him, took it into the bathroom, pulled out the toothpaste, and rubbed toothpaste over the ring, rinsed it, and dried it.
It had polished to a glistening silver-white sheen and was quite beautiful. Returning to the kitchen, he retrieved the picture and took it, along with the ring to his bedroom, placing both on the nightstand next to the bed. He was suddenly hungry, thirsty, and a little tired. Well, back to the kitchen for a snack. A peanut butter sandwich would do…, some strawberries and ice cream sounded better…, and he had strawberries from his little excursion…, and now knew where to go to get more. He relished this little treat and went back to the bedroom, fell across the bed, and was soon fast asleep…, dreaming.
It was so wonderful to see you visiting the cottage this morning. It’s been so lonely and empty for all these many years since you’ve been gone. I tried to keep it just as it had been and waited for your return. You will come back…, won’t you? …and thank you for polishing my ring. Do you remember when you gave it to me ? It was right after we finished building the cottage and on our first night there. I was so stunned by its beauty, and then you fastened the necklace around my neck and kissed my shoulders. I was so happy I cried. You were so quietly romantic…, it seems that you still are. Come back and visit there…, often…, it will always be there for you…, I will always be there for you…, and only you my love………..
He sat up, drowsy from sleep, and checked his watch. It was almost 4:30 and he had slept for almost three hours. As he started to get up he noticed the picture. The tarnished old frame now gleamed brightly, and the image was now sharp and clear. She was lovely…, but who was she, and why had she chosen to invade his dreams…, and his life, and who was he to her anyway?