“I promise you, Maria, their house is only a few more miles!” My mother cajoled. I sighed, and slumped back into the rigid car seat. A pain struck through my spine, obviously because of the way I was sitting. How could you blame me? My mom and I had been on the road for three days now, hours and hours spent in one place: the black leather seat of the 2001 Nissan Pathfinder. Miles and miles of rolling hills, sparse clumps of trees, and flowing rapids spanned the journey so far, and I’m sure more are to come.
This was not the trip I imagined in my head when my mother asked me if I wanted to go to see my great-aunt. She had, however, warned me that my great-aunt was a very eccentric woman, and that she hadn't seen my great-aunt since my mother was pregnant with me. I imagined a very short drive in which we would laugh and reminisce about our stories. This was not the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite. My mother would stare emotionless at the rugged road, barely visible with the dim illumination of our car’s headlights. I hated night-time. Countless nightmares of demons, witches, monsters, and other ghastly fantasies inhabited my active imagination, which I owe credit to for making this trip somewhat manageable. I just decided to close my eyes and attempt to sleep.
“Maria, look, we’re here!” I jolted awake. Scanning my surroundings, I noticed that my nap lasted an hour (longer than I would have guessed) and that we were pulling into a very rocky gravel driveway. Blackness shrouded the scene; I saw nothing but that endless dark, everywhere. How my mom could see in this heavy dusk was far beyond me.
At last, the beacons on the front of the Pathfinder revealed an antique looking cabin. What was this, the 1800’s? I couldn’t believe it. It was if someone picked it up and placed it smack dab in the middle of woods in the future.
“Are you sure this is the place, Mom? It looks awfully old,” I asked skeptically, placing one foot at a time out of my sanctuary onto the bits of rock.
“Of course it is. Your great-aunt is just an old soul.”
“Whatever you say.”
We walked to the door. A faint light could be seen from outside, but I could not see inside because of her dark curtains that blocked everything from view. My mother gently knocked on the door. There was a pause before the door was opened, and my great-aunt stood.
“Oh, April, thank you so much for visiting!” My great-aunt cooed. I couldn’t smile. There was something strange about this woman, but no matter how I tried, I could not place it. “And is this your daughter?” Her eyes shifted to me. I squirmed.
“Yes, Beverly, this is my daughter, Maria.” My mother beamed, proud of me like I was her trophy or the wild game she had hung up above her living room fireplace.
“Well, don’t be afraid, come in!” My great-aunt beckoned us to enter. Don’t be afraid? What exactly are you hiding? My overactive imagination began to soar again as my mother and I walked into the cabin.
Upon setting foot on that wood floor, I was immediately greeted by the strong scent of “old lady” perfume. Scrunching my nose, a few keen observations assured me that this was no ordinary house.
They circled around like an insatiable vulture, waiting to descend on me.
All of them framed in some ornate pattern, mostly in oval-shaped pictures. So many people I didn’t know anything about. Were they alive?
“Great-aunt Bev?” I pointed to a cluster of grey faces. My great-aunt slid her feet across the floor, placing a bony hand on my shoulder, sending shivers down my spine.
“Oh, those are friends, dear.” She looked into my eyes, peering into my soul. I just stood there, petrified. I did not like her. I felt no emotions of comfort in her. My great-aunt was cold. Her still heart, not beating in its stone casing. I had to tell my mom. We can’t stay here, no, not here….
The time never seemed to end. My mom and my great-aunt were sitting at the kitchen table, sipping iced sweet tea. Eventually, the allure of the sweet beverage drew me into the kitchen, and I eagerly poured myself a glass and sat down next to my mom.
“So glad you could join us!” My mother patted my back. I’m not in kindergarten, I almost blurted. I rescinded the movement of those words which would most likely earn me a stern finger wagging right in front of my great-aunt. I’m definitely not letting that happen.
My great-aunt, as it turned out, was actually a very interesting woman. She recounted tales of her childhood, when she would run through fields of blackberries with her friend named Anise and spend hours filling their bellies with savory fruit. She also remembered World War ll, when simple commodities such as sugar and certain foods were rationed, so that the soldiers would have enough to survive, and even (I couldn’t believe this) nylon stockings were in shortages in order to make parachutes. I lost myself in her stories, gulping down iced sweet tea until I was surprised there was still any left. But, like always, it was night and my great-aunt excused herself from the table to retire for the night. My mother, much to my displeasure and dismay, placed an inflated air mattress on the floor in the living room while she slept in the “small” guest bed.
I curled up in a defensive ball, feeling the eyes of those colorless people who rested on her walls. Who were they? My great-aunt said they were her “friends”. But, friends could mean about anyone. Oh, what was I saying? She’s not some kind of psychopath. Great-aunt Beverly just seemed like any other person. I sighed and turned, facing the wall. Suddenly, I jumped and stifled a scream.
The person in one of the portraits. I swear their eyes moved!
My hands clawed on my skin, grasping for security of any kind. I gripped my pillow, shivering and shaking like I was sitting in a freezer. But how was it different? The air in the cabin was almost arctic weather. You might as well have seen clouds forming. The portraits and the walls appeared to be closing in on me.
Maybe I was just imagining things. After all, I was a bit wired after numerous glasses of tea. Caffeine does that to you. But regardless, I needed sleep. It must have been only a few minutes before I heard staggered footsteps. My body sunk beneath the heavy blanket. The footsteps impended, hitting the floor like drops of rain. They stopped, and I saw who they belonged to.
“Great-Aunt Beverly?” I whispered, writhing in fear.
“Oh hello dear. Sorry about that, I was just getting some more tea.” I made out a faint smile on my great-aunt's lips in the lightless room. “Do you want a small glass of tea?” She held two glasses in her hand.
“Um, sure,” I replied, wary of what was going on. Who drinks sweet tea in the middle of the night?
She handed me the icily cold glass, causing my clammy hands to tingle. “Night,” She said, and slid back to her room.
That was odd. I heard footsteps, but she doesn’t pick up her feet….
I finished the contents of my glass and carefully set it on top of a coaster. Wrapping myself up in my blanket, I could not help but feel that my surroundings were spinning.
The walls twisted and turned right in front of my very eyes. I clasped my legs together, my heartbeat accelerating faster and faster as if it would explode!
The portraits, oh, the portraits, their eyes were moving! What was wrong with me? What was in that tea glass?
My skin felt so very cold, pale as winter. Suddenly the walls began closing in and the eyes of those forsaken portraits bored holes into my flesh. Their forlorn chant of “Save us!” grew louder and louder and the space between the log walls and me became smaller and smaller and their hands reached out of the canvas to touch me. I could not bear it any longer!
I shrieked, screaming my mother’s name, rattling my lungs and curdling my blood. My eyes slammed shut and I burst into tears.
My mother told me that she came rushing in, witnessing the horrible state I was in, and immediately called 911. I was rushed to the nearest hospital, where I then, when I was able, retold the events of the night.
The old cabin was searched. My great-aunt, the authorities reported, was nowhere to be found. They did take notice, however, of the rips in each of the portraits on the wall, and the words smeared in blood on the wall:
A Year Later
I rested my head on the pillow, safe and sound in my bed, under the bright blue covers. The hum of the desktop in the other room comforted me. Closing my eyes, I drifted into sleep until I heard:
“Oh hello dear.”
© Copyright 2016 Tyler Benjamin. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Poem / Poetry
Poem / Poetry
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