I am house sitting for a friend. It is an old large house in the center of a small village. Many years ago the house was an inn, then an artists' colony and now my friend lived in the twisty warren of its rooms all by herself.
The house is filled with antiques and art, all immaculately kept. I wonder who does the dusting. There is a chaos of color that somehow finds a balance that is not unpleasing to the eye. It feels cozy. Outside are beautiful flower gardens; the kind that look a bit unkempt but you know that the gardener puts in an effort to make it appear so. There are shade trees and benches. Wonderful nooks in which to read books and sip coffee.
I am here for two weeks. I am hoping for quiet. Peace. No one knows I am here other than my friend who is overseas. I wanted it that way; to be unfound for a awhile.
Things are fine at first. I spend a few days getting to know the town. It's like the opening montage to one of those "woman finds herself alone and finds herself" chick flicks. I find a nice pastry shop and there is a farmers' market where I buy vegetables daily. I visit a small dusty bookstore run by a little old lady with a penchant for serial killer biographies. I love to walk early, when the dew is settled on everything and children draw wet smiley faces on the windows of cars.
Then one morning I see him. A man from my past who I dated briefly a long time ago or at least I think I see him. I catch only a glimpse of him walking by on the street as I am chatting with a store clerk. I pass it off to my imagination.
Later that evening I am in the garden picking berries when I hear someone's footsteps on the porch. I look up and see a man in the window of the house looking out at me. It is him, the man I saw on the street. He just smiles and waves and steps away into the darkness of the house.
I grab a hand scythe from the shed and rush into the house. I search top to bottom and find no one. I am shaken but still tell myself I must be imagining things. That being alone in the house is giving me the creeps and that I've not yet let go of the stress of my life. I consider calling a friend to stay with me but I so much want to have this time to myself I decide against it.
I am confused as to why my imagination is bringing up this man. He was a rather dull individual, which is why we never dated more than a few times, but he was kind and certainly not the stalker type. If this was my brain playing tricks on me why him?
That night I try to sleep in my room but my ears are too alert. I'm still creeped out enough that every creak of the settling house or rattle of the wind in the trees brings me back to wakefulness. I get up to make tea and decide to read in the living room. As I'm sitting on the porch I look up and see his face in the window illuminated by my reading lamp. I stand up to run outside and I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn and he is there behind me.
He's dressed like an old school preacher. With a wide brimmed hat, white collar and plain black buttoned suit without lapels. His beard is neatly trimmed. His eyes are expressionless despite his wide smile. He turns and walks away from me, through the kitchen and out the back door.
I call the police. They arrive and search the house and the grounds but find no one. I tell them I don't know how he got in so quickly, that I'd just seen his face in the window before he was suddenly behind me. They know I am here on vacation, they tell me houses like this can sometime play tricks on you and that maybe it's just stress. I'm annoyed but they do promise to keep a car outside for the night. I go to bed.
In the morning I wake up and head to the kitchen to find that all of the silverware has been removed from its drawers and laid in neat rows on the counter tops. The coffee mugs, bowls and dishes, all upside down, cover the floor. I run outside and knock on the window of the police cruiser. I ask the officer if he saw anything. He says no, he was there all night. He did walk the grounds a few times but saw no one. I bring him into the kitchen. He is as perplexed as I.
I decided to get a room in town. I won't stay in the house another night. I don't want to be alone. I am angry that my peace has been disturbed.
I am in my room packing my suit case. I hear a door slam downstairs. I go down to investigate and of course, as always, no one is there. I stand staring out the window wondering if it is my imagination. Wondering if I'm going crazy. Maybe I walked in my sleep last night? Maybe I did the weird dish thing? Maybe the stress of my life is finally getting to me?
I hear a whispery sliding sound and turn to look...I see part of the wall sliding to the side. A secret door, he is standing there. His lips are moving and I strain to hear...
"None of this is real. None of this is real. None of this is real. None of this is real."
I lose it. I run towards him screaming that I'm not crazy. He's the crazy one stalking me. What does he want and why the hell is he doing this to me?
Suddenly he grabs my collar and begins to pull me back with him into the darkness. He's laughing as he moves back at an impossible speed. So fast my feet are flung out behind me as though I am flying.
"None of this is real. Not this tunnel. Not this darkness. Not this house. Not me. Not you. None of this is real. None of this is real."
I yell for him to let me go and with a thump I find myself landing on the front walk. I see the officer on the porch knocking on the door, shouting if I am okay. He turns and sees me on the walk.
"How did you get here?"
"He is in the house," is my only reply. I refuse to go back in. The officer fetches my bag and drives me to a small bed and breakfast down the street.
That night I can't sleep. I have a glass of wine but rest does not come. When I drift off I am back in the tunnel flying through the air, my ears filled with his whispering chant. I finally close my eyes but suddenly awaken. I'm unsure of the hour. I wonder what has awakened me and then realize I feel hot breath on my cheek. I lay there frozen...
"Every moment of crazy. Every misplaced book, every lost key. That's me. Every demon, every saint, every second of uncertainty...that's me. That's me...."
The breathe changes to the other side of my face.
"I'm not here for love but I'll never leave. All your wishful thinking. That's me. I'm here for your eternity. That's me..that's me...that's me."
And then I woke up.