Sunday, December 16, 2018

Fiction: FORGET ME NOT by Alexander Kautz

Fiction by Alexander Kautz

Established by settlers during the gold rush, the little town of Helmsford rested upon the northern banks of the mighty Hope River. Surrounded on either side by an ancient forest, the community of twenty three hundred and sixty four dwelled within the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. Though gold had never been discovered within this region, its main resource was the nickel mine and its lumber industry. During the summer they were flooded with tourists and fishermen and by the fall, the forests were filled with big game hunters.
Most of the residents were the direct relations of the original settlers and the few new-comers, like Jack Ingram, had simply found the old world charm too irresistible to avoid. A single man in his mid-thirties and without children, he had established himself quite easily. Having worked in the graphics art department for a large advertisement company, he could afford the luxury of a simple life. He had married young and having been responsible and a workaholic, Helmsford had been exactly what he needed. Just a quiet, slow paced little community.
The home that he had purchased was a lovely two story on five acres. Built by an executive of the mine for his family during the mid-fifties, it was truly magnificent. With exception to updating appliances, some electrical and putting in a new furnace and hot water tank, he was very pleased, Located on the west side and furthest edge of town, it provided close proximity to all necessities without being too close to any neighbors.
Less than a week from Halloween, he found great relief within knowing that at least this year, the kids wouldn't toilet paper his trees or toss eggs at the house. He truly despised the city and this being his first month out of that life, he couldn't wait to just kick back and relax!
Yes indeed, nothing to do for the next month except lay about and get some much required rest... The idea had been great but short lived. Jack had always been the type to stay occupied, which is what led him from absolute boredom, into searching every nook and cranny of the house with cleaning supplies in hand.
Within a few days he had cleaned and polished the oak panels that ran mid-height throughout the main rooms and cleaned the glass in all the French double doors. He had shined the beautiful oak staircase railings and polished the brass oak leafed lamps and lions andirons. The house had come with a few unexpected extras. An antique black, Sessions mantle clock that when wound, kept perfect time, chiming on the hour and on the half. There was also an old, ornately carved, oak wardrobe in impeccable condition and a lovely old GE Cathedral radio from the early nineteen thirties. Jack had fallen in love with the radio the moment that the old tubes warmed up and the rich sound of the field coil speaker offered a tune by Glenn Miller. It was the local station ORH 98.5 a.m. Nowhere else had Jack ever heard the classics played as though they were still in popular demand. Nothing could have pleased him more!
The basement was dry and well maintained. Bright and clean, it had only been previously used only as a wine cellar. The main floor has a large family room, kitchen, pantry and huge dining area and a bathroom. The second level offered four bedrooms, a bathroom with full bath and a large master-bedroom with adjoining office, overlooking the front of the property.
So, while dusting and cleaning to the tune of "In The Mood" he worked his way to where he soon discovered an attic doorway concealed within the corridor ceiling.
Reaching upward, he took hold of the chain and gently tugged, stepping back as the panel lowered and a ladder slid downward.
"Funny. The realtor never pointed this out."
Taking every precaution, he slowly ascended the little wooden ladder, taking hold of the ceiling edge and peeking inside.
Unlike the basement, the attic was dark and filled with dust covered sheets that concealed many things. Curiosity getting the better of him, Jack climbed the last few steps and carefully made his way into the attic. With a single window to the front and one at the rear, the large room was dim. Decades of dust lay upon the floor and the ceiling was streaming with cobwebs that drifted within the faintest breeze. Upon first examination, it had appeared to be little more than a storage place, but closer inspection told other-wise. Drawing the sheets away, he soon discovered what had once been living quarters. A single bed rested beneath the window where antique lamps rested upon bed stands. There was a large mirrored vanity and a desk such as a child might use. An old gramophone rested upon a small cabinet filled with the remnants of numerous decaying dolls and dusty, stuffed teddy bears. An icy breeze caused Jack to pause within mid-stride, rubbing at his arms with a shudder as he gazed into the deep shadows. There was no doubt in his mind that a child had lived in this dismal place, but why would anyone do such a thing in an otherwise large and wondrous home? Unable to shake the chill, he made his way back to the opening and deciding to look the place over later, went back downstairs.
It was as while he stood in the kitchen, preparing a ham sandwich and a nice hot pot of tea, that he was startled by the hysterical voice of a woman in the hallway behind him.
"What are we going to do--," she shouted, "oh dear God--my little girl!"’
"It's all your fault--you bastard--," a man bellowed, "your fault!"
Rushing into the hallway with a tea cup in his hand, Jack stared in disbelief, the room once more, falling into utter stillness.
"Hello--is anyone there?"
It's just your nerves again Jack old man! Don't let it get to you. Remember what the psychologist said about dealing with stress.
Partaking of his light lunch, he soon retired for a nap, deciding that it might be best to ease his mind. Drawing the heavy cream coloured curtains, he yawned, climbing into the fresh sheets of his oak, queen sized bed. The luxury of a peaceful mid-day nap had been lost to him some time during early child-hood and he now relished every moment. Drifting between silken sheets and the large and deep brown, damask patterned quilts, he was soon fast asleep.
It may have been hours but felt like only moments as he turned over, his eyes fixed upon the ceiling.
"What was that?" He squinted, rubbing at his eyes as he now listened intently, waited for that faint sound. It was, he felt quite certain, the sound of light scratching. As though a rodent of some kind had somehow managed to work its way into the walls and then, creep into the attic above his bedroom. It was possible, after all, he did live in the countryside.
It came again, faint at first, like something slowly scraping across the floor above. Sitting up, he watched and listened as the sound traveled across the room, pausing directly above his bed and to where the light crystalline fixture hung. Stillness and then, a thunderous pounding which caused him to leap from the bed, falling to the floor as cowering in a corner, he gazed upward! Utter silence as the light fixture remained unaffected and absolutely still...
Surely, anything pounding like that, would have caused the crystals that hung from the light to have moved? Moving from the floor, he swallowed hard, his heart pounding as he stood and stared upward.
Frustrated, he rushed toward the window and opened the curtains wide, the late afternoon sun flooding the room.
"It's happening again Jack--," he clasped his hands over his eyes, "you're imagining things. The shrink said that this might happen--it's only stress induced, don't let it get the best of you. The realtor--that's it--," he snapped his fingers, grabbing his cell phone from the night-stand.
"If there's anything going on around here--he'll know."
Listening for the dial tone, he fidgeted with his wrist-watch.
"Hello there, can I speak with Jerry Langdon please?
There was a moment of silence and then the voice of the cheerful young man replied.
"Yes, Jack, good to hear from you--how are things?"
"Well Jerry--the house is fabulous--," he hesitated, "but--I was just wondering. Did you ever notice all that furniture in the attic before?"
"Furniture--in the attic?" Jerry cleared his throat, "umm, Jack--there isn't an attic in your house."
With that thought, he made his way into the hallway and looking up, discovered that the hatchway into the attic was no longer there.
"Oh geez--," Jack slapped a hand to his mouth, "you're not going to believe this--," he laughed with embarrassment, but I just woke up a moment ago and--well, as dumb as this may sound, I think that I was dreaming."
"It's a new house--," Jerry politely excused the obviously troubled man, "maybe you were thinking about your old place? That happens all the time."
"That must've been it--," Jack chuckled, "sorry about that--I've been having a little trouble sleeping."
"No trouble at all--," Jerry tapped a pencil on his desk, "other than that--is everything alright?”
"Couldn't be better--," Jack sighed, "I just need to take it easy for a while I guess. Thanks again."
"Any time--if you need anything, just call."
"Thanks again Jerry--I appreciate that--,' he rubbed at his eyes, still looking up at the ceiling, "thanks again."
Hanging up the phone, he stood within suspended disbelief.
"Dreams--illusions--hallucinations," he thought briefly, snapping his fingers and hurrying into the bathroom where, removing a vial of pills from the bathroom cabinet he paused to look at the bottle.
"Anti-psychotic’s--," he laughed, reading the label and shaking his head, "the side effects are worse than the damn symptoms. Maybe I would've been better off if I'd started drinking.
Filling a glass with water he washed down a pill, closing his eyes for several moments.
There is nothing wrong, everything is perfectly fine. It's just stress and lack of sleep... Nothing had been the same since the accident that had ended his marriage. He been coming back from a company function and hadn't touched a drop of liquor. The roads had been icy and the visibility almost zero in the freezing rain that night. His wife had been complaining about the time and he'd been up very early that morning. It hadn't been his fault. Six month's with a psychologist had confirmed that issue.
The evening had gone by swiftly as having gone out for some groceries and enjoyed a steak at the local greasy spoon, he soon found himself relaxing by the hearth. Although he did have a large screen TV he preferred the simpler and quieter forms of relaxation. A good book, a magazine article or anything mildly amusing often captivated him for an entire evening. In fact, when he had been with Kathy, they had often shared evening's just sitting together before a nice fire, reading or talking about the events of the day.
No, leave it alone--that part of your life is over and gone and not worth dwelling upon.
Climbing from the chair, he adjusted the collar of his wine colored smoking jacket and made his way upstairs and into the bathroom for another pill.
"That's funny--," he searched the cabinet--,"I know that I put them back into their proper place."
Steady, they have to be here somewhere. You didn't move them and there's no one else in the house--or was there? A presence, something that seemed to watch, follow his every move and then, hide things, move them? No! Stop it, you're getting paranoid!
He searched the cabinet for several minutes, pausing to scratch at his head while looking around the bathroom. There--on the sink counter! You dummy--you forgot them at the sink...
Filling the glass with water, he took the pill, sighing with relief. It had been a rough week, but things were getting better.
A sudden and furious pounding came from the ceiling and reeling back, he crashed heavily against the door, startled and staring upwards!
"Who's there!?" He rushed out into the corridor, his eyes darting from side to side as he searched to detect the vicinity of the sound.
"What the hell do you want?"
"Nothing--," the voice of a man wept from the shadows, "there's nothing more than anyone can do for her..."
"Where are you--why are you doing this to me--," Jack screamed, racing down the stairs as gasping for breath, he stood beside the hearth in utter horror.
There's no one--nothing here! Keep it together old man, you'll be fine! The pill will take effect any second now and all will be fine!
"She's gone--," the man's voice whimpered from nowhere and all about him, she's gone..."
That voice? Dear God--he knew that voice! It was Stan Morrison, the voice of Kathy's father! But how, why was he hearing this now? It was the house, there was no other explanation! It had to be--something about the house!
"It's your fault!" The voice howled accusingly, "your fault!"
"No--," Jack covered his ears with both hands, fighting to keep the sound out, "it wasn't my fault!" tears welled within his eyes as he closed them tightly! Pleading, wishing that it would all just stop!
The pounding now echoed from all around him as he reeled, struggling to avoid the hammering that resounded within his mind!
No--don't let it affect you! Forget what happened that night--forget her! No!
Icy rain came down in a blinding sleet, fogging the headlights of on-coming vehicles and making it almost impossible to see more than ten feet beyond the windshield. It had been a long day and the pre-Halloween office party had been too much! To make matters worse, he'd been feeling ill all week with a chill that plugged his sinuses and clouded his mind.
"Maybe we should've just stayed home tonight, sweetie?' Kathy sipped at a cup of hot chocolate, "you look beat--do you want me to drive?"
"No honey--," he smiled, "I'll be fine--it's just this damn weather."
"Isn't that our turn-off?" She pointed as within the moment that it took for him to look toward the bridge over-pass and back at the road, someone slid out of control, striking them on the driver's side and shoving their car off the road! Kathy screamed as the car crashed against the cement barrier and then spun, breaking through the guard rail and plummeting downward! It all happened so fast, though time seemed to stand still as they dropped from the bridge and crashed onto the highway below!
The world swam within a crimson haze as bloodied, he had turned to look at Kathy. Oh nooo---God no! Somehow, during the accident, she had been forced part-way out the passenger side window and her head and shoulders, crushed beneath the car! Shrieking, he had stared in horror as the pounding beat of the windshield wipers had drummed into his mind, burned into his memory!
The pounding ceased and Jack fell to his knees, his hands clasped before his face as the tears streamed between his trembling fingers.
"What do you want from me--damn you!" He wailed, rushing to his feet and dashing into the kitchen where he pulled a hammer from off the counter.
"I'll get to the bottom of this--," he ran toward the stairs, opening a closet and pulling a step ladder from within.
"The attic--," he growled, "whatever's going on here--it's in there--I know it!"
Scrambling up the stairs, he located the area where he had first seen the panel and doorway.
"Okay--," he steadied the step ladder, climbing up and using the sharp forks of the hammer, began furiously tearing at the ceiling!
The pounding echoed unmercifully, his head aching so badly that he was almost blinded by the pain! The hammer dug deep with every blow, casting drywall and insulation downward as he struggled, fought his way into the attic!
Just a little more Jack--you can do this! Whatever evil resides within this place is up there. Hiding amongst the dust, cobwebs and decades of silent decay! Just a little more--that's it, the hole is almost big enough to get through!
Dropping the hammer to the floor, he reached upward between the beams and with an immense effort, lifted upward and pulled himself through the hole! Darkness, he coughed in the clouds of drywall and insulation as he clambered on hands and knees across the attic floor.
"Where are you--," he paused as his eyes adjusted to the darkness and the light from the hole below offered some perspective of his surroundings. There were no sheet covered antiques, no bed or child's furniture. Just an empty, dark and dust filled room...
"This can't be?" He struggled with the reality, "the house--it's haunted--something, is terribly wrong here..."
"Jack--," a woman's voice whispered from somewhere in the deep shadows, "I'm here..."
"Kathy--," he became rigid with terror, recognizing the voice and slowly turning toward the sound, "but--you died--a year ago..."
"Jack--," it pleaded, as he strained to see in the blackness, his efforts useless as he now crawled backwards, moving away from the voice that whispered again, "come--to me, Jack."
In his horror he failed to notice that he had unwittingly crawled back toward the hole, losing his balance and falling downward in an eruption of drywall! The floor came suddenly as crashing through the step-ladder, he fell heavily to the floor, gasping for breath, struggling to roll onto his back.
Oh dear God--the pain! Something was broken inside, he could taste blood! The world seemed to blur all about him!
The scene changed as in the last year of high school, he and Kathy had sat in the tall grass in the shadow of an old willow, and she had offered him a small blue flower.
"What's that?" He had smirked, accepting the fragile bloom from her.
"It's a forget me not--," she had smiled, her eyes brighter and bluer than he had ever remembered, "so you'll always remember me."
"Oh Kathy--," Jack wept, shaking as looking up, he whispered, "I'm so sorry..."
The pounding beat faded as within the shadows of All Hallow's Eve, Jack moved from the floor and stumbling toward a desk in the hall, opened a drawer, retrieving a small book. Slowly, he opened the cover wherein smiled a small photo of Kathy and the tiniest, blue flower.
That was the answer. The sounds in the house had been memories from the accident and the child in the attic had been his love for her, trapped within his mind... He had forced her memory out, tried to escape the nightmare of the accident by forgetting her! Dear God in heaven above--the house wasn't haunted--it had been him the whole time...
A sharp pain ripped through him as gasping, he clutched the book as braced against the wall, his knees gave way and he slowly, sank to the floor.
The old clock chimed midnight, one year exactly, since the accident on Halloween night... Jack turned toward the window, looking out as a full moon climbed from behind a blackened veil, the taste of salt and iron as blood seeped from his mouth and from somewhere deep within his breast, a gurgling came from a pierced lung that now filled with blood. The world became dim as he sat there just staring, dreaming of days long gone and wishing, desiring only one thing.
"Kathy--," his breath came in short spurts as raising a hand toward the glowing apparition that now approached him in the hall, he fought to draw breath.
"Don't--leave me--again..."
For a brief moment, he thought to have seen her face, loving, compassionate as reaching out and accepting her hand, the world faded into a distant dream.
The Ingram house still stands today and though it had been rented on several occasions, it remains empty as locals claim the place to be haunted. Silent and alone at the edge of town, the property grows wild as during the summer, and only within this single place in the county, blooms the little blue flower called, forget me not...

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