"Yeah." I couldn't hide the tremor in my voice. I climbed the stairs quickly, refusing to look behind me and also refusing to take the steps two or three at a time like a frightened child.
"What on Earth are you doing down there?"
"I was looking for you, Cyn," I said with an accusing tone.
"I woke up and you were gone. I could hear you on the phone as you wandered around the house. I thought I heard you down here and then there was a crash and I thought you might be hurt." I reached the top of the stairs and she backed away from me.
"Bill, I just woke up when I heard the noise down here. I've been in bed all this time." She took another step back from me.
"I heard you on the phone!"
"The cell phones don't work up here yet, remember? They're putting in towers or something in the next six months. That's why we made sure there was a landline." She pointed over to the plump, plastic phone sitting innocently on an end table.
"I...but I was sure that I heard you planning some..."
"I was asleep in bed. You must have had a dream and went sleepwalking, Bill. You've never done that before, have you?"
The frogs outside grew louder and my mind seemed to fog. "No, at least...I don't remember ever sleepwalking before. I was so sure I heard your voice down there..." I looked to the cellar.
Cyn shivered and slammed the cellar door shut. "You had a nightmare, just like I did last night. Let's go to back to bed."
She took my arm and led me upstairs and helped me into bed. I lay on my back and half-noticed Cyn slipping her nightshirt off before she climbed between the sheets. She inched over to my side and cuddled up against me.
"You know if you feel up to..." she began.
"No. I'm sorry. I'm just not in the mood right now." My tone was a little harsher than I meant it to be and Cyn backed away a little.
I laid on my back listening to the amphibian symphony again as Cyn began to snore lightly. I fell asleep a few minutes later.
In the morning I awoke with a mission. I was going to get rid of those damned, noisy frogs. Strangely, Cyn agreed heartily. She was an animal person and I expected to have to hash the matter out before putting my foot down. Instead, Cyn suggested that a trip into town to find some way to get rid of the frogs would give us both a much needed break from the odd happenings.
I dropped her off at an antique store, while I headed back to that old book store. The bell jingled when I pushed the door open. One of the elderly triplets was snoozing behind the counter. I glanced at him and then began to search the store for books on nature or pest control.
After a few minutes I heard, "Can I help you Mr. Foster?"
I turned to the man behind the counter, who stared at me a little too inquisitively. He still wore his pants too high.
"I'm looking for a book," I said.
"Well, this is a book store," he prompted, opening his arms wide. "Was there anything in particular?"
"Well, we've got too many frogs up by the house. I was looking for some way to kill them, or scare them away."
He shook his head. "No! No! No! You don't want to do that!"
"Look, they're a huge nuisance, always making noise and calling out their warnings and such. I want to get rid of them!"
The old man gave me a weird look. "Have you seen anything unusual, Mr. Foster?" and it seemed as if his eyes were peering into my soul.
I backed away. "No!" I back away from him until I was up against the door. Then I opened the door and slipped outside, not taking my eyes from him. I walked to my truck and, as I opened the door, I looked back at the store and saw all three brothers staring through the front window at me.
I started the truck, headed for the antique shop and waited for Cyn to finish her shopping. She was in there a long time.
Cyn was silent on the drive home and I wasn't inclined to talk about my experience at the book store. The sky was grey and a wind was pushing the flat-bottomed clouds from south to north. The trees swayed gently.
I turned the pick-up onto the dirt drive and slowed. It still bucked a little as the tires hit dips and bumps in the road.
I noticed the front of the truck was a little low on the driver side, so I coasted to a stop.
"What's wrong?" asked Cyn.
"Flat tire, I think," I replied curtly and got out of the truck. On seeing that my suspicion was correct I gave the tire a good kick.
Cyn opened her door. "Don't bother," I told her. "I'll put the spare on."
I went looking for the spare, but couldn't find it.
"Cyn? Where's the spare tire?"
"How would I know? You always take the truck in for service."
I swore quietly. There was no reason for the spare to be missing. Had she taken it into the house for some reason? She must have, I thought. And now she was lying about it! I ground my teeth and held back my temper.
"I'm walking to the house to get the tire, if it's there," I said with a scowl. "I'll call a tow truck if I can't find the spare."
She opened her door. "I'll come with you."
"Don't bother." She gave me a surprised look, but closed the door. She stared at me for a few seconds and then opened up a book she had brought with her. I turned and began marching toward our house.
I tried walking on the grassy shoulder, but I had to keep ducking under tree branches. So I walked on the dirt road, and it wasn't long before my feet and knees were sore from the uneven surface. The walk seemed to be taking a long time, much longer than it should have.
I wished I were walking at night; at least the croaking of the frogs would be some kind of companionship. Then I shivered at the thought of wanting those damned frogs around. A cool breeze hit me and I suddenly heard the truck approaching along the road behind me.
I turned, cursing Cyn for being so stupid as to drive along this bumpy road with a flat tire. The forest was thick and the path turned a few metres behind me, so I couldn't see the truck. I could hear it snapping branches and I wondered how fast Cyn was driving.
Then it whipped around the corner and rocketed toward me. I could see a man at the wheel, and he and Cyn were laughing recklessly. I dove out of the way, splashing into a muddy puddle beside the road. Pushing myself free, I stepped back onto the road only to see my pick-up skid around the next bend and disappear.
I was sure Cyn and that stranger had looked right at me. So why hadn't they slowed down? For that matter, why hadn't they stopped to pick me up? Then, who the Hell was that guy and where did he come from?
I stomped toward the house and several minutes later, with cool mud dripping down my skin inside my clothes, I rounded the last turn and saw that there was no pick-up truck parked in front of the house. Where the Hell had they gone? I had walked in on the only road or trail wide enough for the truck.
I walked around the house, but there was no pick-up and no tread marks indicating the truck had circled the house. As I reached the front again I spied Cyn slowly driving the truck up the road. She parked it in front of the house and I grabbed her arm just as she stepped out of the cab.
"All right, where the Hell is he?" I took a quick look in the bed.
"Where's who, Bill?"
"That guy that was driving my truck!" I grabbed her other arm. "Where is he? Did he sneak off through the woods? How long have you known him?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Bill! Why did you tell me the tire was flat?"
I shook my head at the abrupt change in subject. Some frogs in the woods nearby, disturbed by our raised voices, began to croak.
"I got tired of waiting. You were gone for two hours! I got out of the truck to stretch my legs and took a look at the tires. They were all fine. Then I looked for the spare and it was right there! What's wrong with you? Why are you so muddy? You've never been like this before!"
I could see the concern in her face and hear the confusion in her voice. I rubbed the bridge of my nose as my head began to ache. "But...the tire was completely flat. You didn't change it?"
She showed me the tire and the spare. How could I have been so confused? "Look Cyn, I'm sorry. I don't know what's got in to me." I looked at her helplessly.
"You have a headache?" she asked. I nodded. She looked about. "The frogs are getting louder and the noise is probably bothering you. Let's go inside and relax a little, honey."
She helped me up the stairs, across the porch and inside and onto a couch. She put the TV on and handed me the remote. Then she left and quickly returned with some tea and toast. She put the back of her hand to my cheek and forehead, tsked and then found a blanket to keep me warm.
"I'm worried about you, Bill. Maybe that tumble you took in the cellar hurt you more than we thought. If you're not better by tomorrow morning I'm taking you to see a doctor."
I smiled at her. "I don't feel weak, Cyn, just confused. It feels like...like...like I'm a marionette - or maybe a rat and some mad piper is leading me around." She gave me a very worried look. "It's okay, Cyn. You've always taken good care of me."
She sat beside me on the couch, leaning against me and then we spent the rest of the afternoon just watching TV. Shortly before dinner we had to turn up the volume as the frogs began their nightly serenade early.
Cyn was washing up in the kitchen and I was, against my wife's explicit orders, gathering the blanket up to put in the laundry room basket when something appeared at the limits of my peripheral vision. I turned to see the ghost of the native warrior pass through the wall of our house.
He slowly surveyed the room. He paused when he saw me, and his eyes grew big. Then he shook his head and continued his search. I was speechless. This was no dream!
His chest and arms were naked and he wore pants of soft leather with a braided cloth hanging down over his groin. Soft, short leather moccasins covered his feet. He had no weapons and his left shoulder was tattooed in an odd spiral design.
His shoulders slumped, as if in frustration at not finding his prey. Then he turned to face me. His mouth opened and closed, and it took me a few seconds to realize he was trying to speak to me. Goose bumps rose on my arms.
The ghost seemed to grow frantic when it became clear I did not understand him. He pointed into the sky several times, with great urgency.
In response, I shrugged and lifted my hands in the universal sign of helplessness. He realized that his message was lost on me, so he closed his eyes as his face went slack. He shook his head three times and then turned about and passed back through the solid stone wall.
I felt a chill run up my spine. There was no trace of him outside when I went to the window. I debated telling Cyn what I'd just seen. Would she think I was getting worse? Was I getting worse? Was I going crazy? The sound of the frogs outside was almost deafening as I stood by the window.
Seeing my wife's reflection in the window, I turned to her and noticed her face was pale.
"Bill, I've just seen that ghost again."
"Me, too. Well, I saw the warrior again. He seemed to be searching for something and when he couldn't find it...he tried to tell me something."
Cyn hugged herself tightly. "She was so sad. Something terrible must have happened to her. After a few seconds, she realized I was there and tried to warn me about something."
"Have you any idea what she was trying to tell you? I couldn't make heads or tails out of what my ghost was doing."
Cyn gave me a sad look. "I think she was trying to warn me about you."
We stared at each other from opposite sides of the room.
"She's just a ghost, Bill. She probably doesn't even know what she's talk..." Cyn stopped, put her hand to her mouth and started giggling.
It was infectious and I started giggling, as well.
Once we calmed down again I asked, "So what are we going to do, Cyn?"
"You hear stories about ghosts and people desperate to get rid of them, but they haven't hurt us."
I frowned. "That wasn't a picnic in the cellar."
"I don't think that was my ghost, Bill. It just doesn't seem like her."
"You do realize how crazy that sounds, don't you?" She nodded. "But, I have to agree. My ghost doesn't seem to want to hurt us either. I think he may have been trying to warn me about something."
"Should we leave? Maybe go into town and find a motel, or a bed and breakfast?"
Cyn wasn't the type to give up on something. I decided to follow her lead, although some instinct deep inside of me was screaming at me to run. "This is our house, Cyn. We'll figure this out in the morning. Maybe that historian will have some ideas."
She cocked her head. "The frogs are going quiet. Maybe we can both get a decent sleep tonight."
"Okay. I'll meet you upstairs, honey."
She gave me a grin and then went up the stairs. I put away the blanket and followed her. Once we were both in bed, we kissed and then rolled over to our respective sides. Sleep came quickly.
I had nightmares. At first, I dreamed of frogs. They were everywhere and they croaked at me accusingly. I ran and tried to escape them but they really were everywhere; their slimy, green bodies, bulging eyes and enormous mouths were all I could see wherever I looked. They grew in numbers until they were piling atop one another. The piles grew higher and higher until there were veritable mountains of frogs surrounding me as far as I could see.
I screamed out for help and a cold wind blew upon me from above. The wind became a blast and it was followed by another blast and then another, and the frogs rolled away in successive rings until they were lost from sight. Strangely, I was far more frightened now.
I was now lying in bed, with Cyn sleeping beside me. An unheard voice whispered to me that the frogs would come back. It was Cyn's fault that the frogs would be back. She couldn't be trusted, it said. Everything was her fault. She had tried to run me down in the pick-up, and locked me in the cellar.
My memories were otherwise, but the voice corrected my memories until it was crystal clear that Cyn was the cause of every problem. The voice whispered that she had betrayed me and that she had to be taught a lesson. Her very name was a homophone for all of mankind's troubles. And hadn't a woman unleashed all the ills upon the world?
I thought, no, this isn't right. But I didn't think it very forcefully. The voice soothed me, and convinced me that right was wrong and wrong was right.
I felt my limbs stir. That was okay, as the voice had told me to relax. My arms pushed me to a sitting position and my legs swung to the edge of the bed and then off. The bed sheet slipped away from me. I could feel the pressure of a hundred wiggling fingers touching me, urging my muscles to move, and yet I relaxed because the voice had told me everything was fine.
I stood up, swaying. The air in the bedroom was very cold. My legs took a tentative couple of steps and I almost fell. Then a few more steps and my body had worked out how to balance itself.
I turned to the bed and saw Cyn lying under the sheet. She shivered and pulled the sheet up to her neck without waking. My legs took me around to her side of the bed and I noticed that my body was coordinating its movements much better than a few seconds earlier.
I pulled the sheet back. Cyn shivered again, her flimsy negligee offering her no protection from the cold air. I put my arms under her and lifted her off the bed. Her head nodded to my chest. The voice commanded me to be gentle with her, as if it was afraid of waking her.
Then my legs moved again, taking me across the cold wood floor, out of the bedroom and down the stairs. The darkness meant nothing to my body; I didn't bump into a single piece of furniture. I wondered where my body was taking us as the door opened of its own accord and a wave of warm air washed across us.
Cyn stirred and I could hear the voice saying, "Wait. Wait."
Then she quietened and I began walking again. Upon reaching the ground my body turned and I somehow knew that I was headed for the standing stones. There was a curtain of light in the sky, not unlike the aurora borealis except that it was flowing in waves that started at a great height and came towards the ground.
As we drew closer to the trees I lost sight of the purples and greens in the night sky. There was an unnatural glow upon everything, though. "Be calm," the voice said.
I walked through the silent trees, while branches seemed to bend back out of my way. I realized it wasn't for my benefit; it was to ensure nothing woke Cyn. My heart fluttered.
"Be calm," the voice instructed, again.
At last I reached the stones and my legs took me to the one in the middle of the clearing, the one that had fallen over long ago. I looked straight up and saw how the curtain of light now looked like a vortex or whirlwind, and the clearing was at the bottom of this phenomenon.
Cyn stirred in my arms. I looked down in time to see her eyelids flutter open.
"What?" she asked, sleepily.
"Do it! Do it now!" screamed the voice in my head.
I set Cyn down on the stone and my hands went to her throat and began squeezing.
"Bill?" she rasped in surprise.
She grabbed my arms and then tried to pry my fingers from her throat. I tightened my grip, using strength I didn't know I possessed. I pushed her back so she lay on the rock. A blast of cold wind fell upon us. Cyn was making strange noises as she struggled to prevent me from strangling her.
There was another blast of icy wind from above, and then another. Two figures fell and landed very roughly in the grass nearby. I turned my head to see a native man and woman, both dressed in hides and skins. The man looked an awful lot like the ghost I'd seen. The woman was younger than he was and quite pretty. They seemed stunned by the fall.
My fingers had loosened their grip upon Cyn's throat as I had turned. She was able to take in a deep breath of air and then I tightened my grip again.
And these cops thought I was a murderer! Couldn't they see that it wasn't my fault?
I reached out for the cup of water, sat back and took a long drink. Two of the Mounties stared at me intently, but with some degree of sympathy. The rest looked bored, obviously giving up the investigation as they thought they had their man. The psychologist was eager for me to continue. Him, I hated.
"Remember our agreement," I reminded them. "When I'm done telling this story, you bring me to Cyn."
The bald psychologist leaned forward and opened his mouth, but it was one of the R.C.M.P. officers who spoke up. "That's exactly what's going to happen, Mr. Foster." Baldy glared at him.
I took a deep breath.
"Kill her! Kill her now!" screamed the voice. "I'm so close!"
Cyn's tear-filled, half-closed eyes left my face for a second and she looked over my shoulder. Her eyes grew round for a few seconds and then returned to my face, full of compassion.
"Bill..." she whispered, "I...for...give...you."
There was another blast of cold air that buffeted me and sent Cyn's hair swirling. My fingers suddenly hurt and I relaxed them. To my surprise, Cyn pulled my hands away from her throat easily. I looked back to the native couple who were slowly regaining their senses.
Cyn grabbed my cheeks. "I forgive you, Bill!"
I pulled her to me and hugged her tightly. "I couldn't stop myself! I don't know what happened, Cyn! I didn't want to hurt you!"
She broke the hug. "Look up!"
I twisted and looked. There was an almost indescribable horror hanging over the clearing directly above us. The coloured lights were gone, replaced with a writhing mass of enormous worms and slime and filth. The thing nearly filled the sky and yet despite its immensity it just hung there, as if gravity were just another law of nature that it dared to defy. It pulsed and glowed and I could feel waves of psychic pressure striking against my brain, near the back of my skull, boring into my nightmares and my soul.