"Thank you, I'm just looking while my wife finishes her shopping," I said.
"You'd be the couple that bought the house with the old Indian ruins, eh?" asked a raspy voice.
I turned and saw three men in their seventies, all with their pants too high, drooping shoulders and thick glasses. They looked strangely similar. My surprise must have shown on my face.
"Jebediah saw you pass through town a few days ago with a pretty, young lady. We knew someone had bought that place and most young couples just pass through on their way to somewhere more exciting," said one. Another nodded, suggesting to me that he was Jebediah.
"I'm William Foster. We moved up here because of a job transfer." My eyes went from one to the other, even though I tried to concentrate on staring at the speaker.
"We're triplets", said the third. "Identical triplets."
"I didn't think that was possible."
All three chuckled. "You've been up there a few days now. Have you seen anything?" asked one. They all leaned forward to hear my answer.
"No moose or bears, yet. We did see a deer yesterday. My wife hopes to see quite a few of the wild animals around here."
Two of them looked at the third and he said, "That ain't what we mean, Mr. Foster. Have you seen anything...unusual?" He emphasized the last word.
"Oh, you mean like the ghosts of a native couple?" I asked with a laugh. "We heard the story earlier today."
The three looked at me seriously and my laughter died. "Every few decades, terrible things happen up there. There've been people that have lived there for years and never had any trouble, but then every few decades..."
"Every few decades...what?" I suspected he meant native trouble. Was the house built on land that had been stolen from some native group a hundred years ago? I hoped that if that was the case we'd get a fair offer on the house and property.
"You tell him John, you're the eldest," said the second man.
The first man pointed a finger at me. "Don't laugh at me or what I'm about to say, young man. That Indian legend is true. Every few decades something comes back and turns someone into a madman. Then the killing starts. Twenty-five years ago it was that Johnson kid." The other two nodded sadly. "He used to sneak up there with his girl. One night he came back covered in blood. He was thrown in jail and a cop was sent up to the house to find the girl's body. The Johnson kid escaped and killed another four people before he disappeared."
"Forty-five years ago," began the second, "some hippies were passing through town and they camped up near the house. All that was ever found was their blood-soaked belongings."
"It goes on and on," added the third, "as far back as we have any kind of record. As near as we figure, it begins with the ghosts. So have you seen any ghosts, Mr. Foster?"
My mouth had gone dry. The realtor had told us none of this. Or, I wondered, was it all some fairy tale meant to scare off newcomers? "No, we haven't seen any ghosts."
"Pray you don't." The first one remained while the other two shuffled away through a narrow doorway into a yellow hall. "Were you looking for something in particular?"
"Excuse me?" I quickly returned my attention to the speaker.
"You came into a book store and you seemed to be reading the titles of the books on those shelves, there, pretty carefully."
"Ah, it's just after that ghost stuff..."
"We've done what we can to warn you. I know it sounds crazy, but this is a completely normal town aside from the goings on up at your house. Can I help you find a particular book?"
I glanced around and noticed Cyn through the window. She appeared to be talking to some guy. I didn't want to interrupt her and she would have brought the guy in to the bookstore if she had wanted me involved. I turned back to the old man, who had now sat down on a stool beside the counter.
"About those ghosts - did anyone ever try to investigate? You know, like the cops or some ghost hunters or something?"
He rubbed his whiskery chin. "Well, as a matter of fact someone did come up here to investigate the problem. It was some Yankees. They were from some University in New England. That was back in...oh, I was just a kid then. I think the school started with an 'm', Miska...Mississippi or something. They said they were experts in this type of phenomena." He spoke the last word with some disdain.
The door bell rang and the old man and I turned to see Cyn walk in.
"Oh, there you are Bill! I might have figured you'd be pestering the local book seller, looking for unusual first editions."
"Hi, Cyn!" I said. The old man stood and bowed to my wife.
"Well, I'm sorry to take you away but we've got frozen food sitting in the truck so we'd better get back home sooner rather than later." She raised her eyebrows and I recognized the signal.
"Okay. I'll have plenty of time to come back another day." I turned to the old man. "Thank you for your help, sir."
He tilted his head a little and then nodded to me. Cyn and I left and we walked hand in hand to the pick-up truck.
"So, who was that you were talking to outside the book store, Cyn?"
She gave me a puzzled look. "I wasn't talking to anyone." She looked around. "Do I have a doppelganger here in town?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I guess."
I was dreaming that I was driving home from grocery shopping and the pick-up was bouncing over every rut and bump. Cyn was holding on for dear life and yelling at me to slow down. But I wouldn't. For whatever reason, I just knew the eggs in one of the bags weren't going to break. We screeched to a halt in front of our home and Cyn threw herself out of the car. I grabbed one of the cloth bags and held it out for her. She glared at me as I watched the liquid mess dripping from the bottom of the bag. The yellow and white became a pink and then a deep, blood red.
Something had a hold on my arm and I awoke with my heart hammering in my chest.
"I heard something," Cyn whispered. She was tucked right up to me, under the covers.
"Probably a bat, or a squirrel that somehow got in. I'll go chase it out the door." I threw back the covers and we both shivered; the room was freezing. I grabbed my housecoat and put it on.
Cyn rose and put on her own thin robe. "I'm not hiding up here while you face off against some wild animal downstairs."
I shrugged. Truthfully, I wasn't eager to find out what had made a noise downstairs and was happy to have her company. "I'm amazed you were able to hear any noise over the sound of the frogs."
"What frogs?" she asked.
I opened my mouth to respond and realized I couldn't hear the usual nighttime frog serenade. "Well that's spooky," I said quietly. Cyn nodded in response.
I still hadn't heard a noise from downstairs. I went to the bedroom doorway and listened, but all I could hear was Cyn shuffling over to me in her slippers. I stuck my head out, but didn't see anything amongst the shadows.
"I guess we forgot to turn the heater on."
She gave me a strange look. "Bill, it was twenty-eight when we went to bed. I'd been thinking about putting the AC on because our bedroom tends to be warmer than the first floor."
"I'll check it out tomorrow. It must be on the fritz."
I led her along the hall to the balcony and then we looked down into the living room. Everything was silent and still. We went to the stairs and slowly made our way to the main floor. A thought occurred to me. "Cyn?" I whispered. "It's probably something small. I'll check out the kitchen and you check out the laundry room." She nodded and slowly shuffled away.
My fear was that a bear had broken in and was busily eating food in our kitchen. I padded to the dining room area, listening carefully. Strangely, everything seemed to be where it was supposed to be. As I drew closer to the kitchen I still heard nothing and when I peaked in it was empty of any pilfering beast.
Could she have dreamed she heard a noise, I wondered? Cyn had always been level-headed. She was an artist, but a very grounded one.
Suddenly, I heard her gasp in surprise. I whirled around and there was something standing in front of me. It looked like a native warrior, but lacked the eagle feathers I would have expected. He was roughly my height, wore some sort of soft leather shirt and I could see through him. Goosebumps rose along my arms.
We stared at each, or more accurately I stared at him in shock while he glared at me. Then he rushed at me with his arms outstretched. I closed my eyes and felt a blast of freezing cold strike me and blow my bathrobe open.
Opening my eyes, I looked about but the apparition was gone. Then I remembered that Cyn had gasped in surprise or fright and I raced across the house, bumping into several heavy pieces of furniture in the darkness.
I found her standing at the doorway to the laundry room, her hands on opposite sides of the opening as if she were trying to widen the door frame.
She whirled about and my heart broke when I saw the look of hopelessness on her face.
"What is it, Cyn?"
"Did you see her? She must have run past me and toward you!"
"Did I see who?"
"The native girl...the ghost!"
"Ah, I saw a warrior in the kitchen," I shrugged my shoulders.
Cyn jumped into my arms and then we both recoiled. Cyn's skin was like ice!
"You're so cold!" she said.
"Let's go upstairs and cuddle under the covers until we're both warm again," I suggested.
Cyn seemed unsure, but then nodded her head in agreement. A minute later we were snuggled up together in bed. Each of us was lost in our own thoughts and as much as I wanted to discuss what we'd just seen, I couldn't find the words.
I was just drifting off when I heard Cyn murmur, "She seemed so sad."
The next day we didn't communicate that much. Oh, we talked, but never about what had happened the previous night. I went over maps while Cyn painted and drew. Whenever I peeked over her shoulder I saw foreboding and alien landscapes. That was very unusual for her.
I wanted to believe I had dreamed the whole thing, and if I introduced the subject of the ghosts I was afraid that Cyn's memories would confirm my own. So I thrust myself into my work, even though I had another week and a half before I had to report in.
And the house seemed very normal, now.
That night, I awoke to find Cyn missing from our bed. I rolled over onto my back and let out a deep breath. The air in the room felt warm on my bare chest and arms, and it had a calming effect on me. I turned my head and stared across the room and out the large window. The frogs were beginning to sing their mad song. The sound grew in volume as more and more amphibians joined in.
I sat up and rubbed my eyes, wondering if Cyn was feeling okay, and then I decided to go looking for her. I also thought that she might be up to a little fun if she were awake enough at this ungodly hour.
I got out of bed and left the room. Reaching the balcony, I saw a light on in the kitchen. I descended the stairs, passed along the short hallway and stepped in to the kitchen. Cyn was sitting with her back to me, doodling aimlessly on a piece of paper while she nursed a glass of wine.
She jumped and slowly turned to face me.
"Is it you, Bill?"
"Of course it is. Are you all right, honey?"
She stood up, took a few hurried steps toward me and then hesitated. She bit her lip and then took the last step, wrapped her arms around my midsection and hugged me tightly. She started sobbing.
"Talk to me, Cyn. What's wrong?"
"I had a terrible nightmare! I was in bed and I rolled over and put my arm on you, only to find that you felt wet. I opened my eyes and I could see that you'd been skinned! There was blood everywhere! And then you turned to face me and said 'give me a kiss, honey'. I screamed and woke up. I was covered in sweat and I reached out for your arm. Except that you weren't there. I got out of bed to go looking for you, but you walked into the room just as I reached the door. You were all red and bloody and I could see your muscles and tendons and bones and stuff! And then I really woke up and had to get away from you for a few minutes. I'm sorry!"
"That's okay, Cyn. You had a bad nightmare. I understand." I rubbed her back while I held her tightly. "Why are you sorry?"
"I don't know!" she wailed.
I held her for a few minutes, until her crying subsided. "Look, why don't we go back upstairs to bed? It was just a nightmare and you've got it all out of your system now. It's just like last night."
She gave me a frightened look, and then it changed to one of confusion. I put my finger on her lips.
"Let's just go back upstairs, Cyn."
I led her back up to our room and then put her to bed. She didn't resist. A few minutes later she was fast asleep, while I lay awake for several minutes more wondering what it was that she felt sorry for.
The next day we avoided each other. We ate breakfast and lunch together, otherwise she did her thing and I did mine.
By late afternoon I grew tired of examining old and current mine sites on the rolls of maps, so I went for a walk. Once outside, I picked up a long and fairly straight branch to use as a walking stick and set off along a narrow trail. It wound through the woods and the mix of coniferous and deciduous trees were thick enough at times that I couldn't see more than five to ten metres further along the trail.
The chorus of frogs started up the moment I was outside, despite the fact that we were several hours from sunset. As I hiked, I found I was in a zone of not-quite silence. I could hear the frogs at some distance from me, but none of those immediately around me made a sound. It was a little eerie, but I had experienced similar things with wild animals in the past.
At last I came into a clearing. It was perhaps seven metres across and all the trees that had grown in the circular area had been cut down so long ago that the stumps were rotted and crumbling. In the centre of the clearing were several large blocks of a type of dark-green stone that I didn't immediately recognize. There were a half dozen standing upright about the clearing, and they varied in height from two to three metres tall. One near the center of the clearing had been knocked onto its side long, long ago.
I approached a stone and placed my hand upon it. Surprisingly, it was quite cool. The rock was a serpentine marble and I noticed small flecks of fool's gold in the white veins. I hadn't seen any serpentine marble on the geological maps and I wondered what long forgotten race of man had brought these massive blocks to this exact location, and for what purpose?
There was a distinct feeling, or aura, of age and I could well imagine generations of native shamen coming to this spot to conduct their worship of the spirits. I felt intrusive and looked about in embarrassment, but no-one was around.
That's when I noticed that the frogs were silent. When I thought about it, I realized that I hadn't heard any frogs since I had drawn near these standing stones. I felt goose bumps rise on my bare flesh, and I decided to walk back to the house. Cyn would be interested in knowing about this site and it might provide some inspiration to her.
Then I heard a faint whistling howl and a chill wind blew downwards from above the clearing. I shivered.
I wondered if Cyn had already seen the clearing with the odd stones and grew angry. If she had seen it then why hadn't she told me? She knew I was interested in odd things like this! I turned to stomp home and give her a piece of my mind when I suddenly heard the frogs strike up their night music.
I took a step and the sound filled the clearing as hundreds of frogs all began to compete in loudness. I threw my hands over my ears to block out the noise.
What had I been thinking? It wasn't like Cyn to keep things from me. How could I have thought she'd be so selfish? The frogs quietened to their normal nighttime volume and I uncovered my ears. I glanced up at the sky and realized it was much later in the afternoon than I had thought.
I hurried home. The experiences in the clearing grew less important as I went. By the time I arrived, Cyn was just finished cooking dinner and I merely mentioned in passing finding a clearing with some odd rocks. Cyn rolled her eyes at the mention of 'odd rocks' and then we sat down to a quiet dinner.
I rolled over and realized that Cyn wasn't where she should be. I opened my eyes and tried to focus. She was talking to someone just outside the bedroom, although I couldn't hear who she was talking to.
Sitting up, I stretched and yawned and then put my feet off the bed. I pushed myself up, caught my balance and yawned again. The cold air wasn't making me awaken any faster than normal.
"No, I don't want him to ever find out," I heard her whisper.
She must be planning a get-together or something, I thought, but I couldn't think of what it might be for. I staggered to the bedroom door and peered out into the dark hall, but Cyn wasn't there.
"I know. I feel that way, too," said Cyn and then she giggled. Her voice came from the bottom of the stairs.
I walked a couple of steps to the railing and looked down into the living room. She wasn't there. The moon was nearly full tonight and the reflected light bathed every surface in a silvery glow. There was no sound except for my breathing. I remembered the nightmare I'd had a couple of nights earlier about the ghost and shivered. Goose bumps rose on my bare chest and arms.
"He doesn't suspect," she whispered from somewhere below. But I couldn't tell where she was.
I descended the stairs carefully, keeping a tight grip on the banister. Reaching the first floor, I thought I heard a noise off to my right, near the laundry room. There was a door there that led to a cellar. I put my hand on the doorknob and then jerked it away. It was freezing cold!
Then I heard Cyn say something inaudible from behind the door. I ignored the bite of the frigid metal on my bare palm and opened the door. It squeaked in protest and a cool breeze flowed over my flesh, giving rise to more goose bumps.
"Cyn? Are you down there?" I called out into the darkness. I heard a giggle in response, and it definitely came from the cellar.
I reached out to the light switch and flicked it, but no light went on. There was another sound below and then the sound of something like a paint can dropping to the stone floor.
"Cyn? Are you okay?"
There was no response. I wondered, what was she doing down there? Guessing she might have hurt herself I headed down the stairs. The deeper into the cellar I descended, the better my eyes adjusted to the blackness. I knew the room was small, but there were shelves and empty barrels and crates throughout the room and Cyn could be anywhere.
As my foot touched the bottom step I heard the squeaking of rusted hinges behind me and I turned in time to see the door close. Now I was totally blind. I knew all I had to do was climb back up the stairs but before I could move a cold breeze washed over me. Startled, I took a few steps back and fell into an open crate with a crash.
I flailed my arms in a panic, trying to get a handhold to pull myself up. There were noises throughout the cellar, bangs, squeaks, hisses and what sounded like the gnashing of teeth. I managed to pull myself out of the crate and I stood perfectly still, listening to all the noises about me. How could they go on for so long while I was perfectly still?
"Cyn!" I called out loudly.
The sounds abated. I could hear thumping on the ceiling and I thought I heard the croak of a frog. Then the door was thrown open and Cyn's silhouette was framed in the doorway.
"Bill? Are you down there Bill?" she called out nervously.