A Moment’s Notice

20130127-193737.jpg

Charles was standing on a sidewalk in downtown Savannah. It was as if the city was alive. He stared up at the buildings. Some looked old and some a bit newer. All them had a story to tell, he thought to himself. People passed by him as he walked down Main Street, some nodded, some jabbering on their phones. All of them had agendas they were trying to keep. He often wondered what was so important to the people around him. Certainly what they were doing wouldn’t hold a candle to what he had to do. A selfish thought, but that’s subconsciously how Charles often felt.

Charles stopped for a moment to take in his surroundings. In the distance he could hear what was probably a local band covering a version of the song “All By Myself.” That seemed ironic, since the area was teeming with activity.

He wasn’t tired, but he just had one of those moments where a big yawn struck him – the kind where you close your eyes and try and take in as much oxygen as you can, for no apparent reason.

When Charles opened his eyes what he saw blew his mind. He was no longer standing in the middle of a booming metropolis. He was standing dead center in a quiet room. He tried to take in his surroundings, but panic was making chills run down his spine. He felt flush and for a moment worried he would collapse. As he scanned the room, the saw the walls were wooden, like a log cabin.

The room he was standing in appeared to be a small dining area between the kitchen and a modest living room. All of it was completely furnished. His worry grew, because now not only was he completely confused as to how he got there, he was starting to think he was in some stranger’s house. He saw a window in the living room and started to walk towards it. His legs were stiff from the panic and blood rush he’d had. The more he moved, the easier it got. His steps echoed through the quiet house as he walked across the hardwood floor toward the window. The curtains had been drawn so he would have to pull them back to see outside.
Charles gently grabbed one panel of the tan and brown curtains and pushed it aside. He gasped as he looked out on a snowy scene. It looked like he was in some secluded tundra.

“That’s not possible,” he said aloud.

His mouth was starting to get dry and he realized he just been standing staring out the window with his mouth wide open in disbelief. The living room looked to be at the front of the house so he made his way to the front door. He opened the door, not knowing exactly what he would see; the way things had been going. It was the same snowy lawn he’d seen out of the window. The air was icy and there was a slight breeze that blew flecks of snow like glitter in the air.

Charles walked outside to get his bearings. The house was in a mid-level valley and the sun had not yet crested the hill on the eastern side. To the west it looked wide open. He wondered what was out there. Of course, he didn’t know where “here” was, let alone “there.”

Charles walked back inside. He was starting to wonder if he was dreaming, or having some kind of mental breakdown. Then he chuckled to himself, thinking if he wasn’t having a breakdown, this current situation might bring one on. He sat on the couch in the living room and tried to gather his thoughts. It was then he realized that a fire had been going in the fireplace. Judging by the wood, it looked like it had been burning for little while. In fact, it needed another log to keep it going. Charles stood up and walked over to the fireplace. The crackling sound brought back memories of his grandparents’ cabin he used to visit as a kid. He remembered how his grandfather could nurse a fire for hours to keep it going. Charles grabbed the poker and jabbed it at the logs to try and stir it up some.

All of a sudden, the front door opened and a big, burly man came into the house. Charles jumped and whirled around.

“Well, I was wondering when you’d get here,” the stranger said with a smile on his face.

Charles realized that he had the fire poker braced in front of him for protection. The burly man was not fazed. “Looks like you could use another log,” he said handing Charles a piece wood.

The man’s voice was deep and somewhat gruff sounding. He seemed to fit the stereotype of a lumberjack. A big black beard covered most of his face, but as he smiled at Charles, his toothy grin shined through.

Charles turned and faced the fireplace putting the log on the dying fire. The burley fellow took his hat and gloves off and hung them by the front door.

“That wind’s got a bite to it, huh?”

Charles replied sheepishly, “Uh, yeah, it’s cold.” The man smiled at Charles. He had a strange kindness about him.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude,” Charles started, “But where am I and who are you? Oh, my name’s Charles, by the way.”

“Oh, I know who you are, my friend. I’ve been expecting you.”

“Ah yes, wait, what?”

“My name is Horace Fletcher, but most folks call me Fletch.”

“And is this your house?”

“It’s not my house, it’s yours Charles.”

“No, that’s not right. I live in a suburb of…”

“Not your physical house, it’s more than that.”

“I beg your pardon? I’m not sure I follow you. I’m well aware that this isn’t my physical house, since it’s not my house at ALL!”

Fletch grinned again. “You, my friend, have a few things to learn.”

Charles wasn’t quite sure how to take this. He actually felt a little offended. “I’m sorry, but I’m not about to take life lessons from some strange, hairy woodsman.”

“Oh, come now.” Fletch smirked a little. “I’m not that hairy!”

Charles’ mind was reeling. What in the world was going on? He wasn’t sure what he was feeling; he was scared, angry, confused.

“Look,” Charles said, “If you would just be so kind as to point me in the right direction of the nearest town, I’ll gladly be on my way. Then you can get back to your lumberjack lifestyle.”

“Sit your butt down,” Fletch suddenly demanded. Somewhat frightened by the large man’s demeanor, Charles obeyed.

“Now listen here, Chuck. There is no ‘nearest town’ or highway that leads back home. There is ‘here’ and there is ‘now.’ Those are your only options. I’m here to help teach you a few things.”

With a slight quiver in his voice, Charles asked, “What kind of things?”

“Well, for starters, you need to lighten up and relax a little.”

Charles swallowed hard. As if he was going to be able to stay calm while this oaf stood towering over him.

“Secondly, you need to think about how you speak to and treat folks. For example, as soon as I walked through that door, you jumped all over me, barking orders and carrying on. Like your business was more important than anyone else’s.” Fletch leaned in close and stared him right in the eye. “I can promise you, it ain’t. But deep down, you know that already. You just forget it sometimes.”

Charles covered his face with his hands, trying to process what was going on, but seemingly unable to do so.

“Are you all right,” a strange voice asked. He pulled his hands away from his face and he couldn’t believe his eyes. An elderly woman was looking at him. He was once again standing in the exact spot on the sidewalk in downtown Savannah. He was speechless.

He quickly scanned the area, his eyes darting back and forth. He felt like he was losing his mind.

“Where am I,” he asked the elderly woman, whose face was growing more concerned.

“You’re standing in the middle of downtown Savannah.”

“I am? How long have I been standing here?”

“How should I know? I only just saw you a moment ago. Is everything okay?”

“To be honest, ma’am, I really don’t know.” Charles wanted to crumble right there on the sidewalk, but he managed to stay upright.

With a determined look on her face, the woman motioned to Charles. “My name is Edith. It’s nice to meet you. Come with me.” Unable to get his thoughts together enough to decline, he followed her.

A few minutes later, they were sitting in the woman’s apartment. She set a cup of hot tea in front of Charles. He stared silently as steam rose up out of the mug.

“This really is very kind of you, but I need to be going,” Charles kindly said.

“Where,” the old lady asked. “Why don’t you sip on that tea and tell me what happened?”

The tension in Charles shoulders eased a bit as he drank the tea. He could feel it’s heat all the way down to his stomach as he drank it. The temperature in the apartment was a bit warmer than he thought comfortable, but he thought that often older people tend to get cold easily.

“I was standing about where you saw me,” Charles began, “I yawned and closed my eyes for just a second and when I opened them, I was…this sounds absolutely ridiculous.” Charles stopped.

“Go on,” the old lady encouraged. “I’ve heard all kinds of things in my life.”

He was wary of what this strange old lady would think of him, but he continued his story anyway. “When I opened my eyes, I was in a log cabin in the middle of a snowy valley.”

“Oh, my, that is interesting.”

“Yeah, like I said, it sounds ridiculous.”

“Not ridiculous, just interesting. You yourself are quite interesting. Please, continue.”

Charles proceeded to tell the elderly woman the whole story, as best as he could remember it, including the bearded fellow he met, Horace Fletcher. He snickered to himself and said the burly man’s named softly, “Fletch. What a strange character.”

“He’s known by many names,” Edith responded.

Charles knitted his eyebrows in confusion. “What do you mean?”

There was a knock at the door. Edith did not stand to get the door.

“Aren’t you going to answer the door,” Charles asked.

“Oh, I don’t think so. Probably somebody selling something. It’s easier if they think I’m not at home.”

The knocking continued and even started getting louder. Charles started fidgeting in his chair.

Charles stood up and made his way to the door. “Let’s just see who it is.” He started to open the door and he could hear Edith behind yelling.

“No, don’t answer it!”

As soon as Charles had opened the door, a hand grabbed him by the front of his shirt and yanked him forward. He yelled unsure of what was going on. He was thrown into the snow.

Snow! It was a warm Spring day in Savannah. “How is it…” Charles stopped and looked up.

“Howdy!” It was Fletch!

Charles scurried backwards through the snow, still sitting on the ground. “Wha…I don’t…uh.”

“Relax,” Horace Fletcher said, with a great big bearded smile. He reached out his hand to help Charles up. “Are you okay?”

“Am I okay?! Is that supposed to be a sick joke?” Charles voice was starting to escalate. “I have no earthly idea what is going on!”

“That woman whose house you were in,” Fletch started, but Charles cut him off.

“It wasn’t a house, it was an apartment.”

“Will you stop being so difficult?!” Fletch shoulders raised a little and he puffed his chest up. “That woman, what did she say?”

“Nothing really. Her name is Edith. She made me a cup of tea and wanted to know about my sudden teleportation, or whatever you want to call it, from sunny Savannah to a creepy encounter with the man from Snowy River!”

“That woman is not to be messed with.”

“She was a kind, old lady who saw me freaking out in the middle of downtown and offered some solace. Wait, why am I telling you. I don’t owe you an explanation. I opened her door, only to find it was you knocking at it and then I get tossed in the snow!”

“I was trying to save your life, now let’s get inside before your face freezes with that angry look on it.”

Charles actually admired what little bit of wit Fletch seemed to have. He followed him into the cabin.

They both sat in the living room, staring at the fire. The crackle calmed Charles’ nerves and he began to speak. “What did you mean you were trying to save my life?”

“You need to rest,” Horace Fletcher said, in a kind, soft voice. He didn’t look much older than Charles, but Fletch seemed to have a fatherly quality about him.

Charles slowly opened his eyes. The fire was crackling in the fireplace and he could see the brown wooden walls around him in the room. For a split second he thought he was at his grandparents’ cabin in the mountains. When Charles snapped out of his dazed, he realized he was in the strange house he had been in before he fell asleep.

The door open and both Fletch and some of the winter air came rushing in. “Brr,” Fletch said trying to shake off the cold. “Ah, I see you’re awake.” Fletch grinned his bearded, toothy smile.

“I don’t even remember falling asleep,” Charles said with a confused look on his face.

“You were out before I even left the room. You were exhausted. You’ve had a big day!”

“Yeah, that’s one way to put it.” Charles rubbed his eyes and stood up.

“Are you feeling better?”

Charles was feeling much better actually, but not wanting to make Fletch too happy, since he still didn’t know who he was, he simply said, “A bit better, thanks.”

“Come in here to the kitchen.”

Charles followed behind Fletch to a small table, that he thought was supposed to pass for a dinner table. It only had two chairs.

“Sit at the table. I’ll make us some dinner. We need to have a chat.”

Charles sat down and replied, “You’re right. You need to tell me what in the world is going on!”

Fletch pulled a large plate of meat out of the fridge and set it on the counter and put a skillet on the stove. Charles couldn’t see exactly what he was making, but he didn’t care. Charles had just realized he hadn’t eaten anything all day. The hunger intensified as the smell of whatever Fletch was making wafted through the kitchen.

“That smells really good,” Charles said, with a hint of excitement.

“Thanks. It’s not much, but it’ll stop a belly growl.”

“So, are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

“I supposed you should know. Let me start by saying that none of this is real, and at the same time, it’s all very real.”

“What are you, the Riddler?”

“I suppose that does sound rather cryptic. What I’m saying is, there is a fight for your mind.”

“My mind? Who is fighting for my mind? I was just taking a stroll in the city, when all of sudden I’m in the Alps!”

“Exactly. You see, you were starting to relax a bit. You’re an uptight person, Charles, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Charles gave Fletch a sideways look. “So you took it upon yourself to make sure I don’t relax?”

“Quite the opposite,” Fletch replied. “I want you to relax, but…”

“And what about that old lady, Edith? She sat me down and gave me tea to make me relax when I was standing in the street panicking!”

“Will you let me finish, Charles?” Charles sat quietly. “Thank you,” Fletch said.

“I want you to relax, but what I don’t want is for you to think only of yourself.”

“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow.” Fletch came over to the table and sat a cup of hot coffee in front of Charles. “Thank you,” Charles responded.

“When you were standing on that sidewalk looking around at all those people, do you remember what you were thinking?”

“Well, I was just wondering where everyone was going. They were all in such a hurry.”

“Imagine what you look like most of the time to other people.”

“What?”

Fletch sat a plate of food in front of Charles. It smelled delicious and Charles immediately dug into it. Fletch sat his plate down and sat down at the table across from Charles. He watched as Charles devoured the food.

Charles realized that he was being watched and looked up. Fletch stared at him for a moment and softly said, “Do you remember what else you were thinking?”

Charles stared back at Fletch with a forkful of food in his hand but stuck halfway between the plate and his mouth. He set the fork back on the plate and stared blankly at the table.

“I thought,” Charles said somberly, “I thought what they were doing was not as important as what I was doing.”

“And that’s why you’re here,” Fletch said what a slight grin of kindness. “Do you remember when you first looked around outside this house?” Charles nodded. “What did you think, how did you feel?”

“I felt alone. There was not another house in sight and you were the only person around.”

“And how about when you sat in this house all alone while I was out.”

“I felt…empty. The loneliest I had ever felt. There was no one.”

“You’re here as an opportunity to see what the world around you would be like if all those people you see every day, your family, your friends and acquaintances, even strangers no longer existed. As if you were given the wish of your mind, that you were truly the most important person who ever existed and no one else mattered.”

Charles sat speechless. He moved his lips a little, but nothing came out.

“That’s what you’re doing. That why I’m helping you. And that’s why there’s a fight for your mind.”

“But Edith, she was so kind”

“She pretends to be. She appeared to you as a kind old lady, because she figured that’s what you’d respond to. She has no desire to help you. She wanted to feel safe and relaxed because that’s what you wanted. To be protected above all else—to matter more than anyone. Edith wants you to keep thinking of yourself. That’s a poor way to live life. Think about all the times you’ve hurt someone because you didn’t take into account their needs.”

“So how is it you were able to rescue me from her place, but she hasn’t come here to take me back?”

“Because I’m good and good always overcomes evil.”

Charles rubbed his hands over his face to try and process what he’d heard. When he pulled his hands away and looked around, he was laying in his bed at home. The sun was starting to shine through the windows. He could hear a quiet voice in the back of his mind saying…

“This is the first day of the rest of your life.”

The Strange Events of the Garrett Estate: June 30

Another entry from the journal of Wallace Knowles.

The past few days have been quiet.  Lady Garrett seems back to her old ways.  She busies herself with her own interests of reading, pruning some of her own special garden flowers, and checking on the maids of the house.  Her and I have had brief, but quality conversations regarding matters of the estate.  As always, I tell her everything is in order, because, to the best of my knowledge, it is in order.  However, today a strange occurrence happened to me while I was in town.  I had what seemed like a dozen errands to run, one of which took me to a small specialty store in town, known for selling herbs for cooking.  The shop keeper made polite conversation with me about the current events of the town and he asked me how Lady Garrett has been.  I replied that she was doing fine, despite a mysterious series of recent episodes that befell her.  His response roused quite a curiosity in me.  He said, “With what that poor woman has been through, I’m surprised she manages to make it through the day at all.”  What on earth could he mean?  I had far too much to do today to look further into this, but I am hoping I will find some answers in the coming days.  It seems there is more below the surface of Lady Garrett than appears.

The Strange Events of the Garrett Estate: June 27

Another entry from the journal of Wallace Knowles:

June 27 –

Night has spread its dark hand over the sky and quiet has settled throughout the house. Lady Garrett and the staff have retired to their chambers for the night. I am feeling restless tonight, I cannot relax. There is something strange going on here at the estate. I had initially thought the episode of Lady Garrett’s fainting was nothing more than that. A single episode. However, after today, I’m starting to think otherwise. One of the servant girls on staff went to ask the Lady a question and when she got to the door, she heard Lady Garrett talking to someone. Initially she thought perhaps the other person was a man, since she couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation as lower voices often do not penetrate closed doors as higher voices do. Taking a chance of being caught, she held her ear closer to the door out of curiosity. She still only heard Lady Garrett’s voice. The servant girl quickly left to tell Elise, the head maid. Of course Elise, being my subordinate, laid out the sequence of events to me. In my haste, I was caught up by the desire to confront the situation head on with Lady Garrett. However, I took a step back from the situation to think things through. I suggested that we keep a close watch on our employer to if the strange events would continue to manifest themselves further. If so, we would need to consult the doctor of Lady Garrett’s condition.

The Strange Events of the Garrett Estate: June 13

From the journal of Wallace Knowles, a loyal staff member on grounds of the Garrett Estate.  He lived on the estate with four others employed by the owner of the property, Lady Edith Garrett.  Wallace was head of the staff.  He kept a journal during his time at the estate.  Here is the entry where the strange events started occurring:

June 13 –

I thought today would be a day like most.  I presented the staff with the duties for the day on the estate.  Maggie was in charge of preparing the meals for the day, but since Lady Garrett asked for her assistance regarding her wardrobe for the day, I offered to go into town to pick up the few items we did not have in our own garden or pantry necessary for dinner.  Upon returning I found Maggie cleaning the kitchen.  I asked her if the Lady no longer needed her assistance and she replied, “Lady Garrett got furious all of a sudden and verbally forced me from her chamber.”  I found that to be very odd, for the Lady never used her authority to demean her staff.  Curious as to her condition, I went to the door of the Lady’s chamber and knocked.  No answer.  Again, I calmly rapped on the door.  Nothing.  I took the master key from my front jacket pocket and unlocked the Lady’s door, because I had grown concerned.  When I opened the door, I found Lady Garrett collapsed on the wooden floor by her bed.  I yelled for help from the rest of the staff and rushed to her.  “Lady Garrett,” I urged as I knelt beside her and tried to awaken her.  By the time the rest of the staff arrived, she had stirred and was sitting up with a damp cloth pressed against her pale forehead.  When I asked her what happened, she seemed unsure, but that it almost seemed like a waking dream.  She thought she had seen a ghost – being a curious person, I must find out more.  I was hesitant to question her anymore today.  The ladies on staff took care of her the remainder of the day and she stayed in bed to rest.  But certainly she did NOT see a ghost, I think.  But some sort of hallucination certainly occurred.


Surrounded

“Phin! Come on!” I heard a voice shout from the hallway. It scared me awake. I apparently had dozed off in my bedroom when my roommate, Will, decided he would shout my name out in his typical obnoxious and loud voice.

“Come on,” he said walking into my room. “Let’s go! You need to branch out and meet some interesting people.”

“I thought that’s why I was friends with you,” I managed to say through my fogginess.

We had plans to hang out tonight with some people Will had met at some vague get-together, or something like that. He wasn’t much on details. Me, I lived by them. Every little thing was important to me, whether significant or not in the grand scheme of things. At this moment, that detail happened to be the spot of drool on my sleeve from where I was resting my face. “What if I meet some cute girl or some guy who hires fresh-out-of-college kids for a multimillion dollar corporation?” I wondered, or should say, worried to myself. Okay, that last part, unlikely since it was just some party at an art exhibit. Sometimes I wonder how Will finds these things, let alone gets us into these places.

We arrived around 7:15 that evening. I was expecting to be one of the two youngest people there. In my mind, these type of events were reserved for the work-aholic, mansion dwellers who were in their mid-fifties. Surprisingly, it was mostly undergraduate and master’s level college students – twenty-somethings. Of course, the gallery had its share of the A-typical elder college professors and art buyers, but for the most part, I felt pretty comfortable, apart from wondering if what I was wearing was appropriate and if the drool spot had dried enough to be unnoticeable when shaking hands with my future wife or employer.

Will guided us through the main hall of the gallery into one of the side rooms where a number of post graduate students were loitering and chatting. “Hey Will,” one of the strangers called out. He was definitely the stockiest of the group and judging from his barely-there-facial-hair, he was more stylish in his own mind than others’.

“Hey Sonny,” Will retorted. I half expected his dark haired, skeleton-faced girlfriend who came trotting along be named Cher. “Sonny, this is my roommate, Phin.”

Sonny stretched out his hand to me, “Sonny Fields, nice to meet you.”

“Phinneas Collins, same to you,” I replied appropriately. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself about the name ‘Sonny Fields’. I changed my mind, I now expect his girlfriend’s name to be ‘Moonlit Waters’.

“And Sonny, who’s your lady,” Will inquired. Here it comes, her lips pursed to make an “M” sound.

“Melanie Drinkard,” skeleton-woman answered holding out a limp, bony hand. We exchanged our pleasantries and made our way to the rest of the group. I said hello to Anthony, a mutual friend of Will’s and mine, and I’m sure I smiled at everyone in the group and shook their hands, but honestly, I can’t remember most of them, probably because that was the least of my worries that evening.

The next hour was murder on my attention span. It seemed that this group of America’s fine youth had their younger years drained from them and had been refilled with ooze from old, boring people who drone on about why a particular painting “speaks” to them and how someone could create such a masterpiece. Granted, some of the exhibits were talent ridden, but this was a bit much even for me.

After an extended period of jabbering I recommended to Will that we take this “party” somewhere else, like the docks. That’s typically where many people would hang out from the spring up until the autumn evenings got too chilly. Will tried to rally the troops to a new battleground and there were some takers. One of which was a girl named Charlotte. She had seemed about as enthused to listen to the art clamor as I was. In fact, she was currently the only person I was worried might see a drool stain on my shirt sleeve.

“Will’s car has room for two more people,” I volunteered, looking at Charlotte. Will shot me a glance that made it seem like I spoke too soon, but I was done with this scene. Then I really pushed it. “Charlotte, would you and your friend like to ride with us.”

“Oh, as long as Will doesn’t mind,” Charlotte replied looking at Will, slightly concerned.

“No, it’s fine, we’ve got room, like Phin said.” I could tell in his voice that I would probably hear about this later.

We hashed out a plan to meet up down at the docks. Sonny and “Skeletor” needed to make a quick stop by the drug store. My guess was that Sonny’s girlfriend needed some more youth serum before she shriveled up.

Will, myself, Charlotte and her friend Rachel got into Will’s “spacious” Prius. I let Rachel sit up front since she was new in town and would have a better view of the area from the front seat. Charlotte and I sat in the back and tried to get acquainted, despite the usual first impression awkwardness.

“Phin, that’s a cool name,” Charlotte said.

“Thanks, it’s actually a family name. My grandfather’s name was Phinneas too.” I felt the need to try to level the playing field by saying something about her name, of course thinking of term ‘playing field’ made me snicker because I couldn’t help but think of Sonny Fields. Charlotte gave me a look, “Is something funny?”

“Sort of,” I confessed, “That friend of Will’s I met tonight, Sonny Fields. His name just struck me as funny.”

Charlotte chuckled in return. “Yeah, that is pretty good.”

I could hear Will and Rachel had struck up a conversation, but to be honest I really had not noticed until Rachel laughed out loud about something Will had said. I could see his goofy smile from his profile. That, combined with his curly head of hair, his silhouette made it look like Ronald McDonald was our chauffeur this evening.

Rachel turned as if speaking to everyone in the whole car. “So do you guys go down to this dock place, like a lot?” Rachel seemed like a nice girl, but as Foghorn Leghorn once put it, she was “about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.”

“Yeah, a couple times a week, usually,” Will answered. “They have some restaurants, a coffee shop, ice cream, a used music store. You know, the usual stuff.”

Rachel seemed a bit confused, as if that was not at all what she considered “the usual stuff.”

“Hey where are we going,” Rachel said with a concern in her voice as Will turn down a small side road.

“Will likes to take this way, because he says it’s quicker,” I replied.

“It is quicker. It puts on the other side of docks so we don’t drive through a bunch of madness,” Will said defensively.

“Well, it’s kind of creepy,” Rachel said crossing her arms close to her.

“Rach, it fine,” Charlotte comforted her, “I come this way sometimes, but usually during the day.”

In the girls’ defense, the road did seem a bit eerie that night. The sky was blocked by overbearing tree branches.

“Everyone calm down,” Will said attempting to comfort us. “We will only be on this road a couple more…”

Just then something lunged across the hood of the car with a loud banging sound. Will slammed on the breaks.

“What was that?!” Will shouted.

“A deer,” I suggested.

“It didn’t look like a deer. It looked bigger.”

Being the voice of reason I said, “Well, there’s no reason just sitting here stopped. I don’t see anything outside.” No one else did either. Will took his foot off the break and started driving again. I could feel my heart still racing inside my chest. I looked over at Charlotte, who looked a bit scared.

“You okay,” I asked her. She shook her head yes.

“That scared me,” she admitted.

“No kidding! It totally freaked me out!” Rachel said, as if we would all be surprised about that.

A few minutes later we were approaching the docks. It seemed oddly still. There were only a few people around and they seemed to not be in too much of hurry to do anything. Will parked the car and we got out and looked around.

“What’s the deal,” I asked. “Normally, there are tons of people out here carrying on.”

“There’s Sonny,” Will noted and took off at a quick pace. We all followed in suit.

“Sonny, what’s up, man. Where is everybody?”

“I don’t know, Will. We just got here. Weird things have been going on from the moment we opened the car doors. Melanie was starting to get out and some girl ran up to her and scratched her and bit her on the arm.” Considering Melanie’s boniness, I couldn’t help but think her attacker probably didn’t get much of a meal. “I got out of the car and yelled at the girl and the look in her eye was very strange. She ran off somewhere, but she was so fast, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up. Melanie went to the restroom to clean up.”

“I’m shocked you couldn’t keep up” I muttered under my breath, taking a light jab at Sonny’s heavy frame.

“What?”

“Oh, I said that’s good, she should clean up.”

“Yeah, depending on how’s she’s doing, I may want to run her by the hospital to make sure that girl didn’t have rabies or something.”

Charlotte spoke up, “Rachel, let’s go and check on her.” Rachel nodded and they headed in the direction of the bathrooms

“It’s been kind of a weird night for us too, Sonny,” Will noted.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. On the way here we took Pine Brook as a short cut and some animal ran across the hood of the car while we were driving.”

“An animal?! What was it?”

“I don’t know for sure, Phin thought maybe a deer, but I couldn’t tell for sure. We were all a little shaken up.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to think we were better off at the art gallery with the others.” Sonny shot me a glance as if all of this was my fault. I looked out at the water by the dock, then noticed something a little way out on the water.

“Talk about strange things happening.” I spoke up. “It’s Saturday, why is the lighthouse shining.” The other two turned and looked.

“All right, that’s it. I’m getting Mel and we’re heading back to the gallery.”

Sonny started in a brisk walk toward the bathroom. All of sudden the door came flying open and Charlotte and Rachel started running toward us screaming. My heart started racing. I was starting to wonder if I was dreaming all of this. To my realization, I wasn’t. Behind Rachel, an animal came chasing after her. Charlotte kept running toward me, but Rachel turned to look back and the animal attacked her, bringing her to the ground. I felt speechless. I turned to look at Will who’s jaw had dropped in horror. The animal looked like a large cat-like creature, like a wildcat of some sort.

“Charlotte, keep running towards me,” I yelled. “Will!”

Will started running towards Rachel and the animal. By now there was no way Rachel had survived. Suddenly Sonny came out of nowhere with a boat paddle and smashed it against the creature knocking it to the ground. He kept hitting it until it stopped moving. There wasn’t much left of the paddle after that, so he through the piece of wood down and turned to Charlotte.

“Where’s Melanie,” he yelled.

I had put my arm around Charlotte who was shaking with fear. “I…I don’t know,” she stammered.

Sonny went barreling through the ladies room door, yelling Melanie’s name. I figured if that creature had gotten her, as frail as she was, there wouldn’t be anything left of her and for that, I was concerned. I looked down at Charlotte who was starting to get herself together.

With tears in her eyes and sniffling she looked up at me, “I really don’t know what happened. Rachel and I went in there to check on her we didn’t see anybody in there. All we saw were some bloody paper towels on the sink and water was still running. The next we knew, that cat-thing came lunging out of one of the stalls growling and then came running at us.”

Will had walked over to the scene of the attack. He checked Rachel for a pulse. To be honest, I was fairly upset that Sonny hadn’t thought to do that before he went looking for his missing girlfriend.

“She’s dead,” Will called out to us.

“What is that thing,” I asked.

“Looks like a giant cat, almost like a panther.”

A panther! What in the world would a panther being doing here, I thought to myself?

“She’s not in there,” Sonny said making his way out of the woman’s bathroom. The only thing I found was her purse in one of the stalls.

“Which stall,” Charlotte inquired.

“Um, the center one, I think, why?”

“That’s the same stall that thing came out of.”

I didn’t dare bring up the conclusion I jumped to following all of this information.

“Charlotte, I feel like you should get somewhere safe,” I suggested.

“What?” She seemed confused.

“Sonny, why don’t you and I go get help and put in a missing person’s report for Melanie,” Will said. Sonny nodded. I could see the weight of all this starting to bear down on him.

I quickly scanned the area, see if anything caught my eye. I expected to see something, when in actuality, I saw, well, nothing.

“Where is everybody,” I inquired. There hadn’t been many people in the area, but now there was nobody around. Normally, when there is some kind of chaos, curious onlookers come out in droves to see the commotion. Right now, there was no one in the area but the four of us.

“Will,” I said, “give me your keys. Charlotte and I will head back to the gallery to try and see if Anthony is still there.”

I had only seen Anthony briefly that evening at the gallery. Will and I had been good friends with him in college and he typically kept a level head. Sometimes even stoic. He had been a psychology major, so he always looked at things from behavioral standpoint than just getting “emotional”.

His cousin was the head curator at the gallery. He asked Anthony to come help him at the gallery after he finished his degree, which fit in perfectly with his analytical frame of mind. I figured since the gallery was hopping earlier, that he would be there late to lock up the gallery after the party.

“That’s a good idea, Phin,” Will said. “Here,” he said as he threw his keys to me.

Charlotte and I got in Will’s car. Since Will is shorter than me, I had to put his seat back so my knees wouldn’t touch the steering column. Charlotte shot me a quick glance, as if to say, is that really that important right now. I responded as if she had really said that to me.

“It’s usually important to keep a safe distance between the driver and the steering wheel, in case the airbag deploys.” Since she had just met me, she didn’t realize my attention to seemingly meaningless detail. She said nothing, but started fumbling through her purse and pulled out a tissue. I started Will’s car and we drove off in the direction of the art gallery.

“You okay,” I said in an attempt to strike up a conversation with Charlotte.

“Well, about as okay as anyone would be after watching their roommate get mauled to death.” She sniffled a bit and wiped her nose.

“Duly noted. I’m sorry about what happened back there. Were you two close?”

“Sort of, but she had only moved in a couple of weeks ago.” She wiped her nose again. Honestly, I didn’t know how much more that tissue could take. “It’s just, you know, she didn’t have any other family or friends in the area. She moved here to make a clean start, so she said.”

“I can kind of understand that.” I looked over at her. “I didn’t have anybody here when started school. After I graduated, Will and I…”

“Look out!”

I stared forward and slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. The front end of Will’s car smashed in the rear end of a sedan that was sitting in the middle of the road. I blacked out for a moment. When I regained consciousness, I was leaning on the airbag. I could hear Charlotte stirring.

“Are you okay,” I heard her ask.

“I think so, are you” I replied, but my head was still spinning.

“Yeah, I think I am too.”

“See I told you it was important to keep a safe distance from the airbag.” Charlotte said nothing.

I grunted as I readjusted to reach the door handle. Charlotte and I both got out of the car at the same time. We were only a couple hundred yards from the art gallery. I approached the car in front of me. I hadn’t seen anyone inside, but I needed to get a closer look. Charlotte walked behind me.

“That’s odd, the engine’s still running, but there’s no one behind the wheel.” Oddly enough, I had thought the same of some people I had met that night.

“Is that blood,” Charlotte asked pointing at the dashboard.

“It looks like it, but there’s no one near the car. Plus, it doesn’t look like they were in wreck before we hit them.” This night was growing weirder by the minute. “Wait here.”

I ran back to Will’s car and grabbed his keys from the ignition. A thought struck me and I reached under the driver’s seat. Will was a bit of a paranoid fellow. He had grown up in a somewhat rough area when he was younger, so he always kept a knife in his car under his seat. The blade was only about four inches, but it was better than nothing. I went back over to Charlotte and we headed for the gallery.

There were still a number of cars parked outside. We made our way up the stairs to the main entrance and walked in. There were only slight murmurings of conversations going on throughout the gallery. We checked a couple of the side exhibit rooms, but didn’t see Anthony. I reached for my cell phone, but it wasn’t there. It must have fallen out of my pocket during the accident. A moment later Anthony walked into the room we were in.

“Anthony, thank God,” I said. “Hey, we rear-ended someone outside. There was a car just stopped in the middle of the road, no lights on or anything, but it was still running.”

With a calm look on his face, he responded, “Are you two okay? Did you get hurt?”

“No we’re fine, but we should probably find whoever owns it so we can fill out a report or something.”

“Hmm, probably so.”

“There have been a myriad of strange things happening tonight. The wreck was probably the most normal.” I was starting to sound excited and had gradually grown louder during the conversation. Anthony put a hand on my shoulder and suggested we go into a side office discuss things.

We entered a small room with a little wooden desk and two chairs. Anthony offered one to Charlotte, which she gladly took, and thanked him and he offered the other to me, while he leaned against the desk. Anthony had a ruddy, Italian look about him, and tonight was no different. He crossed his arms over his vested chest and told us to proceed. We explained to him what happened on the way to the docks, at the docks, outside the gallery, the whole ordeal. After hearing it all, he didn’t bat an eyelash about it. Come to think of it, he almost looked half-pleased.

All of sudden, there came a loud noise from out in the gallery. After all that had happened, both Charlotte and I nearly jumped out of our seats. The three of us quickly left the room to investigate the commotion. We entered the main room of the gallery and looked around. Everyone was minding their own business as if nothing had happened. Anthony’s cousin entered the room and spoke up.

“Is everyone all right?”

He made a quick scan of the room, unsure himself of what the noise had been. Everyone concurred they were fine. He walked back out of the room. An unsettled feeling started rising up inside of me. I looked over to one of the side rooms and noticed a small group of people seemed to be standing nonchalantly, but huddled very close to each other. I stared for a moment and caught a glimpse of what look like a person laying on the floor amongst the group. They group was standing so close together that it made it hard to tell for sure, though. Looking at their faces, I saw them chatting and sipping on drinks like nothing was out of the ordinary. Then, one of them looked directly at me. There was a look in his eye that almost made me shiver. Maybe it was just the light, but his eyes almost seem to glow, almost like an animal’s eyes when the light hits it just right.

“We need to go,” I said.

“Wait, I thought we were going to figure this out,” Anthony replied. “Everything is fine.”

In that instant, I realized it wasn’t. Will used to tell me how Anthony would drone on about how the mind works and how you often tell a person wasn’t being completely honest when they made generalized statements like “everything is fine” and “nothing’s wrong.” It was in those moments in a person’s life, that the chances were everything was in fact, not fine.

“Charlotte,” I said looking directly into her green eyes, “we need to go. Now.”

She seemed confused, but complied. We started making our way to the door. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. I took a quick glance at the guy who spotted me a minute ago and his whole group was now looking right at us. All of them had that same look in their eye.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you leave,” Anthony spoke up.

We had created some distance between him and us. The whole room was looking at Charlotte and myself now.

“It seems I’ve already lost some of the containment,” he commented.

“Containment,” I said, with questioning concern.

“Clearly there have already been some issues outside these walls. You said yourself strange occurrences keep happening.”

I looked back over that initial group who had been staring at me a moment ago. The person who they had been trying to hide was now getting up from the floor. He had that same look in his eyes as he stared at me.

“You see, Phin,” Anthony went on, “most of these people didn’t choose this. But now that it’s happened, they are willing to abide. Well, most of them. As I said, containment has been a slight issue.”

I didn’t have a clue what he was going on about, but I was bound and determined that Charlotte and I weren’t going to be a part of it. I looked down at her. I could tell she was scared, but we had to move.

“Charlotte,” I said calmly.

“Yes,” she responded just a calmly, but with a slight waver in her voice.

“Run!”

We turned and made a beeline for the front doors. As we drew closer, a couple of the men in the gallery stood in our way, that same hazy glow in their eyes. Now, I’m not much of hero, but sometimes, you have to do what you have to do. The guy directly in front of me started growling and revealed sharp teeth. A shiver of fear ran through my body, I knew I couldn’t let anything happen to Charlotte.

“Get behind me,” I insisted to Charlotte. She did.

I pulled out the knife I had taken from Will’s car. I ran full force into the half-human creature blocking the door, plunging the blade into his chest. He let out a shriek, but that was quickly drowned out as we smashed through the front door together. Charlotte came rushing behind me and quickly helped me to my feet. I didn’t dare leave the knife behind. Judging from the way this night was going, I would probably need it again.

Since the front end of our car was fairly smashed, I knew we would need to find some new transportation. I thought back to the abandoned car we rear-ended. It was still running with no one in sight when we got to it. I sensed Charlotte was going to start seriously panicking, judging from the giant gulps of air she was taking.

“Get in,” I urged her.

She hesitated, “But whose car is this?”

“Looking at all that’s happening, whoever it is will probably understand.”

I looked over at Charlotte who was clutching to her small purse and her cell phone.

“Try calling the police,” I said. “Tell them we are coming to the station and let them know about the art gallery.”

She punched 911 on her phone, but it only rang incessantly. A true look of worry washed over her face.

“What’s wrong?” I replied.

“No…um, there’s no answer,” she said taking a large swallow.

I drove in the direction of the police station wondering how things had spiraled out of control so quickly.

I tried to comfort Charlotte. “Maybe they’re all out fighting these things.” She wasn’t buying it. I knew better too. Someone would at least be there answering the phones.

A thought struck me hard. The lighthouse! Normally they don’t turn it on during the weekends. They say it’s part of the town’s attempt to conserve energy. That being the case, they’ve urged boat owners to make it back to the dock before sunset. Whether it’s tied to this or not, it would give some high ground to hopefully ride out this bizarre events.

“Let’s head to the lighthouse,” I suggested. “We can try and hole up there while all of this madness happens.”

“Good idea,” Charlotte retorted. “Maybe they’ve summoned help and that’s why it’s running on a Saturday.”

I drove as fast as I could through the streets to get to the harbor. We passed by places normally filled with people strolling the streets, laughing, eating hot dogs and waving at cars that drove past. Not tonight though. There were a few people on the sidewalks, but they were walking almost methodical, like robots, until we passed by them. Then they tore into the streets as if they were chasing after us. I envisioned them being like dogs chasing cars down a country lane. Except, the animals didn’t want the tires. They wanted the occupants. I sped almost dangerously.

I drove all the way up to the beginning of the large pier that led to the lighthouse. Charlotte and I jumped out of the car and made a break for the lighthouse. As we ran down the pier, I could hear a growing number of running footsteps behind us hitting the wooden planks. We quickly burst through the lighthouse door and shut it behind us. The lock had been broken, so there was no locking it behind us. We turned to make our way up the stairs and there stood Will and Sonny…and Rachel. Her complexion was made her look almost ghost like, which seemed appropriate, since the last time I saw she was, well, dead. The eerie feeling seemed intensified with the thick air smelling salty and musty.

It seemed as though I should have been relieved, but I wasn’t.

“Will?” I said with concern furrowing my brow.

“Hey Phin,” he replied calmly.

“What’s going on here,” I said, motioning to Rachel.

“What does it look like, Phin?”

“It looks like we were running from a mob of who-knows-what to be confronted by a dead person.”

“Oh, Rachel’s not dead.”

“Really? Because last I remember, you checked her body and clearly stated otherwise.”

“Well, she was dead. Or at least nearly.”

I couldn’t even being to wrap my head around this enigma. Then, the door to the lighthouse came crashing open with a mob of creepy-eyed people rushing in around us. I looked at Charlotte as if to say, “I’m sorry, I tried to protect you,” but I couldn’t manage the words.

“Just relax, Phin,” Will said calmly. “I told you that you needed to meet some interesting people.”

“Interesting, yes, not dead!” I replied abruptly.

“Nearly dead,” he corrected me.

Will had always been a bit mischievous, getting himself, or me, into minor jams every now and then. However, he’d never been involved in something as crazy as a mob, who were willing to, quite literally, fight tooth and nail.

The people encroached the space around us, one of them being Anthony and my heart sank with hopeless fear as his eyes glowed eerily. Then we heard a strange voice echo through the stairwell.

“What the devil is going on,” a gruff, elder voice boomed.

A portly man, probably in his late sixties came into view down the stairs. His beard was thick and gray and looking at the size of his glasses, I’m surprised they didn’t have their own windshield wipers. However, the crowd around us seem to cower at his voice.

“These two are resisting,” Anthony spoke up, in what seemed to be a verbal defense.

“Resisting? Resisting what,” the elder man questioned.

“Well, resisting being one of us.”

“Anthony, you have blatantly disobeyed me. I warned you not to force our research on people.”

“But they could be complete. The logic of mankind and the instinct and strength of beast.”

“You’re forcing a change on people. This was never my intent.”

“But it was necessary. Otherwise, mankind would resist and never know any different. They must be convinced, and if necessary, by force.”

“They have free will, and that is no one’s right to take away. We must return to the lab to try and reverse this process.”

“We can’t do that, professor.”

An angered tone entered the professor’s voice, “And why not?”

“After I finished what I needed to, I left a couple of our kind behind, instructing them to burn it to the ground. I knew you would want to try and change things back, I need a sure fire way to convince you how wonderful this way of life would be among people. We’ve reached the point of no return.”

I chimed in, ” Will someone please tell us what is going on?”

Will shot me a glance, as if I had asked a stupid question.

The old man, who was now furious, but not at me, responded. “I must apologize. My assistant, Anthony, was helping me with some research regarding the nature of mankind and animal instinct. He pressed me to try it on human subjects, and in due time I did, but when Anthony saw the outcome, he apparently tried to take things further.” Anthony stared blankly.

“I only instructed him to find a few volunteers, people willing to take part. The outcome, however, appears to be something of an epidemic in the area.”

“And the lighthouse,” I inquired. “Why are you here, why is it on?”

“The plan was for Anthony to return with the subjects to the lighthouse. I knew it would be empty and sturdy, should something go wrong.”

“And here we are. Listen, professor,” I spoke up heatedly. “Just because your assistant took on his own plan doesn’t give you the free and clear to play God with people’s lives to begin with!”

After I spoke, I got a little concerned, remembering that this man has been the only thing these man-creatures have halted to. I probably shouldn’t have yelled at him.

“May I speak to you two upstairs,” the old man asked me, grabbing my arm.

“Of course,” I said, a bit concerned. I looked over at Charlotte, who had a worried look in her own eyes.

We followed the stout, elder fellow up the slender stairs to the top of the lighthouse. To try and calm my nerves some, I envisioned the old man getting stuck between the gray stone wall and railing, because of his girth, and almost chuckled out loud. We entered the service room that sat just below the rotating beam above us. The air in here seemed somewhat thinner and less salty. More of woodsy smell due to the large beams that loomed overhead. After shutting and locking the door, the bearded man stared at us through his huge glasses.

“Well, it appears we have found ourselves in quite a predicament, haven’t we?” he asked rhetorically.

Confused at all that seemed to be happening I simply responded, “Uh, yeah, we have.”

“Young man, you must understand, I never meant for any of this to happen.”

“So what now? You want us to volunteer for your research, so you don’t feel so bad about us changing into whatever those things are out there?”

“No, of course not. I aim to finish this, to whatever extent I can. Anthony has ruined our chances of reversing the process.”

All of sudden there were loud noises in the stairwell outside the door. A fist pounded on the door.

“Professor, is everything all right,” inquired a muffled voice from the other side of the heavy door.

“Yes, everything is fine. Leave us be for the moment, please.” The old man turned to us and said, “It’s Anthony. He won’t quit until he gets what he wants, which is to see everyone in this town “made complete” as he calls it.”

I opened the hatch above my head which led to the guiding light of the lantern room and ascended. Looking out the windows of the lighthouse I could see the pier to the lighthouse filled with the mob. Some stood as men, and some had turned to animals. I returned to the service room with the old man and Charlotte.

The pounding fist continued. “Professor, open the door. Let us have them. They mustn’t be allowed to be different!” Anthony’s voice was getting louder and angrier. “We’ll tear this door down and take them, if we have to!”

The professor turned to us. Sweat had started running down his forehead.

“You must get out of here,” he urged.

“How?” I questioned. “The pier is covered with them.”

“Go back to the top and take the emergency exit. There is a ladder that runs down the seaside of the lighthouse to some short planks at the bottom. I have a small motor boat down there. It’s how I was able to get into the lighthouse without being noticed.”

I scowled in my mind at the authorities of this small water town. People can just break into the lighthouse because no expects it will actually happen.

He continued to give us instruction while the banging outside the door increased.

“Take the boat to get help. You should have plenty of gasoline to get away.”

“What about my friend Will and her friend Rachel,” I inquired.

“Without my current research, I am helpless.”

I grabbed the professor by the lapels of his shirt and got in his face.

“Listen here!” I shouted. “You fix this, now!”

His voice went into a stern tone. “Young man,” he replied. “At this juncture, I’m afraid there is nothing I can do.”

A fist hammered the other side of the door.

“You two must go, before it’s too late,” the professor warned.

“What about you?”

“This is my mess, I must deal with it. Now get out of here!”

I could hear Anthony getting increasingly angrier as we ascended into the glass plated lantern room. I found the the hinged glass door that led out to the balcony. Charlotte following close behind me.

“The hatch,” Charlotte reminded me. “It’s still open!”

I ran back to the hatch and pulled it closed. As I did, I looked down into the room and saw the professor turn into what looked like a grizzly bear just as the door to the service room was being smashed apart. I quickly closed the hatch the rest of the way and slid the lock bar into place. I could hear roaring and screaming below it. I went back to Charlotte and we went out to the balcony that ran around the top of the lighthouse. The wind gusts were much stronger up here. I started down the ladder first so I could stay below Charlotte, should she slip. We made our way down to the bottom and found the professor’s boat. I could hear the commotion of the mob on the other side of the lighthouse. They sounded ravenous.

I pushed away from the pier and paddled for a few minutes to put some distance between us and the creature infested lighthouse. I didn’t want to fire the motor up, figuring that if I could hear them, they would certainly be able to hear a boat motor revving up.

Once we were about a quarter of a mile from the lighthouse, I started the motor. The professor had a light mounted to the side of the boat that beamed out a good distance. There was also a small GPS unit in the boat. I looked around the boat and noticed that it was actually a rental from the our town’s dock. A small label was stuck in the corner of the boat with emergency numbers. Charlotte still had her phone, so I told her to call the coast guard number listed on the label.

Before calling, she looked at me, then back at the lighthouse and asked, “Will we ever be able to go back?”

It almost seemed like a ridiculous question to which I was about to give a sarcastic response to, but then I thought again. I thought about Will and all the people I knew there. “I suspect so, but it will probably never be the same.”

I know it wasn’t encouraging, but it was the truth. Charlotte started to dial the Coast Guard and I sat and stared out into the darkness thinking about the people I would never see again. I found a little bit of hope, though, when I looked at Charlotte, and she mustered a slight smile.

The Tree of No Leaves

Nature is astounding. I often roam various grasslands and forests of our world merely attempting to translate the stimulation of the senses. My most intriguing endeavor occured whilst collecting kindling for a small fire I was preparing to build to during an overnight stay in the woods. I do have a home, but I was miles away from it that night, and by the way evening went, perhaps miles from what most would call reality.

For the most part, the woods were dense – thick with a variety of timber. Unless one took the time to look at them, as I mention, I often do, they all looked very similar to one another. I only needed a few more pieces of dry, dead wood with which I could keep a fire ablaze. In my search, I stumbled into an open clearing in the middle of the dense woods. In the center of the clearing was a tall oak and though it was Springtime, there were no leaves on the tree. The temperature for evenings that time of year were not terribly low, but required a jacket when outdoors. However, inside that clearing there was a major climate drop. All of sudden, I could see my breath and a shiver ran through me. I turned to exit the clearing, but it seemed as if the trees surrounded the clearing had walled me inside. Dusk was nearing and fear has started to set in when I heard a whisper.

“Vincent,” the quiet voice said. “Why are you here.”

To be honest, I was very concerned that a disembodied voice, who somehow knew my name was questioning my presence. I felt as if I had no choice but to answer.

“Just enjoying an evening camping,” I replied sheepishly.

“No, you’re hiding. You are hiding from something. Perhaps from yourself?”

“What?!” I replied. “That’s ridiculous. Why would I hide from myself?”

I noticed a sizable hollow spot in the center of the leafless tree. I slowly approached it. The voice was coming from the hollow spot in the tree.

“Vincent,” the tree continued in a low tone, “it’s your fault.”

A shutter ran through me again. “That’s impossible,” I muttered, gazing at the tree. I stood by the tree and peered up at its high trunk to its long, scraggly branches. I returned my gaze to the rest of the clearing and noticed the ground was now covered in fresh snow, yet none had fallen from the sky. Where was I and how was this possible?

The voice repeated, “Its your fault. An innocent man is dead because of you.”

I was speechless. My head was swirling. Why was an ominous voice accusing me of a man’s death? My mind was racing through recent memories that could vaguely be connected with such an accusation. Then it hit me.

Two years ago I was questioned in a murder I had witness while walking along the city street late one evening. I honestly do not remember why I was even there. A tall figure emerged from the shadows and tried to mug a passing business man. The business man and the tall villain scuffled and the business man managed to hit his assailant on the left side of his face. The attacker then stabbed him. A third man rounded the corner immediately just as the attacker was fleeing in the third man’s direction. The attacker forced the handle of the bloody knife into the man’s grip and threw his fist across the third man’s face, which would make it appear as if the third man had been hit by the victim when they compared bruises on his face to the victim’s knuckles. The true attacker had fled into the darkness of an alley. I saw the whole thing from beginning to end. The third man, still holding the bloody knife, ran over to the dying business man lying on the ground. I was afraid, even for my own life. What if the attacker had seen me. The authorities arrived shortly after and assessing the appearance of the scene, took the innocent third man into custody. I swiftly walked home, pretending I had seen nothing. That innocent man was later sentenced to death for the murder of the business man.

“Your silence killed an innocent man,” the ominous voice interrupted angrily. “His blood is on your hands now!”

I noticed a sheet of ice growing on the tree. It was getting thicker and I heard it start to crack under the dense pressure. All of sudden, the ice shattered outward with great intensity. I turn to cover my face and fell to the ground.

A moment passed. I lifted my head and looked around. The snow was gone. The ground was completely dry, I even had to wipe some of the woodsy soil from my face. Was it all a dream? Did I black out into a strange dream? I stood to my feet and saw there was no tree in the middle of clearing. Even the trees that had seem to wall me in had return to their normal state opening reentry into the woods. My right fist was still clenched and growing numb. I opened my hand and a fistful of reddish snow dropped to the ground. The blood of an innocent man was truly on my hands.

I whispered in disbelief, “What have I done?”