On this cool morning, the thinnest veil of mist moved along the calm lake, unannounced and uneventful. The gentle flow of its touch did not cause as much as a ripple upon its liquid companion. It gave the scenic surroundings a serene cover of protection, sealing an earthly promise made from the heavens.
Nearby, a man gazed at the spectacle before him. Within him, emotions crashed like angry waves, but his face refused to show it. Disturbing this scene would be a crime against nature herself.
The sheer weight of recent losses would have made any man crumble and it was taking all of his will power to represent the epitome of control. No one would be his audience but this was not why he arrived.
In his mind, the memories of his life played a broken sequence, void of any rhyme or reason. His most recent effort to successfully love fluttered its last and faded. A single tear formed in his right eye, bathing its edges. The imminent rinsing of his soul threatened to crash against the shorelines of his face. He concluded his life of loving proved to be a journey of unreciprocated giving, leading to loneliness and separation.
As if pushed by an invisible force, he moved one foot in front of the other.
The water accepted his knees, waist, chest, and neck to under his chin.
His last remaining thought told him that love is all about giving to lose, nothing more or less.
The steady rim of water gradually accepted his chin, lips, cheekbones, and the top of his head.
Any suggestion of protest reflected itself in the ripples and air pockets suddenly breaking the water's surface and settling.
Giving himself back to nature was the only love left inside.
And life was his to lose, where his memories had come to dissolve into nothing.
Within seconds, the mist covered the entire lake.
Heaven touched earth today during the fading of one man's broken heart.
Within an elegant dining room in a glorious mansion, a couple awaits their evening meal. This area extends one hundred square feet and is decorated with a deep red and crimson hue upon its walls. Hand-carved floorboards complete the artistic embrace surrounding them. A long table sits in the middle of the room. It is complete with candles in glass holders atop its length and several well-designed chairs are tucked flush to its edges. George and Gladys Huntington are seated within arm's reach of one another, discussing the evening menu.
"I wonder what will be in today's stew. We've only had stew every day for three straight weeks," Gladys said, preening her blonde hair for the third time in one minute.
"Must you complain? We fly the ingredients in fresh. They must be prepared immediately to avoid loss of nutritional value. And so any remaining amount can refrigerate for the future. It's how we get our money's worth," George shot back, who frequently exposed irritation when hungry.
"There must be a better chef in town. Stew is a pleasant addition when offered sporadically, but every night? You know, if one drop of stew splashes my newest evening blouse I'll scream on the spot!"
"That wouldn't be the wildest thing I've heard," George said with a sexy wink to his spouse.
Gladys smirked back.
"We have been rather rambunctious lately, haven't we?" Gladys casually added while cupping her ample chest and fluttering her eyelids at George.
The kitchen-maid opened the gallery doors, carrying their meal upon an exceptionally clean silver tray. Gladys puckered her lips slowly, gaining George's attention away from their exceptionally beautiful servant.
Each bowl was placed carefully, in turn, in front of each of them. One spoon was added aside each porcelain bowl. After doing so, the maid hovered over Gladys and slid her fingers up both of Glady's arms while gazing into George's eyes.
"You do know how to stir up an evening mean, Shuen," George loudly whispered.
"I consider my work with food an inspiration, "Shuen replied with a slow wink in his direction.
Gladys hummed with pleasure from Shuen's light caress.
Both women kissed, making George rather eager to satisfy another kind of hunger.
Within seconds, Shuen slid away and disappeared into the kitchen.
"She is rather entertaining, dear husband? Why rid ourselves of her so soon? She offers us intermittent excitement, and the kind we quench after each sumptuous meal."
George gazed at his gorgeous wife in silence.
"I knew you'd change your mind, lover," Gladys softly said before making a spoonful of stew disappear between her ruby red lips.
Her moan of culinary pleasure gave rise to George's smile.
"Shuen? Please, would you come in here, please?"
She opened the kitchen doors and peered through the edges.
"Come in and join us, would you?"
"Oh, sir, it is against the rules of our agreement. I shall wait for both of you to finish, please."
George fell silent at his request, allowing Shuen to retreat.
"Why would you invite her in so soon, love?" Gladys asked after padding the edges of her lips.
"Because, love. She needs to see what I have included to the mix."
"What exactly have you added to the mix? Something to spoil the natural flavour, I suppose?"
"Well, no. Something to enrich the sustainability of the recipe. I've been reading up."
Gladys suddenly paused and her face became pallid and stiff.
"I trust you have noticed the change in flavour just now, love?"
Gladys stopped moving and couldn't raise a finger.
George stood up and slowly made his way over to his wife of ten years.
"The glorious work of art within the hand-crafted frame on the wall just behind where I sit. Can you see it properly?"
Gladys couldn't speak, but her eyes fixed forward.
"That is a portrait of great significance. It represents my family's powerful presence on this lonely earth. You, my dear, are celebrating the three-hundredth meal in this chamber. This is a historical milestone, love. Every one hundred years, something of influence emerges. No one knows what it will be, nor who it will come from, nor when it will make its way into our consciousness for earthly benefit."
Gladys remained, unable to move.
"The stew's special ingredient is a secret. I cannot tell you what it is. However, you play a role tonight, which is yours and yours alone. I have chosen you to remain here, alone and vigilant, until that special something of significance reveals itself, right here, in this room, from our departed family. This is the most active room in my abode, if you understand my meaning. You will alert me once my special ingredient wears thin along with the appearance of a supernatural gift from beyond. Please excuse me. I will wait by the fire in the reading room where Shuen and I might consummate our mutual attraction."
The room's candles perished and darkness covered Gladys, who remained physically imprisoned but very much awake and alert.
The picture frame surrounding George's family portrait creaked slightly before a loud thunderclap broke the air.
The umbrella handle smashed Rose's porcelain-like hand and forearm, nearly bruising her tender pale skin. Her round eyes widened at the intensity of the growing wind and the developing storm above. Large clouds expanded and contracted as if God breathed into them deliberately.
Strands of her hair sprung free from her hairclip, flipping wildly about. Her two ruby red lips dimmed to grey under the darkening atmosphere while she struggled to control her dress, which flailed and wrapped around her small frame in every which way possible.
"Help me!" Rose exclaimed.
The violent surroundings enclosed her without mercy. Soon her face hollowed against the angry fury of howling gales, her eyes now bulging to twice their original size. She managed to hold tighter to her umbrella, thinking some degree of safety might be possible from simply hanging on a little longer.
The umbrella's naked skeleton shrieked in midair and taunted her peril. Her mouth remained agape and she screamed, hoping her protest would reach compassionate ears.
"Did you hear that?" Alice asked her friend, who shrugged while staring at her smartphone screen. Both were waiting with several others for the morning bus to arrive.
A moment later, Rose collapsed in a heap in the middle of the gathering crowd.
"You couldn't lend a hand?" Rose roared with all of her might.
A few seconds later a gale force wind blew into the crowd, sending them one by one into the path of the oncoming bus.
Rose stood freely, resumed her original shape and examined the scene for a moment.
Her smile grew before she faded into the background of the bus stop, waiting impatiently for more commuters.
Eight-year-old Sheldon decides the second floor is the best place to play his favorite game with his brother. Today is the day for hide and go seek.
The hurried pounding of tiny feet upon the stairs gets noisier, with multiple echoes. A series of excited giggles tempt Sheldon to laugh out loud. "No, no, can’t find me!"
Sheldon whispers into his folded hands working hard to contain his excitement. Cody, a six-year-old and easily excited by adventure, searches for Sheldon within each of the four bedrooms on the second-floor mini-mansion.
Inside his hiding spot, Sheldon sits and thinks for a moment. The surrounding enclosure is right for his size. The creaking of the hallway wooden floor hints that Cody is getting smarter during his search or has a case of momentary luck.
Sheldon struggles to hold his silence in the sheer anticipation of being found. Letting out small spurts of giggles, he holds his knees closer to his face to prevent revealing his spot.
Cody grows weary of the search and calls out to Sheldon in one last screech. Birds pass between the sun and the house, just outside the windows, making shadows dance within the corridor.
Cody stops to sit and rest, wondering where Sheldon is and stops searching. Sheldon settles in, victorious and unfound. He shifts his weight and crosses his legs, sinking further into his comfortable hiding space. Something about this small space feels wrong. Sheldon doesn't take long to realize this small space is shrinking. He senses the enclosure's walls push on him and tries to push back and fails. He calls out to Cody.
Cody can't hear him. He is downstairs. The walls inch closer to Sheldon, robbing him of more space to move. Downstairs, Cody points and laughs at a wolf cub outside the kitchen patio window. Sheldon struggles, kicks, and beats the surrounding walls, which seem to creep in even closer and closer.
"CODY! GET ME OUT OF HERE!" His face and arms now sweat, his heart beating in crazed apprehension. His yelling doesn't seem to catch Cody's attention. Enraged, Sheldon leans back with his legs to his chest, kicking his feet out. His small fists beat the surrounding walls, soon becoming bloody. He creates a loud battle against his secret hiding spot, which folds against him even more.
Downstairs, Cody laughs harder at the wolf cub bopping around the broken stones leading to the garden.
Sheldon screams and kicks against the enclosure, the wall closest to his face now presses against him. The sidewalls pinch his arms close to his body and he can no longer hit with his fists. The walls restrict his kicking by only a few centimeters.
Cody observes the wobble of the wolf cub's belly and a beat pass as he catches his breath between bouts of laughter. He bangs the window in fun and his hands hurt. He rubs his hands out while seated by the window. Short staccato-like thumps arise above him. He remembers Sheldon is still hiding.
"Shel, my hand hurts, I don't know where you are," Cody whispers and winces, still holding his lightly bruised hand.
"But I know where he is!" Cody squeals, pointing at the cub.
Blood collects on the nearby kitchen stool. Cody is none the wiser to the crimson puddle. The thudding stops. Cody forgets about his hand for a moment.
"Hey, Sheldie! Games up! Where are you?"
Cody resumes his hurried search and scurries up the stairs, peeking inside every room on the second floor, not finding Sheldon.
"Come on out! There's a fox outside!"
In the furthest room from the stairs, light flickers through its open door. Cody goes inside. He finds a small chute built within the lower portion of the door. Peering through, blackness exposes itself.
A low moan emerges. Cody yelps as his fingernail is caught in between the closing chute door and its edges. He jumps back in fright. Cody beats the door in protest now, calling for his parents. His finger bleeds and his hands slip on the doorknob.
The moan becomes a low groan, and his erratic breathing is mixed with small yelps of panic. He sloppily grabs the handle, opens the door, races down the stairs, and out the back patio door, into the woods.
At the front door, the boy's parents step in the door after waving hello to a neighbor.
"I'll check on the boys, love. Will you water the plants, they're wilting," Gabrielle, a slim woman in her late-thirties, asks Gary, her forty-five-year-old grey-haired husband.
"Sure thing. Where's the water can?"
"Behind the statue of Buddha.”
The sun shining on the Buddha’s belly causes a welling in Gabrielle’s eyes.
A year ago on a family trip to the Austere Museum in Grandstam, the boys were old enough to notice differences in art forms, appreciate sculptures, and possibly more.
Cody held an interest toward obtuse, concentric forms of art and requested many times that they buy one and take it home. Frequent reminders that museum art was not for sale quelled his insistence.
Despite the clarification, Sheldon, took several moments to appreciate the perpetual smile on a large intricate carved Buddha, laughing with it in spurts and even bowling over as if it told him the greatest joke in the world.
Alternatively, Sheldon enjoyed Cody’s antics and merely noticed the Buddha’s colour and shape for what they were, simple brief surprises.
Gabrielle stops to absorb the glorious moments she afforded her boys as Gary took photos, of which one would find itself framed and presented in their den ~ one of her favourites.
Gary asks, “Which statue? We have several.”
“I mean the one with the bigger belly, Gary, “ Gabrielle says, wiping the a tear off her cheek.
"I got it, babe."
Gabrielle calls to the boys inside to come outside.
Sauntering through the front door, she yells up the stairs, hearing nothing, and ventured into the kitchen.
Gabrielle discovers the pool of blood on the kitchen stool and she lets a dreadful howl!
Gary scrambles in and collects Gabrielle who flails and screams more with her words falling out unintelligibly. Both of them hurry up the stairs, calling out to the boys, exploring every room, knocking down furniture, tearing each room apart to find them.
They reach the eastward room on the far end of the hallway. The door is closed. Gary turns the knob and peers inside. The door shows no signs of being touched. The silence thickens the already cold, damp air. Both Gary and Gabrielle search the room further. Gary suddenly stops and buries his face in his hands and speaks through his fingers. "We're doing it again, Gab."
"Doing what again?"
"We keep forgetting."
Gabrielle's eyes widen and squeeze tight. Moisture floods each one. Her hands crash upon her thighs, and she falls to her knees.
A long moment passes, accented by a cloud temporarily darkening the room as it moved away from the afternoon sun.
"It's all so real. Their running feet. And the blood. I just know ..."
"Gab..." Gary reaches for her, softly caressing her shoulder. “We didn't catch ourselves fast enough this time."
"What are we going to do, Gary?"
"Babe, please. Take a breath. These last few weeks have been rough."
"Why do I think our children followed us, Gary?"
"I don't know."
"I want out of this house now!”
"Our boys. Our boys! My God, why did we move?"
"Gab, it made sense to move away from..."
"I swear they are here. Especially this time! Oh, God." Gary pauses and considers his next thought. He knows where her mind is going.
Gentle words emerge from his pale red lips, daring to repeat himself like he has done daily since moving in. "Gab, how could you know Cody would run into the woods and be mauled by wolves? And Sheldon. He found a narrow, poorly built laundry chute and was squeezed to dea..." Gary's voice quivers, "I never thought to check it."
Gabrielle reaches for Gary's arm, pulling him into her in a half-embrace. "Oh honey, no. It can't be your fault. It can't."
"But we're trapped, Gab, trapped" Gary takes Gabrielle by the hand and leads her out, offering to make a chamomile tea. The closing of the door behind them sounds louder than a car crash. Neither of them flinches inside the unhidden path of the hallway. Both descend to the main floor and into the kitchen.
They pass the stool. There is no evidence of blood. The patio door is closed tight. After several minutes, they sit and pour one another their afternoon tea. Behind them, the sun dares to speak its warmth with a lone beam through their plexiglass patio door, barely reaching them. Their eyes stare longingly at the dining room photo of their two boys. Voices call out for help in between brief bouts of pained silence.
One voice shrieks from outside, the other from upstairs. The collective terror in their little voices vibrates pockets of dust on the table. Gabrielle and Gary's eyes lower; their disintegrating concentration upsets the simple act of serving drink to their lips.
They take several deep breaths, tears streaming down their faces, desperately attempting to ignore the ghostly screams echoing around them.
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