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A Cottage in the Woods
By Cheryl Ann Guido
When I was thirteen, I lived in a little community that bordered on a dense forest. On many afternoons, my golden retriever Sam and I would plow through high grass and weeds navigating the rocky terrain in the thicket of ancient pine and oak. I liked to pretend that we were adventurers on a dangerous mission. Sometimes, a friend or two would join us but mostly it was just Sam and me. My friends were frightened to go into those woods. Many urban legends had been told about this dark area, too many for them I suppose.
True or not, those woods were treacherous. We never knew what we would encounter. Too often I had come home with a case of poison ivy and my mother scolded me, warning me not to go back. On several of our trips, we had come face to face with snakes and spiders, and once we even caught a glimpse of a coyote. But for some reason, the lure of the wind whistling through the trees and the sounds of animals going about their daily business lured me back, time after time. Our encounters with the creatures of the forest were taken in stride. I knew they were all part of the adventure.
One day as we pushed farther into the dense thicket than we ever had before, we caught sight of a tiny cottage. It seemed out of place. There were no roads that led to it and, over the course of time, weeds and vines had snaked up its walls and coiled around the windows, making the little house their own. The chimney was crumbling, all of the windows were cracked or missing glass, and the roof had caved in on one side. The cottage was obviously abandoned and to thirteen-year-old me, it looked haunted.
Part of me wanted to run, to get as far away from that place as possible. But part of me felt compelled to see what was inside. I approached the gravel pathway that led to the partially open front door. Walking on that pathway was tricky. The stones were sharp and pointy. Some were missing and other areas were so slippery that my feet slid sending me off balance. My dog, who ran ahead had already disappeared through the door. I looked up at the sky and realized that the afternoon was waning. It would be evening soon and with evening came darkness. I certainly did not want to be caught in the woods after nightfall. I thought that exploring the cottage might be best left for another day so I called out to Sam, but he did not come back. That was strange. Sam always obeyed me and stayed close by my side. Worried about my dog, I had no choice but to proceed to the cottage and find him.
I hastened my pace and my foot slipped on something round and hard. It rolled slightly and I tumbled to the ground. As I hit the surface, my hand instinctively reached out to steady myself, but instead, wrapped around something smooth and oddly shaped. Without a thought, I picked it up and brushed away the dirt that had probably been on it for ages. When I realized what I held, I dropped it and my hands flew to my mouth, stifling the scream that was trying its best to escape. The human skull rolled away and crashed into a rock as I watched in horror. Jumping to my feet, I saw that the object I had tripped on was a leg bone, a human leg bone. What was this place?
Every fiber of my being told me to run, but I was determined not to leave without my beloved dog so I took a deep breath and continued to the house. Finally, I was just a few feet away. I crouched low and slithered up to one of the windows in an attempt to peek inside. A spider web of cracks made it impossible to see anything. Summoning up courage, I walked around to the front of the cottage, planning to enter through the front door. What could possibly happen? The house was abandoned after all, wasn’t it? When I reached the threshold, I stood there for a moment. It was difficult to see. The room was pitch black despite the little bit of light shining through the windows.
Hesitation took hold and my mind began to conjure up images of the next day’s news headline: Local Teen Disappears. Perhaps I would never be found. Perhaps the story would break at some future time with the headline: Bones of Missing Teen Found in Abandoned Cottage.
“Stop it! This place is spooky enough. You don’t have to make up stuff that isn’t going to happen.” I had spoken the words aloud which surprised me. Well, I thought, if anyone is in there, they know I’m here now.
By this time my vision had somewhat adjusted to the darkness. Proceeding through the entry, I found myself in a small room that I guessed was once a parlor. In the shadows, I thought I saw movement and I plastered myself against the wall in hopes that they hadn’t seen me. A feathery golden tail wagged in front of me and I almost shouted in glee. It was Sam. My joy, however, was short-lived.
“Come in, my child.”
The fireplace suddenly lit up and, in the light provided by the flames, I could see an elderly woman sitting in a wooden rocking chair. She wore a yellowed, tattered wedding dress trimmed in lace and pearls. Her veil swirled around the front of the chair and an ornate, pearl-studded headpiece partially covered her face.
“Come in, warm yourself in front of the fire. Sam and I were just having a nice chat.”
I thought my eyes would pop out of their sockets. She had been having a conversation with Sam?
As if he understood, Sam barked once. My hands shook as I petted his head. This was creepy, really creepy. I gulped then decided to try to find out more.
“I thought this house was abandoned. Do you live here?”
“My child, I have lived here for sixty years now. Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the day I was wed.”
Well, I thought, that certainly explains the wedding dress … sort of.
I moved closer and stood in front of the fire. Sam sat next to the mysterious woman. He rested his head on her lap as she gently scratched his ears. This was getting weirder and weirder. I decided that I really did not need any more information. All I wanted to do was to take my dog and leave.
“Ma’am, I don’t mean to be rude. But it’s getting late and I have to get home.”
“I know, child. You need not stay. Sam has told me what I needed to hear.”
I arched my brows. This was not happening. My heart began to pound.
“Um, I gotta go. C’mon Sam.”
I turned toward the door but my dog remained by the woman’s side. I sensed that he was reluctant to leave her. She smiled, nodded her head and pointed to me. Sam rose to his feet and padded toward my direction. Halfway there he turned and with what I could have sworn was a look of great sadness gazed at the elderly woman. She stood up.
“It’s all right Sam. You can go now. Thank you.”
The woman disappeared into the darkness farther back into the house as my dog trotted over and we left.
I never got the chance to go back to that house. The next day, the entire neighborhood was atwitter with the news of a fire that had engulfed an old house in the woods. The remains of a woman named Abigail Jones had been found in the rubble along with some bones, a skull, leg and other skeletal remains outside of the house. The local paper published an article about Mrs. Jones in the evening edition. Abigail had apparently been living in that cottage for years. Her husband, Samuel Jones had built it for the two of them, but on their wedding day, he went out to gather some wood for a fire and never came back. Nothing more was known about Abigail Jones. It was unknown how she had survived for so many years, how her husband had died or why his body had rotted away only feet from her front door.
I put the paper down and looked at Sam wondering what the connection was between Abigail and my dog? Could he be the reincarnation of her husband? Was he some kind of messenger? Or was Abigail just some crazy woman living in the woods? I had to admit, it was a strange coincidence that I had given my dog the same name as her husband.
“Sam, what did you tell that old woman?”
Sam lifted his head. He looked directly into my eyes. The corners of his mouth turned up in a doggie smile as his tongue wagged. I scrunched up my nose.
“Not telling, huh? Well, perhaps it’s a secret best left unspoken.”
Please visit Cheryl on her website: https://cherg1.wixsite.com/cherylannguido/