The next day, in the late afternoon, Alivia and her mom helped Fern carry luggage out to the taxi. Her plane would leave in an hour.
“I wish you could stay longer,” Alivia said.
“I know. I’m sorry sis.”
“I love you.”
Fern hugged her. “I love you too.”
Alivia stood there as Fern hugged her mom.
They both waved as the taxi backed out of the driveway and headed down the road.
Fern waved with her arm out the window.
Alivia smiled and waved back.
Once the taxi couldn’t be seen she lowered her arm. “Can I go to the docks?”
“After you eat.”
“I’m not hungry, mom.”
“You need to eat, Alivia.”
They both came back into the kitchen.
She sat down as her mom took stuff out of the fridge and made her a sandwich.
What can I do? Watch TV? Go outside? I would love to go get ice cream and go fishing. Just thinking about it filled her eyes with tears. She squeezed her eyes tight and held the tears back. This time, it worked.
Her mom placed the sandwich on the plate then set it on the table.
After she ate and put the plate in the sink, she turned around. “I’m going.”
“Lauretta and Skeeter are coming over later. Can you be back in time?”
“Okay, please be careful.”
“I always am.”
“I learned that from grandpa.” She put her shoes on, grabbed her shoulder strap purse and left the house.
She walked down the driveway and peeked over her shoulder.
Her mom watched from the kitchen window.
Alivia turned the corner of the driveway and headed down the side of the gravel road where the grassy ditches were.
Once Alivia got to the docks, she walked down the deck, sat on the edge, and let her feet hang over. The water wasn’t high enough to feel it.
The sky still showed the sun. This spot overlooked the lakeshore and reflected light in the wide-open space where the sky connected to the deep blue water. The waves lapped against the shoreline, receding quickly as they added a crystal sparkle to the environment. The breeze traveled through the tall grass and trees, the sound of the breeze in the leaves shuffled close by.
The wind gently whistled by relaxing her.
Alivia’s tingly eyes burned and stung as tears slowly released down her cheeks, and her chest grew heavy.
Birds flew past the pink-tinged white clouds, and the wind carried them higher and higher.
She continued to lament the loss of grandpa, knowing that he wasn’t coming back. But she knew he was in a better place than earth. She wouldn’t wish for anybody to lose a loved one because nobody deserved to go through that pain and heartache. But would she ever understand why God took the good people, why they couldn’t stay longer, why not take the bad people? Those who torture and kill? Why do they get to stay and the good people have to leave? It was so unfair!
The wind swept across her cheeks and through her brunette locks.
Alivia opened her bag and pulled a picture out. It was her and Grandpa at the ice cream store.
The memories always invited themselves in, and ran through her mind, reminding her of the events that had taken place in her life. Grandpa just wasn’t physically hould be.
She peered up at the sky and wondered if Grandpa watched down on her from the sunset hued sky.
Alivia grabbed her bag and walked back onto the trail.
Once on the other side, she kicked a few rocks in front of her to see how far they could go.
She drew her leg back and kicked the rock across the road. Her foot thudded to the ground as a cloud of dust floated up. Her gaze followed the rock. It rolled and rolled until it landed in the ditch.
A dull thump alerted Alivia. She gasped and placed a hand on her chest then turned around.
There was a small open trail to walk through.
Hmm, that’s weird. I never saw this before.
The wind blew Alivia’s hair past her face. She dug into the bottom of her purse for a bobby pin then clipped her bangs over to the side.
Dark clouds formed high in the sky. The roar of waves became louder and stronger.
The open trail had tall, skinny trees with no leaves, and patches of dead grass dotted with prickly thorns and roots snaking up from the earth.
Her brows wrinkled. Alivia was taken aback by it because she had never noticed it going to the docks before.
She strolled over to it and stopped, then peered into the long narrow path.
Is this the right thing to do? Go on and not even call mom to let her know where I am and that I’d be home soon? If mom knew right now, where I was, I would be in so much trouble. I wonder how Grandpa would react if he were still alive. He might say, “Alivia Belle McGala, you don’t go into the woods, that’s how you get lost!”
She didn’t realize what she was getting herself into; it might lead to trouble, or even to death. She wasn’t the type of person to get in trouble or lie about something. When she was told to clean her room, put clothes away or do homework, she did. There was no sitting around or saying ‘I’ll do it later’, it was you do it now, or you’re grounded.
She looked back at the open trail.
I wonder what the unknown holds.
As a child, she was told to never go into the woods unless she was with an adult. Was there a family secret unspoken that she never heard before?
She decided to cross through and venture down the trail that led into the woods.
Maybe it led to the other side of the lake.
Alivia thought for a second.
No, that can’t be it, because this was never here before. How did it even get here in the first place? Maybe somebody left a trail so they would know how to get back out, but there were no cars by the house today, as far as I know. Even though I’ve been in my room all day, I didn’t hear any cars go by either.
As she adventured deeper down the trail, the air didn’t feel warm and secure. A nervous quiet feeling filled the air, but she didn’t want to stop there, she wanted to keep going and to find out where this trail went. That was the goal.
Twenty feet high tree limbs dangled with dead dried leaves. Most of them were on the ground. The sound of leaves crunched under her feet and the snap of twigs. The lake air lingered and mixed with the earthy smell of the woods.
An odor caught her attention.
Is that smoke I smell? That’s strange.
There wasn’t anything in the sky to show that a fire was brewing.
A brisk breeze blew by. It brought goosebumps across her whole body. Leaves shuffled and the water broke free on the shoreline. Alivia’s throat became dry, her legs stiffened, and her heart hammered. Now she couldn’t hear anything.
Oh, no, did I just go deaf?
She rubbed both ears. A sudden rustling sound shot out from close behind. She flinched and spun around.
Something black and large darted from the highest tree top.
She’d never seen anything like it before by the lake. It seemed different, being larger than any animal around here. Its shadow glided over the middle part of the trail.
Alivia realized she could now hear.
Oh, thank god!
She held her arms to her chest.
This was a bad idea. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. I should’ve listened to the voice in my head.
Off the corner of her vision, there was something dark in the sky. It was a trail of smoke lingering in the sunset tinged blue.
Alivia’s wide-eyed gaze followed it to a crumbled brick chimney; her feet stopped.
A house in the middle of the woods? That’s strange.
Guess she wasn’t the only one out here after all. It was like something was hidden out here. She felt like the house drew itself toward her. She could’ve ran, but didn’t.
She wanted to peek inside, but could a peek be dangerous? Could it be a secret that shouldn’t be opened? She thought deep and hard about it. A feeling forced her to go take a peek. Just one, then she would get out of here.
It was like the house had a story to tell and she wanted to know what that story was, but why would it be all the way out here in the middle of the woods? Who would want to live out here? It did look abandoned, but obviously, someone was living there because smoke came from the chimney.
The dried leaves crunched under her feet as she approached the house and came to a stop at the end of the trail.
It was too late to turn back now; she might as well look around to see what she might find.
The sky changed from dark to light again. The layers of clouds expanded, the sky turned different colors, like birds of paradise, pinks, and oranges. The sunset peeked through the woods. An arch formed over as the sunbeams gave light that penetrated the thick trees above.
She looked back at the lonely, tormented-looking house. It seemed very old as if it remained there from ages ago.
As she strolled toward the two-story house, she could see it had a chimney, and a matted mess of cobwebs draped around it. There were a few brown plants covered with dead leaves. Vines covered in crunchy leaves trailed up and around the house, including onto the old roof.
The railing of the porch had candles sitting in puddles of melted wax.
She took a few steps forward and touched it. Warm and wet. It had just been lit.
Alivia studied the house as if it was the question, and the answer was held inside.
Was it even a house? There were no houses like it in Traverse City. It was less like a house and more like a two-story shed. This house might have come from somewhere else.
A cold breeze darted by Alivia so sudden that she lost her balance, grabbed onto the rail and caught herself just in time before falling to the ground.
What the heck was that?
After she adjusted herself and tried to get her mind to realize what just happened she couldn’t figure out where that cold draft had come from. It couldn’t have been the wind because there wasn’t a breeze to feel.
Maybe she’d been in the sun too long. That might be it. It was August and it did get hot.
She turned back around and forgot about what happened.
Some of the steps were missing, broken and lose.
It was very weird, scary and exciting all at the same time. It wasn’t every day you go into the woods and find a house like this one. That just didn’t happen. This was a one chance opportunity. If she left now, she might not have another chance like this.
She walked up the steps and skipped over the ones that were unsafe. She stopped in front of the wooden door and touched it. Rough and hard. There wasn’t even a handle, only an old ancient latch, nothing from modern times.
Alivia grabbed hold of it and tried to slide it over through the latches, but it wouldn’t budge. She pulled and pulled, but it still wouldn’t move. Then, it slid over by itself with her hands still gripping it as if somebody else did it.
Her stomach sunk. She fell to her rear. Then realized someone might be in the house trying to open the door from the inside.
Alivia scrambled to her feet and waited for someone to open the door, but nothing happened.
It was quiet. Too quiet. No sound of the wind. No leaves shuffling across the ground. No birds.
Alivia held both arms to her chest and stood still. She waited to hear the sound of somebody walking to the door or even looking out the window to see who was there.
She waited a little longer.
Again, just silence.
Finally, she took a step forward then gave the door a gentle push.
It creaked open slowly, then came to a stop.
She felt like the house wanted her to go inside it.
Alivia gripped the strap of her purse and swallowed deep. She looked over her shoulder and back at the entry of the path.
At that second, footsteps traced across the hard-wooden floor. She turned back around expecting to see somebody standing there, but nobody was there.
Alivia waited a couple of seconds, and then found the strength to step forward and stand in the frame of the doorway.
There was enough daylight to show the old and dusty floors. The walls were coming apart, just like the outside.
To the left, there was a small room that looked like it was a kitchen because there was a table and knives with a couple wooden bowls.
In front of her was a staircase that led up to the second floor. The stairs were ancient and covered with dust and cobwebs.
Past the stairs, there was another room with no doorway, just an opening to walk in.
In that room, something quickly caught her attention. A glow captivated itself around a thick book that rested on a wooden stand. She didn’t know books glowed. A big black cauldron had a fire lit under it.
To the right, a red curtain with a few holes and rips here and there hung in front of a doorway.
Being in that house at that very moment felt like the worst thing she had gotten into. Something didn’t seem right. There was no good feeling about it.
Before she even took a step back, a cold, chilly breeze sprinted by. Alivia shrieked and spun around. Nothing was there, except the outside and the steps. “Hello, anybody here?”
A sudden, eerie feeling jolted through her body, as if it were taking her energy.
She stepped back then walked down the rotten steps without even closing the door. Turning her head she looked at the house one last time, then turned back around and came to a dead stop.
Alivia flinched and covered her mouth with both hands, her stomach sunk.
A thin woman about five feet tall, with pale skin and gray hair, pulled up in a bun, stood in front of her. “Hello, child,” the woman said, her voice low and soft. “Are you lost?”
The woman’s eyes gave Alivia an eerie feeling. Half of her eye on the left was green and the other side of it was blue. They pierced right through her like nothing else before. It was like this woman’s gaze penetrated right into her soul. She tried to look away, but before she did, she got a flash back from the past. A glimpse of torches lit with a flame and voices yelling, “Kill her, killer her” It echoed around her as if she was there.
She pulled away from the woman’s gaze and saw a emerald diamond hanging from her neck. It was so eye-catching; it had an unusual glimmer to it, and it was the size of Alivia’s fist. She had never seen one that size or shape before.
The woman’s black dress had a corset that tightly hugged her waist, and went straight down smoothly well knit. It was odd for Alivia to see an older woman with an ancient dress when it was the twenty-first century.
Looking at the woman took Alivia a thousand years back in time, maybe more.
Alivia swallowed hard and bit the inside of her mouth. “Well I have to go now.”
The woman grinned. “To your mother.”
Alivia glanced back at the woman. And when she did, another flash came. All she saw was men breaking into a house and dragged a woman out by the arms. She kicked her feet and screamed, tipping her head back.
How does she know I’m living with my mom? Had she seen me leave the house? Is she following me?
Alivia didn’t want to find out and made a beeline for the exit. She took one step to the side, then around the woman to avoid any kind of contact. She just wanted to get out of there.
The woman did not move, but her gaze remained fixed on Alivia. The stare made her feel like prey and the woman was the hunter.
Suddenly, the woman grabbed Alivia by the arm.
Gasping at this, Alivia’s stomach clenched.
The woman’s eyes glowed. She grinned as if she liked the touch.
Alivia pulled her arm away and took another step back.
“What do you wish for? What do you want?” asked the woman. She looked at Alivia as if to wait for an answer.
Alivia backed away. “What are you talking about?” She avoided eye contact from the woman’s gaze that pulled her right in.
The woman held her hand out and opened it. She revealed a crystal stone. The color of darkness with little diamonds spread across it captured Alivia’s attention. “Take it and make a wish; it will come true child.”
Alivia hesitated and swallowed hard.
“Wish for your grandfather.”
A sick feeling settled in the pit of her stomach.
How does she know about my grandpa? Who is this woman and where did she come from?
“How do you know…?” She didn’t look her in the eyes, but at her nose.
“You miss him…don’t you?”
Alivia lips parted. “Yes.”
“Then take it.”
Without meaning to, Alivia held her hand out.
The woman put the stone on her palm and leaned her head back then inhaled. A smirk spread across her lips.
Alivia’s eyes widened again, as she scanned the stone. It felt rough. She didn’t want to take it, but had to.
“Your soul smells fresh, my child.”
Alivia needed to leave now and turned around, holding onto the stone.
“My name is Inga,” the woman called out. “You can call me, Inga.”
Does Inga think she will see me again? Is that why she said call me Inga?
Afraid something bad might happen, Alivia did not want to look back. She kept her head straight forward and hoped to end this nightmare soon.