by James P. Ecker
I had to go back.
That was all that was on my mind, filled with a quiet determination. A solemn promise to myself that I would face the fear I had so long ago abandoned. It had never occurred to me that coming back to the old woods where I could be alone would stir the childhood in me. These feelings started out so small then ever so slowly, growing to the point where the memories seemed to overflow with vigor, you would think that you could hear my thoughts without speaking. I was almost to the clearing.
The house was where I left it. Old and alone it was with no windows left, the boards all gnarled and worn, and the inside being painted black in pitch darkness. To me it had always looked like it was straight out of a horror movie, only there was no spine-tingling sensation or hair standing on end sort. There was only the calm sound of Mother Nature’s music…and the crunching of the leaves beneath my feet.
Walking towards the door, I caught the sound of flapping and fluttering from above as a few sparrows sprang from their hiding places.
“At least this place has some use of a home,” I thought and gently opened the weathered door and stepped inside. No one would have dared ventured in this place when growing up in the neighborhood.
Many of the kids from then and now still thought this place was haunted. Building a history of stories of murder and suspense created an atmosphere around the town enough for everyone to avoid the area. I was comfortable with that as a child, ‘cause it made me feel like I had a fortress for my own. A place where I could truly be myself. I felt impressed that a house like this still stood without the disruption of outside influence after all these years.
The feeling of being impressed was soon replaced by mixed emotions as I looked around the first floor of the room. Everything was bare and dusty from the living room fire place to the dining room. Webs hung from the corners and around the mirror piece that still hung above the mantle. Here I remembered the old woman was sitting in her chair by the fire, rocking back and forth humming to herself. I walked toward the staircase to the upper floors, seeing how I had forgotten how narrow it had been since then.
Upon reaching the first room I spotted the candles next to the window and on the old wicker table. Another memory of myself on the floor listening to the old woman reading from a large book by candlelight. I moved to the next room.
There at the end of the hall was what was once the art room. There were no paint marks or canvases or any of those things, because the art room meant something else entirely. Again another memory had shown itself where I was alone doing my art with a few leaves and feathers.
It was at that time when I felt scared of my art and that I didn’t return again to the house after that. Although I don’t believe I didn’t return because I was scared.
It was more that I was unsure about all of it. But now as that had passed years ago, I had made up my mind that I would one day return.
Moving towards the window sill I stopped midway upon seeing a glimpse from the corner of my eye. At first I was frightened, then unsure as to what was there in the shadow of the room on the mantel piece. Not moving a muscle, I knew that whatever was there was watching me as well.
A moment passed by as the stranger and I were locked in each other’s gaze until the next thing that happened caught me by surprise.
The stranger made a “ronk” type of sound.
A smile spread across my face as I strode over to the familiar form of my friend, Nevermore. The old bird with his black and blue and purple sheen of feathers greeted me with another “ronk” as it jumped off the perch of the mantle and onto my right shoulder.
“You nearly scared me half to death, you sly old friend,” I said to the raven as he nuzzled my brow. “The next time you greet me, let’s not hide in the shadows.” My old friend looked at me with quizzical expressions then preened the underneath of his wing. “I’m glad that someone’s here I can remember ever since I left,” I said.
Heading again towards the window, my hand traced the outer lining of the loose sill board and curled my fingers underneath. Then lifting up the hidden latch the familiar scent filled the air as a flood of more memories came into my mind. There in the hidden space of the crevice between the wood, was the old large leather bound book that had so long ago been with my youth.
For the moment I hesitated knowing that if I was to open the book once more, there would be no going back. I was unsure as to whether I wanted to do this or close the board and walk away again, just like last time. Nevermore shuffled and I looked at him.
“Nevermore,” I thought. I’m going to need this.
Taking up the book in hand and standing so still, I took a deep breath and opened the front cover.
The old woman’s ghost smiled at me once again as I stood there having the pages open.
“I knew that one day that you’d have to face the music and return,” she said. “The art is still a part of you and always will be.”
“I know,” I replied.
In the middle of the room, the leaves and feathers, even the candles began floating as they did once before.