Thursday, August 31, 2006

New Story by J. Eldritch Kidd - Exclusive release to our blog!!!!

The Strange Small House In The Woods

(c) 2006, by J. Eldritch Kidd

(with no apologies at all to HPL)

My friend Gerda claims, these days, that she simply has no time to indulge those alarmingly extended nature-rambles she used to take whenever weather would come even close to permitting. She hasn’t abandoned her love of nature’s settings, she says; she finds it too time-consuming and inconvenient to simply abandon responsibility and spend a few days backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, or even walking easily but informally through her neighborhood park But the friends she used to hike with, or swim with, say that she is not being exactly truthful; that something not expected in her outdoor-lover’s experience changed her attitude towards the forest, and that now she prefers to indulge in her outdoorsmanship strictly within sight of concrete and electric pylons. What’s more, the Bentons say, she’s no longer comfortable playing with their Alsatians as she used to be–and the dogs act as if they miss their visitor’s playful companionship.

I finally asked her what the Bentons were hinting at–after all, we were all old hiking friends–and she tried to brush me off with the same excuses about not having time. But when I pointed out that if she had time to visit the Bentons, she obviously had time to play with their dogs as she used to, she became irritated and defensive, first muttering something about allergies–she’s never had allergies to animal hair of any kind–and then flaring into a temper: “I don’t have to account to you, Carter, about anything–and if I just don’t like dogs any more, that’s my business and not anyone else’s!” Then she scared me even worse by bursting into hysterical tears. I got her calmed down, she apologized, blamed job stress, blamed worry over the extra cost that her last trip to Europe had posed, blamed the time of month, blamed everything but the CIA, and changed the subject. And for weeks I couldn’t get a polite greeting, or even a reply to phone messages left on her machine, from Gerda. And then, out of the blue, came her phone call–inviting me, and the Bentons, to dinner at her place–dinner and drinks, she said, because she felt that wine would be too weak for what she wanted to accomplish. When we arrived, she only said “I hope you brought something really strong. I need some Dutch courage bad for this.”

Since I had taken her hint and brought two bottles of Cuervo Gold, and a small basket of limes, she was greatly relieved and amused, and we ate a pleasant if commonplace meal. The small talk at table was truly small, mostly about our respective work. Since Jack Benton is something of a gossip as well as an op-ed columnist, he managed to keep us amused with unprintable tidbits of scandal that would not, I suppose, raise a single eyebrow in these post-Monica days, but which for the time were such as to be devastating to certain national political eminences grises. Carla Benton’s veterinary clinic provided no such delicious gossip, but some amusing anecdotes about Helen Hokinson-style spinsters and their costive Shi Tzus added to the mix; and by the time we had cut the limes and debated whether or not to discard the worm, we were relaxed and comfortable. By the time we had all made fools of ourselves trying to juggle the saltshaker and the lime, Gerda seemed more herself than she had seemed for some months, actually since she had returned from Germany. She suddenly asked for attention:
“I’m going to start now, because I feel safer now with you three than with anyone else. I know I’ve seemed different since I got back from Germany; well, I have been–I am different.

“I know that you, Carla, have been offended by it–by my being rude to King and Wonderdog, I mean–and I’m sorry; and Carter, I’m really sorry I blew up at you that time, but it was just too close–too soon. I don’t go hiking anymore because–because I’m scared of the woods now. And Jack, don’t you dare write anything down. Carla, I hate to admit it, but I’m afraid of your dogs too.

“I can’t get over it. I’ve gone out to the Berkshires on weekends, but I just can’t make myself go on the trials; I’ve stopped off at the shelter to look at the rescue animals, but I can’t be around big dogs without remembering that little house. I don’t like it–and I wasn’t ever like this before that trip.

“I had had no trouble “wandervoegling” around all that week; I found all sorts of places to stay and things to look at all along the road: lovely little footpaths up hills where no motor vehicles ever went, springs that jumped out of the sides of road-banks, nice people who offered me lunch or beer or water. And of course it was the Schwarzwald, the Black Forest, with all those associations. When I found that little trail up into the thickest of the forest, I just had to go hunt for dwarves or something. “The trail was easy to see, but hard to negotiate; the evergreens had big thick branches close to the ground, and they whipped back at you as you pushed through. It was uphill, but not terribly steep. But the trees got thicker, and the light seemed to have a harder time getting through the needles; it was perfectly easy to see why they called the forest “Black.” It was dark in there, even at mid-afternoon. And I started to get a little nervous–yes, I had food with me, and my bedroll and stuff, but I wasn’t sure exactly how long I’d been climbing or how long it would take to get back to the road, and it was getting darker and darker. But then I turned a little bend and saw it.

“It was just a little house, like so many I’d seen on the road, probably just two rooms if that many, and it didn’t look as if anyone lived there. There was high grass all around it, the roof was a mass of shed pine needles that looked years old, there was no smoke coming out of the chimney, there was no fire-pit in the back garden, and the door and one window were open. There wasn’t any wind, so they weren’t banging or creaking; but it looked as if they could if a wind ever came up.

“Okay, so I got curious. I decided to check it out. I know enough to shout “Hello The House” coming up to a gate or a walk, but nobody answered–and no dogs came out from under the doorstep. So I figured on risking a look inside–open door, right? No answer? Just a quick peek? “As I started inside, I noticed some kind of cloth thing lying right next to the step, but I didn’t look at it very closely–not then, anyway. I was more anxious to see what was inside–I wish I hadn’t been.

“What was inside must have been a fairly nice little cottage interior once–little table, two chairs, plates in racks on the wall. One room, as I thought; a bedstead in one corner under a rear window high up in the wall, an old-looking rocker in another corner, a brick oven with a burner on the tip of the firebox. But I had the sensation of being waited for by something. I felt apprehensive, much more so than I could account for,. Yes, I was trespassing, if anyone lived there; but by the dust, that didn’t seem likely. But–wasn’t that something–someone–in the bed?

“It had been. It must have been an old woman. She must have died here, all alone, I thought. Her nightgown and robe were missing, and her cap had fallen off what was left of her head, and the bones looked old. Things must have come in through the door afterward, and done what scavenging things do. Poor old thing. Probably had to live way off here because she was old and alone, the kind of person people would just assume was a witch. Probably better than getting the finger-sign against the Evil Eye every time she showed her face. “But I still had that feeling that I was being waited for. Something was there waiting for me. I got spooked badly, and started looking around–and when I looked back at the bed, there was something more in it besides the old bones.

“It wasn’t easy to see. It was–it was big–it was misty and grey–it seemed to be different sizes from one moment to the next–I didn’t see it, exactly; I had a strong impression of it. At one time it was just a big, hungry, mist, and the next second it seemed to have more of a dog-like outline. I got the impression of large, very large, brown eyes, and–don’t laugh–equally large doglike teeth.

“All of a sudden I just wanted out of there. I don’t remember moving or running; I just remember finding myself on that doorstep and tripping over that pile of cloth. That was when I got a close look at it. And that was when I suddenly decided I didn’t like the woods–or your Alsatians–any more. I don’t remember how I got back to the road; the innkeeper where I woke up the next morning said I came in scratched up and hysterical, calling for any kind of schnapps he had.” “Wow!” said Jack. “No wonder you didn’t want me taking notes. But why do you say you took a dislike to the woods after you got out of the cabin? The ghost, or whatever it was, with great big eyes and great big teeth, must have scared you enough then. What was it about the old rags. . .?”

“They weren’t rags,” Gerda said quietly–almost too quietly. “It was another–former person. A little one. The cloth was clothing–a little dress, like the peasant children wear. And something else.”

She paused interminably. Her eyes seemed to reflect not so much a memory as a sense of rejection, denial, disbelief. Finally she took one more shot of tequila and said, with an effort, “The something else–it was a wrap, an outside garment. A little cape with a hood. The little arm bones were still in the sleeve-slits. It was faded mostly, but there were spots where you could still see what color it must have been when it was new. It was probably. . . red . . .”

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