Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The Open Door - or- The Story I Didn't Post In Time For Flash Fiction Friday
"The trouble with me is that I never realise how deep in the shit I am until I'm choking on the stuff!" thought Paul as he ran screaming for his life.
He had rented a little house in the country for a few months to just get away for his health. The doctor had recommended complete rest after his break down and the quiet country air seemed to be the best medicine. Paul looked forward to catching up on his reading and sleeping in for a change.
The first week, Paul lounged about in his pajamas and ate and slept when he felt like it. He barely moved from the overstuffed sofa unless he was getting another bowl of cereal or topping off his cup of coffee. He read from the dozens of novels that he had brought and tried not to think about his grief.
His wife, two kids, and his parents had gone on vacation to the islands, but because of a snafu at work, he had to stay behind. Three days after they had been gone, he heard about the earthquake. He tried to call but couldn't get an answer. The island authorities assured him they were doing all they could to find his family, but the damage was extensive and manpower was short. For a week he drove himself mad with worry. Then the call came, they had been found. The coffins would be shipped home in a week.
Paul lost his senses and folded into a catatonic state that was only punctuated by crying jags. His stay in the hospital was long enough that he missed the funerals. When he regained himself, two months had passed. Then came the prescription for rest.
Paul watched it rain for the next week and he got cabin fever. So when a nice bright day dawned, he set out on a hike. The rolling hills were filled with birdsong and the damp morning air felt good as Paul ambled through the woods. He wandered until he realised that he wasn't at all sure he could find his way back. The wind picked up and Paul started to get cold and hungry.
He continued walking until he stumbled upon a log cabin in a clearing. Not knowing what else to do, he knocked at the open door. A girl of fifteen greeted him and introduced herself as Delia. Paul explained that he was lost and was looking for someone who could help him find his way back. "Oh, well I'm sure mama could help you but she went out to drop off some canned goods to the neighbor. She'll be back in a half an hour. Would you like to wait?" she said with a smile.
She offered him a seat by the fire and brought him some hot coffee. The fire was warm and bright but the wind still blustered in the open door. Paul suggested that the cabin would be warmer if the door were closed.
"Oh no. Mama wouldn't like that," she said and her face took on a grave look, "You see, Mama always keeps the door open so she can watch for Papa to come back from hunting."
"How long ago did he leave?" Paul asked.
"A year ago today," Delia said softly. "He went out to the marshes to see what he could find for the stew pot. He put on his yellow raincoat and his plaid huntin' cap and went off early one morning. It had been raining a lot, just like it has been, and parts of the marsh that had always been safe before now were swamp. Papa didn't see that in the early morning light," she looked down at her feet, "The bog, it just swallowed him up. Ever since then, Mama won't let me close the door. She says that she needs to watch for him to come home. She's a little touched now, what with Papa bein' gone and all." Delia shook her head to cast off her gloomy thoughts and offered him some more coffee.
Paul was more than a little startled when a middle aged woman in overalls and rubber boots darkened the open door. "Hello, and who might you be?" she said warmly. Paul explained his plight and the woman nodded. "So you're the one who moved into the old Hoover place. Sure, I'll be glad to walk you to the main road and you can find your way from there. I just have to wait for my husband to come home from huntin' as I don't like to leave Delia alone for too long as she tends to get up to mischief." The woman settled into the other chair by the fire and rolled a cigarette, all the while watching through the open door over Paul's shoulder. "He should be back any minute," she reassured him but her gaze never wavered and here eyes seemed to glaze as her mind drifted to something else, "He's been gone long enough that he ought to have a nice bag of ducks for supper tonight. You ever eat fresh duck cooked over an open fire mister?" she asked in a far away voice.
Paul's voice cracked a little, "Miss, I thought that your husband was de-"
"Oh here he comes now," she pointed at the open door. Paul turned and looked out into the treeline and a figure clad in a yellow raincoat and a plaid cap was moving slowly towards the cabin. The shotgun in it's hand seemed to gleam despite the misty fog that had settled in. Paul's rattled nerves couldn't take the strain. He dropped his cup and ran as far and as fast as his legs would carry him. He never looked back for fear of seeing the long dead hunter behind him.
Delia smiled. She loved to have strangers in the house so she could make up a new story for them. The people of the hills love to tell a good story, even if it ain't true.
**Author's Note** I didn't finish in time to have this published on Tuesday as I worked all weekend. I hope you enjoy it.