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The Stranger

Image by Dorothea OLDANI

Wind blasts around the veranda, whipping skirts around legs and hair across faces.  A glass flies from the table and shatters on the wooden deck.  A deep growl rumbles around the hills, bouncing from one to another with the anger of a frightened bear.  The light on the village church is a beacon of sanctuary against the storm.  A searing fork crosses the charcoal sky like Neptune’s trident stabbing at the clouds and probing the water out.  

  From the hill, a shadow casts over the village.  The castle imprints on the clouds as a silhouette.  A light in the tower window flickers.  Behind it, a figure stands.  

  On the cobbled streets below a woman crosses herself and heads for the church porch, another battens her windows and locks her door.  The cafe empties of locals, only the tourists remain.  

Rain beats against the tiles of the castle roof.  The figure in the window smiles.  

  In the village, a young American twists the lens of his camera and focuses on the tower.  As the view comes clear he flinches.  He cannot be sure, yet he could swear to you that he can see someone there looking back at him, but the castle is closed now and all the visitors are gone.  The camera is getting wet there is no time to waste checking.  He takes his shot and rushes back to shelter.  

  What remained of the day is gone.  The rain pours black tears through the night.  A wolf howls from a mountainside and the American glances over his shoulder.  He sees that he is alone.  The streets are deserted and the cafe has shuttered up.  Something catches his eye and he crosses the street.  A bat swoops low over his head, it aims for cover, even it will not go to the castle now, yet the American finds his feet edge away from the comfort of the main street and lead him to the cobbled path and up the hill.  The stones are slippery and he is forced to cling to the rail.  

  The light in the tower is steady now.  A mellow glimmer warms the room inside.  The figure is watching him from the window as he draws near.  

  The American senses danger.  His heart beats fast and his chest tightens.  He turns the corner and faces the stairway and the solid oak doors.  The trees rustle around him and the wind whispers for him to continue on.  The voice grows louder as he hesitates.  His darkened hair glints like the fur of a wet fox as it plasters to his head and his blue eyes shine grey with each flash across the sky.  A violet spike crashes through the clouds and singes the air.  As it bounces from the tower roof the door clunks ajar.  A lump clings to the American’s throat as his heart rises and settled there.  The steps are steep and the strain bites his legs as he climbs.  Above the door, a lantern burns yellow.  He reaches out but the door does not wait.  With a grinding creak, it widens its gap like the gaping mouth of a shark.  

  Inside it is black.  Tentatively the American steps through.  As he enters the engulfing darkness the door slams shut behind him.  He strains his eyes and swings around but he cannot find the handle.  A pinhole of light appears.  It dances before him.  Upstairs a footstep scuffs against stone.  The tiny orb grows larger.  He reaches out to touch it but it teases him and moves away.  The compulsion to follow is overwhelming.  He moves through the castle as though he knows it well.  The light draws him up stairwells, over balconies and across landings.  He makes his way through the jumble of rooms until he is at the base of the tower.  He can see the candlelight now, waiting for him at the top.  The orb extinguishes, no longer needed and the shadow of the figure darkens the doorway, diminishing his new guiding light.  A hand reaches out.  Long fingers curl and beckon.  Wind rushes past, pushing him up the last few steps.  It tells him to go inside.  Closing his eyes for an instant he catches his breath.  

  When he looks again the figure is gone but curiosity burns in him now.  He knows he ought to run. He goes into the room. There is no candle at the window, only the silver shimmer of the night as the storm begins to ease and the moon pushes her way through the cloud to relieve the darkness.  In his pocket, his phone vibrates. He feels foolish now as he reaches to extract it. The room is empty and cold.  He glances at the small screen and sees the message. It is from a friend back home.  He smiles and leaves the reply for later.  Behind him, there is a gentle click. He does not hear it. He moves towards the window and looks down at the village.  As he rests his elbows on the sill a strong arm wraps around his chest and pulls him back against a solid body.  He feels an ice-cold touch and hears a gentle laugh.  


 (C) 2010 Liah S Thorley, all rights reserved                                             

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