Under the Veil of Mist and Night
This home belonged to her now. No one else wanted it, and she hardly had room to refuse with her situation. Standing in the doorway, a flickering memory of a little girl danced in her mind and out of sight. It was strange to think she had even been here before, and even stranger that fifteen years had passed since then. The information was there inside her, but it was too foreign--more like a dream than anything real. Her grandmother's funeral had been a quiet one. Their family was small, and in her old age, her grandmother had turned into a hermit. After the funeral, her sister outright refused to come to the house. She couldn't bare to see the home that became her grandmother's tower of isolation, and furthermore, she claimed the house was cursed. Their mother was the same, going as far to say that she would catch the woman's madness from setting foot inside. Superstitious nonsense was the backbone of the family, no doubt, Sara thought. Sara had no need for such beliefs. The rituals and mysterious workings of the world meant nothing to her. Her family's invented curse was nothing more than a weak attempt at mystifying old age and death. It was downright absurd to her. She kept her mouth shut about it, out of courtesy for the event itself, but she had no intentions of keeping quiet about their ravings if this continued on. Moreover, she had no intentions of going out of her way to contact them again. If they did not wish to visit her for living in the house, that suited her fine. She had her belongings delivered the previous day. There wasn't much to go through, as she never had money for much of anything. Being somewhat lazy, she put off unpacking and cooked lunch instead. Afterwards, she got to work. Her job was through a company that did transcriptions for various businesses. Sara was good at her job, and had plenty of assignments to do, but her income was still barely enough to pay the bills. When she finished with a few, she got to work on filling out a couple of job applications. It was late evening by this point. Back in the kitchen, she fixed a quick dinner and ate. Tired of being in the house, she went out for a walk under the stars. The fresh air was nice. In the city, the air was always filthy and she could barely see any stars at night. There were hardly any trees either. The nighttime scenery was beautiful. She took it in with each breath. A memory of something popped in her mind. When she was younger, she remembered there being an old bridge that led to a big lake. The moon was getting close to full. She knew the lake would look gorgeous at a time like this. Going purely off of memory, she managed to find her way in the dark to that old bridge. It was smaller and less together than she remembered, too small for more than two people at a time to walk through. Despite her age, she felt a twinge of excitement at crossing the decaying bridge. With each step, the wood beneath her creaked. Not far beyond the bridge, down a mostly overgrown path, a shimmering surface covered in mist greeted her. The moon 's reflection waved as an Autumn wind blew through. In the wind's howling, she heard the melody of a flute. She followed the sound along the bank until she found herself at an old tree. The music stopped. A handsome man sat between the lake's edge and an old magnolia tree. He appeared to be around her age. His hair was a dingy, stringy brown, and his eyes murky. This didn't take away from the beauty of his face. He placed the flute down beside himself in the grass and smiled at her. "Hello, Miss. Are you lost?" He asked. His voice was deep, but had a softness about it. "No, I'm not lost. I live around here. I was wondering where the music was coming from." She kept some distance between them, not sure if she could trust the beautiful stranger before her. "Oh? I'm sorry. Did I wake you?" She shook her head. "Ah, no. I was already out. Your music is very beautiful. Are you a professional?" "Me? Well, it seems like I've been playing this old thing for an eternity, but it's more of a hobby." He picked the flute back up and looked over it. Sara could see that it was very old looking, and it appeared to be handmade. "Oh, I see. I didn't mean to disturb you. I recently moved here. Well, that is, I've actually been here before, but I've never lived here myself. I wanted to visit some places I could remember." Sara fumbled through her words. She blushed and scratched the back of her head. The moonlight was far too kind to the man's appearance, she thought. "Ah, then, welcome back. You've come back at a wonderful time. All the leaves have changed colors. The harvest moon is coming up. Seeing it out here by the lake is a breathtaking sight." He smiled again as he stood up. "Really? I'll have to make sure I come out here then." Sara fidgeted with the bottom of her shirt. "Do you come out here at night often?" "Yes, nearly every night. You see, I work late hours. Most of my relaxation time is at night." He put the flute away in a leather pouch. "Though I'm afraid I must cut our meeting short, Miss. I need to get up early tomorrow to run some errands. I'm sure I'll see you around again some time, Miss." "Sara. I'm Sara." She offered her hand. He shook it. "Well, nice to meet you, Sara. I hope you enjoy the rest of the night." He waved goodbye as he walked away. Sara watched him disappear into the mist and darkness. When he was gone, she realized she forgot to ask his name and when the harvest moon would be. "I'll ask him next time." She stayed and watched the the night sky a little while longer before she headed back. There was no rush for her to get to bed early, since she worked from home, but she liked to keep a schedule. She went straight to bed once she got home. At sunrise, Sara was greeted by an unexpected guest at her window. A stallion pranced just beyond her bedroom window. Its coat was a beautiful white shade, though there was something a little dingy in it. Sara assumed from the dirtiness of the horse, it must have escaped from someone and been lost for a while. She wasn't going to approach a strange horse, so she ignored it. The stack of boxes in the living room was unappealing. She ate, did her work, and filled out more applications. Her phone never once rang. By evening, she felt completely drained. Dinner was slapped together quickly and eaten with little enthusiasm. Sara used to spend a lot of time cooking when she was young. It didn't seem worth the effort anymore. By sunset, she was getting antsy. She needed to do something to take her mind off her current situation. When the sun was gone, she crossed the bridge again. Through the mist, she followed the music and found him in the same spot. He was dressed the same. Sara assumed it was his work uniform. He put his flute down and smiled at her. "We meet again, Sara." Sara was glad she was mostly covered by shadows. Her face had turned completely red. She wanted to roll her eyes at herself for acting like a schoolgirl. "Yes, it would seem. I'm glad I ran into you. I forgot to ask you when the harvest moon is." "Ah, that should be in five days." Sara stood beside the magnolia tree. "Um...I don't mean to intrude, but would it be alright if I listened to you play for a while?" "That's fine with me." He patted the ground beside him. Sara sat down in the grass. She didn't sit too close, as they were still strangers. Leaning against the old tree, she listened to him play while she watched the ripples on the lake. Sara didn't keep track of how long she was out there. Time seemed to stop when she listened to him play. When he finished playing for the night, he put the flute away. He turned to Sara. "Sara, you know, you're always welcome to come sit with me while I play. It's a little lonely being here all by myself. I'd prefer an audience every now and then." "Would that really be alright? I don't want to impose..." She hid her excitement. "No, I'd be quite happy." He stood up and held out his hand to help her up. "Won't you come again?" "I think I'll likely have time tomorrow night." Sara had nothing planned for tomorrow, but she didn't want to sound too committed to the idea. She took his hand. "I hope to see you then." He kissed her hand. His gaze met with hers. Sara was lost to herself when she looked in his eyes. That deep murkiness swallowed up all her thoughts. He backed away from her. "Goodnight, Sara." The walk home felt long. She wanted to skip past the daylight. Tomorrow night couldn't come soon enough. When she got home, she realized it was much later than the previous night. Sara was ahead with her assignments. She decided she would sleep in and do a little less work the next day. The horse was at her window again when she woke. It was making so much noise she couldn't sleep in like she wanted. When she went to go yell at the horse, it ran off. She knew she couldn't put it off forever. Sara finally started opening boxes. The unpacking process took up the entire day. None of her assignments ended up getting done. When nightfall came, she was exhausted. After dinner, she headed back out across the bridge to meet her new friend. He was there in the same place as before, playing his music. When he finished, he didn't go straight home. They chatted for a while over trivial things, favorite foods and hobbies. It wasn't enough for Sara. She wanted to get closer. He wasn't opening up, so she took the first step. On that night, she told him about her grandmother. "You know, that old house I live in, I inherited it from my grandmother. She died recently." Sara wasn't sure if she had started the new conversation off properly. "I see. Then, she must have been that kind old woman who would come down here sometimes to collect the blackberries." Sara knew he had to be talking about her grandmother. The old woman had always had a near obsessive love of the berries. "You knew her? That's...unexpected. I always heard my grandmother was a hermit." "I think she just liked the peace and quiet out here. I'm sad to hear she's passed on." He kept his gaze down, holding tightly to his bag. "They don't know what really happened to her. They never found her body." Sara blurted out. She didn't want the conversation to go in that direction. Nothing came out right in front of him. "Then how do you know she's really dead? Has she been missing a really long time?" He asked. "There were...pieces found. Of organs. They belonged to her." Her stomach turned recalling that. Her mother had been the one to tell her everything. The memory of that night was something she wanted to submerge somewhere unreachable. "My god...does that mean...she was murdered?!" His eyes widened. "It's possible. The police told us it may be that she died out here from natural causes, and with no one around to find her, the animals got to her. There's not enough evidence to say what happened." "That poor old woman..." "You didn't see anything odd in the last month, did you?" Sara wanted to smack herself for asking him and getting him involved in that part of her life. She merely wanted to talk about how she had acquired the house. "No, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary then. I'm sorry. I wish I could be more help to you." He put his hand over hers to comfort her. "There's...a really strange detail in the story. My grandmother called my mother nearly a month ago claiming she saw my grandfather. My mother came down here to check on her, but she seemed fine at the time. The police think she may have lost her mind." Sara said in a voice just above a whisper. "My mother didn't believe it though. She said she saw no other symptoms that anything was off about her mental state. I don't know. My mother's never been good at deciphering the truth." "I don't mean to speculate, and I'm sure it could be completely benign, but...I keep a watch out for predators coming near my land. If I ever saw a coyote or even a fox near here, I wouldn't allow them to stay. It would be very easy for someone to make it look as though an animal were the culprit out here." He gave her a serious look. "If I were you, I'd want the police to check through the evidence again." "Hmm...I'll call my mother about that. That's...a little unsettling. But why would anyone want to hurt my grandmother?" "There's a lot of strange people in the world. I'm not saying someone did anything to her, but there should be more left behind if it were animals. Why bits of organs rather than cleaned bones? Something's not right about that." Sara hadn't considered that detail before, but she didn't know very much about animal behavior or diets. "Do you think it's safe for me to stay out here by myself? You don't think, if there was some murderer wandering around, that they'd come after me?" Sara thought over how easy it would be for someone to snatch her up on one of her nighttime walks. She didn't want to be alone. "I don't know. I myself haven't seen anything strange either way. No unfamiliar people, no signs of anything odd, no predators wandering around lately. The whole thing is very...baffling to me as to what could have happened." He pulled something out of his bag. "Here. I may be being overly cautious, but you should carry something to protect yourself with." He handed her a knife. Much like the flute, it looked very old and hand made. She felt over the blade carefully to examine its sharpness. "Are you sure I can have this?" "I insist. I can rest at night knowing I let a lady walk home alone unprotected when she might be in danger." He put his hand around her hand that was holding the knife and held it tightly. "Please, Sara, I insist." "Alright. Thank you." She accepted the gift and hid it in her pocket. The next morning, she found the horse eating up all of her grandmother's roses. She threw some apples out her window to get it away from them. The horse ignored them and continued eating the roses. "Go away, you stupid horse!" She yelled. The horse looked up at her for a moment, then went back to eating. She threw her shoe at it next. It landed with a thud against the horse's side. The stallion was unfazed by the contact and kept chewing. She slammed the window shut and went to work on her assignments. She considered calling her mother about what her friend had told her the previous night about the missing bones, but she didn't want to talk to her mother. Sara went through her day waiting for nightfall. When night came, she met with him again. This time, she planned on opening him up a little. "Where do you live?" Sara asked. "Oh, I live on the other side of the lake. But, I like the view from here more." He pointed to somewhere on the opposite side of the lake. It was too far and too dark for her to make anything out. "Really? I didn't know there was another house on the other side. I explored that area a lot when I was a kid. I never found any other houses out here." There were very few houses in the area in general. Most of the land in the area was actually protected. "It was built recently. About five years ago." He leaned back against the tree, stretching out his arms and legs. "It's not very big, but it suits my needs." "Oh? My house is too big. There's six bedrooms in it. What am I supposed to do with that?" She laughed. "Well, you could always try renting out some rooms to make some money." He suggested. "Huh. I hadn't thought of that. Do you think anyone would want to rent way out here?" The nearest town was a forty minute drive. Sara considered the possibilities. If she kept the rent low, she might still get a few people interested despite the distance. Any extra money coming in was more than welcomed. "I don't see why not." "Do you mind me asking what you do for a living?" Sara asked the next question on her mental checklist of details she wanted to know. "I work with freshwater wildlife for conservation purposes." He said. Sara was surprised. She wouldn't have guessed that from the clothes she usually saw him in. "That sounds interesting. What made you get involved with that?" "I've always had an affinity with animals that live in water." He held up his flute. "It's like my flute, I feel like it's always been close to my heart for what feels like forever." Sara kept up with question after question. He never grew tired of them. Late into the night, she realized there was one obvious question she had still forgotten to ask, his name. She started her final question. "This is going to sound a little silly considering how much time we've been spending together, but I still don't know your..." He took hold of her hand. She froze in place as he looked into her eyes. "I'm sorry, Sara, but could we pick this up again tomorrow? It's very late and I need to get enough sleep to be ready for work tomorrow." "Oh, yes. I'm sorry. I didn't realize how late it had gotten." "You will come again tomorrow, right?" He asked, still holding her hand. "Yes, of course." He kissed her hand. "I'll see you then, Sara." Sara stayed up so late the previous night, she slept through most of the day. That hadn't happened to her since that time when she was unemployed for a few months. The day already wasted, she didn't bother getting any work done. Instead, she eagerly waited for night to come again. Around sunset, her sister called. "Sara, why won't you come live with me?" Her sister asked. "Because I already have a house now. I don't need to do that again." Sara had lived with her sister on and off when she was in between jobs. It was never a pleasant experience. "You know that place is bad. It made grandma go crazy. We should sell it and get it out of our family for good." "A house can't make a person go crazy. She was just old and senile." Sara's bitterness oozed from her words. "How can you say that? That house has always had a creepy vibe to it. You know that.." Sara hung up the phone and unplugged it. She was in no mood to listen to her sister's mad ravings. When the sun was completely gone, she went out to the lake. He played his flute for a while. Sara couldn't enjoy it the way she usually could. Her sister was stuck in her mind. When he stopped playing for the night and they were talking, Sara couldn't stop herself from letting some of her frustration come out. "Do you think my grandmother was crazy?" Her question carried a harshness to it. "What's brought that on?" "I've been thinking...maybe she was mostly normal, but she conjured up visions of my grandfather out of sadness. She never seemed really happy after he died. Maybe that gave her a little comfort in the end." Sara found her conclusion much more rational than the nonsense her sister and mother had come up with. She mused that her grandmother likely would have been on board with such stupidity, as her grandmother had been the most superstitious of them all. "I suppose it's possible. Who knows...maybe she saw his ghost, urging her to come on over." Ghosts. Sara hated the very concept of them. It was the ultimate denial of reality in her eyes. "Nonsense. Ghosts aren't real." "Not the superstitious type, huh?" He laughed. "Not in the least. For every strange claim or event, there's always a mundane reason lurking underneath if you look deep enough." She said, a bit of her ego coming through. "Well, I think there's still some things out there that aren't so mundane, but I also think it would be a very rare occurrence for anyone to ever encounter something like that." He took a less extreme view. "So, I would think most people on average would never experience anything out of the ordinary. That, and humans aren't very observant. If there was something unexplainable going on, I doubt most would even notice." "That is true. People are very oblivious to their surroundings." Sara wanted him to hold her. The thought didn't surprise her, but she kept it inside. It was too early, she told herself, to ask him that. "I just don't understand why my family is so hellbent on not seeing the reality of the situation. Both my mom and my sister keep going on about how the house is cursed. It's stupid." "It's probably their way of coping. They can't accept what's happened to her yet." He put his arm around her. "Don't let it get to you. You look tired. Why don't you lay down and rest a little, Sara? I'll play you another song." Sara complied. She started to lay down but wasn't sure what to lay against. She didn't want to put her head against the grass. Picking up on that, he offered her a solution. "You can rest against me if you want. It won't bother me." She laid her head in his lap and stared out at the lake. He brushed the side of her face. Sara turned to face him. "I'm sorry. Was that too much?" He pulled his hand away. "No. I don't mind it." He ran his fingers through her hair and smiled at her. Sara's worries faded. When he moved his hand away, she could still feel the warmth of it there. The song he played for her carried a melancholic quality to it. Rather than depressing her, it seemed to wash away the darkness left inside her. That night, he walked her home. They held hands along the path. At the front door, he kissed her hand and said goodbye. Sara watched him walk away before heading inside for bed. She decided to leave the phone unplugged. The horse bothered her again in the morning. She did her best to ignore it. The day carried on too slowly for her. She sped through her assignments, cleaned, and cooked. Sunset meandered along slowly. When the night sky replaced the day, she ran off to the lake. This time, he didn't bring his flute with him. He sat beside the old tree waiting for her. Sara took a place down beside him, leaving little room between them. With a subtle shift, he minimized the space between them even more. "Tomorrow, I want to show you my home. Will you come with me?" He said in a seductive tone. "I've got no plans for tomorrow night. Sure. Anything else you have planned for then?" She kept her eyes off of him, too giddy and embarrassed to face him. "Who knows. I figured we'd just let things flow naturally, see where it takes us..." He put his hand over hers and held it tightly. Sara's cheeks burned. "Is that right?" "Do you doubt me?" He whispered into her ear. "Well, we'll see how it goes." She kept her non-committed stance, despite knowing exactly what she wanted. This feels too fast, Sara thought to herself, but it'll be fine. He was everything she wanted. Handsome, kind, considerate, talented, and clearly interested. It was a little sudden, but she knew she wouldn't meet someone like him again so easily. "I look forward to it." With no music to accompany the night, they made small talk. The mood between them was reaching a boiling point. Sara seriously considered at some point asking if she could go home with him that night, but she decided against asking. When they parted way, he made his intentions for the next night clear by sending her off with a goodnight kiss. At home, sleep didn't come easy for her. Her mind was too full of ideas. She slept for only a few hours that night, but she still woke early in the morning. Sara spent the entire morning in a state of anxiousness. Her hair wouldn't stay right, nothing looked good on her, her make-up kept coming out wrong. She tried getting some work done, but her mind was elsewhere. Laying on the sofa, she sighed. "What am I doing? I've only known this guy for a week. Why am I so nervous? It's not like anything has to happen..." As the sunset, she finally settled on an outfit. The dress was a little more revealing than what she typically would wear on a date. She gave herself another look over before she grabbed her purse to leave. It was likely she wouldn't need it for anything, but it went well with her outfit. Before she left, she paused at the door and went back to her room. "What am I doing?" She asked herself as she dropped a few extra things in her purse. She shook her head. With a deep breath, she went out and crossed the old bridge. There, underneath the magnolia tree, just beside the lake, he sat playing a flute as the mist floated around him. Somehow, to her, he appeared even more handsome than before despite wearing his usual clothes. Every bit of anxiousness, uncertainty, and excitement fled from her mind. Her thoughts were empty. She stood, unable to move before him. He put his flute down and stood up. With a kind smile, he held out his hand. "Come with me, Sara." The mist enveloped them as she took his hand. She moved in an unnatural way, her feet barely touching the ground. Her shoes slipped off near the water's edge. Beside her shoes, her purse fell from her shoulder, lost to the muddy earth. Gently, he led her into the cold ripples. Her bare feet stepped into the deep, hooved prints under the surface, leaving no traces of hers behind. High above, the harvest moon shone down, reflected perfectly on the empty lake.