It's October--the month for interesting, odd, spooky, unusual stories. So, I wrote one.
"There's something about living near mountains that gets under your skin."
Bill had spoken those words as he tried to convince Gail it was time to move. For three months she had resisted, listing all the reasons to stay in their comfortable, small-town home. During that time she had shown him all the beauties of nature in their neighborhood, scheduled lunches and social events with their circle of friends and family, planned activities for just the two of them...still, in the lag time Bill stood at the window, staring at nothing, or sat in his chair memorizing the placement of each tiny hair on the backs of his downy hands. Newspapers were impatiently scanned and tossed away in an inelegant heap. Gail sighed as she straightened them, knowing that she would soon capitulate. Bill was bored and he had decided. They were moving to the mountains.
Three months turned into three weeks of packing, discarding, and garage sales. Gail wandered through the rapidly emptying rooms of her home, wondering why, at their age, the move was happening. We should go on a cruise, she thought, enjoy the Bahamas, sit in the sand, sleep under a palm tree. But the move went forward despite her reservations and soon she and Bill sat in a moving van grumbling its way toward mountains.
The new home was nice enough. Gail rather fell in love with it. She and Bill had purchased it outright through a friend who was traveling through the area. The friend had promised the home was structurally sound with a lovely interior, and the price had been right. Still, the nearest neighbor was found ten miles away, and only sporadically throughout the year, in a summer cottage. As Gail stood on the porch of her new home, loneliness throbbed in her stomach. She walked inside to look for Bill.
"In the fishing room." Gail shuddered at Bill's muffled reply to her inquiry as to his whereabouts. "Why do you need a fishing room?" she had asked him as he packed his special boxes marked with those words into the moving van. "I just need it," Bill answered, shrugging. "You can choose a room and call it what you'd like," he offered in a sudden spurt of generosity. "We have four bedrooms, and I'm not expecting many guests. I'll have my fishing room, and you can have your..." Uncertainty colored his voice as Bill wrinkled his forehead. He peered at Gail as if for the first time. "What is it you like to do?" he asked, looking confused and embarrassed. "It's okay," Gail answered, "I don't need a room."
As she walked away from him, Gail realized she was moving to an isolated new home with a man who knew nothing about her. It seemed an odd contrast that she knew each of her husband's habits. She could predict his sleep, hunger, and sexual arousal patterns. She knew what he wished to eat, favorite television programs, most preferred shirt. His whistling tune circled in her head before the actual notes left his mouth. How could he know so little about a woman he had lived with more than forty-five years?
Gail was brought up short by the woman staring at her from the mirror in her new front hall. She looked critically at the deep crevices lining her blue eyes, then surveyed the network of lighter wrinkles on her cheeks as she listened to thuds and banging issuing from Bill's fishing room. She thought about going to look at the coveted room, unpacking boxes, or starting dinner, and opted instead for an afternoon walk. She called to Bill, letting him know she was leaving for awhile. His muffled reply gave no hint of understanding.
Sweet air filled her nostrils as Gail passed evergreens and wildflowers. She began to empathize with Bill's obsession for mountains. The stillness was fraught with noise, actively peaceful. Gail watched birds startle into flight in her wake. She observed busy insects and swatted the one trying to feed on her blood. Aspens seethed with life. Pieces of blue sky cut through the green canopy of perpetual movement above her. Wondering how far their property line stretched, Gail looked about for a fence warning her not to stray from her new home. No boundary came into view.
Gail paused beside a small creek. Silvery liquid spilled over colorful flat rocks lining the bed. Overpowering thirst suddenly made itself known. Gail moved her tongue over a fuzzy inner cheek. She knew all the reasons one should not drink "wilderness water", as Bill called it. But home seemed far away and Gail could think of no reason the pristine water would harm her. Compulsively, she knelt and put her hand into the creek, withdrawing it immediately at the frigid shock, only to plunge the hand back, cupped this time, joined by the other, to pull out a mouthful of refreshment. Unable to stop, Gail continued to drink until her desire subsided. Satisfied, she stared into the sparkling depths of the limpid stream for a moment, then continued her journey.
Without the annoyance of thirst, Gail began to enjoy the tranquility of her solitude. She circled back and began her downhill return, feeling again the overwhelming sensation of being assaulted by color. Green framed spots of brilliant purple, red, and white, with occasional blue as wildflowers nodded at her passing. Orange, black, and indigo lent color to an abundance of butterflies paying homage to the wildflowers. As Gail neared the house a sudden reluctance stopped her progress. She sat on a nearby fallen log and gazed at the back of her new home, still a quarter mile distant. Evening was falling. A solitary light illuminated one window. Bill...in the fishing room. Gail rested a moment longer, then slowly walked the remainder of the distance to her back door. Shrouded in dusk, she fumbled with the handle, then let herself into the kitchen.
Artificial light flooded the room with yellowed brightness as Gail flipped the switch. Grimacing at the clean lines and sterile walls, she walked to the pantry to find dinner. Moments later, Bill joined her, driven from his room by the odor of frying potatoes. "What are we having?" he inquired. Gail glanced at him. She had only gotten as far as the potatoes and a salad. Nothing else appealed. "Shall I make the steaks?" Bill had located the thawed meat in a refrigerator drawer. Nonplussed, Gail stared at the steaks, now sitting on a cutting board on her counter. She couldn't remember taking them from the freezer to thaw. Accepting her silence as affirmation, Bill turned to seasoning and broiling, allowing his tuneless whistle to fill the space created by lack of conversation.
Hours later, Gail watched her husband sleep. Bill's heavy jaw gaped open to allow jagged snores to rip the silence. It seemed an act of sacrilege to disturb the smooth stillness with such stridence. Turning from him, Gail stared at the ceiling, wondering when sleep would come. Finally, she wandered to their living room, new walls filled with familiar furniture. Walking to the bookcase, Gail found a worn, dogeared book, wrapped herself in the softness of a down comforter, and relaxed against the pillows on the couch. Lulled by oft-read words, she gradually fell asleep.
Gail awoke to the sound of nothing. Incredible stillness echoed loudly as she struggled to orient herself with her surroundings. Gradually, memory returned, allowing her to relax again as she gazed about the new room. It was common for Gail to read in a different room as Bill slept. It was unusual, however, for her not to join him as sleep became inevitable. She had never slept through the night on the couch. If she fell asleep, Bill would wake, find her gone, and prod her back to bed. Deciding he had been too tired to notice her absence from the bed, Gail went upstairs to see how he had slept. She found the room empty.
Bill was not an early riser. The glaring red numbers on the alarm clock announced that it was not quite 6:00 a.m. Squelching her nervousness, Gail called Bill's name, listening for his answer. It didn't come. She walked through the house, wondering what would cause him to wake so early in the morning. He wasn't there. Pulling on a sweatshirt and sneakers, Gail walked outside, ignoring the heavy dew soaking through the canvas covering her feet. She called Bill's name several times. There was no answer. Finally, in a panic, Gail ran back to the house, stumbling through the kitchen door.
"Well, good morning, Sunshine!" Bill was grinning at her from the kitchen sink. "Where were you?" Gail could not keep the accusation from her tone. Sensing it, Bill turned toward her. "I left you a note." He indicated a square of blue paper beneath a magnet on the white refrigerator door. Gail walked to the note, suddenly aware of the overpowering smell of fish, realizing where Bill had been. "I'm just cleaning my catch for the freezer," he told her, "then we'll have some for breakfast." Relief and anger warred within her. "Next time," she gritted, "please wake me before you leave. I was worried. And I'll pass on the fish for breakfast." "Gail, are you okay?" Bill peered at her momentarily before returning to the carcasses in the sink. "Fine," she answered shortly. "I'll go shower."
Days stretched into nights. Gail marked each morning as Bill arose to go fishing, returned home to clean his catch, showered, and spent the rest of the day in his fishing room. Gail waited each morning for the dew to evaporate, then escaped into the mountains to her sparkling stream. She became fond of the water. One day she brought a few empty bottles with her, filled them from the stream and took them home. Bill wondered why she no longer drank tap water. Gail couldn't explain. Mealtimes were stories of Bill's fishing adventures, while Gail nodded and looked attentive, longing for an escape back into the wooded hills she could see from her windows.
One morning Gail awoke to find Bill still in bed. He wasn't asleep, but lying quietly, watching her. Uncomfortable beneath his gaze, Gail arose and went to the shower. She dressed hurriedly in layers, eager to go walking. Opening the bathroom door, she once again encountered Bill. "Do you know you haven't talked for over three days?" his eyes shone with confusion and concern. Gail smiled, "That's nonsense. You've just been busy talking about fish. You didn't notice." But her voice felt uncomfortable and unfamiliar, each word an effort. "Gail, I'm not kidding. Why haven't you been talking?" Bill shifted nervously as he spoke. "I'm talking now. We can talk when I get home from my walk." Gail pulled on her shoes and began to leave the room. "May I come with you?" The question took Gail by surprise, leaving her breathless and stammering. "I...but this is my...umm....I don't know...maybe another time?" She didn't meet his eyes, knowing they would mirror hurt stemming from the rejection. She felt Bill's hand on her arm. "Let me come with you." "I can't!" Until the words were out, Gail had no idea how potently she felt them. He was not to come with her. She had to go alone. This was her walk, her woods, her mountains. He was not allowed there. Gail shook Bill's hand from her arm and rushed out of the house.
Checking repeatedly to be certain he had not followed, Gail varied her path, circling back, walking in new directions, careful not to reveal her intended destination. When she finally reached the stream, she lay flat on her stomach on the bank, immersing her face in the icy water, drinking deeply. Peace flooded through her body relaxing the tense muscles. Gail looked about, noticing the brilliant color on each leaf, wondering when autumn had crept in. Suddenly overcome with fatigue, Gail stretched the length of her body on the lumpy creek bank, and fell asleep.
Midday sun awoke her. Gail stretched, grateful for its warmth, and turned onto her side. A tiny squirrel, disturbed by her movement, chattered at her, then drew closer. Gail remained motionless, allowing the rodent to approach her. To her surprise, the animal slowly crawled to her thigh, sniffed the denim covering her leg, then curled up next to it. The squirrel seemed oblivious to the fact that the leg belonged to a human torso, and remained still, basking in the sunlight. Silently, Gail watched its tiny body breathe rhythmically, until she, too, returned to sleep.
It was night. New sounds, new creatures scurried through the black-blue expanse. Gail wondered briefly why she was not cold, then gazed about her in delight. A night bird paused in its flight and lit on her shoulder. Amazed at the audacity of the bird, Gail allowed it to perch lightly, balancing with tiny feet. The bird gazed about until alert eyes caught movement unseen by Gail and her companion startled into flight. A bat flew in crazy loops, following an insect for its supper. Gail realized it had been a very long time since an insect had bitten her. She couldn't remember it happening after her first walk in her beloved woods. She wondered if she ought to return to the house, but couldn't bear the thought of facing Bill, of talking to him.
Gail sat up slowly, leaning her back against a rock. It seemed to conform to her shape, supporting her comfortably. Curious lethargy filled her, combined with content. Inhaling deeply, Gail sat on the forest floor gazing up at her mountains. Time seemed accelerated. She was aware of sunrises and sunsets, of the stretches of brightness and velvet blackness in between. Various woodland creatures lent her company. Joy coursed through her. For the first time, Gail felt completely alive.
In one moment, toward the end of a brilliant sunset, a foreign creature approached her. Unfamiliar sounds assailed her ears. To her surprise, Gail was able to discern words. "Gail, honey, come home. I've missed you. Look at you--you're all covered in slimy moss. You hate being dirty. Let's go home. You can have a nice shower. We can move back to town if you want--have dinner with friends--go shopping. Please. Please. Come with me. I've been looking all over for you."
Gail blinked at the man without recognition, and pressed herself more firmly into her rock. This was home. She would not leave. He continued to talk, but the words no longer registered. She closed her eyes and slept.