Please enjoy the following preview of my current project. This will be the only sneak peak until it is completed. Keep in mind this an un-edited and completely raw version that is being released. (Pardon the run on sentences and other technical mistakes.) Any constructive feedback is appreciated. Frankly, any feedback is appreciated! A little blurb below and then enjoy the short read. Thanks so much for your support! -K
Genre- Fiction/Fantasy working title “Whispering Roots”
Albert wasn’t your typical divorcee. He still loved his ex-wife, and they remained friends after the divorce, not just for the boys sake but because they both genuinely still cared for each other as friends, even loved each other but realized after twelve years of marriage that it wasn’t working. Especially considering the time he spent working under the government contract his company procured to build submarines for the Navy. These contracts would keep him away from home months at a time. This played a big role in the inevitable break up.
After the divorce, Al needed to find a new home and had a temporary apartment near the city. He managed to cash in on some of his retirement and save up enough money to buy a small three-bedroom cottage in upstate New York. It ends up being about an hour commute for him to the base where he is currently stationed. Albert sometimes had to relocate temporarily due to different contracts.
Moving out of the apartment wasn’t that bad. He didn’t have that many possessions, he was a man of few things, and even fewer words. One box truck rental later and he was completely moved in. He had no trouble with his haul, he had a medium build, but stout where he needed it, had what his friends called “chimp strength” when it came to moving large things like steel parts that needed welding and basically any heavy object. He wasn’t a large man but had a presence about him. He carried himself well, stood tall at 5’10”. He had hands that had seen plenty of time with a wrench and other tools. Some of his buddies joked occasionally that he could probably do push ups or pull ups using only his fingers. Al described them as sausages and his hands as mitts, but his friends knew better. There were times he didn’t even need wrench and just tightened by hand. Anyone after him would have to loosen by wrench or some other tool. He had dark brown hair that had just started seeing strands of silver wisp through. He tanned well in the summers, dark as an islander, which made his ice blue eyes stand out even more. He still had a boyish face, even as the years began its slow assault on his youth.
The cottage sat on 3.5 acres of land in the middle of the woods, as for the boundary of his property, his nearest neighbor separated by a stream, and his other by the main road. Behind him past the dense wood, which was a mixture of brush pines and old Oaks dotted with an occasional White Birch noticeable by its papery bark, was a beautiful lake that very few people knew about. It was not very deep, and crystal clear to the bottom. No one local knows for sure how it formed, some say it was man made, others say it was an old mining area that filled in with an underground spring, others still, cited the many whispers of myths and mysterious beginnings. The drive up to the cottage was long and winding, lined with Maple trees on both sides, rough gravel instead of blacktop. No issues for his Jeep. His old Wrangler could handle the many dips and holes created by time and things left to nature.
It was quite picturesque. On the outside. The front of the cottage had a nice big wrap-around porch complete with decorative wood carvings and an inlaid sun ray design at the peak of the entranceway. Spindles on the support beams and beautifully hand carved designs in all the wood visible. The floor of the porch was wide planked running perpendicular to the house which gave the porch a much deeper feel than it actually had. The windows were all adorned as well with beautiful hand carved wood that matched the porch. From the outside it really looked like the perfect wooden cottage almost like something out of a fairy tale. It had just the right amount of moss growing here and there, ivy climbing where you would expect it to, warped shingles from weathering…but it all added a certain charm to the place, gave it a welcoming and warm feeling.
Albert learned that the house had been built in the 1930s and that was reflected in the windows and windowpanes as they were all original and had never been updated. You can see some of the original coloring of the woodcarvings and the accents it gave a Hansel and Gretel feel to it but most of it had been faded by time and the rest of the house was cedar shake siding that had taken on the natural muted tones that occurs after it’s been weathered for decades showing the gray with a hint of brown still left in it. For all the ornate carvings and decorative bits found on the outside of the house the front door itself was rather mundane. It was a simple wooden door with six glass panes at the top half and solid wood at the bottom where the design mimicked the glass pane at the top. No screen door, something that Albert noticed immediately and figured the mosquitoes we’re going to be a problem and he was going to have to make a note to see about adding one.
That’s where the charm ended. Inside, the house was wreck. Floor to ceiling. All the walls were heavily wallpapered, apparently many times over and it was quite difficult to tell where the paper stopped and the walls began. The floors were carpeted in some areas and had linoleum installed in others. Mostly gaudy designs of the mid-20th century that became so popular and went out almost as quickly as it came in. Still enough time to do damage. The kitchen needed updating but was in working condition. All the appliances still managed to work even though they were probably more than 25 years old given the models he was viewing.
The three bedrooms would come in handy, one for himself and one for each of his boys when they came up to visit. They often liked to bunk together, but lately have been starting to grow more independent of one another and began to recognize their differences, subtle as they were. The Living Room had a big, beautiful bay window, larger than normal. Instead of facing the front of the house the Living Room was at the back, facing the woods. It took up the entire back of the house and the window took up most of the wall. Al thought it was an odd layout, but they must have had their reasons. When you walked through the front door you were met with a small foyer that branched into two rooms, the one to the left was the kitchen, and to the right was a smaller sitting room or parlor. The front of both rooms were lined with the old windows that looked out onto the porch and out onto the front lawn and drive. Through both rooms you could access the massive Living Room, but the parlor had the stairs that led up to the three bedrooms. One small bathroom separated the kitchen and the Living room, that was accessed through a short hall which was in line with the stairs from the parlor. The hall was maybe 30 square feet and housed a small storage closet under the stairs to the right, presumably for the bathroom positioned across on the left as the bathroom itself had no storage.
The three bedrooms upstairs, all carpeted, had been expanded at some point, allowing the attic to be accessed and used for additional storage through built in cabinets and closets. There were small crawlspaces located in each closet giving way to the unfinished attic space currently filled with insulation. The only source of heat for the cottage was a large woodburning stove in the oversized living room. It sat in a far corner and had been cleverly dispersed through the house with a duct system to deliver heat to every room. The Gas oven and range powered by propane along with the hot water heater. No air conditioning as far as he could tell and interestingly, all the powerlines were underground instead of connected by poles. Possibly more financially efficient that way running from property to property through the shortest distance possible and safe from falling limbs during thunderstorms or harsh winter blizzards and their whipping winds. He wondered to himself if the trees root systems would cause an issue and how the area dealt with it. There was another question to add to his growing list of concerns about his newly found country life.
It took Al roughly two days to move in and return his rental truck. He was having new furniture delivered, just the basics, enough for himself and his boys to make do. Nothing extravagant. Since both boys were very much into video games and computers he was going to have to see about the satellite and wi-fi situation for this area. Something he hadn’t bothered with for himself just yet. He preferred a good book to a television show and enjoyed the sounds of nature over the din of radio and electronic static. He wasn’t sure if working on subs made him sensitive to it, but he could always hear the constant intrusive buzzing of electronics no matter how slight. It was like a cacophony of atrocious artificial insects battering his senses and sometimes it would get so bad he would end up with migraines. It was one of the reasons he decided to move upstate, away from the city and the noise. His work phone was a military issued satellite phone, so he had no worries about having contact with the outside world for the time being. Most of his work was classified and he had substantial security clearance. His years of service and subsequent retirement from the Navy led him to his current position which afforded him a great deal of flexibility though relocating, even temporarily was always a part of the job he didn’t care for.
It was his first full day on the property, and he woke up early right around sunrise at roughly 5:30am. Even though he didn’t have much to do other than cleaning, he figured it best to get an early start on the day and begin settling in at least until the deliveries arrived. He showered, dressed, and started off with his boiling kettle, he preferred a quite French pressed coffee to a percolator. There were many aspects of his life that were not as quiet as boiling kettles and pressed coffee. He was not one to meditate or do yoga, but there was a part of him that did acknowledge the importance of stillness. His wife used to accuse him of being too quiet at times. Not good at communicating. One of many reasons the marriage just “didn’t work out”.
After fixing his coffee and toast, he made his way to the back of the house, to the living room. Sat down on a folding chair and looked out as the sky began to lighten. He could tell it was past sunrise but because of the denseness of the forest it still appeared pre-dawn in his immediate area. Setting his toast on the folding tray table to his side he breathed deeply and let the aromas of the damp forest air and the toasted beans from his coffee waft in and form an interesting combination of scents. Woody, warm, rich, and lush…he closed his eyes for a moment and just tilted his head back listening through the open window as the early July morning began its welcome song. A soft breeze floated in and carried itself across the mostly empty room. A whisper seemed to beckon him. No, not a whisper, but perhaps a faint song of sorts, a beautiful melodic echo. His eyes closed and not really giving it much though he let all the surrounding smells and sounds envelop him. It was the most peaceful morning he had experienced in such a long time. It was also then, in that same moment, that Albert Fourten realized he was not alone. Not alone at all. While his head was tilted back that beautiful siren song suddenly stopped and a very loud but hoarse whisper said his name as clear as someone standing next to his ear. ALBERT. ALBERT FOURTEN.
Al opened his eyes and spun around knocking his toast from the table and nearly spilling his entire mug of coffee. Eyes wide, he looked frantically for the source, but he could see nothing despite the morning light now entering the room. Nothing was out of place. No window, door or curtain for that matter looked disturbed. The only exceptions… his toast on the floor and himself.
Geraldine “Gerry” Winfrey grumbled as she walked up the steps to the General Store. She had spent the morning clearing out some of her old tools in her garage to make space for the new ones she was getting delivered. It had taken much longer than she had anticipated, considering she was up before dawn, and it was now close to 10:30 in the morning. She had to drop them off with Joe at the towns lost and found center where someone else would hopefully find use for them. That was on the other side of town, and she was annoyed that it had taken so long. Gerry prided herself on punctuality and had very rarely opened the General Store late. Even some of the harshest Winter storms hadn’t kept her from opening. She’d owned and operated the store since her father had passed on and he had owned it since his father had passed. Many generations of Winfrey’s lived in this small, wooded town, though she was the first woman to operate the General Store and Gerry was proud of that fact. “Ugh, in all my years”, she grumbled as she put the key in the old lock. “These young people can’t shut their traps or can’t give a hoot to look up from their dang smart things or whatever they call them now-a-days.”
Gerry was getting into her mid 70’s now and hated to admit that she didn’t move as well as she used to. Her joints creaked and croaked in ways she never expected. She was known for accusing the older decades of concealing the truth of aging by insisting that “the fifties were the new forties and so on…”. She knew as she got older that this was far from the truth. Despite her feelings about those older than her and their adages, she did believe that you were as young as you feel. Some days she felt as spry as she did 30 years earlier, and days like today, well, she was “feeling the weather” as she put it. Anytime a storm was brewing or there was a low-pressure system nearby her bones ached and her joints got stiff and swollen. Still, she pushed on, never complaining to anyone but herself. She didn’t see any use in it. Gerry figured everyone has their own problems and pains. Her Pawpaw used to tell her that “if everybody sat around a table and put all their problems and pains on top in front of them, everybody would take their own back, cause somebody’s always got it worse than you.” She whole-heartedly agreed with this notion and kept her complaints to herself.
She finally got the door open and flipped the sign around so folks would know she was in. Not many people from town shopped the General Store. It was mostly sightseers passing through that bought any of the tchotchke things she stocked up on. She did carry fishing rods and reels and lures as well as typical snacks and dry goods. Had milk stored in the back for the occasional quick trip from local townsfolk in need. Where Gerry really made her money was storing deliveries for the townspeople who ordered online. Gerry didn’t care much for computers and smartphones or other devices. In fact, the phone in the store was an old rotary dial version. People got a kick out of it. She did carry a flip phone that was not a smartphone, Gerry was always suspicious of the government watching and tracking her. That phone was just for emergencies, and it was only because her daughter forced her to get it. Gerry did most of her ordering through catalogs and over the phone, but the other people in town loved using these big companies that would provide two-day delivery and had everything you could possibly think to order. The problem with the fast deliveries was that most of the people here lived out in the woods, usually on dirt roads with hard to read signs or none at all. To get around you just had to know the lay of land. Or buy a handy map from the General Store.
Most delivery drivers had tight schedules to keep and couldn’t be bothered driving around in circles trying to find impossible addresses. So, as a result, when people ordered their items, they used the address of the General Store and Gerry charged them a “reasonable” fee for keeping their packages safe and sound. Another way she made a little money is by selling the renowned sourdough bread she bakes twice a week. This is one reason the townies do come to the General Store, that and to fill Gerry in on the latest gossip.
Gerry wasn’t a gossiper, but she did find usefulness in knowing all the goings on through the town. Who was squabbling and who was generally up to no good in someone’s opinion. Gerry didn’t believe anyone who lived in the town were bad people, just different from each other, and being different sometimes lead to arguments big and small. Sometimes it’s the gossip itself that causes a stir or a problem. Most of it’s harmless, but occasionally there come some mighty accusations that lead to the Sherriff getting involved, though that is extremely rare.
People who lived here didn’t want to attract attention from anyone much less from the County Sheriff’s office, most of the people who lived here didn’t trust the government for some reason or another and is the main reason they chose to live here if they weren’t born and bred like Gerry. That described the town pretty much. One half transplant and the other true locals.
The latest gossip it seemed was about the most recent transplant. Some young man from the city who bought the old Billings property on the outskirts of town. A sizable property. On a typical day it would be a 15-minute drive out. Gerry knew most properties in the area having grown up here, but that property Gerry knew very well, and she also knew that it sat vacant for at least 5 years before this fellow bought it. She heard it went for a low price, practically a steal. Gerry had thought about buying it a while back and maybe she should have when she’d had the chance, but she’d also remembered all too well how that property was and is and knew well enough to steer clear of it no matter how tempted she was.
No sooner was her back turned, the bell on the door chimed and in walked Eddie the Mailman. “Mornin Gerry, late start today?” Eddie asked. One look from Gerry was all the reply he needed. He knew she would be in a mood since the store was still locked up and closed at 10am when he made his rounds earlier.
“Got those tools over to Joe in case you’re looking for something in particular.” Gerry said without turning around.
“Thanks, I’ll peek later when I’m finished up. I hear your getting in some heavy boxes today, want me to swing by later and give a hand?”
Gerry grunted, “I suppose it would help.”
“I heard it was the new guy in town, got some kids or something and he’s having some furniture delivered. You’ll surely need someone for that. I don’t mind, should be done by 2pm today not much mail coming through.” Eddie stated hoping for more than a couple of words from Gerry.
Eddie knew that Gerry was privy to all the gossip in town but getting anything out of her was like pulling teeth. He knew better than to ask but figured he would hint around anyway hoping she would drop a nugget or two of information. She didn’t.
“See you round two.” Gerry replied as she was hunched over studying the old tube television trying to figure out why it wouldn’t turn on.
With that, Eddie the Mailman, also known by his actual name, Eddie Schubert dismissed himself from the store. He knew that Gerry was lonely even if she wouldn’t admit it, and he also knew that most people didn’t bother with her in a social way other than sharing gossip. To put it mildly, no one invited “Crazy Gerry” over for tea. He didn’t think she was that crazy, she knew things about this town. He was a transplant, put here through the post office. First Mail Deliverer ever assigned to “Birch Pond Hollow”. At first Gerry didn’t say a word to him, but after a while she warmed up as much as Gerry could, and probably appreciated not having to deal with everyone’s mail any more.
Eddie was in his early thirties and a generally nice guy overall, a little shy, some would say odd, some would say quiet. But never a complaint or a piece of gossip touched him. He lived alone in a small apartment above the diner that sat on one of the four corners that made up the only intersection in the main town along Main Street. There were only a handful of other young men his age in this town, and they were already married with kids or children on the way. Eddie usually found himself driving to nearby towns for any entertainment such as the movies or bowling. He had a few friends in surrounding college towns that he would meet up with occasionally. Overall, he lived a very quiet life.
Al realized that he had been standing with his eyes and hands clenched shut for about thirty seconds. He slowly loosened his grip on his coffee mug and opened his eyes. He didn’t dare move a muscle. He cautiously looked around without moving his head at first and then slowly turned from side to side. Nothing. There was nothing in the room save the table and chair he was just sitting on. His breakfast of course was now face-down on the floor, no luck in salvaging that bit.
With a huge dose of bewilderment and confusion he paced the room looking for anything amiss and found nothing strange. He looked out of the windows into the back yard and past into the woods and saw absolutely nothing. There was a soft breeze and sounds of small wildlife but that was it. The sun was now creeping up above the trees just slightly, so the room was very well lit. Al had the feeling of a headache coming on and figured the whole incident must be due to the move and the busyness and exhaustion of the last few weeks. It wasn’t hard moving himself, but it also wasn’t easy. He figured it had taken a toll on him and now his mind was playing tricks on him. He went off to the bathroom to grab something for his headache and figured he would lay down for a while. Maybe he shouldn’t have tried to get up so early and push himself. The emotional toll the divorce had taken on the boys and himself was enough to give anyone a nervous breakdown. He hadn’t wanted it, but his wife insisted it was the only way to preserve their friendship and their family’s happiness. “There would be no expectations,” she had said. No expectations. That’s what really bothered him. It hurt him to think that his boys and the love of his life felt like he had let them down. He wasn’t around and “present” enough. They had lowered their expectations of him. To zero. That’s what cut him deep.
He was a doting father and loved his boys so very much. He was a devoted husband, there was no doubt about it. His love of his career is what cost him everything and now he would trade it all to have it back. That didn’t seem likely at this point. He still had hope in his heart that they could resolve everything and be a family again, he was hoping having the boys up here to the cottage for some alone time would help prove to them his priorities were different now. He was still doing work for the Navy, but things would be different. He wouldn’t agree to so many contracts. The money was great, but the cost was so much more than it was worth. He knew that and was desperate to show them how much they meant to him.
Al came back from the bathroom and went upstairs to lay down. His mind was still spinning from what had or hadn’t happened, he wasn’t sure what had taken place. He couldn’t stop thinking about the voice, that whisper that wasn’t a whisper, it was so…so real. As if someone had been right next to him. He rubbed his eyes roughly and then massaged his temples. Whatever it was couldn’t have been real. It had to be his imagination, or just exhaustion. He rolled over on his side and slowly drifted off to sleep.
Outside the breeze continued rustling through the leaves of the trees. All the windows in the house were open, it would get way too hot by midday to keep them closed and any breeze of fresh air to keep it cool would be welcome until the window air conditioning units arrived. Softly and rhythmically the trees swayed their branches in the breeze. It was almost as if some secret ballet was being performed by Mother Nature herself. From the bird calls and chirps, the rustling in the undergrowth to the swishing sound the breeze made, it was natures orchestra right here making its way into the old Billings house and meandering through winding its way in and out of windows, up and down the stairs, wafting its lush scent through all the bedrooms settling finally on the master bedroom and its slumbering occupant.
Al stirred a little but continued sleeping, as strange dreams crept in and fluttered for an instant before retreating to some unknown space unreachable by his mind. He slept for hours, mostly silent and restful. Completely relaxed and at ease, as someone might be if they lounged and napped on a softly swaying hammock on a warm summer afternoon after a day of swimming or rigorous gardening.
The phone next to Al began clanging loudly. The vibration very audible and could be felt on the mattress next to where he was sleeping. Al jolted upright, disoriented at first and then quickly fumbled for the phone as he attempted to sit up.
“Uh, ahem, Hello?” Al managed to say clearing his voice trying to sound alert.
“Mr. Fourten, please.” The voice on the line said demandingly.
“This is he…,” said Al.
“Mr. Fourten, this is Gerry down at the General Store, your packages have arrived, ALL of them.” Gerry heavily emphasized the word all. Because frankly, there were an incredible amount of them. You would have though this man was housing an entire platoon according to her.
“Oh, I see, um…Ms. Winfrey, is there any way you could hold them for me until tomorrow? I, um…I’m not feeling myself and need to rest a bit. I could be there first thing in the morning to pick them up.” Al stammered.
“It’s just Gerry, and sure I can hold’em for you. My time your dime. It’ll cost you extra for the storage though. They’re taking up an awful lot of my space, not much room for other packages, Eddie the mailman said he would come and help you load up today, I can see if he is available tomorrow before he does his rounds if you’re sure you can be here that early.”
She sounded slightly annoyed but waited patiently for his response.
“Mr. Fourten? Are you still there?” she asked.
“Yes, I am so sorry. As I said I am not feeling well and had been resting when you called, my apologies. Please just call me Albert or Al, and money is no issue, I can be there first thing in the morning. An extra set of hands would be helpful, please extend my gratitude to…Eddie, I think you said was his name?”
“Yep, Eddie. I’ll let him know. See you tomorrow, first thing.” Without warning, Gerry hung up the phone.
Al laid back down on the bed thinking how strange he still felt. And what an odd conversation he just had. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary, but he couldn’t get over Gerry’s demeaner. She seemed friendly by insisting he use her first name, but then didn’t inquire as to his ailments, not even out of politeness, and hung up so abruptly. Strange sort of bird, he thought to himself. He hadn’t met her in person yet so tomorrow morning promised to be interesting if nothing else. He just hoped it would be less interesting than this morning.
Al decided since it was almost 11am it was past time to get up and start cleaning the house. He would start in the smallest room, the bathroom and work his way around and then up. He had plenty of cleaning supplies, garbage bags and both a mop and vacuum, so he could get this place ship shape in no time.
He made his way downstairs and started to get the supplies out when he remembered his breakfast mess from earlier this morning. For whatever reason, he had this trepidation about going back into the living room again. He wasn’t sure why; he was still feeling little out of sorts but his headache was gone and he had downed three glasses of water just to stay hydrated. He was pretty sure the whole incident was nothing at all, yet still…he hesitated before entering the room.
Al had paper towels in one hand and some all-purpose cleaner in the other as he walked in. Nothing seemed odd or out of place, nothing felt weird, nothing at all to provide any evidence that anything had happened. Except the mess on the floor and the tray table on its side.
Al shrugged his shoulders and mumbled to himself as he got down and started cleaning up. He was preoccupied with his clumsiness and annoyed that he had added to his laundry list of things to clean. He never once felt the many eyes upon him or heard the tiny whispers that moved through the forest in the back. Not this time.