Internationally acclaimed author of paranormal mysteries, supernatural thrillers and magically enchanted tales.

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Witch Bottle ~ Excerpt (2/2)

Chapter Two

October, present day, Canada.

he tired woman stood on the gravel road and leant on her large black suitcase, which stood against her leg. The misty rain whirled around her, almost like it was trying to hold her in its wet, wraith-like arms. She was still getting wet, despite the protection of her cheap plastic umbrella and the wind kept trying to steal it from her grasp, but she didn’t care. Caring only let her feel the sadness, which lay deep in her heart and that was the last thing she wanted to do right now.
She watched the dark blue cab pull slowly away as it travelled back up the dark, unkempt gravel driveway. She continued to watch as the rain gradually enveloped it, the taillights slowly vanished.
Silence gently fell around her like the mist.
She turned and looked at the reason why she was stood on a gravel road, in a foreign country on a windy, rainy night. She took a deep breath in and slowly let it out.
The stone cottage sat, squat and grey in the intermittent moonlight, the dark windows on each side of the old door, appeared as soulless eyes looking out upon the night. The tall maple trees, close to the cottage on the right hand side, cast dark shadows across the roof like claws of an unseen beast. The claws moved in the wind, as if scrapping their talons across the wooden roof shingles, trying to break them and crawl inside. Through the other trees, to the left of the cottage, she could just make out the three-quarter moon glinting off the huge lake. The rest of the lake looked dark and inky. In the sky, however, the moon looked pristine and glowed until the clouds quickly moved over it again, seemingly forever hiding its joy. She felt like that moon, all her joy had been covered over and hidden by dark sad clouds.
Sighing heavily, she reached into her handbag for the keys and a small pocket torch she’d brought for just this purpose. She was tired and did not want to be here, she wanted to be at home in her cozy flat in London with Bilsby, her grey coated cat, by a warm fire, albeit an electric one, and a good book, maybe even a glass or two of red wine. She knew she was thinking about home in an effort to put off what she had to do here, but there was just no escaping it, not now she was finally standing in front of the cottage. She took another deep breath and slowly let it out, “You can do this, Amy.” She said to herself and forced her legs to move forward.
Gravel crunched underfoot, and echoed around the empty woods surrounding the cottage. With an effort she managed to drag her heavy suitcase behind her. She tried really hard to ignore the breathless butterflies flying around in her stomach as she anticipated what she was going to see within. Stepping from the rough gravel road onto the old stone path, she brushed past the overgrown weeds, shrubs and bushes that lined the pathway to the front door. It had been so long since she’d been here that seeing the old wooden door, even by torchlight, gave her a weird sense of deja vu rather than any particular childhood memory.
She closed the useless umbrella to free her hand and placed it on top of the suitcase, then picked the largest and oldest key of the bunch, unlocked the old oak door and pushed. It didn’t move. The door was reluctant to open from years of being unused and had warped with the rain. It was obvious that she would need to get it fixed and she put it on her mental ‘to do’ list. She shoved it harder with her shoulder, it moved more freely and she was finally able to swing it open fully. Scrambling inside, hauling in her belongings and closing the solid door hard behind her, she quickly shut out the wind and rain.
Leaning against the door and straining to see inside the cottage with her little torch, she spotted an old-fashioned oil lamp on a small table in the hallway, thankfully with a box of matches sat next to it. Relieved, she lit it and a warm, amber light filled the hallway, reflecting in the mirror that hung above the small table. The lamp was the only warmth in the cottage, in fact it felt warmer outside than it did inside. Amy shivered and kept her coat zipped up against the chill. She noticed her long brown hair dripped onto her coat as if she’d had no protection from the rain at all. Lifting the lamp from the table Amy decided to check around the old cottage. She remembered it had been built from local stone on the outside and all the internal walls were clad with wooden boards and they were coated with a warm wood coloured varnish, the light from the lamp made the walls seem warmer than they actually were. The cottage was very old and had been in her family for many generations and now, she was the new owner. It felt strange for her to own a home of her own, she had only ever rented apartments in London before now.
Without warning, the bone-deep sadness of the recent loss of her parents hit Amy. She gasped as the still raw pain ripped through her chest. She gave it a moment to wash over her before she clamped the lid shut again on her broken heart and sealed the hurt back in. This was now a familiar thing she had to do quite often just to function properly. One day she would let it out, but not today. No, not today.
This loss was the reason for her trip here, to this empty place full of her parents’ belongings. The plan was to sort it out and sell the cottage, then return back to her life in London, as a successful writer of children’s fiction. She took a couple of steadying breaths and looked around her. She hadn’t been here for many, many years and she dreaded seeing all her parents belongings.
Amy walked the length of the hall carrying the lamp, the warm light showing her a glimpse of the four rooms off the hallway; a kitchen, lounge and two bedrooms, all with lower than normal-sized doorways. She peeked into each bedroom and saw the furniture was covered with dust sheets. The bedrooms were quite sparse with only a bed in each, a nightstand and a wooden wardrobe. Both of the bedrooms had a large plaited rug, in the old homesteading style, on the bare wooden floor.
She walked back through the hallway into the lounge, a small cosy room with a huge fireplace dominating it. The wooden mantel was covered in dusty old photographs and ornaments. The wide stone chimney climbed up the wall behind it like a creeping vine that had been turned to stone in some bizarre fairytale. There was a three-piece sofa, again covered in dust sheets, and what looked like a wooden table under a sheet by the front window. The small windows were set deep, due to the thickness of the walls and they held nothing but dead plants, dusty ornaments and darkness. There was a wooden cabinet against one wall mostly hidden under another cover. Once again, the old fashioned rugs covered the bare wooden floor boards.
Amy knelt by the empty fireplace, grabbed some kindling from the brass bucket that sat to one side of the grate and quickly lit a fire and added larger logs from the pile left there. Within minutes the fire was roaring away and began to spread its warmth and light into the room, it started to make the place feel more welcoming. She stood and dusted off her hands, pleased to be able to do something positive and glad the chimney wasn’t blocked after all these years. Although, it probably needed a good clean.
Picking up the lamp again, she walked through the low doorway into the simple kitchen. It had been remodelled at some time in the past, probably the 1970’s, but was a perfectly usable kitchen for her short stay. She wiped away a substantial cobweb and, with the lamp against the glass, she peered through the small kitchen window and looked into the solarium beyond, a modern addition her parents had built, along with the modern bathroom.
Just beside the doorway that lead to the solarium and bathroom, was a tall cupboard. Amy opened it, reached in and flicked on the main power switch. She clicked on the kitchen light and was pleased to see it all still worked, she turned off the oil lamp and placed it onto the old wooden kitchen table next to the empty fruit bowl.
Her parents had also constructed an access panel to the old attic just inside the kitchen doorway when they had become the owners of the cottage when Amy’s Grandfather had died. Amy opened the hatch door, then pulled down and unfolded the aluminium ladder and climbed up. Turning on the light just inside the attic, she figured she’d better check for leaks while it was raining.
The attic space ran the entire length of the house and was unused except for storage, however, it had been fully boarded out as a usable room. The attic had two small windows, one at each end of the house, and it was filled with old furniture, mirrors, trunks, boxes and toys. It overflowed with the memories of a happy past with people now lost and gone forever. Tears prickled Amy’s eyes and threatened to overflow. She gritted her teeth and decided to look for leaks another time and quickly climbed back down, stowing the ladder and closing the hatch firmly behind her.
She swallowed back the tears. “Prioritise.” She said out loud.
A pale glow of light caught her attention, it seemed to be coming from the solarium. Amy followed the light into the glass room. It was filled with covered wicker furniture and dead plants. The pale light, she realised, was the early dawn as the sun began its ascent, she could see it clearly now that the misty rain had finally cleared. The sun’s pale colours were being reflected in the lake, of which the solarium had a magnificent view. She looked around the sky for the remains of the moon, it could still be seen, but only just, its glow receding as the brightness of its astral companion became stronger as it gradually withdrew from view.
Removing one of the chair covers, folding it and placing it on the chair opposite, Amy coughed at the dust and sat down to watch the dawn. Its light rippled over the surface of the lake in a distinctly magical way, the wind made the water and colours shimmer. The sky was beginning to clear into a beautiful pale blue and she was truly in awe of the new morning’s beauty.
The sky somehow seemed larger here than at home, almost as if it had swelled up or the land had shrunk back. Amy couldn’t fathom why but there just seemed to be so much more of it. Perhaps it was the lack of buildings blocking the view, or the lack of grey clouds that seem always present in the English sky, but still, the sight of the open sky with such light was as breathtaking as it was intoxicating. She now understood what her mother had meant by a ‘Canadian sky’ and felt more connected to her at that moment than she had in a long time. To know that she was sat looking at something her mother had so dearly loved, brought Amy a measure of joy she’d been missing of late and her mother’s happiness and feelings for Canada naturally led her to think about her parents and how they had met.
Amy’s mother, Selena had loved visiting her husband’s homeland. Eric, Selena’s husband and Amy’s father, had been in England studying when they fell in love. They had married and stayed in England but they had made many visits to Canada and to this cottage. Her father had refused to sell it because it was the ‘family cottage’ and, as soon as Selena had laid her eyes on it, she had fallen deeply in love, with it, the lake and with Canada and its friendly people.
Amy had been born in England but had spent many happy summers with her brother and parents at the cottage during her childhood. Then her brother had sadly taken his own life and her father had a stroke and the cottage was closed up until he ‘was well enough to travel again’. Sadly, he never was and, three months ago, a fire had ended both her parents’ lives and it had fallen to Amy, their only surviving child, to deal with this cottage.
She closed her eyes, only now had she been able to build up the courage, and step away from her career, to come here and sort out the family’s belongings. At least, with the fire, everything they had owned in England had been lost and, as sad as that was, it had saved her from having to go through every intimate detail of their lives, until now.
Amy resisted the urge to dwell on her parents any longer, at least for now, and she quietly watched the pale light grow stronger in the sky. Strangely, she was not feeling tired from her late night flight even though her internal clock was all messed up. Glancing at her watch, she remembered the flight attendant had told her it was best to alter her watch first thing during the flight, something to do with it being easier to adjust during the seven-hour flight. So it may be seven in the morning here, but to her it was mid-day. It would probably take a good night’s sleep or two to readjust properly.
Stretching, Amy settled in her chair and watched the sun finally make its way into view and was greeted by a glorious sight. The land behind the cottage ran directly down to the lake and some of it had been cleared of trees, probably many years ago. At the edge of the lake there was a stony shoreline and a small landing heading out into the water for boats and she remembered it was great fun to dive from. The lake was huge and around it were beautiful hills and woodland. The trees were ablaze with colours, reds, oranges, browns and yellows; autumn in Canada had to be seen to be believed.
Amy was enchanted by the view and noticed there were also a few large houses dotted about in the woodland surrounding the lake. However, there were none like this cottage, they were all modern day mansions. Maybe she would get a good price for the old cottage and the forty acres surrounding it, she thought hopefully.
During the next hour, Amy pottered around with a cup of hot water in one hand, not having found any tea or coffee that was still, even remotely, in date. She fired up the old AGA oil fuelled stove in the kitchen that ran the heating for the cottage, removed dust sheets and found a linen cupboard filled with sheets, blankets and old-fashioned quilts. She took advantage of the lovely day to hang some bedding outside on the old washing line, so it could air out before she could make herself a bed for later that night.
When she eventually came to a standstill, Amy found some packets of dried soup that were, surprisingly, still in date. She tried not to ponder too long on that hideous thought and heated one for a late lunch, vowing to get to town soon to buy some proper food. While eating, Amy made a list of items she would need, the cottage was out of almost everything from cleaning products to tea.
I may not want to stay for long but I’m damned sure I’m going to make this place look good again, even if it’ll only be the realtor who appreciates it, she thought.
After eating, Amy decided to stretch her legs and see if there was still a bicycle in the old barn, at least it would be quicker than walking to the nearby town of Morton Creek for supplies. Putting on her jacket and throwing the big, heavy bunch of keys in her pocket, she went out of the back door to investigate. The day was glorious with warm autumn sunshine, a deep blue sky and the beautiful leaves which seemed to glow on the trees from the sunlight. The old, mossy stone path led around the side of the house and joined with the gravel roadway. The unkempt road, full of overgrown weeds and pot holes, ended abruptly in front of the large wooden barn.
In moments, she had the barn’s rusty padlock in hand and was trying all the keys on the bunch for the right one. At last, she found it and with a little bit of waggling she managed to undo the old lock. She swung open the large, creaky old barn door and right there, in front of her, sat some sort of vehicle covered with yet another dust sheet. “No way.” She said excitedly and rushed over to uncover it.
Sitting there majestically was her father’s pride and joy. It was a 1950’s blue Chevy, part car, part truck in immaculate condition. She smiled to herself remembering how her father had restored the car slowly and lovingly over the years, she was surprised she’d not remembered it earlier. More importantly, she now had a vehicle to get around town and to do chores with. Amy took a moment to appreciate all her father’s hard work on the vehicle and then began to look around at the rest of the barn. Some of the planks on its walls had shrunk with age and the sunshine poured in through the gaps. The roof had a few small holes where she could see the sky through, but all in all, it was a functional barn. At some point, it had housed animals. There were stalls on each side, a hay loft above on the left. There was even an old lawn mower, the type you pushed with no engine to sit on. Everywhere, there were old rusty tools hanging from beams, some of them Amy recognised but many more she didn’t.
By the time Amy had finished poking around the old barn, the light was beginning to fade and she decided to visit town the following day. Amy headed back to the house and finished removing the dust sheets in the lounge. She discovered that what she thought to be a table against the back wall was actually a beautiful old-fashioned mahogany desk with drawers, it looked like it had been made a hundred years ago. Surprisingly, she hadn’t remembered it from her visits either, but then she knew that the eyes of a child saw very different things than the eyes of an adult. She tried the desk drawers and all but one was unlocked and full of various bits and bobs. However, none of the keys on the big bunch fit into the lock on the last drawer. Hopefully, she would find the key elsewhere, she thought.
The large cabinet against the wall turned out to be the old mahogany dresser when the cover was removed. The bottom was made up of three large draws and the top held three deep shelves, which were all covered with piles of books, old glass bottles, carved wooden toys, dried flowers and various other knick-knacks. Every shelf was filled to overflowing and she was surprised that nothing had fallen when she’d yanked the dust sheet off.
Amy sighed, there was such a lot of sorting to do, more than she had imagined for what was basically a summer holiday home. You would think her parents lived there all year round by the amount of their possessions they stored here. At least, working for herself, as an author, she didn’t have a set time to get back for, her friends knew she was out of the country until further notice and her agent was not expecting anything from her for a while, it was a good thing too, considering how much more sorting she would now have to do.
Amy knelt down and poked the fire, it roared into life once again and its warmth cheered her. She had always liked a real fire and it was one thing she had really wanted when she eventually bought herself a house. She chuckled to herself, here she was thinking about what she would like in a house, while sitting in a lovely old stone cottage, in the wilds of Canada and not only did it belong to her but it also had many of the things she wanted in her dream house. Shaking her head at the crazy twist that life had thrown at her, she sat down in a nearby chair and was surprised by how squishy and comfortable it was, even if it was covered in some hideous 70’s style orange and brown flowery material.
Leaning her head back and relaxing, she watched the flames lick the wood in the fireplace. It occurred to her that the flames were caressing and seducing the logs until they were no more. Her mind wandered as the warm fire relaxed her even more and she began to see images in the flames of people dancing and writhing around the logs. Amy began to fall into a deep sleep just as the images of the flame people began to scream and twist in agony as they were consumed by the insatiable fire.
The last thing she heard as she drifted away was the crackle of the fire and what could have been a woman’s voice whispering gently in her ear, “Welcome home, Amy.”

Copyright ©2014 Edain Duguay. All Rights Reserved. 

Wyrdwood Publications • Paperback/eBook • 2014 • 
9780993622304 $12.99/$4.99 Age Range: 18+
Genre: Horror and Paranormal Mystery, Suspense, Thriller 

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