House On The Hill - Part IV
(continuing from part III)
“A rock and a hard place,” chimed Mark and Nancy and shaking their heads in unison, after leaving one of those interminable general council sessions with all the townsfolk invited, where the couple had again tried to build a fire under them and they'd again been unresponsive where it mattered.
Must NOT let discouragement win, they were both thinking. But it's as though a wall of actual bricks descended on the council meetings as soon as theory turned to practicality.
They drove home from the meeting in silence. What more was there to say?
OK, then, now what? They just looked at each other understandingly as they turned into their own entry-way and gunned the Model T up the rise. They'd been through it again and again. It seemed progressive, only to run head-on into that blank wall. The folks didn't even argue about it, which at least MIGHT have resulted in some really honest looks AT the actual problem - their fears. But the townspeople just clammed up.
It WAS discouraging.
What Mark and Nancy needed now was a light supper and a good night’s sleep, they agreed. Tomorrow their heads will be clear again.
Too weary for any after-supper activities, they changed into nightie and pajamas and fell into bed.
“I have to go into that house!!!”
“Huh? wha- what time is tt”, he says, picking up the Big Ben alarm clock on the bedside table and staring at it groggily.
She is shaking him vigorously. “I HAVE TO . . .”
He was wide awake, now.
“What are you talking about? Are you awake? Look at the clock!” He shoves Big Ben in front of her face, as though she were myopic.
Impatiently, she brushes his arm and Big Ben out of the way.
“Mark! I’m serious! I HAVE TO go in there!” She stared into the semi-darkness with an intensity which almost lit it up. He could feel the energy radiating from her.
Trying to keep his head, gathering his thoughts together and piecing this unintelligible scene together,- or such of it as there was to try to piece together, - while trying to think rapidly how to handle this unexpected emergency, he said, - as calmly as possible, - “ Well, sure, baby. WE have to go in. Of course. That’s the whole plan, remember? The committee will appoint the teams - like we’ve been discussing to get it set up and laying out the plan for investigating. Big Joe Blunt tentatively agreed to lead the first team, if we get others to back him, love - remember?” - as though she might have taken leave of her senses.
“Mark. Listen to me. I didn’t say ‘if', or 'maybe’ or 'who else?’ or even 'when?'!!
I HAVE TO go in there. Soon! That’s IT. NO further plan needed.”
He knew what a determined girl he’d married. But this was starting to alarm him. Maybe he should play along with it and see what’s behind it.
“Now, Nancy, let me see if I understand what we have here, darlin’. You just woke up, right?”
“Yes, of course I just woke up. You don’t think I’m talking in my sleep, do you?” She glared at him affectionately and gently punched him in his left bicep, hoping he wasn't being as dense as he acted. Then she continued. . .
“I was asleep. I woke up clear as a bell. And I KNOW I am the only one who should - or probably CAN - go up there and into that House! Don’t ask me why. I don’t know the details. But I’ve never known anything more clearly and I know that it is VITAL that I be the one to go in there.”
He had never heard his Nancy so emphatic. She was not shy about expressing herself, but this was way beyond that. But he hung on to his composure, knowing it would be imprudent to agitate her at this point. She wasn't being reasonable, obviously. Better move cautiously.
“When you say ‘vital’ - what do you mean? To you? To our project? To whom or what?” he asked with a studied patience and a transparent 'open-minded' veneer.
She looked at him almost in disbelief. She was never more serious. She was never more certain. Of course her meaning was crystal clear. But here he was with that condescending ‘there, there, darling, now just relax, don’t worry, everything is going to be all right - I’m here’ attitude and posture which made her cringe and feel like screaming. So patronizing and dismissive, as though he were talking to an hysterical child and trying to reassure her that there's no boogie-bear under her bed. This was the only kind of time she felt defensive.
Oh, sure, it was a ploy, she knew, but that it merely existed in this moment and under these urgent circumstances with so much at stake and the first real sign of a solution, well - - it was both infuriating and a bit more effective in stymying her clear resolve than she might have preferred. She felt half-way defeated. But she didn't have that choice, she reminded herself!
And she did not DARE lose credibility and clear aim now. This was way beyond either of them and too essential! And his support would make it so much easier and better. But either way, - she had to do it. She was chosen for this and everything hinged on her fulfilling it.
It was that simple.
“Dearest,” she began calmly, attempting to reverse the ploy, “Now don’t go getting your fear in gear. I know what I’m saying is rather sudden and surprising. I understand. But look at it this way, dearest: we need to get to the bottom of this fear thing which has gripped this town for too many years and we fully believe it is unfounded, right?”
“Yes, but. . . “
She latches onto his "yes" and ignores his "but" and continues, “ Well, then, - #1: what would prove it is unfounded any better or more than for a petite woman to just go in there, unafraid and all alone?” And to prevent any more objections, - she hoped, - she went right on with: “and #2, every thing that is in me tells me that . . this, uh, the person to make the initial venture in there - the petite woman - - uh, - should - would be me, myself and I. Call it intuition.”
She cast him a hopeful look, hoping that her logic "took" and cut through to him. - HARDLY!!
He could contain himself no longer. HE BLEW UP!
“NO!! I call it downright INSANE! There may be no ghosts in there, but there could be scared vicious wild animals, nests of vipers; there are bound to be spiders of all kinds, unbreathable stale air, dirt and dust, rotten floors and stairs and possibly tumbling walls. There could even be vagrants camping out in or around the place! We don’t know! - NO! A thousand times - NO!! I can’t let you even consider doing such a crazy thing, woman!”
His face had taken on a crimson tint of rage coupled with sincere concern for her sanity now. He glowered at her, looking like one might look at a person who has completely, totally taken leave of her senses and put him in the most awkward, scary position of his life. There was not one iota of negotiating in his expression. Just hard, hot-steely resolve.
She couldn't negotiate, either. Without thinking, she knew better than to try - at that moment. This truly WAS a rock and a hard place. She would have to regroup. But time was of the essence. And yet, she felt a sudden inner serene calm.
When he finished his dissertation, her little face clouded over but her look of sheer cool determination did not dim. A primordial kind of female discretion took over as she decided to not press it further right then. She knew there was no choice for her. And she knew there was no leeway for Mark or reasoning with him in that mindset. She would have to figure out how to approach it and work around it, to win his approval, which she had thought assured of as soon as she would have explained to him. Obviously it was not forthcoming now.
Well, she had counted on his help and support. Of course she wasn't relishing going up there with NO backup. She was only required to go IN the house alone. If he had been nearby if would have been comforting . . .
OH well. If "if's' accomplished great vision and great works, everyone would be distinguished by great works. She hoped to find a way to win his support. Or else - she would go without it. She had no real choice about going. None. So either way, with or without permission, she was going. Period.
She lay there quietly next to him, letting his outburst hang in the air rather than attempting to dispel it or to present her clear-cut resolve again. The usual invisible link between them which pervaded every day of their life together felt frayed, if not snapped. They both knew this thing was not resolved. Neither welcomed a rift, but neither had any inclination to soothe the other’s ruffled feathers and neither could abandon his or her position. This was serious. It was serious to each of them, clearly not up for compromise, and too important to sweep under the rug. They were accustomed to being together, "on the same page" - almost of one mind. Neither was practiced in dealing with something of this magnitude lying between them. Yet they felt as much love as always. Perhaps in the back of their minds, behind the immediate issue, they each felt a twinge of respect and love for the other's adamant conviction and concern for the benefit of each other and the town.
But they were on totally different pages at the moment and each could only hope it was temporary.
Neither returned to slumber, though there were still a couple more hours till daylight. Each of them lay, rather stiff and strained, thinking, planning, plotting - and hoping that morning would cast some light on it and return them to a unified mind once again.
Morning came, but portended more gloom than resolution of the events of pre-dawn, which he hoped were just a bad dream. She seemed calm and he thought the better of bringing it up till necessary. Rocking the cart if it were, indeed, full of explosive fruits, was not the better part of discretion, he decided.
Besides, a council meeting was scheduled that morning. Hopefully, rational discussion would be on the agenda and that would surely diffuse the nightmarish thoughts and declarations of the night. He paid close attention to Nancy, nevertheless.
It was a general assembly, open to all residents, so after she made them some breakfast, she got ready to go while he finished his preparations and gathered up his notes and other paraphernalia. They backed the Model T out of the driveway onto their street and turned it up Main Street toward the destination. On a prettier morning, they might have walked, but this one looked ominous. Nancy put an umbrella in the "buggy", just in case. Even such a typical act as that reassured Mark that she was still his sensible Nancy, always thinking and making provisions for whatever eventuality she could foresee.
The meeting got into full swing, ideas and opinions about the plan-of-attack flying through the humid air like mortar fire. For the first time, it seems like there are some movers and shakers starting to take hold, though it's tentative, still "on the drawing board", so to speak. But this time yesterday, she would have counted it grand progress. Mark was smiling with them, writing on the chalkboard who was going to do what and showing as much relief as delight. He was thinking maybe Nancy was just getting impatient. He had been feeling pretty impatient himself lately. So when Bobby Adams volunteered to back Big Joe on the first exploration arm into the House, he wrote it on the board with a flourish. They exchanged hearty handshakes and “good, brother’ed” each other before turning back to the table to share another swig of Mrs. Stamps’ good coffee and call for some more volunteers! This was solid progress.
Nancy realized what this burst of progressive outlook which she'd worked so hard to see happen now surely meant for what she alone must do - and which, unless she acted quickly, could be thwarted.
She simply couldn't risk Mark's taking the others into his confidence about her announcement and intention, whereupon they surely would plan around her timetable in order to defeat it. She wouldn’t normally have minded yielding, in fact she would have welcomed their involvement, if this were just her own conviction. But now this was not a case of her trying to steal the glory or "get her way", but was from the absolute certainty that it was IMPERATIVE.
Whether or not SHE entered that house ALONE would determine the outcome dramatically and for time to come.
She did not know the full consequences if she should be denied that first entry nor the full benefits if she will be able to accomplish it, but she knew beyond a shadow that the only good results were to happen only when and if she did make it.
She HAD TO GO IN THERE - ALONE! - NOW!
But she's certainly learned all too emphatically how unlikely it is that she can CONVINCE anyone of that. If Mark was a wall of bricks, the others would be a mountain of concrete, not even knowing her well enough to know her as a sensible, practical woman rather than some kook!
No, she could not risk interference, which would be inevitable if she took anyone into her confidence now. And there was NO time to lose. Any thought of studying out a plan while the council was dragging their feet had been shot down with the progress today. So as the meeting drew to a close with all the formalities of a small town council meeting, approving the minutes, the whole thing, she was quietly plotting her own course of action.
Most everyone lingered for one more cup of coffee and a sweet roll afterward. She looked for an opportunity to excuse herself gracefully - and to go on about her mission.
Yes, thought Mark, there had been an obvious note of optimism in the room and it resulted in more genuine smiles than ever, when pleasantries were sometimes more 'political' or merely 'being polite' in their motivation. But with folks beginning to come around and feeling encouraged, it was genuine, relaxed and easy this morning, downright infectious, in fact.
So the after-moments of just visiting were especially pleasant for him. He felt easier about Nancy, too. This progress was surely bound to encourage and cheer her. She certainly looks calm and pleased, he thought, nothing at all like she'd been last night. That was a huge relief!
Glancing over at her chatting with Mrs. Stamps, memorizing her dear little face, so full of 'light' and gentle concern for others, so very precious to him, he wants only to protect her from all harm and to see her free from all this troublesome anxiety, free to blossom into all she is and can be.
As she 'feels' his gaze upon her, she turns half-circle to send him back a responsive eye-embrace, as the warmth flows between them.
She finished brief words with Mrs. Stamps, who was leaving, mentioning Justin's progress, then laughing and saying she she could have waited to tell her about Justin at the sewing circle - an after-thought. Still smiling, she went to Mark and gave a hug, saying she'll see him later. Then, waving ‘bye to those still visiting, she drove away to the ladies' meeting hall, ostensibly for the special intense sewing session they'd set up to make some things for a family who had lost everything. She parked the Model T on the side street and headed on foot to the hill with the path leading up to the House, purposely leaving the car parked outside the ladies’ meeting hall in plain view, to cover her tracks.
As the council meeting crowd was finally disbanding, Mark hitched a ride back to the house with Joe Blunt, who lived just a few doors further down. Nancy's itinerary was safe from discovery. All the ladies were already engrossed in the sewing projects and most of the fellows had scattered quickly to their homes or businesses - a couple to the pub - while Mark and Joe headed the opposite direction from both the ladies' meeting place and The House On The Hill.
Mark invited Joe in for another cup of coffee, but Joe declined, saying he was going to have to start unwinding from all the cups he had at the meeting, if he hoped to be able to sleep that night. He dropped Mark off and headed down the road to his own place.
Later that afternoon, Mark looked at the clock, thinking the sewing circle has lasted an unusually long while. Granted, the ladies had a special project to attend to, after that Burgess family's home down by the creek got flooded out and they lost everything. He always wondered why people built in flood planes like that, but then, probably when the old place was built, either they didn't know any better, or possibly the creek has changed course in the meantime. In any case, Spooltown, poor as it was, ALWAYS tried to take care of its own.
But even so, he mused, the “marms” liked to be home when the children got home from school and in time to start supper for their families. They could resume the charity work the next morning. No other meetings were scheduled at the Hall till next week.
But this whole situation seemed atypical to him and made him a bit antsy. The thought crossed his mind to go in search of his wife. Then he sort of laughed at himself for being an old worry-wart. Besides, Nancy took the car, so he decided to wait a little longer.
"That sky is ominous looking - looks like it could dump those thunderheads any minute," he muses, half muttering aloud and realizing he is not so keen about setting out looking for her on foot. But he'll be relieved to see her perky face behind the wheel of that car, pulling up the drive!
He holds that good thought as he saunters back to his little office in the back where he decides to bury himself in some preplanning for a garden next spring. He doesn't trust himself to do serious accounting or business planning just then, and anyway, Nancy's been gently nagging him about getting out a garden soon.
Twenty minutes later, Joe Blunt's jalopy barreled up the Newsome's drive again. Joe jumped out, racing up the porch steps two at a time at breakneck speed, then banging and pushing frantically on the front door!
"MARK!! Ans'r th' door, man!" He was furiously shaking the door knob and pounding with all his might, though Mark was making his way toward the door at a normal pace, up through the long hallway which divided the house from front to back.
Mark stepped up his pace more than he had going down the hall earlier, in fact. He got there just as quickly as he could, as he detected an urgency in Joe's tone. He opened the door to find a distraught incoherent Joe almost falling through the opening, he'd been leaning on the door so hard, while out there on the porch in the rain babbling some kind of nonsense - . . .
"What??? What is that, Joe? Slow down there. Come on in here, guy; it's pouring out there!."
He led Joe by he elbow into the vestibule out of the raging torrent, though Joe hardly noticed the change of scenery; he was still babbling wildly.
"N'ncy fou' wn'ern' un 'r'd c'min' d'n fr'a HOUSE," was his garbled report. He was almost too upset to speak. slobbering down his chin and literally crying, making his message all the more unintelligible. Mark thought his buddy must have gone back to the pub for a snort after dropping him off earlier. Nothing he was saying made a lick of sense, not even what little he could make out of it. "House" was the clearest word in the tangle of words. He had no idea what house. Had Joe's house been burglarized, maybe? An early band of Halloween tricksters creating mischief and mayhem? Mark reasoned that Joe could've just now discovered it if he'd gone to the pub after leaving here earlier. He sounds drunk, all right!
And what a blasted afternoon to even be OUT! He studied his buddy with a quizzical eye.
But now Joe was gesturing toward the driveway and motioning for Mark to grab his raincoat and hat off the hall-tree and go back toward town with him. Doesn't sound like a problem with his own house, then. Mark hopes he just wants a drinking buddy, though it's a little too obvious that Joe can hardly drive at this point when he jumps in and fumbles with the gear shift, finally getting backed out and again headed toward the square. Luckily there's no traffic on the road. Mark wishes he could have offered to drive, but of course, Nancy has the car.
But no wonder the road was empty! When they got to the town square, there's a huge gathering of incohernet people, babbling like Joe. Surely the entire town isn't inebriated, Mark thought. Now there's a growing sense of apprehension overtaking him. And where is Nancy? Some of the women she sews with are standing around whispering among themselves. But where is she? Whatever the town's emergency, Nancy should be among them!
Next thing he knows, Mark is herded over to Mr. Stamps' general store and right on inside, where he finds more people crowded in among the baskets, display cases and shelves.
"Good grief", he thinks, "Is all of Spooltown out this blustery afternoon acting crazy? Is this some kind of diabolical Halloween prank?" He wonders if the 'joke" is on him as he's looking around suspiciously at the darkened recesses of the Store. What on earth is going on here? He's feeling very 'foreign" indeed!"
But now they part a narrow path for him to move to the back of the store, where the post office is located, and where the proprietor/postmaster stands in a stoop, limply holding a mysterious note which appears to be written on some very old looking yellowed vellum. Its outside fold is addressed “To Whom It May Concern”, written in a faded, scratchy quaint, old-fashioned kind of calligraphy.
Not knowing how it relates to him - Is he the one who should be concerned? - he just stares, not comprehending.
Gradually he made out that this missive showed up today in Mr. Stamps' Post Office Incoming mail receptacle , though no one had been seen in or around the General Store or its grounds prior to its discovery there. In fact the store was closed while Mr. Stamps tended to some end-of-month accounting over at the house. It was customary for him to leave the side door open so that people could get to their P.O. Boxes even if the store were closed.
This had to have happened, it had been surmised, at about the same time as Nancy, in a daze, was spotted wandering on the road down the hill from The House. No one had seen Nancy going toward the road up there.
Did he hear what he thought he heard? Nancy was spotted in a daze? - wandering on the road going up to or down from the House? And if so - where was she NOW?? Wha- what's going on? He feels himself reeling. . .
He clutches the nearest counter for support. . . .
As he reels, he's thinking how inexplicable. They're saying that no one had seen Nancy going toward the road to the House or descending from it. The sewing ladies hadn't seen her since the morning council meeting, but the car was parked just outside the sewing place door. It makes no sense. . .
What ARE they talking about? - how could she have gotten from the sewing circle meeting to any place on the hill road? On foot? No, hardly. . . He feels lost in a thick fog.
They babble, saying she never came into the sewing circle and that she simply appeared later at the foot of the road - all dazed and vacant.
"She must have been up there, though, just as the missive said: must be the 'someone' who had crossed over into its inner sanctum" comes his tumbling thought - or was that someone else's voice?
Where did that idea come from? He doesn't know if he's hearing things in his own head or if someone else is saying things. He clutches the countertop more firmly. He doesn't recall reading any missive. He doesn't know what he knows or doesn't know. He can't tell what or if anyone else is speaking. He's never felt so distressed and out of touch with his own mind. He's at a complete loss. . .
No real explanations. No actual details of Nancy's actions nor of the appearance of this odd letter. It was as if a thick veil of darkness had descended on him, blocking out the little light that remained in the rainy evening's departure. Indeed the veil shrouded all of Spooltown. Was everyone suspended in time, too? Mark feels more cut off, more like an outsider than he's ever felt among these people - even including Nancy!
Can what he's feeling now possibly go deeper than any of their confusion? After all, THEY don't know about Nancy's announcement during the night! What was all that about? He'd almost dismissed it as her having a bad dream. It was like one for him!
A sense of grave foreboding engulfs him and penetrates the air like an acrid chemical. He slumps onto a bench, all color drained from his countenance; and now he catches a glimpse of his Nancy, in the shadows there, seated on a flour barrel behind the spot where Mr. Stamps stands, that loathsome missive dangling from his shaking hand and a vacant expression on his face.
Nancy! His heart surges for a moment until he notices her demeanor. She appears to be from another world, as though immune to all that is going on around her. She shows no sign of recognition or awareness.
She is remote, oblivious. Is she really THERE, he wonders? NO, surely not. She cannot be!
Copyright © Nellieanna H. Hay, 2010. All Rights Reserved. Kindly do not copy, in whole or in part, without express permission.
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