Annie awoke around one. For the first time in a week she felt well rested and refreshed. This had been the first night in nearly a week when she hadn’t had bad or strange dreams. Well, technically, it hadn’t been the night. But still, it was the first time since her grandfather’s death that she had rested without being horribly disturbed. With a new sense of purpose, Annie quickly prepared herself for the day. Once dressed, she went downstairs, grabbed her purse and shopping bags, and then walked out the front door to her Jeep.
The sun was shining brightly. Reveling in the beauty of the day, Annie opened the sunroof, enjoying the feel of the warm sun on her face. She drove down the serpentine two lane road towards the grocery store, stopping only to pick up a coffee.
She completed her shopping in less than an hour, quite an accomplishment considering how busy the store was. She returned home around 3:30 and quickly put the groceries away. Then she changed into her swimsuit, went outside, and plopped down on a lounge chair. The phone call with her parents was short but sweet. Annie held back from telling them about the letters she had found in the attic. She had no desire to elaborate on their strange structure and their even stranger hidden message. After speaking with her parents, she called Katelyn, only to be directed straight to her voicemail. She left a quick message, asking her to call back when she had a chance, then hung up the phone. With her calls complete, she leaned back in the chair, contemplating the first code she had deciphered.
The message had been disturbing to say the least. In all honesty she was incredibly surprised that its message had not invaded her dreams when she finally went to bed. The oddity of having something that appeared to be written over two-hundred years ago addressed to her was unsettling. That is unless they had been fabricated more recently then planted in the attic. But why would anyone do that? Was it a practical joke? But if so, by whom? Her grandfather had a great sense of humor, but this kind of act definitely did not fit his M.O.
Perplexed, Annie dove into the pool and swam some laps, hoping the physical activity would lead to some sort of revelation like it had last night. Unfortunately, that was not the case. After about twenty-minutes in the pool, Annie hopped out then fell face down on the lounge chair. The sun felt amazing on her back and the heat of the day lulled her into a pleasant drowsiness. Her eyes began to flutter shut. Just for a minute. I’ll close my eyes just for a minute, she told herself then fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The man quietly pulled the wooden panel that concealed his hiding place open. The house had been silent for over half an hour now. Convinced that he would not be discovered, he wriggled his way out of the tight compartment, intent on continuing his search for any information that would be helpful to the cause.
Shock overtook him once he was free from his hiding spot. There was something not quite right about the attic. The room felt familiar, but its contents had changed. Strange fixtures were stacked along its walls, spread around the floor. Also, the room which had been dark when he entered his cramped hiding spot, was now partially illuminated by streaks of late afternoon sunlight slipping through the window coverings. How long have I been hiding in there? The silent question lingered on his lips. Something had gone terribly wrong.
The man turned and gazed wearily back at the hidey-hole. He contemplated returning there and waiting a bit longer. But what would he wait for? He quickly dismissed the idea. It was imperative that he find out exactly what was going on. Only then could he determine the correct course of action.
Wishing to remain undiscovered, the man removed his shoes and held them in one hand. Satisfied that he would have footwear just in case he had to make a quick escape, he tip-toed in his stocking clad feet across the wooden floor.
His gaze swept along the room, looking at both familiar and unfamiliar items. He stopped when he reached what appeared to be his chest. The last time he had seen it, it had been at his home in the city. How had it gotten here? He hadn’t brought the trunk with him for this short trip to the country. More than likely it was just another person’s trunk, made by the same carpenter that had made his. He stepped closer to examine it. The chest had been opened and it was obvious that someone had gone through it. Clothing had been sloppily stuffed into the trunk. Several of the items looked familiar to him. Shirts, breeches, and coats were recognizable to him. He knew these clothes belonged to him, but they looked different from when he had last seen them. Instead of being in pristine new condition, they were faded and moth eaten. What was going on here?
He was about to stand up when a glint of silver caught his eye. He picked the small item up, noticing that it was a man’s pocket watch. He opened the front of the watch and read the short inscription:
No arrangement of words
can express my feelings for you.
I will remain yours
through all time.
All my love. A.
The inscription was both foreign and unsettling to him. The watch was identical, save the inscription, to one he had seen in a jewelry shop in the city just a few days ago.
The man stood up from the floor and ventured towards the stairway that led out into the hall. When he reached the bottom he pressed his ear against the wooden door and listened for any sound. There was none. He slowly turned the handle and just barely opened the door, then listened for a few long moments. Confident that no one was about he opened the door halfway and slid out, then closed the door quietly.
He walked along the corridor, his footsteps were light and virtually silent. The scene that lay before him was perplexing to say the least. When he had hurried up to the attic a short time ago the walls had been painted a soft blue and had been unadorned. Now the walls were painted off-white and strange paintings hung along them. He stopped in front of one of the paintings and examined it. It depicted a woman pushing a young girl on some sort of a swing. The woman was dressed in clothing that was completely improper for a woman of any station. She wore what appeared to be a man’s shirt, except that the sleeves were short. Along with the odd shirt, the woman wore a pair of man’s breeches that were cut short. Her hair was unbound and cut so that it hit her shoulders. The young girl on the swing appeared to be no more than five. She wore a short, sleeveless dress and little shoes that appeared to be inspired by a ballet dancer’s footwear. Both of the occupants had bright, exuberant smiles on their face. Despite their odd dress, the man could not help but be inspired by the picture. It was as if a moment of happiness had been instantly captured. The artist truly was talented. Desiring to see more, the man walked further down the hallway, stopping to inspect each odd painting that he saw.
Annie was awakened by a loud growling sound that originated in her stomach. It was a blatant reminder that she hadn’t actually eaten any food today. Still feeling drowsy from the sun, Annie slowly got up from the lounge chair and made her way inside. She considered changing out of her swimsuit and into some actual clothes, but quickly discarded the idea. The suit was already dry. Besides, it’s not like anyone else was in the house, she thought to herself.
She made her way over to the refrigerator and pulled out the ingredients for a chicken stir-fry, then she hooked up her phone to the MP3 dock in the kitchen and put on her summer playlist. She had always loved to cook and anything involving a skillet or a grill made her exceedingly happy.
The lighthearted sounds of Jake Owen filled the kitchen and filtered out into the halls. Annie danced through the kitchen, spinning and twirling as she cooked her dinner. She reveled in the relaxing solitude of the night. When her food was finished she spooned the contents of the skillet into a bowl then sat down at the round, wooden table in the breakfast nook. She savored each bite. The light, fresh tastes of vegetables and chicken were a perfect complement to the warm summer night. Eventually she finished her dinner and reluctantly got up from the table. She put the leftovers in containers so that she could eat them for lunch tomorrow, then she turned on the sink to do the dishes. The sound of the water running drowned out her music so she turned up the volume and proceeded to clean up the kitchen.