Swollen blueberries begged to be plucked only in sporadic patches. Soon Rita stripped all the fruit and wandered away from the railroad tracks in search of more. Birds twittered over each other and heat bugs whirled and clicked fast and loud as if anxious, and stopped—dead quiet. Stilled a moment, they began again. Craving quiet time, Rita had chosen to go picking on her own for the first time. She gazed about the perfect August morning: the sun edged higher, cloud-stripped, the sky expanded. No humidity pressed against her.
A magnetic energy pulled her further. Stones and twigs crunched beneath her runners. Tall grass tickled her bare legs. She didn’t give her car a second thought. Amongst the trees, an extraordinary mirage emerged. Streaked crimson ponytail stock-still, Rita crept forward. Charming. Is it real? Her eyes squinted and rounded without her consent. In a compact clearing surrounded by a thicket of trees an enormous barrel lay on its side: weather-beaten and sun-bleached, but solid. She breathed in the fragrant scent of ferns even though the enormous tamarack and stately birch obscured the sun. A smaller than average door graced the barrel’s upright lid. On top, a rusted chimney pipe stuck out like a tired blossom stuck into a hat.
Head tilted, Rita circled the structure and listened. She discovered windows on either side, but too high to peek inside. In the back a drowsy vegetable garden snoozed, plants stretching towards the sun.
Am I dreaming? Rita halted and waited, but for what? Swallowing hard, she gripped her half-filled basket, sidled up to the door and knocked as if afraid to disturb the occupant.
“Hello, is anybody there?” No answer. She waited a beat, turned the knob and peaked inside. Wow—Ohmygawd.
She stepped inside, up onto the wide-planked floor. A shelf-like bed hung supported by chains beneath one window, a thin pillow and blanket in place. Beneath the other window, pressed to the wall and on its side, a large cable spool gleamed in the sunlight. A Tale of Two Cities lay open and face down on top. Impressive. Two thick tree stumps, well sanded, had been hallowed out like club chairs. Against the inside lid at the back of the barrel, hung row upon row of floor-to-ceiling shelving. An assortment of mismatched plates, chipped pots and pans, tattered books, colored stones and woven-grass baskets populated the long planks of wood. A scarred pot-bellied wood-stove stood guard over the humble room, its chimney pipe cold and crooked as a one-legged spider.
“I’m lost and hallucinating.” Rita peered right and left and back once more. The logical thing is to sit and wait. “Whoever lives here must come back—sometime.” She munched on her berries, eyes heavy, and climbed onto the bed. Maybe a nap…
* * *
A dark silhouette crossed to the bed with the stillness of a ghost. “Hmm.” A Cheshire smile widened, eyes hooded and akin to a Black Widow with a fly.