Steven Smith was tired. His instinct had deceived him into taking several wrong turns which had led to his journey taking longer than expected. Before leaving home that morning, his wife had warned him that his mobile phone would not be able to detect a signal out there in the woods, but Steven Smith had half wanted to immerse himself in a feeling of being lost and disconnected from his ordinary life anyway. The woods that lined the road held many memories from his childhood. He shuddered and felt as though fingertips of nostalgia were tip-tapping on his spine. If these woods could talk, he thought, they would be a grandfather to a thousand adolescent dreams
Tomorrow, he was to attend the funeral of his friend Walter, whom he had known since childhood. It had been a dozen or so years since the last time he had seen his friend. On that occasion, it was also to attend a funeral, that of a neighbour of theirs. Maybe because both the neighbour and Walter had died suddenly, Steven Smith made a pact with himself that he would tell his family that he loved them more often, whilst trying to forget the nagging truth that he had made the same false promise a dozen or so years ago whilst driving down the same road.
He eventually arrived at the guesthouse he had arranged to stay in for that evening. The house was draped in ivy and looked as much a part of the wood as the trees. As children they would torment the lady that lived inside and pretend that the house was haunted. Steven Smith brushed aside concerns that the lady might remember him, but if by chance she did, he decided he would use the opportunity to unburden himself of the guilt he still occasionally felt toward her with an apology. He pressed the doorbell. A hollow tone reverberated from the walls inside, almost as though the walls had been disturbed from a slumber. He read the sign on the door:
SINGLE ROOM AVAILABLE
He scoffed at the mistake and waited a while. He was about to press the doorbell again when the door opened. ‘Mr Smith? Come on in. No need to take off your shoes. Come on in. I’ve made a broth Mr Smith. Come on in. Take a seat in the kitchen..’ He followed the lady along a hallway. The broth smelt bad, like rotting flesh with herbs. He sat down and only then noticed the stuffed animals glaring at him from around the room. A not so surprising omission from the photographs in the guesthouse brochure.
‘..so you’re here for a funeral Mr Smith? Tell me his name, this is ever such a small place, chances are that our paths have crossed sometime’.
‘His name was Walter Copperton. He was an old friend of mine. We both grew up near these woods’. The lady smiled, ‘Yes, I met him once. Me and the cat met him’, her eyes glanced at a stuffed cat on the mantle. ‘The cat didn’t like him very much’.
to be continued…