CLOSING THE COTTAGE
Part Four of Six
© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour, your Writer on the Run
Princess was pacing at the back door when Caroline reached the top of the stairs. The knocking had ceased, but as she stepped into the kitchen, Caroline noticed a shadowy figure disappearing toward the lake. It looked like a woman.
“Should I go after her?” Caroline asked Princess. She glanced at her watch––6:00. No, whoever it was, if they’d been desperate enough, they would have stayed.
Caroline double-checked the locks on the doors and windows. She couldn’t be too careful. Back in the kitchen, she glanced out the window again. No sign of anyone. “Maybe I imagined it,” she mumbled. She fixed herself a sandwich, made a large mug of tea, and headed back to her room. “Should we just curl up with a good book, Princess?” Princess jumped on the bed and began to purr.
Dismissing a “good book,” Caroline pulled her scrapbook out again. She had read these articles so many times. What was it that everyone was missing? What was the common thread, besides all having disappeared from the Lake District? She glanced over her notes: all the girls were blond, in their early 20’s, athletic, vacationers camping, either alone, or with one or two friends––females, as well.
Traci had last been seen going for a jog along the highway; Jordan, hiking up the trail behind Smokey Campground; Karen doing early morning laps in Lake Munro, which was right next to the lake where Caroline’s cottage was. In fact, all the girls had disappeared in proximity to where she was, however; and this suddenly dawned on Caroline––they were all last seen on the other side of the lake––on his side!
Caroline snapped the book shut. It had to be Mr. Malcolm. She’d noticed the way he looked at her when he was visiting with her dad. And the way he was always telling her to be so careful in the woods––not to go out alone––but, the way he said it had always sent shivers up and down her spine. And, he was always going off to that clearing by the swamp. Sometimes her dad went with him, something Caroline didn’t like. She also didn’t like the way her dad behaved when he was around Mr. Malcolm––worse than his usual sarcastic behaviour.
The phone startled Caroline out of her musing. She let it ring five times before answering. “Hello.”
“Hi Caroline,” her mom’s cheery voice came across the line. “How are you doing, honey?”
“Are you eating properly?”
“Yes, mother; you’ve only been gone one night!”
“I know … I just worry about you.”
“Don’t … I’m a big girl.” Caroline hadn’t meant to be quite so harsh with her mom.
Her mom paused before speaking again. “Your father is coming up on Friday night to see…”
“Why?” Caroline butt in.
“He needs to see Mr. Malcolm, for some unfinished business, is what he told me.”
Caroline panicked. “Is he coming to the cottage first?” she managed to ask.
“I believe that was his plan.”
More silence. “Well, I guess I’ll let you go; just thought you would like to know your father was coming. Love you Caroline.”
“Yep,” Caroline answered mechanically as she dropped the receiver into its cradle. “He’s going to ruin everything, Princess,” she said, scratching the cat behind her ears. Princess looked up with disdain at having been disturbed. “Well, I’ll just have to make the most of the next couple days before dad gets here.”
Caroline decided she would check her traps before dawn. She settled under her covers and attempted sleep. But it was an uneasy one––the same dream kept disturbing her peace––a faceless man was peering in her window, and he was laughing and pointing his finger at her. Then he would curl it in a beckoning motion, and the laughter would increase in its evil intonation! She turned and tossed, and turned and tossed…
The alarm buzzed loudly. Caroline reached over and hit the button. She didn’t want to get up. She was so tired, and her throat hurt even worse than yesterday. But she had no choice, her father was coming, and she needed to deal with this matter before he arrived. She dressed and went downstairs. Princess was nowhere to be seen.
Caroline brewed a pot of tea and poured some in a thermos to take with her. Still, no Princess. That was exceedingly strange. She shrugged her shoulders and grabbed her jacket, a heavier one than she had worn the previous day. It was still quite foggy out, especially over the lake. Just as she was about to leave, Caroline heard a crash coming from the living room.
“Is that you, Princess?”
Caroline grabbed a butcher knife from the drawer and then slunk toward the living room. She noticed a shadow in the far corner, sitting in her father’s rocker.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded. “Show your face!”
Part five ––October 13, 2016
If you missed the previous parts, click on these links to catch up!