Day 18 of StoryADay September
A stranger to a remote area encounters a family with a mysterious and troubling past.
James enters the kitchen, stamping mud off his boots at the door. The stranger stands quietly behind him, trying to get a look at the room and the woman in it without making eye contact.
“Who is this?” Beth asks, a warm smile lighting up her face. “Another good Samaritan?”
James laughs, stepping aside to allow Beth a good look at the man. “This is Caleb. He helped me get my truck out of the mud. I offered him dinner as thanks.”
Beth steps forward to shake the man’s hand. “Welcome, Caleb. Thanks for helping. This happens every time it rains. I swear, it’s almost like he drives into the mud on purpose!” Beth meets James’ eyes for a moment.
“Well, have a seat, gentlemen. Dinner is almost ready.”
Caleb steps fully into the room, carefully scraping his boots on the rug and latching the door behind him. “Can I use a washroom? I’d like to clean up a bit,” he holds his muddy hands out for Beth’s inspection.
“Sure, right this way,” James pops up from his seat at the table, leading Caleb into the hall, which is lined with closed doors. “Second door on the right. You can look around a bit, if you’d like, but please stay out of that room,” James points to the last door on the left.
“Okay,” Caleb gives James a confused smile before entering the bathroom, closing the door between himself and the strange old man.
James hurries back to the kitchen, “I told him to stay out of the room. We’ll see if he listens.”
“They never do,” Beth says with a sigh, setting a large platter of meat loaf next to the mashed potatoes already on the table. “Thank God!”
Caleb reenters the kitchen to their laughter. He smiles, even though he doesn’t understand the joke. “Thanks for dinner. A warm meal will be nice. It’s cold out there.”
“No problem, dear. You eat up, now,” Beth pushes the platter of meatloaf his way.
Dinner is quiet. James and Beth eat ravenously, bordering on rude. Caleb is more polite, but just as quiet.
Beth hurries from the table the moment she is finished, piling her dishes in the sink before scurrying down the hall. Caleb’s eyes follow her, wondering what the hurry is. James shrugs to Caleb, even though he knows exactly where Beth has gone, what she is doing.
The men finish eating in the continued silence. Finished, Caleb stands and places his dishes neatly in the sink, adjusting the ones dumped in by Beth.
Beth reenters the room, a wide smile on her face. She gives James a nod, indicating that everything is ready.
Caleb turns to the couple. “Thank you so much for dinner, but I should get going, I have a long drive ahead of me. If it’s okay, I’ll just use your washroom before I go.”
“Sure, sure,” Beth says, waving him down the hall.
Caleb heads down the hall, his eye caught instantly by the door standing ajar. It is the last door on the left. The room he was told not to enter. He quickly averts his eyes, darting into the bathroom and closing the door. He wouldn’t look. They told him not to go in. But why? What was in there? Why did they point out not to go in, when all the doors were closed?
By the time Caleb exits the bathroom, he is twitchy. He can’t keep his eyes from the door. He wants to push open the door, walk in, and see what’s inside. Willpower wars with curiosity. He takes a step closer to the partially open door, then stops, listening for any sounds from inside. The house is silent.
Curiosity wins. He takes the last step, placing his hand flat on the door, pushing, but barely. The door swings open without a sound. Caleb follows the movement of the door, crossing the threshold and walking in.
It is a bedroom. Sort of. There is a raised platform in the center of the room, draped in linens. A woman sleeps. She is lovely. Caleb’s gaze caresses her delicate face, her rich mahogany hair, the silk that covers her arm. He moves closer.
He does not hear James and Beth enter the room behind him.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Beth’s voice is little more than a whisper behind him.
Caleb spins, his face heating with blood and nerves at being caught. “I’m sorry, the door was open, I didn’t mean…”
“It’s okay, son. No one can resist.” James steps to Caleb, placing a hand on his shoulder and turning him back to the sleeping woman. “Now you have to kiss her.”
Caleb turns his head, “What?”
“You chose to stick your nose in a room you were told not to enter. You have to follow through. Kiss her.” This is not a request, James voice is commanding. “You better hope she wakes up. We can’t let you leave and tell if she doesn’t.”
“But,” Caleb starts to make excuses why.
“Now. Time’s a wastin’,” James prods Caleb in the center of his back.
Caleb stumbles forward, his thighs now pressed against the platform. He stares down at the sleeping woman. She is lovely, but he doesn’t want to kiss her. What if she wakes up? More importantly, what if she doesn’t? These people might kill him, bury him out in the acres of fields, never to be found.
He leans forward, bringing his lips close to the woman’s. There is a light, unpleasant aroma drifting up from her. A hint of sulfur, a touch of almondy sweet. He swallows back a surge of bile, then closes his eyes and leans forward, resting his lips gently on hers.
The smell intensifies, sending him reeling back from the platform. The woman sits up, a smile beginning to decorate the otherwise vacant face.
“She’ll be better soon,” Beth says, rubbing Caleb on the back. “You two will be happy here together, I’m sure.”
“I can’t stay,” Caleb blurts, trying to make it to the door.
James blocks his progress. “But you will. I insist. You’ll understand when you have a daughter of your own. You’ll do what it takes to wake her. You’ll see.”