Warm embraces all around did little to mitigate painful pangs; a visceral urge to cry. As Roger marveled at how tall the evergreens had grown, his expression told a story of its own. Anyone watching could observe him reliving a full decade in rapid-fire succession; images impaled in his memory. He could see his children as young girls again, sliding down the steepest slope of a yard several acres across, bales of hay braced against a stone wall at the bottom of the hill for their protection. Then it struck him. He was never able to protect them from the hazards inside the ancient farmhouse — nature itself was a less formidable foe. Crossing the threshold, he drew an audible breath into his petrified lungs. This was it. Finally. After all these years. Welcome home.
Would she recognize him? Would she manifest in form or was her path to him more insidious, as it had been during the many years of an ordeal he vividly recalled? Best not to think about it. Take the tour, look around and play it cool. For the first hour of their visit, the strategy worked fine. Andrea gave an interview in the kitchen while her father wandered through the massive structure, examining every room and praising the historic restoration effort made by its current caretakers over more than twenty years in residence. They bought the house knowing it was haunted. The Perron family had not been so fortunate; no disclosures had been forthcoming from the seller in 1970. His admission came too late for them to extricate themselves from a house destined to shape their lives in unimaginable ways as a family was forced to witness supernatural phenomena so bizarre, it was literally unbelievable. Roger fought with himself in silence. There was no need to grieve it further. He drank it in like nectar then headed down the hatch, into the dark, dank cellar. If he was going to be approached at all, it would be in the bowels of a building he knew well. Every single incident he’d had with her began in the cellar as its point of origin.
The decrepit stairs had been replaced, though they still whined beneath his weight. Roger descended the stairwell with caution, for a variety of reasons. Andrea did not notice her father open the portal, a door in the front hallway. She did not hear the “click” of the wrought iron latch, preoccupied as she was with the journalist who wanted every detail, every nuance surrounding her recently released book about the house within which they happily chatted. It was so exciting; people coming and going, friends and relatives mulling around. This was an event. The place would be famous, after all, as if it did not already maintain quite a reputation.
Having forgotten some important reference notes in the car, the author bolted for the front door, promising to return momentarily once her tablet was retrieved. No sense of trouble. No warning issued as the cellar door abruptly swung open, blocking her path. Slammed against the wall by a force she could not reconcile in the moment, harsh words growled through her lips with the hiss of a snake. “You leave my father alone!” Everybody saw it happen. Everyone heard the threat, disdain seething through her clenched jawbone. Not once during all the years of her youth spent dwelling among the spirits had Andrea ever been assaulted. An instinct to protect her father surfaced instantaneously. HE was the target. She posed only potential interference to an encounter with him. She knew. As lungs deflated and fingers balled into a fist, she felt the cold permeate every cell of her body. Then came the equally abrupt release. As if being cut from the strings as a marionette, Andrea slumped down in place, grabbing her chest, gasping for air. Such altercations tend to leave one breathless but she gathered herself and reached for the door, the same door which had been opened and closed dozens of times that day to accommodate the traffic. It refused to budge, as if sealed shut. [Delete expletive] Shocked but not quite stunned into submission, Andrea defiantly walked into the kitchen, glancing momentarily at those present before waltzing through an alternate escape route as if she still owned the place! After several minutes outside, attempting to warm her frigid body beneath the summer sun, a less confident subject returned to her journalist, grappling with five senses to make sense of a sixth. It happened so suddenly, as it often did in the past, but Andrea’s keen intuition told her this was all about her father. Upon entering the house, she knew it was true. She’d been unable to protect him in much the same way he’d been unable to protect an entire family so many years before. Hers had not been the only contact made during that fateful day. There Roger stood, ashen gray; gut-wrenching to watch a now elderly man trembling like a child afraid of the dark. The room was completely quiet; she could hear her father’s heart beating on her eardrums. Catapulted back in time by three decades, she did not have to ask but had to know.
“Where were you when it happened?”
“Down the hatch. In the cellar.”
The cinematographer present to document their journey had captured the encounter on film: a moment of pure recognition.
“I got it.” Manny’s demure voice spoke of his distress, bearing witness to something he had heard about for years but never expected to see, even through the lens of a camera.
“Right down my neck and back, the way she always did.”
No need to discuss it further. There were children present and enough kids had been frightened out of their minds in that house as far as they were both concerned. The startled journalist made copious notes then left, finding few words of her own to express thanks for a warm welcome accompanied by a decided chill in the air. The crowd dispersed while Roger spoke privately with their hosts outside as Andrea loaded the car. She had been there many times over the years and, prior to their arrival, had wondered if the spirit who once tormented her mother would recognize her father. Mystery solved. Mortals are the only ones who measure time. Spirits have no need of it and none had lapsed at all. A fond farewell uttered, Roger and his daughter departed. The bruise on her spine has yet to heal. The tear in his heart never will.