The Orchard

This is a short story I wrote, based on a dream I had.  Today I submitted the story to Writer's Digest Annual Short Story Competition.  We'll see what happens!

THE ORCHARD

I had to find the apple orchard.  I knew if I could find it, bury myself in the earth and stay hidden until dawn broke, I would be safe. I ran through the house, desperate to get out.  Large, oak doors loomed before me.  I hit the first set of doors and ran right through them.  Boom!  I ran through the second set. Boom!  And then to the third set and I was out.  Out into the safety of the night.  Inky blackness surrounded me and I could hear car doors opening and closing, shouting and see headlights. I heard Lucian yell across the yard "Find her!" Sure they were coming for me, I ran into the woods, searching for the orchard.  If I could make it into the trees, they could not see me and would not be coming for me.  I tripped and stumbled on the first set of roots.  I dug deep into the earth at a furious pace with only my hands to aid me. Once I dug a shallow depression large enough for me to fit into, I covered myself in dirt and fell into a deep sleep.

I woke with a start, realizing it had all been a dream.  And a terrifying one at that.  Lucian had been in the dream, of that I was sure.  The damp, musty smell of the earth lingered in my nostrils.  Bed sheets tangled, drenched in sweat, I went in and showered, washing the last remains of the dream out of my mind and off my body.  I did not know where the dream came from, only glad it was over. 

At the breakfast table, everything remained, as it should be.  Lucian offered a brisk "good morning", and the other writers assembled also. Brief hellos exchanged with slight nods of the head, everyone remained quiet, lost in their own thoughts.  Myself and 9 other writers lived at the old manor house. We won a year's writing fellowship through the prestigious British Literary Guild.  They owned the home and the surrounding grounds, and the fellowship put us up at the home, all expenses paid, while we wrote for the next year. 

My best-selling novel was declining in sales and my agent, after me to write a new novel, suggested I apply for this fellowship.  She thought a change of scenery and some fresh air would do me good.  By some miracle I was approved for the fellowship, so I packed my bags and headed off to England for the next year. That was six weeks ago.

The daily walks, fresh air and change of scenery seemed to be inspiring me to craft my next novel.  Steadily I worked day after day, in the library.  The small staff and Lucian attended to every detail.  We never even had to leave the grounds if we didn't want to.  Slowly I got into a routine of working in the morning, breaking for lunch and a walk, and then going back to work in the afternoons.  In the evenings, after dinner, I would most often curl up next to the fire, selecting a book from the extensive library, and read.  I did not often see the other writers, except for breakfast.

My dream became the first in a string of strange occurrences.  Unexplained power outages, lights flickering on and off.  Not one given to hallucinations, I began to see things in the shadows.  I awoke one night with start thinking, "He's coming!”  He?  Who? I had no idea.  I wondered about the history of the home, what the circumstances of the sale were, and if any violent deaths occurred here, or perhaps even a haunted object was still in the home. 

In between writing, I started doing some research.  After several weeks, I found what I sought.  An old family journal referenced some sort of figurine, or a doll.  The last owner brought the item home for his daughter from Cambodia more than a century ago.  After the doll came into the home, the family began dying.  Unexplained deaths, one by one, until all the family died off and not one, single heir was left.  Abandoned, with no heirs and no one willing to buy the property, the government took over the home.  Eventually, after several decades, the British Literary Guild purchased the home for a very good price, to house their organization, and to preserve the history of the home. 

I began to take meals in the kitchen with the four, young staff members, so rarely did I see the other writers. I asked them about the doll and the history of the home.  They were quite reluctant to discuss anything about the doll, but did acknowledge the journals were correct. The doll had been forgotten, or lost, and no one knew what had become of it.  I did not press the issue with the young men, and continued to do my own research.   

One night, while looking for a movie in the entertainment room, I opened one of the storage cubbies and noticed something in the very back.  I reached in and pulled out what appeared to be a very old box.  The box disintegrated in my hands as I opened it.  Inside was a very old, crude looking doll.  The instant I touched it, I knew this was the doll mentioned in the journals.  I recoiled from the evil I felt, but pulled it out of the box anyway, almost as if it were against my will.

Before I knew what I was doing, I read the inscription on the foot of the doll.  As soon as the last word left my mouth, the doll came to life in the most terrifying fashion.  It morphed into the demon it truly was.  I held it by the neck and knew it must be destroyed.  I did the only thing I knew to do and uttered the name of Jesus Christ.  I spoke in a strange language, words I had never heard in my life.  Something came over me in that moment, something not of my nature. 

I held the demon by the neck as it struggled.  Thick skin, small and ugly, with a twisted face and sharp needle-like teeth, it scratched and clawed at my hands, drawing blood, kicking, while I choked the life out of it.  Over and over, as if in a trance, I spoke the strange words until the demon disintegrated in my hands.  Nothing left of it now but charred, black ash and a few teeth. 

I ran through the house, yelling and screaming.  No one heard me, and no one came.  Not Lucian, not the staff, no one.  I had no idea what would happen now that I had destroyed the demon. I did not want to stay around and find out.  And so I ran.  I needed a place to hide for the night and thought of the apple orchard. I ran through the first set of doors.  Boom!  Then the second set of doors. Boom!  Once I got through the third set of doors, the four young staff members ran past me.  I felt, rather than heard, them say, "Thank you, you freed us." as they ran past and out into the darkness.  I heard Lucian yelling, "Find her!" and this felt all too familiar.  I had been here before, in my dream. 

I heard the car doors and saw the headlights in the parking lot. I knew in the daylight I would be safe, so I dug and dug in the dirt and buried myself at the base of the nearest tree.  Falling into a deep sleep, I awoke once the sun rose.  I went back into the house, now deserted and empty.  No staff, no writers, no Lucian.  It wasn’t even the same house.  Everything rotted and decayed overnight, and it all seemed like a dream.  Not wanting to linger, I collected my things, walked to the nearest small town and hailed a cab to Heathrow.

12 hours later, I arrived home in San Francisco.  Exhausted, I dropped my luggage just inside the door of my apartment and went straight to bed.  I awoke hours later, fully clothed, in the darkness, heart pounding.  I sensed something or someone in the room with me.  Barely opening my eyes, there, at the end of the bed, stood Lucian.  Paralyzed with fright, I could do nothing as he advanced towards me.  I closed my eyes and lapsed into the strange tongue again, repeating the unknown words over and over.  And when I finally gained the courage to look, he was gone. I never saw Lucian again.