"The last item in your mother's will is a peculiar one. She left you the cabin on Lake Aurora."
"Cabin--What cabin?" Tiriah leaned forward and tilted her head to the side as she asked this. "My mother never owned a cabin."
The attorney cleared his throat and shuffled through the papers in front of him. He pulled one out of the stack and handed it to her. "This is the deed to the property. It has been in your family for several generations--I'm surprised you never knew about it."
Tiriah raised her eyebrows as she skimmed the deed.
The attorney folded his hands together. "Your mother stipulated that you stay at the cabin for six months. Otherwise the cabin and land will become county property and will be auctioned."
Tiriah shrugged. "Let them. I don't care about some cabin I've never seen. If it has been empty this long it's probably ready to fall anyway."
"This is what your mother wanted." He said quietly.
Tiriah looked down and threaded her fingers together.
"Whatever her reasons for this stipulation, and for keeping the cabin a secret--she did it with your best interests in mind."
Tiriah nodded, tears springing to her eyes. "I know that."
"I hear Lake Aurora is especially beautiful in the fall. You might enjoy it." He patted her hand as they walked to the door.
Now, three days later, Tiriah sat in the driveway, staring out the windshield of her BMW at the cabin she now owned. It wasn't very big--Single story, log cabin. The porch looked solid, and the yard was trimmed and free of debris. Tiriah could see a narrow trail through the woods that lead from the cabin to the lake.
It was pretty here--the forest blazed crimson, orange and gold. As she opened her car door and stepped out she smelled the pleasant aroma of pine, mingled with the fresh breeze gliding from the water. Lake Aurora had a rocky shore, but the water was a calm cerulean blue. The beach and woods looked untouched, no trash anywhere. No signs of life either. She stood still for a moment, taking in the sights and sounds of the water lapping the shore not far away, listening to the birds singing.
How could anyone think this place was haunted?
About an hour earlier, Tiriah had stopped for directions at the diner in town, and to get a cup of coffee.
The waitress looked middle age with hair that reminded Tiriah of Lucille Ball's. She looked tired, and snapped her gum the whole time. 'Mornin. Sit wherever you like." Her name tag said Bev.
Tiriah asked "Do you know how to get to this cabin?" Tiriah showed Bev the photo that had been included in the documents the attorney gave her.
"The old Sullivan place?" Bev frowned, her eyes unreadable. "Depends. You a ghost hunter?" She asked between gum snaps.
"A what? No, I just inherited it, but I've never been there. What's this about ghost hunters?"
"Inherited it? So you must be a Sullivan?"
"Yes, my mother left it to me in her will." Tiriah wrapped her hands around her coffee cup, unsure why she was spilling her guts to a stranger. Probably because she had no friends to talk to. Her own doing.
Bev's expression softened a little. "Sorry kiddo."
Tiriah frowned at the familiarity but Bev looked unfazed.
"That cabin has been empty for years, everyone knows it's haunted. We try to discourage wannabe ghost hunters from tramping all over the place, though." Bev drew directions on the napkin.
"Thank you." Tiriah said. She hadn't been hungry so she paid for her coffee, leaving an extra dollar on the table and headed for the cabin.
After getting there and looking around, she walked up on the porch, which seemed to be solid, no rot. She pulled out the keys that the attorney, Mr Arbuckle, had given her. The lock didn't stick and the door didn't creak, like she had been expecting. She wrinkled her forehead. This place seemed well cared for--but by whom?
"Can I help you, Miss?" A deep bass voice spoke behind her. She spun around to see a man in a faded blue ball cap, eyes watching her warily from under the brim. His high cheekbones and brown skin suggested a Native American heritage, but his eyes were as blue as the sky.
Not sure what to say to this stranger who made her feel like she was the trespasser, and who hadn't introduced himself. She extended her hand. "Tiriah Sullivan."
"Ah!" He said, and pulled on the brim of his ball cap while he looked around. "The new owner." He mumbled something under his breath.
"And you are…" she prompted.
"Josiah Gray-Hunter" He walked closer and gripped her hand briefly. His hand was warm and work roughened. All the business associates she had known in the city had soft, manicured hands. "I'm the caretaker. Sorry--no one told me the new owner would be here today. Well, my place is back there," He pointed behind the cabin. "Holler if you need anything."
"Uh, I don't suppose you would help me bring my luggage in? Since you offered to help."
"Sure." When she opened the trunk he raised an eyebrow at the amount of luggage filling the trunk, and the backseat.
"Looks like you are planning to stay for awhile." He commented, hauling out both pieces of rolling luggage with little effort.
"Yes, my mother's will stipulated I stay here for six months."
His eyes widened in what seemed to be alarm, but his expression quickly returned to a neutral, uninterested expression. "Yeah?" He commented as he set the bags on the porch and went to get the rest from the backseat.
"I was surprised to see it was so well cared for, I was expecting a dump, it has been empty for so long. That must be your doing, thank you for taking good care of this place."
"It's my job. Want these in the room?"
She nodded. "How long have you worked...for my family, I guess" It hadn't occurred to her until just now that someone in her family had hired this man, and she would now be his employer.
"About ten years. This place was pretty bad, took a while to fix it up."
"I'm sure. You do all this work by yourself?"
"Yup." He didn't elaborate. "If you need anything else, let me know."
As he walked away, Tiriah noticed two things: he had a nice butt, and a gun in a holster on his hip. The gun made sense--there were probably wild animals around. As for his nice backside, she couldn't help but notice. She hadn't been on a date in awhile--always busy with work. This Josiah Gray-Hunter was an interesting man.
"Hey!" She called out. He turned around. "Maybe after I settle in you can show this city girl how to build a campfire. Maybe have a couple beers?"
He pursed his lips like he was thinking. "Not much of a drinker, Miss Sullivan, but I show you how to set a campfire, sure." He started walking away again.
No mention of a wife, she thought. She hadn't thought to check if he had a wedding ring on. She would have to check later.
She shivered as she noticed the temperature was dropping suddenly. It was autumn, and probably colder here near the lake. Better unpack a jacket first, she thought as she went inside and shut the door.
"So, to build a good campfire, you start with small twigs, and stack them upright, like a teepee." Josiah explained as he built the fire. "Then you can put larger sticks around the outside. The smaller sticks will burn quickly, to get the fire going, and the larger ones provide more fuel because they burn slower"
"Cool, thanks." She replied. Sipping her Sam Adams. "So how come you don't drink?"
He just shook his head as he started at the tiny flames that were beginning to burn at the center of the campfire. "I've just seen too many bad things happen as a result of alcohol."
Understandable, she thought. She opened her mouth to ask for specifics, but felt a cold prickling on the back of her neck, like a cold breeze was wafting over her. She also felt like she was being watched. She turned to look over her shoulder. She didn't see anything at first, except trees. Then, a few feet away, she saw him. Mostly hidden behind an oak tree, was a little boy. Only his face peeked from behind the tree. He wore a fierce scowl, looking directly at her with anger in his eyes.
"Woah, there is a kid over there." She jumped up and pointed the direction she had seen him. She glanced at Josiah to see if he saw the boy too, but by the time she looked back to where she had seen the boy, he was gone.
"I didn't see anyone. There are other cabins a few miles away. Could have been a kid staying in one, with his family." He looked back at the fire as he said this.
"Kids just wander the woods around here?"
"This isn't the city." He still didn't meet her eyes as he said this. "There is no crime here." He said. "Almost none." He said the last bit so quietly she almost didn't hear it.
"Good night, Miss Sullivan." He walked off down the trail to his cottage, making almost no noise and without a backward glance.
Later as she settled into the comfortable bed, she had forgotten all about the boy in the woods. She pulled the comforter over herself, thankful that the cabin had central heating so she didn't have to worry about laying a fire in the fireplace.
She woke up freezing. It was still dark outside, so she must have been asleep for just a little while. She groaned. Please tell me that the furnace isn't working! She thought to herself. Grumbling to herself, she tossed back the comforter and slid her feet into her slippers. She stood up and froze. The little boy she had seen early in the woods was standing in her doorway, glaring at her with the same fierce expression. He had short black hair and blue eyes that glowed with anger.
The air grew colder. Ice crystals crept across the mirror hanging on the wall next to the door.
"Leave us alone!" The boy screamed at her, his face turning red. The mirror shattered at the same moment. The boy continued screaming not Tiriahd up until the back of her knees hit the edge of the mattress and she sat down hard.
She heard feet running down the hall and Josiah appeared behind the boy and without a word reached forward and slammed the door shut. The boy's screaming stopped. In the ringing silence, Tiriah heard Josiah's voice from the other side of the door, speaking quietly. She couldn't hear everything he was saying, but she made out a few words.
"Stop this…" Josiah's bass voice.
"She'll spoil everything.." the boy sobbed.
"She won't be here long...stop this." Josiah's voice again, getting fainter.
They must be walking away. She could hear the furnace running, over the pounding of her heart. She stood up slowly and opened the door slowly and peaked down the hall. The front door was closed and Josiah and the boy were gone.
Tiriah wasn't able to get back to sleep. The next morning she got dressed and went looking for Josiah to demand some answers. She found him outside with his shirt off chopping wood. She admired his fit and dusky physique, her fear and anger forgotten, for a moment.
"How about some coffee?" She called out.
He stopped and wiped the sweat off his forehead with the handkerchief from the pocket of his jeans. "That'd be great, thanks."
"And I want some answers." She tossed this comment over her shoulder as she walked back in the cabin to get coffee.
"He is my son." Josiah said, his voice rough with emotion. "His mother, my wife, was bringing him home after a friend's birthday party. They were hit by a drunk driver--my wife and son died instantly."
"Oh God, I'm so sorry. I know what it's like to lose someone you love. My mother's death was unexpected too. So... your son is a ghost?"
Josiah nodded. "He stayed so I wouldn't be lonely."
"When did it happen?"
"Eight years ago. We hadn't been working here long. Emily helped me with a lot of the upkeep. She was an amazing woman."
"So the rumors are true, this place really is haunted. That will take some getting used to."
"Does that mean you are staying?" A child's voice said. The air became sharp with cold.
"David," Josiah's voice was stern.
"I'm sorry I scared you before. I won't do it again. Daddy said you won't make us leave? Is that true?"
"I, uh." Tiriah didn't know how to respond to that. "Do you promise there won't be any more theatrics?"
"I promise." David said solemnly.
"Then I'll think about it."
Unnerved, Tiriah ran inside the cabin. While cleaning, she found an old trunk in the attic. Inside was an old yellowed paper sitting on top of some other items.
"Welcome to the Seeker's Cabin. You came seeking something valuable you lost--they always do. May you find the treasure you are looking for."
Tiriah sat back on her heels and looked out the attic window. She could see Josiah chopping wood outside. She realized the treasure she lost was her mother--the only family she had. She watched Josiah--David sitting near him. They looked like they were talking, though Tiriah couldn't hear them from this distance. Here was a family who had lost someone precious. Maybe they were the treasure she had been led here to find.