It’s winter. Night. In a forest. You come across an abandoned house.
The house was dark illuminated by the full moon overhead that would peek out from behind the clouds crossing the nighttime sky. No lights appeared in any of the windows and the night was utterly still and quiet. I had been walking for hours and was cold and tired. This was the first place I had encountered that might give me some shelter from the cold and snow that could start falling at any moment.
As I came closer to the house I could see in the moonlight that it was old and run down, obviously not cared for and abandoned. Approaching the front porch and steps I noticed that two were completely missing and the third did not look all that stable. I carefully stepped across to the porch floor gingerly feeling with my foot to make sure it would hold my weight. I seemed sturdy enough so I pushed myself up onto the porch and found myself staring at the peeling paint on the front door. Looking down the handle was covered in frost. I tentatively reached for the handle and the bitter cold shocked me as my fingers closed around the knob. Turning it slowly I heard the click of the and the door gently swung inward as I stood motionless staring into the black. I hesitated standing trance-like, feeling like a sinner before the gates of heaven and afraid to enter. A blast of icy wind quickly brought me back to the present and I again realized how cold I was.
I stepped forward and into the front room before my mind could talk me out of it. I walked slowly forward-looking around the room at the old furniture covered in dust grime and cobwebs. The floor was littered with books and papers, lamps lay on their sides and I caught a glimpse of a rat as it quickly scurried away. The moon light through the windows cast eerie shadows from the trees outside. The wind blew and the shadows danced across the walls as if alive.
Next to the long since abandoned sofa I saw an open book. As I approached it appeared to be some kind of register with names and dates scrawled in it. It reminded me of the old hotel registers that guests would sign when they rented a room for the night. This was odd but intriguing making me forget my cold and tiredness. I peered intently at the book bending down to look closer waiting for the clouds to again part and the light of the moon to filter in. When at last it did I squinted intently to read the words.
The last entry was dated October 30, 1974 almost 40 years ago followed by the printed name, William J. Ralston. My heart skipped a beat and my breath caught in my throat. William J. Ralston, I whispered. This could not be true. I had always been called Bill but my mother had told me my given name was William, named after my grandpa. William J. Ralston, that was my name right down to the J for James just like my grandpa.
Standing in the icy cold I quickly recalled the stories my mother and grandmother had told me about my grandpa who had disappeared 10 years before I was born. He had been fishing along the river in these very same woods in late October and had simply vanished. Search parties were organized and there was never a trace of him found. I even remember the final story in the local paper about the search ending and how the man named William J. Ralston, my grandpa was presumed dead.
I felt my breath coming quickly and the air seemed to grow colder. It was then that I heard the whisper that seemed to float on the wind. “Fishers of men.” Startled I quickly glanced around the room and it was then that I noticed the giant painting above the fireplace. In the dark with the only light from the moon outside it appeared to be an outdoor scene in the mountains with a very large lake or river running through it. In the center of the canvas was a large row-boat with 10 or 12 men at the oars. Behind them stood a stoic figure all dressed in black staring straight ahead and pointing as if giving orders. The scene was ordinary in every way but mesmerizing at the same time.
As I stood staring at the painting it appeared to come alive and I could see the men straining against the current, hear the oars slapping against the water and the waves against the boat while the black figure screamed. Suddenly the figure turned towards me looking out of the painting and pointing directly at me. I could not move. It leaned further forward seemingly coming out of the painting. Before I could react a skeleton hand shot out and grabbed my wrist and I was lifted off the floor.
I could feel myself being pulled towards the painting closer and closer. As I entered the cold water I was abruptly shocked and gasping for breath. The bony hand-held tightly to my wrist and an evil smile crossed its face. As my head came up out of the water I looked into the figures face and it revealed only a skull. I could not scream, but I struggled hard. The figure then screamed “I will make you fishers of men!” and then laughed the voice reverberating throughout the house as the wind whipped through the house.
As I bobbed in the water beside the boat trying to catch my breath I looked out of the painting and saw through the window of the house. Blinking madly, water running over my face I saw a star shining brightly in the night sky. Oh Lord, I prayed fervently as i remembered the words of Jesus my grandmother read from the bible, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
“I believe!” I found myself shouting over and over. It was then that I realized one of the men rowing the boat was shouting the words with me. The black figure seemed to recoil from the words and bellowed, “No!” The bony skeleton hand that had been gripping my wrist suddenly let go and I was grabbed around the shoulders by a strong-arm. I found myself being dragged through the water by this unknown figure. Suddenly, the water cascaded over the edge of the picture frame and we were falling crashing to the floor in a pile of twisted arms and legs.
I slowly turned my head to look at the painting which now seemed to be just a painting exactly as it when I first saw it. It was then hearing movement that I realized there was the other man behind me. Turning I saw him rising and getting to his feet. He was older but with a familiar kind face that belied the strength of his convictions. He looked at me for a moment then smiled and said, “Thank you son, that was a long time coming. My name is William J. Ralston.”
~Mark Schutter ©2014
The above was written for Free Write Friday from the Time and Place Scenario image and text in italics at the beginning using what is called stream of consciousness writing, no editing, no proofing just writing! Please check out Kellie Elmore’s official site or click on the Free Write Friday Image for more information. Post your submission with a comment and link to your blog on Kellie’s blog, post on twitter with the hashtag #FWF, Facebook and join the fun!