All Log Cabins Are Haunted
By: Patric Quinn

Part I

"Weird." Richard heard the soft word and smiled a little. He put his finger in the page of the book and rested it in his lap. The wind continued to blow around the log cabin, the tall trees to bend and moan. Disturbed nature seemed at times to talk. Not real words, but similar sounds. She hated that effect, but his wife was gone now. She hated the cabin and the lake and the away–ness and Richard sometimes thought it was a stand–in for how she felt about him. The divorce was a nasty, mean attack. He wouldn't want anything like it again. He didn't want a woman in his life again, ever.

So, he was alone now and enjoyed his log cabin and book–reading as often as possible. And nature acting up with storms and gusts under the eaves. Even the spooky wind voices, always carried his imagination to strange, shadowy places beyond the light of the one lamp beside his chair. He liked that.

"Spooky." He smiled again and sank back into the comfort of the cushions.

"Yes, spooky."

Richard sat up startled by the clarity of the word…and the voice.

"What!?"

"I said 'spooky'"

Richard peered into the dark. "Where are you? And who the hell are you? And what the hell are you doing in my house?"

"Don't be upset, Richard. I'm Aaron and I'm over here by the fireplace. I came to you because you bought some, shall we say, magic, today."

"I bought an old clock. Not magic. A big, big, old, old clock that doesn't even run."

"You don't know why you bought it, do you?"

"Because the face is a map of the world. And nearly three feet across. That's a huge clock. And I liked the world map illustration on the face."

"Painting. By someone who could see the future…and painted that future into the face."

"What the hell are you talking about…what's your name, again?"

"Aaron."

"Why are you bringing all this magic and mystery to me? I think I just want you out of here."

"Richard, in this storm, when I'm here to tell you of your mission? Give me a few minutes. This is fate, Richard. May I bring the clock near your chair?"

Richard capitulated with a sigh and waved him over. He didn't belong here, but he did seem harmless. At least, compared to Richard's powerful experience building bridges. The clock face came closer, but only Aaron's hands showed on the edges of the face, he was an unclear shadow.

"Now, why did you buy this, Richard, what places on the map attracted you?"

"The same places that always made me wonder about the world, Why?"

"What is the character of those places? Distant, mysterious, like the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean?"

"How did you know those places?"

"My duty is to understand time and how it works."

"Time comes in three ways, Aaron, all parts of a straight line. The past, the present and the future. See, now we both understand time." "Time also has thickness."

Richard was silent, trying to absorb that concept before he spoke. "Aaron, you're the only person in history who has ever said that."

"Let's step outside and I'll show you what I mean." Aaron waited, but Richard didn't move to an order from a shadow. "Richard, come. Everything will be alright, I'll be with you." He finally got up and headed for the door behind Aaron and the big clock. The door swung open and Richard followed Aaron and the clock out to his patio.

Richard froze in his tracks, then, turned to the clock and the hands that held it. "Aaron! What happened! Where's my lake? My trees? Where's my…..? What's going on here?"

"You're experiencing the thickness of time. Richard. You think of the past as memories, the reality of the moment gone, only a thought, an idea, carried into the present. Or possibly imagined in the time that waits ahead."

"But where's my world? This is a rickety dock, like for a little boat, and feel it shake with the waves coming in. I smell salt water. Sea water all around. And that giant whatever–it–is looming over us."

"You're in the thickness of time, Richard, in a place in the Indian Ocean that you find fascinating, if mysterious. True, it is uncharted. What that time is doesn't matter, you're here, and that looming presence is the cliffs that bound an island. The cliffs go straight up and down, how deep no one knows. No commerce, hardly any place to land. Sailors stay away. And your mission is on the island. If I'm not with you, I'll be close by."

"Mission? What mission? You can't just strand me here…in the middle of the night."

"Yes, I will. Climb the cliff and you'll find your mission. Bring the Princess home."

"Mission! Princess! I don't want any more women in my life! Not even a Princess! This is crazy, Aaron. Why me?"

"You took possession of the clock."

"You're nuts or I'm……" But there was no one there. Aaron was gone and the clock was gone. His log cabin and world was gone. He was alone on a shaky wooden dock. The waves gently rushed against the cliffs and receded, there were no other sounds, birds or wind. In the moonless night he stared up at the cliffs until his eyes responded to the darkness, and the high cliffs grew a bit more visible in shades of gray and black.

In the irregular grays and blacks Richard discerned some geometric shapes and angles, obviously not accidents of nature. He walked the few steps toward the cliffs and discovered a narrow wooden stairway climbing, it seemed, to the top. Under the dock was the sea and the slight phosphorescence of lightly breaking waves as far as the eye could see. He expelled an impatient breath and started up the stairs.

Halfway toward the top, the stairs flattened into a landing that ran across a flat shelf that projected from the higher cliff. His steps on the walk apparently disturbed whatever was on the shelf. Richard leaned on the wooden rail trying to peer into the dark, heavy shuffling below him. There was more than one thing, and alive, and contesting the space below the walk with grunts and scraping. A loud roar startled him, he grasped the rail, the rail creaked, broke away and fell. He jumped back and heard whatever–they–were thumping and growling to get the prize. Richard was glad it was a piece of railing and not him down there.

At the top of the stairs the ground was treeless as far as he could tell. Grass and brush, uneven walking, but a light far away, a sign of real life. That was his target. When he finally reached the light, he saw it came from an imposing castle–like building. He followed the wall until he found a door, large and steel bound, with a great circular knocker. He hefted it and let it fall. The clang echoed around him. The door finally creaked open with a big, bearded man outlined in the backlight.

Richard was about to speak when the big man's hand grabbed his arm in a powerful grip and pulled him inside and down a dark corridor. The walk ended in a large room with many rough–looking men sitting around a table on one side, eating and drinking and shouting. On the other was a man sitting at his own table.

There were lots of beards, olive green fatigue–style clothes. He yanked his arm out of the grip when the escort pushed him toward the single man who wore also a billed field cap as well as the fatigues and beard. Richard was met with an unwelcome grimace and mad eyes. The voice was a growl.

"What's this, Julio?"

"I can speak for myself, I don't need Julio." Richard straightened up. "I knocked on your door for help, but there doesn't seem to be any on this god–forsaken whatever–it–is. And I'm not a 'this', I'm a 'who'."

The bearded man sneered. "Okay, Mr. Who, why do you come to me for help?"

"Because there doesn't seem to be anywhere else to go. Or I would."

"What happened that brought you here? We are very far from everything."

"I don't know what happened. I just found myself on your dock."

A guttural snort. "That rotten old thing. You climbed that, you're lucky to be alive. My friends would be glad to have you."

"They almost did, if you mean those things on that ledge."

"My pets. You know komodo dragons, stranger?"

Richard noticed the others across the room were now listening and he was startled to see a woman half lying on the floor and half propped against the wall. She was in dirty torn clothing, had long curled tresses of messy hair and looked beat out and semi–conscious at best. He also noticed rifles propped against the wall by the large table and machetes scattered along the floor near them. The more he saw the more threat he sensed.

"Well, I asked you. Do you know my pets?"

Richard ignored the remark. "What's she doing here?" He pointed to the women.

He smiled an evil smirk. "She is my dessert."

"Where did she come from?"

"Her boat went down in a storm. They found their way to my cliffs."

"They?"

"There was a crew, yes? Besides her?"

"Where are they?"

He lifted and reset his field cap on his shaggy head, laughed and stood up. The men at the large table laughed, too. He was taller than Richard and wore a curled whip hanging from his shoulder. "We fed them to my pets."

Richard couldn't believe he heard right, but knew he actually had. "What kind of beast are you?" The beard laughed even louder and threw out his hands.

"What is there to amuse us on a little island? We dropped them down on my pets' ledge one at a time and watch the others as they hear the screams. Watch their fear build and build waiting to see who is next. Most amusing."

He waved at the women who stirred against the wall in her rags and dirt. "But not her. She is mine. As I said, my dessert. But you…" He swung the whip off his shoulder. Richard realized that there was no time to waste as the whip end snapped through the air. It stung badly as it wrapped around his arm, but he managed to grasp it and yank it out of the beard's hand. The beard was pulled off balance and Richard swung the loose whip handle hard and struck him on the side of his head.

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