VI. She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways

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On the second night of staying at Dove Cottage, I was awoken at a dark hour by a strange noise. My heavy eyelids flicked open suddenly. At first I assumed the noise to be from the owner. It didn't, however, take me long to realise the noise was coming from inside the room.

'Who's there?' I tried to shout, but my words came out scratchy. Timid. So I listened. Moonlight shone into my room and provided me only enough light to see shapes and shadows. It soon dawned on me that I shouldn't have been able to see any light – the curtains around my bed had been opened while I slept. The candle on my bedside table had extinguished. Smoke flowed silkily into the air.

Silence now reigned in the empty room. As I clutched the bed sheets closer to my breast, I kept listening. I hoped for some kind of rational explanation. My tainted mind conjured fantasies of ghouls and goblins. Time passed as I thought more deeply, and I laughed at the absurdity. The laughter helped to alleviate my spirit.

A bang on the window shook it with such force that a crack formed from the top to the bottom. The bed sheets that I had pulled to my neck were no longer safe to hide in.

I flung the covers to the floor and scrambled to my feet. The cold air of the room stabbed at my skin. It felt like a draft had slithered into the room as I slept. A single match lay beside the extinguished candle. I had not left that there. After hesitation, I took the match in my hand and scraped it along the rough wood of the table. The flame sparked to life, and with one swift motion, the candle revived.

The dancing light opened up the darkest shadows of the room. A slow sense of safety filled my breast. The light was fighting the dark, and surely there should be nothing to be afraid of.

I looked down at my white nightdress – and saw that it was white no longer. Patches of earth and grass stained the fabric. There were tears and scratches at the hem and sleeves. I looked even closer and found print, very small text, as if stained from a newspaper. The nightdress was dirty, yet the bare flesh of my arms and legs bore no dirt.

The mirror of the dressing table gleamed as I approached, and my shaking free hand felt for my face. Everything appeared to be fine, but the mysterious filth on my nightdress bewildered me. I looked at the sheets on the bed to find that they, like my skin, were clean.

I managed to pull myself away from my vanity when I heard the closet door creak open behind me. Inexplicable dread consumed my soul. My eyes widened as the candle shook in my hand.

I straightened my body and turned. As I looked, a flickering light flowed from the small room. This was succeeded by a clanking noise, a cough, and a gradual moan.

A breath that was stuck in my throat rushed out. Tears formed at my eyes and threatened my stability. The groans annihilated all rational explanations I could appraise. I was told the room had been sealed off, yet my eyes witnessed a different story.

'Wh... Who's there...?' My unconvincing voice broke. I tried again. 'Who's there?!' The words sounded clear this time. Loud. The question was answered with another groan and the continued chinking of chains.

Did I dare creep closer to the room? Was it foolish to observe the otherworldly presence and make sense of it? I could not circumvent the open closet door to escape. I had no choice but to feed my melancholic curiosity.

With trembling hands, I approached the room. The wax of the candle dripped to the floor with a pitter-patter. The small flame could not have been responsible for the rapid melting of the wax.

I crept as silently as I could into the room. I moved slowly, fearing what kind of apparition would befall me. My heart crippled with terror. The blood pumped faster and faster through my shrinking veins.

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