Chloe awoke late the next morning, after spending half the night writing. Her lower back felt sore from hunching over her laptop keyboard, and her neck was still stiff. Regardless, she slid out of bed with her feet already clad in warm wool. But despite this extra measure towards comfort, the air inside the cabin was chillier than she had expected.
Having not taken the time to put away her things yet, Chloe hobbled towards a suitcase in the corner of the room and pulled out a plush cream-colored robe that she’d owned for many years. It was a birthday gift from her parents when she was a teenager. The hem of the garment used to drag the ground, but now in her adult years, it tickled the back of her calves. Wrapping it around her shoulders, she ran her fingers over the velvety fabric.
She took a quick survey of her belongings, making sure that everything was accounted for, and then turned to go downstairs. Her heavy footfalls on the treads were the only sound in the house that morning. Not even the usual warbling of the wood thrushes and blue jays could be heard twittering outside.
Glancing towards the living room windows, she saw the sun was already pretty high in the sky. It was no longer time for breakfast, but for lunch. But, regardless of the time, she would have her cup of coffee. Because despite sleeping in, she knew there was a long day ahead of her, filled with plans to write and maybe go look for that puppy she was thinking about the previous morning.
Her eyes shifted towards her desk on her way to the kitchen, and her heart jumped against her ribcage as she saw more writing on her notepad.
Another letter. This one was longer.
Chloe was jolted awake once more, just as she had been the day before. The disquieting thought rammed through her sleepy head that the locks hadn’t worked. Without taking the time yet to read the letter, she checked the windows and the doors. Again, there was no sign of forced entry.
Chloe’s eyebrows furrowed as she thought it over. With the locks on the two doors, there was no way the intruder could have broken in, written that note, and then returned the locks to their original positions on their way out. The same went for the windows. How were they getting inside?
She sighed heavily and ran a set of long nails through her dark wavy hair, snagging on a few tangles at the back of her head. There was nothing she could do about it now. Perhaps there was nothing she could do to prevent this from happening time and time again.
Shuffling to her desk, she sat down and read the perfect cursive writing, feeling mixed emotions as her eyes followed the words.
I thought you would never go to sleep. I do not appreciate waiting. Next time, do us both a favor and get to sleep at an earlier time.
Chloe’s jaw dropped. Had they been watching her the whole night? They knew when she was still up writing? A cold chill ran up her spine at the thought of someone spying on her. Wrapping the robe around her chest a little tighter, she continued.
As for your manuscript, I noticed you made the changes I suggested. Excellent work. You have a firm grasp of dialogue composition. Their conversations are believable. But, I do suggest that you avoid writing from the male point of view. This is not meant as an offense to you, but you obviously do not understand the inner workings of the male mind. As a writer, if you narrate strictly from the female’s perspective, you will sound more competent in the genre you have chosen. Nonetheless, your story is coming along just fine. I look forward to reading more. Yours sincerely – G
Chloe was stunned. She leaned against the slatted back of the chair and stared dumbly at the wall.
She didn’t know what to think. Whoever this was had noticed the changes as well as read through the additions she made the day before. Not only that, but they commended her for it and exonerated her dialogue style. She took no offense to their comment about writing from the male point of view. It was difficult and uncomfortable to put herself inside the male brain and try to figure out how their thought process worked. It had always been something of an impossible task, and she took no joy in it.
Deducing from that comment alone, she assumed her mystery correspondent must be a man. Why else would he be so knowledgeable on how the male mind does or does not work?
If she adhered to this instruction, there were many changes she’d have to make to the story. There were several scenes with only her male protagonist present and his thoughts on the female. She’d have to change the whole book to an omnipresent perspective if she wanted to keep those scenes. But wasn’t that pretty much the same thing she was already doing?
Chloe groaned and held her head in her hands, propping her elbows on her closed laptop. She hated herself for taking these notes so seriously. The thought that a complete stranger was somehow breaking into her home, just to write these silly critiques, was far from her mind. All she could think about was obeying the suggestions as if his opinion was valid and worth her consideration.
Then it occurred to her that she wasn’t writing for this stranger. She was writing for herself. Why did she have to change her entire story just to accommodate him, of all people? A stranger she had never met and was forcing his way into her home somehow without any trace or reason.
She sighed and thought that maybe a cup of coffee would help clear her head.
Chloe brewed her usual blend, generously stirring in cream and sugar to offset the bitterness. She’d been drinking coffee for years, but there was something different about this cup. The coffee from the previous morning got thrown out after growing cold in her car while she was in the hardware store. Chloe didn’t care for the blackness of the raw brew anyway. And in the heat of writing, she never poured herself another cup.
But the tawny liquid swirling around in her bright green mug had a special appeal to it. It would be the first cup of coffee she drank in her new home. Perhaps it was a way of christening her new life. This cup of coffee would be the first of many she drank in the cabin. Chloe could already see herself a few years older, drinking coffee while looking over her royalty reports from all the books she’d published.
Gripping the warm ceramic mug in her hands, she moved to the window that overlooked the back deck and forest beyond. The sun warmed her skin, seeping through her pajamas to warm her very soul.
The mountains were a beautiful place. She’d been a fool as a child to not want to escape from the big city. Chloe was glad she had seen the light and made the decision to come back. Often times she wondered what made her decide to return to her ancestral home. Was it really to write or an excuse to flee Atlanta and all the things she hated about the city? But she didn’t want to think of that now and spoil the serenity of the late morning scenery.
A soft, contented smile crept across her lips as she watched the still woods. Just beyond, she could see the glittering waters of the creek where she had spent many happy hours as a child.
Why was she still inside?
Without a second thought, she slipped on the pair of boots she had left by the door for just this occasion. There was no time to change into more suitable clothes for walking around in the woods. The wilderness was beckoning her to return to that special place in her memories. Just for a moment, she’ll be the old Chloe again; the one with bright eyes and an imagination as big as the mountain this cabin sat upon, the Chloe before puberty consumed her and the hardships of life broke her down.
Stepping outside with her coffee in hand, nature contradicted itself. The sun still shone down bright and warm, but the chilly wind whipped at her long, slept-in hair and seeped through the fibers of her robe to give her skin momentary goose bumps. It took her a while to get used to such contrasting effects. But her flesh warmed and the breeze felt good upon her brow.
She nearly slipped on some fallen autumn leaves after stepping off the deck, but she gained her footing quickly and continued down to the creek with an eagerness she hadn’t felt in years, leaving behind the confusing mess she had somehow gotten herself into with her mysterious literary critic and the notes he left for her.
She left a path of crumbled dead leaves in her wake as she approached the creek. Chloe heard the trickling sound of ice-cold spring water cascading over the smooth stones, and she stood on the creek bank and watched as the sun shimmered in the rippling tide. It was just as she remembered it. The town may have changed, the cabin changed, but this creek was timeless and untouched.
Just below the crystal clear surface of the water, Chloe spotted schools of little fish fighting against the current to travel upstream. A turtle basked upon a protruding rock just a little distance from where she stood on the shore.
If she weren’t wearing her favorite robe, she would have sat down on a nearby log or squatted in the rich, damp soil to watch the water break against the rocks further upstream. The creek wasn’t deep enough to swim in, but she remembered a time when she’d take her shoes and socks off, roll up the legs of her jeans and wade into the shallows.
Chloe still remembered how it felt to have the cool current flow past her, wrapping around her ankles, and how the mix of prickly and smooth rocks felt on the tender undersides of her feet. She’d have to come back and do that one day. Maybe every day. But not right now. There was too much going on right now.
Taking a sip of her coffee, she watched as two birds flitted and twirled around each other in the open space above the creek. They chirped a few times and then disappeared into the branches. Chloe swallowed, letting the warm liquid wash down her throat. Was there anything more tranquil in all existence?
The scenery did wonders for her nerves. She was able to think clearly, more rationally.
So, it was evident that whoever was writing those letters was not a burglar. If it were a burglar, there would be obvious evidence from when they broke in. It couldn’t have been someone with a key like the real estate company because she changed the locks already. Their old key wouldn’t have worked that second night. It was obviously someone who knew a secret way into the house that she was not aware of and that same someone couldn’t have been far from here.
Maybe there was a friend of Aunt Mary Anne’s who lived on the mountain near the cabin. They could have seen Chloe move in and were curious. But where was that secret entrance into the cabin? Then again, she saw no other driveways on her way up the mountain, and her cabin’s driveway was at a dead end. If there was any other way up or around the mountain, she didn’t know of it.
Somehow, in the train of reasoning, Chloe thought of Rosie’s warning. When they met in the grocery store the other day, she mentioned that something was wrong with the house; that it was haunted.
Chloe was a grounded person. She didn’t believe in ghosts, spirits, or paranormal phenomenon of any kind. But the more her mind played Miss Rosie’s words, mixed in with all that had happened in the last two days and the uncanny presence she felt in the cabin, the more she began to wonder if there was some validity to what she was saying.
Maybe the reason there was no evidence of a break-in was because there wasn’t any break-in to begin with. Whoever or whatever was leaving her the notes lingered somewhere in the house, unseen and undetected. It was an absurd theory, but what else could it be? Locks were still intact, nothing was stolen, and she now had two letters written to her from some anonymous critic. She took that back. The critic was not anonymous. He signed his name with a “G”. G for Ghost? It was ridiculous all around.
But in the silence of nature, Chloe came up with an idea. She would debunk this haunted myth and play along.
Hiking back up to the house, she began to mentally form the words she needed.
Chloe took the last swig of coffee, set it down in the sink and then hurried to the notepad. She would beat this ghost at his own game.
Grabbing the big yellow notepad, she sat on the couch, pen in hand and began to formulate her response to his second letter.
Thank you for the advice. I am struggling with putting myself into Ben Johnson’s shoes. But how can I change the whole perspective of the story now? If I change it to strictly the female’s prospective, I lose a lot of scenes I had planned for later in the story when only Ben is present. Might you have a suggestion to remedy this problem? If so, I’d love to hear it. If not, I might as well scrap this story and be done with it. I have plenty more I can start writing. If you’ve poked around on my laptop, as I suspect you have, you’ll see all of the folders on my hard drive just waiting to be started. I’m glad you have enjoyed it so far, though. You may feel privileged to know that you are the first person to ever read my work, let alone like it. I hope to hear from you in the morning.
Your resident aspiring author, Chloe
P.S. Forgive my terrible handwriting; it’s chicken-scratch compared to yours.
Chloe sat back and examined the letter. Perhaps it was too light, maybe a little teasing, but it would have to do. She had no confidence that she would receive a response. And if it was, she didn’t know how she would react. She wasn’t sure what exactly it proved. That she was crazy?
She didn’t want to think about that right now. She still had plenty to do, but none of it included writing. She didn’t want to continue writing if she’d just have to scrap the story in the end, if Mr. G suggested it.
There were still plenty of her things left in Atlanta that she needed to pull from storage and a man to call in Carter Lake about a jeep.