When I posted my Enchanted Cottage story several people wanted to know
‘What happened next?’
Make sure you read Part 1 posted last week first!
After a few minutes dithering in total shock my practical mind kicked in. The first priority was to stop the water from the broken pipes flooding the place. Prising the wrench from Julie’s hands I used it to turn off the control which luckily was still intact. With that heater isolated I went to check the other rooms and was relieved to find them all undamaged. Breathing a sigh of relief I assumed I had interrupted my sister before she could destroy the other radiators.
I found her in the kitchen wringing out soaking wet rags into the sink. Looking beyond her to the outhouse I could see various bowls and buckets strewn around, and she seemed perfectly normal.
‘They were only trapped in this one,’ she answered my unspoken question. ‘Silly me. I forgot to turn off the water at the mains first. Lucky it’s a stone floor, it will soon dry out. How was your trip?’
‘It went well,’ I replied then found myself on the verge of telling her about the lucrative contract I had won. This was surreal. It was almost as if fairies, witches, trees that moved themselves, a shattered heating system and being held a prisoner were everyday events.
Taking her hand I led her to the couch and sat down next to her. ‘Julie, we need to talk,’ I began hesitantly.
‘I know what you’re going to say but I’m perfectly well now,’ she interrupted before I could go on. ‘When I had my breakdown it must have been really worrying for you. I let everything get on top of me, but this cottage and the village have proved to be my haven. It’s helped me put things into perspective, and even though I intend to start working in the New Year I will never get into that state again. I’m so sorry for putting you through all that stress and I want to thank you for being there for me when I needed you most.
‘For now you must be worn out and hungry. You go up and have a shower and by the time you’re ready dinner will be on the table. It will probably be good for both of us to have an early night as well. Everything else we can sort out in the morning.’
She had turned into her old bossy-boots self but I felt exhausted both mentally and physically after a long, peculiar day. Taking her advice I freshened up, ate the meal and by ten I was in bed. Surprisingly I slept like a log, and only woke around nine the next morning to the smell of bacon frying.
‘Perfect timing,’ Julie said as she dished up a full English breakfast. ‘I was going to call you earlier but you looked so peaceful I didn’t want to disturb you. Do you fancy a run into the village later? The store cupboard is looking a bit bare and I need to stock up.’
The idea of leaving the cottage reminded me of our incarceration, and jumping up I dashed to fling open the front door. My eyes took in the usual vista of the garden, the picket fence and the trees beyond, all in their proper places. It must have been a dream. Everything was perfectly normal.
Even though it was chilly out, a bright winter sun was shining, the fallen leaves looked beautiful and the trees majestic. I was surprised how many people greeted Julie as we wandered around the village doing our shopping; it seemed she was well known and liked amongst our neighbours.
By the time we got home dusk was falling and it had turned cold. As we unpacked our purchases I heard the click of the central heating starting up, but this time there was no accompanying squeak. Glancing at Julie I noticed she was watching me carefully as I left her to go into the outhouse and check the boiler. As I entered I thought I saw something scurrying along the skirting board and wondered if we had mice. Checking carefully I couldn’t see any holes but made a mental note to buy some traps and poison just in case.
After dinner I did some work with my laptop resting on the edge of the settee as Julie had commandeered the table, which was covered with ancient books she had collected from the library.
She was still engrossed making notes when I logged off and became absorbed in a thriller on the television. It was just gone midnight when I yawned, stretched and went to make some hot chocolate before checking the cottage was locked up for the night. The outhouse was in darkness but as I turned on the kitchen light I caught a glimpse of tiny beams of light moving across the bare stone floor. Laughing at myself when my imagination conjured up visions of mice with torches I assumed they must be caused by reflections. Switching on the outhouse lights I tested the back door which was securely locked as expected.
It was only as I went to check the windows in the lounge that it struck me how black it was outside. Not just the normal darkness of night-time but more like a total absence of light. My heart was thumping as I went to the front door and taking a deep breath flung it open. The trees were back. Stretching out my hand I could feel the bark completely covering the aperture.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt a hand touch my shoulder. Turning I found Julie close behind me, looking at the tree trunk which once again had made us prisoners.
‘Goodnight ladies,’ she called calmly as she firmly pushed the door closed. ‘I don’t know about you,’ she said, ‘but I’ve done enough for one night. I’m off to my bed. See you in the morning.’
I stared after her in astonishment as I watched her go into the bathroom and then a few minutes later enter her bedroom. Shortly afterwards I saw her bedside light go out. I went to the back door to see the same sight I had experienced the previous night. It too was blocked by a gigantic tree trunk. I was tempted to ask Julie why she showed no surprise, but as I quietly opened her bedroom door I heard her snoring gently and decided it could wait until morning.
Would we once again be free to go about our business once the sun had risen, or was this time for real?