For me, the summer season ends too quickly each year. Just as the leaves begin changing, we pack up and winterize the cottage in Clayton, NY, pull the boat, and head south to Pennsylvania. This Thousand Islands story, however, begins on Halloween.
When I was a kid, a television commercial for a popular candy, often handed out for Trick-or-Treat, boasted that it featured two great tastes (chocolate and peanut butter) that taste great together. That's what I'm aiming for here; a somewhat scary (but fast-paced and fun) mystery set in the heart of the Thousand Islands.
And what better setting? The St. Lawrence's scenic beauty is an excellent backdrop, along with charming river towns, ancient forests, granite cliffs, castles with towers and secret passageways, ghost stories, and legends of all sorts!
However, I do have an admission to make. As I write this introduction, I'm not entirely sure where this story is going. My 9-year-old son, Lee, and I talk about it. He has contributed some pretty good ideas. During this strange COVID-19 year, I have made writing this story and enjoying Halloween a priority, as traveling along this road seems to make everything else seem a little less weird by comparison!
So please join us on this journey and together we will find out where it leads! . . . By Patrick Metcalf
Chapter 7, What Lies Within
Sarah was irritated. She wasn't thrilled to be standing before a gigantic castle door on a dreary November afternoon, and she was beginning to worry about the long trip home. Pete was almost never in a hurry, and to make matters worse, he was doing what he always did in these situations. He was revelling in the drama of it all. She was certain that he was imaging himself as a hero in a story from long ago, braving untold distances and perils to arrive on the rocky and desolate shore of Dark Island. His mission lay before him. He must demand entry to this imposing fortification, and breech the entryway to Singer Castle. Here Pete would find answers, and single-handedly resolve the vexing mystery that had cursed them these past several days. He would not rest until this threat was vanquished. He drew back his fist and pounded on the massive castle door with as much force as he could muster.
Unfortunately, and to his dismay, the result was rather unimpressive. It was no more imposing than a kitten swatting at a refrigerator door to express its desire for a saucer of milk. Pete turned around and smiled sheepishly at Sarah, and then shrugged his shoulders.
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Hey Pete, that big, iron, lion's head door-knocker thing over there is looking kind of lonely."
"Oh yeah, right!" he said. "Didn't notice it before." Without hesitating, he grabbed it and slammed it hard against the door three times. The sound was harsh and jarringly loud. Sarah expected that it would produce an immediate response, and she felt a bit of anxiety well up. They waited several minutes, but nothing happened.
"Guess no one's home," said Sarah, feeling a degree of relief. "We'll try again another time."
"Nah, I'll just knock harder," said Pete.
"If even one evil flying monkey comes out of that tower, I'm going to take off in the boat, and you can swim home," said Sarah.
"All the flying monkeys have already migrated south this time of year," said Pete, never breaking his focus. "In fact I'm pretty sure the evil ones usually depart before the regular ones."
"Good to know . . ." said Sarah dryly.
Pete cupped his hands in front of his mouth, and yelled up toward the many windows on the high wall above them. "Hello! Is anybody there?" He rapped loudly again with the heavy, medieval-styled door knocker, and again they waited.
At first nothing happened. There had been no indication whatsoever that there was a single living thing inside the castle. There was no movement, no lights, no sounds . . . Then suddenly right in front of them, there was a bit of motion that caught Sarah's eye, and she realized that the doorknob was turning slowly. She and Pete both stared at it. It seemed so strange and impossibly slow. The sight of it was almost surreal. She wondered what force compelled it to turn. Was it a human hand, or something else? Sarah began to feel light-headed, and then noticed that her heart rate began to speed up. She could feel it thumping in her chest. She felt a little panicked and was trying to make sense of her reactions when she realized that she was beginning to hear something. It was the soft groan of the hinges bearing the weight of the huge wooden door. It opened just slightly, but not enough to let in any of the dull sunlight from that gray and dismal afternoon.
"Pete, what's happening?" asked Sarah.
"I'm not sure," said Pete. "Are we supposed to go in?"
"Seems like a bad idea," said Sarah, finding it a bit difficult to catch her breath.
"Hello?" said Pete, peering into the dark opening.
Just then Sarah realized that she could see something within, a reflection perhaps, in the form of two glowing white orbs staring at them. There was no shape or form behind them. They did not move or waver the slightest bit. Sarah's eyes began to water, and then everything started to go fuzzy. She suddenly felt warm, as if she were standing in direct sunlight, and then strangely, she doubted whether she was even standing at all. She could hear some faint noises in the background that she hadn't noticed before. She began to experience an unexpected sense of calmness, and a wave of relaxation passed over her. Sarah felt as though she was floating.
There are unique moments in some rare dreams when one becomes aware that they are, in fact, dreaming. Sarah realized this was the case, and she blinked her eyes and looked around. It was a warm and sunny summer day. She was lying on a raft in the river near a dock, and the water felt cool and refreshing on her legs. The leaves on the trees were a vibrant, deep green. The sky was brilliant and blue, and fluffy white clouds were drifting overhead. Everything looked familiar. She felt safe. Just then she understood that they were near their family cottage on Wellesley Island, near Grand View. When she looked over at Pete she realized that he was only perhaps 5 or 6 years old. He was smiling at her and talking but she could not make out what he was saying. Instinctively, she knew that her parents were nearby, sitting in the boat perhaps. She was almost certain that she could hear them talking.
Off in the distance, Sarah noticed a person lingering back in the shade of the forest. It was a woman wearing dark clothing. She held a cloth bag and appeared to be digging with a walking stick, and collecting plants of various types. Her long dark hair covered her face. It occurred to Sarah that this woman was a witch. Somehow she knew this to be true, yet she was not afraid. The woman called to Sarah and she crawled up onto the shore, and took a few steps across the lawn in that direction. She stood and looked, not certain what she was waiting for.
The witch stepped out of the forest and began to walk toward the river. She stepped into the sunlight. Sarah realized it was an older woman when she pushed back her graying hair. Her face was kind and familiar. There was a strong connection, but try as she might, she could not recognize or remember this woman. Someone was speaking her name, but Sarah wasn't sure whether or not she was imaging it. It was in her head, deep in her mind, and she realized that it was possible that it was being said in a way that couldn't be heard. It didn't much matter. Sarah felt as though she had been in this dream before, perhaps many times.
The witch looked up as though she was expecting to see something in the sky, and then turned her gaze to the west. She pointed in that direction and turned to Sarah and said, "You will find the stone there." In that moment, in some strange way, it made sense. Suddenly everything felt like it was speeding up. Time was speeding up. The clouds moved rapidly across the sky in a fluid, liquid motion. The tall grass and cattails along the riverbank fluttered erratically in the breeze. Shadows swung around the trees as the sun plunged down onto the western horizon, and seemed to crash into Grindstone Island, sucking all traces of visible light into the impact crater. Everything went dark and silent.
Sarah realized that she was waking from the dream, but she kept her eyes closed for a few moments. She was lying comfortably on her back, and could hear the soft murmurs of a conversation nearby. She told herself to open her eyes, and was just about to do so when she heard a loud, shrill voice yell out.
"Intruders! Throw them in the dungeon!"
Sarah sat straight up, and realized that she was lying on a couch in the library of Singer Castle.
"Oh hey, Sis. You're done with your nap," said Pete. "Check this out." He held up a coin to a spot underneath a bookshelf and a hidden door automatically slid open. "Is that cool or what?"
"Yeah, I remember that from the tour when we were kids," she said. Her eyes were drawn to the corner of the room, where a suit of armour stood silently on guard.
Just then she noticed someone else was in the room. He was a strange, thin man not much older than herself. He had a long pointy nose, and jet black hair. He smiled and she could see his intensely white teeth, each a little smaller and further away from the next than it should have been, and each a little pointier than it should have been. She noticed his small round glasses and realized those were what appeared as eyes in the crack on the doorway. The strange man seemed amused by the child-like pleasure Pete was getting out of opening the secret doorway. He grinned manically. The thought crossed her mind that he looked very odd and birdlike, like a psychotic penguin. Maybe not a penguin, since he seemed somewhat thin and greasy looking. More like a deranged cormorant . . . Suddenly she felt self-conscious and hoped that she hadn't verbalized any of these thoughts, since she wasn't yet fully awake.
"Hello, I'm Edwin," the strange man said, revealing a slight British accent. "I didn't get the opportunity to introduce myself before." He smiled politely, not mentioning the fact that Sarah had fainted.
"How did I get here?" asked Sarah.
"You walked," said Pete. "Edwin opened the door and you laid down on the ground, like you just suddenly decided to take a nap. I thought it was some sort of weird joke. You went to sleep and then all of the sudden, you got up and started mumbling. Edwin led us into the library and you saw the couch and laid down and took another nap." Pete gave her an inquisitive look. "Do you feel ok?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just feel a little foggy." Sarah looked around a bit. "Who said to throw us in the dungeon?"
"Intruders! Intruders!" the voice said again. She looked around and realized it was a parrot. He was green and impatient, and shuffled back and forth nervously on his perch.
"Oh, please do shut-up Ichabod!" Edwin said to the parrot in an annoyed tone, as though the bird had purposely chosen to demonstrate bad manners in front of guests. Edwin seemed to feel the need to explain the rude behavior. "I thought that was quite funny when I trained him to say that. I was at University at the time and my flat mates thought it was a riot. Of course I didn't realize I'd actually be living in a castle at some point. One never does know what life has in store!"
Sarah got up and walked over to the parrot. She sat down on a chair beside his cage. "Hello, Ichabod. You are a pretty bird!" she said to him sweetly.
"Help! Help!" said Ichabod.
"What's the matter?" asked Sarah. "Just a minute ago you wanted to have me thrown in the dungeon." She smiled and looked over at Edwin, who suddenly seemed a bit uncomfortable.
"I'm a human trapped in a parrot's body! Help!"
"That's hilarious!" said Pete laughing. "Edwin, did you train him to say that?"
Edwin put his hand on his chin and raised one eyebrow and stared at the parrot. "Not exactly . . ."
"Sorry Ichabod," said Sarah. "I don't think I have a spell to fix that." She laughed.
"Hey, Edwin said he'd take us through all the secret passageways," said Pete. "Are you up for it?"
"Um, not right now," said Sarah. "I just need a few minutes to get myself together."
"Alright, suit yourself," said Pete. "Hey Edwin, can I look out through the eyes of that creepy painting?"
"Oh yes of course!" said Edwin laughing. "That never does get old, especially when tourist are traipsing through." He tossed back his head and laughed. He looked a lot like a cormorant throwing back its head to gobble down a slimy fish. Sarah grimaced and shuddered at little at the thought of it.
Pete put the coin under the bookshelf and popped open the door one more time. He and Edwin disappeared into the passageway and were gone. Sarah could hear them laughing and talking for a few moments. And then suddenly she was alone in the castle library with her thoughts. Memories of her dream started streaming back.
"You will find the stone there?" she said out loud. "What could that possibly mean?"
She looked over at the suit of armour standing in the corner. Despite more than a century of being surrounded by hundreds of books, the hollow knight offered no answers.
By Patrick Metcalf [All rights reserved ©2020]
Patrick Metcalf began vacationing in the Thousand Islands, more than 20 years ago, when his grandmother and her two sisters rented three houses for a week, each summer in Fine View on Wellesley Island, she invited their families from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida. Patrick spends as much time as he can each summer, on the River, near Clayton, NY. He began writing to entertain his son Lee, who is now nine years old. Patrick resides in Shippensburg, PA, holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration, and is a Marine Corps veteran. See all of Patrick Metcalf's TI Life works here..
Illustration for The Witch of Wellesley Island: Chapter 6, "What Lies Withing" is by Marie-Anne Erki ©2021, Kingston, ON.
Chapter 1: The Scream
Chapter 2: A Brush with Evil
Chapter 3: A Narrow Escape
Chapter 4: What Pete Forgot
Chapter 5: Unlucky Penny
Chapter 6: No Turning Back
Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 10, October 2021, STORIES+
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