Valiant: Knock Knock…The Sandman…The Gift…Part 21…

A long silent night passed. The family lingered
For a measureless painful time in mourning
Around grandmother’s bed…No one could
Speak, it was impossible to know what to
Do so fast. But it was their responsibility
To cope with all the tasks of a loved one’s
Death in the times. Eventually Jon’s mother
Gathered the strength to dress, and then
Wrap her mother in blankets…Then they
Left the room and moved quietly to the
Dining table to sit and eat a modest early
Meal…There would be no sleep that night.
And in the morning, there would be much
To do.

At daybreak Jon assumed the role to
Do the farm work that had to be done
While the rest of the family dealt with
The matters of his grandmother’s
Passing. His father was still physically
Disabled, and his sister too weak to
Do much…which left his grandfather
And mother with most to be done.

Jon went to the barn and fed the animals
First. He patted and talked to them
Kindly, as always, they gave the best
Comfort. It never ceased to amaze him
How such simple creatures did so much
Help just by being there. He didn’t even
Notice Matthias come down behind him
As he fed the horses, his guest was gently
Curious to hear what happened.

‘Is everything alright?’ Matthias asked.

‘My grandmother died last night.’ Jon
Quietly answered. ‘Her heart…’

‘I’m sorry.’ Matthias said coming up
Behind him carefully. ‘That’s terrible.
Is there anything I can do? Can I
Help you?’

Jon looked at him with a smile. ‘Thank
You…If you like. But you don’t have
To. I can do the work.’

Matthias watched Jon move slowly
But steadily. ‘Don’t you want to
Take your time? Your grandmother…
Can’t these things wait? You should
Go sit…relax…’

‘No, if I sit still, I will think.’ Jon
Answered. ‘It’s better if I keep busy.’

Matthias was amazed as he watched
Jon move about his chores through the
Barn. ‘You really should slow down
Today…Aren’t you upset?’

Jon paused, this was a lot of conversation
For him over the last few days. He wasn’t
Used to it. Then he slowly thought of
What to say. ‘I’m numb.’

‘Numb?’ Matthias repeated. ‘Well,
That’s to be expected. It’s a terrible
Loss you just had…’

Jon froze and looked at Matthias
Afraid to explain. ‘It isn’t that. She
Was sick…we knew this was coming.
I knew…I was afraid of it.’

‘No one likes losing family.’ Matthias
Said kindly.

‘No, I was afraid of her haunting me.’
Jon replied.

‘What?’ Matthias was confused.

‘You don’t know my family.’ Jon said.
‘I guess every family is different. This
Must seem strange…I’m just…The last
Thing my grandmother said to me was
How disappointed she was with me. She
Always was…Everything I did was wrong.’

‘Ah.’ Matthias sighed. ‘Yes, I know that
Feeling. My father was like that.’

‘My grandmother had a hard life. It made
Her harder, harder than most.’ Jon explained.
‘Her father was murdered…He was beaten,
Tortured to death…slowly. He was a knight.
And she, and her mother and sister were
Also tortured…She saw sides of people no
One wants to see…from family and friends.
They set them up to save themselves. She
Taught hard lessons about trust…and she
Expected A LOT in her family…I was
Never good enough…no one was.’

‘That’s awful.’ Matthias had no idea what
Else to say.

‘I understand why she was the way she
Was. But she was still brutal.’ Jon went
On. ‘And still…I’m numb. She was like
Iron. Her hope was her faith…She will
Haunt me.’ Jon paused and went to the
Door of the barn to look out at the house.
‘When I was little…There was a ghost
That lived in that house…. An old man.
He’s gone now…I hate ghosts. I swear
She WILL haunt me. I know she will.’

Matthias thought carefully as a chill
Went up his spine. ‘The things happening…
Like we talked about? Do you think
Maybe there ARE reasons for this now?’

Jon fought to think. ‘I don’t know. Why?’

Matthias swallowed nervously. ‘Before
I came here…I stayed at this place…this
House.’ He paused. ‘There is something
That I have to tell you…Or maybe, I should
Show you.’

‘What is it?’ Jon asked.

Matthias went on to explain that he
Had travelled so much, he had become
A drifter. He had desperately wanted
To leave his small-town life in Italy
And see things, big things. One thing
Led to another and somehow, he ended
Up wandering from one place to another
Taking jobs doing this and that. And the
More that he saw the more things seemed
The same everywhere. People were
Locked into patterns of beliefs and doing
Things, most probably by how they were
Raised. Yet still he saw the same behavior
Everywhere. He was hopeful to find a
Place to settle eventually or find someone
Or something that could satisfy his
Longings…

Eventually travelled farther North. He
Was barely older than Jon, still in his
Early twenties, but he had seen quite
A lot. He had become fascinated by
Stories he heard of lights in the sky and
How stories in the villages spread of
Strange sightings farther North…So
That is the path that he followed.
This led him to a village where the
People were kind and life appeared
Quaint.

He was going to camp one night by a
River when he came across a woman
Sitting by the water tossing bread crumbs
For the fish while she said prayers to
Herself. When he began to speak to her
Things grew odd.

She was older, in her late forties, and
Seemed nice enough. She explained that
She was widowed and lived alone with
Her son. The conversation seemed ordinary
Enough…at first. Matthias was very
Comforted talking to her as she offered
Him a warm meal at her home. He agreed
And then followed her to her small
Cottage.

Then Matthias explained as best as he
Could that this woman served him a
Generous meal. She appeared very
Eager for company. She told him a
Tragic tale of how her husband was
Killed one night by robbers…and how
Her only son had died the year before
Mysteriously in his sleep. She said he
Was having nightmares of awful things.
But then Matthias details became abrupt.
‘You just have to see.’ He said as he was
Unable to look Jon in the eyes. ‘I didn’t
Want to talk about it. Most people do not
Like discussing things like this…. But I
Think…after what we saw…’ He only
Shook his head. ‘You just have to see.’

Jon had to admit he was intrigued by
The story, though his gut told him
Otherwise. Such strange things going
On. And now his grandmother…He
Decided to take a chance to get his
Mind on something else. ‘How long will
This take?’ He asked.

‘Just a day.’ Matthias assured him. ‘Just
One day. It will be something to do.’

Jon agreed. Then later that afternoon
Before dinner he told his family that
He would be gone for one day, that
He needed time to himself. The mood
Of his house was so dark, the family
Had no fight to argue and reluctantly
Agreed. And the next day off Jon went
With Matthias on this little adventure…

Matthias took Jon down the river
The way he had come. The day was
Bright and almost cheerful despite
The mood in the air, which almost
Lifted Jon’s spirits. ‘I don’t know
Why I’m doing this.’ Jon told him
As they trekked along the waterway.

‘I just need to show you.’ Matthias
Replied.

‘What is it that you want me to see?’
Jon asked curiously.

‘There’s no way to explain it to you.’
Matthias only laughed, a private
Confused thought riddling through
His head. ‘You just have to see it
For yourself.’

And then Jon laughed and shook his
Head. ‘This sounds so strange.’

‘I know it does.’ Matthias answered.

‘You make this sound so suspicious.’
Jon said to him. ‘Were you not satisfied
With what you saw yourself?’

‘I have no explanation for what I saw.’
Matthias answered.

Jon didn’t like the sound of that. ‘So
Why show me then? Why do I have
To see it?’

‘Because I think your reaction will
Be better than most others.; Matthias
Told him.

Jon winced at the words. Then his
Senses began to work harder. The
More he thought about things, the
Less this seemed like some simple
Trip. Still, Jon thought he knew the
Area well enough. He had never heard
Of anything like this before. But then,
There were always some reclusive
Families most never saw, not everyone
Crossed paths even over many years.
Many things could remain hidden in
Plain sight that way.

By the afternoon they crossed a small
Bridge over the river and quickly then
Matthias led Jon to a small cottage in
A dense part of the woods there. It was
An area so heavily thick with trees it
Would seem no one would ever build
A home there…Yet there it was, this
Tiny very neat looking little home nestled
Among the trees with a nice small flower
Garden out front…

Matthias stopped short at the sight of
The cottage and nodded once to Jon.
‘That is the place that I wanted you
To see.’

Jon quietly studied the little cottage.
From the outside it appeared so sweet.
But the windows were unusually dark
As their shutters were wide open to
Let the light in…as though the inside
Were a pit of blackness. It made his
Stomach turn to notice this. ‘I do not
Recognize this house at all. Who lives
Here?’

‘Her name is Gretchen.’ Matthias
Explained. ‘And her son’s name…
Is Eduard.’

‘You said her son is dead?’ Jon
Asked as he looked at him with
A raised brow.

Matthias hesitated to answer. ‘He
Is…But she still talks to him…
And…he answers.’

‘WHAT?!’ Jon exclaimed.

Matthias stood looking at Jon with
A stern expression. ‘You heard what
I said.’

‘What do you mean she talks to
Him and he answers?’ Jon demanded.

‘Well…I haven’t heard him, not a
Voice…but he answers.’ Matthias
Said.

Jon shook his head in a daze. ‘Why
Would you want to show me THIS?
I told you…I DO NOT like ghosts!’

‘Jon, listen…’ Matthias said appealing
As sincerely as he could to him. ‘I just
Want you to see…To see this, because
With everything I’ve seen happen…Maybe
You can tell me if it means anything.’

Jon became instantly aggravated at
The idea. He said nothing and only
Started at Matthias coldly. Then he
Watched as Matthias went to the front
Door of the cottage and knocked. A
Woman answered, she of medium size
With a round face and grayish-brown
Hair. She appeared older than her years,
As if a lot of stress had aged her too
Fast. Matthias spoke briefly with her
And she smiled happy to see him again.
Then they both waved for Jon to come
Over. He held himself back a step, then
Reluctantly approached the house…
Sensing an ever-looming shadow spread
Everywhere with each step.

‘Jon, this is Gretchen.’ Matthias said
Introducing them. ‘Gretchen, this is
My friend Jon.’

‘Why, Hello Jon.’ Gretchen said very
Excitedly with a big smile on her face.
‘How nice to meet you. Your friend
Here was wonderful company for me.
I am so happy he came back to visit
With a friend.’

‘Hello, it’s nice to meet you.’ Jon
Said eyeing them both with a smile
And concealed confusion.

Matthias was very polite and dominated
The conversation. He described his
Trip North to Gretchen and vaguely
Detailed how he came to meet Jon;
Deliberately leaving out everything they
Had experienced together. ‘I just thought
It would be nice if Jon could meet you…’
He said slowly. ‘I just wanted him to come
See your home.’

Jon listened carefully as he looked about
The cottage…The closer he was to it now
The darker it appeared to be inside. He
Just kept wondering what was he going
To see exactly?

‘Oh, that sounds nice.’ Gretchen said
Without complaint. ‘I suppose Matthias
Wanted you to meet Eduard, my son?’
She nodded to herself quietly as she
Straightened out her dress and then
Neatly pressed back her hair. ‘Well,
Why don’t you both come inside…and
We can all sit down and have some
Warm milk…and cookies, and maybe
Some cake together? Something sweet…’
Then she stepped back and gestured
For both of them to come inside…

Matthias looked at Jon fast, gave him
A shy grin, then turned and went inside
Without waiting anymore. Gretchen
Continued smiling at Jon, the picture
Of the perfect kindest hostess looking
So innocent and generous. He could
Smell something cooking from inside
The house, something good…All that
He could do was smile back at her and
Go in…

The interior of the cottage was much
Like the outside. It was well kept and
Clean and very orderly. There were
Modest furnishings, and a lot of
Embroidered lines. This woman kept
Herself very busy. She led the young
Men in directing them to her dining
Table placed tightly by the little
Kitchen where they all sat down
Together.

The more Jon looked around the
More he noticed. Gretchen lived
Alone, yet it appeared as though
Someone else lived there…He saw
Men’s shoes set out by the fireplace,
Extra dishes on surfaces, pants laid
Out over a chair…ODD details that
Did not make sense for a single
Woman living alone.

And in her kitchen, he saw things
He had never seen before…There
Were various types of herbs and
Dried flowers and branches strung
Along the walls…with strange
Decorations, sticks tied into shapes…
Carved pebbles and stones in
Different shapes and colors set
About here and there…And an
A strange aroma mingled with
That of her baking filling the
Entire house.

Gretchen set out some small
Plates with cookies and offered
Them some them some milk.
Matthias and Jon smiled and accepted,
It all seemed so nice. However, Jon’s
Insides were twisting and turning in
All directions…something felt so
Wrong.

As Gretchen set the plates out, Jon
Noticed she put out one extra…
One extra empty plate set specifically
At a fourth spot before an empty
Chair. He was about to ask about
This when suddenly…the plate
Moved on its own closer to the
Chair in front of it. His eyes
Widened. Matthias saw it too and
Watched Jon’s reaction…then their
Eyes locked to each other’s.

‘Eduard,’ Gretchen said to the
Empty chair. ‘Where are your
Manners? Guests first.’

Jon looked at the widow with shock.
He could hardly contain himself,
He felt sicker with every moment.
‘Your son is here with us?’

Gretchen grinned at Jon as though
It was nothing. ‘Well of course.’

Jon eyed Matthias wildly. How could
He have wanted him to see THIS?
‘What is going on?’

Matthias was desperately watching
Jon hoping for hm to explain it
To him. This scared him too, he
Had never experienced such a thing.
‘I told you.’

‘Well you aren’t scared, are you?’
Gretchen asked Jon with a
Peculiar expression.

‘This isn’t right.’ Jon could only
Say nervously. ‘This isn’t right…’

‘What isn’t, my dear?’ Gretchen
Asked him.

Jon hesitated; his mind spun in
Wayward spirals…thoughts and
Senses fighting to make sense of it.

Then…as if the scene wasn’t
Socking enough, the more unexplainable
It became as a dulled young man’s
Voice broke the chilling silence…
‘Mama…ANGEL…’

All of their eyes shot to the empty
Chair…Jon leaned back in his
Seat, his blood racing, he was
Terrified now. Matthias then
Eyed Jon curiously…as did
Gretchen.

‘ANGEL, Mama.’ The voice
Said again only louder. Then the
Plate in front of the empty chair
Began to shake, and then the
Table. ‘He knows…’

Jon leapt back from the table
Panting and sweating then bolted
Out the door. Matthias quickly
Followed after him without looking
Back. Both of them were scared
To death.

Once the two of them had raced
Across the bridge and cleared
The shore of the river and
Entered the woods, they stopped
To catch their breath and look
At each other. Matthias grabbed
Jon’s shoulder, his eyes big and wet.
‘I had to show you that. I’m
Sorry.’ He said panting.

‘Why?’ Jon panted hard.

‘It didn’t speak before.’ Matthias
Said. ‘It…only moved things
Around…What was that, was it
Real?’

‘What do you think?’ Jon nearly
Spat.

‘What was it talking about?’
Matthias asked desperately. ‘Mama,
Angel? What was that?’

Jon froze and eyed Matthias heavily.
He didn’t want to explain, he didn’t
Want to say anything…But he
Would have to now. All he could do,
For the moment was stand there and
Wince…Everything just kept getting
Stranger, and building.

Valiant.

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