An Uninvited Guest
The grand house felt vacant yet not without a haunting sense of safety.
Part of me wanted to run down the tear-drop driveway and drive away from the old house and forget Will Taylor and part of me wanted to make a cup of tea and spend the morning perusing the contents of the journal.
I had a suspicion that if I left the old house and journal behind I might never be able to find it again. Don’t ask me why I felt that—it was just my gut telling me something was desperately off about the place, about Will, and about the journal.
I peeled myself off of the hearth and found my way to the kitchen. As unmodern as the foyer and fireplace room had been, the kitchen was the opposite. The same vaulting ceilings but with a galley layout and stainless steel appliances suited for a boutique restaurant. I found the kettle easily enough along with a tin of loose-leaf Earl Grey tea.
In two minutes I was stirring my tea and absentmindedly pacing the grounds sipping, then thinking and sipping some more. The tea poured through me like liquid sunshine. I’d forgotten how long it had been since I’d last eaten a real meal. The tea’s warmth settled my mind and focused me on the task at hand: deciding whether to stay and read or leave it all behind.
I made my way back to the kitchen after my tea-think eager for another cup and noticed an old black wall phone hanging near the pantry door—a touch of the old-world to offset the modern wares, no doubt. Seeing the old rotary phone reminded me that I had never called my wife, who’d undoubtedly be worried sick as to my whereabouts.
I felt around my pockets for my mobile and remembered that I’d left it in the Rover. So, I picked up the earpiece and dialed home. The rotary numbers cranked perfectly through the dial tone and flashes of my childhood shot through my mind and squeezed a smile into my cheeks.
—Ah, the joys of the analogue life, I thought to myself.
“Tim?” came a hushed voice on the other end.
“Babe? How are you? You and the girls okay?”
“We’re fine. I was hoping you’d call soon.”
“Babe, I’m so sorry—I just … I’m totally safe. I had a crazy night, but I’m fine.”
“Yes, the storm was intense here, too. I was worried for a bit.”
“Oh, ugh, I totally forgot about the storm and how scared the girls get. I’m sorry for not calling sooner. It’s all so hard to explain.”
“Tim—I know,” she said, with a calm and gentle voice. A resolved peace emanated from the old earpiece. “I had a hard to explain night too.”
“You did? What happened? You’re sure the girls are okay?” I said, frazzled by her comment, heart pounding in anticipation of what she was about to say.
“Yes, they’re fine,” she said, half laughing. “They’re outside looking for turtles and snakes. All is well with them. Last night, when the storm came through, I called to tell let you know because I figured you and Will would be caught up in conversation.”
“Well, you could say that,” I said, interrupting her.
“But when I called, it went straight to voicemail. Not uncommon for you mister absent-minded professor, but I did panic a bit because the storm was so violent. I put the girls to bed, which took forever as per usual, and sat on the couch with some wine hoping you’d call.
“But I fell asleep and had a very strange dream.”
“Really? What about?”
“I was walking through the woods behind our house and it was stormy but not raining—just wind.
“Then, I saw a young woman walking our path in front of me. Not close but a good down the path. She turned and faced me but said nothing.
“Well, that’s creepy.”
“Right? I called out to ask her name. The wind blew hard and the trees swayed and clacked. She didn’t answer. Well, not like I expected her to.
“She looked at me for several seconds and then began to sing. Her song made me feel tired and safe but I couldn’t understand the words. I fell to my knees feeling exhausted. Suddenly, she was standing in front of me, her hand touching my head. Her song filled our woods even as she spoke directly to me.
“She said: ‘All is well, he is safe.’
“I looked up at her but my sight was blurry like I’d just woken up. I saw her black hair dangling in front of her face. She had blue eyes, that much I could make out—blue like a cloudless October sky.
“As I looked up she whispered once more, ‘All is well …’ and then great snowflakes fell from the sky and tumbled into my eyes. I felt like I was falling through the forest floor as my vision filled with snow. And then I woke, still holding my glass of wine with the wind howling outside like mad.
“But the house felt safe and a strange peace settled my heart and I just knew you were okay. Does any of that make any sense?”
“It makes more sense than you know,” I said.
I proceeded to tell her every detail of my night and she didn’t say a word or raise an objection. When I’d finished, she said, “Tim, normally I’d say get home right now and forget that place. But my dream, your evening—it’s just too weird, right?”
—But what to do, I thought.
“I think you should stay,” she said.
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I mean, at least a day or two to read through the journal. What could happen; it’s just a journal. After you’ve read it with no distractions, come home and you can tell me all about it.”
So, we made our plan and hung up. I felt a sense of relief but was still very confused. I brewed another cup of tea, found a stack of dry wood and built a fire in the granite fireplace.
The room lit up with happy flames and felt strangely like home. I raided Will’s pantry and prepared a bread and cheese plate. I felt energized and eager, ready to crack the journal. I was getting my wits back.
I sat in front of the fire and re-read Will’s letter aloud and turned to the next page.
What began as a day or two turned into a week. I hardly slept over the course of the next seven days. When I did finally fall asleep it was fraught with unsettling dreams.
The contents of the journal, extraordinary as they are, are laid out like a meandering travel journal—almost as if Will wrote his thoughts and the events in real-time.1 The journal possesses a vitality, unlike anything I’ve read in my life. Its meandering nature required me to create my own copy for the sake of ordering the contents into a flow I could more easily grasp.
I suppose the only parallel—and it’s not a good one—is the original manuscripts of the New Testament. I remember when I first studied Greek as a graduate student I discovered the original manuscripts possessed no punctuation or chapter breaks as modern translations suggest. Well, Will’s journal is not the New Testament, but it did require some modernization in terms of breaks and headings and punctuation.
After my week at Will’s house, I returned home and let my wife read my edited version of the journal. It was she who suggested I publish it in keeping with Will’s charge to me. And so you have her to thank for the version you now view on your phone or computer. It is our plan to properly publish it in book form but the publishers we’ve met with thus far are reticent.
“It’s too fantastic,” said one, not believing the contents true in any sense of the imagination.
“I don’t think you can pull this off,” said another. I have no idea what the editor meant by that remark. But, I’m confident we will soon find a way to get Will’s story into book form.
A few things to remember.
As you read, you’ll note I’ve divided the contents into chapters. Each part contains multiple journal entries, and when necessary, I have included contextual remarks, such as further descriptions of time and place or other bits of information I’ve learned from the years of researching the contents more in-depth. And by that I mean I have now, several times, visited the sites described herein—but I’ll not get into all of that quite yet.
The extra “tidbits” included I’ve offset with the heading “NB” which, if you’re familiar with Latin phrases, simply means “Note Well.”2 This is a habit I picked up during my doctoral research at Oxford and I apologize if it makes the reading clunky—old habits are hard to break and I don’t pretend to be an artist, though I would argue I find great imaginative satisfaction in my current research post. But again, I digress.
In his note to me, Will said, “… we must trust to hope and wade into the unknown expectant of answers.” My journey with Will thus far has taught me that answers aren’t always the end game. It’s the wading part that defines us, grows us, makes us who we are.
I’m learning to live in the process of hope. And I find anticipation to be the magic formula to living in the beauty and joy of life.
We all of us are pilgrims heading into unknown waters. Some remain in the shallows, others push out into the depths, and I always wondered why that is. But, I guess deep calls out to deep; some answer the call and find peace and this truth: answers are overrated.
NB: The first pages of Will’s journal were a mess. After a few brief entries, I found several tattered loose pages crammed into the binding. It looked as if Will had used thin strips of black duct tape to mend the pages and place them in their correct chronological order. The more I read, however, the more I realized the chronology was all over the place. I’ve done my best to keep the events in an even flow.
“Uncle Joe’s” cabin is in western North Carolina near the Tennessee border. Joe is Will’s uncle on his father’s side; a rough side of the family, but the good kind of rough; people of the earth—farmers, and craftsman, and a bit eccentric if you ask around their hometown of Hagerstown, Maryland where Joe and his ten siblings grew up on a 140-acre mountain farm near Cunningham Falls and Camp David.
Friday, October 7 – Year unknown (early 2000’s perhaps)
After Dinner, Appalachian Mountains: Uncle Joe’s Cabin
She handed me her pages, ruffled as they were—smeared with mud and blood. Steam rose from her trembling body, her round lips blue with cold. I jammed the ragged leather journal into my coat pocket, picked her up out of the muck and walked back to the cabin.
—How did I not kill her, I thought.
It had been a blurred moment. My thoughts and actions mingled like rain and sleet. First, the bear bellow—hellish and guttural. Then, the racket in the woods at the property’s edge, like the knife-edge of a battle cutting into a sacred place.
Scared out of my chair, I ran inside the cabin.
—Uncle Joe’s gun, I remembered. He always keeps it loaded.
I ran into the cabin and grabbed the old .270 rifle. I shouldered the stock, threw the bolt forward, slammed it down to lock in the bullet and fired into the dark.
The discharge cracked into the night like a tree branch into a windshield. The sound hung in the air, rang in my ears, and echoed among the White oaks. Then it was gone. The only sound I heard was freezing rain on the tin roof.
No bellow. No bear. No racket.
It was a massive moment. Fear and wonder mixed like mud and blood.
Her gesture to me. Her journal.
—How will I explain? Who will even listen?
She pulled her face out of my chest and looked up at me with weak eyes.
“I found you,” she whispered. “I found ...” Her voice trailed off as she buried her head once again and tugged on my coat.
Her shoulders heaved in what I guessed was a cry.
Then, she pulled her face out again but did not look at me. She looked past me into the restless night. Sky and rain, limbs and cold.
“Snow,” she whispered barely audible. And she closed her eyes.
“Not tonight,” I said, more to myself than to the stranger in my arms. More hoping than knowing. She loosened her grip on my coat and let her head hang off of my arm. And then she groaned. I pulled her close.
—She’s in pain. She’s crying.
And she was—dangling on my arm like an autumn leaf about to let go of its branch. And with a final push of energy, she spoke once more.
She was light, but the mud and rain turned the walk into a trudge. The rhododendrons gnarled around me. I always told Uncle Joe to thin out the front edge of the property.
“You don’t thin out nature, Will,” he’d say. “You give it space to be thick.”
Uncle Joe had a quip for everything, especially when it came to the woods. I never knew what half of them meant.
The heavy rain eased, but the wind picked up and pushed in the cold. It stung my face and gnawed my hands.
I looked up in a desperate moment, wanting to pray. But the supplication died behind my lips. A drop or two splashed in my eyes and ran down my stinging cheeks. The gangly limbs seemed to tear up the night sky. American beech, Carolina silverbell, White oak, all spindly and bare they pushed at one another.
And then out of the darkling sky, they came, behind the raindrops.
Autumn turned into winter as I slogged in the now freezing muck.
I looked down at the girl, amazed by her prophecy. She clung to my coat; her head buried once more in my chest.
A blowing silence moved into the woods. Each step, heavy.
My footfalls sounded like early ice creaking on the lake.
For years now the sound of cracking ice turned my stomach. Whenever I walked in the snow and heard it crunch and mash together, my mind would race back to my sister’s accident.
The water and darkness surrounded me.
It happened in a breath.
Another white Christmas in the Alaskan bush. We loved it so much there; so wild and free. We’d made the trip hundreds of times before. But the clouds hung low that morning. John was his usual self; crazy and fun. He sang carols as he flew the five of us over the pass and down over the lake, white as it was with the first layer of ice.
The beauty of the mountains and the winter landscape disappeared in an instant—that’s really all I can remember. Then the crushing sound. And cold rushing in. The numbing pain of my head bouncing off the Cessna dash and finding myself in the waters of the frozen lake.
—Jack and the girls. I had to get to them. The thought churned over and over in my mind.
My heart rose up into my ears as my body numbed in the icy glacier lake. I turned in the water and could still see the mangled plane and broken ice everywhere. I had to go after them.
Coughing and bleeding I screamed out for John and the kids—because I couldn’t move. I tore at the ice and raked at the water, calling out for them. Parts of the plane dotted the ice around me.
Then John surfaced with his arm around Jack’s small body.
“Yes! Where are the girls?”
John and I held on to the edge of the ice. He threw Jack onto the ice and pushed me after him. I laid out flat across the frozen lake while John tried to pull himself up. Needles—all I felt were needles all over my arms and face.
I knew the cold was killing me.
John struggled. Again, and again, he tried to pull himself out of the water. My arms were useless. I laid on the cracked edge of the ice trying to breathe, unable to move, trying to live, listening to John struggle in the freezing water. Then the sound ceased as John slipped away beneath the ice. I rolled over and screamed his name and watched the plane sink to the bottom of the thousand-foot lake with our twin daughters trapped inside.
That’s how Sara told me the story. Disjointed and in gaps. With a faraway look, through eyes filling up with tears. The first time was the worst. I can still see her bent over on her hands and knees in the kitchen weeping uncontrollably.
But now, she recounts it with a haunting settledness. I know moving on is a daily thing, but for a time she told it with what sounded like peace. We hadn’t talked in over a year. I thought about calling her on my way up to the cabin but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Looking back, I wonder if I blamed her and little Jack for surviving—such a disgusting thought.
Dad, who’d followed their flight pattern as he always did whenever they came to the cabin, found Sara and Jack huddled up and half dead from hypothermia on the edge of the lake. I was only 18. But I remember my nieces. Josey’s laughter. Lily’s blue eyes—they would have graduated this year. For years, every first snow I think back to Sara wailing on Mom’s kitchen floor and I hate the world.
What made it worse for me was that everyone seemed to move on. Sara and our parents just dusted off their religion and hobbled on with life. It was a cynical thought, I know. I wanted to find God in it too. But I thought he was nowhere to be found.
Every year after the accident I’d get Sara’s obligatory Christmas letter. I felt like the sentiments in the letter were faked. It was hard to hear about how the years had healed her, about how John and the girls weren’t really gone, they were just somewhere else, waiting for them. She’d conclude with some Disney-like cliché and send her “blessings.”
For two decades I’d been tearing up those letters. I burned them in candles. I’d hurl them out of the car window while driving in the middle of the night. In those early years, I couldn’t let go of the bitterness for some reason.
My friend James from college used to always say that we human beings like the taste of bitterness. We like to swish hurt in our mouths like mouthwash. But it doesn’t freshen our breath, it darkens our souls.
There’s something about pain that we think empowers us, makes us feel more significant.
He’d always quote Kierkegaard and say that despair is the consumption of the self.3 But he was a philosophy major; whenever he waxed eloquent, we’d all smile like we knew what he was talking about.
But I think James was right—or Kierkegaard or whomever. I lived on that bitter taste for so long after losing my brother-in-law and nieces. I didn’t just let it darken my soul, I invited it to do so.
That week, before I drove up to Uncle Joe’s cabin, sure enough, like an annual coo-coo clock, the letter came. And my bitterness flared up again.
—How does she do it, I asked myself, muttering like I always did when annoyed. But I was done thinking the worst of my sister this one day a year. I had enough of my own problems to worry about.
“Not this year, Sara,” I said as I grabbed my black Patagonia duffle, heavy coat, and Rover keys. Time for a change.
I kicked open the door to the cabin and laid the freezing girl on the green couch in front of the fireplace.
The room pulsed—no, it was my vision; my heart in my eyes.
She balled herself up, shivering. She was bleeding from her arms—cuts from running through the fir grove, no doubt. Her pale blue eyes sparkled in the firelight, and her raven hair stuck about her face like a black spiderweb. She did not look at me.
I grabbed Grandma’s quilt from my reading chair and walked in front of the couch so I could wrap her up in it. But she was asleep or passed out, still shivering. So, I laid it on the back of the couch, stood straight up, took a deep breath, and tried to think. I was soaked, and cold.
Her clothes—she’ll freeze to death if I don’t ...
—But what if she wakes up? What if she tells the cops?
I debated in my head but then realized I was talking out loud. I didn’t want her to die, so I took off her clothes.
To be continued …
Join me for the next instalment, “Chapter 3: A Gathering of Wolves,” in which Will faces off with a mysterious pack of wolves and learns more about his uninvited guest.
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Get caught up.
New to The Tempest and The Bloom? Welcome! Take a few minutes and get caught up by reading Chapter 1: “The Night Will Taylor Vanished.”
You’ll do good to keep this in mind as you read the journal. More of the “living” nature of the journal will surface as you read. You’ll notice that I’ve interjected my own experience of reading the journal during my first week with it at Blackthorn House. Much in our society, from entertainment to business to religion has fallen to the mechanistic view of the world. We opt for efficiency and utility instead of wonder and beauty. We exchange the magic in this world for the pragmatic. The result? Our souls have caved in. The supernatural is erased by utilitarianism. The journal, however, stands as a sign that wonder, indeed, lives! And we must fight for it wherever we find it.
Rhetoric and English Ph. D., Modern English and American Literature M. A., and English B. A., “A Dollar’s Worth of Latin,” ThoughtCo, accessed November 25, 2021, httpsww://www.thoughtco.com/n-b-latin-abbreviations-in-english-3972787.
Here Will is referencing Kierkegaard’s classic work The Sickness Unto Death. Sören Kierkegaard was one of the 19th century’s brightest philosophical minds. He is often misinterpreted by the Christian community because he used pseudonyms to engage topics related to Christianity. In using the pseudonyms Kierkegaard often took points of view that might sound contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine.