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Midnight Snack, 1984, by Curtis Wilson Cost
I don’t know whether it was a dream or a noise outside that disturbed my sleep but I was instantly alert, my body tense, my eyes straining in the velvet black, my heart pounding in my ears. The little noises that are swallowed up in the daily round were insistent and sinister in the small hours of the night. As I identified each one – the settling of the floor boards, the creaking of the wooden walls, the scuttling of small creatures in the roof, I convinced myself there was nothing to fear and tried to relax.
The shack was a simple construction – no electricity, no plumbing – but I had bought it a few months before as a summer retreat. On a sunny day it was no hardship to fetch water from the well and heat it on the paraffin stove. It was a different matter when rain pelted from a slate sky and a sharp wind cut through my clothes. I should not have cared to spend the colder days of the year in my rustic accommodation but living in it for a short period made me appreciate the modern conveniences of my city apartment.
There was just one thing I could never quite grow accustomed to but it played a minor role in my rural retreat and I planned my days with care to deal with it. I had grown honeysuckle around and over the privy, both to make it more attractive and to mask the smell. I didn’t care to visit it in the dark, especially on a stormy night, but sometimes I had to. That night, having been startled awake, was one such occasion. I lit oil lamps and candles in the house as a beacon in the darkness for my return. It was a warm, moonless night, with bright pinpricks of starlight in the enormity of space. I looked up and shivered, though not from cold. There was a strange atmosphere in the clearing, as if eyes were watching me. In the distance a dog barked and was answered by another. Not for the first time I wished I had a dog but it wasn’t practical in the city and certainly not fair as I worked long hours. Perhaps I should start a dog hire company – bit hard on the dogs, though, having to adapt to different ‘owners’ all the time. The idea entertained me and kept my mind off the conviction that I was not alone.
Returning to the shack I was shocked to see that my beacon had disappeared. I could understand one or two candles guttering out but the lamp flames were protected by glass shades. How could they have been extinguished?
A silent-winged owl soared over my head making me gasp and clutch my dressing gown around me. I felt a touch on my shoulder and looked round but saw nothing. I hurried along the path and something grabbed at my ankles and tugged at my hair. I shook myself free and stumbled on. I reached the door and lifted the latch. Inside I felt for the emergency candles on the window sill. My hands were trembling and I dropped several matches. When I had lit the candles and lamps and chased away the darkness I looked around. Nothing had changed and yet everything had changed. I sensed a tangible presence and noticed a circle of flower petals on the floor. I had not brought any flowers into the house.
I spent the rest of the night in my rocking chair, every available candle alight. As night faded and dawn approached I needed fresh air and walked to the well. All around I heard faint rustlings and whisperings and caught half-glimpses of creatures slipping into the woods. Around the well were more flower petals.
I sold the property soon after, my sense of peace having been shattered.
Years later I was talking to a friend about that night.
‘What time of year was it?’ he asked.
‘Summer, midsummer,’ I said.
‘And there was a well on your property?’ he said.
‘It was the fairies,’ he said.
‘I’m serious,’ he said. ‘Midsummer’s Night is a magical time. I’d say your well was an ancient holy well. You didn’t observe the rituals and the fairies were angry with you.’
I shook my head.
‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’ he smiled.
Maybe he was right.