Mary Atkins gazed into the antique bauble, watching the tiny pieces of white fluff settle around the tiny log cabin. She shook the ornament again, creating another faux blizzard, and smiled. She stared as if hypnotized by the patterns the 'snow' made as it swirled around the incredibly detailed features of the landscape. Pine trees framed the cabin on each side, drawing the eye to the front cabin. The porch was already half-buried under the snow, but the little windows still peeked out into the world. Mary wondered what it would be like to live inside that cabin. Her smile widened, then faltered as the doorbell rang.
She carefully placed the ornament on the table and walked to the door. Through the peephole, she could see a short old man in a suit standing on her porch.
Jehovah's witness? she thought. Nah, they always travel in pairs. Don't they?.
She opened the door.
"I've come for the furniture," said the man.
Mary stood in the doorway and stared blankly at the strange man on the porch.
"The furniture," he repeated.
"The furniture. I've come for it."
"I'm sorry, there must be some mistake." her arm twitched. She wanted to close the door, but the man didn't seem like he was finished. Besides, that would be rude.
"This is Thirteen-Twelve North Avenue, correct?"
"You must be Mary Atkins. Correct?"
"Yes, I am, but I don't know anything about any furniture."
Mary watched the man's face as he stood there. There wasn't the slightest hint of confusion or impatience. Instead, he simply stood there and tried to look past Mary and into the house. Mary moved to block his view.
"I said I don't know what you're talking about. Who are you, anyway?" She instantly regretted asking the question. It would only keep him here on her porch that much longer.
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry, Ms. Atkins. My name is Robert Best. I'm a professor at the University. Psychology. Parapsychology, actually. I guess you could say I'm a paranormal investigator." He patted his pockets and rummaged around inside them looking for something, "I've got some cards here... someplace..."
"No, what did you say you were?"
"A paranormal investigator. I... investigate the paranormal." He smiled at his little joke, apparently giving up on the cards, "Ghosts, poltergeists, ESP, that sort of thing."
Mary was already trying to ascertain the man's sanity. He certainly didn't look like a nutcase... crazy people walk around wearing three-piece suits. He looked more like a college professor than a raving lunatic. Still, sane people didn't knock on your door and demand your furniture. You never can tell.
"Well, how can I help you Mr. Best."
"That's 'Doctor.' Like I said, I'm here for the furn-"
"The furniture, yes. Well, I still don't know what you're talking about...and I was in the middle of something, so if you don't mind..."
Doctor Best reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a folded sheaf of paper. Several business cards made a flying leap for freedom, but ended up lying face down on the porch next to the doctor's shoe. The doctor didn't notice; he was busy shuffling through the papers.
"Ahh... Here we are."
"Last week, you bought... let me see...hmmm... yes, a sofa... a coffee table... and two lamps at an auction. Oh yes... and an...ornament. You know... one of those glass things you shake up and-"
"I know what that is."
"Yes. Never could figure out what to call those things. Anyway, this one had a-"
"A little log cabin inside of it."
"Yes, that's it exactly. Those are the items I'm looking for. The sofa, the table, the lamps, and the little ornament."
"They're not for sale." Mary stepped back from the door and began to close it. The stranger stepped forward and stopped just short of barging into the house.
"Excuse me, Ms. Atkins, but you may be in terrible danger."
A threat? Mary glared menacingly at the man for a few seconds.
"I told you it's not for sale. Now leave."
"Have you ever heard of Julian Bond, Ms. Atkins?"
"No." she lied.
"The items at that auction were from his estate. The furniture was his."
"Relative of yours? Is that it?"
"My God, no! He was a very....ah... well he wasn't a nice man. At the time of his death, he was the local leader of a rather nasty cult... "
"Of a sort, yes. Human sacrifices and that sort of thing. No one ever proved any of the more gruesome rumors, of course. At least not while Mr. Bond was alive. A great deal of evil transpired in that house. Mr. Bond had no relatives, and when he died, everything was auctioned off."
"And I bought some of it, right? Nice stuff, too. That's why it's not for sale."
"Yes, but in my research I've come across lots of phenomena that..."
"I don't believe in any of that stuff."
"You don't have to believe in it, Ms Atkins. It exists, nonetheless. A great deal of negative thought and energy was called up and concentrated during those ceremonies. Some of the psychic energy released in that house could have impressed itself into the house itself. Or the belongings in that house. There might be manifestations..."
"My house isn't haunted, if that's what you're getting at."
"No strange events? Cold spots? Nightmares? Voices? You find yourself loosing things more often than usual? Nothing strange at all?"
"Well, something did happen not too long ago..."
"What? What was it?"
"A strange man in a suit came to my house and asked for my furniture. He wouldn't go away. Still won't go away." Mary scowled, but Dr. Best was undaunted.
"I'm only trying to help. Anyone exposed to the remnants of those ceremonies could be in potential danger. You or anyone in this house are running the risk of being harmed or...displaced by these energies. Children and animals would be especially vulnerable, and possible targets for-"
"Don't have either. Please 'mister' or 'doctor' or whatever, if you wanted the stuff all you had to do was make a good enough offer. Would have turned you down anyway, but you didn't have to go making up stories about ghosts and devil worshippers."
"But Ms. Atkins, I'm not making it up. I've studied similar cases! I can help you! You have to hear me out!"
"No, I don't. I have to get back to what I was doing, that's what I have to do."
"Good day, Mr. Best." Mary closed the door, but just before it shut, a nimble arm shot through the opening, the hand was holding a business card.
"Take it. Call me."
Mary snatched the card and slammed the door. Doctor Best barely missed loosing a few fingers. Mary waited a few moments and looked out the window to be sure that her visitor was gone. He was. Then she turned and placed the card on the coffee table, by the sofa. She picked up the log cabin paperweight and shook it, creating another miniature snowstorm within the glass. She peered through the floating bits of fluff as if looking for something.
"Nobody here but us ghosts," she said after a while, and then returned the ornament to the coffee table. She walked into the kitchen, carefully stepping over the disemboweled body of Mary's St. Bernard. Behind her, Dr. Best's card burst into brilliant flame. The fire flickered and spat momentarily as it burned itself out, it's only observer was the tiny, terrified face of Mary Atkins, peering out from the corner window of the log cabin, deep within her snowy prison of water and glass.
Copyright 1997 by Marc Washington