Estimated reading time — 19 minutes
She fell in love with the cottage as soon as she saw it. We’d driven for an hour, and, at first, my wife had been the most unsure of us both, but once we were standing in front of it, she was sold. It was a sultry summer’s day, the sky above blue and as deep as the ocean, a sea of white petalled flowers populated the grassy field, and there we were – both of us just two little dots among the lilies, looking across at the place we would call home.
The cottage was perfect. While I’d grown up in the city, I’d always pined for somewhere less hectic. A place with trees and rolling fields. Suzanne wanted to stay near her friends and family. I could understand that, but I hoped that soon we’d have kids. When that happened I dearly wanted to bring them up in the countryside, but I believed I’d have an uphill battle to persuade my wife that moving was the right decision.
“Pay whatever they ask,” Suzanne had said, smiling at the red cottage, its flaking white window frames, black slated roof and oak door all from another era. It was a place of sanctuary from the modern world, sitting on its own among the fields at the end of a diminutive path barely big enough for my car.
I was shocked by how much Suzanne had fallen for the cottage. I’d visited once myself before that day, and knew it would be the perfect place to write from, staring out from the attic window across the glorious fields. But Suzanne had always been city-proud, and yet there she was, her red hair and ruby lips beaming towards me in happiness that I’d found the place; our place.
We moved in three weeks later, and for the first month I would say that it’s the closest the two of us have ever come to bliss. We busied ourselves decorating and moving our things in. Suzanne often sat looking out to the field in front of the house; a million lilies in bloom, their long stems and white flowers waving in the breeze. It was idyllic.
A few weeks later two things occurred which I now know were omens of what was to come, a veiled threat. One morning I was up in the attic, arranging my desk by the window, when I felt something peculiar; the sense of being stared at. I happened to look out, and I was right. There, in the lily field stood a man. It was a hot summer’s morning, and yet he was dressed strangely, in what I can only describe as old clothes. A fashion from another time. With long white shirt sleeves which looked as though they had been covered in soil, and black trousers of a bygone era, I assumed that he’d been working in a farmer’s field somewhere in the area.
But that didn’t explain his intense gaze. While he was too far away for me to say much about his features, it was clear that he was staring at the house. Though now, instead of looking up at the window where I stood, his uneasy attention seemed to be aimed beneath me. I climbed down from the attic and then descended the stairs to the ground floor to tell Suzanne about the strange man in the field, but when I did so, he was gone. Suzanne didn’t say much of anything to me, she just let out a sigh of acknowledgment and continued to stare out at the lilies.
The next night, I woke to Suzanne sitting up in bed. Her sweat drenched skin glistened in the moonlight, her chest moving in and out with a panting breath. Her eyes were open, trained on the end of the bed. I looked there for a moment and saw nothing. I’m not sure why I did that, perhaps deep down I knew that we were not alone.
I slowly lay Suzanne back down.
“It’s okay, Suzie, it’s just a bad dream,” I said.
She did not respond at first, the whites of her eyes wide and pronounced as she stared upward vacantly. But then the words came from her mouth: “Dreams are hell for the living…” She then closed her eyes, and within a few minutes her breathing had calmed and she was sound asleep. I lay awake for a time after, those words never leaving my mind, dreams are hell for the living, but in the morning the sun came, and with it the comfort of living in the real world where all was well, concrete and obvious.
Several weeks later, I had to leave for a couple of days to meet a publisher in London, she was interested in making a deal once my current one expired. It was a pretty big thing for me, and would hopefully set us up financially for many years to come.
I didn’t think that anything would be wrong when I returned. Suzie had smiled and kissed me on the lips as I left, wishing me good luck. Even after three years of marriage her beauty surprised me, held me in its trance. As I drove away I counted myself lucky; the perfect wife, the perfect home, and perhaps now the perfect career, if everything went well.
Indeed things did go well. I returned home two days later with a contract and a bottle of champagne ready to celebrate. It was a beautiful day, bright bleaching sun on the road, and as I reached our little red cottage in paradise, I was struck by the field of lilies opposite. How they shone brightly against the tall green grass, and, if it were possible, they were whiter than ever before.
When I pulled into the stone driveway, I realised quickly that something seemed off. The door to the cottage and all the old flaking windows were lying wide open to the summer air, and there was no sign of Suzanne.
I walked in, holding the bottle of champagne in my hand in victory. I tried to smile, waiting to greet my wife with the good news; but there was a sinking feeling in my soul, and all I could think of was to find my Suzie and make sure she was okay.
“Honey, I’m home!” – a little joke entrance I often made when returning from a trip. We both loved old black and white films, and we often laughed at how husband’s seemed to announce their arrival loudly, an artefact of a bygone era.
But there was no answer.
Outside I heard a bee buzzing around the flowers under the window sill. Out there life was abundant and in full bloom, but inside the house was as still as a grave. My heart raced as the sinking feeling took hold. I tried to recover from it as I moved up the staircase to the first floor. “Honey, are you here?” I said, quieter than before.
How I wish those words hadn’t been answered, but they were.
A voice from our bedroom replied: “Yes, she is here.” It was old, rasped, and unwelcoming.
I rushed to the bedroom door, now brandishing the champagne as a weapon, but when the door opened all I could see was Suzanne, sitting on the edge of our bed with her back to me, looking out through the window to the lilies in the field.
“Suzanne…” I said. “Are you okay?” I approached slowly, reaching my hand out to her shoulder.
But before I touched her silky white skin, a young woman’s voice came from the other side of that beautiful head of red hair.
“Alone at night. He came for me.”
I froze for a moment, and a strange thought ran through my mind. This is not my wife. I walked in front of her, half expecting to see a face I did not know. But no, it was Suzanne, her gaze transfixed by the window.
“Suzie!” I said loudly, and with that she looked up at me.
It was as if nothing strange had happened. She smiled lovingly, stood up and threw her arms around me, kissing me. “So, how did it go?”
“It went well… A three book deal,” I said, still unsettled at the strange voices which had greeted me.
She then walked off downstairs, taking me by the hand. We started getting dinner ready, I chopped all the veg, Suzanne prepared the steak. But nothing else was said, and when I broached the subject later and asked about the strange, old voice I’d heard from the room, she said she had no recollection of it and must have been sleep walking after taking a nap. But what worried me the most, was that she seemed unfazed by the lack of memory, like it was to be expected.
Three nights later I realised how quickly things were escalating.
I woke in the night to an empty bed. The dark clouds outside blotted any moonlight from the sky, and the world around me felt cold; like a rotten body covered by a shroud, outlining its end.
“Suzie?” I said, slowly wiping the sleep from my eyes.
But she was not there, the room lay cold and empty like an unoccupied tomb. Then I heard the front door downstairs moving in the breeze, gently rattling against the wall. It was open, and I knew then that Suzanne had wandered out into the dark, alone and probably unaware.
I quickly pulled on some clothes, ready to run downstairs and into the world below. But as I passed the window in our bedroom, something caught my eye. A grey outline in the field opposite our house. My eyes struggled with the lack of light, but there was no doubt: Suzie was standing among the lilies, still, her white night gown blurred by the starless sky.
In just a few steps I was out of the room, down the stairs, and through the open front door. The gravel crunched beneath my feet as I ran down the driveway. With each footfall I was getting nearer to the road and then to the field of lilies nearby. But the sound of my chase brought a realisation into my mind. There was no other sound to speak of; no crickets chirping in the night, or things scurrying in the undergrowth. It was as if the entire scene had been caught on canvas, a reflection of something which was once alive, now only a shadow of life.
As I approached the road I could see Suzie standing there among the flowers. They reached up, motionless, brushing against her waist, entangled by the long grass.
“Suzie!” I shouted as I rustled between the lilies.
But she did not respond, obviously still caught in the trance of a dream. A trickle of red blood made its way from her shoulder across her white milky arm, dripping to the ground from her fingers.
“My God, Suzie, you’re hurt!”
I stepped forward to hold her and make sure she was okay, but that was when I heard the voice:
“You shouldn’t be here.”
And I recognised it immediately. I turned to see Suzanne standing behind me. A horrid chill ran up my neck. I spun around to see the woman I had believed to be my wife wandering away through the lilies, kneeling down, then disappearing into the darkness of the night, obscured by the grass and flowers. I rushed forward, but could see no one there on the ground.
“Who… Who was that?” I asked Suzanne, nervousness poking through my otherwise steady voice.
“Dreams are hell for the living,” Suzie said, but this time her voice seemed aged and warped. She then turned around and started walking back to the cottage.
I followed quickly, but never for a moment taking my eyes away from the lily field behind. On reaching the front door of the cottage I looked back once more, only to see the field empty. But in that void of night, as a breeze came in to gently shake the lilies and grass, I knew we were not alone. Someone was staring at us from the darkness, and in my mind, for the briefest moment, I thought I saw the man covered in soil as I had done before; whether it was only a shadow brought forth by a wearied mind, I do not know.
The next day, Suzanne had no recollection of what had happened. She had gone back to sleep and in the morning seemed none the worse for her nocturnal wanderings, except that she complained of feeling very tired, almost drained.
I told her about what had happened, but again what disturbed me was that she seemed so dismissive of it. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe me, it was as if she didn’t care.
“Don’t worry, dear. Everything’s fine.” That was the response she gave me, but in her eyes I saw something else, a distance growing between us, and more importantly, between her and the world. She wasn’t concerned about the woman in the field, nor was she concerned that she could have been hurt sleepwalking. She didn’t seem concerned at all.
The next night I couldn’t sleep. The air was stifling, and the heat from the day’s sun had been locked in by the blackened clouds above. In a way I was thankful for the lack of rest, as it allowed me to catch Suzanne as she tried to leave the room once more.
I gently guided her back into bed, and when she lay down, she looked at me. Her pupils wide adjusting to the lack of light. She opened her mouth and sniped in that gravelled voice: “You’re a bothersome one, aren’t you.”
“Suzie, please. Just go back to sleep,” I said, trying to hide my apprehension at the voice.
And in the same rasping tone she muttered: “I’ll be dealing with you.”
Two more nights passed, and I was becoming exhausted. I had to get some sleep, but I feared for Suzie’s safety if I did. And so I took some precautions. I stole her key to the house from her bag, and kept it in my nightstand. At least that way she’d be stuck inside the house when sleepwalking.
I wasn’t prepared for the response.
I woke during the night to a pounding sound, a muffled, hard repetitive knocking. Rising slowly, I saw that the bed was empty. I knew the noise must have been Suzanne, but I was hesitant at first. The thought of the woman in the lily fields still haunted me. But while I worried that a stranger could be in my home, my priority was making sure my wife was safe.
Slowly descending the stairs, I flipped on an old light switch and could see Suzanne standing at the front door, the light from the staircase cascading forward, breaking the darkness below. She was just standing there, rhythmically banging her head against the wood of the door.
“Suzie, stop that!” I cried out.
She did as I asked, and slowly turned to face me. I recoiled in horror. It wasn’t Suzanne, but the woman in the field! I stumbled backwards as she walked slowly towards me. Blood trickled down her arm, and she walked with a strange gait, a staggered, disjointed motion. Her face was as pale as snow.
“Get out of my house!” I yelled, stumbling backwards and whacking my back against the stairs.
She came forward, one pale foot in front of the other, and began to climb the stairs, her white eyed stare never leaving me. I was terrified, and looking upon her filled me with dread. As I tried to pull myself up, the woman crouched and leaned over me as I lay there, her long red hair dangling, touching my face, her hands either side of me on the steps. Her body pressed against me forcefully.
“She’s with us, between the lilies…” she said, staring at me.
The woman just remained frozen, her mouth lying open and her eyes glazed over. I touched her hand next to my face. It was icy cold. I was staring into the eyes of something vacant, empty; a shell. An unseen breath then seeped out of her open mouth sounding not unlike gas hissing quietly.
Her head slowly bowed, as if her neck would no longer support it, then her body went limp and she collapsed. Her icy body lay on top of me, and although my first instinct was to violently push her to the side and search for my wife, I knew I did not have to look far. The warm, loving fragrance from Suzanne’s hair vanquished my fear. Gently, I pushed the red hair from the side of the woman’s face – but all I could see were my wife’s beautiful features; asleep, and tranquil.
I carried Suzanne to bed and lay her there. Switching on a small lamp, I pulled an armchair next to her and watched as her long, deep breaths continued until morning. When she woke, she smiled, and again dismissed the entire hideous night as a combination of simple sleepwalking and a lack of rest on my part, in terms of believing she was someone else momentarily.
But I was not having that as an explanation.
Call me superstitious, but I have always believed in something out there in the vastness of the world. Unseen forces, if you will; and while I’d never encountered the supernatural before, I was certain that that was exactly what we were facing. I was also certain that it wasn’t the house exactly, but the lily field which seemed to be the epicentre of the phenomenon, the source which called to my wife.
My mind went back to the man I’d seen in the field. Somehow I felt he was the cause, whether spectral or human. I therefore tried to remedy the situation. I said we should move, but the first time I suggested it, Suzanne just laughed it off and said she was very happy at the cottage.
“Oh, dear, honestly, this really is all in your head,” she said.
“Whether it is or not, I’m not happy here, and we always said if one of us didn’t like it we’d move,” I replied, trying to be as diplomatic as possible.
Then her voice changed slightly. It was hers but not hers, as if two different personalities had momentarily mixed: “You should leave,” the sombre voice said.
I knew at that moment that the strange nightly occurrences had crossed the boundary. They had made it to the daytime. In my mind that only meant that the influence was growing stronger, and my wife was slowly being consumed by something evil.
There was no persuading her. As the days wore on it felt as though she was growing more distant, sometimes not answering my questions at all. She was fixated, staring out at the lilies, and then at night I would have to stop her from leaving the house in her sleep.
I phoned a doctor, but when she arrived to look at Suzanne she thought there was nothing wrong. And no wonder, my wife suddenly came to life as the doctor arrived, appearing completely healthy and sound of mind. When the doctor left, Suzanne smiled at me, but not with kindness, not with her usual love; it had been replaced, usurped by menace and malice in equal measure.
I began to grow desperate. I felt I was losing her, losing the woman I loved more than life to something out there. Something uncanny. That’s when I decided to really take matters into my own hands. I felt terrible doing it, but I crushed up some sleeping pills and put them in Suzanne’s tea. Once she was sound asleep I gently lay her on our bed, kissed her head, and left.
I drove as quickly as I could, and within thirty minutes I was at Windarm town hall. There, I gained access to the town records, specifically looking for any information I could find about the cottage and that damned field which lay nearby. Perhaps the history of the place could provide some explanation, and maybe even a cure.
Sitting there in the old musty records office surrounded by stacks of yellowing papers, I eventually found what I was looking for. In some way there was relief. To find a reason for my wife’s affliction and that it came from the field, and to hope that if I took her to somewhere new she would recover.
But as I read on, the horror of what I was up against made itself known.
I found little about the cottage itself, but in some old newspaper clippings from 1894, the mystery was revealed. At that time, Windarm and the surrounding countryside was caught in fear, a panic which was not easily forgotten. Several young women had gone missing and the local police, initially explaining the disappearances as runaways, finally had to admit the possibility that there was a killer in their midsts. That someone in or near the town was a brutal murderer.
The disappearances continued for nearly five years, the police never turning up a suspect, until suddenly, the kidnapping stopped. But just as I was about to move on to another batch of files, something caught my eye. It was a newspaper clipping from 1899, when the killings ceased. Apparently the Windarm Herald received an anonymous letter at that time, which read:
To Whom it may concern,
I recently discovered that a loved one is the man you have labelled, The Windarm Snatcher. While I cannot reveal his identity for fear of shaming my family, I wish to convey my sincerest, heartfelt thoughts for those taken and murdered by him. I have done something terrible, but there was no option left to me. I have killed him in his sleep, and buried his body with those of his victims. All I can hope is that there his soul will pay for his crimes, and that all those poor women can rest knowing justice has been done.
He will never again terrorize the people of Windarm, but for me his memory holds a twisted pull. At night I hear the whispers. There is no going back. There is no coming back. Dreams are hell for the living.
At once, it all made sense to me. I rushed out of the town hall and into my car. As I raced along the country roads outside of town towards my home, the skies dimmed above. I had to get there as quickly as possible, and hopefully if Suzanne was still under the effects of the sleeping pills, put her in the car and drive her away from that place, never to return.
Turning onto the single track road which led to the cottage, the last wisps of daylight gave up their claim and relented to the dark. When I drove into our driveway, my heart raced at what I saw. The downstairs window at the front of the house was smashed, and along the broken shards of glass which stuck upward from the bottom of the frame, blood dripped to the ground below.
What terrified me most was not that Suzanne was obviously gone from the cottage, but that the glass had smashed inward. Someone had entered the house first. Terror, fear, panic – call it what you may – but they all came to roost in my soul.
“Suzanne!” I screamed in desperation. But there was no answer. The night was still, and as I had noticed before, not a sound could be heard. No crickets, no rustling of leaves. Nothing.
I did not need to check the house, because I knew where my wife must have gone. I turned slowly to look across the road. The stones in the driveway crunched under my feet as I neared the lily field. There in the darkness, I could see her, wandering between the stems which seemed higher than before somehow, their white flowers reaching above her waist, brushing against her white nightgown.
Without thinking I rushed across the road and through the sea of flowers towards my wife, but as I neared, confusion took me. There was another woman in the field further on, a few more to the sides, and as I turned around I could see more, pallid, lifeless, and blocking the way I had come. How many there were, I could not tell, 20, 30 maybe? I had no idea which one was Suzanne, their empty expressions seemingly robbing each of them of their personality.
I then realised that they were moving, seamlessly as one towards the heart of the field, and as I too moved forward I could see what they were drawn to. A tall figure stood there, a man, his face covered by night, his clothes old and covered in soil. I could feel his gaze seeping into me.
He was calling all of them to him. His victims, their bodies somewhere beneath the lily field, intertwined with his own. Those poor shadows of emptiness all that remained. How often had they been called by their master? How many times had they risen to meet him? Only to be drained further to sustain his spectral form. They shuffled onward like moths to a flame.
I had to find my wife before she became the Windarm Snatcher’s latest victim. We had to get the hell out of there! I ran ahead to the first woman I’d seen, but she was not my wife, her hair black against her ghostly skin. Another, then another. Each time I was presented with a different face, but they all had the same expression, wide-eyed and vacant.
Closer they drew to the man in the field, that snatcher of life. As I confronted another of the women, shouting my wife’s name as loud as I could, I had finally found my Suzie. I barely recognised her. She looked so drawn, so pale, so ill. Looking into her wide open eyes it was as if she were almost empty, the flame of the woman I loved nearly extinguished.
Seeing Suzanne that way, how the evil presence in that place had tried to take her from me, I grew angry. “You won’t have her!” I screamed. I tried to lift Suzanne up onto my shoulders, but as soon as I touched her she began to cry out.
“Help me!” she screamed, kicking her legs out and clawing at my face.
I wrapped my arms around her and began dragging her through the lilies, the flowers snapping as we moved. It was at that moment that I looked up. The place was silent, and yet the pale figures of the field were still there. They had turned towards me, each wearing the same vacant look on their face. Slowly they began to move, shuffling through the tall grass and flowers towards me with that unearthly gait. All the while, the shadowy figure of their master watching from a distance.
“No! Leave us alone!” I yelled.
But I wasn’t fast enough. They closed in, and Suzanne looked up at me as I tried to pull her as quickly as I could through the undergrowth. In that old rasping voice, which I now knew was the voice of a man, she spoke: “She belongs to us, between the lilies.”
A hand then grabbed my neck from behind, another pulling at my arm. Then another scratched at my face, nails dragging down into my skin. I fell to the ground, blood trickling into my eyes as my wife was torn from me.
“Suzie…” I said half dazed.
She turned her back to me, and hand in hand with the other women of the field, she walked towards the twisted puppet master at the heart of it, leaving me alone in the tall grass.
I knew there and then I only had one chance to put an end to that madness, to save Suzie and myself from being consumed by the place. Staggering, I made my way as fast as I could away from the field, to the cottage. In a small shed out back, I found what I needed.
When I returned to the field what I saw terrified me more than any sight I have ever beheld. Standing around the heart of the field, the pale figures joined hand in hand forming a large circle, and at its centre, Suzie approached the soil covered figure, the cause of all this tragedy.
I quickly set to work as the snatcher wrapped his hands around Suzie’s slender neck. I would rather watch that place burn than allow him to touch my wife again. Opening the petrol can I’d taken from the shed, I ducked out of sight beneath the tall grass and began pouring. There was enough, just. As I poured the fuel in a circle around the women of the field and their master, suddenly I heard a shriek. A thick accusatory sound, like broken stones. But it was a voice, this time coming from him, the one who had blighted that place with his hatred a century before, the one who had taken so many from their families, now arisen again to add Suzanne to his coven of lost souls.
He had seen me.
The women turned from their circle as their master yelled, his hands still firmly around Suzanne’s neck as he began to choke her. The pallid white figures moved silently through the lilies towards me. Quickly, I opened a box of matches and struck, lighting one of them. But as I thrust the flame towards the petrol sodden ground, a hand burst upward through the dirt. It was a woman’s, grey and rotten, and its flaking fingers wrapped around my wrist.
I dropped the match, and like a beacon of hope, a circle of fire rose up around them all, the killer, the lost souls, and poor Suzanne. I clawed at the putrid hand which held my wrist, pulling it towards the fire. Touched by flame, it released me, and that was when I made my move. I leapt through the flames and headed straight for the centre of the circle. There he was, his hands around my Suzie’s neck, worms crawled across his skin as bone and rotten muscle protruded from his face. Dirt and soil festered where once there were eyes.
“She’s mine!” he seethed through decayed teeth.
Charging at him, I was able to break his hold. Screams rose to a crescendo around me, as smoke and flame closed in.
“Where… Where am I?” Suzie said confused from the ground.
As the flames grew higher, and the heat unbearable, I lifted my wife up onto my shoulder and darted towards where the ring of fire seemed weakest. As we fled, nothing evil passed through it. I did not look back until we reached the cottage. We both stood there, peering out from the broken window towards the fields as the fire turned it to soot, charcoal and dust.
It’s been three weeks since that night. After the fire, I informed the local police officer that I believed the field was the resting place of over thirty women who had disappeared nearly a century ago. A small excavation was carried out, and indeed, the bodies were found. Each a victim of the man they’d called the Windarm Snatcher. Who he was, no one has been able to tell so far, but his body was found. That is the only detail which truly perplexed the police, though it did not surprise me at all. The corpse was not found beneath the earth and dirt, but instead lying lifeless in the middle of the now cremated field of flowers.
Suzanne has little memory of what took place. She seems back to her old self for the most part, but occasionally I find her sitting almost motionless, her gaze distant as if she is contemplating something important. What, I do not know.
As for me, I’m fine. You may find this surprising, but we’re back at the cottage right now as I write this. I felt as though whatever evil resided here is now gone, and Suzanne seemed very happy when I suggested that we give it another go. What surprises me most as I type, is the field opposite. How the lilies have returned more vibrant than ever. Yes, I would say all in all we are as happy as we’ve ever been. Except for the odd dream or two. I have such visions here, strange shapes moving in the night. They frighten me, but I think I will go to them, just for a while. I will go… There is no going back. There is no coming back. Dreams are hell for the living…
Credit: Michael Whitehouse
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