She ate porridge in the rain. It was purple outside and the clouds churned violently in the sky.
“An evening storm is a precious thing.” She said, “An evening storm is the perfect time for Christ to descend,” She took another bite of her porridge. “Or for the devil.”
She tried to enjoy the rain, even though her porridge was getting watered down. The bowl no longer gave warmth to her hand, but she didn’t mind the cold. She could no longer see the forest, for the darkness was devouring it. She looked at the blackening sky for a moment more, then went inside.
Her home was modest and charming. She set her porridge on the kitchen counter and flopped over the sofa. Her house was built of logs and painted yellow on the inside. She decorated the walls with crocuses and cornish heath and draped the floors with animal skins, which her father caught when she was a child. A great stone fireplace resided in the living room. The hearth was seldom cold. Tonight it roared. Orange colors shifted on her face.
She sat before the fire and began to knit. Her fingers were very careful with her yarn. She wove it contently into a blanket.
She was waiting, though she had not husband to wait for. Her parents were now at the bottom of the hill with flowers strewn above them. She had been alone for five years and now dreaded the sound of the rain against the roof, so she always spoke aloud to take her mind off of the noise.
“Do you have freedom, fire?”
The fire fluttered back at her. Red circles of light trembled in her eyes.
“I always thought freedom would feel more liberating. I have too much of it now. It’s nice to sit here and knit every day, but it doesn’t feel like freedom to me.” She shook her head and began the next row of her purl. “I don’t have a care in the world! Though I don't have a purpose or a meaning either.”
The fire muttered something indistinguishable, but she appreciated any response at all.
“I do suppose only I can truly decide my meaning. I shouldn’t live in this house on the rainy hill forever! Do you agree, fire?”
The fire quivered.
“Are you cold? It is rather cold tonight. This house can only fend off the night for so long before it creeps through the door or the chimney. I really ought to clean the chimney. Do you think so?”
The fire died.
“Well, I suppose the night is already afoot.”
She retired to her bed and and pulled her blanket up to her chin.
The wooden door flung open and nearly knocked a pot of daisies from the cabinet. She was accustomed to such racket, for the wind was strong on the rainy hill. Tonight however, there was a dark figure in the doorway. A sudden spark in the hearth and the presence of her newfound company awoke her. She sat straight up and beheld the figure. It breathed heavily, but there was no light to distinguish the beast’s features. The figure now walked to the foot of her bed and the hearth revealed a man with a tarnished face. His mouth was crooked and his eyes looked absent of all good.
“Miss,” he said. The fire roared again. “I’ve come for you.”
“I have not called for you.” She would have screamed if there were anyone who could hear her. She did not move. His hands were so large and her neck so small; she could never escape such a deathly grip.
“Who are you?”
“I am a voyager. Dress yourself,” His eyes glistened. “You will rest later.”
She was about to object, but she saw his monstrous hands again and rose carefully from her bed. She looked at him. There were great tears in his coat, but she saw no marks upon his body. His shoes were bound with leather straps, but they only had a few weeks’ use left in them. There were tiny vials filled with red dust attached to his belt.
She went to the chifferobe and fumbled through the drawers. She spoke very softly. “How should I dress?”
“Dress for cold and rain.”
She feared his presence from behind her, though his hands were folded when she looked back at him.
“What is your name, miss?”
He had ruined his chance of being cordial with her. She did not want him to know her name, especially after being so intrusive. Yet, she hadn’t spoken her own name in years. She had forgotten what it sounded like. She met his cloudy eyes and composed herself.
“I am a voyager too,”
“What is your name, sir?”
“I am,” he paused. “Anders.”
She knew he lied.
“That’s nice,” She laced her boots. “Why have you come here?”
“You must follow me, and I will repay you.”
She would not oppose him. She had been taught not to oppose. Her decision to follow was made in part because of fear, but in part because of boredom. She had grown wise in her solitude, and she was no fool to follow a stranger into the night, but she felt compelled to forsake the rainy hill.
“Should I bring anything with me?”
Anders smiled as a blade of light from the hearth slid across his eyes. He was pleased with her willingness.
“No, I have all that we need,” He gestured to the door, “There is a great voyage before us.”
He waited for her to step into the rain. She still did not trust him, and she still thought him menacing, but her impulsion overrode these feelings. She saw that the clouds were black when she stared up at them. Anders noticed the them too, and followed her into the storm.
The forest that surrounded the rainy hill was dark in the wintertime. It was comprised of mostly evergreens and hemlocks, and no birds resided in the forest. She observed the droplets of rain in the pine needles. Anders carried an oil lamp in his right hand. The fire made the shadows on his face run up instead of down . She watched this intently because she thought it was beautiful, and she liked looking at a face that wasn't her own. The flame lit up the rain around them so that each little droplet became like red shards of glass.
She hadn’t been in the forest in a long time and she had forgotten how much she enjoyed it. The trees liked her too; they would bow and dip before her as if she were their queen. The trees this evening were particularly gracious. They did not seem to mind the storm at all. Her legs were growing weary now, but she kept concentrating on Anders’ face. She didn't know anything about him! She didn’t know his intents, or his feelings or secrets or even his real name. Anders now turned to her, but she held her gaze.
“Are you my killer, Anders?” She said.
“Yes,” he said sternly, “and I am also your provider.”
She trembled a little inside and her fear returned again. She did not run or scream or claw, but kept her pace. She thought it was better to stay with him even though she preferred the arms of the forest to his mangled hands. She said a short prayer to Jesus under her breath and looked up again.
She did not expect him to say anything further, but she did want to know more about this man. She pressed on:
“Are you religious?”
“Are you good?”
“Are you happy”
“Are you lonesome?”
She wanted more from him than he was giving her, although she knew these answers were not lies. They walked through the forest silently for a long time and the rain and the red glow were constant. He turned to her this time.
“Have you lived here long?” Anders asked.
“Yes, I’ve lived here for thirty-five years, and the angry beasts have always been above me. The rain now is silence to me; I have long forgotten what the earth sounds like without the rain beating against it. ”
Anders did not say anything after this and neither did she. They walked together in their red bubble of light until they reached the end of the forest.
Before them now was a great ledge of moon-white stone. She did not know that this great ledge resided here; she didn’t even know that the forest had an end. The white stone was bewitching. It shone as If the sun were upon it, but there was no sun. All of a sudden she felt warmth inside her gut. She felt like she had just finished a cup of soup. She stepped onto the ledge and felt the stone’s warmth rise up through her feet. The stone was soft like the hand of God. The black clouds above swelled when she stepped and the rain poured out onto the ledge and the forest.
The wind amused itself with her hair and the tassels on her coat. She reached the precipice of the great white stone and looked down at the abyss below. She knelt down and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. For a moment she stayed there and thought about her house on the rainy hill and the pot of daisies she forgot to water.
She looked behind and Anders stood there. His hands became like claws, but she did not fear him. She asked in a small, gentle voice, “Are you going to kill me?”
“Yes, and provide as I have promised.”
She nodded. He set down his lantern and took a vial of red dust from his belt. He poured the vial out over the ledge and let the dust settle into the abyss. She did not ask about this; she remained still. He grabbed her by the throat and pressed her delicate frame into the stone. She saw that there were hellish things in his eyes, but she did not think about hell. She thought about the warmth of the white stone and what her soul would look like when she died. Anders’ hands closed tighter, but she did not make a sound. And then she noticed the pure silence, which she had never heard before. She shut her eyes and knew that he had provided; the rain had stopped.