Characters Environments 
Author Marian Parisher-Nichols
Poems and short stories, free to read.
"When I write, I shoot from the hip!"
~Shadows and Scents~
 
Forgetting that it was the middle of the night and that lightning was dancing around the darkened bedroom, Nathan sat up in his bed with the sensation that someone was in the room with him!  Nathan was five; he and his widowed mother had just moved this very morning into the Victorian style house, on an old farm left to her by her grandparents.
 
The two-story house was nearly two hundred years old!  The three bedrooms plus a bathroom were upstairs.  The rooms were on the same side of
a long narrow corridor, which had three tall windows facing towards the front of the house.  The stairwell emerged on the second floor from the entry hall downstairs, between the master bedroom and the two smaller bedrooms, with a banister forming a fence around the landing.  At the opposite end of the hall was access to the attic, which was closed off from the rest of the house by a small grey door.
The front porch had a white railing encircling it and a red front door set between two large picture windows with faded red shutters.  The door opened into the receiving hall.  The living room was on the right and the den on the left as you entered.  The rear of the hall opened into the dining area through a wide arch.  The stairwell, on the left of the hall, housed the downstairs bathroom beneath it.  At the very back of the house, the elongated kitchen was entered by way of a swinging two-way door and exited on to a small screened-in porch.  Behind the house, about a hundred feet or so, stood a battered red barn.  The house, a weathered grey color in need of painting, appeared for the most part to be in good condition.
 

Nathan’s mother, now twenty-eight years old, had been raised by her maternal grandparents after the untimely death of both her parents in an automobile accident, when she was only three years old.  She didn’t remember them, as Nathan didn’t remember his own father who had died as a soldier in the Iraq War, when Nathan was just a few weeks old.

Fearfully, Nathan stared at the shadow, unsure of what it could be.  It looked like a man but it didn’t appear solid, often changing in size and shape but always returning to that of a human.  At one point, it disappeared and then re-appeared.  Nathan strained his eyes, peering into the darkness; he sank beneath the covers, bringing them up over his head.  He could feel his heart pounding against his ribs.  He wanted his mother; he wasn’t accustomed to being so far away from her.  In their old apartment, he had slept in a child’s bed next to hers, in the one bedroom apartment.  However, she was now down the hall and he would have to pass by the shadow to reach her.
 
So, in his sanctuary beneath the covers, Nathan squeezed his eyes shut and whispered his bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to God my soul to keep, But should I die before I wake, I pray my soul You will take.  In Jesus’ name, amen!”
 

A long moment passed, then realizing that the air underneath the covers was getting stale, he lowered them ever so slowly beneath his nose, inhaled deeply, then raised them again.  With just his eyes peeking from beneath the sheet, he peered hard into the darkness. Lightning then flashed through the window illuminating the room, followed closely by the shocking clap of thunder!

Nothing!  No, not a thing stood in the corner beside of the door.  The shadow was gone!  But now the room was filled with a nasty smell, which made him feel sick, but one he did not recognize.  Maybe he should call his mother.  After a brief hesitation, he called her.  At first, his voice was nothing more than a loud whisper; he swallowed and tried again, “Mama!”

A flash of lightning, followed closely by a thunderclap, answered him.  Then finally, the rain arrived, pelting the roof violently.  He called again, this time a little louder.  Now he heard the unmistakable sound of her soft footsteps coming quickly down the hall.  His bedroom door swung open with a squeak and he saw his mother outlined in the dim light.

“Nathan, what’s wrong?” she asked, as she came to his bed and sat down.  “It’s only an thunder storm, baby, nothing to be afraid of,” she said, as she took him by the shoulders and pulled him close to her warmth and sweet fragrance, which always comforted Nathan.
 
“I saw a man standing there in the corner,” he whispered.
 
His mother, startled at this prospect, reached over and switched on the bedside light; bringing a welcome warm glow to the room.  Kristyn looked around the room, reassured nothing was amiss; she smiled at Nathan.  To Nathan, she was the most beautiful woman ever; she was his whole life as any single parent would be to an only child.  She had dark blond hair that she kept trimmed just above her collar, with the same sage green eyes as her son.  Her complexion was fair and mother and son favored a great deal.  If there was any resemblance to his dead father, it was weak.
 

“Mama?”

“Yes sweetie?”

“What’s that smell?” Nathan asked looking up at her.
 

Kristyn took a moment, sniffed, waited and then replied, “What odor are you talking about?  All I smell is the fish we had for supper.  It does tend to linger a long time after cooking,” she said.

This was their first day here and Kristyn hadn’t had time to get the house in order; only the two smaller bedrooms and the kitchen, just enough so that she had been able to prepare a hurried meal of fried flounder, pork & beans and slaw with cornbread.
 
“No, no, it isn’t fish.  I‘ve never smelt it before.”  He too sniffed the air.  “It’s gone now, anyway.”
 

“That’s good.  You know the house has been closed up for a long time and should be aired out.  Tomorrow, we will open the windows to let in the fresh air and sunshine.”

“Will you stay with me,” asked Nathan.
 

“Sure, but only for a while.  You are a big boy now and you must learn to be on your own.  Now lie back and I will sing to you.”

Nathan drifted off to the soft lullaby sung by Kristyn.
 

Seeing her son deep asleep, Kristyn stroked his blond curls away from his baby face, “I think you are in need of a hair-cut, young man,” she whispered.  Having just turned five a few weeks ago, he was still very much a baby, with his pink round cheeks, rosy puckered lips and long eyelashes that most women yearned to have.  There were a few freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose, the only feature that reminded her of his father, Corporal Nathan Lance Spencer.
 
Her heart wrenched at the thought of her departed husband and how much she missed him, although they had had only a few months together before he went off to war, leaving her having just learned of her pregnancy.  Nathan Ayden was born June 5, but Nathan Lance had never met his son; he was killed instantly several weeks later by a roadside bomb as his Hummer rolled over it.  One other man had also died and another was badly injured, losing a leg and an arm in the ambush.
 
She felt her eyes burn as they filled with tears, which overflowed, running down her cheeks.  She had managed to keep her independence after Nathan’s death and continued working as a dental assistant.  She received two checks from the government, a widow’s pension, and a support check for Nathan.  Not long afterwards, her grandparents had moved into a nursing and retirement center for the elderly.  The old farmhouse had been padlocked and boarded up.
 
Grandfather had died at the age of eighty-five, only four years ago and her grandmother died also at eighty-five the following year.  Kristyn and Nathan had been left the farm.  It took another year to settle debts and that meant selling off the land, everything except the land the house and barn stood upon.  This did leave them with a sizable amount in a savings account but Kristyn would still need to work.  For now, they were fine and she had taken time off from her job to relocate here and to get settled into the house.
 
Mentally shaking herself, she came out of her reverie.  Now the storm had lessened up in intensity; she kissed her son’s forehead and retreated to her own room.
 
 
The next morning Kristyn awakened to the crow of a rooster.  She hadn’t heard this sound since leaving the farm, after graduating from high school and moving out on her own to begin her two-year studies as a dental assistant.  Now, the bright Carolina sun peeked in through the tattered shade at the window, casting sunbeams across the covers of her bed.  The bedroom windows faced the back yard, which was the eastern direction; the front of the house faced west, being rewarded with the most beautiful of sunsets.
 
Kristyn already could tell that this was going to be a typical July day with sweltering heat, and a long day of sorting through their belongings.  The house was furnished with her grandparents’ furniture, which was great because she had lived in a furnished apartment in the city of Rock Haven.  So there were just small things she had brought, like her HD television, CD-player, her cell phone and her laptop and personal items such as clothing and jewelry.
 
After awakening Nathan and getting him fed and dressed for the day, she began the task of exploring the house and opening it up to ventilate.  Nathan went outside and she warned him to stay close so that she could keep an eye on him.
 
 
Kristyn began on the second floor with the bedrooms.  She had already removed the white throw cloths covering furniture from the bedrooms she and Nathan had used and now she opened the windows and knocked down cobwebs that were between the screen and the glass.  The windows certainly needed washing but they wouldn’t get it this day.
 

Using the broom, she removed any cobwebs that she had missed the night before, and gave the floor a quick sweep before doing the same thing in her bedroom.

Next was the master bedroom, the room that had been her grandparents’.  This room had been closed up longer than the rest of the house by at least two years.  When she had lived here, her bedroom had been the center bedroom where she had slept last night and, at the far end of the hall and just before the bathroom, was the guest bedroom where Nathan had slept.  Faced with the disquieting chore of cleaning her beloved grandparents’ bedroom, she took a deep breath and pushed open the old worn door.  It protested weakly as it allowed entry and stale air rushed out to greet her.

The door frame was blocked by a thin veil of web, which she tore down with the broom.  For whatever reason, throw cloths had not been applied to this room’s furniture and everything was covered in a layer of fine, grey dust.  Immediately she felt a sneeze and soon expelled it violently; she sneezed a few more times before the seizure ended and she stepped inside.  There were just way too many webs dangling from the ceiling and decorating the bed, the chair, the dresser, the lamp, everything!  She tiptoed across the room to the window, where she pushed back the heavy drapes, which cause the dust to swirl, triggering her sneezes again.  Enduring the torture a little longer, she pushed up the window and then hurried from the room.
 

“I’m going to need a cleaning crew,” she spoke aloud, as she took her cell phone from its holster at her waist and began placing a call, all the while heading downstairs to check on Nathan.

She found him sitting on the bottom step at the back door.  His little chin rested on both of his fists as he stared at the barn.  She sat down beside of him.
 

“What are you thinking so hard on, Nate?” she asked gently.

Nathan shrugged his small shoulders and mumbled, “That old building.”

“That ‘old building’ is called a barn,” she smiled, as she placed her arm around his shoulders.

“What’s it good for?” he asked turning sage green eyes her way.

“Well, when I was a little girl, I used to play in there on hot summer days like today.”

Still looking at his mother, Nathan’s expression changed to one of puzzlement, “Why?  Couldn’t you go to the park?”

“No, not back then,” she smiled.
 
‘Back then!’ she thought to herself, as if it were the last century.  Still, it was, when she thought about it.  But even so, it wasn’t more than fifteen to eighteen years ago that she ran around this farm with no worries and played until exhausted and ‘Grandma’ called her inside.
 

The older she became, the more adventurous she had been and often hiked down to the creek to swim in its clear shallow depths.  She could walk across the stream and the water only came up to her knees, even though she was a child at the time.  For a short moment, memories of those hot summer days returned and she smiled.

“What’re you smiling for, Mama?”
 

“Oh, I was just thinking.  Would you like for me to go with you into the barn and look around?”

Not replying but standing and taking her hand, he led her across the dirt and graveled back yard to the closed barn door.  Kristyn chuckled to herself and knew that her ‘brave little man’ wasn’t always so brave.
 
Kristyn looked around the yard.  It was unkempt and this saddened her as she remembered her grandmother’s loving care of her flower beds and the vegetable garden, in which she grew all varieties, as well as herbs.  Many a day she had aided her grandmother in weeding those flowerbeds and harvesting the garden.  In the hot July heat, without extra watering, the beds were overgrown and brown.  A few stubborn bulbs like the gladioli and day lilies still bloomed, even though surrounded by grass as tall as they were.
 
The same held true of the entire yard surrounding the house.  There was plenty of work to be done and, as proficient as she was, it was still too much for her.  She would need to engage a landscaper as well.  Looking up, she saw a blue white sky with a lone cloud drifting by.  The heavy purple clouds of the storm last night were gone, leaving only a hint that they had even been here.  Water droplets glistened here and there in the mid-morning sun but were rapidly succumbing to the unmerciful heat.
 
“What’s ya looking for, Mama?” asked Nathan, as he too took in his surroundings.  It was all new to him.  Kristyn had brought her infant son to the farm to help her grandparents make the transition to the retirement villa; by this time, she was a widow.
 
“Nothing special,” she replied looking nonchalantly towards the upper floors of the house.  There were the three windows to the bedrooms and the much smaller window of the bathroom, situated above the roof of the back porch.  The window on the right belonged to the master bedroom, which was the only bedroom with two windows; one faced the backyard, and the other faced the right side of the house. All had dark red shutters.
 
Unseen from the outside but Kristyn knew were there, were the enclosed stairs to the attic.  Protruding out from the sharply sloped roof, with that very Victorian style, were the two small gables of the attic.  These were the dormer windows, dark and foreboding in their appearance.  Kristyn knew that there were two matching gables at the front of the house.  “I wonder what is up there,” she whispered.
 

Having stopped in their tracks as this surveillance continued, Nathan asked, “Up where, Mama.”

“The attic,” she smiled down at his upturned face, with his squinty eyes, as he fought to see her through the glare of the sun.

As though on cue, as she and Nathan watched, he suddenly said, “Who’s that?” pointing at the attic windows.  Startled for a moment, Kristyn was sure that the bright light must be playing tricks on her eyes, for it certainly looked as if a white glowing shape just passed by the window on the left.

“Oh that isn’t anybody,” she laughed, although without humor, “It’s just the sun and clouds reflecting off of the window glass.”

“You sure?” he asked with inquisitive eyes, like that wasn’t what he saw.
 

Drawing a deep breath and then smiling at him, she replied, “I’m sure.  Who would want to be in a dusty hot attic on a day like today?  Why, they would roast up there.  It would be as hot as an oven.”

Cocking his head to one side, he took her at her word but still he wasn’t fully convinced, “Okay,” he agreed.  Turning his attention back to their goal of investigating the barn, he placed a small grubby hand on the wooden door and pushed.  “It won’t open,” he declared with his bottom lip poked out.

“I’ll help,” said Kristyn and taking the wooden handle, she pulled rather than pushed. The heavy barn door slowly swung outwards, releasing a dust cloud that had the same nauseating putrid smell that Nathan remembered from the night before.
 

Covering their noses and mouths with their hands, the pair backed away from the door as fits of coughing overtook them.  “I guess the barn needs airing as well,” said Kristyn as tears welled up in her eyes from the dust.  Looking down at Nathan, she could see that he too was having trouble, so she took his hand and began to lead him back towards the house.

Stopping abruptly, he shouted excitedly, “That’s it!”

Stopping also, she peered at him, “That’s what, Nate?”

“That stinky smell that I smelt last night!”

“I think an animal must have died in the barn,” she said by way of explanation to him as well as to herself.  “I’m getting some people to come and help us clean the house, the yard, and now… the barn.”