Characters Environments 
Author Marian Parisher-Nichols
Poems and short stories, free to read.
"When I write, I shoot from the hip!"
The Visitors
Over the next few days, Kristyn worked hard cleaning out the house and overseeing the landscapers.  She told them not to worry about planting anything new but just to weed the beds and revive what was there.
 

It was late in the growing season, too late for a garden but she could have the soil prepared for next year’s growing season.  She looked forward to fresh garden vegetables and sweet smelling flowers and that thought alone spurred her forward with the renovation the house and grounds needed.

She had contracted Efficient Maids to tackle the inside of the house and Jordan’s Landscapers to take care of the grounds.  But the landscapers had said that the barn did not fall under their work description and thus they declined that part of the job.  So the barn remained shut fast.
 
 
Nathan was curious of all the labor going on about him and often found that he was underfoot and was asked to ‘please stay out of the way.’  But what was a five-year-old supposed to do when everyone around him was too busy to take up time with him?
 
After lunch that Friday, his mother took him upstairs for a nap.  The bedrooms had been the first to be thoroughly cleaned and Kristyn had had AC window units installed in the windows of each bedroom, all but the master bedroom.  Since no one slept there, she felt it unnecessary for the moment.
 
Mother and son sat down on the bed.  “Now, you take your nap and we will have ice cream a little later,” Kristyn said, as she helped to settle him.
 

Nathan grinned and nodded his head.  Kissing his forehead, Kristyn left, partially shutting his door.  The window unit hummed as cold air infiltrated his room.  He watched as the curtains fluttered in the air current.  Lying back on his pillow he only paused a second before closing his eyes and then quickly drifting off to sleep; after all, he was only five and sometimes a nap was all too necessary.

How long he slept, he did not know but a buzzing in his left ear dragged him from his slumber.  It was a whisper invading his dream and startled Nathan to wakefulness.  Still groggy, he lay still and listened.  He watched as light rays moved smoothly across the wall.  He had never seen this before.  There were no shapes except the outlines of furniture silhouetted within light.  These recognizable shapes were what moved as the light source moved.  Then the whisper came again, this time in his other ear, “Come,” resonated many voices.
 

Then the shapes moved back across the wall and stopped.  “Nathan!” the words now seemed to be inside of Nathan’s mind as well as from the other side of the room from within the light.

“What do you want?” he answered, sitting up.
 

“Much,” the voices again came from within, as well as without.  “Come.”

“I am afraid!”

“No need.  Come!  Come!” they continued, with each word spoken louder, more urgently.

“Don’t shout at me,” Nathan whispered back.
 
“Come now, come, come now, come,” they whispered.  Then Nathan’s bedroom door opened wider.  The light came to a pinpoint at the door, hovering just above the wooden planks of the floor and pulsating.  Nathan swung his legs over the edge of the bed, stood and then tip-toped towards the pinpoint of light.
 

Just as he reached it, the light moved ahead of him, then waited, as Nathan caught up with it.  Then the sphere of light moved further into the hall.  Nathan stooped over to better keep his eyes focused on the light and followed it.  Now it floated smoothly, without jerks towards the opposite end of the hall; Nathan kept a vigilant eye on the sphere of light, all the while moving with it.

Now it halted, flickered a few times, then slid beneath the door… the attic door.  Nathan straightened up, and looked up at the small grey door with flecks of paint peeling off of its surface.  With his finger, he pointed at the door and said, “I think I’m ‘posed to go in that door.”
 

The door had an old fashion crystal knob, which had a black placket with a keyhole just beneath the knob.  Nathan was at the right height to see into the keyhole and so he peeked.  But only darkness greeted him.  Backing away, he contemplated his next move.  He remembered staring up at the attic window and seeing a white glow move by it.  Was that glow the same light as this light?  It must be.

He placed his right hand on the knob and turned – nothing!  He turned it the other way and pulled on the door, still nothing.  Dropping his hand to his side, he studied the knob.  He tried again, this time he pushed on the door and, without warning, it opened, slamming hard against the interior wall with a loud thud.  This revealed narrow steps, going up into the attic.
 
He peered inside and up; there were cobwebs dangling from the ceiling and heavy dust on the steps.  The stairs were completely encased, with a single handrail on the left.  He tried to see what was at the top, but what light projected into this darkened stairwell ended abruptly halfway.
 

He lifted his right foot and placed it on the first step when he heard, “Nathan!  What are you doing?”  It was his mother.

She hurried towards him and took him by the shoulder, “You cannot go into the attic,” she said rather sternly.

“But the light…”  Nathan began.
 

“I know there is no light, that’s why it’s dark in there.  I wondered what that loud bang was.  It startled us.  We will discuss this later, right now come downstairs with me, we have company.”

Immediately Nathan forgot the light and the attic and taking Kristyn’s hand, gleefully followed his mother. Unseen by the pair of them was the self-closing of the attic door and an audible click as the door locked.
 
 
Kristyn thought to herself as she guided her wayward son downstairs, what if she hadn’t heard the bang and checked on Nathan, he could have been locked in the attic.  He could certainly die from the heat that collected in attics on hot summer days.  The first thing she would do after the pastor left would be to lock that attic door.
 
Kristyn and Nathan entered the living room downstairs.  It was clean, with sparkling windows veiled by light airy sheers.  She had had the heavy dusty drapes removed and immediately the room had lightened up.  This old house had never had modern carpeting of any sort and her grandmother’s old oval braided brown rug was all that covered the wooden planks of the floor.
 
Her new high-definition television certainly looked out of place sitting on her grandmother’s sideboard.  There was the curved-back sofa, which looked in remarkably good condition seeing how it was nearly two hundred years old.  There was the old rocking chair where she had often sat on her grandmother’s lap and had stories read to her from the Tales of Uncle Remus.  She had also learned her nursery rhymes there and later, her ABCs and 123s.  She had also learned of the birds and the bees while sitting on the floor at her grandmother’s knee.
 
There was a huge fireplace in this room, made of stone and standing six feet high.  On hot summer days, she would sit inside of that big fireplace where it was so much cooler than the rest of the house.  Her grandmother would call her ‘Cinderella’ whenever she would find her there.
 
Not far from the fireplace was the old armchair that her grandfather claimed, with an ottoman in front.  She could see him sitting in it even now, with his farmer’s hat laying on the floor, his shoes on the back porch, where he removed them before entering Julia’s cleaned house.  He would sit there with the Farmer’s Almanac and his pipe dangling from one corner of his mouth, as the smoke rose lazily in circles above his head and with his stocking feet propped up on the ottoman.  She could still smell his pipe tobacco.  The chair was looking rather worn now and she was considering replacing it with a recliner.
 

Centered in the room was the big round coffee table, where she had done many a homework assignment, right up to the time she had graduated from high school.  There were two end tables on either side of the Queen Anne sofa and sitting on one was the ivy she had purchased.  Her grandmother had always had houseplants around and the house looked so unhappy until she had added a few.

She sighed; there were only happy memories for her here and she so loved being back home.  She felt happy and sad at the same time.  She had her beloved son with her and that made her complete but there was still a void in her heart for Nathan Lance.  Would it ever be filled again?
 
Sitting now in her grandfather’s chair was the pastor.  He was in his early sixties with short graying hair.  He was a nice looking man, with a ready smile when he saw them.  He stood and spoke, “Aaahh, I see you found him.  How are you Nathan?”  He held out his hand and Nathan politely shook it.
 
“Fine,” was the child’s short reply.
 

Winking at Nathan, the pastor asked, “Was it you making that noise upstairs?”

Kristyn guided Nathan towards the sofa and sat down, as did the pastor.

“Yes, it was the attic door.  I caught him just before he entered,” she explained, paused and then, “How kind of you to visit and invite us to services,” said Kristyn resuming their conversation where it had left off when she had gone in search of Nathan.
 
“Well, you are certainly welcome,” he replied.  “I know you don’t know me as I replaced
 

 Pastor Jamison who was here when you attended the Church with your grandparents.  As I said, I am Thaddeus Doyle and I have been at the Church for ten years now.  I did get to meet your grandparents, Clyde and Julia, but shortly afterwards, they moved to the retirement villa in Redfield.  I paid them visits and the congregation kept in touch with them.  They had many friends and were devoted followers of Christ.  Their going-away services were beautiful and the church overflowed with mourners; what a beautiful way to leave this Earth and begin a life with Christ.”

Kristyn smiled as Nathan looked up at her.  Yes, ‘going-away party’ as funerals were sometimes known; she had attended too many in her twenty-seven years.  “Yes, Nathan and I would love to attend services, and thank you for coming by and inviting us.”
 

Pastor Doyle got up to go, with his hat in hand; he was dressed casually. He walked towards the door.  “Were the trespassers ever caught?”  He asked, as an afterthought.

“Trespassers?” asked Kristyn with a lowering of her brows in a look of puzzlement.
 

“Oh, didn’t you know of it?”

“No…. not a word.  When?”
 
“Well, it was after your grandparents left the farm, and the house had been boarded up, but they were camping out in the barn.  Vagrants, I am sure, but they were a rough bunch.  The county Sheriff is the one that spotted them, but they took off into the fields and the woods and as far as I know, were never caught.  The barn was in some disorder but no permanent damage was done that they could tell.  But you haven’t heard anything about it?”
 
“That I haven’t,” said Kristyn shaking her head.  “That’s unusual too because Nathan and I opened the barn door and there was the worst stench I have ever smelt!  I’m certain an animal has died in there.”
 
“Have you gone inside and checked?”
 

“No, there’ve been more pressing things and that just fell low on my list.  I asked the landscapers to check it out but they declined, so nothing has been done about it.”

“I see.  Well, I know of someone I can get to help out, if that’s okay with you.  But for now, my advice is to stay clear of the barn.  It could be real nasty if something dead is in there.  Well, God bless you both.  Shall we have a moment of prayer before I leave?”
 

Kristyn assured him she would be grateful and so, while standing at the opened front door in the entrance hall, the three of them lowered their heads in prayer.

“In Christ’s name, we do pray.  Amen,” said Pastor Doyle, at the prayer’s end.  At that precise second, a loud crashing sound was heard from upstairs.

“Not again!” Kristyn exclaimed.  “What on earth is going on…?”
 

The three of them looked towards the stairwell.

“Shouldn’t we check,” offered the pastor.
 

“Yes, let’s.  But for the life of me, I can’t fathom what could have caused that noise!”

Upstairs and standing on the landing, it was obvious from whence the noise came.  One of the ivies, which Kristyn had hung from the ceiling in front of the middle windows, was now on the floor with its basket broken and plant and dirt splattered.
 

“Well, I see we have our answer but another question is how.  I’m certain I secured the hook firmly into a stud in the ceiling,” said Kristyn.

“I’ll help you clean it up,” offered Pastor Doyle.

“Thank you, but no.  I’ll get one of the landscapers outside to help.  I guess I didn’t have it as secure as I thought.”

“Well, okay, then if you are sure.”
 

They went back downstairs and Pastor Doyle said, “Goodbye, we look forward to seeing you both at church.”

“We’ll be there,” Kristyn assured the pastor.

As soon as the pastor had left, Kristyn, with Nathan tagging along, retrieved a dustpan, a broom and a trash pail and headed back upstairs to clean the disaster.  Kristyn had another shocking surprise; the window was also broken, blown outwards, having received a blow from within the house!  There were no glass shards lying on the floor, they were all within the window frame and the outside screen; the screen was torn but nothing had penetrated it.
 

Stifling a gasp, Kristyn, suddenly, was freezing.  She looked at Nathan and saw his breath!  “Are you cold too,” she asked.

He nodded his head and shivered.  “Let’s go back down stairs,” said Kristyn, and she picked up her son and went downstairs to the living room where she settled him next to her on the sofa.  She would clean the mess up later.  She saw that Nathan wasn’t feeling well and he was her primary concern just now.  Pondering the frigid temperatures upstairs, she did not know what to make of it.  After all, they were at the end of July and today was as hot as any for this time of year, with the outside thermometer reading 95°F.
 

Holding Nathan close to her side and without speaking, she looked at him and saw that his eyes were shut.  He no longer shivered and his rhythmic breathing told her he had fallen asleep.

“Well, little guy, I guess you didn’t finish your nap.”  Kristyn lowered his head onto her lap and stroked his forehead while he slept.  Many a time since his birth, she often held him as he slept.  Neighbors would criticize her for it, claiming she was spoiling him and that he would never learn to sleep on his own.  But Nathan was all she had and if there was another life for her in the future, with husband and more children, that would be grand but that was the future and the future was uncertain.
 
 
Later, she decided that she really needed to clean up the mess upstairs before it got any darker.  So, while Nathan snoozed on the sofa, she headed back up the stairs to complete her task.  “I’ll lock the attic door too,” she thought, making a mental note.
 

Finally, the dirt and broken planter were in the bucket, the ivy she decided could be saved and for now, she would place it in a vase of water to be re-potted later.

“Now, to lock that door.”  But going over to the small grey door of the attic, she saw that it was closed.  “Well, I guess I must have closed it when we were here earlier.  But it still needs to be locked, so that Nathan won’t be tempted to go in there again.”  As she spoke, she tried the doorknob; it would not turn.  Nothing she did would open the attic door.  Exasperated, she decided if she couldn’t open it, neither could Nathan and she would attend to it tomorrow.
 
 
Sunday morning dawn overcast, with the prospect of more rain.  Tomorrow would make a whole week that they had been back in her childhood home.  She roused early, right at dawn, with the lone rooster performing his duty, announcing the new day.  She checked in on Nathan and saw that he still slept.  He had not completely awakened from his late evening nap yesterday and she had carried him upstairs and undressed him and put him to bed.  He hadn’t gotten his bath so she would need to get him up for that, but first they would have breakfast.
 
Kristyn loved the early morning hours; for her it was the best time of the day.  Often she would have her morning chores completed before waking anyone else, but for the last five years, it had been only Nathan.  Since it was Sunday, she did not jump into any mundane chores, just allowed herself time for a morning cup of coffee while catching up on the news.  Not too much new going on, the War on Terror still trudged along with no end in sight.
 
The war that Nathan Lance had died fighting.  She didn’t know how much she supported the war, only that it seemed a necessary evil for survival.  That had been ongoing since 2002, after the Events of September 11, 2001, almost nine years ago this September 2010.  She hadn’t met her husband by that time; she was eighteen years old, and in her last year of training as a dental assistant when the events of 9/11 happened.  By the autumn of the following year, she had met Nathan Lance during her final year of study and his final year of a four-year graduate degree.  They dated and he asked her to marry him in the spring of 2004. They married that May.
 
As the economy was getting bad, although nothing like the crash it experienced several years later in the fall of 2008, the young couple considered Nathan joining the military.  They knew that it was very possible that he would see combat, but thought the risk was one they would take.  As they made their plans for this separation, Kristyn learned of her pregnancy in October, with the deployment of Nathan Lance just before Thanksgiving of 2004.
 
They spent their first Thanksgiving and Christmas apart.  Her husband was still away when she gave birth to Nathan Ayden on June 6 of 2005.  She and her husband had decided not to make him a junior; Nathan Lance was sure he would be called ‘Junior’ rather than Nathan.  So, Nathan Ayden it was.
 

Corporal Nathan L. Spencer was killed in action that July, exactly five years ago this month.  Nathan Ayden turned five in June 2010.  Father and son never met!  A lone tear formed and then ran down her left cheek.  She wiped it away and was determined not to let sad memories bring her down into depression.

After finishing her morning cup of coffee, she showered in the downstairs bathroom, which was off from the entrance hall beneath the stairwell.  It was originally a closet but modern improvements by her grandparents had changed its usage.  Then she dressed in fresh jeans and t-shirt and went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast.  It was early yet, but Nathan needed his bath and Sunday School started at 9:45.