THUMP! Eun-Young woke up with a start. Disoriented, she looked around to find herself in the back seat of Caine’s SUV with Deanna, Spud sleeping between them. In front, Caine was driving and trying to get a rise out of Axel, who stubbornly kept looking outside even though it was pitch black. She caught Caine’s gaze in the rear-view mirror. He smiled sweetly at her and she found herself blushing. They had only been dating for a few weeks and she was still pinching herself, trying to convince herself it wasn’t a dream.
“I’m sorry I woke you baby.” he told her. “I drove over a big pothole. But we’re about to arrive at the cottage and you’ll be able to sleep comfortably in my arms.”
By the look he gave her, Eun-Young knew sleep would come much later. She looked outside, but all she could see was the trees close to the road. She suddenly felt cold, uneasy, and couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible was about to happen.
“How long have I been sleeping?” she asked, still looking at the darkness surrounding them.
“Oh, maybe for the past two hours or so?” Deanna laughed, petting the still sleeping Spud. “Caine must have been very demanding last night.”
Eun-Young blushed, feeling shy as she didn’t know Caine’s friends well enough to discuss such personal matters. They had known each other all their lives and even though he tried to include her, she felt she would always be an outsider.
“I was just excited about this weekend getaway and had trouble falling asleep.” She heard Caine snicker but thankfully he didn’t say anything about their nightly activities. “So Caine told me you guys always go to his cottage on Halloween?”
“Yes, it’s a tradition we have. A way for us to reconnect with our roots every year and spend time away from the craziness in our lives.” Deanna put her hand over Eun-Young’s. “We’re all so glad you were able to join us this year.”
Caine turned around, “Otherwise we would have to sacrifice Spud to appease the evil lurking in the woods. Muahahaha!”
“Stop it, Caine!” Axel said angrily. “And keep your damn eyes on the road! Now’s not the time to get into an accident!”
Caine rolled his eyes and focused on the road. Deanna said something to Axel, but Eun-Young wasn’t listening. She knew Caine meant it as a joke, but the word sacrifice resonated deep inside her, like a bad omen. Will you lighten up? she thought, you’ll spend an amazing weekend and you’ll get to know everyone a little better.
Fifteen minutes later, they reached the cottage. It was a lovely 2-story log house. Axel and Deanna went inside, while Caine went for a little walk with Spud. Eun-Young was getting her luggage out of the vehicle when a hand grabbed her arm and pulled toward the woods.
“Quit it, Caine. That’s not funny!” she said, turning toward Caine.
She gasped in terror, her scream caught in her throat. In front of her was a ghostly white woman with long dark hair, with sunken eyes, her mouth wide open in a silent scream. Eun-Young’s heart pounded wildly in her chest as she tried to frantically free herself from the woman’s grip. The hand on her arm was ice cold. The woman pulled her toward the woods with supernatural strength. She felt dizzy and light headed as her blood pressure dropped. Just as she was about to lose consciousness, the woman released her, whispering in a hoarse voice, “ You don’t belong here. Get out.”
Eun-Young fell to her knees, shaking, panting.
“Eun! Are you alright? Did you fall?”
Caine was back and helped her up, a worried expression on his face. She hugged him tight and cried, too shaken to say anything.
“What happened?” he asked as he rubbed her back, trying to comfort her. “Did Axel tell you something upsetting?”
Eun-Young shook her head against his chest. Her breathing was slowly returning to normal, but she was still too scared to look up. After a few moments, she finally lifted her head.
“Did you see anyone with me when you came back?” When Caine frowned, she continued. “Do you see anyone near the trees?”
“I only saw you walking toward the woods when you suddenly fell. Are you sure you’re ok? You’re freezing cold, we should get you inside. Come on, I’m here now.”
Once inside, Caine went into their room on the second floor, sat her on the bed and drew her a hot bath in the connecting bathroom. While he was occupied, she looked at her arm. It was still freezing to the touch but there were no bruises. Was she just cold? Had she hallucinated this whole encounter? Of course it wasn’t real! Ghosts don’t even exist!
She smiled when Caine came back, wearing only a towel around his waist. He had always made her feel safe and cherished, from that first time they met at that bar. After saving her from a drunken man who didn’t take no for an answer, he asked for her phone number and the rest was history. They had yet to say the “L” word, but she thought this weekend would be it.
“Are you my own private bath boy?” she asked coyly while unbuttoning her shirt slowly.
“I am your slave, my lady,” he replied, laughing. He kissed her, took her into his arms and carried her in the bathroom. “So tonight we’ll have a nice relaxing time and then get a good night sleep.”
They settled in the tub and, as she laid against Caine’s chest, he started to kiss her neck and massage her shoulders. She sighed and closed her eyes. His hands slowly went down, over her breasts and going down further. She spread her legs to give him easier access. When his fingers reached her core, she felt a freezing breeze against her skin. She looked at the window, thinking it must be open. The window was closed and all fogged up, like the rest of the room.
“Babe, you’re shivering and not the sexy kind. Aren’t you getting warmer?”
“I don’t know, the room just felt cold all of a sudden. Don’t you feel it?”
“No, it’s perfectly toasty in here,” he said, getting up and drying himself. “The bath is obviously not relaxing you, so let’s go to bed. I’m sure you’re just tired.”
“Yes, I’m sure I’m just tired and my mind is playing tricks on me.”
Once he left the bathroom, she got up, feeling anxious. I hope he doesn’t think I rejected him. She wrapped a towel around herself and went to the sink. When she looked into the fogged up mirror, her heart stopped. Writing on the mirror was the following message:
Her mouth was dry and she started hyperventilating. Think Eun! There’s a rational explanation for this. It’s probably Caine setting up a prank for Halloween tomorrow. I have to tell him to stop this right now. I don’t enjoy this. She wiped the words with her hand and whimpered when she saw the ghostly woman behind her in the mirror’s reflection. Quickly turning around, she only saw the bathroom. Of course I’m alone. It’s not real, it’s a trick. It’s not real… Please let it be a trick! She ran into the bedroom and joined Caine in bed.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Eun,” Caine whispered as he took her into his warm embrace.
I can ask him about his elaborate prank in the morning, she thought as closed her eyes, praying to fall asleep and not have nightmares.
In the morning, after a sleepless night, Eun-Young tried to bring up the message on the mirror but Caine dismissed it, saying it was probably her mind playing tricks on her. He told her next time she was scared, she could call out to him and he would reassure her. He invited her to join him and Axel on their traditional mountain hike but she refused, not wanting to go in the woods after yesterday’s incident. She told him she was happy to spend some time with Deanna and get to know her better. Caine and Axel had left and Deanna was still asleep, so she found herself eating breakfast alone. For once Eun-Young was glad to be by herself. She wasn’t in the mood for conversation. Spud was sitting next to her, surely expecting pieces of her peanut butter toast.
“Do you think I’m being ridiculous, Spud?” she asked the dog. “It’s a beautiful day today. I should be enjoying myself, not waste my time imagining things. Do you agree?” Spud wagged his tail in approval.
She knew she was being ridiculous, but she felt on edge since she had arrived. While this place was gorgeous, Eun-Young couldn’t wait for the weekend to be over. Tomorrow she would be back home and would be able to laugh it all off. To take her mind off her dark musings, she decided to explore the cottage, since last night they went straight to the bedroom. The living room was a huge room with bay windows, a foyer and built-in bookshelves filled with books. The books were leather bound and had that sweet, musky smell only old books had. She picked one up and immediately put it back when she saw it was an Edgar Allan Poe’s The Complete Stories and Poems, first edition. Next to it was The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Also a first edition. All the books were old and first editions. She smiled when she saw Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It had always been a favorite of hers. She picked it up and turned the pages slowly, reverently. Suddenly, she heard a loud noise making her scream in fright. Next to her, a book was on the floor.
“Oh no! I hope it’s not damaged,” she said, talking to herself.
She bent and picked up what turned out to be a photo album. An icy breeze brushed her skin. The pages started to turn by themselves. Suddenly Eun-Young could not move. She just stood there, transfixed, her eyes on the album. She was afraid of what she would see if she lifted her head up. She frowned, as the pictures seemed to be from a few centuries ago and she thought she recognized Caine, Axel and Deanna. That’s impossible! It must be an uncanny resemblance. Their ancestors maybe? The pages kept moving slowly, but still too fast for her to focus on details. As the pages turned, Eun-Young noticed the pictures were more and more recent. With the same people in each shot.
“What are you doing?”
“AAAHHH!” Eun-Young yelled in surprise, dropping the album on the floor. “Deanna! You scared me! I didn’t hear you at all.”
“I figured as much when you yelled.” Deanna said, walking toward her. She was still wearing pajamas and from the look of her hair, she just woke up. “Oh, you found the old family album.”
Eun-Young sighed with relief, a family album. Of course that’s what it was. She smiled at Deanna, bending to pick up the album. “What do you want to do while the boys are…” She stopped as she noticed a picture on the floor.
It showed a couple in front of the same cottage they were in, the man was looking at the woman, smiling. She was looking at the camera. It was Caine with a woman Eun-Young recognized. It was the ghostly woman. Her fingers became icy cold.
“Who.. is… this?” she asked, her teeth chattering as the cold spread throughout her body.
Deanna didn’t meet her gaze as she answered, “How unfortunate that you had to see this album. It’s Ji-Ah. Caine’s ex-girlfriend. She… she had an accident and passed away a few years back, while we were in the cottage, celebrating Halloween.”
Eun-Young felt an icy hand grab her forearm and slowly the coldness spread inside her, possessing her. A hoarse voice whispered in her mind, “ You don’t belong here. Get out.” With horror, her body moved toward the entrance and Eun-Young couldn’t stop herself. She tried to scream, to push back at the presence in her, but nothing worked. Deanna was nowhere in sight. Where was she? She was now outside, almost at the SUV. “ Ji-Ah, I know it’s you. I’m sorry you died, but please let me go. I’ll leave and never come back, I promise,” she tried to reason with the spirit.
“It’s too late!” Ji-Ah wailed. “ I failed you!”
Eun-Young attempted to process what Ji-Ah was trying to say but she suddenly received a blow to the head and lost consciousness.
Eun-Young slowly came to herself and realized two things; she couldn’t move and Ji-Ah’s spirit was no longer inside her. She was tied up on the couch.
“Sleeping Beauty didn’t even need a kiss to wake up,” Caine said. He squatted and patted her head. She hissed in pain. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot Dee knocked you out pretty violently. That girl can swing a baseball bat like a pro!”
The pain was so intense, she couldn’t say more. He picked her up and went up the stairs.
“I guess I owe you an explanation since you saw the album,” he started. Looking at her, he sighed. “I truly love you, you know. I loved them all.”
He walked them outside, in the backyard. Axel and Deanna were already there, standing next to an old well.
“We were born in 1770’s. We settled here and discovered an ancient deity who promised us eternal youth in exchange for a sacrifice every decade. But we couldn’t offer just any sacrifice. It had to be a loved one, as the deity feeds on our pain. Since Axel and Dee were already married, it became my burden to suffer the loss of a loved one.”
He reached the well. Eun-Young tried to break free from him, but between her concussion and the ropes holding her, she could barely move.
“Caine, I love you too,” she cried. “You don’t have to do this. Come with me. We can be together for the rest of our lives!”
Caine kissed her deeply, tears running down his face. “I will always remember you, Eun-Young.”
As he threw her down the well, Eun-Young saw Ji-Ah next to him, her ghostly face horribly twisted with grief, reaching out for her.
Both their screams merged into one as once again Ji-Ah possessed Eun-Young’s body a mere moment before she hit the bottom of the well.
Eun-Young woke up with a start. Disoriented, she looked around to find herself in the back seat of Caine’s SUV with Deanna, Spud sleeping between them.
“I’m sorry I woke you baby.” Caine told her, looking at her through the rear-view mirror. “I drove over a big pothole. But we’re about to arrive at the cottage and you’ll be able to sleep comfortably in my arms.”
Eun-Young frowned, something was wrong. She felt it in her bones. She touched the back of her head, expecting pain but there was none. What is going on? She looked in the car window. Instead of her reflection was a ghostly white woman with long dark hair, looking at her with sunken eyes, her mouth wide open in a silent scream.