It was a dark and stormy night, because nature likes to set the stage for a good ghost story, when a frantic young man was seen running down the lane towards a picturesque old house. He was a pale, unhealthy sort, if one could make at his face as it went whizzing by – the type that relies too much on books and too little on fresh air. He was not all together unattractive, however – a special kind of woman might appreciate the languid look, though in this part of the country, it would be less in vogue than at one of those artistic societies.
Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil.
He was quite soaked and out of breath by the time he reached the front door, and as he reached it, he knocked quite frantically at the door. “Please, for the love of God, you must let me in,” he exclaimed in a melodramatic manner, pounding upon a door. “Please – they are coming! They will find me!”
There was no response, but as he lifted his fists to pound at the door again, it gave way with a slight creak. Evidently, the previous tenant, whomever they might be, had rather relaxed when it came to trespassers. Though the young man was no home burglar, he felt his dire circumstances warranted this criminal activity and he made his way into the house, slamming the door shut.
He locked the door and slid down to the ground, nervous energy temporarily leaving his thin frame. After a moment to steady himself, he took a chance to look around. He was in a rather pleasant front sitting room with the kind of quaint decoration one only finds in country homes – wooden ducks with no real purpose, dried flowers from years gone by, amateur paintings that have won second place at village bazaars. It was peaceful and serene – quite the opposite of the madness and horror he had escaped only a few days ago.
“I must still be on my guard,” he murmured, as he sank onto a rather worn sofa, eyes still darting about in terror. “The cultists may not be far long behind me, and if that creature--” he broke off, and shuddered.
Now this particular young man – let us call him Mr. Henry Scrivener, for we have quite forgotten to properly introduce him – had always had a sensitive disposition prone to flights of fancy and over-exaggeration, but in this case, he was quite justified. Not three months past, he had run afoul of some rather nasty sorts in the backwoods country that worshiped one of those pagan gods you generally see in less-civilized societies. These cultists had taken some offense to young Henry's theft of a small, obsidian carving of their idol and the leader had sworn vengeance and eternal damnation upon his very soul. Fleeing that, Henry had arrived at his current situation, which, he had to admit, could have been a lot worse.
For one thing, the house itself was quite pleasant. He felt strangely peaceful, as if the horrors that had plagued his mind were washed away in a sea of rose petals and scented water. There was a haze in his mind and a sweet lassitude to his limbs that made him sink even further in the sofa cushions. His musings drifted away from ghouls and goblins towards more pleasant things. How nice it would be, he thought, if life could always be like this. No supernatural beasts banging down his doors, but more mundane annoyances like salesmen or in-laws. Yes, a normal life with a lovely, cozy home, a steady and stable income, and a wife making breakfast for him in the morning--
He shook his head at that and he seemed to come out his daze a little. Where had that come from? Indeed, such a thought seemed positively peculiar to him, for Henry had never entertained any thought of the fairer sex in his life. The very idea had always, strangely repulsed him much the same way others are repulsed by slugs crawling across their path or the sight of ichorous tentacles springing from unearthly dimensions to devour the unwary. He shuddered again.
But as he vainly tried to gather his thoughts, it seemed a sweet perfume had taken hold of his mind and he drifted again. Would it be so bad, his mind asked, if he had someone to greet him in the morning? To hold his hand as they walked down a country lane? To say goodnight to in the evening and give a gentle kiss to? Perhaps an elfin, winsome young lady to--
No. His mind revolted again. There were far more important things to think of. Even now the cultists could be coming for him. He had wasted too much time here. Obviously he could find no assistance with his current predicament. He needed to leave. Surely, the rain would have let up a bit at this point.
Then it seemed to him that the previous thoughts of marital bliss and harmonious living made a desperate attempt to overtake his mind, for his mind positively began to drown in them. In his confirmed life of bachelorhood, he had rarely entertained so many notions of matrimony, and he reeled from the alien terror now taking hold of his soul. There were two voices in his head and one of them proclaimed the joys of a happy marriage and maybe some children--
There was a booming at the door. Henry bolted up. He then heard a slow, unnerving scratching down the frame. Never had he welcomed the hideous vengeance of the cultists quite as much as he did right now.
“I know that you are in there, Mr. Scrivener,” a voice hissed from outside. “You cannot escape our vengeance for long. Even now--”
The door swung open and he shrank back as far as he could into the sofa. A dark-robed figure stood menacingly in the doorway. Lightning crashed behind it, serving to illuminate it quite theatrically. Henry trembled as it moved closer to him. He had nothing to defend himself with, no weapons, no arcane sigils to drive back the evil. He trembled as it moved closer to him.
“Long have you ran from me and my grasp. But now you are within my sights and soon--” It stretched out its fingers, burnt and scarred, and he closed his eyes on instinct. “You will suffer my eternal vengeance. Your death shall only be the begin--”
There was the slamming of a door, a loud crack. He heard a thud as something fell to the floor.
Henry opened his eyes to see the robed figure unconscious on the floor, a small wooden duck near its head. The front door was shut quite firmly and a small pool of water had collected on the floor. There seemed to be no visible sign of where the duck had come from and he tried to puzzle just how it had managed to knock the cult leader out.
He shook his head. There was no time for working that out, not when he had this most unexpected chance to escape this predicament that a moment ago, had seem quite inescapable. He made his way to the front door, nimbly stepping over the figure and turned the knob. And then tried turning it again as he realized, with the same shock and horror he had experienced witnessing the pagan ritual, that it was not budging.
He pressed his shoulder against the door and tried the handle again. Perhaps if he leaned in a bit, it might give way.
It did not. He tried again. It stayed firmly shut, though he thought he could hear a faint groan from the wood, almost as if it was protesting his attempts to dislodge it.
After about ten minutes of his fairly weak and ineffectual attempts to shove the door open, he slumped to the ground, eying the figure still sprawled on the carpet with suspicion. Was there some sort of spell cast that kept the door shut? Perhaps an occult ward that prevented passage? Could it have been the rain swelling the frame and preventing the door from opening? Whatever the reason, it appeared that the door would not be his exit out. That in mind, he went to one of the windows.
As he put his hand on the sill, he heard a faint groan from behind him. Instantly, he looked around for another wooden duck, but seeing none, he began trying to pry the window open. It seemed as stuck as the door and he began to bang at the glass, trying to break it with his fists.
“What... what happened?” The voice was just as low and raspy as it had been before its minor accident, but now it seemed tinged with confusion and a bit of pain. “What did you do?”
Much to Henry's dismay, he found himself turning towards it. It was odd, he thought, but he felt a strange sympathy wash over him. True, the figure had hounded him to the ends of the earth and plagued him with hideous nightmares, but no one deserved getting brained with a carved wooden duck, especially one so brightly painted and cheerfully beaming. He looked to see it hunched over, its gnarled hands planted firmly on the floor. It groaned again.
“I didn't do anything,” he said hastily, as he sensed an intense glare from its direction. “Something fell in this cottage and hit you in the head.”
It gingerly arose and rather than utterly smiting Henry where he stood, it opted to make its way to the sofa where it sat down, holding a hand to what Henry surmised was the back of its head. “Yes, there is pain,” it hissed. “I would destroy you right now, but...” it trailed off and sank back into the cushions.
After several minutes of silence in which Henry determined that he was not at the moment in any sort of danger and that the window's glass resisted small wooden objects being thrown at it, he opted to sit on one of the chairs near the sofa and warily peer at the figure. It rustled and he fancied that from the depths of his hood, it was staring at him.
“I found you.” Its voice was a little quieter, less hissing voice of doom and more whispering confidence towards a friend. “I looked for you for much time and I found you.”
Henry felt an icy trickle at the back of his spine, though he could not say why. He did not appear to be any immediate danger of dismemberment or death, and yet he felt as though he was standing on the edge of a vast precipice off which he was certain to plunge. “Yes, you did,” he said softly.
Neither of them spoke for a while. It was strangely comfortable, Henry thought, to just sit in silence. There might have been an alien creature bent on the annihilation of his soul sitting across from him, but it was kind of nice to have someone who understood the vast vistas of knowledge that man was not supposed to know. Yes, it was true that man wandered his existence alone in an uncaring universe, but it didn't have to be that way. You could be with someone who cared for you, someone who would read the morning papers with you and nestle with you by the fireside, and perhaps, someday, you too would travel to strange, far places together, hand in hand.
This thought did not disturb him and he could feel something in his mind click, as if the solution to a particularly difficult math problem had been found. This was it, he thought. For was the not constant pursuit of an individual, the incessant tracking down and desire to possess it utterly the same as courtship? Many first meetings did not necessarily involve bloodshed and ritual sacrifice, but once your eyes meet and you realize that you were destined to be with someone, shouldn't you take the chance to be in love eternally?
Henry found himself agreeing to all these questions and as he did, the same pleasant haze he had experienced before washed over his mind. He envisioned a happy country life, perhaps in this very cottage. He felt his head nodding and a warm smile came over his lips. He lifted his eyes to gaze at the figure across the way and he saw its hood turned towards him. As he beamed in vacuous contentment, it pushed down its hood, exposing its head which could be said to have a similarly pleased look on its squamous countenance. Henry Scrivener’s eyes widened. His mouth parted.
“Why Othotl-tlar, you're beautiful!”
By many accounts, Mr. Henry Scrivener leads a very average life. He gets up in the morning, kisses his spouse, and they sit down to read the morning paper at the table. Sometimes they read unnameable texts of blasphemous origin, but there is always fresh orange juice and scrambled eggs for breakfast.
After eating, they kiss each other goodbye and Henry goes to his study to write. His editor cannot understand how he is so prolific, and frequently questions the quality of his work, but he cannot question his sales. For Henry Scrivener, known as Harriet Smith to his readers, writes wildly popular romances that routinely sell out wherever they are stocked. It has been noted that he brings a certain unworldly element to his work, and many of the more sensitive readers have been known to swoon at his series of novels about a glittering supernatural creature and his incessant pursuit of a petulant, but winsome, young lady.
Othotl-tlar on the other hand (or Otty as Henry affectionately calls the being) prefers to minister to the hopeless and hapless young people in the village. Many a young person has found himself or herself in the middle of a lovely sitting room with a cup of tea spilling their woes to Otty, who is always attentive to any problems. It is well-known in that bit of the countryside that many young couples have first met in that delightful cottage and have later gone on to practice a certain bit of long-forgotten worship as recompense for the assistance Otty lent them. Indeed, a cult that seemed on the verge of disbanding has found new life, and it is believed that many beneficial civic services, such as repainting town halls or reconsecrating ancient runestones have been the work of the very eager members.
In the evening, Henry and Otty sit together on the sofa and hold hands. They are hideously, perfectly content, though both have recently been thinking of children. If there are concerns that it may not be biologically possible, they are quickly swept away by a pink haze of bliss that reassures them that where there is love, there is a way. They smile at each other and kiss.
And Honeysuckle Cottage stands there, charming and old-fashioned and filled with unspeakable terror. It is also deeply content with its lot in life. For people in love are its lifeblood, and there will always be new blood. And if there comes a day where there is no couple to unite, well... there won't be. Because Honeysuckle Cottage has been here longer than you and it will be here long after you're gone. And there will always be someone who needs love.