CLOSING THE COTTAGE – CONCLUSION TO THE FALL MYSTERY SERIES

CLOSING THE COTTAGE

Conclusion

© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

 

            Gerry had decided to head up to the cottage early and surprise his daughter. He got an eerie feeling when he saw the front door was ajar. Princess was meowing by the cellar door. When she saw him, she slipped through the door, stood on the landing, and meowed again.

            “What’s wrong, Princess?” Gerry asked, following her.

            She padded down the steps, headed to the room and meowed at the steel door.  Gerry opened it. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed, rushing to his friend. He checked for a pulse––faint.

            Gerry raced upstairs and called 911.

***

            Caroline awoke in a strange room. Her ankle was throbbing. The door swung open, and the swamp creature walked in. “Ah, you are awake!” 

            “Who are you?” Caroline managed.

            “That’s not important; I need to do something about this colour,” she crooned, running her fingers through Caroline’s hair.

            Caroline tried to pull away, but the woman grasped hold of her face and peered into her eyes. “There is no use, dear; there is no way out of here.”

            Caroline fainted. The woman picked her up and carried her into a bathroom. “It is time to go blond––like the rest of them.”

***

            Before the ambulance took Mr. Malcolm away, he’d managed to regain consciousness long enough to tell Gerry that it was Caroline who had stabbed him, and he had no idea where she was now. 

Gerry had come up early specifically to help Caroline close the cottage and bring her home. She’d been behaving strangely lately, according to her mother––but to stab someone? He’d told his wife that he had business with Malcolm, so she wouldn’t fret. Gerry glanced at the lake and noticed Princess sitting at the water’s edge, staring across to Mr. Malcolm’s cottage.

“You know where Caroline is?” he asked, going up to her. She rubbed around his legs, and then returned to her vigil. It was then Gerry remembered a recent conversation with his friend, while they were sitting by the swamp…

“We’ve had that house under surveillance all summer,” he’d begun, pointing to a place on the other side of the swamp. “Some woman, who used to be a top model, bought it. Bit of a recluse. Story is that she was in a terrible fire––ended her career. One of our officers thought he saw something suspicious over there a few months ago, so we set up surveillance…”

 Gerry put two and two together and called the police.

***

            Caroline was sitting at a table in a room with mirrored walls. Six young, blond women were starring at her. “Welcome,” they said in unison. Caroline recognized them all; they were the girls in the news clippings.  

            The swamp woman entered the room, followed by a young man who was pushing a cart with a movie projector on it. He pulled down a movie screen. She flicked on the projector. The girls turned, robotically, to watch.

            Caroline saw a beautiful young woman parading on a runway. Suddenly, flames shot across the screen and out of the flames came a distinctly different woman––at least that is how it appeared! Caroline gasped. The others were un-phased. The woman laughed hysterically.

            When the film finished, the young man served supper. The girls ate mechanically.  “What’s wrong with them?” Caroline wondered. She decided not to eat, fearing the food may be drugged.

            The woman noticed, came up to her and cooed gently in her ear: “It would be better for you if you eat.” Caroline picked up her fork.

            When the meal was finished, the girls stood up, in unison, and walked, single file, out of the room, like a parade of models. The woman pushed Caroline into line.  

***

            The police met Gerry at the swamp’s edge. “We’ll have to go in quietly,” said one officer. “We don’t want to spook this woman.”

            “Are the girls still alive?” Gerry asked.

            “Not sure.”

***

            Sophie and her son watched the boats crossing the swamp. They would not take her alive––or the girls. “You know what to do, Jason.”

            “Yes mommy.”

            After saturating the floors with gasoline, Jason flicked a lit match onto the floor and walked out the back door, disappearing into the woods. Caroline was watching from her window. She heard the hysterical laughter above her. Then, she smelled the smoke.  “Help,” she hollered, as she tried to open her door. It was locked!

***

            The police pushed into the flaming house rushing toward the cries for help. A woman was laughing, but they couldn’t find her––the laughter soon ceased.

            While waiting for the air ambulance, Gerry held his daughter’s hand.  “Caroline…”

            Her eyes were glazed. “Who?”

            “Caroline, it’s okay honey, all the girls are out, all except the woman, Sophie.  It looks as though she was trying to live the life she’d lost, by collecting beautiful young woman.”

            “There was a young man in the house; did you find him, sir?”

            Gerry was puzzled that his daughter had called him, sir. “No, there was no one else in the house, Caroline.” Gerry gazed into his daughter’s eyes and saw the return of her former illness.

***

            After the doctors had checked Caroline out and confirmed that physically she was okay and that her mental condition would pass in time––she was still in shock––Gerry returned to the cottage and locked it up. He placed a call to a local realtor, and until it sold, the cottage would remain closed.

As they drove slowly away from their summer home, Caroline sat in the back seat, humming and rocking back and forth. Her laptop was clutched to her chest. Princess lay asleep beside her.

“We’ll be home soon, Caroline,” her father said, taking a quick glance at his daughter.

 “Why do you keep calling me Caroline, sir, my name is Ruth?”      

 

 

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