It’s always difficult to find a place to stay when moving to a new city. My work as a journalist meant I was always on the move, never staying in a place for more than a couple of months. This naturally made it difficult to find a decent place for an affordable price. Finding the cottage had been like striking gold – a phone call to a number I saw on a flyer, a quick tour of the cottage and the deed was signed.
The cottage was in a town not too far from the city. The neighborhood was the kind of place where the families knew everything about each other, went to Sunday mass together, had brunch together and gossiped about everything – well together. It was a bit too nosy for my liking, but I could ignore the noise for the sake of my job and the low rent.
The cottage was quaint with a bedroom, kitchen, living room, bathroom and basement for storage. It was unique and unlike the other houses in town, it had red flowers blooming along the white cottage walls, the kitchen garden as well as the front yard. The lady who lived here before, had cared for them quite a bit. The cottage smelled warm and citrusy like freshly washed linen. I thought it was perfect.
Three weeks had passed by before I noticed the odd occurrences, the flowers were always in bloom, there was never any need to tend the gardens and the cottage always, I mean always smelt fragrant. I could have had a rotten egg in the house, and it would still smell fresh. I should have been thanking my stars for the good fortune instead of complaining about it, but I couldn’t help feeling there was something not right about it. The fact that I felt like I was constantly being watched by one or several people didn’t help my sanity either.
I had lived alone for years and I enjoyed the freedom and independence that came from it. Never once had I felt my instincts tell me I needed to run and that is what I felt – to run. Working as a journalist, I’ve had my share of being at places that belonged in horror movies and the darkest corners of hell – places that fill a person with dread and a chill that doesn’t go away even when the sun is shining bright. And now that chill was starting to set in, the once warm cottage was frigid. I was having sleepless nights and the once pleasant smell of linen and citrus was nauseating. Having been to warzones, documenting the cruelties of the world, I had learnt one thing – listen to your instincts, instincts trumped everything. I needed to get out of here and fast.
I packed my bags as fast as I could – there really wasn’t much to pack – and just as I was looking for my car keys, the doorbell rang. This was odd because, since I had moved into the cottage, I’ve never had visitors, the neighbors didn’t know me, and I didn’t have family or friends in this city. Opening the door, I was greeted by an elderly woman and her daughter who had come to invite me to a festival the town would be celebrating soon. When I informed them that I was leaving, they insisted I stay just for a week as the celebrations were the best thing about the town. They said I’d get a story worth writing and a week’s delay wouldn’t make much of a difference.
That’s when I should have left and never looked back.
The next day, the town was livelier than ever, children were on the streets helping their parents decorate their houses, there were various performing artists on the streets, and people dressed in strange flowy costumes. I guessed these were all part of the festivities. The old lady visited once again and this time she had a package with her. It was a beautiful white dress patterned intricately with tiny ruby red flowers – a gift given to a resident who takes part in the festival for the very first time.
It was all very strange and yet I was getting reeled into their pace. As the days to the festival started growing nearer the fear and the need to escape, was replaced by enjoyment and delight. I loved it here – I didn’t have a reason as to why. An itch had begun to form below my skin as it always happened when I was trying to remember something – what was it again? Leave? Why would I want to leave? The town was lovely, the people were always so nice, and most of all I belonged here.
On the day of the festival, I wore the exquisitely designed dress – what was that smell? Fresh? Lemon? The women complimented me, and the children sang and ran circles around me. I was so happy. The old woman led me outside the cottage and said “Child, the flowers need to be watered. It’s time.” I wanted to help and please her, if only this stupid itch would stop annoying me. “Quickly now child! The time is near.” And I listened. I watered the flowers.
I fell asleep and when I woke, I saw young women in clothes like the one I wore, and they all looked at me with faces of the deepest grief. A pretty redhead spoke as she looked behind me “You should have left when we warned you. Now you are one of us.” I turned and saw the townspeople lay my body with slit wrists into the grave they had dug on the beautiful backyard.
And I understood I was part of the sacrifice, for who or what I would never know.