NEW TO YOU
By Linda S. Williams
She slid the drawer closed, stood and absentmindedly picked up her phone to check her messages. “Great,” she said. “No service.” Despite her previous refusals of Pat’s offer of the cabin, Lizzy found herself nestled in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest. She let out a deep sigh at the prospect of two weeks without the distraction of work. It had been almost a year since she had leaned into her husband’s chest as they buried their young son and six months since she watched her husband place the last of his things in the moving van. Lizzy intended to use this time to devise a strategy for the next phase of her life.
Dropping the useless phone into her bag, she grabbed her keys and headed out, the screen door slapping behind her.
She parked and walked along Main Street until she arrived at New To You. Lizzy moved through the store slowly, stopping to look at several items, putting each back in their place. She was turning to thank the shopkeeper for letting her browse when her eye caught a sharp sliver of light reflecting off the handle of the hairbrush. As she reached to gently lift the brush, she whispered, “It’s exquisite.” The silver repousse back was monogrammed, it’s handle worn from use. She vaguely stroked the palm of her hand with the horsehair bristles as she approached the counter. “Excuse me,” she said, “I don’t see a price on this.” The shopkeeper took the brush from Lizzy’s outstretched hand. “Well, let’s just take a look,” she replied. “Nope, no price.” She tilted her head slightly as she turned the brush over in her hands, “First time I’ve seen this,” she said. “Oh well, no matter. Does $20 sound fair?” She held the brush out to Lizzy whose response was to exchange it for her debit card. The shopkeeper thanked Lizzy for her business and watched as she walked out and into the fading afternoon sun.
Lizzy dropped onto the sofa and turned the brush in her hand. It was even more lovely than she had first thought and instinctively began stroking her ginger tresses with the soft bristles. Her mind wandered but found no place to settle as she rhythmically guided the brush.
She bolted upright, heart racing, disoriented as she strained her eyes to see through the duskiness. Quickly her pulse subsided as she recognized Pat’s cabin and realized that she had simply fallen asleep on the sofa. But, no sooner had lamp light filled the room then a wave of panic washed over her as she frantically began patting the sofa, looking for the brush. A wink of light caught the handle and she quickly retrieved the brush from under the sofa table, clutching it to her chest and letting out a deep exhale.
After dinner, she adjourned to the porch where the squeak of the glider did its best to oppose the stillness of the night. The silence intensified, unsettling Lizzy to the point that after only a few minutes she retreated inside. A stack of magazines in hand, she allowed the sofa to engulf her again. The magazines were soon ignored as she gave into the rhythm of the hairbrush slipping through her hair. She sat serenely humming and rocking until she drifted off to sleep.
Unlike earlier when she awoke of her own accord, this time she was awakened by a mournful wail that sliced through the mountain air. Leaping from the sofa, she turned to face the door and stood riveted in place, hairbrush clutched tightly to her chest. As the keening consumed the cabin, her mind flashed to her Gran and tales of the Banshee. Dismissing the image as quickly as it had materialized, “What if someone is injured and crying for help,” she thought. Crossing to the door, she turned the knob with a trembling hand and stepped onto the porch. Braced for the wailing to intensify, Lizzy instead encountered the same immense silence as before. Straining to see through inky night, she called out “Hello, is anyone there?” Receiving no reply, she raised her voice and called out again. Struggling to hear through the dense silence, she stood there until a tingling began at the nape of her neck and crept up her scalp. The feeling that she needed to get inside overcame her just as the clouds that had obscured the Moon parted. There, at the edge of the tree line, illuminated by the moonlight was a hooded figure, crouched at the base of a tree, its shrouded face looking at Lizzy, an outstretched skeletal finger pointing accursedly.
She leaned against the door, eyes closed, breathing hard, a thin film of sweat materializing on her palms. As her breathing returned to normal, she thought, “For God’s sake, get a grip. You’ve not even spent a single night here and you’re imagining boogeymen.” With her rational mind firmly in control, she readied herself and crawled into bed. But that night her sleep was filled with images of her Irish Gran and tales of the Banshee.
The cruel silence of the previous night had been replaced by birds singing the songs of nature. Lizzy let the sounds fill her up while breathing in the dusky smells of the forest. Sensing she was close to her destination, she stopped and consulted the trail map,
Phone in hand she approached the falls and quickly slipped under the guardrail that surrounded the lookout. She was intent on changing the setting on the camera when she felt two hands firmly press into the small of her back. As she began to turn, the ground under her feet evaporated and she felt the rush of cool mountain air through her hair.
The Park Ranger turned the contents of the small pack onto the ground, and looked up at his partner, hand outstretched. “Of all the things you would bring on a hike, why in the world would you bring a silver hairbrush?”