By The Fright Of The Silvery Moon

The nightmare jolted me awake. I sat up in bed gasping for air, my heart hammering against my chest. Something had been chasing me through the dark rooms of Granger Mansion. I heard it breathing, panting behind me, its nails scraping on the floor.

In my dream, I ran upstairs and slammed the door to my bedroom just as I felt its hot breath on my back. I covered my ears so I wouldn’t hear the sound of it prowling outside my room, trying to find a way inside. That was when, thankfully, I woke up.

The full, silver moon shone into my bedroom, making it almost as light as day. Everything was still and hushed. I didn’t hear the sound of a monster trying to get in. Nevertheless, I got up, padded to the window, and closed my curtains, shutting out whatever might be lurking out there.

Wide awake now, I tried to recover from the ugly memory of that dream. Would a cup of chamomile tea help? Would a couple of aspirins calm me down? For the first time in a very long time, I wished for some sort of a tranquilizer but there were none in the house.

Holding onto the banister as I stumbled downstairs, I felt like a young child who runs to her parents’ bed when she wakes up scared. Since I couldn’t do that, I sought the next best thing: a warm, relaxing drink and a fire in the fireplace.

I did not believe in dreams as omens but my Grandma Duncan did. She also believed in throwing a pinch of salt over her left shoulder if she spilled any and if she broke a mirror, she was sure bad luck would follow. I was in no way superstitious, but I wondered what Granny would say about this particular nightmare.

Could a suppressed fear of being alone have triggered it? Even though my little gray cat Penny and I were the only ones in this big, old Victorian house, and despite the times when I was poignantly aware of the emptiness, I wanted to be nowhere else but here in my hometown of Ednalee, Oklahoma, in my Uncle Javin Granger’s house. “The Home Place,” my mother called it. My grandparents once lived here and when they died, they willed it to Uncle Javin. He, in turn, left it and five acres to me in his will, so I was where I wanted to be. I loved every oak plank and polished railing of Granger Mansion.

I had returned to my hometown last December, leaving Atlanta where I had lived for the past forty years. My husband Sloan had died. He and I had no children, and neither of my parents was living, so when Uncle Javin wrote, asking me to come, I came. His letters sounded frightened and anxious, as if he thought he was in danger. That proved to be the case. Someone shot him, and I arrived at his home, this very house, only in time to tell him good-bye.

As a special bonus to my being here, I reconnected with my childhood chums, Pat Mills and Jackie Murray. Many years ago, we called ourselves The Three Musketeers and vowed to support each other through thick and thin. Pat, a widow, and Jackie, married to Ron, a lawyer, welcomed me back home. I had no idea my homecoming would trigger fear in the heart of someone who had held a murderous secret for many years. I had no thought of being a threat to anyone, but a threat I was, so much so that my life had been in danger. That, however, had been resolved; everything seemed to be going smoothly.

To my surprise, the police chief of Ednalee was my long-ago classmate Cade Morris. Cade, with his blue eyes, dark hair flecked with gray, and slow smile brought a warmth to my heart I hadn’t felt since my husband died. Cade was one of the main reasons I loved being here. In grade school, he had been my champion when I was teased about my red hair.

Life doesn’t always travel a smooth, straight road. When I was twelve, my parents and I moved to Atlanta. Cade stayed in Ednalee. He married a woman named Lena and they had a child, Marianne. Lena, however, didn’t like her role as wife and mother, so three years ago, she left, on the arm of a traveling salesman. She neglected to file for divorce and, for some reason, Cade had failed to track her down and finalize things. Life could get complicated.

I stepped into the living room, still warm from the fireplace, and glanced out the window. Moonlight silvered the roof of my newly-rebuilt carriage house and cast long tree shadows across dead autumn grass. It was a peaceful scene, not at all frightening, but just in case something was out there looking in, I trotted over to close the curtain. The old hand-dug well, the carriage house, and the trees, were usually a peaceful sight, but not tonight. A remnant of my awful dream seemed to be lurking just out of sight somewhere in the night. As I was about to draw the curtain across the window, a shadow moved on the curbing, that brick platform and steps surrounding the well. The horror of my nightmare returned in full force.

An animal slipped out of the darkness and into the moonlight. What was it? A dog? A wolf? Raising its nose to the sky, it howled. The wail rose and fell, like wind moaning through the pines. Every lonely, heart-wrenching emotion ever felt by the human breast filled that eerie, sad, and chilling lament. Goose bumps chased each other up and down my arms.

The heart-rending cry stopped abruptly and the animal jumped from the curbing and dissolved into the shadows. Now, nothing but silvery light filled my yard, silent, cold, and serene.

Something furry brushed my leg. I jumped and yelped. Penny gazed at me, her eyes large and frightened.

Scooping her up in my arms, I rubbed my cheek against her warm back.

“Oh, Penny,” I whispered. “What was that?”

Her answer was a deep-throated purr as she snuggled under my chin.

Grabbing an afghan from the back of a chair, I trudged to the stove. Would a cup of chamomile tea and a generous dollop of honey warm me?

Setting Penny on the floor, I turned on the gas jet under the tea kettle, and placed a tea bag in my favorite brown mug. While the water heated, I checked doors and windows to be sure they were locked. Reason told me that the animal who had paid me a visit had undoubtedly gone back into the woods, but reason took a back seat to the remembrance of something horrible and unknown intruding into my sleep.

Satisfied that the house was securely locked, I returned to the kitchen. With unsteady hands, I poured water into my mug, added honey, and sat down at the kitchen table, the afghan snugly tucked around my shoulders.

The warm drink and Penny, purring on my lap, relaxed me. The nightmare, after all, was just that. It could have no basis in reality. The animal on the well? Perhaps a neighbor’s dog. Surely wolves were long gone from this area. Moonlight probably made him look larger than he actually was.

Moonlight? Did the moon’s gravity exert a pull on humans and animals as well as oceans?

The moon was full last December when I arrived at Granger’s Mansion. I had been looking forward to becoming reacquainted with Uncle Javin, my last living relative. Remembering the first glimpse I had of Uncle Javin’s home, emerging from the swirling snow in the winter twilight once again brought a glow to my heart. I hadn’t known, as I parked outside the gate and made my way inside, that Uncle Javin would not be able to meet me.

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I forced myself to concentrate on the here and now: friendly little gray cat, warm fire, and relaxing cup of tea. The past was behind me.

“It’s silly to let a dream and a poor, lost animal upset me,” I told my furry housemate. “Tomorrow, the sun will rise and I’ll forget about this unsettling night. Everything will be better with a new day.”

Little did I know how wrong I was.