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Lakewood Times

Lakewood Times

“A Hot Summer Day” Gothic Fiction

The air sweltered under the beating sun, burning through everything in its path. No breeze could be found, and the country around the mansion seemed blurry and unknowable, unable to be breached. The day seemed set on being the hottest of August, and everything slowed to a lethargy pace. The fire of the sun’s rays was suffocating, especially at noon, when all the inhabitants of the mansion burrowed away into their rooms under wet compresses and loose clothes. 

Nothing was to be done that day, nothing could be done that day. And so she layed in her four-poster bed, blankets kicked-off to her feet, a cold rag splayed over her face. The window was open slightly, despite the lack of wind, and the buzzing of a fly zoomed across the bedroom in an incessant rhythm. Her mind was filled with nothing, as even the comfort of dreams seemed impossible to invite given the tortuous Georgia summer. 

She had no knowledge of when morning had passed and night arrived, nor when she had even awoken or fallen asleep, but when she opened her eyes again she saw only darkness around her. The air was cooler now, still warm, but brisker than earlier, and a distinct breeze could be felt playing against her face. The rag was dried out now, and was placed to the side as she sat up. Sweat covered her body and mixed into her hair, her mouth felt like sand, and her mind was disoriented. It was as if she had fallen asleep and awoken in a different world.

But soon enough she heard the familiar footsteps of her kin emanating from the hall, perhaps mother. Only, no one opened the door, and she lay back down and began to believe she had imagined the noise due to the prolonged silence. That is until a scuffling noise started again at the foot of her bed. The pale gauzy curtains that hung around her parted slightly, then closed, continuing several times until she began to be filled with an aching sense of dread. Despite the still present heat she curled up under the heavy blankets, burrowing in a ball in an attempt to pretend nothing was amiss. Sweat began to pool around her, and salt blurred her eyes. 

But no protection could be found when she felt a long hand graze down her form, reaching her head. Scratching at the blanket covering her face, the hand lightly attempted to pull it down, but stopped after she pulled tighter. And then just like the noise, the hand disappeared. An hour passed before she lifted the coverlet from her, only to see the room exactly as it was before. The books were still piled on the bedside table, the vanity was still filled with perfumes and hair brushes, the chair still held her discarded cotton dress. The room was as still as the moon hanging overhead, as calm as the night sky. 

And then she awoke. The morning sun once again beat down across the mansion, the flies buzzed across the room once again, and the heat seemed as oppressive as before. Sitting up from her bed, the blankets pulled tight around her, she tried to remember the events of the night before, but only a mis-matched collection of memories filled her mind. All that was left was a seemingly delirious nightmare that she couldn’t quite grasp. Resolving to get up for the day, she readied herself, pinning up her hair and tying on her lightest white gown. The heat was as awful as ever, and she couldn’t subject herself to a corset on a day like this, nor any lace-up boots. 

Sitting at her vanity, she pulled out a paper and pen and wrote down everything she could remember of the nightmare, but very little was put to paper. Staring listlessly out the window at the outside world, the suffocating heat of her bedroom seemed ever more cruel. A noise at her door woke her from her imaginings, as the lock turned her mother stood there. As usual, her mother did not cross the border of the door, merely stood there with a tray of breakfast in her hands. No words were exchanged as she took the tray, merely the same blank stare her mother always possessed. Her mother’s job done, she turned away in a stiff motion, like a soldier at arms. Her gown swooshed across the floor, its black velvet skirt no doubt burning in summer⁠—though of course, her mother showed no reaction.

After having eaten her meal, she sat there in her chair just like before, staring out across the grass. Nothing had changed from before, and nothing had changed over the years she had looked out the window. But still, she looked, staring out at the wide expanse of her world that was always the same. And so as she stared and stared, as the sun rose and fell, as night became day and the moon became the sun. She had heard a knock at her door earlier from her mother, bringing a tray for dinner, but ignored it instead to watch the consistent sameness of the lawn. 

But again, she felt a cold imprint on her shoulder, a sharp contrast to the heat of the day. Jumping up from her seat, she looked wildly around her but saw no disturbance. The room was exactly as it had been a minute ago, with nothing to signify the arrival of the presence. All she was left with was the same confusion as the night before, a sense of foreboding lurking just over her shoulder, just outside her peripheral.

Again and again, this occurred, when in the middle of the night, a hand grazed over her. But no matter how fast she would look, nothing was ever there. The muffled sounds of footsteps continued, but she could no longer tell if it was this presence or her family lurking outside her door. Everything was strange and disjointed, and she felt bewildered the majority of the time. Delirium seemed to be controlling her mind, as she began to question what was reality and what was a bad nightmare. Was anything true anymore? She couldn’t tell. The only signifier of time was the procedural knocking at her door for her meal, but she secretly suspected her family changed the times each day to confuse her. If they were, it was working. She had to get out of this room.

There was something there with her every day, torturing her into insanity. Her nightmares seemed to come true with this phantom, who danced around her. She couldn’t ask her family for help, they were the ones who locked her in this dreaded room. She had to do something herself, or not only would her physical body be a prisoner, but her mind as well.

 The slightly opened window stood beckoning to her, in a way that it had never done before. She had lived with that window all her life but had never once entertained the notion of climbing through it down below. It had always been out of the question. 

But that was before the phantom, before the neverending nightmare that was her life. Lifting herself from her chair, she walked with shaky steps to the window, grasping it with weak hands. Pushing it fully open, she stared down at the home, its once pristine white facade dingy and overgrown with ivy after years of neglect. Gripping the sides of the window, she lifted herself up, nearly tripping on her skirt as she stood on the ledge. Grasping a vine of ivy, she gave a tug, checking its strength. Holding both hands onto the vine, she leaned out from the window, wrapping each leg around the vine and shimmying slowly down. Ever so slowly progress was made, and the bottom seemed ever closer in sight. And then, freedom. Freedom from the phantoms, the family, and the house.

But then a familiar sensation lilted from above, and although she was too fearful to look up, she knew it was the tortuous hand of her nightmares. The ivy which had so far been helping her valiantly, now began to incrementally fall, as something above began to cut at it. She barely had time to register that she was falling before she hit the ground below her, and everything went black. 

A new morning, the sun beaming from outside and the heat oppressive as always. She awoke to the blankets over her and her mind was muddy and delirious. A slight bump could be felt under her hair, and she wondered what she had hit in her sleep to cause such an injury. Sitting up gingerly, she turned to look out at the window at the sameness of her life, the consistency of the fields and plains. Only, instead of a slightly ajar window greeting her, thick boards of wood stood nailed across, blocking out any view⁠—or exit⁠. Turning around in shock, she was confronted by her door, which now no longer existed. In its place were the same wooden boards, nailed from the inside. Only a little sliver of opening remained, just enough room for a tray. She was once again locked in, only now, she could not escape the phantom.

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