Christopher D. Ochs | A Slice of Orange

August’s from A Cabin in the Woods features a short short by Christopher D. Ochs. Christopher’s foray into writing began with his epic fantasy Pindlebryth of Lenland. Several of his short stories have been published in the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and Bethlehem Writers Group anthologies and websites. His latest work, If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep , is a collection of bedtime reading to inflict on naughty children.

His current projects include: a YA urban-fantasy/horror novel My Friend Jackson; a short story in Firebringer Press’ last anthology in their Middle of Eternity series; and the next installment of the Pindlebryth saga.

Christopher says, “The following is semi-autobiographical. I leave it to the reader to determine how much of this tale is true.”


SPIRIT TRAIL

I don’t particularly believe in ghosts, though there have been several curious incidents in this house over my lifetime.

Nothing frightening, mind you, nor anything remotely harmful. If anything, the unseen forces-that-be have been nothing but helpful.

The first instance I clearly recall occurred during my junior-high school years. I was raised the classic latchkey kid. Both parents held down two jobs, so yours truly was responsible for closing up the house before heading to classes.

That spring day, I woke up looking out the open window above my headboard at a sky filled with roiling clouds still deciding whether or not they wanted to rain. By the time I finished dressing for school, Mom and Dad had already slogged off to their crack-of-dawn work shifts.
Dashing out of the house, I was halfway through my shortcut across our neighbor’s corn fields, when I heard the rumble of thunder. On its heels came the realization I couldn’t remember if I had closed my bedroom window.

With a grunt of exasperation, I made a U-turn back for home. Sure enough, my second-floor window was wide open. Ready, willing and able to let the impending squall soak my pillow.

I had sprinted halfway up the stairs when I heard a bang, loud as a gunshot, reverberate from my bedroom. Once I summoned the courage to enter my room, my jaw dropped in bewilderment. The old warped double-hung window–which would normally require my full weight to close–was firmly shut, fierce raindrops pelting its glass panes.

Then there was the time years later, when I returned home long after sunset, tired from work and a laundry list of errands. Both my arms were crammed with fully-loaded grocery bags as I fumbled with the lock and shouldered the door open. I wasn’t two steps into the dark and deserted house when all the kitchen lights snapped on.

With the odd sensation of being watched pressing in on me, I proffered a nervous “Thank you very much?”

The lights flickered in response. I could almost hear the house chuckle.

These humorous but unsettling episodes continued, though with less frequency as the years rolled by. Eventually they stopped entirely–or perhaps, they merely escaped my notice–as responsibilities and drudgeries crowded most everything else out of my life. Adding events like the passing of my parents, the transformation of neighbors’ cornfields to townhouses, and other milestones kept my attention firmly planted in the world of the mundane.

That is, until I discovered an old family heirloom–a county map, penned soon after my ancestors and hundreds of other immigrants had formally established my hometown and surrounding boroughs. The yellowed parchment document, complete with an antiquated county seal, depicted Iroquois trails that were already centuries old by the time the colonial-era deeds had been drafted.

The paths snaked along the ridges of the local offshoots of the Appalachian mountain chain, including a few thoroughfares that wended their way through the new and burgeoning county. The map’s legend declared that the indigenous peoples–the Lenni Lenape, Delaware and other members of the Iroquois nation–had “rights in perpetuity to sole and unhindered access to the mineral fields atop and in vicinity of Jasper Mountain, for the purpose of fashioning arrowheads and other baubles likewise; to deliver said freight without impediment, toll or tax along the footpaths documented herein.”

I was overcome by an unsettling sensation that the house was looking over my shoulder, when I learned the map indicated the footpath connecting Jasper Mountain to the Appalachian Trail formed my estate’s western property line.

Barely a week had passed since finding the map, before I found unmistakable signs my unseen helpers had resumed their work. On the other hand, maybe I was simply paying closer attention.

Like the instance when a limb from the locust tree my father had planted close to the house had fallen. Carpenter ants had eaten away at its core, and the massive limb finally snapped under its own weight, coming to rest harmlessly on open lawn nowhere near the tree’s trunk. By all rights, left to gravity and a windless night, that moss-laden battering ram should have crashed straight through my bedroom ceiling.

The latest instance of helpfulness was thankfully far less life-threatening. It was a windy fall day when my dog bolted out of the house to pester the mailman. I gave chase, still in my bum-around-the-house sweatpants. A stray gust banged the door shut behind me.

My heart leapt into my throat once I realized I had left my keys on the kitchen table, and the door was set to lock behind me. With my recalcitrant puppy in tow, I returned to the house, upset with the predicament I expected to find. I could only shake my head and smile at my invisible helpers, come to my rescue once again.

The deadbolt, which could only have been operated with the key in the lock, had somehow extended itself, preventing the door from closing completely.
I suppose some would attribute these events to poltergeists or other denizens of the afterlife. Other might dismiss them as quaint tall tales. As for myself, I prefer to believe the gentle spirits of Nature, who guided the lives and culture of the countless indigenous peoples before me, still favored this locale.

But how to repay their longstanding kindness?

When I got around to replacing the rotting tree that nearly did me in, I found entangled in its roots a cache of pristine jasper arrowheads. Lost or forgotten by some long-dead traveler, their points were still sharp enough to pierce a deer’s heart. Despite my knowing they would command an impressive sum from any number of collectors, something bid me do otherwise.

Finding a secluded grove overlooking Jasper Mountain’s babbling brook, I reburied my discovery.

Back in my kitchen, I mused over my evening tea. Had I had performed a noble deed, or something unquestionably foolish? With a maudlin sigh, I wondered if I might never again be visited by my unseen helpers.

The lights flickered in response.


Books and Stories by Christopher D. Ochs


About BWG
About BWG
The Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC (BWG), founded in 2006, is a community of mutually supportive, fiction and nonfiction authors based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The members are as different from each other as their stories, spanning a range of genres including: children’s, fantasy, humor, inspiration, literary, memoir, mystery, paranormal, romance, science fiction, women’s fiction, and young adult.

SalSally Paradysz wrote from a book-lined cabin in the woods beside the home she built from scratch. She was an ordained minister of the Assembly of the Word, founded in 1975. For two decades, she provided spiritual counseling and ministerial assistance. Sal completed undergraduate and graduate courses in business and journalism. She took courses at NOVA, and served as a hotline, hospital, and police interview volunteer in Bucks County, PA. She was definitely owned by her two Maine Coon cats, Kiva and Kodi.

Sal is missed by all who knew her.


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The Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC (BWG), founded in 2006, is a community of mutually supportive, fiction and nonfiction authors based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The members are as different from each other as their stories, spanning a range of genres including: children’s, fantasy, humor, inspiration, literary, memoir, mystery, paranormal, romance, science fiction, women’s fiction, and young adult.
  • DT Krippene says:

    Another great short story, Chris.

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