As awesome as it is to write stories based on pictures that are sent to me, there is one slight snafu with the whole thing. If I know the source of the picture, I have to get permission to use it. My grandmother sent me the most amazing pic of a worn down house on a piece of open land, but despite reaching out to the owner of that pic, I haven’t heard back yet. That being said, the one below is a close representation of the original. If I do get permission to use the original, I will definitely trade this one out for it!
Also, I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, my readers. I have gotten the most amazing feedback from you all, and it is what spurs me on, even when I feel like I can’t punch out one more letter on the keyboard. I love you guys, and am so incredibly grateful for each and every one of you ❤
Here is, ‘Alternate’:
The only place I felt safe in the world was in a house they called haunted. At least that was how it used to be.
From my view at the end of the long driveway, I could take in the full scope of the house, and it wasn’t pretty. The white paint had been peeling from the place for years as was evidenced by how much of the weathered, wood siding was bare. Patches of rust ate holes into the metal roof. Was the house even livable? Probably not, but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying. I’d stay as long as it took.
I got back in my Ford Explorer and let the tires slowly find their way across what was supposed to be a gravel drive, though the weeds had taken over the majority of it.
Despite its shortcomings, the dilapidated house along the outskirts of Lake City, Colorado was mine. The papers had been signed that morning, passing the place out of the hands of the bank and into my own. There had been relief on the face of the bank representative as he signed the papers. The house had been on the market for two years. No one else had wanted to purchase the house said to be haunted with the spirit of Mr. Fredericks. That worked out well for me, because it had taken me two full years to get up the courage to finally buy the place.
The house had once been my refuge. As a child, I had been fearful. Terrified of the world around me. Yet when I went to that house, all those fears faded into the background, like nothing bad could ever touch me there. That was all before Mr. Fredericks had died. He was the reason I had left and the reason I was back. There was something I had to do for him.
When my SUV was parked as close to the front porch as I could get, I began carting supplies from the vehicle into the house. Food, a sleeping bag, gallons of fresh water. All things I knew I would need to get me through.
For a week, I either worked on fixing the place up or sat on the porch, watching the end of the drive and waiting. Every night, I would lock myself in the one room that was decently airtight and run a space heater so I would be comfortable. It was only October, but the temperatures were colder than usual for autumn.
On the Tuesday of the second week, I woke as the light of first dawn was coming in through the window. As my eyes began to blink open, my heart began to pound in my chest. Something felt different. Like I wasn’t the only one there. Sitting up, I looked toward the room door and screamed, reaching for the gun I kept under my pillow as I did.
A woman, dressed in a long, white dress was standing near the door. Her skin was so pale it seemed almost translucent, while her hair was blonde enough to border on white. It was braided along the top of her head, and dropped nearly to her waist. Icy blue eyes studied me as I aimed my pistol at her.
“Who are you?” I demanded, feeling a nagging in the back of my mind that I knew this woman. I knew her well, but I couldn’t quite place from where.
My hands were shaking badly, causing the gun to aim first at her. Then a little to her right. Then a little to her left. If she charged me, it would be a miracle if I hit her. What was the point of all those hours at the range if I couldn’t come through when the time for action was upon me?
“Who am I?” Her tone was low, enough that I almost couldn’t make out her words.
“Yeah, who the heck are you?”
“Winter?” My arms were starting to get tired. I tried using different muscles to keep them up. I wouldn’t look very convincing if I couldn’t even keep the gun pointed at a target for more than a minute. “Could you be a little more specific?”
“I come with snow, and when it melts go.”
“When it melts…” I shook my head. “What are you talking about? It’s only October. The snow hasn’t fallen yet.”
“You are wrong. Winter has long since been upon us, and the snow is heavy on the ground.”
In disbelief, I stood and walked over to the window. The woman was right. A heavy layer of snow blanketed the yard.
“What’s going on?” I whispered, trying to make sense of it.
It was impossible that I had managed to sleep from October to whatever month it was. I was no Rip Van Winkle. What, then, had caused such a phenomenon to occur?
Maybe the place really was haunted. The thought was ridiculous, especially since it was a woman in front of me and not the ghost of Mr. Fredericks, but I still felt a chill up my spine.
“What do you want?” I asked the woman as I turned back to her.
“Follow me,” she said.
Against my better judgement, I did as she commanded. As we walked, I saw the tracks her feet clearly made in the snow. She was no ghost, but she still didn’t seem quite human.
When I started to realize where she was going, my own steps felt heavier and pained. The familiar feeling of deep guilt settled in my gut, and I knew it was useless to try and shake it.
“Do you know this place?” Winter asked when she stopped.
“How could I not,” I whispered. I pointed at the corner of the field, near the tree line. “Mr. Fredericks died right there. And up there,” I pointed at a tree house that looked like it would plummet to the ground with the next breeze, “is where I watched it all happen.”
“You are correct.”
My limbs began to tremble as I remembered that day from twelve years ago. The memories were fresh and raw, as if the incident had just happened.
“I should have turned him in,” I said quietly. “I should have turned Mr. Fredericks’ killer in. I was a coward not to. But I was scared. So scared.”
“Mr. Fredericks didn’t die that day. He was alive just this morning.”
“No. He died twelve years ago. I saw it.”
“You saved him by screaming. You saw that knife the killer pulled out and you screamed. Mr. Fredericks turned in time and managed to pull out the pistol he always carried. He shot the killer, wounding him, and the killer ran away. Mr. Fredericks asked you not to tell anyone who it was, though. Despite your misgiving, you listened to him and didn’t tell anyone.”
“You’re wrong,” I said firmly. I should know what happened since I witnessed it all in detail.
The woman gave a small smile and shook her head.
“Go back to the house,” she said. “There are people looking for you.”
With that, she disappeared right in front of my eyes.
An intense feeling that I had never experienced before took a hold of me. A mix of terror and awe. The thought that I was losing my mind.
I stepped forward and swiped the air where she had been standing, but it was empty.
Feeling nauseous, barely conscious of the fact I was walking, I made it back to the house in time to see Hindsdale County Sheriff Ben Morris stepping out of his patrol car, his boots sinking deep in the snow. Deputy Cable Anders was with him. I hadn’t seen them in years. Other than a few more gray hairs and wrinkles, they looked very much the same.
“Hey!” Morris called when he saw me. “We’ve been looking for you for days. Where have you been?”
“Here. I’ve been here.”
“Fixing up the house,” I said, trying to sound normal even though my mind was reeling from the disappearance of Winter.
I thought about telling the sheriff what I had seen, but even I wasn’t sure if it was real or not. What if he thought I was crazy and locked me up or something?
“Why? Why would you fix up this old house?” he asked.
“Because it’s mine, and I want it to look good. I can’t let it continue to fall apart.”
“What do you mean it’s yours?”
“I bought it.”
Deputy Anders shook his head and said, “What’s going on? You know this house belongs to Mr. Fredericks. It’s been in his family for years.”
Mr. Fredericks? He was long dead.
I swallowed against the hard lump in my throat, trying to make sense of what the two men were telling me. What was going on?
“It is my house,” I persisted. “I flew in two weeks ago from Toronto to buy it. The bank owned it because Mr. Fredericks died and had a lot of debt. I signed the papers, and it’s mine now.”
“How did you know Mr. Fredericks died?” Deputy Anders asked, his voice taking on a hard edge.
“I saw it.”
“What do you mean you saw it?”
“Twelve years ago. I saw it happen.”
Morris took a step forward, his hand raised as if were trying to calm me down. It only served to make me more nervous.
“Mr. Fredericks was found stabbed to death inside of his home this morning,” said Morris. “And Toronto? What do you mean you flew in from Toronto? You’ve been teaching elementary school in Vail the last five years.”
I could only stare at them.
“Talk to us,” Anders said after a moment of silence. “Tell us what’s happening.”
“I know…” I stopped and licked at my dry lips. “I know who killed Mr. Fredericks.” If Winter had taken me to a new reality where I really had saved Mr. Fredericks, I knew the same person who had killed him just that morning was probably the same one from twelve years ago.
“You’re telling me,” said Morris with slow words, “that you know who killed Mr. Fredericks in his home this morning?”
“How do you know?” Morris pushed.
“Twelve years ago he tried to do the same thing, but Mr. Fredericks shot him before he could succeed. He must have finally come back to finish what he started back then.”
The two men exchanged a look before Morris asked, “You’re sure?”
I nodded again.
The sheriff walked back to his patrol car and called it in.
“You’ll have to come with us,” said Anders. “We have a lot to sort out.”
I nodded numbly and got into the back of the patrol car.
Despite my panicked confusion about everything that was going on, I felt some of the guilt ease off my shoulders. I should have turned in the killer twelve years ago so he hadn’t come back. Even so, in this alternate reality, Mr. Fredericks had gotten to live another twelve years, and Kyle would be brought to justice.
Exhausted from the day’s experiences, I rested my head against the backseat window and let my eyes drift shut.
I woke as the light of late morning was coming in through the window. As my eyes began to blink open, my heart began to pound in my chest. Something felt different. Like I wasn’t the only one there. Sitting up, I looked toward the room door and screamed, reaching for the gun I kept under my pillow as I did. It wasn’t there.
A woman, dressed in a knee-length, light pink dress was standing near the door. Her light brown hair was pulled back with small tendrils being left to fall around her face. Hazel eyes studied me inquisitively. She seemed familiar, just as Winter had, but I couldn’t figure out why.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“Spring,” she answered, tilting her head to the side.
“Spring? You have to be kidding me. Where is Winter?”
“She only comes out in the winter.”
“It is winter.”
“No, it is not. It is spring.”
I stood and walked to the window. Outside, green buds were starting to pop up in the flowerbed around the birch tree. A robin hopped along the ground close outside the window, busily searching the earth for his next meal.
“What happened?” I asked. “I was in the back of the patrol car. It was winter. There was a ton of snow on the ground.”
“Follow me,” she said, and I did as she asked.
We walked across grass that had been newly awakened from the winters chill. It was a far cry from the snow Winter and I had trudged through, but the destination was the same.
“Do you know this place?” Spring asked when she had stopped.
“Of course.” I pointed at the corner of the field, near the tree line. “Mr. Fredericks died right there. And up there,” I pointed at the tree house, “is where I watched it all happen.”
“You are correct.”
“Did Mr. Fredericks die twelve years ago?” I asked, not sure what this newly found alternate reality was like.
The guilt that had begun to lift in the back of Sheriff Morris’ car came crashing back again.
“I should have turned him in,” I said quietly. “I should have turned Mr. Fredericks’ killer in.”
“No, I didn’t. I was too scared.”
“As soon as the killer left, you got down from that tree house and ran to get help. You told the sheriff exactly what had happened. Kyle was arrested later that day, and he was sentenced to life in prison.”
“Yes, justice was served,” Spring said with a small smile. “Now, go. There is someone looking for you at the house.”
She disappeared. Since I had already witnessed the same with Winter, I was not as traumatized by Spring leaving in such a way. That didn’t stop the shakes from settling in, though. Whatever was happening was far beyond normal.
I made it back to the house in time to see Anders step out of his patrol car. He was alone.
“Deputy Anders,” I said.
“Deputy? Since when have I been a deputy?” he asked, the smile on his face suggesting he thought I was giving him a hard time.
I looked at the front of his uniform and cleared my throat.
“Sheriff Anders,” I corrected myself. “How is former Sheriff Morris doing these days?” I asked, hoping to glean some information.
“Oh, you know him. Still loving the politician’s life. Did you see the write-up about him in the paper?”
“Yeah. It’s been twelve years since he brought Kyle Fredericks to justice. The paper was recounting the speed and accuracy with which he handled the case. I mean, that is what got him recommended for politics after all.”
“True,” I said, shifting my weight from foot to foot uncomfortably. “Is there something you needed, Sheriff?” I asked him.
“Just wanted to see how that new building was looking.”
I turned to the house and barely managed to hold back a surprised gasp. The house looked amazing. Totally different than it had in the previous two realities. It was a beautiful, bright white. Someone had added green shutters to the windows, and the porch was adorned with dozens of overflowing flower pots and a huge glider. To the right of the house was what looked like the outline of a new barn.
“It’s looking good,” Anders said, nodding in approval. “I’m glad you decided to buy this place. Who knows what kind of condition it’d be in now if you hadn’t.”
“Time is getting away from me lately. I can’t keep track of it. How long would you say it’s been since I bought the house?”
“Hmm. I’d say it’s been about five years now, don’t you think? Yeah, because I remember it was a couple months after you and Buck graduated from college.”
“Right, right. How could I forget? Silly me.” I rubbed a hand across my forehead, trying to keep myself together in front of Anders.
“I better get going. You tell that boy of mine that just because he’s busy hanging out with you doesn’t mean he shouldn’t stop by for a meal occasionally. I think his mama is starting to miss him.”
Wow. In this reality was I really in a relationship with Buck Anders? That was something I never would have seen coming.
“Can do,” I said, forcing a smile on my face.
After Anders left, I walked up the clean and wholly mended front steps and settled into the glider. I still felt guilt that I hadn’t warned Mr. Fredericks that his nephew was coming at him with a knife, but at least Kyle Fredericks had met quick justice because I had been brave enough to turn him in.
The air was comfortably warm and the sounds of the birds in the trees was soothing. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.
I woke as the light of noonday was coming in through the window. As my eyes began to blink open, my heart began to pound in my chest. Something felt different. Like I wasn’t the only one there. Sitting up, I looked toward the room door and screamed, reaching for the gun I kept under my pillow as I did. It wasn’t there.
A woman, dressed in a short, golden dress was standing near the door. Her black hair ran in a braid down her back, and her skin was a deep olive. Sun-kissed. She seemed as familiar to me as Winter and Spring had.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “No, wait.” I ran a hand through my hair. “You must be Summer.”
“I don’t want to go out to that field or see that treehouse. I want you to tell me here and now. What happened to Mr. Fredericks?”
Summer smiled and said, “He is alive and well.”
“And Kyle Fredericks?”
“He’s serving a jail sentence for attempted murder. Despite Mr. Fredericks asking you not to tell anyone, you did anyway.”
“You should head outside now. Someone is here to see you.”
As I stepped out onto the front porch, just as clean and beautiful as it had been in Spring’s version of reality, I saw a clunker pulling up in front of me.
An old man stepped out. Using a wooden cane to help support his weight, he moved around the car and toward the porch.
Tears formed in my eyes. It was Mr. Fredericks, alive and well. I wanted to run up and hug him. To apologize for the other realities where I had done wrong by him. I knew he would think me crazy, though, so I forced myself to stay where I was at the top of the steps.
Mr. Fredericks stopped when he was a couple of feet from the bottom step, and he looked up at me.
“It’s looking good out here,” he said, his voice gravelly with age. “That new barn is coming along nicely.”
All I could do was nod.
“How have you been?” he asked.
“Good,” I whispered, then cleared my throat and tried again. “Pretty good,” I said with more strength.
There was an awkward silence, and then Mr. Fredericks said, “Listen, I just got to thinking last night. I haven’t been as kind to you as I should have been since, well, you know. You were right, though, to turn Kyle in. I’m glad you did.”
“Thank you,” I told him, my voice shaky.
“And I’m also grateful you were willing to take the house on. I can’t even imagine what it would look like these days if you hadn’t.”
“It’s been a pleasure. I love this place. You know that.”
When there was silence, I walked down the steps and wrapped Mr. Fredericks in a hug.
“Well, now, what’s this?” he said. The arm that wasn’t holding the cane came awkwardly up to return the hug.
“I’m just so happy to see you,” I said, trying to keep the tears at bay.
He patted my back, and then pulled away.
Giving a nod, he said, “I better get back, now. Otherwise those nurses start to worry. Take care of yourself, kiddo.”
Watching him leave, I felt the greatest sense of relief and freedom. There was no guilt. I felt happy for the first time in twelve years, and it was a glorious feeling.
It was right as I opened my eyes in the dark room that I heard it. The faint sound of someone moving around on the front porch. Soon after, there was a crash as one of the front windows was broken.
I knew exactly who it was.
I was Autumn, and Autumn hadn’t saved Mr. Fredericks. Autumn hadn’t stopped the killer. I had been too afraid. I had seen who it was and cowered in the treehouse, afraid to even breathe. Then, I had run far away from Lake City to Toronto, looking over my shoulder the last twelve years, hoping the killer hadn’t found out I had seen everything happen.
Autumn was my reality. The others, drug-hyped dreams of what I wish had been. I had seen some crazy things while tripping acid, but this newest one was by far the most painful.
Any other choice I could have made back then would have been better. Any other option would have seen at least some kind of right done. The ongoing life of Mr. Fredericks. The conviction of his killer. In one false reality, it even could have been both.
The killer, however, had gotten away with it. He’d murdered Mr. Franklin and walked away. Only he had found out that there was someone that had witnessed his crime, just as I knew he would. It had been all over the news that the sheriff’s department had suspicions someone had been in the tree house when the murder had taken place.
Kyle had put the pieces together. He knew as a child I always played up there. He knew because it had once been his tree house, built for him by Mr. Fredericks, the very man he had destroyed. He knew that, even as a teen, I found my solace there. He knew, and he was seizing on the opportunity to permanently silence me now that I was back in Lake City. I think that’s why I came back to the house. To find the moment when he would come to me. For twelve years, guilt had eaten away at my very soul, and I was ready to face it.
I had left three friends behind in Toronto. Three of the best friends a woman could ask for. We were all completely different from each other in looks and personality, and someone had once said we were like the four seasons. So different, yet each working in tandem together.
My friends had heard me recount what I had seen a dozen times as we got high or drank the night away. I had replayed so many what-ifs over and over to them as they listened. When I had told them what I planned to do, they had begged me not to go, pleaded with me. I had made a request of them, though, and they had reluctantly agreed to it. It was time to hold them to that.
I pulled out my phone and opened the text saved as a draft. All three of their numbers were in it. The words, ‘Call the sheriff’ were typed out and ready to go. I hit the send button. One of them would be with it enough to follow through.
I couldn’t be the one to call. I had work to do and no time to explain to a dispatcher what was going on.
Reaching under my pillow, I pulled out the handgun I knew would be there.
Standing, I walked to the door, racking the gun as I did.
I placed my hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath.
“For you, Mr. Fredericks,” I whispered.
And then I stepped out of the room.