In some ways, it had been, but it was real. It had been decades since he’d been back, abandoned after he'd suddenly left. The centuries had not been kind to it.
Pushing his way through the grass, he got to the front door. Once painted green, the door was now worn to bare wood by the years and weather and hung by a couple of screws from rusted hinges. He dared not touch it for fear of it falling off in his hands, but to enter, he must, so he gave the door the slightest of pushes, and it wobbled open, the screws barely hanging in the rotted frame.
The air inside escaped into the afternoon breeze carrying the smell of mildew and rain, rot, and decay. As it crossed his nose, he turned his head to avoid smelling any more than necessary, waiting for fresh air to enter the musty house. He took a series of deep breaths and stepped inside.
The rooms were small, as were most rooms in cottages of this type. Sunlight from the open doorway flooded into the space allowing him to see that time had not been kind to the old cottage. Windows with broken glass, a chandelier hanging haphazardly, cobwebs covering the walls, and faded furniture.
However, he wasn’t interested in the state of the cottage. Its location and history were what brought him to the ruins. He closed his eyes and tried to picture her.
“Hello, Martha.” He heard his words echo in the small, nearly empty room.
He half expected to hear her answer him, but the room remained quiet—only the rustle of leaves on a tree branch outside the front door reached his ears.
After a few moments, he heard a voice that seemed to come out of the woodwork.
“Did you do it?”
“Yes. He’s dead. I have him out in the car.”
“Well, bring him in.”
“You’ll have to help me.” He managed to protest.
“Your time is almost up.”
He again plowed his way to the car. The tall overgrown grass made it almost impossible to move with any speed.
Opening the trunk, he managed to drag the body out of it. It landed with a muffled thump in the tall grass. He was panting heavily, out of breath, as he managed to move the body around the side of the car, then took a break. He leaned against the fender and closed his eyes, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs that were fast forming in his mind. He took several deep breaths before he began the trek back to the cabin, this time dragging the body. Usually, he’d been able to move the body without too much trouble, but he was past his prime by about a hundred years. The heavy overgrowth around the cottage contributed to hampering his efforts, making what should have been relatively easy work into a workout he didn’t need.
He made it to the front door. Turning around, he could easily see the path of bent and broken grass from his car to the door. He’d have to deal with that later. A regrowth spell would bring back the grass flattened by the body. With one grunt of an effort, he pulled the body past the threshold. He leaned against the doorframe to catch his breath and get his breathing back under control before he spoke.
“OK, Martha, you wanted him. He’s here.” He spoke to the empty room.
Martha’s voice seemed to come from no particular spot in the room, but he knew. Closing his eyes, he tried to imagine life without her. He couldn’t. If he told the truth to himself, he didn’t want to have a life without her.
But here he was in the old cottage doing her bidding, even after she’d been dead for decades. Decades? Hell, doing some basic math in his head, he figured it had been at least a century since she’d died. He knew he was at least that old.
While he waited for Martha to speak again, he left the body where he'd dropped it and walked through the rooms. The living room was small, the fireplace on the far outside wall was stone and in need of repainting, and probably needed rebuilding before a fire could burn in it again. The wood floor rotted out in most places, especially in the areas under the windows and right by the front door. In the kitchen, the second fireplace was in worse shape as chimney stones had fallen into the center of the hearth. He ignored the obvious damage to the old cottage. He remembered when Martha was in the kitchen cooking and the smell of fresh bread and cakes filled his nose. A cool breeze came in the window near him and instantly brought him back to reality.
He shook his head violently at the memories and shoved them back into the attic of his mind where they belonged. He managed to climb the half-collapsed stairs that led to the second floor. Standing in the small area that served as a foyer of sorts where a couple of the bedroom doors met, he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes again. He barely heard the sound of plaster cracking under the weight of his shoulder as his mind traveled back over the centuries. But his memories refused to stay where he’d put them.
The door to the bedroom that had been theirs was hanging by a couple of nails. He lightly touched it, and it came loose and fell back against the wall behind it, but he never noticed. All he could see was their first night together and Martha in her dressing gown and the smile on her face as he came to her. The rest of the night had been a blur, a pleasant blur. Smiling at the memory, he grinned to himself.
Those had been good days. He didn’t have anything, and she had less. But they had managed to make a good life out of the small farm. The sound of Martha’s voice calling him wiped the grin from his face. He turned back to the stairs.
It took him several minutes to get back to the first floor without falling through the remains of the stairs. After what seemed like ages, he stood in the living room. The body still lay in the open door where he left it.
Martha was now standing in the middle of the room.
“What were you doing?” The look on her face said, “There had better be a good reason for your going up there.”
He thought for a moment. “I was curious to see how the place looked.” He didn't want to tell the real reason he’d gone up there. To try to remember a better time and when they were in love.
He stood still, looking at her. He remembered the lust, even love, that he’d had for her, then he remembered the look, the rage, and the hatred. He remembered killing her a century ago and burying her in the cottage. The whys and how and wherefore all came back instantly when she gave him that look again.
After burying her, he left, but it wasn’t long after that that she came back. At first, she had been in a dream. Then he saw her when he was awake. Soon she was talking to him. The voices seemed to come from inside his mind. Like he remembered them.
Now she was walking and talking just like she had before. She still looked as beautiful as she had on their wedding day, but she held power over him. He couldn’t die because of the power she held over him. In the last few decades, he’d done things for her he never wanted to do, but he couldn’t resist. Killing this man who somehow wronged her in some little way had become the last straw. He couldn’t do it anymore.
It was in that instant he made up his mind. He’d have to kill her again.
This time she would stay dead.