Estimated reading time: 5 minutes —< Chapter 3: The Hot Air Balloon
Chapter 4. The Mill
Ron walked hastily up the rough stone steps. He had been at the village a few months before, scouting the place. The local population seemed to be used to the ebb and flow of strangers, stretching their legs while waiting for the commute train and no one noticed him.
He hadn’t found it the first time around, but he was determined to find it this time. The old burnt mill was the place, he knew it. Half hidden up on the hill, famed to have housed witches, the mill seemed to be abandoned.
When he opened the door, he heard an owl in the distance. He was not easily scared, so he entered. Much to his surprise, the mill’s fireplace was on and someone had been cooking.
“Anyone here?” he asked, knowing full well that the room was empty. No windows and only one door pretty much sealed that certainty. “Anyone? Human, animal, witch?” – He sneered.
This would be easier than he thought. There was hardly any furniture and only a few barrels. He went through every corner of that room methodically. He even emptied the pots with smelly plants and molded powders. Nothing.
Suddenly, he realized there was a room above him. He walked outside.
“Of course, I missed these stairs.”
To the left of the mill’s entrance, a flight of stairs led to an unusual room. The grindstone in the middle was circled by white lines with strange symbols. A number of candles were placed on the circle, lit. What particularly caught his attention was that the grindstone was splattered with several layers of blood, some dry, some seemingly fresh.
The owl hooted again, this time closer. Ron looked up. It was perched right above the grindstone pole, probably laughing at him, he thought. He wouldn’t find it here either. There was literally nowhere to hide it.
Not easily scared, but easily infuriated, Ron rampaged outside. He could see the train station below, he could hear the passengers chatting while killing time, he even spotted the irritatingly methodical stationmaster holding the bag and talking to people, probably asking every single one of them if they had seen him. That was exactly what he wanted, to keep the man busy and out of his way.
He took a few steps in the direction of the courtyard where that woman and her kid were. She was quite a looker, tall, long blonde hair, not too thin, not too fat, as he liked them. Ron didn’t think of himself as a womanizer, but he had his share of ladies, however none like this woman. She glowed. Well, at least in his eyes she did. He had hopes for the future and he would even accept the kid. However, it was not the time to be thinking of this.
He turned left once again and went up the hill, just to find a Stonehenge-type of structure overseen by an altar with two lit candles and a goblet filled with a red liquid, suspiciously similar to blood. The place was eerie, a gray mist hovering around the stones, certainly not what he expected to find in this peaceful village, Ron thought.
Growingly furious, he walked back to the village through the woods right by the river, across which a gypsy camp was bustling with movement. He took a few steps over the little bridge. It smelled deliciously of food. Ron didn’t want to draw attention, so he quickly traced back his steps, heading to the square.
At the market square, in front of the Inn, he stopped to organize his ideas. A plump vendor noticed him and waved, holding an apple. He got closer and bought it from her.
Half the teeth missing and the other half about to follow, she smiled.
“Delicious,” said Ron. The young woman smiled even more. By the looks of her increasing agitation and nervous twitching of the eyes, Ron wasn’t sure whether she understood what he was commenting on.
“Thank you, sir,” she replied languidly, brushing the creases from her stained apron and blushing.
“Many people here today.”
She nodded. “The train, sir, got delayed. And now they have to wait for the next one.”
“You waiting for the train too, sir?” she asked, curious, her round hazel eyes wide open.
“I am just enjoying the village.”
She seemed content with this reply, so Ron smiled and finished his apple.
“Tell me. What’s with the witchy stuff up the hill?”
That the vendor didn’t like. Her behavior changed immediately. She started rearranging the apples, then moved to the bread, and finally to the jars of jam. When she finally didn’t have anything left to rearrange, she looked at Ron.
“Let’s just not talk about that. I know nothing about it and I don’t want to know. They have their things up there, but I never go to the mill, no, never. I sometimes hear screams,” she added in a lower tone.
“Yes, but I never go up there, ever.”
They stood in silence for a few minutes while bored passengers walked the village streets and busy villagers tried to go about their regular routines, divided between normal curiosity and the discomfort of feeling invaded by a wave of strangers.
“This is a really nice village,” said Ron.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Have you lived here long?” he asked, noticing the innkeeper sweeping the entrance of the Inn.
“All my life, sir.”
“I see. And have you ever traveled outside of the village?”
“Oh, no, sir. I don’t like traveling too much.”
The innkeeper noticed Ron talking to the vendor girl.
“I just prefer to stay here, you know.”
“Yes,” he replied emphatically. There was no time to waste and he was wasting a lot of it, chit-chatting.
And where were the other two? What an incompetent duo. He never wanted to work with them, but Fred called him up numerous times, insisting that this would be huge. Ron didn’t find the darn thing where it was supposed to be, he was stuck to a team of irresponsible losers and he was wasting time talking to a toothless woman who was visibly becoming infatuated with him.
Suddenly she pulled him aside, away from the innkeeper’s eyes.
“I heard a few things,” she whispered. “But you must promise me you won’t go up there. It’s too dangerous.”
Ron promised on his children, which he didn’t have. He promised on his elderly mother, who was already defunct. He promised on his wife, who had divorced him on a fit of childish bad temper, he thought, after he told her she got too fat for him. He promised solemnly multiple times.
“I heard,” she started hesitantly. “I heard there is something buried up there.”
Finally, Ron thought.
“I don’t know, but I heard a few people talking about that. You know, here we hear a lot of things. We hear about people’s lives, we hear about their farming, their animals, we hear…”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Ron interrupted, regretting it immediately when the vendor frowned. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off like that, but I am very curious to know and…” – He placed his arm around her shoulder and waved his hand for her to continue.
“Well, they say… There is a woman buried behind the mill,” she whispered.
Ron didn’t quite react the way she predicted though. He removed his arm and looked disappointed.
“They say she was killed in the mill with an axe,” she continued, to add dramatic effect, her round hazel eyes looking rounder. “You don’t believe me?”
“I do, I do, but I thought you were going to tell me something else. That’s all.”
The innkeeper was still sweeping the floor at the entrance of the Inn. Placing his arm around the vendor’s shoulders was a big mistake and the innkeeper was now more suspicious than ever.
“What did you think I was going to tell you?”
He couldn’t tell the vendor what he was looking for, obviously. He had to get rid of her, and the innkeeper.
“Look, let’s forget this. What you told me is a terrible secret and I promise I will never, ever, talk about it. I promised and a promise is a promise. And… I need to go, really. I have a few friends I need to find.”
He tapped her arm reassuringly. She grabbed his sleeve, then let go. The look on her face was unusually stern. No smile meant he had already talked too.
“I’ll… I’ll be back, ok?”
She nodded, knowing full well he was lying. He wasn’t coming back; men never did come back to her.
The innkeeper signaled her to come over.
“What did he want?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ella Marie, tell me what he wanted.”
“I don’t know. He talked about finding some friends.”
The innkeeper kept his eyes on the stranger walking away.
“Go call Ernest.”Chapter 5: The Manor >