Her expression changed on hearing it. It was almost… pity, I guess. I don’t know how else to describe it. After a short pause, she asked me to wait while she called her husband Tom.”
“Aah, that was Lucy you spoke to. Nice girl! It’s OK, I know the rest, Tom told me,” said the old lady.
“Yeah, Lucy and Tom! They were very friendly and helpful people. Tom told me he could bring me to your hut after sunset. So I pretty much spent the rest of the day there. They generously provided me some pretty good food too, despite me not being able to pay for it, given my wallet was taken. I didn’t have any… umm, incidents at the diner. I was determined to stay awake, and I did manage to. So no more dreams either. Of course, it meant I missed office, but…”
“In your situation, that should be the least of your worries, boy” interjected the old lady.
“And what exactly is my situation? You know, now that I’m here…”
The old lady sighed, folded her thin wrinkled hands on the table, leant forward, and started to speak,
“That man that you’ve been seeing, that man is Lumberjack Paul. He used to live on 23/1 over a hundred and fifty years ago with his wife and 2 daughters. Back then, this town was primarily a town of lumberjacks. Paul was a well liked and respected person in town. One day, he had to leave home for a job on the east coast. It was a 5-year long project and it meant that he couldn’t see his wife and kids for 5 years.
He did regularly write to them however, and they wrote back. Until one day, the replies just stopped. He was distraught, he didn’t know what to make of it. When he returned after 5 years, he learnt from a friend what had happened. His house had burnt down in a fire, which had also claimed his wife and daughters. A few months later, a businessman had taken up the land, rebuilt a house there and had also found a buyer who had already taken up residence.
Paul was furious. He didn’t completely believe his friend’s story. Indeed, a fatal house fire was, and still is, a rare occurrence in these parts. Also, he believed that irrespective of what had or hadn’t happened, the land and house should still be his.
That night, he broke into the house, axe in hand, found the new resident sleeping in the bedroom and proceeded to behead him with his axe. The poor guy woke up just in time to see Paul standing there, look up at his furious eyes and see the axe come down swiftly on his throat. It was over pretty quick.
Later that night, he tracked down the businessman, who lived a couple of miles away with his wife and son. He broke into their house too, and all three of them met with the exact same fate. All 4 of them were eventually discovered by their respective neighbours, heads separate from bodies.”
It took me some time to process what the old lady just said. It clearly did nothing to lift my already battered spirit.
“So what happened to Paul?” I eventually managed to ask.
“No one knows for sure,” the old lady replied. “His wife and daughter were buried at the cemetery opposite where you live. That’s where he was last seen. He disappeared before the cops could build a solid case against him. Some say he lived out the rest of his days at the cemetery close to his wife and children.”
“Is that what’s going on here? He wants to kill me by chopping off my head with his axe?” I had to ask. Forget standard conversation protocol, forget trying to act like a sane person, maybe I was losing my mind, maybe I wasn’t, but I most certainly was desperate now.
“Yes,” was the succinct reply.
“But who is this anyway? It can’t be Paul who lived over a hundred and fifty years ago. Or is it his ghost? Or who is he?” I guess I was a bit of a blabbering mess.
“Oh dear boy, there is so much you don’t understand. Suffice to say that yes, it is Paul. Over the last 150 years, there have been 3 others who have lived in that house, and all 3 of them have ended up dead – beheaded, just like Paul’s first victims.”
I was about to open my mouth to speak. The old lady stopped me and continued, “No, don’t blame your company. They didn’t know. Every time, the case has been completely covered up by the authorities. You won’t find any trace of information anywhere. They just thought they were getting an apartment at an extremely affordable rate.”
“But then, how do you know? Or at least, how can you be so sure about it?”
The old lady got up and walked into the only adjoining room. Even the door to the room was so dark that it was pretty much impossible to see the other side. After waiting anxiously for a couple of minutes, I saw her come back with a pretty big box in her hands. It was more of a wooden chest than a box really. She put it down, with some effort, on the table in front of me. I just stared at it for a moment, unsure of exactly what to do. She waved a long wrinkly finger at me and said, “Go ahead, open it!”
I lifted the top of the chest, and almost fell off my chair taken aback by shock and disgust. Inside the box, were just three human heads, all facing me. The heads had become very pale, the teeth were all yellow and rotting away, one was bald, and the other 2 had hair that looked more like a bunch of strings tangling up. All 3 heads had clearly had been violently severed from the rest of the body, the necks were pretty much an irregular dried up mess of hanging muscles and appendages. Overall, it was a pretty horrific sight.
I apprehensively looked up at the old lady. There appeared just a hint of a smile on her face. “These are the heads of those 3 people!” After a moment of silence, during which I was basically stupefied, she added, “I’ve also got the heads of the original 4 victims, if you be so inclined.”
“No thanks, I’m good,” I somehow managed to mutter.
She again smiled ever so slightly, “Our town has many secrets, many of which most people today won’t even believe. It is my job to know them. Me and my ancestors, going back several centuries, have been doing this, and we’ve been using our knowledge to help people whenever we can. Alas, I might be the last one though.”
I had somewhat regained my ability to form coherent thoughts now. Obviously, not being beheaded was something I had very high on my priority list.
“So what do I do now?” I asked. “I have to leave town and go home as soon as I can, right?”
“Then you will put your fiancé who you live with at risk. Paul is good at tracking people down. And he already knows where you live.”
“Wait, how do you know I live with my fiancé? And how does he know about…”
“Where you live?” she finished my query. “He’s already seen your driving license. I don’t know what else he knows about you. But you can’t run from him. Wherever you can go, so can he. And he… will… track you down!”
“So what? I just sit around and wait till he chops my head off?”
The old lady thought for a while. This was the first time since we met that I saw her hesitate somewhat. After a bit of a silence, she answered, “Yes!”
It took me some time to let that sink in. Or maybe I didn’t let it sink in. I started thinking about my fiancé… my parents… my friends and all the people I care about… my job, my passions… basically my entire life. A couple of minutes of silence passed by, during which the tears gradually crept into my eyes. A little longer, and the fountain would have probably burst.
“Unless,” the old lady said, very slowly and hesitantly. “You fight him.”
Ok, so I had to fight this huge 7-feet tall axe murderer who, based on whatever I’d heard, was possibly more some sort of supernatural entity than an actual living human being. I had absolutely no idea how I would do it, but I guess I had no choice.
“Well, I spent all this effort to get away from him. Now I guess I’ve got to find him again,” I said, looking up questioningly at the old lady.
“Don’t worry,” she replied, back to her quiet, certain demeanour. “He’ll find you. He’s good at that.”
Yes, she had most certainly mentioned that already. So I wondered exactly what my next course of action should be. I kept thinking to myself for a couple of minutes when the old lady spoke again.
“You’re tired, right? You’ve had close to no sleep over the last couple of days.”
“Get some rest, some sleep if possible.” She pointed to the small bed on the opposite wall. “Paul or no Paul, you need some sleep!”
“What about you?” I asked. “I mean I would love to get some sleep, and believe me I’ve tried. But every time I somehow manage to doze off, I seem to wake up within a few minutes dreaming about Paul taking his axe…” I gradually trailed off. I remembered the dream again, and it honestly was a terrifying thing to remember. I actually shuddered a bit this time.
“Don’t worry about me,” the old lady replied. “I’ll be in the next room. You try to get some sleep, even if it’s just a few minutes. Come, I’ll set up the bed.” She got up and walked towards the bed. There really wasn’t much setting up to do. She just pulled off a very thin bedcover of sorts, and motioned to me that everything was ready.
I walked over and got on the bed. It was made of wood and creaked quite a bit, in response to my weight. It was also really small, my legs easily hung off the bed, and the width was also very small. I shifted around a bit, and eventually curled up into a relatively more comfortable position. Now I realised just how tired I was. It just felt natural to lay down. I knew it wouldn’t take me long to fall asleep. For how long, was a different matter altogether.
“Should I turn off the lights?” asked the old lady.
“No, let them be please,” I replied almost immediately. It wasn’t a very well lit room anyway, the two bulbs were not exactly stadium lights. I guess that didn’t matter though, there was no way I wanted to sleep in the dark, with all the lights off right now.
“Ok, Good night! Try to get some sleep!” said the old lady, and started to leave.
“Thanks! Good night! And also thanks a lot for your help and letting me stay the night,” I called after her, as I heard her footsteps gradually disappear into the adjacent room. I closed my eyes, knowing I would soon fall asleep, even with my current predicament constantly playing on my mind.
I’m pretty sure it didn’t take me long, probably within a couple of minutes I’d guess.
When I opened my eyes, I was looking down at a couple of thick, hairy legs, wearing some very old lumberjack boots, with an axe resting against the right leg. It was that same dream again. For the first time though, I properly noticed the backdrop of the legs – it was the walls of the old lady’s room, the room where I recalled last going to sleep. I now remembered that it was the same backdrop in every one of those dreams – the old lady’s room. What the hell? Meanwhile, the big muscular tattooed arm with a bunch of really ugly scars comes down and picks up the axe. I slowly shift my gaze up. I see past his worker’s shorts, his red checked half-torn shirt – I also check out the walls behind him kind of in the periphery of my vision, there is no doubt that this is the old lady’s room – and then I see his vicious face with the yellow eyes, and a predatory expression playing across it. The yellow eyes looked at me, like some creature about to devour its prey. And then he lifted the axe above his head, held it steady with both hands, and aimed it right at my neck. He pulled the axe back for the swing, I automatically started screaming. I didn’t wake up yet, I saw the axe start to swing. I frantically moved my hands up reflexively trying to block the axe. This clearly didn’t feel like a dream. I was unable to stop the axe, it swung right past my hands and was heading straight for my throat. Oh, this felt real enough. I felt the axe fall right on my throat, and my throat start to give away. This felt all too real.