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“The Love Spell” – Fiction by Tom Stephan

The Hut of Dead - Nicholas Roerich, 1909
The Hut of Dead – Nicholas Roerich, 1909

“We always recognize the evil we make,” says the narrator of “The Love Spell,” Tom Stephan‘s chilling yet heartfelt tale from our Winter 2015 issue.

{ X }

I TOOK IN THE CABIN. Sundown streamed through small, sturdy windows, caressing dust motes crazed in the agitated air. Warped pine floor, black as the stove that pierced the roof like an ancient pylon. Refrigerator, stovetop, sink, all lined up in martial order against the wall. In the opposite corner squatted a comfortably broken-in bed with brass head and footboard, perfect in patina, covered in a bright, threadbare quilt. To the right, a claw-foot bathtub old as the Wild West, visible plumbing jerry-rigged together with plastic pipes and curtain rods, suspended by chains and ropes.

“This is my cabin,” he said proudly, holding me tightly from behind. “Turn of the century. Some of the wood is a hundred years old. See that beam above the bed? A hundred years!”

I breathed in the smell of the potbellied stove, wet wool, undertones of pine and unwashed clothes.

“I’ll start the pipes for the water. You have to drain them in the winter or they’ll freeze,” he said, running for the door like a teenage boy, pausing only to grab a wrench. “If you need to use the bathroom, let me know and I’ll stand outside.”

When he came back I took his hands and pulled him in for a long kiss. When he leaned back for air I said, “This is perfect.”

His face lit up like Christmas. “It is?” I nodded, smiled, and kissed him again.

{ X }

We spent four days in that cabin. In the mornings I woke up early, pulled the scorching feather quilt off my legs and stepped lightly onto the frozen floor. Dressing hastily, I would re-light the stove, grab my coat and go out to walk the ridge.

He had neighbors on the hill. The Chicken Man was out every morning with his pail and his flock. His wife was fat and he was lean, both with smiling, achingly sweet faces like dried apples. I would wave and march up the hill to the cemetery, the bench in the middle and the gorge beyond. I would bunch my fists in my pockets and watch the sunrise pull color into the gray fields of snow. It felt like freedom.

About an hour later, I would see him poke his head up the hill. “What are you doing here?” he’d call in mock surprise. “Hanging out with dead people?”

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