Disclaimer - Yes, I don't own them.
Although it's a dangerous thing to begin any fan fiction with what appears to be an OC and have that OC dominate a story for the first few chapters, bear with me, my friends; the turtles WILL make an appearance; I promise:0)
Italics for thoughts, flashback, dreams, phone conversations, IRS audits, and margaritas.
Well, maybe not margaritas...or the audit. :0)
A Tale With a Cat Attached
Chapter 1 - Not As Alone As First Thought
The summer sun peaked steadily over forested hills, its silvery presence bringing a promise of long hours of daydreams and lazy afternoons. Following its ancient course, the celestial disc edged higher into the azure-purple sky until it freed itself from the tenacious grip of the mountainous horizon below. Its sudden brightness became a stark contrast to the surrendered night and drenched the countryside in colors of pinkish-orange and gold, before giving way to lemony yellows. Slowly, with the convergence of cooler air and the warming rays, the change formed mist in the hollows, creating an ethereal quality and beauty to the Massachusetts landscape.
Beneath the rising sun, a solitary house sat among hundreds of acres. Its easterly face basked within the early morning rays, while on its westernmost side shadows ran deep. They were many and determined but none prevailed against the persistent glow of the ancient star. Before long, the field and wood behind the home radiated with light. Wheat grass now erupted into a blaze of buttery hues and peridot greens, the colors spreading out in glad welcome. Like countless times before it, once again, another day had dawned.
Behind the house and nestled onto her porch chair sat a woman gazing contentedly at her property. With a cup of tea in hand, she leaned casually against the backrest, her feet resting atop the railing of her porch in front of her. Bits of grass decorated her sneakers, remnants from the chore she had moments earlier completed. She was half-way through her break, a respite from mowing her lawn. Now, she studied the freshly clipped grass the way an artist would assess their work and smiled as the solid green velvet stretched flawlessly for twenty yards, before merging with the taller grasses of the fenced, five-acre pasture where her horse grazed.
Marie couldn't help but sigh contentedly with her new life in the country.
Alongside her house, fragrant gardenias and honeysuckle came eagerly to the woman's senses, filling her with peace. She sighed again and closed her eyes to savor the moment.
Suddenly, a familiar sound broke through her reverie. Marie's eyes snapped open, expectant, just in time to see the arrival of her resident bluebird. Announcing its presence in song, the creature dipped and soared from the woods backing the woman's property, calling out its morning welcome as it flew along. It soon darted and flitted through the pasture in search of breakfast, iridescent cerulean feathers bold against the verdant green. Like clockwork, the bird appeared at the same time each morning and each morning Marie made sure to witness its arrival. He gave permanence to her, an assurance of stability.
His hunt for nourishment, however, reminded Marie that she had yet to get her own and her stomach growled in protest.
Then, stirred from the sudden change of cool evening to warm morning, the soft caress breezes whispered past. They tenderly kissed Marie's face, gaining strength with each touch, and abruptly dislodged a strand of her graying hair. She pushed it back and tucked it behind an ear, murmuring, "Might stay up better if I just pin it."
Reaching into her shirt pocket and retrieving the clip she had wisely put there earlier, Marie applied it to the errant lock, securing the strand snugly to her scalp. She then turned to look out across her property again and smiled, taking another sip from her cup of tea.
This was her haven, her nirvana, her peace of mind, a sequestered shelter of one hundred acres surrounded by hundreds more of untamed wildwood. With her house built upon a rise, she could look in every direction with appreciation. After spending a decade researching where to build, she had purchased the property a year earlier. It only took nine months to construct the house and barn and she had only moved in three months ago…yet, it already felt like home.
How long had she dreamt of a place like this, of living out in the country, and away from the kind life that once dominated her? A millennium of years, it seemed, yet here she was, living her days according to how she dictated and not according to anyone else or to any culture's expectations.
As the sudden wind played across the property, the trees west of Marie's right gave answer to it, bowing as one dance partner to the other. The conifers swayed joyously now, their interpretive ballet within the breathy embrace slow and graceful…beautiful, too.
Yet, for Marie, the trees reminded her that they separated her land from that of her closest neighbor.
The woman 'hummed' quietly, wondering about them, one of many times she had thought about the farm 'next door', ever since discovering it. It wasn't that she wanted to make friends. No, Marie had tired of the human race and wanted nothing more to do with people, unless they served a purpose. Going to town and shopping, or picking up her mail, was about as close to socializing as she cared to get. After moving into her new home, however, and contrary to what the realtor had told her, much to her surprise she discovered that she indeed had a neighbor and within riding distance, too. Consequently, it didn't sit very well with her.
Despite Maries' best intentions to create a hermitage, the area had a few unwanted surprises for her.
Nevertheless, as she sat there on her porch, sipping her drink, Marie wondered briefly if the owner would sell. Considering its remoteness and derelict condition, it was quite possible that no one lived there anymore.
Interrupting her reflections, she heard Sudan whinny, and then watched as her horse shoved his ebony nose deep into the newer growth of grass just below the taller, older heads. He nickered again, announcing to no one in particular that he had found a ready supply of clover and he ate hungrily, too. Marie chuckled, pleased that her stallion was enjoying the countryside as much as she was.
Once again, someone's hunger reminded her that she needed to think about making breakfast. Yet, she was quite comfortable where she sat and so, despite her stomach's complaint, she silently told it to quiet, again.
Continuing to watch the woods, though, she remarked idly, "I really need to call Mr. Hamilton and see who owns the farm, find out if they want to sell,"
Narrowing her expression towards where she knew the farm to be, Hmm, all the work I did to make sure of my solitude and…I have neighbors anyway. She couldn't help but shake her head at the irony.
The larger older residence sat five miles from her property and at the end of a long, dirt road. It was only by chance that she had seen it. The driveway was nothing more than a narrow single-lane, rut and pothole filled strip of road, similar to most driveways out in the country, such as hers. Although Marie had since smoothed out her road, it was because of the similarity and the fact that it connected with the same main highway as hers that she had mistaken it. And Marie was determined that that was one mistake she would never make again.
In any event, when she first bought her land, Marie had been too busy overseeing her home's construction, as well as other aspects to her property. Consequently, she never had a need to travel west, where the farm sat, since the closest town to her was a ten-mile drive in the opposite direction. It bugged her, though, that her realtor hadn't mentioned anything about the farm.
Maybe he didn't know about it? she wondered the next day after her discovery. At least, Marie hoped so. If Mr. Hamilton had duped her, it would only make her angry and that would not bode well for the man at all. Marie didn't take kindly to lies.
As she sat there on the porch and soaked up more of the early morning sun, she thought back to that day, the day she discovered the farm.
It was soon after moving into her newly built home. At the time, she hadn't given much thought to any other part of the countryside; she was far too busy managing the construction crew. Although in the beginning they didn't take her too seriously with her expectations, it didn't take long before her commanding nature and biting tongue had all of the men in line. Stabling Sudan elsewhere until things were ready for him, Marie hadn't even the opportunity to go riding, to explore what lay west of her.
One day, a week after moving in, she decided to explore the part of Massachusetts she hadn't seen yet, to become better acquainted with her new neighborhood. Considering what she used to do for entertainment, it made Marie yearn for a bit of adventure!
She had traveled many miles that day before deciding to head back home. During the late afternoon on her return trip home and as she neared what she perceived to be her driveway, Marie never hesitated when turning onto a familiar looking side road. The entrance looked exactly like hers, with its angled entrance facing east, then turning slightly to run west a bit before turning again towards the south. With thick stands of trees tucked in-between the main road and the driveway, they created a blind, obscuring the mouth of the entrance for anyone traveling from the easterly direction. Driving west, though, it gave a clear shot to the driver. Marie honestly and sincerely believed the turnout leading to the driveway was hers, no question about it. As far as she was concerned, there wasn't any mistaken it for someone else's.
Of course, she could now recognize her driveway from the other, regardless of what direction she drove on the main highway. But, back then, the unexpected occurrence caught her unaware and with Marie, that didn't happen very often.
Nevertheless, at one point when the single-lane road suddenly turned west and continued that way for far longer than Marie had thought was normal, that was when she quickly realized her mistake. Unfortunately, she was already a mile in. The road had become quite narrow at that point, too, with forests of trees hedging its sides. There wasn't enough room to turn around. Her H3 was just too bulky to maneuver in such tight quarters and so she found herself forced to drive until the road widened. It didn't help that ominous rain clouds were filling the sky, either.
"Great, a storm, just what I need right now." she had complained.
With the late afternoon sun dipping below the highest westernmost mountain and with twilight an hour away, the forest canopy overlapped the road so completely, they plunged her drive into intermittent and subdued pre-twilight shadow. With the road's less familiar turns and bends, in order to focus on driving, eventually, Marie kept her headlights on, .
Still, she tried to ignore how tired she was, her thoughts focused on finding a spot to make a turn-around so she could go home. Her fatigue probably had a lot to do with getting lost in the first place, which irritated her. Marie rarely if ever found herself lost - or fatigued. Of course, having to care for a large parcel of land, something she wasn't familiar with managing quite yet, probably had a lot to do with that. After all, she was at an age where most women joined card-playing clubs or retired to villages filled with shuffleboard enthusiasts. She had to laugh at that thought, imagining herself in such a setting.
Suddenly, the road worked around a tight bend and then narrowed even more. Now, Marie had to slow her Hummer to five miles an hour in order to traverse it, with bushes and tree branches rudely scraping into the side of the vehicle. She cringed at the sound of wood against metal, imagining the damage, and she cursed under her breath, not at all happy about the mounting number of scratches.
Wonder how much that will cost to rub out? she growled under her breath.
As the lane straightened out again, a rise greeted her. It traversed over a hill fifty yards ahead and at an approximate twenty-three degree angle. It was steep, but traversable with her H3, yet seemed to be just as tight a 'fit' for her car as the previous part of the road had been. She chuckled under her breath, No mercy here, it seems.
The abrupt incline made it impossible to see anything at the top, but that didn't worry Marie. After all, the road didn't look that well traveled, so the prospect of meeting another car and at the same time was the furthest thing from Marie's thoughts.
However, just before she began her ascent, a growl sounded from the top of the knoll and then a dark blue van, its headlights off, came barreling over the top of the hill, heading straight at her!
Marie didn't have time to question why it was there; she could only react. In an instant before the two cars collided head-on, instincts took over. With expert reflexes, she turned the steering wheel quickly to the right, driving her car sharply towards the side of the very narrow road. She heard a ka-thunk and a bump and then found herself running towards the trees, her foot on the brake. A second later, she came to a stop.
Heart pumping and eyes wide, Marie found herself wedged between a stand of conifers, inches to spare, but otherwise unscathed, both she and her car. It seemed that right at that point in the road, the forest had thinned and separated, providing an opportunistic opening, thus sparing Marie's car from any other damage, except for the scratches from earlier.
When she looked straight ahead of her and saw a large oak tree staring back at her, just inches from the front of her car, she blew out a relieved breath. Had she not stopped when she did, Marie would have most certainly crashed her car and probably crush the front like an accordion.
She looked in her rearview mirror and saw the van hesitate on the road, not quite coming to a full stop. It was as if the other driver was just as surprised as she was to find a car on the road. He seemed to be unsure how best to react, too. At first, it looked as if he was going to come to a full stop. However, its darkened interior and the shadows on the road effectively obscured the driver, so Marie couldn't tell what he was going to do or even if he was mad.
Just as she opened her door to get out and go over to speak with him, suddenly the van slipped into gear and took off pell-mell down the roughened path, kicking up a cloud of dust, as it headed towards the highway in a desperate rush.
Marie jumped from her car and ran the few feet to the road. Much to her surprise, the van kept on going. Just before it rumbled around the bend, taking the potholes and ruts with bounding frenzy, she caught a glimpse of the rear window. Privacy curtains hung inside, swaying violently from the van erratic movement. Then, just before the vehicle took the turn, someone parted the curtains, but just as quickly, the curtains closed again, as if the someone had a change of mind. Because of the lack of sufficient lighting, Marie couldn't tell what the person looked like or if the person inside was male or female, but it was obvious that whoever they were, they were curious about her.
She watched, then as in the next moment, the van tore into the curve, swallowed up by the forest bordering the road, and disappeared from view.
Rather strange, Marie thought to herself, that they didn't stop. Guess they were in a hurry, or... She recalled that they hadn't been using their headlights, so it was possible that they knew the road well.
Returning to her car, Marie checked it for damage. When she found none, other than the scratches from earlier, she turned and faced the road again.
"I wonder if the van hit something in reaction to my being on the road." It would certainly explain what she heard just before tearing into the trees.
Curious, Marie cross the dirt lane and inspected the growth of wood growing on the other side. Not too surprisingly, she found a couple closest to the road with their bark sheared off, as if something - such as a car, or van - had sideswiped it.
"Great…and I just happen to have a car that's easily identifiable, too," she said sorely.
And where the exposed tree trunk showed some of the blue paint from the van, it only proved her assumptions more.
After getting back into her car, Marie sat there, collecting her thoughts, thankful for her quick reactions, and that at least she hadn't crashed. She wondered if maybe the van's driver had taken a wrong turn, just as she had done. Still, the lack of headlights and the way it traveled the road as if familiar with it said otherwise. She wondered if the driver and his passengers lived somewhere up ahead.
That piqued her curiosity.
At the very least, I can leave my name and number, just in case they want reimbursement for any damage.
Maybe Marie didn't want any neighbors, but she felt compelled to honor at least her end of the near-collision.
Once putting her car in reverse, she backed out from between the trees and onto the dirt road again. She then drove up the hill in the same direction she had traveled. She was more curious, now, than needing to get home. There was still some daylight out, after all, and despite how tired she felt, the mood for adventure was still strong.
As she drove up the incline and over the rise, the road leveled out, and Marie continued for another hundred yards before her course dipped slightly to the right. It was at that point and in-between trees that the road disappeared. Fresh tire tracks led into the wood, with a cloud of dust settling along the ground, indicating that someone or something had recently passed through. Marie knew, then, that the road hadn't ended, but continued into and through the surrounding forest.
Marie slowed, studying the area. Hmmm, that's strange.
At the point where the road turned, it ran between an overgrowth of trees crowding the sides, their branches reaching high over the lane and intermingling together like fingers, forming a natural arch. It was far denser than the ones on the road she had passed through earlier. Inside the natural tunnel, dark greeted her and it seemed to run for several yards, the road itself disappearing within the lightless interior. Leaves littered the ground at its mouth, though, as if a great disturbance had occurred.
Most likely, from the van plowing through it, she thought to herself wryly, and probably by someone familiar with this turn, otherwise they would careen right into the trees on the other side.
Marie stopped her car just short of the arbor. Uncertainty overwhelmed her, now, and she felt a sense of unease. She couldn't place it, but considering the remoteness and solitude of where she was, any number of unsavory scenarios came to mind. If the realtor hadn't known about this place - at least enough to tell Marie it existed - maybe who ever lived here didn't want any kind of attention. Maybe, like her, they had retired from the world and only wanted their solitude. With the way the van had shot down the road, as if quite familiar with every rut and pothole, never bothering to check to see if she was all right, confirmed her suspicions.
Just then, the wind picked up and began jostling the surrounding brush. Marie noticed that the sunlight had faded and even more with the encroaching clouds. In another thirty minutes, night would fall. Rather than press her luck, she decided to turn around and head back to the main highway. Given the kind of road she just traveled, she knew that inclement weather would make it more difficult and dangerous, and the last thing Marie wanted was to find herself stranded and in unfriendly territory.
Suddenly, the breeze kicked it up a notch, bursting into an erratic wind. The trees responded by undulating and parting at odd intervals and Marie knew that the storm wasn't far away.
However, just before she could put her car into reverse and use the arbor as a turn around, the trees directly in front of her separated completely. For a moment, they briefly revealed what lay beyond.
Marie hit the brakes and stared curiously into the natural tunnel. On the other side of the natural arbor, standing two hundred yards away, she could see a two-story farmhouse. The road leading from the arbor spread out into a broad, open area rift with weeds and overgrown brush, causing the house to stand out in stark contrast. The structure appeared quite old, maybe over a hundred years. The last remnants of sunlight did well in illuminating the building, but it wouldn't be long before night claimed her good view. She could also tell that the farmhouse used to be white, but was in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. Its sagging roofline and run down front porch gave a feeling of abandonment, too, only intensified by the lightless windows. Once more, Marie wondered about the van and its occupants and their living arrangements.
The more she studied the structure, though, the more the woman realized that if anyone did live here, she knew they didn't live well, and maybe poorly enough that someone driving an expensive H3 would become interesting bartering material.
Suddenly, just as quickly as the trees began their dance, the wind settled down and stilled, and their branches came together again, obscuring once more the ancient house. For the second t time, Marie found herself staring into the dark abyss of the nature-made arbor. Although her experience had been a brief, it was just enough to convince her that not only did she have a neighbor within riding, if not walking, distance, more than likely she had just passed them on the road, as well.
Great and I'm sure that they'll report me to the authorities, now. I mean, how many people around here drive a dark gray H3.
She huffed irritably to herself as she turned her car around. Quickly, Marie headed back towards the main road and once there, hurried on towards hers. This was one more lesson about living out in the country. It wasn't the same as when she lived in the city. At least, there, the cars didn't stand out as easily as hers did, but one still had to be aware of their surroundings, so maybe she could adjust.
It was bad enough that she was new to the area and those in town were well aware of that fact, too. Who knew if the person driving the blue van had already seen her? Maybe they had even shopped in the same store or picked up their mail at the same time? Though Marie tried to blend in, to be as anonymous as she knew how, maybe here - in the country - it wasn't going to be enough.
Anyone different would stick out as a giraffe would in Time Square.
And, now that she had virtually trespassed and caused someone to nearly crash their car, she was certain the owner, if the other driver were the owner, would complain to the local sheriffs. She grumped sourly to herself, not the least bit happy about getting lost, and even less amused that she investigated the area surrounding her property better.
Maybe I should trade my car in for something…less conspicuous. What was I thinking, getting an H3? Oh, yes, to protect me. Yeah…right!
In any event, after Marie returned home, she knew she had to think differently, act differently, and be different from how she operated in New York. This was the country, after all, and even though knowing one's surroundings was an idiom for all seasons and places, given her training, she found herself surprisingly out of her comfort zone. More than anything, Marie wanted a peaceful co-existence with those living here, preferably living a life below the proverbial radar, of course. And she was more than certain that disturbing the local population the way she just did certainly wouldn't guarantee that.
When a few days had passed and with no one calling her from the local sheriffs regarding the van, Marie concluded the driver opted for not filing a report. Maybe they had a stronger reason for avoiding the law than in demanding compensation for damage done to their vehicle. In either case, Marie was happy to let things be. After all, interacting with the local authorities would not have been high on her list, either.
Now, weeks later, as she sat on her porch, sipping her tea, watching her horse graze, and reflecting back to that incident, Marie gave another glance past Sudan's pasture.
Seems I should have been more thorough when scoping this place out, she huffed to herself.
Suddenly, a butterfly flew past Marie's line of sight, distracting her from her thoughts. It flew on to the various flowers and brush planted alongside her house.
A blue Eastern-Tailed, Marie assessed silently, smiling just a little. She loved living so close to nature, with its varied collection of animals and insects. This particular one and other like it had become more frequent in recent days and she wondered if maybe her property sat within its migration path. There seemed to be so many of the beautiful, jeweled insect.
As the butterfly bounced from bush to bush, its vibrant blue and black coloring contrasted brightly against the whiteness of the gardenias and honeysuckles. Then, the creature reminded Marie of yet another incident and one that had more mystery surrounding it than that of the van…or even the farm.
And she was still unsure about what she had seen that day, too. Many thoughts about the event plagued her over the past several weeks, sometimes waking her up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. But, to believe it to be more than just another Eastern blue-tailed seemed ludicrous. She had to laugh at herself, at her paranoia.
Ridiculous that they would be out here. Stupid even to consider it! They're probably dead, anyway, she muttered softly and quickly downed the rest of her tea.
As the woman stood up to go back inside her house, she gave one last hardened look towards the wildwoods. She languished there, staring, her eyes piercing, her face narrowing, wondering about her past, hoping that it would remain that way, done, forgotten, and preferably dead.
Sudan's sharp whinny suddenly interrupted her thoughts, though. She turned towards her horse and watched as he collapsed to the ground, and then rolled about on his back. His legs kicked and thrashed and dust billowed all around him, and he grunted pleasurably, too, thoroughly enjoying himself. Yet, just as quickly as he had gone to ground, he was up again, and shaking the residue of dirt and grass from his body. She had to smile at his antics, but Marie's newly formed bad mood prevailed. With another glance at the trees, the woman turned and marched inside her house to fix breakfast, her joy replaced with one of foreboding.
As the woman slipped through her back door and into the house, a figure in the woods watched from the safety of deep shadows. He heard the horse neigh heartily in her wake, probably hoping for a treat of some kind, but when his owner failed to reappear, the Arabian gave up and began grazing again.
Long after the woman had vacated her porch the figure continued to observe the property, his eyes keen on the house, his own position tucked safely within the forest. He neither moved nor flinched, but kept as still as stone. He did release an almost inaudible sigh, though, still unsure about this woman, this neighbor of his. Since his near encounter with her on the road and then in the forest a week later, he made a habit of visiting this spot, an area in the woods bordering her land that afforded him the most cover with the best view. From here, he could watch her undiscovered as she went about her business. He watched her work, he watched her interact with the horse, and at times during the night, he would steal his way to a window to observe her undetected. As far as he was concerned, this woman lived far too close to his farm. It had been a rude awakening, something that hadn't been expected.
After all these years…he lamented and shook his head.
Still, there was one thing bothering him. Why would a woman her age willingly take on such a task as caring for not only a horse, but for such a large parcel of land? Managing a hundred acres, after all, was a young person's job. By his observation and in contrast, she was elderly in appearance, or at least in her fifties; that is if her graying hair was a clue. He truly felt she should have taken up residence in a retirement home, not a house out here in the country and far from any concerned neighbor. Although, if he was truly honest with himself, his main concern was more for his own peace of mind and sense of privacy than whether or not this woman should live out in the wilds of Massachusetts.
In any event, there was something about the woman that wasn't right, he could feel it.
Finally, when he was certain that the woman would stay inside, the figure quietly retreated. For a few yards, he walked backwards, each step silent and sure, his path well memorized. Keeping his eyes and ears alert for any movement or sound from the house, when he felt it safe to do so, the shadowed figure turned and then quickly jogged back to his home, five miles away, to give his brothers an update on the woman, boring as it was.