The Woodman's Cottage
The Woodman’s Cottage ©
Mr. Benton had been in a deep sleep and still felt groggy. His head was still swirling from the strange dream that had haunted his mind. It still seemed so real. In fact he wondered whether he was still dreaming.
The village of Valeton bathed in the amber warmth of the evening sun, intoxicated by the ambient aroma of flame and food mixed in with the sound of laughter. This was the season of the barbeque.
The hamlet of Valeton had been left over from the good old days when Britain’s coal mining industry was at its zenith. To the residents here life was untouched and peaceful. Nothing sinister ever happened in the village of Valeton.
“The Woodman’s Cottage” was an old brick building covered with ivy that had been originally built in the 17th century. It was the home of Mr. And Mrs. Benton; and had been for some fifty years.
There were many strange stories associated with the place and a certain individual named Elias Sedgwick who originally built the cottage in the late 1600’s.
Elias was a woodman by trade and worked on the estate of a certain Lord Askwyth. He was poorly paid and lived in nothing more than a tumble down shack on the estate in which he worked. He grew bitter with life and this festered within his heart yet one day there occurred a great change in his life in the form of an inheritance from a distant relative.
Elias Sedgwick thus left his employ at the Askwyth estate and with his new acquired fortune purchased a modest sized plot of land and built a new home upon it. His dwelling came to be known as “The Woodman’s Cottage” and the name remains until this day.
Elias Sedgwick’s newfound fortune afforded him no favours, as he became a drunkard and a recluse. He would take most unkindly to visitors and so nasty he became that people would fear to tread anywhere near to where he lived.
And so the story went, until one day a lost, newly wed couple on their honeymoon blundered onto the land of Elias Sedgwick. Seeking directions to the nearest village they called upon house of Mr. Sedgwick but found no one at home, even though the front door had been left ajar.
Thinking that perhaps some misfortune had befallen the occupant, they ventured inside to investigate. The young couple were totally unaware that they were being observed and thus considered themselves to be in no danger.
From a thicket hidden from view, half a dozen mischievous eyes watched with baited interest. They were the urchins from the village and had come to plague again the strange and nasty man who lived all alone. They would call him names and throw stones and he would run out of the house and chase them but he was never fast enough to catch them. It was such fun!
From the woodland danger was swiftly moving. It bore the form of a snarling man who carried a large axe and strode angrily toward the cottage.
The children watched helplessly as Elias Sedgwick in sheer rage hacked down the front door to his cottage to get at the couple that had sought to elude him within his own house.
On hearing the blood curdling screams the children hidden in the thicket ran off and went and told what they had seen. This in turn led to the arrest and trial of Elias Sedgwick and even as the noose was being placed around his neck, he was screaming curses and vowing that no one would ever possess his property or have what rightly belonged to him.
And so was the legend of “The Woodman’s Cottage.”
October 17th was always special for the Benton’s; because it was their wedding anniversary and in all the fifty years they had been wed Mr. and Mrs. Benton had never forgotten each other at this special time.
The moment he saw it, Mr. Benton knew that he had found the perfect gift for their golden wedding anniversary.
It was a painting by an unknown artist and it was a masterpiece, set upon large canvas and surrounded by beautiful carved framework, overlaid with gold. It was entitled, ‘The Woodman’s Cottage.’ and was a portrait of their home.
The work was in oils and of the highest quality. It portrayed the cottage on a fine and glorious summers day, beautifying it with shafts of gold that gently filtered through the surrounding trees and caressed its stonework; whilst the flowers in the garden seemed to come alive with every nuance of colour that the artist gave to them.
Without any further hesitation, Mr Benton purchased the painting and arranged for its delivery.
Mrs Benton simply adored the painting and loved the way it so beautifully depicted their home. It was simply enchanting, with an ambience that uplifted the spirit. It was the perfect anniversary present.
One day, about a month or so after their anniversary. Mrs. Benton was doing her housework when something about the painting caught her eye.
She stood staring at it for a few moments and then it came to her; the picture had lost its brightness. It was as if the sunny afternoon scene had become evening twilight, for the amber of the sunlight had dimmed and lurid shadows now pervaded the setting, giving it a somewhat morose appearance.
Mrs Benton rubbed her eyes in disbelief and then called her husband who within moments of seeing the painting, verified that she was not going mad. He wondered if it was something that had been purposed by the artist, perhaps a special kind of paint that reacted to changes in the weather, as it had become rather cold of late. Whatever the reason it left both of them somewhat perplexed and perturbed.
The next morning brought another mysterious change to the painting. A dark shape like that of human figure bearing an axe was emerging from the shadows of the woodland. It was as if the painting was creating its own scenery.
When the third change occurred, they contacted the antique shop who assured them that they were quite unaware of any oil paint technology that would allow a picture to repaint itself in part or in whole.
Mr. Edwards, the owner of the antique store was utterly amazed by the Benton’s story and came over to see the painting for himself. He was most shocked by what he saw. According to him, the figure was that of Elias Sedgwick and the painting was somehow reliving the legend of what occurred at ‘The Woodman’s Cottage’ all those years ago.
Each day, Mr and Mrs Benton would find that the strange and ominous shape of Elias Sedgwick had moved closer to the cottage. The question that plagued their minds was, “What would happen if the sinister figure reached the front door?”
The sound catapulted Mr. Benton from consciousness, causing him to sit bolt upright in bed, the sudden movement woke Mrs. Benton too.
The peal of thunder echoed, vibrating the bedroom windows as the anger of the storm vented its rage, vomiting torrents of rain from the heavens and hurling flashing spears of lightening across the darkened skies.
It was not the sound of the fury of the elements that caused the heartbeats of Mr. and Mrs. Benton to quicken in terror, another sound could be heard coming from downstairs; a sound that chilled their very blood.
The couple held on to each other tightly, quivering with fright for they knew full well in their hearts what the noise signified; it was the sound of furious axe blows against the heavy oak of their cottage door.
Thud, thud, thud came the sounds of impact, relentless, determined and terrifying. Mr. Benton knew he had to do something and do it quickly; otherwise it would be too late and he did not want to contemplate what horror lay beyond the door. He had to destroy the painting.
With great reluctance he pulled himself from his wife’s embrace of fear and clad in his nightclothes slowly and silently crept downstairs.
The sound of crashing against the door grew louder and louder and to his horror he could hear the splintering of wood, he had to act quickly. He hurried to where the painting was hanging ready to pull it off the wall, when he froze in horror.
Before his very eyes, made stroboscopic by the lightening, the figure of Elias Sedgwick was moving upon the canvass as if it was alive. The furious little figure in a frenzied animation hacked and hacked at the oak of the cottage door in ghastly synchronisation to the smashing sounds that were coming from the direction of the real door to the cottage.
For what seemed an eternity of utter terror Mr. Benton stood transfixed to the painting, unable to move, fear pervading every cell in his body.
In the picture Elias began to breech the wall of oak whilst from beyond the kitchen where the door lay, came the sound of the rages of a madman and that of wood being tortured and splintered from the blows of an axe. It was the sound of inevitability; of something terrible, the unimaginable becoming reality and its life source was the painting.
With a supreme effort he tried to raise his arms toward the painting but they seemed so heavy and he felt so weak, unable to resist the overwhelming tiredness that was saturating his body, stopping him from reaching the picture.
And then a crashing sound filled the house, followed by a snarling sound of something terrible and fierce and insane. Elias Sedgwick was in the house!
Mr. Benton began to slowly turn himself around to face the direction of the sound but froze again as a shadow brought to life by the lightening began to creep along the wall. Abject terror held him in a paralysis of fear that swept through his veins, turning them to ice. With each flash, the shadow moved further and further into the room. It was manlike in form yet distorted and ugly, exuding malevolence and raised above its head was the unmistakable shape of a huge axe.
And then the final horror, the form to which the sinister shadow belonged began to materialise from the darkness.
It had the face of a madman, wild and snarling, with eyes that reflected the very depths of insanity. It carried a huge axe that glistened in the lightening.
Closer and closer the menacing intruder came, each ungainly stride bringing him to Mr. Benton who was quite unable to move, as fear had rendered his limbs useless. He watched helplessly as the monster reached him and then slowly and deliberately raised the axe high above his head and with an unearthly fury brought it to bear.
The scream reverberated around the room as Mr. Benton was hurled into consciousness and sat bolt upright, his body was soaked with sweat.
For quite some time he just remained where he was and just stared ahead, confused by his new surroundings. The terrifying images of Elias Sedgwick were still bombarding the neurons of his brain.
He was in his bed and it was daytime. Sunlight penetrated the bedroom curtain and filled the room, creating a relaxing ambience.
Mr. Benton felt his pyjama jacket, it was cold and wet and felt uncomfortable. The tangled sheets were the same and he pulled them from around his body and eased himself out of bed.
On first standing, he felt a little dizzy and sat down on the edge of the bed, trying to collect his thoughts.
The realisation that he had been having a nightmare ushered a welcome calming effect through his body and relaxed him somewhat but the scars of it were still fresh in his mind.
The sound of footsteps on the stairs startled him. The fear generated by the nightmare was still resident within him.
His wife came into the room and walked over to him. Her countenance carried a look of relief as she could see that he had woken up.
“How are you feeling dear?” she asked with concern in her voice.
He managed a weak smile and nodded his head slightly to reassure her that he was okay physically.
“Are you sure you are alright? Would you like me to call the doctor?”
He shook his head.
“Are you sure you are alright?” Mrs. Benton asked again.
“I’m okay, darling.” He replied.
“Do you feel ill at all?”
“No, I don’t feel ill exactly, just somewhat disoriented. I should be fine in a moment.”
“Was it a nightmare?”
“It was so real.”
“Well dear it’s over now… and by the way, happy anniversary.” She said, kissing him on the cheek and handed him a small parcel.
Mr. Benton smiled, and proceeded to unwrap it.
It was a pair of cufflinks, handsomely embossed and plated in gold.
“They’re beautiful my dear. Really beautiful, thank you.” He gave his wife a warm embrace and thanked her graciously and then the thought struck him, what had he bought for his wife? He simply could not remember, his mind was completely blank.
Mr. Benton got showered and dressed and tried to relax with the morning paper and a cup of tea but the confusion in his mind continued to eat away at him. He felt disconnected, as if he was still dreaming.
The sound of the front doorbell startled him.
“Could you get that dear, I’ve got my hands full.” His wife called from the kitchen.
Mr Benton made his way to the front door and slowly opened it.
“Mr Benton?” said a man in blue overalls.
“We have a delivery for you.”
“Yes from Edward’s antiques.”
Mr Benton could feel his head starting to spin.
“Is it the…”
“That’s right sir, the painting. Nice one of this place it is. I’ll just get my assistant to help me off the van with it.”
He started to feel very faint as his mind was sucked into a morass of confusion between dream and reality. For Mr. Benton, the nightmare had only just begun.