TALES FROM HAWTHORNE: AN ANTHOLOGY

“Tales From Hawthorne: An Anthology” is a collection of five short stories all taken place in Hawthorne, a fictional town located in Scotland. Each story is individual, and specifically set in a different place in Hawthorne and at a different point of time, surrounding from 1970s to 2010s, with different storylines and characters.

By WRITER team - SPECIALIST

HAWTHORNE /haw-thawrn/: A small town located in the Northeast of Scotland. It situates near the city of Aberdeen to the north, and borders the North Sea of the Atlantic Ocean. Its population is approximately 20000.

(HAWTHORNE’S GEOGRAPHICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA, BOOK I)

 

CHAPTER 1: A DREADFUL INTUITION

It was a gloomy afternoon in December 1996, when Karen Winners was driving her Ford Escort to her home in Hawthorne after work. She had moved to this city 3 years ago, after graduating from University of Kensas, which was in her small hometown – a suburban area located in North Scotland. Now she was working for a private company, sharing a rented duplex with a friend until she can afford to buy an apartment herself and subsequently get married.

Karen was turning to the left to a small alley heading to her house. “Just one more short distance”, she mumbled to herself, sped up since the streets were commonly empty during this time. And she wanted to make home as soon as possible, today was such a long and tiring day to her.

A few minutes later, Karen could almost see the grey entrance gate of her house under the feeble street lights. She slowed down, briefly glanced at her watch: 5.30pm, but the sky was all overcast so it was getting darker even earlier. Through the windshield, suddenly she noticed two teenage boys standing on the opposite pavement, leaning on a nearby fence. Karen was a bit startled, but the gate was in front of her eyes, so she calmed down, stopped and opened the car door. She was founding her house key, accidentally looked behind her back to realize the boys were still there, seemed to be watching her. Karen had a gut feeling that they were waiting for her. They were around 13 or 14 years old, one had longer dark brown hair and one had his pull-over hoodie up so Karen could not see their faces. She knew the teenagers had lurked around her neighborhood for weeks, but they’d never been so bold as to come this close to her home.

After bringing the car into the garage, she hurriedly walked toward the gate to lock it, stared at the opposite sidewalk but nobody was there. Maybe they had already left.

She entered the porch, cheerily found her housemate, Juliana Husk, was busily cooking something with really good smell of eggs, grilled meat, and baked flour. Juliana used to be her college friend three years ago, they moved to the house simultaneously when both got their jobs at the same city – Hawthorne. While Karen was a little reticent and sort of workaholic, Juliana was very out-going, caring and optimistic all the time. She knew how to balance the amount of time spent on working and pursuing other interests in her life, especially cooking. In other words, she had a huge passion for cooking.

Throwing her handbag on the couch, Karen flopped down into it, directed her voice to the kitchen: “Hey Juli, I’m home. You’re cooking something for tonight?”

Juliana said while not turning round to look at Karen – she was taking the hot banana cream pie from the oven with both hands.

“ Well, you see. I’m literally done.” She bent down to put the cake on the dining table . “I also invited my boyfriend for dinner, he’ll be arriving within 30 minutes. Oh Karen, you look so exhausted. Is everything alright?”

“Not too bad. I’ve just got so many work to do, and my boss, seems like she doesn’t like me. I was scolded again this morning.” Karen paused with a sigh, then blurted out after a touch of hesitation: “Er, Juli… what time did you arrive home?”

“About 4:30pm. What happened?”

Karen threw a look out of the window, at the gathering darkness outside and shrugged:

“Nay, I’m just wondering if you saw the two children lingering near the driveway. I’ve seen them every now and then, but they always left before I got out of my ride car. I had seen them late at night as well, standing across the street when I would go to the balcony to breathe the fresh air after wearing hours with my workload.”

“According to my reminiscence, I haven’t seen any of those kids. I’m always back home sooner than you, and our entryway was all empty. You’ve seen them very often?” Juliana opened the fridge door and grabbed a water bottle, poured into two cups. “Would you like a glass of water, Karen?”

“Yes, please. You know what, this afternoon when I saw them standing so close to our house, I was sure something wasn’t right. Although pangs of unease told me to ignore them, their boldness really angered me. A general discomfort that feel specifically connected to those children whom I haven’t known…. “ She was leaning back in the couch, inhaled deeply.

“That’s weird. Karen, you’re under too much pressure from your work, I think you should spend more time resting and not thinking about these petty troubles anymore. Anyways, those kids haven’t done any harm to you at all, right?”

“Aye, you’re right. Maybe I’m just overthinking…”

“Now listen to me, go change your clothes and get back to help me set up the dining table, okay?” Juliana laid a gentle hand on Karen’s arm.

“Sure”. Karen nodded, picked up her handbag and stepped on the staircases.

*****

Things were getting quiet at the moment. Everybody was asleep, as the clock chimed once after midnight. Karen could finally finished her tons of paperwork, then got out of her swivel chair, turned off all the lights and just kept a night lamp, which was dim and lit up only certain areas. She went downstairs to check the doors before getting some shut-eye. Right then, the wind started howling outside, that made the wooden shutters bang so loudly behind her head. Karen turned back to lock it up, she peeked out the vacant streets and felt a chill running down her spine – the atmosphere became fairly creepy at night. And she knew somewhere out there, under the shadow of holly bushes, there were some furtive eyes watching over her, unceasingly, sleepless.

“Don’t be freak out, Karen, you must have a paranoid delusion.” She steeled herself and crept toward her bedroom.

Karen tried to sleep a wink but couldn’t stop tossing and turning almost all night. She had been practically suffering from insomnia for long, didn’t know exactly when, each time she closed her eyelids, she also heard someone standing outdoor calling her name and was obsessed with that even in her wildest dreams. Her colleagues recommended her to call on the psychological doctor someday, but she just intentionally neglected. Now she was regretful not following their advice, at least she wouldn’t have to resort to sleeping pills to bring herself to sleep. By tomorrow evening, she was having a date with Bryce Loski, her six-year boyfriend, who had just come back from his abroad business trip and was eager to meet her.

“Reng… reng… reng…reng”

The alarm clock went off at 6 o’clock. Juliana wake up first, she knocked at Karen’s room door to awake her. Karen stretched out her arms, yawned three times before jumping out of her bed and was ready to go for a jog. She and her housemate had been preserving this habit since living together, no matter how busy they were.

Every morning at day-break, Juliana and Karen would walk past Mr. Butler’s yard, a land ground planted a lot of daffodils, to see him doing exercises and smiley waving at the young next-door girls. He was a retired police officer, who had lived here for decades, alone, and often kindly inquired after Karen. Two days ago, when bumping into him at the local grocery store, Karen’d mentioned the strangers seemingly stalking her these days, coincidentally Mr. Butler had confessed to having seen the same thing, but not as frequently as Karen. Then realized quite a shocking feature pinging through her face, the old man comforted the miserable maid, made sure nobody could have damaged to even one strand of her hair: “Moreover, this vicinity is always tightly secure.”

                                                                        *****

At 6pm, Karen was sitting in a French coffee house, with Bryce – the love of her life, a used-to-be dream man of every girl at university. They were sitting face-to-face, slowly sipped their red champagne under the colorful crystal chandelier and the sound of a guitar ballad song around:

Je t’aime, je t’aime

Comme un fou comme un soldat

Comme une star de cinema

Je t’aime, je t’aime

Tu vois, je t’aime comme ca…

Karen hadn’t felt this relaxed for such a long while. The couple talked a lot about their lives, their jobs or how they’d been missing each other, and that was when Bryce detected something wrong with his girlfriend. He gazed closer at Karen, arched one brow in question: “You’re trying to hide something from me, aren’t ya? Look at your pale and gaunt countenance. My dear, you okay?”

Karen was about to confide in her concern during her restless sleep to her boyfriend, but then was afraid that he would be more worried about her. She pretended to laugh off in an attempt to alleviate her boyfriend’s distress, blamed for the stress due to hard-working and anorexia that wasted her away. Bryce made her promise to take good care of herself and not overwork, particularly at night-time. He recommended to carry her home but she rejected, insisted that she could absolutely make home on her own. She managed to get over her fear by not paying attention to the dark corners on side roads, and not staying up late in the evening to avoid an incubus, or paranoia. Probably at last, Karen could figure out a way to overcome the overwhelming pressure to enjoy every of her daily moments passed.

Written by: Vo Thuong Hang

*Based on a real urban legend of “Black-eyed children” and tales about them that  have existed since the 1950s.

NOUNS

– duplex (n): căn hộ hai tầng

– reminiscence (n): sự nhớ lại, hồi ức

– swivel chair (n): ghế xoay

– daffodil (n): hoa thủy tiên

– chandelier (n): đèn chùm treo

– anorexia (n): chứng chán ăn

– incubus (n): bóng đè

– paranoia (n): chứng hoang tưởng

VERBS

– flop down (v): ngồi phịch xuống

– blurt (v): thốt ra, buột mồm nói ra

– linger (v): la cà

– lurk (v): ẩn nấp, núp

– detect (v): phát hiện, nhận thấy

– alleviate (v): làm vơi bớt, làm dịu

ADJECTIVES

– furtive (adj): vụng trộm, lén lút

– reticent (adj): kín đáo, trầm lặng, ít nói

AUTHOR: VÕ thường Hằng

AUTHOR: VÕ thường Hằng

From Specialists


Spelling and Grammar Checker: Võ Thường Hằng
Vocabulary Editors: Hoàng Phan Anh Tuấn – Đào Thanh Ngân
Executive Supervisor: Nguyễn Dương Trung Tín

The Anthology created by: Võ Thường Hằng, Đào Thanh Ngân, Danh Nhật Sang, Đặng Tiểu Bảo, Hoàng Phan Anh Tuấn from Specialists

Posted by Hải Minh from Communications

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