Okay, so Witch of Willow Lake has been out for about a month, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the ending. I like the ending the way it stands; for the most part it wraps up the main story and leaves an opening for Kyr and Spook’s story to continue, which it will.
Still, in some ways I felt it wasn’t quite complete. I had a few ends left dangling, and I felt that more could be said. So I sat down and wrote up a bit of an epilogue that ties up some of those loose ends. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.
The next morning, Spook and I packed up our things and checked out of the hotel. Even though I knew we each had to return to our respective homes and get back to our routines, I was more than a little reluctant to let him go. We’d once again come dangerously close to losing each other, and I couldn’t quite dispel the childish fear that he might disappear as soon as he was out of my sight.
We decided to spend some time just sitting by the river and enjoying each other’s company before we parted ways, so we headed downtown and parked in the public lot. It being a holiday, Market Street was quieter than it would usually be at this time on a weekday morning. Only a handful of cars were in the lot, and the few cars that passed by were headed out of town, most likely weekend visitors on their way home.
As we walked hand in hand up the sidewalk, Spook turned to me and asked, “Is the Street Faire not open yet? It seems awfully quiet.”
Glancing at the clock on the town hall building up the street, I responded, “No, they won’t start up for a little over an hour yet. There might be some food stands open, but that’s about it.” I smiled up at him. “Were you in the mood for some fruit soup?”
He laughed and unlaced his fingers from mine so he could wrap his arm around me and pull me close. “No, but it sounds like you are. Shall we go find some?”
I bit my lip, considering for a moment, remembering the scrumptious peach soup I’d had the previous day. I was about to suggest taking a stroll down to the end of the line of vendors to see if Ladle Old Ladies was open for business yet, but another thought suddenly popped into my head. “Actually, Spook, I’d like to stop in at the used book store and talk to Cora, let her know how the investigation turned out. What do you think?”
He gave me a crooked smile. “You do know if you do that, you’ll likely end up being featured in one of her Willow Lake history stories.”
“Well…” I wrinkled my nose as I returned his look. “I guess I’ll have to take that chance. You know how stories get twisted in the telling, especially in this town. I want to make sure at least one person has the truth and that Mary and Warren’s names are cleared. Who better than a local history buff and storyteller?”
We crossed to the northern end of Market Street and continued up the block to the maroon-shuttered building. The battered Used Books sign still hung above the door, and it looked even more faded than it had a couple days ago. The old shop still had an appearance of neglect, but now a sense of nostalgia and long-forgotten memories emanated from inside. I raised my eyes to Spook’s to see if he had the same impression. His furrowed brow told me that he, too, sensed something different about the place.
I stepped up and tried the door; it was locked. Glancing at the window where the Open sign had been displayed, I noticed that one of the panes of glass had been broken, and I wondered if vandals had struck over the weekend. “They must be closed for Labor Day,” I mused. It really wouldn’t surprise me. Carleigh had said the shop didn’t get much business, so it was indeed likely that Cora might decide to take the holiday off herself.
Spook leaned close to the broken window and cupped his hands around his eyes to peer in. “What the…Kyr, come here and look at this. Everything inside is gone! No books, no shelves, nothing is left!”
“What?” He took a step back to let me squeeze in to peer in the window. He was right; the building was completely empty. There were no books, no decorations of any kind, and only a couple broken bookshelves standing along the back wall. Even in the dim light, I could tell that cobwebs and dust covered the floors and the shelves. A shiver ran down my spine. There was no way Cora and her granddaughter could have moved all those books and furnishings out within a day or so; the place looked as though it had been abandoned for years.
As Spook and I stood looking at each other, baffled, someone behind us spoke. “Are you folks looking for something?”
We turned to see a heavyset older woman walking a pug that seemed as rotund as she was. “I’m not sure,” I said hesitantly. “Do you know what happened to the book shop that used to be here?”
The woman laughed. “You folks must be from out of town. That shop closed down a couple years ago. The Renards just couldn’t keep it open any longer.”
“Oh. Well…thank you.” I edged closer to Spook as the woman and her dog continued on their way. Looking up at him, I asked, “What do you make of that?”
He shook his head slowly. “I don’t know, Kyr m’dear. I just don’t know. Just when I think this place can’t get any weirder, something like this happens. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to turn on the Paranormal Channel and find Willow Lake featured on one of those old Twilight Zone episodes.”
I gave him a bemused smile before we turned our backs on the abandoned book shop and made our way over to River Street.
A few weeks later, I opened my mailbox and found a special edition of the Willow Lake Alumni News. I was reluctant to open it, knowing at least some of the news that it held and thinking it was too soon to revisit the events of Labor Day weekend. In fact, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to consciously revisit those events; my mind did enough of that through the crazy dreams I’d had since returning from Willow Lake.
In the end, my curiosity won out, and I sat down after work one evening to read it from cover to cover. As I’d suspected, there was quite a lengthy write-up that documented Dr. Harris’ decades-long career with the college. As Bobby had told us, Dr. Harris had indeed enjoyed a meteoric rise from a Teaching Assistant in the Business School to College President, and it was duly noted that he was a well-respected—or in my opinion, greatly-feared—member of both the Willow Lake campus and community. The article briefly mentioned, but otherwise glossed over, his association with Professor Childress, whose obsession with the occult had been rumored for years and had ultimately led to his hasty departure from the college after Mary’s death.
I still wrestled with how I felt about the now-former college president. I had never cared for the man, and in some ways I believed he had brought some of his troubles on himself. Most of my anger over the events of that weekend was directed at Professor Childress. I wasn’t sure how much real occult power he had actually possessed, but the fact that he had used what power he had to manipulate a grieving man at his weakest point caused my chest to burn with anger.
Unable to bear reading any more of the sad saga of Dr. Harris’ final days with the college, I roughly flipped the pages until I came to an article entitled “Honoring the Past, Looking to the Future.” I began reading, hoping for a bit of more positive news. I gasped aloud at the news that the decision had been made to demolish Appleton Hall and use the space to create a commons area where students could gather to study or to just enjoy the outdoors while on campus. With a twinge of nostalgic uncertainty, I studied the drawings of the proposed changes being made. Two pavilions would stand on either end of the green space, for use during college events and alumni functions, and in the very center of the commons would be a gazebo.
I sat back and closed my eyes, imagining what the space would look like in real life when it was completed. While I could indeed see the cosmetic appeal, as well as the functionality of the space, a lump of sadness rose in my throat as I mentally turned to look towards the spot where Appleton Hall had once stood. Even though the newly-proposed space was beautiful and functional, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of loss and injustice as I thought about Mary Bollinger. Her spirit was now at rest, and the real story of what had happened in 1958 had at last been told; still, I couldn’t help feeling that the decision to demolish the building was an attempt to erase from memory the tragedy that had happened.
As I was about to open my eyes and end my reverie, a voice whispered in my ear. “Look.” In my mind, I was guided to the walkway at the outer edge of the commons area, where an archway spanned the sidewalk leading into the green space. Atop the archway was a sign that read “Appleton Commons.” I smiled, somewhat mollified that the memory of the building would in some way live on. Again, the voice whispered, “Look.” I raised my gaze to the pavilions. Tears of happiness blurred my vision, but not before I saw that one pavilion had been named the Mary Bollinger Pavilion, and the other had been named the Warren McKnight Pavilion.
Satisfied that Mary and Warren’s love story would indeed be remembered, I pivoted slowly to take one final look at the future green area. “Oh!” My eyes widened in surprise as I noticed a figure standing in front of the gazebo and watching me. It was Mary Bollinger, looking peaceful and happy, as though she approved of the space. For a brief moment, I was alarmed; I had thought her spirit was now free and at rest, but she was still here.
As I opened my mouth to speak, another figure appeared on the commons and glided towards her. Warren! The younger version of Warren McKnight I had seen in my visions joined Mary in front of the gazebo. They gazed at each other for a moment and then kissed each other sweetly before turning to me. Smiling broadly, both raised a hand to wave to me before slowly fading from sight.