The journal

Note: I wrote this story several years ago. I had forgotten that I had written it until recently. I want to make sure I don’t have long gaps between writing stories again.

***

Someone was knocking at the door.

“Who is it?” Audrey Shepherd called. The sun was beating down on yet another scorching August day, and Audrey pulled her wavy, chestnut-colored hair into a ponytail as she walked out of her bedroom. She was getting ready for work, and her air conditioner was on the fritz again.

No one answered. She peeked out of the peephole but didn’t see anyone there. Audrey slowly opened the door and looked around. There was still no one there, but a package was sitting on the step. “What can this be?” Audrey wondered. “I didn’t order anything.”

Audrey scooped up her cat, who was trying to get out the door, as she brought the package in and set it on the table. There was no name or address on it. The cat stared at the package and looked up at Audrey, meowing. Overcome with curiosity, Audrey grabbed a pair of scissors off the desk and began cutting the tape on the plain brown box.

After she finally got through all the tape, she flipped the box open to find a beige journal with lacy pink borders. It looked quite old, but the pages inside were blank.

“Why would somebody send me a journal?” Audrey wondered.

Just then the phone rang, and the cat hopped off the table. As Audrey hung up on the telemarketer, she remembered she had to call about her air conditioner. The journal lay on the table, forgotten.

The next morning another package came. Again there was a knock on the door, and again no one was there when Audrey answered. This time the box was small and narrow. Inside was a black felt pen. “Now I have a pen to go with the journal?” Audrey thought. “Why does someone want me to write in a journal? And what do they want me to write, exactly?”

Then there was another knock on the door. This time it was the repairman, who after a couple of hours declared Audrey’s air conditioner fixed and handed her a bill that made Audrey forget all about the journal and the pen.

The next day yet another package was sitting on the step as Audrey came home from a long day at work. This was the largest package Audrey had received. Inside it was a painting. It was a beautiful meadow with a young woman who looked very much like Audrey, except that she was dressed in a beige, lacy, dress that appeared to be from the 18th or 19th century. Audrey searched for the name of an artist, but couldn’t find one.

“I wonder who would send me a painting?” Audrey thought aloud. The woman in the painting was writing in what appeared to be a journal. Audrey stared at her own journal. Suddenly a strange thought struck her. “Am I supposed to write to her by writing in the journal?” Audrey wondered. It sounded ridiculous.

She shook her head and put the journal back on the table, setting the painting against the wall. She would worry about it later. She had bills to pay right now.

That night, Audrey dreamt that she was walking in a meadow with long green grasses and hundreds of flowers in an assortment of colors. The sun was shining down on a glimmering lake, and pair of swans was swimming through the bright blue water. Audrey could hear birds chirping and a light breeze rustling through the trees. The sweet scents of flowers wafted through the air. The place had a dreamy quality, Audrey thought. It felt very peaceful.

Audrey felt a tap on her shoulder and jumped. Behind her was the woman she had seen in the painting. “Who are you?” Audrey asked.

“My name is Sandra. I love to spend time here in this meadow. Isn’t it lovely?”

“Yes, it is,” Audrey replied. “But how did you get here?”

Sandra smiled. “How did you?”

Audrey thought for a moment. “I think I’m dreaming,” she said. “Yes, this has to be a dream.”

“Well, it doesn’t have to be a dream,” Sandra said in a soft, almost hypnotic voice. “You can spend time here any time you want. All you have to do is write in the journal that you want to visit me in the meadow.”

“Did … did you send the journal?” Audrey asked. It seemed crazy that a woman in the painting could send her packages. Surely she would wake up soon.

“Well, I didn’t send it, exactly. It’s just a way for you to visit this beautiful place. Wouldn’t you like to visit again, Audrey? All you have to do is say so in the journal. Just write. ‘I want to go to the meadow.’ It’s as simple as that.”

“Really?” Audrey said, frowning. “You mean all I have to do is write in some journal and I’ll be transported here?”

“Well, it’s a rather unusual journal. I guess you could call it ‘magical,’” Sandra said with a smile.

It was a beautiful place, Audrey thought. She felt so at peace here — it felt so nice to be away from work, from the noise of the city, her busy life. She felt like she could just lay down in the grass and stay here forever.

“Well, it is nice here.” Audrey said, smiling wistfully. “Wait a second … How did you know my name?”

Audrey suddenly woke up back in her room and found herself staring at her beige walls and tan carpet. Sun was streaming through the slits in the blinds, and the cat was meowing. She could hear the train horn in the distance.

Audrey sighed. “What do you think, Ginger? You think I could suddenly be in a beautiful meadow by writing in a journal?”

Ginger meowed again. Audrey laughed. “Yeah, I know, it’s ridiculous. I guess my life must really be getting dull, huh? It’s probably just some practical joke, and my mind is making things up to make my life more exciting.”

Audrey put took some food off the counter and poured it into the cat’s dish. “I guess I better get ready for work,” she said.

After a rough day at work, Audrey came home exhausted and flopped down on the couch. She grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels. She was watching a show on koalas on Animal Planet when she heard something fall on the floor.

“Ginger, what are you up to now?” Audrey shouted, sighing. Ginger came out of the kitchen, looking up and Audrey and meowing. “What did you knock down?” Audrey asked the cat, who looked at her and walked over to the couch in response. Audrey sighed and walked over to the table, where she saw the journal on the floor.

“I wonder what would really happen if I wrote in this journal?” Audrey thought. “Probably nothing.” Her curiosity finally getting the better of her, she grabbed the journal off the floor and the pen off the table and sat on the couch beside Ginger. She wrote, “I would like to visit the meadow.”

She looked around. She was still in the living room of house. “Well, just like I thought, nothing happened,” she said to Ginger, who looked up and meowed, but the cat wasn’t looking at Audrey.

Audrey followed the cat’s gaze and saw that the painting looked strange, almost as if the woman inside of it was moving. Audrey walked over to the painting and peered closely at it, still holding the journal.

Suddenly Audrey wasn’t in her living room anymore. Nor was she wearing the black skirt and beige sweater she had worn to work. She was in the old-fashioned dress she had seen in the painting, sitting in the meadow, holding the journal. She looked down at the journal and was astonished to see other writing in there besides her own:

“Dear Audrey,

Now that you have written in the journal, you got your wish and visited the meadow. Unfortunately, this visit is going to be longer than you thought it would be. Probably about 50 years, when another woman comes along who looks a lot like you and receives a journal, a pen and a painting. This happened to me about 50 years ago, when I received the same journal. I don’t know many of the details, only the woman before me wrote me in this journal. Apparently there was a curse hundreds of years ago, and now women are chosen to spend 50 years in this painting until the next woman comes along with the same fate. I’m sorry you now must spend all of this time in the painting, but look at this way: It is a beautiful meadow, isn’t it? And thank you, for taking me away from that painting. You’ll get away one day, too, 50 years from now.

Sincerely,

Sandra”

Audrey stared at the journal, awestruck. She was going to be trapped here for 50 years? But this had to be a dream. She pinched herself. Unfortunately, it hurt. Then as she stood up and looked around, she saw something strange in the distance. It almost looked like some sort of portal. She ran over and looked out of a hole that seemed to be shrinking in size. She could see her living room, her cat, and now herself — no, Sandra, dressed as herself, sitting out on the couch beside Ginger, watching TV. “She’s taken my place?” Audrey wondered aloud.

Suddenly Audrey could feel herself moving backward until she was sitting in the same position she had found herself in earlier, with the journal on her lap. She realized then that not only was she stuck in this meadow, she was stuck sitting in this exact same position until 50 years from now, when another unfortunate woman was send the same journal, pen and painting she was.

Audrey looked at the journal hopelessly. “Well, at least it’s peaceful.”

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