Dream House

Posted: June 24, 2012 in short stories, Uncategorized, writing
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Stepping out the back door, she paused as she did every morning when the  joy grabbed her heart. After nine years in a one-bedroom walk up in the city, they had finally saved enough money to buy their dream home. Her husband, a hard-working electrician had never let her give up on their dream. Filling her lungs with crisp morning air, she gazed over the two acres she still couldn’t believe they owned.

She knew the largely natural, wooded property was meant for them the first time they coasted up the drive. Aged trees framed the lot, ending in a dense patch of woods at the rear of the lot. A natural stream meandered through the ground, filling the air with the sound of bullfrogs and buzzing dragonfly wings.  Numerous out-buildings dotted the land behind the two-story, almost two-hundred year old house.

Her focus today was one of the outbuildings, a small, clapboard structure that once served as a tool shed judging by what she found on a quick walk through. Making her way over the field she pushed the creaky door, letting her eyes adjust to the murky atmosphere before going in. Nobody had found it necessary to install electric to the outbuildings, so she had to work while the sun filtered through the windows.

Setting her sights on the sagging shelves at the rear of the building she sorted treasures from trash, marveling at the ancient tins and tools she could use or sell. Wiping her palms on her jeans she realized she should wear work gloves, but she couldn’t stand the detached feeling they produced. She like to feel the earth and textures around her, gloves made her feel isolated from the experience. Or, why she would never have pristine hands with perfectly manicured nails.

Her grumbling stomach forced her to check the time.

“One O’clock already? No wonder my tummy is complaining.”

Putting sown the coffee can full of hardware she had been sorting she headed for the door, cursing as her shin smacked into the handle of a wooden wheelbarrow she hadn’t noticed before.

“Damn, that stings,” she yelped, rubbing her shin, “I’ll deal with you when I get back!”

Making her way to the house she stopped to refill her bird feeders and add clean water to the bird bath. Entering the house she was greeted by her ancient dog who still managed to wag his tail and two grumpy cats who felt they had waited long enough for their morning tuna treat. Making sure they had what they needed she headed to the fridge to find some lunch.

Noticing the flashing red light on the answering machine, she pushed play, grabbed a diet Pepsi and started assembling her sandwich as her husband’s voice filled the kitchen. It made her smile as it always did, their many years together hadn’t changed their friendship or devotion. He informed her that he was calling to say hi, I love you and can’t wait to get home.  She wolfed down her lunch, tossed the plate in the dishwasher and headed back to the shed. Once her eyes adjusted to the murk she headed to the back of the shed, banging a shin on that blasted wheelbarrow again!

“Damn, I have to put you outside, this is getting to be a painful habit!”

The wheelbarrow, made entirely of hardwood, had long, graceful handles that felt nice to hold. The only iron was the bolts holding the pieces together, the axle and its flat, rusted wheel with bulky spokes. The iron wheel echoed off the debris on the floor as she pushed it toward the door, smashing nuts, glass or anything in its way. Maneuvering it out the door she planned to move it to one side until she figured out what to do with it,  but when she saw a group of ants working a hill she shoved the wheelbarrow into their home, scattering and smashing as many as she could. Releasing the handles she stared, wondering how she ended up there, frowning when she saw the damage to the ants.

Wondering what could be mean enough to destroy an entire ecosystem she decided to return to the house. Not feeling quite right, she took a bath and curled up in a window seat to catch up on her reading.

Saturday morning, she stretched, smiling when she realized Rick would be home all day. They had plans to clear litter and other debris from the stream and put in a few sitting areas to relax and enjoy nature.  After a quick breakfast, they headed outside, agreeing that they needed some of the rocks they had collected to add basking sites for frogs and snakes.

“Wait! I have the perfect tool to haul rocks. I found an old wheelbarrow in one of the sheds yesterday, I’ll go get it.”

Beaming with happiness, he watched his wife navigate the uneven ground as she gripped the long wooden handles of her find.

“This should work!” she shouted.

“Look hon! Our garden snakes are out. Even the babies are coming out,” he called. Watching in horror as his wife steered the wheelbarrow toward the reptiles. He screamed at her to stop but she seemed oblivious to his voice as she drove the heavy steel wheel over the family.

“What are you doing? Stop it!” he shouted, pulling her hands from the wheelbarrow.

Her eyes seemed unfocused as she looked into his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, “Why are you looking at me like I just killed your best friend?”

Staring at the broken bodies of the young snakes, he didn’t know what to say. He picked her up and took her into the house, laying her on the couch. As she dozed he decided he needed a beer, hell, that wouldn’t stop his shaky hands or frazzled nerves after what he witnessed, he wasn’t even sure the whiskey he was pouring could do the trick.  Swallowing the contents of the glass he quickly poured another shot before perching on the coffee table to stare at his sleeping wife, the wife who fed birds, saved mice trapped in the house and refused to let him move a pile of brush because a family of snakes had taken up residence.  Her actions today were totally foreign. Worried that she may be sick he sat by the couch all night, dozing off for short periods when he could get the image of the poor snakes out of his head.  A gentle hand caressing his face pulled him from his slumber. Looking into the eyes of his wife he jumped to attention.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“Of course. Why are we sleeping in the living room?”

“Uh, you were a bit sick yesterday. I carried you in here and you fell asleep.” he said, not ready to talk about what he had seen.

“Sick? I feel fine. I don’t remember much about yesterday though,” she added.

“No problem, maybe you are just tired and overworked from the stress of the move and unpacking. Or, the thought of Linda running the shop while you are on vacation is too much for you to bear!” He shouted, ducking before the pillow made contact with his head.

“Ugh, don’t remind me, I must have been nuts leaving that girl in charge for a day, let alone a month. I may not have any
knickknacks as you call them, left to sell by the time I get back.”

After a quick breakfast they went out and cleared brush, cleaned the picnic table and made plans. When they returned to the stream, he held his breath.

“Didn’t we decide to bring in some rocks for the frogs to sit on?” she asked.

“Not a bad idea, I’ll go get some.” he announced, remembering yesterday. He didn’t want his wife near the area with the dead snakes until he had time to clean it up, something he intended to do as soon as she busy planning her sitting area.

“Ok, I’ll stand here and watch you work,” she chuckled.

“Figures, you always were a slacker,” he said, mustering his best grin.

With a giggle, she answered his jibe with a one-fingered salute.

“Tease,” he called over his shoulder as she plopped in the soft grass.

The rest of the day was as nice as she had planned. One small sitting area, that blended with nature was done and Rick had tamed a large area of field they intended to turn over to plant a garden. Gathering at their new haven by the water, they sipped their beers as she snuggled into his side, watching the falling sun dance over the creek.

Sunday morning, she opened her eyes to find Rick staring at her from his pillow.

“Morning,” he smiled.

“Hi there, ready to get moving?” she asked.

“Well, if you get up I will no reason to stay in bed,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows like Grouch Marx.

She never could resist those eyebrows, so she postponed her rising for another forty-minutes.  After a shower she made her way to the kitchen.

“I’ll start your coffee and meet you by the creek, ok?” She yelled, moving down the stairs as he mumbled something she couldn’t understand. Grabbing her own dose of caffeine from the fridge she headed to the creek to watch the rest of the sun rise. Moments later Rick joined her, barefoot and shirtless in his Levi’s, a sight that almost tempted her to drag him back in the house. “Hey, I saw a school of fish, I guess we do have some in the creek. Wait a few minutes and they will come back to the shore.”

“Great, you will probably be out here hand feeding them one at a time if I know you,” he jested.

“Shut up!”

Spinning around he stared with an open mouth.

“Come on Abs, you know you would if you could” he said, trying another stab at their teasing routine. He smiled when he saw her reach for a pebble, that’s my girl, he thought. If she tossed it at him he would know she was still her sweet self. Unsure of how to read her face, he found himself tensing up as she lobbed the pebble. It bounced off his chest and he had to admit it stung a little. “Ok Abs, that was a little hard.”

“Oh, that was to hard for my baby man was it?” she growled, “let’s try again!”

Grabbing rocks faster that he thought possible she practically stoned him into the creek. He roared with pain as they pummeled his face and chest. Blood ran from his bottom lip as he charged his wife, hoping to pin her arms. Pulling her to her feet he dragged her to the edge of the creek, splashing water on her face in an attempt to snap her back to reality. Pulling loose she started to slap his head. Not knowing what else to do he drove her to the ground and straddled her chest before giving her a good smack to the face.

Melting into the ground, she found herself staring into the troubled eyes of her husband.

“What the hell are you doing?” she asked, “Let me up!”

“No!”

“What do you mean, no? Get off!”

“No! You damn near killed me, you aren’t getting up until I know you are your loving self again.”

“What the hell are you talking about? Oh my god, you’re bleeding! What happened?”

“You pelted me with rocks, that’s what happened! You need help, something is wrong. I think you may be sick.”

“Why would I throw rocks at you? I would never do that! Why are you doing this?” she asked, welling up with tears.

“I don’t know, but you did. It’s not the first odd thing you have done in the past few days.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t want to say. Can’t you just trust me without the details?” he begged.

“NO, I want to know what you are talking about!”

“The snakes, you killed the snakes.” he muttered.

“What are you trying to say?” she demanded.

“You killed our snakes Jen! You went for that wheelbarrow you found and you deliberately drove it over the nest! You crushed them and smiled the entire time!”

“No, no, no, no, I would never do that! Our snakes are dead?” she asked through the tears.

“I know you wouldn’t, that’s why I think we need to find a doctor, you need help,” he urged, stroking her face.

“I can’t remember much of the last two days. I remember working in the tool shed, but after that most of it is just gone. I’m scared Rick. What if I am losing my mind? I would never knowingly hurt you, you have to believe me!”

“I do baby,” he said, rolling to the ground to pull her close, stroking her hair as she wept.

The rest of the week was spent checking in and out of medical offices. She endured blood tests, x-rays, Catscans, MRI’s, and psychologists, but she was deemed healthy and sane.

After a week away from home and the hard work, they noticed her symptoms had disappeared and decided her outbursts must have been fatigue and stress related to the move. Glad to have his wife back he tucked her in the car and headed for home.  He utilized his meager talent as a cook to throw together a dinner of pancakes and bacon before snuggling with his wife on the bed to watch a movie. An hour in he noticed she had fallen asleep so he pulled the blankets up and spooned into her for the night.

When the morning’s sun pried their eyes open they greeted the day with optimism.

“Hi,” he whispered.

“Hi yourself,” she smiled.

“Well, now what?” he asked.

“I guess you have to go to work for a start. I want to get back outside and get back to work.”

“I don’t wanna go to work,” he whined, “I missed you when you were gone.”

“Oh, boo-hoo. Put on your big boy panties and go to work. I will be here when you get home.” she said, kissing his nose.

Later, she watched the retreating tail lights of his car, waving goodbye before turning her attention to the yard. She had so much she wanted to do, she didn’t know what to tackle first. Wandering the grounds she found her eyes gravitating toward the grove of cherry trees next to the main barn. The neglected trees refused to give up, they were filled with cherries waiting to mature.  When the birds began to cluster in the trees, pecking at her perfect cherries she grinned, better they feed the birds than go to waste. Moving toward the shed she decided to retrieve her old wooden chairs and table to surprise Rick with a new sitting area behind the house. Picturing many dinners cooked on the grill as they watched the wildlife she smiled as she headed to the barn for the furniture. Making a small detour to get the wheelbarrow she planned the site in her head.

Parking the aging cart in front of the barn she brought out the table, flipping it on its top into the wheelbarrow. She retrieved two chairs and nestled them into the table. Struggling to keep the heavy load balanced she maneuvered the uneven ground as she made her over the yard. The sound of the birds squawking and munching on the cherries, her cherries assaulted her ears, blinding her to everything else. Releasing the wheelbarrows smooth handles, she rose up to stare at the trees.

“Damn birds! Get out of my trees!” she screamed.

Running into the house she bolted up the stairs, opening a closet at the rear of the house to reveal the gun safe. The shotgun felt right at home in her hands as she pulled it from the darkness. Grabbing a box of ammo from the cache she headed down the stairs and across the yard. Shoot and load, shoot and load…she didn’t stop until every bird attacking her cherries was on the ground.

“Jen! Wake up.”

Opening her eyes she found Rick looking down at her.

“Oh my god, you are alive! What happened.”

“I don’t know.” she croaked.

“What happened to the birds? Are you ok? Tell me what happened!”

“I don’t KNOW!” she shouted, rising from the ground. “Leave me alone, why are you dogging me?”

“Say what? What the hell are you talking about?” he asked her retreating back. “Talk to me Jen! The ground is full of dead birds full of buckshot and you have nothing to tell me?” He shouted, slumping on a log.

He spent a fitful night on the couch after Abby locked him out of the bedroom. The next morning, he washed his face in the sink, grabbed a quick cup of coffee and busied himself in the yard until the sun threatened to set. Deciding he needed guidance, something to point him in the right direction he headed to the library.

“Good evening sir, can I help you? It will have to be fast, we close at nine,” the librarian said as he approached the desk.

“I’m not sure. I need information on personality changes, or mental conditions that can change someone’s personality.”

“Wow, tall order, can you tell me more?”

“Well, my wife and I finally bought our dream house and I thought things would be perfect. I need to find out what would cause someone who feeds the birds, rescues mice, returns turtles to the river and feeds stray cats turn, well, mean. I need to know why someone like this would suddenly start harming the very creatures they loved.”

“Oh, you are new here? What house did you buy?”

“I think they called it the “Old Peterson Place,” he said.

“Oh.”

“What does “oh” mean,” he asked, “you said that like it was a bad thing.”

“Well, no…I mean it is all just rumors, local myths, I shouldn’t even mention it,” she said, avoiding his stare.

“What kind of myths?”

“You know, the usual small town myths. Scandal, murder, ghosts etc.” she grinned.

“No, I don’t know, tell me,” he shouted.

“Give me a minute, you’re scaring me,” she whined.

“Sorry, but this is important. I need to know.”

“Ok… the story goes like this; Zoe Smythe built a house on some land her father left her in his will. I guess she went nuts after that, putting up outbuildings and growing cherries. She threatened anyone who walked on her land, it didn’t matter if they were human or animal, they were all dealt with harshly. It’s said that she once shot a horse because she stepped in a pile of manure. She married more than once, the first time because she was promised by her father, the rest were men who crossed her path. Newspaper reports of the time tell of over forty transient workers that had gone looking for work on local farms, never to be seen again.  That’s all I know, well that and the fact that all of her husbands disappeared. It’s rumored that she killed them and  buried them on the property. That’s all I know, honest!” she insisted.

Memories of the last few days tore through his mind like a cyclone. Jen hurting snakes, birds and even him. What did it mean? The first time he witnessed this she had gone for a wheelbarrow to haul rocks, today she had loaded furniture on the wheelbarrow before shooting the birds. Once the cloud lifted he realized that she had been sitting on the wheelbarrow, drinking a Pepsi when she pelted him with rocks.

“Excuse me, do any of the myths mention an old, wooden wheelbarrow?”

“Wow, are you psychic?” she said, getting excited, “Rumor has it that there was an old wooden wheelbarrow in one of the sheds. The person who bought the farm after Zoe died claimed that something that looked like bloodstains would show up on the wood for a short time, then disappear. Nobody ever proved, or disproved it. People around here figure this is what she used to move all the bodies.”

Driving home, faster than he should have, his mind bounced from thought to thought, each one in itself would qualify him for a stint in the nut house, but all together they were beyond mad. Could Zoe’s evil somehow be embedded in an inanimate object? Impossible, but how else could he explain the violent actions of his compassionate wife? Why did each episode happen while she was in contact with that wheelbarrow? It was her eyes that led him to believe in his theory, he had been looking into his wife’s eyes for years, and during those episodes, the eyes were not hers. They were blank, dead, yet full of hate, he would swear they even changed color. Shoving the pedal to the floor he prayed a wayward deer didn’t feel the need to cross the road, but his fear over his wife outweighed his fear of having an accident.

Racing down the driveway he skidded to a stop near the front door. Jumping from the still rocking car he flew into the house, taking the stairs two at a time, praying he would find his wife still locked in their bedroom. His heart skipped a beat when he found the door open and the room dark.

“Abs! Abby, where are you?” he called. When she didn’t respond he did a quick check of the bedrooms and bathroom before heading downstairs. “Abs! Are you down here?” Greeting with silence he decided it was time to panic. The house was dark and his unhinged wife was nowhere in sight. The sound of gun fire tore into his soul. Tearing down the front steps he ran into the night, listening for any sound that would lead him to his wife. When another shot rang out, he headed toward the cherry trees by the barn.Then he heard his wife’s voice, and it turned his blood to ice.

“I’ll teach you to Poop in the grass where I want to walk!” she yelled, pulling off another shot.

Movement to the right caught his attention and he realized it was the dog, running as fast as his ancient legs would allow. The moon shed just enough light for him to see the dark silhouette of his wife, shot-gun at chest level, track her beloved dog. When a noise caught her attention she pulled both triggers, causing an explosion of bark on a nearby tree. Not wanting her to see him he circled around the barn, hoping to jump her from behind and take the gun.

“Here puppy, come out, come out, I won’t hurt you. I just want to blow your frigging brains out!” she taunted.

With his back against the barn he slowly slid toward his wife. She had stopped to bang her dying flashlight on her palm, tossing it to the ground when it refused to relight. He took one more step and was almost ready to spring when he made contact with the pile of brush he meant to clear away. Hearing the snapping twig she spun to face him.

“Here puppy, puppy, come to momma,” she sneered, slowly moving toward his hiding place in the shadow. Putting the shotgun to her shoulder she fired a shot in his general direction that hit the wall closer to his head than he would have liked. Jumping from the shadow he hoped she loved him enough to well, not kill him.

“Abs, it me!”

“Well, well. You’re not that damn, disrespectful dog, but you’ll do,” she said, taking aim once more.

Dropping to the ground, he heard himself scream as the brush exploded behind him, raining debris on his head as he crawled toward the back of the barn.

“Now, now, I can’t have you coming on this land, tearing it up and doing what you want, surely you understand that. Come on out and take your punishment like a big boy,” she taunted.

Having no intention of showing his face he moved behind the barn. Once he felt sure she couldn’t see him, he sprung to his feet and ran to the next outbuilding, hoping to buy enough time to come up with a new plan.

“Ricky, where are you sweetheart? Red rover, red rover, let Ricky come over,” she sang, banging the shotguns stock on the walls as she circled the building.

Crawling along the floor, careful not pass a window he searched for a rope, a tarp, anything he could use to restrain his wife if he could get a jump on her. He moved a carefully as he could, but jumped when he knocked over a metal can. Worried that Abs heard the noise he froze, wrinkling his nose when he realized the overturned can was full of gas that was now seeping into the dirt floor. Righting the can he cringed, waiting for a gunshot, a gunshot that could spark this building into an intense fire. He had never thought about ways to die, but he didn’t think fire was one of the better ways. Freezing in place, trying to get a fix on her location he swore she would hear his beating heart. It was then a plan began to form. Gas, fire, fire, gas, how could he use it? Noticing the wheelbarrow parked near the door he made his decision. Grabbing the can he crawled over to the object trying to destroy his life. Pouring the remaining gas over the dry wood he pushed the wheelbarrow over to the door, feeling his pockets for the matches he carried to burn unwanted brush. Willing his shaking hands to relax he mentally rehearsed what he wanted to do. His goal was to burn the wheelbarrow, but do it in a way that wouldn’t cook him like a chicken or hurt Abs.

“Come out here you little wuss, you are starting to piss me off!” Abs screamed,  “If I have to come in there and dig you out you are NOT going to die quick and painless! Choice is yours!”

Jumping to his feet, he took a few deep breaths and kicked open the doors. Before she could react, he shoved the wheelbarrow outside, struck a match and tossed it on the gas soaked wood. She fired one more shot that shattered the door frame before dropping the gun.

“NO, put it out!” she screamed, grabbing her head as she fell to her knees. “Stop it Rick, I need it, I must have it! Don’t do this,” she pled.

She threw her head back so far he feared her neck would break as an unearthly howl escaped her throat. He rushed to her side as she collapsed, grabbing her face in both hands. Her confused eyes took in the fire, looking to him for an explanation as he led her into the house. Their aging dog nosed open the door, following him as he placed her on the couch, licking her tear-stained face as she stroked his head. She had no memories of her violent actions and for that he was grateful. He told her that she had suffered a slight illness from stress and assured her that it was all behind them.

If she had more questions, she never asked them, content to focus on her dream home and her animals. He made sure every inch of the wheelbarrow had burned. He cleaned up the ashes and buried them far from the house, but he was never able to shake the image of the woman, with eyes as black as night, that rose with the smoke from the burning wheelbarrow to disappear into the dark. Was she gone for good, all he could do was hope.

Copyright 2012 Jane Kohler

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