Eleanor Reardon’s life had gone to shit. She didn’t even want to think about it. Avoidance that was what her therapist said. Well fuck the therapist, she didn’t have the money to afford one anymore. She didn’t have anything except the old truck she drove that contained a few personal possessions, her dog, a Belgian Malinois named Rex, a gray and white cat named Hank, some clothes and photos in the bed, and the horse trailer and within her Mustang, Napoleon.
Goddamn Josh! Ellie tried to breathe when she noticed that she was white knuckling the steering wheel again. She jabbed a finger at the radio, moving the orange slider back and forth searching for music. Rex looked at her from his spot on the seat next to her. She felt that he could sense her discomfort.
“Sorry Rex,” she apologized to the dog. He was a gorgeous specimen, champion bloodlines, the most she had ever spent on a dog and he’d been a land shark as a puppy, a real terror, but she wouldn’t trade him for nothing at all. Rex was more loyal than her cheating and gambling husband.
Josh Reardon had left her with nothing but gambling debts and the shame of being cuckold. She had lost her home, her other truck, his car, their electronics, everything except what was in her truck and the trailer. She had only managed to keep them because these were items before they were married and blessedly saved from the creditors by a prenup. It was the smartest thing she’d ever done.
Then she had gotten the phone call. Her grandparents, the people who had raised her, and those she had turned her back on to run away at sixteen with Josh. They were gone, and she hadn’t spoken to them in months, guilt wracked her, and she hated driving through the small town they had lived on the outskirts of. She felt the eyes of the townspeople upon her. Ellie tried not to think that anyone would recognize her. It had been ten years, she was twenty six now, and recently widowed and though she noticed wearing one of Josh’s flannel shirts. Ellie sighed. She reached over and petted the dog. Hank had long time ago gone silent.
The town was small, the population said 1500 but Ellie always thought that was the population of dairy cows, because the town didn’t look like it could have enough homes, rural or otherwise to equal 1500. Ellie remembered her brother’s graduating class was twelve people. Her brother like all her relatives it seemed was destined to be dead. He had died years ago when a truck exploded and killed him. Ellie’s brother had never been that bright, he had been cutting a gas tank, with gas in it, off the truck with a blow torch.
The town was three streets, a Main St, a Market St and a First street. It probably had more streets than that, but those were the ones with signs and STOP signs at the intersection. Ellie drove past the bank, it was a larger more popular bank, but only because the original branch that she remembered as a child had been bought out by the larger branch. She drove past the post office, the Five & Dime, the Glad Rags, a drug store, and many boarded up derelict stores. Ellie turned right on Main St and then the buildings became small houses with neat lawns. Old folk sitting on their chairs, watching traffic. Then the houses became tobaccos fields, then the road went from being paved to gravel. Now they were dairy farms, spotted cows as far as the eye could see eating grass. Milk barns dotted the hills.
Ellie’s grandparents owned a small farm, only 32 acres. They didn’t raise anything other than a few cows, a few goats, and chickens. Ellie’s horse, Napoleon was the first horse to ever grace the Dry Farm. This had been their retirement refuge. The house had been finished the weekend Ellie was born. She had taken her first steps in that house, had had her first crush, Josh, in that house, had learned the facts of life in that house. It held a deep place in her heart.
It also felt strange to come here without her grandparents. Even though they were gone, this house was still theirs, and even though she had inherited everything from her grandparents, she couldn’t yet think of this house and farm as hers.
It was a simple farm, the pastures in a U shape around the house. A long gravel drive led down to the brown house. It was rectangle and not very creative, a barn, a chicken coop, a milk shed, a feed shed and the very old, and dilapidated tree house that her grandparents had built for her and her brother. Ellie pulled into the drive, their old farm truck was there, but not the new SUV because her grandparents had died in it. It had rolled and they had bother died in the crash. Ellie was glad they had gone together, she couldn’t imagine one living without the other. She missed them both and their funeral. She had been wrapped up in Josh’s own funeral, and then the debt collectors.
Ellie opened the door and allowed Rex out of the cab of her truck. The dog jumped down and immediately began to run around sniffing things and marking territory. She picked up the carrier that contained Hank.
“New home now Hank,” she said to the cat as she walked down the stone steps towards the rear of the house. Her grandparents’ house was not a basement house, but they had been basement dwellers. The second floor was only used for sleeping, though it was fully furnished in furniture from the 1950s. She had remembered the vinyl couch, the old antiques, the old photographs of relatives she had not idea who they were. The white walls and the pristine carpet. Ellie had to smile as she walked around to the rear of the house.
The house was basic looking from the outside. It was rectangle with a small wooden porch, and a large plate glass window. The house was sided with wood, painted dark red. From the front of the house it appeared to be a single story, but as Ellie walked to the rear, it was obvious that the house was two stories, or perhaps one with a basement.
The rear path to the house was gravel, the grass in the yard was long, needing mowing, the grass in the fields was a copper color. The field should’ve been baled for hay, but with the passing of her grandparents, no one had done it. The animals were still there, a few cows, a few goats, and chickens. The neighbors, the Rinks, had been caring for the animals even though they lived four miles away on their own dairy farm.
Ellie pulled the key from her pocket and gave a whistle to the dog. Rex ran over from where ever he’d ben sniffing to join Ellie’s side. As they walked, he looked up at her, as if awaiting the next command. Ellie carefully placed Hank’s crate on the ground as she stood before the sliding glass doors of the basement. The blinds were down, she couldn’t see in. Most of the windows were covered with sheets to keep the sunshine out of the house. From the smzall overhang over the sliding glass doors wewre vasrious weind chimdes of different sizes. The largest set of chimes , Ellie had bought for them. Her grandfather had claimed they could no longer hear the choimes of the others and sahe had hoped the larger sert would be louder.
With a deep breath, Ellie pulled the key from her pocket and slipped it into the lock on the sliding galss door. The lock clicke over and Ellie opened the door. Her grandparents house did not smell musty or dusty or even like old people. She stepped into the cool darkness, and remembnered that her grandparents had been raised in the depression and didn’t throw much away. Insterasd they kept it. The bottom floor of hte house was the basement, wall to wall with brown linoleum, and nothing on the walls.
The basement gave new to meaning to cluttered, but it wasn’t dusty. Small paths led off to the wings of the basement, where boxes and giant trashcans were, everything was draped in sheets. Rex walked into the basement with her.
“Well Rex, consider yourself lucky, my grandparents don’t allow animals in the house.” As a matter of fact the only animals that had been allowed in the house were sickly ones, such as weak goats that had been birthed on cold nights or chicks that had no hen to watch over them.
The center of the basement was a wood burning stove, a water heater and a furnace. The upstairs was heated by furnace the downstairs was heated by wood burning stove. The entire house had central AC but the basement was cool in the summer. In front of her were two recliners that faced a flat screen TV perched on an old TV that was in a wooden case, not an entertainment center, but was mounted in wood. Past the TV was a kitchen table and a complete kitchen, stove, microwave, dish washer, fridge and cabinets.. Now the wings of the basement were filled with stuff. A work bench, a box of toys, a bathroom with a shower, the washer and dryer, clothes line with clothes hanging from it. Her grandparents had bread bags, filled with more bread bags. Coffee cans filled with buttons, rubber bands, and paper clips and bread ties. Some used, some not. Grocery bags that held more grocery bags. Various pieces of antique furniture, a corner hutch, book casess containing books from Ellie’s mother’s childhood. A treadmill, another kitchen set, and her grandparents had been Jehovah’s witnesses, so they had years of Watchtower and Awake magazines. Also they had years of LIFE magazine, and other various publications.
Ellie closed the door behind her, and let Hank out of his crate. He immediately looked for a place to hide in the unfamiliar house. Rex moved about sniffing stuff. Ellie took a few steps into the darkness and reached up and pulled the chain to turn on the light. The basement was still only lit by single dangling bare bulbs.
The basement was exactly as she remembered it. It had been 10 years since she had been there. She had not dropped all communication with her family when she left at 16, running off with Josh, whom sher was pregnant by, and then only to miscarry after they were married. In truth their marriage had been shit when she thought about it. Josh had only married her because she was pregnant and when she had miscarried, he had asked for a divorce, only before the papers were about to be finally settled, they had decided to give it one more try, and Ellie had been pregnant again. She had also miscarried, again. The doctors claimed that it was referred to as her body not accepting her baby. That her body was attacking it like it was a foreign invader. Ellie had been devastated again. She had thought her marriage had been down the drain, again.
They had remained married for eight more years, until Josh killed himself. Ellie had come home to see Josh sitting in the chair in the living room, a gun dangling from his hand, and his brains blown all over the ceiling and walls. Ellie had been mostly heart broken, she had loved Josh, had always loved him, but he had never really loved her and when Ellie finally brought herself to look at her husband’s cell phone post mortem, he had been having an affairs with at least three women and had gambled away every cent they ever had, and then on top of it, had ranked up a huge debt, dragging her down into it with him. Josh had taken everything from her, except the truck, the trailer, her horse, her dog, and her cat.
She cursed Josh again, her eyes becoming wet with tears. Ellie moved through the basement looking at old photos, opening drawers and looking in closets. She had never really examined her grandparent’s things, had never snooped among them. Now this was all hers, and she wasn’t sure what to do.
After investigating the downstairs, Ellie moved upstairs and that was when she felt uneasy. It was like a twist in her stomach and her heart began to beat so loudly that she heard her pulse in her ears as the pounding footsteps of a giant chasing her down. Ellie tried to take a deep breath. She turned on the light even though the afternoon light filtered through the blinds on the big windows. The upstairs was almost shotgun. It was another kitchen, complete with stove, fridge, and dishwasher, but it had an old mixer instead of a microwave. Also a bar separated the counter between the kitchen and the dining room. The dining room was small, with a table dominating it, a closet and a corner hutch with porcelain dolls in it. Many were hand made as exact replicas of Ellie as she grew up, from a sleeping baby doll, to a toddler, to a young girl, and a teen.
There was a knock on the door. Ellie froze. Her grandparents were dead, no one was supposed to know she was here. Who could it have been? Then a voice called in from downstairs.
“Hello?” The voice called in a very horror movie cliché way. “I saw you drive down the road.”
It was a woman’s voice, kind, cheerful, a little cautious. Ellie moved across the kitchen, she had yet to inspect the rest of the house.
“Hello?” Ellie called back as she walked cautiously down the stairs to the basement. These people had to have known her grandparents because they had entered the back door. The woman standing there was about Ellie’s age, mid-twenties and looked extremely familiar. She had auburn hair worn short, the ends were wispy, as if they were the beginnings of curls. She had brown eyes and a slim figure. She wore simple jeans and a flannel shirt, this was the middle of nowhere, and everyone wore flannel and jeans and cowboy boots. Even Ellie was dressed in a similar fashion. “Shannon”
“Ellie?” The woman asked. “Oh my God! Ellie!” Shannon suddenly threw her arms around Ellie’s neck, who stiffened at the sudden physical contact. She tried her best to hug Shannon back.
“Shannon… You’re suffocating me,” Ellie said hoarsely as she tried to pry her friend’s grip off her.
“It has been so long!” Shannon exclaimed as she finally released Ellie and held her at arms’ length as if she needed to look at her better. Shannon had been Ellie’s best friend in school, from Kindergarten all the way to high school before she dropped out to follow Josh to another state and miscarry his child.
“I… I got the farm,” Ellie said quickly. Shannon had been the one who had been taking care of the animals.
“Is that Napoleon in your horse trailer?” Shannon asked and Ellie nodded. “You still have that jackass?”
“He’s a mustang not a jackass.”
“So how are you doing?” Ellie shrugged and offered Shannon a seat at the kitchen table. It was metal and Formica, straight out of the fifties, the chairs were metal and red vinyl.
“I’m okay, more has happened than just losing my grandparents,” Ellie said quietly as she sat down.
“Well I just wanted to check on who was coming to the house,” Shannon said awkwardly as if she didn’t know how to console her friend. “Have you seen Roman?” She suddenly asked and Ellie shook her head. “Oh you should! He’s the sheriff.”
“Roman is sheriff? Don’t they require you not to have a criminal record to be sheriff?”
“He did all that as a minor, his record was sealed. Roman went into the Army after you left with Josh,” Shannon looked around. “Where is Josh?” She suddenly looked embarrassed as a dark shadow fell across her friend’s face.
“Josh is dead,” Ellie said, “He killed himself.” Ellie was determined not to cry in front of Shannon and she didn’t want Shannon to know how hard up she was for money. Her grandparents had left her a few dollars in the bank, but the farm was worth a few hundred thousand, and thank God was paid for.
“I’m so sorry,” Shannon said and looked like she wanted to hug Ellie again, but Ellie tried to not be hugged. It wasn’t that she didn’t like to be touched it was simply that she wasn’t ready for such sympathy from others. She’d had three people die in her family in a under a month. She didn’t want to get close to anyone else to only lose them. Ellie didn’t even want to think of losing her cat, her dog, or her horse.
“So he’s Sheriff Dunne?” Ellie tried to steer the conversation back to Roman. Ellie barely remembered him. He had been the man that her grandparents had wanted her to marry, had even tried to arrange a marriage and though Roman was almost ten years older, she had been rebellious and ran off with Josh. Ellie had loved Josh, she still loved him, and at the same time she hated him.
“Yes, Sheriff Dunne,” Shannon replied. “Well I guess I should let you get settled. Probably might want to head into town for supplies. I cleaned out the fridges. I didn’t know when anyone was coming to keep the house from stinking up.”
“Thanks, Shannon,” Ellie said and Shannon smiled.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Shannon said and let herself out the door. Ellie looked down at Rex who had been laying by the wood burning stove. She took a deep breath. She would need wood, it was November and the nights were getting chilly even though the days were still in the upper sixties. Shannon let herself out as she had let herself in.
“Some watchdog you are,” Ellie stated to her dog that should’ve barked when someone entered, but then again, she assumed that Rex had considered this ‘home’ and wasn’t going to defend it. Ellie looked at the stair case that led up to the first floor, she wasn’t ready to go up there again. “Come on, Rex, let’s check the fences and then put Napoleon out to pasture.” She got up and her dog went with her.
Napoleon went into a trailer a lot better than he went out of one. It had always been a thing with him. With much coaxing and pushing she finally managed him out of the trailer. It wasn’t much of a trailer, just two stalls. She tied him to the side and then began to saddle him. Napoleon always did saddling and bridling really well. Once he was ready, she led him to the larger gate up at the top of the hill. The farm was one large pasture, in a U shape, with smaller paddocks inside, and a loading chute. It had three gates, and once she was inside the gate did she mount up on Napoleon’s back.
Napoleon though was ridden western, did not carry his head with a straight neck like western horses. He carried his head high, and in an arch like an Arabian. Ellie was quite used to looking between his ears ahead of them. Rex joined them, marking lots of his territory and running back and forth. He was extremely excited for the new environment.