A Short Story in Chapters: Chapter 1 The House
A cool wind borne by dark clouds buffeted the trees. Melody Monroe shivered in her thin hoodie pullover. She let her heavy backpack slide from her shoulders to the cracked, disjointed sidewalk. She’d taken two city buses and hiked a couple of miles to get to the middle of nowhere. She kicked at the wrought iron gate in frustration. Hot anger spiked in her chest. Was this someone’s idea of a joke? If it was, it was a bad one. The letter, addressed to her, had been printed on fine parchment. The legal firm’s heading was embossed in gold. The voice on the phone, a lawyer with a decidedly clipped, though professional tone, had assured her a heretofore unknown relative had left his estate to her. She’d signed the agreement—unusual as it was—and mailed it the next day. She’d been giddy. It seemed as if a fairy godmother had smiled down on her.
In short order, she’d returned the key to her dingy apartment, boxed up her scant array of belongings and mailed them to the address listed on the letter. The address itself had enchanted her: 12 Christmas Park, Marsh Isle, Georgia. She remembered the Christmases of her childhood, the ones before her mom had died. Her mom had had a way of making even their meager holidays, special. The holidays afterward, not so much. Over the ensuing years, she’d been shuffled from one foster home to another. She was nineteen now and living on her own.
And now, she was officially homeless. No way was she taking up residence in the monstrosity looming beyond the gate. It looked like the shell of what might have once been a grand house, a mansion of sorts. For all she knew, the place was haunted. If it wasn’t, it should be.
“You Miss Monroe?”
Melody nearly jumped out of her skin. He’d come up behind her stealthy as a ghost. He was tall, about her age or a bit older. His hair was dark. His eyes reflected the deep green of the trees and marsh surrounding the place. She must have dipped her chin in answer to his query because he answered her unspoken thought.
“It’s not as bad as it looks, Miss Monroe,” he bent to take her backpack. “The place is hooked up with everything, and I’ve stocked the frig. I’m bunked in the cottage outback. We better get a move on. Looks like the storm’s gonna break any minute.” He hefted her backpack and headed past the wrought iron fencing. “There’s a path here. Follow me. That gate hasn’t opened in years.”
She didn’t care about the rusted, crooked gate. The only thing she cared about was how to get the next bus out of here. Her expression must have conveyed her thoughts because his next words dashed any hope of that.
“The buses only run on Wednesdays and Mondays. Pop’s got the truck. He won’t be back until Tuesday, most likely. Got business in Savannah.”
“Wh-what?” she stuttered. “Are you kidding me? That’s five days from now.”
“No ma’am. I don’t kid.”
Heavy droplets splattered the sidewalk. A boom rumbled overhead. She eyed the dark, threatening clouds. Left with no other choice, Melody grudgingly followed him. Dread buried itself in her chest. She was going to be stuck here for days—miles from anywhere with some guy who said he lived here. Maybe he was lying. Maybe he was a vagrant, a shiftless nobody who moved in with no one the wiser. Dark images flooded her mind. He hadn’t even told her his name.
Once again he answered her unspoken question. This was getting weird.
“I’m Fitzpatrick, the new caretaker. You can call me Shane, if you’re so inclined. My pop’s been taking care of this place for years for Mr. Reginald Monroe. First heard of you a few weeks back, Miss Monroe. Took us by surprise, you know.
No, she didn’t know. She should have asked a few pointed questions…
(To be continued…)