The juniper scent of bubble bath filled Abigail Carron’s nostrils while she soaked her aching body in the chipped porcelain tub with rusted claw legs. Creaks echoed throughout the old two-story house, but she kept her eyes closed as the silky bubbles swirled around her body. Remembering she had brought in a wine glass filled with Lambrusco, she opened one eye and reached for the glass. Sweat dripped into her eye, leaving a burning sensation. Sipping the red wine, she savored the first taste which made her throat glands tingle from its bitter yet sweet mixture.
The familiar patter of nails hitting hardwood gave warning her four-legged friend, Wags, was about to enter the bathroom. She purposely left the door open and knew he was standing next to the tub by his bad breath and whines.
Her eyes remained closed and she chuckled as she sipped the wine, dribbling some down her chin. Yep, she’d made a real fool of herself yesterday, her second day in the neighborhood. She had embarrassed herself not only in front of Mr. MacKenzie but the nosey neighbor across the street.
When she sat her wine glass on the small table next to the tub, she opened her eyes and watched the flame on the candle flicker erratically. Wags jumped up on the tub and whined. The black hair on the back of his neck bristled.
A sudden swirl of cold air encircled her extended wet arm and face, dropping the temperature in the room by at least fifteen degrees. The wet hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Wags’ whines became cries as he jumped down and ran out, the door slamming behind him. Her pulse raced through her neck.
Chilled to the bone, even though the water in the tub was steaming hot, she stepped out of the tub, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her breasts. The cold linoleum stung her feet and made her shift her stance. She gazed in the mirror, but couldn’t see herself due to the steam. When she wiped it with her palm, the shock of the cold caused her to draw her hand away quickly. She took her finger and ran it down the mirror, causing goose bumps to caress her spine. It wasn’t steam. It was frost.
Her heart pounded and her imagination kicked into overdrive. There had to be a logical explanation. When she turned the round metal doorknob, it didn’t budge. She shoved the door with her shoulder so hard it knocked the breath out of her and stung her shoulder, but it didn’t open. She yanked back and forth on the doorknob with all her strength. Panic set in. Bile rose in her throat. It didn’t move. She was locked in a bathroom the size of a closet with no windows. No way out. Alone.
She slowly slid down the door as she cried from frustration until her wet buttock hit the cold tile floor.
Everything happens for a reason, Abbey. You’re overreacting. Again. Remember what your therapist said. If you’re afraid of something and don’t face it, how can you ever know if your fear is real?
She took deep breaths to slow down her rapid breathing and kept repeating, “If you’re afraid of something, face it. Face it, Abbey.”
Without warning, the exposed dangling light bulb shattered with an explosion that pierced the frigid air. Fragments of shattered glass stung her body like tiny needles as they pierced her skin. Now she was in the dark with only the wild flicker of the candle.
When the violent swirl of cold air returned, she inhaled deeply, filling her lungs, chilling every inch of her body. Her teeth chattered while the rest of her body shivered. Her knuckles turned white and ached from clinging on to the wet towel so tightly. Her worst nightmare was realized when the cold air blew out the candle.
Deathly afraid of the dark and small spaces, she sat in total darkness as her heart pounded so hard she could hear each beat in her ears. Minutes passed like hours.
Without warning, the bathroom door opened and she fell into the dark hallway. “Wags . . . come here, Wags,” she whispered, her voice echoing down the long hallway.
When he didn’t come, she stood up, lost her balance and fell into the hallway wall. She clutched the towel to her chest with her left hand while she used her right hand to guide her down the hall. She fumbled until she found the railing and stumbled down the stairs, stubbing her cold toes.
When she stepped off the landing and down the last step, she had just enough time to see a large figure lunge at her, knocking her down on the hardwood floor. Dazed, the blow forced every ounce of air out of her lungs where she couldn’t scream. Her head throbbed with dizziness and she spun out of control.
She heard Wags barking and growling, but her eyes couldn’t focus in the dark. Motivated by fear and pumped with adrenaline, her lungs filled with air and her scream echoed throughout the house. When she dug her long fingernails into his skin and dragged them down his arm, flesh and hair accumulated under her nails. The huge mass quickly rolled off her. She continued to kick with unknown strength as he moved away.
“Stop it. Stop it, dammit. It’s me. Trevor,” the attacker yelled out.
The voice was hard to recognize between the loud beats in her eardrums and Wags barking.
“Call your damn dog off. Get the hell away from me you stupid mutt,” he ordered.
Without warning, the lights flickered back on. She recognized her attacker as Trevor MacKenzie, the contractor who stopped by yesterday to give her an estimate on the renovations. He sat on the floor as he ran his large hands through his ruffled hair and surveyed the blood trickling down his arm.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing coming into my house?” She scooted away from him on the dirty floor. “You stay the hell away from me. Don’t come any closer or I’m calling the cops.” She searched the room filled with boxes and couldn’t remember if there was a telephone.
“Hey, lady. Just back off a minute here. And call off your damn guard dog. Hell, I think he’s put a hole in my leg and look what you did to my arm.”
“Well, that’s what you get for breaking and entering. If you come any closer, I swear I’ll kill you. Since when do contractors break into other people’s houses? Is this how you get business, attacking innocent women?”
Trevor staggered when he stood up and sat on the landing on the stairs.
She quickly stood up and lost her balance as she rubbed the knot on the back of her throbbing head.
“Breaking and entering? Give me a break, lady. I was just dropping by the estimates. When I rang the doorbell, you didn’t answer, so I knocked on the door and it opened. Then the lights went out and I yelled but you didn’t answer.” He continued to run his hand through his thick brown hair and arched his back. “I thought maybe something was wrong. I thought someone else was in the house and maybe you needed help . . .”
When he stopped in mid sentence, she looked at his eyes and realized they were fixed on her breasts. The towel, that had once wrapped around her breasts, had fallen and her left nipple was exposed and erect. She covered herself with the towel and avoided eye contact as heat filled her face.
“Well, I appreciate your concern, Mr. MacKenzie, but I’m quite capable of taking care of myself, thank you. I don’t need a man to come to my rescue,” she answered as she stroked Wags’ thick fur to calm the shaking dog and herself.
“Oh yes, Ms. Carron. You made that perfectly clear yesterday. Guess I’m a sucker for wanting to help women. Sure glad you’ve got a killer dog to protect you. But you better keep him pinned up. Locals might take him for a wild animal. I sure as hell hope he’s had his rabies shots.” Trevor brushed off his jeans and picked up the papers that were strewn over the floor. He pulled up his jeans and surveyed the bloody bite mark on his hairy calf.
“Leave, before I call the cops. And don’t ever enter my house uninvited again.” She walked over and stood by the open door.
“No problem, ma’am.” Trevor threw the estimates on the landing and walked up to her. He was so close to her face she could smell his wintergreen breath and musky aftershave. “And by the way, I’m not interested in this job. Find yourself another contractor.”
She hated men. All men. They weren’t to be trusted. She had learned the hard way with her ex-husband. She flipped on the porch light and slammed the door. She watched through the oval glass as he swiftly walked down the stairs and disappeared into the dark.
Her finger followed the etched outline of the deer in the glass, and suddenly she felt guilty. But why? She hadn’t overreacted. Good Lord, she had just been attacked in her own home. How was she supposed to act? Her nerves and patience were frayed. She definitely was going to take her sleeping pills tonight and maybe a couple of shots of whiskey for good measure.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Unable to sleep after yesterday’s events, Abigail rose early and watched the sun rise over the cornfields. She didn’t want to waste one minute today – she had to unpack.
“Hello, my dear,” a meek voice yelled as she was sweeping the wrap-around front porch.
She spun around to find a hunched-over frail woman with a crooked cane walking up the worn wooden steps. Each step appeared as though it might be her last. In her weakened frame of mind, her first thought was for this poor old lady not to fall on her property. That’s all she needed was a liability suit to add to everything else right now. She wondered if Mr. MacKenzie had already called an attorney to sue for the dog bite last night. She instinctively reached over and gave the frail woman a hand up the last step.
“Hi. Abigail Carron. May I help you?” She leaned down to reach her visitor’s eye level.
“Excuse me while I catch my breath. I jus’ don’t do stairs well anymore, sweetie.” Breathless, the old woman leaned against the peeling wooden railing on the porch.
“Can I get you a glass of water or something?”
“Oh, no. I’ll be fine in jus’ a minute.” She placed the cane at her side and extended her paper-thin skinned hand out. Her purple and blue veins protruded and reminded her of a road map making her stomach churn.
“Beatrice Weatherspoon, but everyone calls me Betty. Saw the moving truck and was going to stop by earlier, but saw Mac over here, so I thought I’d wait until today to introduce myself.”
“Well, thanks for stopping by. So, you live across the street?” She placed her hand on the woman’s shoulder as a friendly gesture and was shocked when she felt nothing but bones and very little skin.
“Yep, I’m the little house right over there,” she responded, nodding her head over her right shoulder. “Lived here all my life. Raised my five young ones there. Ernie passed away few years back. Jus’ can’t part with the memories and move into those damn old folks homes like my kids want.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your husband,” she responded politely, but wasn’t interested in her past or future for that matter.
Uninvited, Mrs. Weatherspoon sat down in the white wicker rocker and picked up a crumbled newspaper to fan herself as though to relieve the humid summer air.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Weatherspoon, but I’m quite busy. Maybe another day . . .”
“Betty, please, sweetie. Everyone calls me Betty.”
She sat next to Mrs. Weatherspoon in the matching wicker chair and picked at the wicker. She was in no mood to entertain today. As a matter of fact, she wanted everyone to go away and leave her to her own misery. But, she didn’t want to be rude to her new neighbor. She only knew a handful of people in this little Midwestern town. She better not burn her bridges – yet.
“So, dear. What brings you to Broward?”
She wasn’t mentally prepared to tell anyone her real reason for moving here.
“Wanted a quiet rural area to start my antique and craft business. I lived here back in high school and felt drawn to come back for some odd reason.”
“Well, aren’t we the lucky ones. Don’t get too many new people or businesses here lately. Town has kinda gone downhill. Everyone seems to want to move to big cities these days. Can’t imagine why with the smog and crime.”
Mrs. Weatherspoon’s eyes were glassy, old, and red. She felt uncomfortable as she sensed Mrs. Weatherspoon checking her out.
When Mrs. Weatherspoon placed her hand on her knee, she instinctively jumped from the shock of the cold even though it was at least seventy-five degrees out.
“Well, I’m so glad someone has finally moved into the Bane house again. Ever since little Samantha was killed, well they can’t seem to keep anyone in the house. Some say it’s haunted and I think I’ve seen . . .”
She watched Mrs. Weatherspoon’s mouth move, but the only word her right brain heard was haunted. Her imagination raced. She gained her composure and responded as though she was convincing herself.
“I don’t believe in haunted houses Mrs. Weather . . . I mean Betty. I picked this house because it has so much character and charm, even though I’m going to have to do some major repairs. Speaking of repairs. Do you have anyone you would recommend?”
“Trevor MacKenzie. He’s the only carpenter left. Think he needs the business from what I hear. Guess he’s kinda in a bad financial way since his wife died and now he’s got that baby to raise.” Mrs. Weatherspoon stopped long enough to take a deep breath before she continued. “Saw him over here when you moved in. Thought maybe that’s what you two were doing or maybe he’d come courting?”
“Yes, he stopped by to look at the house, but we won’t be doing business.” Irritation crept into her voice and she wondered if Mrs. Weatherspoon had heard her screams last night. If she did, it would probably be all over town by noon.
“Well, what a shame. He’s a great carpenter and he’d be quite a catch, you know. Oh, that’s terribly presumptuous of me. You are single, aren’t you, sweetie? I heard you were.”
“My, I’ve only lived here for a couple of days and everyone in town knows I’m single?” The irritation in her voice was obvious, and she didn’t care.
“Well, now. You’ve got to remember you’re in a little town and there’s not much that doesn’t pass by us long timers. Didn’t mean anything by it, sweetie.”
Why was she feeling guilty again? All she did was express her true feelings. That shouldn’t make her a bitch, should it? Why did she continue to let people put her on a guilt trip?
“I’m sorry, if I’ve upset you. Guess I’ve stepped out of line with my mouth again. I shouldn’t have said anything about the house being haunted either with you jus’ moving in. How inconsiderate of me.”
“How did the little girl die?” She asked the nagging question rumbling through her head.
Mrs. Weatherspoon shifted her frail body and cleared her throat. “She was murdered. Saddest thing I’ve ever watched. A not so right neighbor boy suffocated that precious little girl. Of course, they put him away in some mental hospital and I think he died not too long ago. Rumors have it Samantha haunts everyone that moves into this house. They say her favorite place is the upstairs bathroom.”