Two men are standing in the backyard of a small rundown house in an older middle-class neighborhood. One, wearing a cheap suit and shoes not suited to traipsing through grass, is looking at the house with a mix of uncertainty and mild remorse. He had hoped the house would be in better shape. The other, in jeans, shirt, and runners, is studying the trees and bushes bordering the back property line.
“I heard a couple of boys vanished in these woods years ago.” He doesn’t turn around to look at the man in the suit, his attention fixed on the trees.
“It’s a local legend. Brothers, Kevin and Jesse. They were playing in their yard and vanished.” The man in the suit turns around to look at the trees too.
“This yard? They lived in this house?” The man in jeans looks around at the leafy jumble of trees bordering the yard and stretching out past the neighboring yards. You can’t see through them or tell how far they go.
“Yes. To be honest, I was going to leave that bit of background out. It’s not exactly a selling point.”
“How does anyone know they went in the woods?”
“They found one of the boys’ shoes next to an old tree stump.”
“That’s it. No other sign of the boys was ever found.”
“And the house?”
“Abandoned. Left to rot.”
“The family just left it?”
“The boys’ mother went crazy, I heard. The husband wanted to sell the house and move, get away from the memories I guess. She refused to sell. She kept insisting the boys were still here. From what I heard she was obsessed with keeping the house exactly the way it was the day they vanished too.”
“So, the house is selling pretty cheap. It wasn’t looked after?”
“The husband left both her and the house. Walked away and never looked back. She stayed in the house for a while, until she was committed. As far as I know, no one has set foot in the house since. It’s going to be in pretty rough shape.”
“You make one hell of a real estate agent, you know that, right?”
“Ha-ha, yeah, I guess I do.”
“Can I take a look inside?”
“Sure, let’s go. I have to warn you, this will be the first time anyone has set foot inside that house in thirty years. I don’t know what we’ll find.”
The house is an average lower middle-class family home. Smallish, but not quite as small as the low-income homes across the way. The windows are hazy with the grime of thirty years of neglect and the paint long ago cracked and much of it worn away by the weather. The windowsills sag with rot, half eaten by time. The shingles are cracking and peeling up and back on themselves like over-cooked sliced potatoes, browned rather than charred and entirely inedible. The long grass of the yard had recently been clumsily hacked down, hastily driven over by a municipal riding mower, the charge tacked onto the growing bill of unpaid municipal fees owed, including property taxes and the other inevitable costs of home ownership. It is one of the unasked for services visited on negligent homeowners.
It is these unpaid fees which are the reason the home is for sale now. The bank had tried to foreclose on the unpaid mortgage almost thirty years ago, only to find themselves tied up in legal purgatory pitted against the municipality trying to seize the home for unpaid taxes.
Lacking much interest on both sides, the issue dragged out and dragged on, court proceedings repeatedly pushed back, and finally slipped through the cracks of forgotten paperwork. Until, close to thirty years later, when a bored clerk cleaning out the desk of a deceased co-worker took pause to read a page of paper among the stacks being shoved into the shredding bin, and accidentally stumbled on the outstanding unfinished business of this house.
The long forgotten house by the woods.
The bank had long ago written it off, a small piece of millions in bad debts, and the municipal office was granted free title without being aware of it.
Now the house is up for auction to collect the unpaid property taxes and municipal fees owed.
With most of the records from thirty years ago gone, and no one keeping track of this forgotten property, the best anyone could piece together and confirm owed on the property is the cost of the most recent grass cuttings. The whopping price of fifty-six dollars. Less than the price of a song and a dance. They don’t know when the taxes stopped being paid. Any taxes owed are moot. Nearly thirty years of taxes adds up to more than the run down property is likely worth, and ownership by the owners was given up long ago.
The place is a steal.
And in this condition, its value is in the land it sits on. Any buyer would tear the house down and rebuild.
They reach the door and the realtor fumbles with the key safe looped around the doorknob, trying to remember the combination to open it. It’s a rectangular box-shaped device locked over the skinny part of the knob like a padlock, housing the key to the door.
Finally, he opens it and releases its treasure, a worn looking house key with the color rubbing off and marred with bits of rust in the teeth.
*** Watch for the continuing story ***
The Woods is an ongoing work in progress that I am sharing with my readers and fans of the darker fiction.
You can follow me and installments of The Woods here.
If you are enjoying this little story, you might want to read something with a little more meat to it. The first two books of the McAllister series are now available from Indigo Sea Press on their website and on Amazon.
I have two daughters. One a raging bookaholic (we have not yet found a help resource for that), but since she’s excelling at school we willingly suffer the darker side of this, which is a nonstop demand for more and more books. I’m seriously debating starting a GoFundMe to beg for help supporting her addiction.
The other daughter is quite the opposite. Instead of lots of friends, she has trouble making friends. She is a more serious soul, more sensitive about things that don’t faze the other kids.
I have heard so many times that a kid’s reading level is a good indicator of their success both in school, and in life.
Despite starting out school at a higher level than her older sister, she floundered at reading. She had no interest in reading. Her reading level was grades below what it should be. All of her grades were suffering. School was a chore both for her and us.
We tried so many kinds of books, trying to match them to her unique personality. Trying to pull her out of where she was, to get her reading, and so much more. Her sister found that magic key, the right book.
For the first time, my youngest was enthralled. She turned to something. She yearned for it. She complained when she had to stop reading. For the first time she enjoyed reading.
Today I heard an echo. It was that frightful echo that haunts a parent of a kid with a book addiction. “I can’t stand it! I need the rest of the series!”
As an author, it’s like the angels singing. As a parent, you feel your meagre bank account shrivel in fear. As a book-loving parent, you give a silent cheer and swell with pride and joy.
But it was more… it was a turning point. Since she learned to love reading her reading level at school leapt by grade points in a short time. It’s not the only improvement at school, both with schoolwork and friends.
It’s a start.
Yes, having the book-hater suddenly turn into a book-lover is a funny thing. It’s a wondrous thing as a parent, author, and mostly as a book lover.
It terrifies me too. I might need two GoFundMe pages to support both their voracious appetites for books.
Better yet, make my books go viral so I can make enough off them to support these two bookaholics and, I have to add proudly, burgeoning authors. Yes, they both like writing too. The younger, the book-disliker, even wrote a story that scared herself. I’m so proud.