Frank and Sara set full boxes in the corner of the spacious country kitchen. Sara scrutinized the knotty beams of the ceiling and the five inch pegs protruding from the dark wood. “I think they probably hung dead animals from those beams. They’re probably original and the owners kept them when they remodeled. This was the smokehouse wasn’t it?” she said.
“I don’t know. I hope not,” replied Frank. “They probably installed them for looks. You know-- ‘updated old.’ I wouldn’t leave the remains of anything that had touched rotting, dead things hanging in my kitchen.”
“Just the type of place to be haunted,” Sara said.
“By what, a slaughtered cow? Anyway, I think you called it ‘atmosphere’ when we bought it,” Frank responded.
“Yeah, atmosphere...” Sara repeated thoughtfully.
“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t have bought any place I thought was haunted.”
“You wouldn’t,” Sara replied with a wink.
Frank felt relieved but still uneasy. She seemed almost normal, but there was a quickness to her that verged on manic. He preferred this, however, to the depressive deadness of her actions that had, until recently, been controlling her.
Frank opened the door in the kitchen that led to the cellar. He leaned through the door to find the source of the faint glow coming from below and noted again the other entrance to the basement.
“Hey, remind me to get a padlock for those outside cellar doors, Ok?”
“What? A padlock? I don’t think we have one. You’ll have to buy one.”
“Yeah, thanks. That’s a big help.”
Frank leaned further into the stairwell, gripping the door jam for support. He tried to discern the space below. The wooden staircase leading from the kitchen was narrow but solid. Its steps were also narrow and of varying heights. The cellar room was small with a low ceiling, and the walls were field-stone and mortar. Someone had poured concrete unevenly over the original dirt floor.
On the wall opposite the wooden stairs was a second set of wide stone steps leading into the side yard. The walls of this stairwell were field-stone and mortar too and led to double, wooden doors that lay horizontally slightly below ground level.
Frank turned back into the warmth of the kitchen and spoke louder, “I wonder if there is a drain down there. Where’s the light switch? Maybe we could store some boxes down there.”
“I think there’s a light-bulb on a pull cord at the bottom of the stairs, but it’s too damp down there to store much. Come on and let’s finish the kitchen before we get into another room,” Sara replied.
Frank closed the cellar door and a whiff of moldy air escaped with the last draft. He wrinkled his nose.
“Sheeew. Did we get a radon test?”
Sara re-entered the kitchen and unceremoniously dropped a final box of pans on the floor.
“Radar test? For what?”
“Nevermind,” Frank said. “Are you getting hungry?”
“Maybe, what about Chinese? The kitchen’s not going to be functional yet tonight.”
“Internets not up yet, and we don’t have a phone book for the great town of Wakeman, Ohio. Plus, I don’t think there’s a Chinese restaurant within 30 miles of here. What were we thinking?” Frank joked as he reached out to brush wayward brown strands of hair out of Sara’s eyes.
“I think we were thinking that pizza would be fine,” Sara replied crossing the room out of Frank’s reach. “Karen left a phone book for us on the counter. I’ll see what’s available.”
Sara picked up the phone book and then looked out the window. She could partially see beyond a line of trees to the neighboring farmhouse where her friend Karen lived.
Frank crossed the room and followed her gaze squinting through the window. Karen’s house was about a quarter of a mile away. Each property was an acre lot. No other houses were visible. The surrounding property was filled with corn to the east and apple orchards to the west.
“I’m glad Karen could find us this place,” Sara said.
“I think your old co-worker-slash-realtor friend just didn’t want any freaks to buy the house closest to hers,” Frank said. “When you’re twenty miles from nowhere you kind of want to know your neighbors.”
“Maybe,” Sara said looking softly at her husband. Then she looked out the window again to Karen’s house, her kind and beautiful friend.
“How did we fit all this stuff in a one-bedroom apartment? You’d think after two straight days it would look like we were making more progress.” Frank said surveying the boxes stacked chest-high in the corner of the living room.
Sara was struggling to open one of the two, long narrow windows in the room. A solid front door stood between the windows and opened onto a large porch. The window staggered open sleepily, left side then right side, a half inch at a time. As the gap widened a cool, late summer breeze began to seep into the stale room.
“I think this place looks bigger than it really is,” Sara said. “But it’ll work. Can you grab that other window?”
“Yep,” said Frank. “I got it. You know this place is going to be perfect for Halloween. When I first saw this house I thought the front looked like a face. Since the bedrooms are off the back, the porch slopes kind-of low like eyebrows. We can put eyelashes on the front windows and paint the door red. What do you think?”
“October…I’m not sure.”
“Dang it!” said Frank. “I broke a window pain.”
“It’s ok. You can replace it.”
“I don’t think so. It’s that old glass that looks watery.”
“I saw some antique shops a couple of miles away. I’ll ask around. Just cut up a box and put cardboard in it for now.”
“Cardboard we have plenty of," said Frank. "Hey, about tomorrow, I think we at least have most of the boxes in the right rooms. I hope that helps. I go back to work tomorrow. Will you be ok?”
“It will be good to get some time to myself here, in the new house. I’ll be fine. Karen doesn’t go back to teaching for a couple weeks. Maybe I’ll stop over there.”
“That would be good. You should,” said Frank. “Hey, um, I have to return the rental truck today. There are just those few boxes still in the truck. Where do you want me to put them?”
He hesitated approaching the raw subject, “I mean, if you’re sure, we should just get rid of the stuff. If you change your mind later, we can get new stuff. I think right now it’s just bad memories.”
“Bad memories! That’s all you think it is?”
“No...I didn’t mean it like that,” Frank said. “I just mean right now it just brings up difficult memories. A fresh start is always good.”
Sara said flatly, “Just put the boxes in the second bedroom.”
“Sara, listen,” Frank’s voice was gentle. “Someone can get some use out of the stuff...a new stroller, new baby clothes and blankets...that stuff is expensive, and it might really help someone out. Let’s just donate it for now.”
“I said, just put the boxes in their room,” Sara answered softly and surely.