The crush of gravel beneath my wheels silenced as the car eased to a stop. I killed the engine as the ramshackle farmhouse loomed above me through the leaf patterns dappling my windshield. Broken windows passed silent judgment on me. The years had been no kinder to the old place than they had been to my Grandma Mirela. There was no telling which was more withered, her body or her mind.
With a great reluctance, I opened the door. The scent of fresh mown hay and dust overwhelmed me as my stylish boots crunched on the driveway. I was transported back to muggy summer days spent on this farm so many years ago. The decades hadn’t smoothed over the sense of horror those hot summer nights invoked. My pulse raced with some forgotten fear I had spent all these years denying. The thunder of my door closing bounced off the thick trees as I shoved the memories trying to surface. The slam briefly silenced the cicadas chirping in the trees. A soft breeze carried the distant murmur of Kickapoo Creek, down the hill behind the old barn. I could hear the calls of birds singing in the trees of Jubilee State Park, over three thousand acres of mostly undeveloped forests that butted up against my grandparents land. I could just see the glint off the silvery motor homes down in the meadow, but I shoved it aside. That was a worry for another day.
With a weary sigh, I pushed away from the Ford Escape, approaching the house that haunted nightmares that fled as soon as I woke, leaving a dread I had thus far refused to acknowledge. I pooled my courage and trudged up the steps to my family’s old homestead. The years peeled away with each step, and I regressed to my eight year old self, all scabbed knees and buck teeth. Gramma El would be in the kitchen in her old apron that smelled like brown sugar and nutmeg. My cousin Pesha would be sitting at the table pouting as he snapped beans, while his older brother Luca scaled and gutted the fish they had caught in Willow Pond that morning. But Gramma El now lived in a retirement community in town, and her apron had been hanging so long it only smelled like dust. Luca was in Florida with his perfect wife and two point five kids. He hadn’t stepped foot into Illinois in over a decade, and probably didn’t intend to, either. Pesha was in Chicago last I’d heard, chasing dreams when he was sober enough to remember them. What had happened to us? We’d been so close all those years ago.
No, there was no one else to deal with this old place, so the duty fell to me, as usual. Some rich woman had made an offer that was so generous I couldn’t say no. The taxes alone had eaten a giant hole in my bank account. If I didn’t sell the place soon, I would be forced to live on the streets with my eight year old daughter Madison. Being a single mom was tough, but doing it while caring for my ailing grandmother was next to impossible. And that was without the added strain of maintaining this relic. I just hoped it didn’t take longer than the week I’d taken off work to get everything packed up.