For right now a short story, but maybe in the future a novel.
Morning Brook, a quiet town in central Pennsylvania, nestled in the valley of two large foothills, had very few legends. None of which could compete with the neighboring towns of Centralia and York County, for Morning Brook had no coal fire burning deep beneath its small rural roads, nor did it have seven gates to the underworld hidden in caves and riverbeds. It was private, as much as small towns can be, and unassuming. The residents were farmers, loggers, shopkeepers, and other proudly humble professions. Those that lived in Morning Brook were born there and rarely left.
It was the talk of the town three years before when a lovely young couple, the Caudrys from New York, moved into an old forgotten farmhouse at the edge of town near the Susquehanna River. Morning Brook rarely had visitors from out-of-town, just a few lost individuals who visited the tiny bed and breakfast just one town over, so it came as a great thrill when the moving truck passed through one end of town and out the other.
The townspeople were feverish with gossip. The neighbors, though some five miles away, brought the lovely couple heaps of food to welcome them. It seemed like a nice gesture, though the visitors spent too much time taking long scrutinizing glances as the decrepit house to make much conversation.
No one had lived in the house for as long as anyone could remember. In fact, if Morning Brook had any legends at all, they were all about the house and the land it occupied. It was a paint-peeled, white, two-story farmhouse that sat sheltered by a forest of trees and wide meadows, with a long dirt road leading up to it from a rarely used paved one. A large barn and a smaller shed sat off to the side of the house, connected by a small gravel path. Fences in great disrepair lined the overgrown fields sitting between clusters of trees.
The town couldn’t figure out, in all their whispered gossip, why anyone would want to live in something so old and broken. It was decided, in the first week of the couple’s arrival, that they clearly didn’t know much about the town or the property, which led a few of the townspeople to corner the local realtor who’d closed the deal on the house.
“Didn’t you warn them what shape it is in?”, “Didn’t you tell them it’s an Indian burial ground?”, “Didn’t you tell them it floods?” they asked.
“I told ‘em all that!” he’d bellowed back. “They specifically wanted that house.”
That sent the townspeople into a fever. They specifically wanted that house? How would they know about it in the first place? Why would anyone want it? It was then that two old ladies named Mrs. Myrtle and Mrs. Esther, who lived closest to the new couple, took it upon themselves to befriend them and find out all there was to know.
They invited themselves over for dinner, which the wife, Julia, was happy to host. Luther, the husband, intrigued the old women the most. He was tanned, with thick, dark hair, and an accent that placed him from somewhere in Europe, though not distinctly English, or German, or Russian or French. It was hard to place exactly, and the only certainty was that it was most definitely not American.
They were newly-weds, for less than a year, and had chosen to leave the city life behind and move somewhere quiet to start a family. Luther was interested in farming and Julia was an English teacher who wanted to transition into a more rural school. The house, though decrepit, was abundant with land and both of them were eager for a project.
At least, that was what Julia and Luther chose to tell the kind old women, and Myrtle and Esther were happy to eat it up. They left the house that night and returned to town the next day, spreading the touching story of the young Caudrys, and Julia and Luther were able to go about their lives in peace.
Over the next three years they fixed the old farmhouse and fences. Julia took a job as the town librarian and English tutor, and Luther honed his skills at farming. Julia became very active in the town, volunteering in the various fairs and small events, while Luther was more reclusive and tended to stay near the farm. Still, his anti-socialness didn’t stir the curiosity of the town too much, and after three years they’d settled in as one of them. Enough to lead quiet, undisturbed lives.
Mrs. Myrtle loved to visit Julia at the library. She came every Tuesday and Thursday and sat with her for an hour. Julia didn’t mind, as the library of a small town wasn’t exciting and had very little visitors. Mrs. Myrtle sat across from Julia at her desk, her hands resting over her pocketbook. Usually Julia didn’t mind her attentive stare and probing personal questions, but that day she was distracted by a box of town records and various papers strewn across her desk.
“Research?” Mrs. Myrtle asked, lifting up an old dusty ledger.
“Cataloging,” Julia replied, taking the ledger and settling it back in the cardboard box. “Just old history texts, diaries from past residents. In a way, it is very interesting, especially for someone who doesn’t know much about the town.”
“Oh, dear, if you want to know something, just ask me. I’ll tell you all about it!” Myrtle laughed.
Jul smiled, collecting loose papers before her.
“Sooo…” Myrtle began, settling back comfortably in her chair. “When can we expect a little Caudry?”
The papers slipped out of Jul’s hands and back to the table. She choked on her words, green eyes going wide. The librarian nervously pushed strawberry blond hair back behind her ears. “Mrs. Myrtle, really…”
“Well, you’ve been married a bit over three years, girl,” the old woman laughed. “Not getting any younger.”
Jul shook her head, grabbing the papers and hurriedly pushing them into the box. “There are several small tasks I need to get too…”
Myrtle’s aged eyes widened and she lifted her hands. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fluster you, dear. I’m just curious, that’s all. I’ll drop the subject if it upsets you.”
The librarian paused in her fever and rested her hands against the box. “We are trying,” she offered the woman. “With no success. I’d rather not talk about it, Mrs. Myrtle. I’m sorry.”
Myrtle stood up and went around the desk, her small frame barely hovering over five feet. She wrapped shaking old arms around Jul and squeezed as tight as she could. “Don’t be sorry, dear girl. I’m sorry. It was rude of me. I won’t mention it again, alright? But, if you ever need to talk about it, just let me know and I’ll listen.”
Jul nodded. “Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind.”
Because it was a slow day, Jul closed the library early right after Myrtle completed her visit. She stopped by the grocery store and picked up a few things for dinner and then deposited a check at the local bank. The young tellers greeted her cheerfully and asked the same nosey sort of questions they always did. Thankfully, none as nosey as Myrtle Holland.
The drive back home took a good thirty minutes. She passed very little. Just trees, wide open fields, and sparse houses, until she turned off the paved road and onto the gravel one leading up to her home. The old decrepit house looked much better than three years ago. Now, it had a fresh coat of paint and a new roof. It sat neatly between oak trees, shaded from the afternoon sun.
She parked the car over a gravel patch just before the wide porch that was the front of the house. The porch steps groaned, bowing with her small weight. She paused just before the old brown door with the small glass planes at the top, took a deep breath, and pushed the door open.
The house was quiet, the blinds pulled down over the windows in the front room. A warm sunny square of light fell across the floor of the hall, coming in from the kitchen. She placed her purse and keys on a small table near the door and carried the bag of groceries back to the patch of light and into the kitchen, where she put the cold items in the fridge and the rest in the pantry. When she was finished she went to the sink and began to tackle the dishes.
The porcelain clanking against the stainless sink roused her husband. His heavy steps echoed up the basement stairs until the small door off to the side of the kitchen creaked open. She stiffened, staring out the window at the afternoon sun washing across the tall grass. She spotted the cows near the trees, munching and walking. She glanced over her shoulder, and once she saw him for all that he was she relaxed. Her posture grew comfortable against the counter and her heart stopped thudding in her ears. There was always the question if the man in the house would be him… or someone else.
“How was your day?” he asked, stepping near her to reach for a glass from the open cabinet near her head.
“The same,” she replied, going back to the hot sudsy water. “Yours?”
Luther was tall, nearly six and a half feet. He had dark wavy hair that brushed his shoulders and a short beard. He was broad, with strong arms that flayed wood into splinters with one stroke of an axe. His eyes were the color of blue sea glass, with a warmth that swallowed her whole.
dark wavy hair that brushed his shoulders and a short beard. He was broad, with strong arms that flayed wood into splinters with one stroke of an axe. His eyes were the color of blue sea glass, with a warmth that swallowed her whole.
Her husband went to the table and sat slowly, stiffly, as if he could barely stand holding his weight long enough to drop into the chair. He hadn’t even bothered to fill his glass with anything, so she went to the fridge and drew a pitcher of water from inside and poured him a glass. “That bad?”
“It started off rough,” he admitted, stretching out his leg. “But, I got a handle on it before it got too bad. Bessy didn’t like it, though.”
“I thought you were going to move her to a different pin,” Jul replied, pouring herself a glass of water before returning the pitcher to the fridge.
“I was, but it started earlier than usual this morning. I barely got it contained before things were out of hand.” He drank the glass of water as a man who’d been in the sun all day. “It is handled now. Shouldn’t have to deal with another one until next full moon.”
“Perhaps I should stay home next time?” she asked softly, glancing down at her full glass. “I could help.”
Luther paused, settling the glass against the table and pressing his hands, palm flat, along the top. “I’d rather you be far away, in case it doesn’t go smoothly.”
“I’m not sure town is far enough, if things were to go poorly for you.” She turned the glass in a circle, admiring the warped decoration that wove itself along the exterior. “If it goes poorly…”
“It won’t,” Luther assured. His fingers feigning to brush comforting across her hand. Instead they curled into a fist and he drew his hand into his lap. “But, in the event that it does, I’d like to give you a good start.” He took up his empty glass and put it to his lips, only remembering it was empty after stealing the last single drop from the bottom. “Did Myrtle visit you today?”
Jul began to drink eagerly, nodding to him. “Yes,” she said breathlessly. “As always.”
Luther laughed, deep and rumbling. “What personal questions did she ask this time?”
She stood, going to the fridge and drawing out the pitcher of water and pouring him another glass. He took it up as she turned to return the pitcher, and began to drink. “She asked when we were having children.”
He choked, fading into a coughing fit before trying to draw air wheezily into his lungs.
“Breathe through your nose,” Jul advised, smirking at him.
Luther’s face turned red and his eyes watered as he forced himself to breathe deep through his nose. It took him several more watery coughs to clear his throat.
“It’s only the fourth time in the last year that she’s asked,” Jul replied. “I told her we’re trying, but we’ve been unsuccessful. She won’t ask again.”
Luther nodded. He looked away, brushing his hair back with a scarred hand. “Well, that’s good. She shouldn’t ask such questions of you.”
“Old women,” Jul said, smiling softly. “They like to have their noses in everything, and they also don’t understand women who don’t pop out children within the first year of their marriage. It’s the times… Though, I suppose you wouldn’t know…”
“It wasn’t so different back home,” he said. “It was customary, in fact, between nobles, to produce an heir within a year from the marriage rites.”
“But, we’re not really married, are we?” Jul asked softly. “Not even in love.”
Luther looked up from the table, bright eyes admiring her. “No,” he agreed. “We’re not.”
Jul frowned, taking up her still half-full glass and pouring it in the sink. She went to finishing the dishes. “Out of all the lies you could have told… I could have been your sister or cousin, something else. You had to tell them I was your wife. Now, if I look for comfort anywhere else I’ll be…”
“It seemed like the simplest lie at the time,” Luther began, rising slowly. “I didn’t know it would take this long. I thought that it would end, not grow stronger. It should have ended, Julia. I know this has caused you great hardship…”
Jul shook her head, blinking the tears from her eyes. “No,” she whispered. “The alternative is worse. The alternative is…”
“It won’t happen. I swear it. I’m here to make sure it never happens again.” He eased towards her, concern creasing his brow. “I bound you with words without thinking. But, we are bound in ways beyond those words. When this is over, we will both be free to live our lives as we wish it.”
Jul brushed the rag over a plate, frowning at the dirtying water. “We both know this will never be over.”
* * *