The Door (Part One), p.1Lizzy Ford
By Lizzy Ford
Cover design by Steph’s Cover Designs
Published by Captured Press
The Door copyright ©2016 by Lizzy Ford
Cover design copyright © 2015 by Steph’s Cover Design
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events; to real people, living or dead; or to real locales are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and their resemblance, if any, to real-life counterparts is entirely coincidental.
“You’re sure this is it?” I asked, getting out of the car. I shielded my eyes against the scorching sun and squinted at my destination – a sagging, two story farmhouse with a faded sign in front that read, Old West Bed & Breakfast. The house’s paint was chipping, its porch neglected and the long driveway gravel and dirt.
“It’s the only place on this street,” grunted a police officer in desert khakis as he hefted my suitcase from the trunk of his car and placed it on the ground.
We didn’t have gravel and dirt roads in New York City, where I’d spent my whole life. We didn’t have trees – aside from the Park – but this … this was a different kind of world entirely. We were in the high desert according to the police officer who picked me up from the airport and brought me here. The desert was a great, sunbaked expanse of dirt and sky, edged by purple-blue mountains in every direction, and filled with shrubs and cacti, few of which were taller than four feet, with the exception of the saguaro cacti. The nearest town was a ten minute drive on dirt roads followed by another forty minutes on paved roads.
I had been exiled to the middle of nowhere.
This can’t be happening. I’d been repeating the words for almost nineteen months. The first time I was sure I’d entered a dream or parallel reality was when he tried to rape me and almost succeeded. The second time – when I accidentally killed him with his own knife.
The third: when the judge on my case cared more about running for office under a No Excuse For Crime platform and used my case of involuntary manslaughter to make a public statement about how he meant to clean up our borough in the City. The fourth instance occurred last week at sentencing, when he’d given me the choice of six months in prison for manslaughter or a year on probation doing community service across the country. My case, and banishment, were unheard of, according to my defense attorney, who had been unable to change the outcome of either.
And then there was today, the final chapter in my nightmare of a life. If I had known I was going to be hours from a Target or mall, I’d have thought more than two seconds about my decision to bypass jail.
I tugged on the locket hanging around my neck the way I did whenever I was upset. It contained the last picture of my father, who had died ten years ago from cancer, and my favorite picture of my mother.
“Remember. If you leave the property, your ankle bracelet will alert every cop and fed within southern Arizona.” The police officer reminded me. “Here’s my card if you need something.”
Releasing the locket, I accepted his business card, numb to my new reality. “Thanks, Officer … Santos,” I said, reading his name. “You’re really, really sure this is it?” The rundown bed and breakfast didn’t look anything like a halfway house or rehabilitation center, which was how my temporary place of living was alternately described by people at court.
“Yep. The caretaker is elderly. Sometimes she has problems getting around, so if she falls or something, remember: don’t leave the property. Call me or 911.” He circled the car as he spoke and opened the driver side door. “I’ll wait until you’re in the fence to activate the bracelet.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled, unable to take my eyes off the house that looked more depressing by the minute. Maybe prison wouldn’t have been so bad, if I weren’t claustrophobic. I’d been put on meds every time they took me to jail. At least here I could breathe.
“Oh, and watch out for snakes and other unfriendly visitors.”
Figures. My eyes went to the ground around my feet. “Okay.”
Gripping the handle of the suitcase, I took four steps until I was securely on the property. The bracelet vibrated at my ankle, a sign it was on, and I drew a deep breath.
I couldn’t bring myself to walk for a long moment, not until the sounds of Officer Santos’ car driving away had faded. It was so quiet here, unlike New York, where there was always some kind of background noise. Usually, it was traffic.
Turning all the way around, I frowned, unable to imagine who in their right mind would come to this bed and breakfast. The dust trail left by the officer’s car was visible for miles. A simple fence ran along the property’s edges. It was allegedly about a hundred acres, large enough for me to walk around and get some exercise without tripping my ankle bracelet. The May sun was uncomfortably warm, but I kind of liked how dry it was. With any luck, this environment would clear up the last of my teen acne.
“The worst part is over, Gianna,” I told myself with another deep breath. “One year of chores for an old lady, and I’m done with this mess.”
A year didn’t seem so bad after all I’d been through. At nineteen, I was supposed to be finishing up my first year of college with my friends. I’d end up two years behind, unless this place had good internet and I could go to school online.
I pulled my suitcase down the long driveway and was sweating by the time I made it to the porch. I paused before the front door, staring at it. It was tall, heavy, aged wood, far wider than the kind of door that belonged on a farmhouse with huge, bronze antique hinges. If I had to place it, I’d guess it was a medieval castle door. It had to have been special for someone to install it on a normal looking farmhouse.
Too hot to spend much time examining the strange door, I fanned myself and knocked. I waited, imagining the owner to be slow because of her age.
When she finally opened the door, though, I was still surprised by how old. The tiny, African-American woman barely reached my shoulder in height. Her sharp eyes were nearly swallowed by deep wrinkles, her frizzy white hair unkempt and she wore a bathrobe and slippers.
“Hi,” I said, raising my voice. “I’m your new … uh, helper.”
“I can hear just fine,” she replied in a quiet voice. She squinted through glasses to look me up and down critically. “Is that how they dress now?” she said, clearly displeased.
I glanced down at my black leggings and sandals. I wore a loose, off the shoulder tunic style shirt. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Awful.” She turned and walked into the interior of the house.
I trailed uncertainly and sighed as the cold air conditioning hit me. The interior of the house was in better shape than the exterior and filled with well-maintained antiques from the Civil War Era and late eighteen hundreds. Dark woods, a ticking grandfather clock, and narrow staircase whose walls were packed with antique plates and platters were all visible from the foyer. The old farmhouse’s décor hadn’t been updated in a hundred years, if not more. Wooden floors were covered with round, faded rugs.
I closed the door
“Don’t!” she said sharply.
I jerked, not expecting the tone. “Don’t what?”
“There’s one rule here, girl. Never, ever lock the door. It’s written beside the lock, or do they teach kids your age to read anymore?”
Blinking, I realized she was right. There was a faded post it note taped beside the bolt. “You never lock the doors? What about robbers or strangers or wackos?” I asked.
“This isn’t New York, you damn Yankee. I honor my Southern hospitality here,” she said sternly. “I welcome all sorts here. It’s what I do.”
I dropped my hand. It didn’t sit well for sure, not after a lifetime of learning common sense safety for living in a drug and crime riddled section of the City. I’d never been called a Yankee either.
Then again, this woman was clearly set in her ways, and we were miles from anything. It wasn’t like living in an apartment building near the Projects.
“Come along,” she ordered. “Leave your bag there.”
I obeyed. I sensed she didn’t like me and wasn’t certain why. Well, aside from the murder rap. She appeared small, sweet and grandmotherly but had the manner of a drill sergeant.
She walked me through the house and a large kitchen filled with antiques like everywhere else and out a back door onto a smaller porch.
“Your duties will be outside mostly,” she told me. “You can start with the gardens. There’s seed and equipment in the shed. The house needs painting, the roof repaired and the gutters cleaned.”
This can’t be happening. I listened. I’d never done manual labor a day in my life. If I didn’t kill myself the first time I picked up a hammer, it’d be a miracle. I surveyed the property behind us filled with shrubs, short mesquite trees, and cacti. The shed appeared in as good of shape as the rest of the house. “Um, what garden?” I asked.
“It’s along the side of the house.”
I stepped down creaking steps that sagged beneath my weight and went to the side of the house. “You’re … you’re not joking by chance, are you?”
“That whole area will be a vegetable garden and small orchard,” she called.
The area beside the house was at least clear of desert flora. I knew nothing about dirt or soil or whatever it was called, but this was and expanse of rock or sand or clay maybe? There was a lot of dust and nothing else. My eyes traveled up the side of the two-story house to the roof. Was a garden even possible in the desert?
Maybe being drugged up and in a cell wasn’t so bad. I went back to the porch, feeling overwhelmed and about to cry after my long day of travel.
“I’ll also need your help inside from time to time when we have visitors,” the old lady added.
“Okay,” I said. “Do you have internet so I can research how to do all this stuff?”
“Of course not. You’re here to work, not surf the internet.”
My face grew warm beneath her disapproving look. “Um, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Caretaker. It’s all anyone calls me.” She returned to the interior of the house. “Come inside and see your room.”
I trailed. She led me upstairs. I lugged my bag with me, up the carpet covered wooden stairs to the second floor, which was much larger than I expected. There were two dark, long, narrow wings, and she went down the right wing. We passed no less than ten closed doors before she came to one at the end.
“Your room has its own bathroom,” she said and pushed open one door. “The rest of the guestrooms share a common bath.”
“Thank you,” I said, not expecting the small kindness after her rather chilly reception.
“Put your things away and change into work clothes,” she said brusquely and moved past me down the hallway.
“Yes, ma’am.” I opened the door, silently praying the accommodations weren’t as antiquated as everything else in the house. The room was large with twelve feet tall ceilings and enough space for a small sitting area near the windows. Antique dresser, tables and wardrobe were offset by a modern sleigh bed of dark wood. Quilts covered the bed, and I set my purse on it, gazing around with some relief. The bathroom, too, was a combination of old décor and new plumbing.
It was nicer than my room in New York.
Tugging out my phone, I was relieved to see I at least had a strong signal here. I texted my mother, who had messaged me twice asking if I made it.
Just got in. It’s ok, I told her. I took a picture of my room and sent it to her.
I changed into workout clothes. I didn’t own work clothes per se, but my chilling clothes were comfortable enough. The whistling of a teakettle drew me to the kitchen, where the Caretaker was preparing a cup of tea.
“Bottled water in the fridge,” she told me without turning. “The water for the garden comes from the well, not the house. You have to pump it. We have a washer, no dryer, so you’ll have to hang your clothes to dry outside. You can get started with the garden tonight.”
Seriously? I waited, praying she was going to laugh and tell me this was all one huge joke on the new girl. “I’ve spent the past twelve hours traveling,” I objected.
“If you want dinner, you’ll start the garden,” she replied tartly. “You will earn your keep here, girl, or you’ll be sent back to New York.”
Rolling my eyes, I exited out back. I tied my hair into a ponytail while I walked to the shed.
I eyed the lopsided door to the shed and opened it. The inside was dusty, disorganized and filled with cobwebs. A bare bulb hung in front of me, and I turned on the light to survey the haphazard mess of equipment and supplies. “Oh, god.” It was worse in the light. I was able to see just how much bigger the desert spiders were than those in New York.
The seed, of course, was all the way in the back on a shelf. There was no path through the disaster. Not for the first time, I found myself swallowing hard, trying not to breakdown and cry like I’d wanted to a million times since the night that changed my life. I’d stopped trying to make sense of what happened and instead bought into my attorney’s logic that life simply wasn’t fair.
But this penance was just unreal. I released a defeated breath. “I really hate my life.”
I wasn’t going to work in such a disgusting environment. Before I could start the garden, I’d have to clean out the shed first.
I began hauling tools and boxes of assorted crap out of the shed and depositing it in the space between the shed and house. Often sneezing from dust, I battled spider webs, freaked out frequently when one of the beast-sized arachnids moved and then blasted them with the water hose once I figured out how to turn it on. It took a full three hours for me to clean out the shed.
When I finally reached the box of seed, I hefted it to the side of the house and dropped it. I bent over, hot and panting. The late afternoon sun was still hot, and I straightened with a groan. My hands were scratched and blistered, my legs sore. I wasn’t much of one for exercise, either. Naturally slender, I’d never had to work hard to keep from gaining weight, so I never did.
I went to the back porch and picked up a bottle of water, sitting down to watch the sun as it neared the horizon. Shadows were lengthening, and I was beyond beat and ready for bed. To make matters worse, I could smell the food Caretaker was making, and I had a feeling she wasn’t going to give me any. It wasn’t like I could walk down the block to grab something, either.
“You can’t leave everything out tonight,” Caretaker called from the kitchen. “You best start putting things away.”
“No one’s gonna steal that crap,” I replied grumpily. “Everything’s rusty and old.”
“How do you know, Yankee?” Her voice was louder, and I twisted to see her standing at the screen door.
“You leave your doors unlocked!” I pointed out.
“The doors stay unlocked so visitors can come in. That doesn’t meant they won’t run off with my garden shears when they leave.”
“Are you serious?” I
“Put it all away or you don’t get dinner.” She moved away from the door.
“You’d be dead your first night in New York,” I muttered under my breath.
Standing, I suppressed the urge to throw the water at the screen door. The sun began to sink into the horizon, leaving a magnificent trail of orange, pink and red in its wake. I gazed at it, awed by the colors I’d never seen in person before, and finally went back to the shed.
I was usually pretty particular about organizing my room and car. I didn’t have time to dump out every box in the shed and organize it, but I could at least put things back in a logical way for tomorrow.
Tired and hungry, it took another four hours to repack the shed. I closed the doors and made an irritated mental note that even these doors weren’t locked before returning to the back porch. If someone wanted to steal anything from this place, there was nothing to stop them. Why was she being so mean?
I reached for the door, eyes on the roast beef, mashed potatoes, collard greens and pecan pie on the table, visible though the screen door. My stomach growled.
“Check the mail and come in for dinner,” Caretaker ordered.
“Yes, ma’am.” I bit off the words. Rather than cut through the house, I went around, once more surprised by how quiet the night was. And the stars …
I stopped in front of the house to gaze up. I’d never seen so many or knew they were this bright away from the light pollution of the City. Whereas the daytime had been broiling, the night was considerably cooler. I stood, shivering and mesmerized by the flickering stars. A dust laden breeze whipped past me. I sneezed and went to the mailbox beside the front door. Pulling out a few envelopes, I started to go back the way I came when I remembered the front door was open. I paused on the porch to lean out from under the roof and see the sky again. It was quiet, peaceful here. The sky and earth seemed to meet in our front yard and stretch forever.
I was almost able to understand the appeal of being away from the City.
I walked inside, closed the door and had taken two steps when a resounding knock sounded from behind me. I turned, confused. I’d seen no one and heard no cars pull up. For a moment I thought I was tired enough to imagine it. I’d been inside mere seconds.
The firm, quick knock came again. I turned and opened the door.
Four men stood on the porch dressed in … what in god’s name were they wearing? Grey jumpsuits and silver belts? The kind space aliens wore in corny sixties sci-fi shows? Two of them carried long cases while one wore a grey and silver hat. None of them had luggage.
“You’re not the Caretaker,” the one in front said.
“No.” I looked up and met his gaze. Not much older than me, he was handsome despite his horrible getup, clean shaven with bright green eyes and a stoic expression. “Are you musicians or something?”
“Musicians?” he echoed.
Not handsome – completely hot. “Or … spacemen from a b-movie?” I half-joked.
He appeared unamused and the men behind him were expressionless and quiet.
Was everyone out here so unfriendly? I thought New York was bad.
“Invite them in, girl!” the Caretaker barked from the kitchen.
I stepped aside with a sigh. The men walked in, and I waited for the last to enter before stepping outside again.
Wherever they’d come from, there was no vehicle parked out front. I peered into the night, wondering how far they’d walked to get here, and then closed the door.
No sooner had it shut than I heard another knock.
I must be too exhausted to notice my own nose. I opened the door to see another of the men in strange gray jumpsuits. Moving aside, I waited for him to join the others in the nearest sitting room and then stepped outside once more.
This time, I stared into the darkness for a full minute, determined not to let my fatigue get the best of me. Like before, there was no one outside. At all.
“You’re letting the mosquitos in,” the Caretaker snapped. “What’s wrong with you, girl?”
“I have a name!” I snapped back and returned inside. “It’s Gi-”
“I don’t care. Take your dinner and eat in your room.” She stood at the foot of the stairs, a plate covered in tinfoil in her hands. “If I need your help, I’ll call you.”
“Help with what?” I grumbled moodily and took the plate.
“With our guests. Now go.” She turned away and headed into the sitting room, where the men were drinking tea and speaking quietly.
One of them opened the case he carried. I waited to see what kind of instrument it was, but he pulled out something resembling a gun instead.
“How goes the hunting?” the Caretaker asked, far more pleasant with them than she was with me.
“Poorly,” the one I spoke to answered.
Hunters dressed like that? I’d only seen the hunters on television, and they wore camouflage, not space jumpers.
“We haven’t been able to locate him,” another said.
Him? What exactly where they hunting?
“You get going, Yankee!” the Caretaker yelled.
“I am! Geez.” The series of bad days wasn’t getting any better. I went up to my room with the food, wolfed it down without tasting it, and toppled into bed. I was too tired to consider this strange new place, and the bed was too comfortable for me to think much more than I still wasn’t sure this place was better than prison before I fell deep into sleep.
The Door (Part One) by Lizzy Ford / Romance & Love have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on30 votes