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Living On Main Street

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Chapter 1: Moving In

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a slam, the trunk lid closed and Maggie Bryant and her son Steven held the last of their bags in their hands.

“This is it,” Maggie told her son. “Our new home.”

From the curb, they looked at their new house and stared at its grandness. It was an old brick and mortar house from the 1920’s. The brick was dark red, and in some areas it was black from chimney soot and smoke. The blackness of the brick matched the black painted window shutters and the black front door. There were a few trees in the yard, but the landscape was mostly tallish grass and overgrown shrubbery. A crumbling brick-encased mailbox had the street number – 393 – nearly peeled off completely.

“Mom,” Steven said in a down-trodden teenage way, “this is why you should have brought me to look at it with you.”

“What do you mean?” she questioned, cocking an eyebrow.

“It’s old as hell,” he told his mother. “Look at it. It’s ready to crumble. Hell… it’s crumbling already.”

“It’s not that bad. Besides, I think it has charm.”

“Whatever,” Steven mumbled and began the ascent up twelve brick steps to reach the front door.

Maggie followed behind, hoping that her son would give this house – and this new town – a chance. Things had been rough for the Bryant family since her husband Jalen’s death. In the city, she’d had to work two jobs just to make ends meet, and when Steven turned sixteen, everything seemed to get so much worse. He began getting bullied at school. He would tell Maggie that he was too goth or too quiet and that’s why the kids had picked on him, but Maggie had known the truth. She’d caught him at his computer before, even though he didn’t know it. She knew her son was gay, and she loved him no less for it, but she was certain that was why he’d been bullied.

She’d decided then that if the big city was going to offer so much hurt and disappointment to them, then she and her son would seek a safe haven elsewhere – a small town where hopefully everybody got along and Steven wouldn’t be singled out for his differences.

Chariot was not that far away from their home in Nashville. Just a two-hour drive but far enough away to hopefully leave the pains of the city behind. Maggie had discovered the quaint town of Chariot while searching small towns on the web, and she’d come across a real estate listing for a house at a price that she couldn’t ignore.

Shortly thereafter, while Steven was suffering through another day of big city public schooling, Maggie drove out to Chariot to meet with a realtor and check out the house. The realtor said it had been on the market for quite some time and needed a bit of work, but he’d insisted to Maggie that the cost of the property far outweighed the work that needed to be done.

“This is Chariot,” he’d said to her as he had flashed his pearly white salesman’s smile. “People work cheap around here. You could have this house fixed up in no time, and with little cost I’m sure.”

“Why’s it still empty then?” she’d asked him.

“Well, now, Miss. You know how lazy people are nowadays. They want everything bright and shiny for them. They’re afraid to roll up their sleeves and do some actual work.”

The realtor’s name was Sam ‘Smitty’ Adams and he gave her the fasted tour of a house she’d ever been on. Before she knew it, Maggie had leased to own.

“Do you have the key?” Steven asked her as he fidgeted with the doorknob. “It’s locked.”

“Of course it’s locked,” she told him, gently edging him aside as she inserted a key into the lock. “All of our stuff’s in here. The movers came yesterday. I wasn’t going to leave it unlocked all night with no one here.”

Maggie opened the door and stepped inside. She reached to her left, felt along the wall, and flipped up a light switch. The ceiling light was dim as it came on. Steven stepped in beside Maggie and set his bags on the ground.

“I’ve never seen so much dust,” he said, pulling his shirt up over his nose.

“We’ll have a cleaning day tomorrow,” Maggie announced. “We’ll have this place clean in no time.”

“Give me a match. I’ll do better than clean it.”

“Don’t you dare,” she warned. “Go on upstairs. You can have your choice of rooms – all but the one at the end of the hall. That one’s mine.”

“Why’s that one yours?”

“Because it has its own bathroom and I’m the mom.”

She heard Steven huff under his breath as he picked up his two duffel bags and headed toward the staircase. Once he had ascended, she shut the front door and locked it.

“Well,” she whispered to herself as she looked around the great room, the stairs and the balcony at the top of them, and at the dining room and kitchen entrance to her right. “Home sweet home.”

 

***

 

There were four bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs – not counting the bathroom located in the main bedroom. Steven chose the second bedroom – the second door – as his own. He did not like the idea of having a room right at the stair landing, and the other bedroom would have placed him next to his mother. Now, he had a bathroom on one side of him and an empty bedroom on the other side. Finally, he would at least have privacy.

In Nashville, they’d had a three bedroom brick ranch house when his father had been alive. After his dad’s death, they’d been forced to sell and Steven and his mother took up apartment living. It did not matter how much space an apartment had; there was never enough. Plus, there was absolutely no privacy for a hormonal teenage boy, and he was certain that his mother had interrupted his privacy a time or two, even though she’d never acknowledged it.

Looking around his new room, Steven saw that his bed, dresser, and desk were in place for him, but everything else that he owned was stuffed inside of the dozen or so brown boxes stacked and scattered throughout the room. He knew that he needed to unpack, but he really didn’t want to. He didn’t want to have to acknowledge that this was his new home – that all of his friends were now two hours away in Nashville and he was left to fend for himself in a small hick town.

When he considered it, Steven shrugged. All of his friends… he had two. Melody and Sarah. Melody had been his best friend since grade school, and Sarah had adopted him as her gay BFF just last year. Neither Melody nor Sarah had gotten along with the other, which had posed some conflicts. Either way, none of that mattered now. Steven’s old life was a thing of the past – dead like his father – and he had to leave it dead or it would drive him crazy.

Finally, he relented and unpacked the boxes labeled ‘Desk Stuff’ and ‘Books’ first. He had only two boxes of books – all with paperback horror novels or weird science fiction comic books. These were his fantasy lives… where he escaped to when life got too hard. He unpacked these books and graphic novels first, stacking them on one side of the desk and on top of his dresser. Then, he set up his laptop, charging station, small flat screen television, and his gaming system. Once everything was set up, there was no more room on his desk now than there had been at the apartment in Nashville.

He walked to the bedroom door, opened it, stuck out his head and shouted, “Mom!”

“What?” he heard her reply. She was still in the great room below.

“Can I have the room next to mine too? To set up my TV, games, and stuff?”

“Yeah,” she told him. “That’s fine.”

He shut the door and looked around with a smile. With another room, he would be able to spread all this out, and his sound system too. Perhaps this old house wasn’t going to be too bad after all.

It took him the better part of twenty minutes to sort out what belonged in which room and to get the desk, chair, and equipment switched over. Still, once his second room had been set up how he liked it, he left the rest of his bedroom for later and settled into his world of technology.

Steven powered on his laptop, typed in his password, and let the system load. Once start-up had completed, he clicked on his internet browser. A little cartoon robot informed him that he had no internet connection. Clicking on the small computer icon on the taskbar, he found no connections in range.

Standing from his desk and opening the door, Steven yelled out, “Mom!”

After a moment, “What?”

“There’s no internet!”

“Not until tomorrow,” she replied.

“This is BS!” He shut the door and returned to his desk. At the very least, he could play games on his system – just not multiplayer games.

As he remembered his game discs were still in the new bedroom, he stood again, thinking that he would never get to relax. Before he could play, he had to have his discs. Fortunately for him, he still had discs. Most of his games were installed on his console and had to be connected to the internet to use.

Just as Steven’s hand touched the doorknob, he heard his mother scream.

 

***

 

“Mom!” she could hear Steven call to her – his footsteps clomping loudly as he descended the stairs.

Maggie wanted to respond, but she was frozen in fear – shaking… stunned.

“Mom, where are you?” Steven shouted, and still Maggie did not reply. Finally, she heard him cross through the dining room and open the kitchen door behind her. She nearly jumped out of her skin as the door slammed shut. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

Maggie swallowed through a hard knot in her throat and pointed with a shaky finger to the floor, between the edge of the cabinet and the back door. “Snake…” she whispered, finally finding part of her voice.

Ever since she was little, Maggie had been afraid of snakes. Her mother had been afraid of them – terrified of them – and thusly, she’d raised her own kids the same way. Now, after years of this fear building up inside of her, there was nothing more horribly frightening to Maggie than a snake.

“Oh, shit,” Steven said, and she knew he saw it now. “I think that one’s poisonous. Don’t move, Mom.”

There were maybe three feet of space between Maggie and the snake. Maggie had frozen in her place the moment she saw it and screamed. Now, she didn’t dare move and was thankful to hear her son suggest the same.

“I’ll be right back,” he told her, and more quietly than he had entered, she heard him open the door and leave the room.

What does he mean he’ll be right back? she thought as she avoided eye contact with the snake. Where the hell is he going?

A moment later, she heard him return. Then, as he walked up beside her, she could see him out the corner of her eye. He was yielding a shovel. Slowly, he neared the snake, and with each step he took, Maggie became more fearful. Then, just as the snake seemed to notice him and was preparing to strike, Steven lowered the shovel onto it with hard force, smashing the serpent beneath it.

Maggie let out a sound similar to a squeak. Her body felt numb and she thought she would faint, but the feeling passed and she steadied herself on her feet.

“Where did that thing come from?” Steven asked her, setting the shovel aside. The snake’s remains were a pile of scales and gunk.

“I don’t know,” Maggie whispered, finding that her voice had fully returned now. “We – we should call an exterminator maybe…”

“Exterminator?” Steven seemed astounded by her reply. “For a snake? It’s not a cockroach or a mouse, Mom.”

“It was poisonous; you said it yourself. I just want to make sure there aren’t any more like it around the house.”

They both looked down at the bashed snake and then to each other.

“What do we do with it?” Steven asked through a swallow. “I’ve never had to get rid of a dead animal before. Do we bury it?”

“No…” Maggie replied, shaking her head. “We throw it in the trash and put the bag out for the collectors.”

Maggie grabbed a fresh trash bag from a big cardboard box of kitchen stuff by the sink. Steven swept the snake onto a dustpan and then dumped it into the bag. Almost as if she feared the snake was still alive, Maggie hurried to tie it shut while whimpering and moaning all the while. Once the bag was tied up, she dropped it into the one inside the trash can, pulled that bag out, and then tied it shut also. Setting it on the floor in front of Steven, she pointed at it.

“The collectors don’t come again for a couple of days… I forgot their schedule here is different than what we’re used to. Should we take it to the dump? It’s only a couple of blocks away?”

“Can I use the car?”

Maggie considered it – hard. She remembered the last time Steven had used her car. He’d taken it without permission and hadn’t returned until the next morning. She’d spent the night in a frantic panic, and Steven had not driven since. That was three months ago.

She looked at him with stern eyes.

“Mom, you can trust me,” he told her, holding his hand out for the keys. “Besides, where would I go? You’ve taken me away from everyone and everywhere I know. There’s nowhere for me to go.”

“Damn right,” she said finally and relented. Walking to her purse on the countertop, she took out her keys and tossed them to her son. “Right there and right back, understand?”

“Yeah,” he acknowledged – albeit barely – and grabbed the trash as he departed through the house’s kitchen exit.

“Wear your seatbelt!” Maggie shouted after him, but she was certain he had ignored her. She stood still and listened for the sound of her car starting up. When it sounded and then began to fade away, she breathed and turned from the door. The color then drained from her face.

“I’ve brought pears,” said the old, smiling woman that stood in the threshold of her kitchen entrance, and Maggie screamed once more.

She had black hair with a hint of red in the coloring. Her eyes were wrinkled but heavily lined in black, and her eyebrows were penciled on with a sharp quality. She wore a navy blue full-length dress with small white flowers patterning it. The dress was wrapped at the waist by a thick black belt, and in her hands was the basket of pears that she spoke of. Her thin, red-painted lips grinned in a way that sent chills through Maggie.

“Who are you?” she asked her, having to hunt again for her words. Panic surged through her. “How did you get into my house?”

The old woman set the basket down on the countertop near the window and looked Maggie over in an almost visually-judging way.

“My name is Mrs. Faulkner,” she told Maggie. Her voice seemed pleasant but stern. “I live in the white cottage house across the street from you. I would have knocked…” she paused, “… but I heard you scream as I was gathering these pears for you from my backyard.”

Maggie relaxed a bit as she looked to the floor and nodded her head. She had not known until now precisely how loud her scream had been. Obviously, it had been loud enough to disturb her neighbors.

“I’m sorry about that,” she explained, smiling now as she looked at the tall, slender old woman. “There was a snake here in the kitchen, and it caught me off guard. My son’s taking its body with the trash to the dump.”

“You killed it?” Mrs. Faulkner questioned, stepping over toward the stove. She ran a finger over its top and then looked at her finger, as if checking for cleanliness.

“I assure you, it was poisonous.”

“Of course.” Mrs. Faulkner then walked back to the kitchen door and stepped partially into the dining room. “I do expect you’ll be hosting an open house,” she turned and looked at Maggie, “to give your neighbors a chance to know you and your son.”

Maggie thought that her new neighbor’s annunciation of son sounded a bit distasteful, as if the old woman hadn’t approved of having a child.

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” she replied.

“Oh, but you must.” Mrs. Faulkner turned around and looked at her again. Her smile had grown. “It is the perfect opportunity for you to meet the other ladies.”

“Other ladies?”

“Of course – the Association of the Ladies of Main Street. Nothing happens in this town without our knowledge or involvement.”

“Oh…” Maggie hesitated. “Of course.”

“Saturday around eleven will be sufficient for your open house. You prepare the tea and coffee, and I’ll bring the pastries.”

“Wait!” She’d been taken off guard. “What?”

“And please, do be unpacked by then. It’s so hard to properly entertain around such a… clutter.” Mrs. Faulkner looked around the room, turned her nose up, and began to move through the dining room to the great room. Maggie followed closely behind. “Do enjoy the pears, as well. The tree I picked them from is over three hundred years old.”

“That’s… quite an old tree.”

“Only the finest fruits grow in Chariot,” Mrs. Faulkner added with a hint of pride in her voice. Maggie wanted to comment – to make an inappropriate joke – but she restrained herself. “I will be by on Friday to see how things are coming along.” In the foyer, Mrs. Faulkner opened the front door. “Should you need my assistance before then, I am right across the street.”

“Good to know,” Maggie told her as she shut the door behind Mrs. Faulkner. “Thank you now.”

With a twist of a knob, she locked the door and leaned against it, exhaling deeply.

For the first time, Maggie wondered if moving to Chariot had been the right decision after all. Then, as she stared around the foyer and grand staircase of her new-to-her home, she smiled. She’d moved around a bit as a child, and she had encountered several whimsical neighbors during those days. People were people and there was an old saying that went along the lines of ‘you can’t pick your neighbors.’ She would have to make do with having Mrs. Faulkner across the street from her, running the show.

And she would have to host an open house on Saturday, even though she was nowhere near prepared to have guests in the house. Aside from that, she still had to enroll Steven into school and start her new job with the Chariot Times newspaper. She wouldn’t have time to think, much less host an open house, and she knew it.

Leaving the foyer and returning to the kitchen, she froze in her steps once more. Although she did not scream this time, she stared down at the brightly colored snake – the same snake Steven had earlier killed – coiled up right where it had been, ready to strike.

To Be Continued in Chapter 2: A Cleaning Day

Living on Main Street and all characters and locations therein are the creation and copyright of author Jae El Foster, 2018, and may not be reproduced or used without prior consent.