by Rose Graves
The day was bright and hot, oh so hot. It was the end of August, and everything lacked life. Cate pulled her car up the dirt drive as it sloped up and over some railroad tracks and back down on the other side curving to the back of an old and weathered house. Stepping out of her air conditioned car was like climbing into a pre heated oven ready to cook her goose.
The dust that had been trailing her car gathered around Cate in suffocating swirls making her cough and move several steps away to escape it's grit. Not wanting to linger in front of the old house in the lonesome heat Cate looked around her taking the area in.
Directly in front of the house were the train tracks she had just driven across, the front yard was a garden of tall weeds and huge bushes. A group of tall trees in the front corner of the yard cast a shadow across the train tracks as the sun sank lower in the sky. The only house for miles, the house sat on land that would probably be bought and made into a subdivision.
The house was built of coral colored brick, a large window in the upstairs looked down onto the roof of a large front porch. Layers of dust covered the house giving it a sad and deserted look. Vines long dead climbed up the house as if trying to take it over. The windows were dark the paint on the trim chipped and peeling. It was surly a beautiful, colorful house in it's day and now sat colorless and wrinkled.
Such is life.
Cate sighed wiping her arm across her forehead were sweat had begun to collect. Pulling the trunk of her car open she pulled out a sign stating that the house was for sale. She felt silly posting a sign in such a remote place where she was sure no one would even see it but went about getting it done just the same.
The ground was hard and dry and refused to let the stake pierce it. Cate let the sign drop to the ground and started back to her car to retrieve some tools to help her with her task. As she stepped through the tall weeds a flash of light ripped through the sky followed by a deafening clap of thunder. Startled Cate looked up at the sky as a wall of wind hit her in the chest.
"Whoa!" she startled, looking up to the sky.
Darkness boiled furiously in the heavens.
How could a storm have blown in so fast she thought in amazement.
With that thought came a down pour of rain. The sign forgotten cate ran to her car jumping in drenched and now cold. Wearing heels and a skirt suit had been a bad idea, even if it weren't raining.
Starting the car and quickly shutting off the blast of air from the air conditioner Cate pulled the car forward turning it around. As she drove up the incline that would take her back over the tracks, her wheels started spinning. The car wasn't going anywhere.
The sudden torrent of rain had made the dirt driveway muddy and slick as ice.
Frustrated and on the verge of crying a down pour of her own, Cate slowly backed down the hill. As she glanced into her rear view mirror she noticed light was coming through the front window of the house. Though the sun had not yet set it was dark and dreary thanks to the thickness of the storm.
Hurrying out of her car, Cate slipped, her heels giving her absolutely no traction. Pulling herself up out of the mud puddle she had landed in she made another attempt at moving forward. She slipped and slid awkwardly until she made it to the porch. She leaned against the house as she knocked on the front door.
As she waited, hopefully for a savior, Cate noticed the door handle was smooth and clean, the paint on the door looked fresh and perfect. The place was obviously kept up better than she had thought. Hearing footsteps inside brought her focus back.
The door opened smoothly, revealing a comfortable living room lit up by brightly burning candles. A woman stood in the door, looking Cate up and down taking in her muddy disheveled appearance. Her nose scrunched in blatant disapproval.
“Wow, the power must have gone out” Cate realized out loud. Then, seeing the woman looking at her as if she were crazy, Cate glanced down at herself. This woman must think I am crazy. “Oh excuse me,” Cate said apologetically. “I got stuck in the rain, I am hoping that you could help me out,” she said in a pleading tone.
“Awful weather to be stuck in,” said the woman solemnly, “come in.”
The woman was tall and elegant. Dressed in a nightgown that flowed gracefully around her thin frame. Her large, wide, dark, questioning eyes mirrored the candles fire. Her round face framed by light brown hair was pleasant and warm. Though her full lips were pursed in an unfriendly manner her eyebrow cocked, Cate felt immediately comfortable and had no hesitations going in at all.
“Well you will probably be here for the night so you might as well go get cleaned up the woman told Cate, I am Ella by the way.” Ella stood looking at Cate waiting.
After a minute had past Cate replied, “Oh I am sorry, Cate, my name is Cate.” she smiled awkwardly.
Ella told Cate where the wash room was and instructed her to leave her muddy clothes soaking in the sink. As she turned to go Ella handed her a candle to light her way.
Cate found her way through the dark house her light dancing eerily on the walls as she passed down the hallway. She washed quickly so as not to be too much of a bother. Slipping on the robe that hung on the door, she made her way back down the hall to the kitchen. She noticed that the clock on the wall read eight o’clock, she suddenly felt so weary and tired.
She stopped in the entrance to the kitchen. Ella sat at the table with a pot of tea and two cups in front of her. The candle light warm on her face.
Cate came in and settled at the table across from Ella. Ella poured her a cup of tea putting the bowl of sugar in front of Cate so she could add some to her tea.
“Thank you so much for letting me in,” gushed Cate. “I was so worried I’d be stuck outside all night. What a relief to be clean and warm.” She smiled softly shyly, but Ella didn’t look at her or acknowledge her.
The two sat in silence listening to the wind and rain outside violently abusing the house with it's hits and pushes.
“The house and land will be better because of it.” Ella said breaking the silence.
“What do you mean?” Cate wondered.
“The rain and wind tear at the house and land relentlessly, but eventually it will stop the house will be cleaned of the dust and grime. The land, for the moment, will be quenched of it's thirst. Renewed. Strengthened. Ready for another stretch of life. It will be better.”
Cate said nothing and silence settled over them once again.
Ella continued staring out the window. Cate stared at her unable to look away until her eyes began to droop. Her tea cup was empty and had grown cold. Knowing it would be impolite to fall asleep at the table Cate stood up,
“I think I ought to go off to bed now.”
“Up the stairs,” Ella directed, “there is only one room up there. You should be comfortable enough.” She spoke with such sadness in her voice, Cate wondered if she had done something to upset this stranger.
Picking up her candle she headed out of the kitchen, turning at the doorway she glanced back at the woman sitting all alone at the table. She seemed so lonely Cate thought, immediately feeling sorry for her.
The bed creaked as Cate climbed under the covers, snuggling down in comfort. She stared into the flame of the candle as it flickered on the nightstand. She would have to find a way to thank Ella for her kindness, she thought. It must be so lonely out here all alone. With that thought and the burning flame filling her eyes Cate fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
The next morning dawned clear and bright, Cate made her way slowly back from the clutches of sleep. Her eyes still closed she could feel the heat of the sun as it shone through the window. Yawning and stretching Cate opened her eyes. She wondered if Ella was awake too, and hoped guiltily that her clothes were clean.
Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as a child might, Cate looked around her.
She sat up gasping.
The walls were decorated with veils of cobwebs, the floor covered in a thick layer of grey dust. She looked down at the bed where she had slept. Filthy and threadbare, the mattress was near non existent, she had a thin moth eaten rag covering her where she should have been wearing a robe and blanket. Horrified she pulled herself up slowly shuddering as the garment fell from her shoulders.
Cate stood by the side of the decrepit bed in shock, she waited to wake up from what must surely be a dream. With the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling whispering against her face she looked around the small room at rotting wood and old furniture.
At the foot of the bed something caught her eye. She moved closer. What was once a beautiful leather trunk sat aged and dead before her. There amidst the dust and grime were the clothes she had left soaking in the sink.