I reach up to take down the “for sale sign” the realtor had put up a few days prior. My family needed a fresh start from our old life in New York, so what better way to do that than to move halfway across the country? I needed a place where I could separate myself from the rest of the world, to recognize that separation and appreciate it. New York was getting too crowded for my taste, and I believed something new was meant for me and my family.
Too much death resides in New York, and if I stayed there any longer, I don’t think I would be alive.
Gone are the bustling cities, crowded streets, tiny apartment buildings, and high rent. Replacing that are acres of land, a great big house, more than enough room between us and the neighbors, and a cushion of safety that New York never could provide. My husband and two kids are less thrilled to move here than I am, but we’re going to make this work.
We have to.
I hold the sign under my arm as I carry in the last remaining box from our packed car. Jason, my husband, is in the kitchen unpacking some essential items while our two daughters, Lucy and April, are running around and exploring.
“This is the last of it,” I say and place the box on the already crowded counter. When Jason doesn’t respond, I look over my shoulder to see him staring at the opened box in front of him in thought. “Look, I know this isn’t New York, but we needed this.”
“You needed this.”
“Yeah, Jason, I needed this. My sister killed herself not even two months ago. So, yeah I needed this. We’re going to make this work. We have all this land to take care of.”
“Since when did you become an expert on farming?”
“Please try and make this work. I don’t know where else to go.”
Jason and I maintain eye contact for five seconds. In that five seconds is a wave of emotions passing through our eyes--pleading in mine and compassion in his.
“Girls, why don’t we go check out the property? I’m sure we can find a space to build a playground.”
Both of my girls cheer in happiness as Jason grabs a coat from one of the boxes near him.
“Thank you,” I whisper.
He takes the girls outside and lets them run around and explore, but I stay put in the kitchen. The window above the sink is large enough to oversee most of the front lawn, so I keep my eye on my family as much as I can before they disappear from sight. Unsettling silence fills the air around me, and it’s hard not to think about my sister. Joy was always the one who loved the outdoors, always finding an excuse to be outside.
She would have loved this spot, which is maybe why I was drawn to it in the first place.
“I hope you’re there, Joy. I miss you,” I say to no one.
Opposite from where my husband and kids disappeared, I see an older woman walking by herself. Since the window is blocking my view of where she came from, I leave the house through the front door. To the left is another big house, and I assume the woman walking is my neighbor.
I take a deep breath and head down the driveway to meet her halfway.
“Hi, how are you?” I greet politely.
“Well, I just saw you folks move in and I just wanted to come over and introduce myself. My name is Shelia, and I live right next door to you.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Shelia. My name is Holly.”
“Where did you folks move from?”
“New York. I know, it’s a big change from the city.”
“No, change is always a good thing,” she smiles.
Some of her bottom teeth are crooked but her top is nice and straight. She must have had work done on them.
“I’ve actually never been to Ohio before. Do you know anything about the previous owners?”
I figured while I’m talking to her, I may as well dig up dirt about the place.
“Why do you ask?”
“This place was a steal. For a property with one hundred and fifty acres, we got a deal. I’m just curious as to what happened to the previous owners.”
“Bill and Margaret moved out on a whim. We were just as shocked as you were to find out what they were selling this place for. I guess it had something to do with the old barn in the back.”
“What old barn? The listing never mentioned an old barn.”
What does a barn have to do with a couple moving out so suddenly?
“I shouldn’t say anything,” Shelia tries to back out of it.
“Wait, please? Shouldn’t I know what I might be getting myself into?”
“Well, it’s nothing, really. There’s this really old barn in the back of the property. It’s been there for generations, and there have been stories of strange noises coming from that place.”
“Darling, it’s nothing. I wouldn’t worry about it,” Shelia laughs. “I got a pot pie in the oven that needs my attention, but I hope to catch you later. I’ve got plenty of stories about this place.”
Shelia leaves before I have a chance to say anything else to her. I watch her until she gets to her own driveway before heading back up mine. Strange noises? Old barn? Why did the previous owners have trouble with the barn? What could be scary about an old barn? Her words echo in my ears for the remainder of the day, and I dream of an old barn at night.
The moon has come and gone, the sun replacing the small chunk of rock in the sky. This day is reserved for unpacking a lot of our boxes, but all I can think about is the old barn. I have to see what Shelia was talking about to put my mind at ease.
“Hey, Jason, I’m going to stop by Shelia’s house for a little bit. Is that okay?”
I grab my jacket and keys and leave the house. Since this is a big property, I knew driving to the old barn would be a lot faster than walking there. This land has a lot of trails meant for cars, so I carefully drive on them until I see the old barn Shelia was talking about. It’s run-down and rustic like it had seen a few storms over the years. The paint is chipping off the outside and the windows are boarded up. Bales of hay are scattered around the ground near it, and the front door has a chain on it as if the previous owners were trying to keep something in.
That should have been my first sign to leave.
I park a few yards away from the barn and get out, slowly approaching the front. Why is this thing even here? What was it used for? Most importantly, what’s inside? Upon closer examination, I notice the lock had been cut open by something sharp. The chains are still around the door, but I am able to push it open far enough for me to squeeze through.
I don’t know what I was expecting to find, but it sure as hell wasn’t an old well. Maybe some horse stables and more bales of hay, but definitely not a well.
That should have been my second sign to leave.
“What the hell?” I mutter to myself as I approach the well very slowly.
It’s dead silent on this part of the property--no birds, no animals, no wind, and no neighbors for miles. Why is there an old well here? What was it used for? Why was this the reason Bill and Margaret moved out so suddenly? I step on a thin stick that snaps in two, and the sound echos off the rotten walls eerily.
That’s when I hear it.
“Holly? Holly, is that you?”
There is a voice coming from down the well. I’m not close enough to peer into the well, but I am close enough to hear the voice. Tears well in my eyes when I recognize the voice of my dead sister.
That should have been my third sign to leave.
“Holly! I’m down here! Please help me,” she begs.
“Joy, what are you doing here? I thought--” I can’t bring myself to say it. “How are you here right now?”
“I don’t know. It’s dark and scary down here. Please help me get out.”
“How?” I approach the side of the well and become brave enough to look inside of it. It’s either so dark or so deep, but I can’t see the bottom. “I can’t see you.”
“I’m down here. Holly, I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too,” I sniffle.
“Come closer, Holly. Just a little further. I promise it’ll be okay. We can be together again.”
I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get her out of there, but I do as she says and lean a little further into the well. I stand on my toes the further I go in, and before I knew it, my feet dangle in the air from how deep I am.
It’s far too late, but when my eyes finally adjust to the darkness, the thing I see down there isn’t Joy. I scramble to pull myself up, but the creature that's down there has the opportunity to strike at me. A long, thin, bony hand reaches up and grips my hair so tightly that I think it’s going to pull it out. I scream for help, but there is no one around to come to my rescue.
The creature yanks me down the well, and I land on the ground with a loud thump. Pain spreads from my head to my back to my arms. I know I’ll have bruises later on… if I even manage to get out. Jason and the kids don’t even know I’m here. He thinks I’m at Shelia’s right now. I should have gone there instead.
I expected the creature that pulled me in to attack me while I’m down, but as soon as I descended into the well, I couldn’t feel it on my hair anymore. I groan in pain and open my eyes, coughing from the dust and dirt that’s down here. Ignoring the pain, for now, I stagger to my feet and look up.
The creature had somehow managed to escape the well so that it stands in my place where I once was. I can’t tell what this creature might look like because all I see is a shadow with two red eyes staring back at me. Though, not for long. Right before my eyes, that shadow shapeshifts and transforms into me so that I feel like I’m looking through a mirror.
“It has been a long time since I was last released,” she grins maliciously. “Thank you, Holly. I truly can’t thank you enough.”
The creature wearing my face leaves the well so that I can’t see her anymore.
“Wait!! Come back!! Help! Please, somebody!” I scream with all my strength, though I know it’s no use.
The creature smirks and leaves the barn, gripping the car keys and phone that it managed to swipe off Holly as she fell. It’s been released, and it’s ready to play.