Friday, July 29, 2016

Free Fiction Friday: For Rent, Furnished

I wrote this story a few weeks ago, but the idea has been fermenting in my brain for a while. This is truly one of those times when a character changed who she was and what she was doing and I was dragged along, kicking and screaming. To paraphrase Billy Joel, "I liked her just the way she was." I hope you enjoy "For Rent, Furnished."

For Rent, Furnished
Copyright 2016 Carey Burns
            Tyler opened the oak cabinet and studied the stacked dishes and bowls inside. “So the dishes and appliances all come with it?”
            “Oh yes,” Ms. Melody smiled. “Right down to the bedding and towels. Of course, I’ll understand if you prefer to use your own.”
            He followed her back to the foyer, shaking his head. “This whole house, garage, and yard for just $300 a month? What’s the catch?”
            Her eyes flashed wide. “Why, there’s no catch. My dear brother passed and I didn’t want to sell the house. It’s been in our family for over four generations.”
            “Why don’t you live here then?” He stroked the newel post of the staircase leading up to the second floor.
            She chuckled. “I’m closing in on seventy-five and can barely make it up those steps. My apartment suits me better. Less rooms to clean.”
            “Well, I’ll take it then.” He extended his hand and shook her cold, paper light fingers.
            She moved to the living room and sat on the couch, opening her handbag. “I have a contract, just formalities. I’ll need first and last month’s rent plus a deposit for any pets. You don’t have pets, do you?” She eyed the Oriental rug covering the hardwood floor.
            “No, I have allergies.” Tyler read the simple contract and signed it. “Do you prefer cash or check?”
            Ms. Melody pulled a receipt book from her handbag. “Cash or money order, I’m afraid. A previous renter’s checks seemed to be made of rubber the way they bounced.”
            He laughed. “I have cash.”
            As they exchanged money for receipt and keys, she smiled. “I hope you like it here. This house has a million memories.”

            Tyler unlocked the front door and scooted a cardboard box inside with his foot, trying not to drop the clothes-stuffed grocery bag in his arms. Once inside, he set the bag on the floor and closed the door. The grandfather clock ticked in the study and he smiled. Three hundred bucks to live in the castoffs of a rich old man’s life.
            He’d done his homework. The Melody family was loaded and were town fathers and benefactors to many an organization. With that much money, their eccentricities were easily overlooked and they had many. Generations of townspeople whispered of witchcraft and supernatural powers. The last of their line was Hazel, his landlady.
            Tyler wondered at the old rumors. Nobody could be that good and generous, there had to be a dark side to them.
            He walked to the kitchen, surprised to find a plate of cookies on the counter. A note on crisp ivory paper lay beside it. The elegant cursive reminded him of his great grandfather’s old letters his mom kept in the attic. 

I hope our home brings you as much peace as it has for our family. Please let me know if you need anything or if there are any items that need attention. Young men such as yourself cannot live on cookies alone. Please look in the refrigerator.

Ms. Hazel Melody

            He smiled and opened the fridge, surprised to see it loaded with milk, eggs, fruit, lunch meat, and a six pack of beer. “There’s gotta be a catch, but I’ll take it.” He popped open a beer and unpacked.


Months later, Tyler woke to a cold house. He checked the thermostats and frowned. They showed 60 degrees even though he had the dial turned up to 75. He called Ms. Melody.
            “Oh dear, I will be over soon to check the boiler. Sometimes it acts up, it is original to the house.”
            Tyler pulled on a sweatshirt and his fleece-lined slippers. If it couldn’t be fixed, he hoped she’d knock something off his rent or buy him some space heaters until it could be replaced.
            He heard a knock on the door and opened it.
            Ms. Melody held a basket in her hands and her sweet smile. “I brought you some hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies.” She followed Tyler into the kitchen and handed him a plaid Thermos and tin of cookies from the basket, moving a large pipe wrench aside. “The wrench is for the boiler.” She chuckled, walking to the basement steps. “Come on down when you finish your cocoa.”
            Tyler smiled, twisting off the thermos cap and taking a hesitant sip. Warm and creamy, but not too hot. He drank it down and descended the basement steps.
            Ms. Melody was standing at the boiler, fumbling with the cast iron boiler door. “Just in time. The pilot light is out but I just cannot get the door to open.” She stepped back and smoothed her silver hair.
            The boiler towered over her small frame. “Let me try.” He pulled at the door lever until it finally released and the door creaked open.
            “The metal is cold. I wonder how long the pilot was out.” She brushed a mess of cobwebs from the side of the huge, domed cast iron giant.
            Tyler brushed rust from his hands. “You know, it was chilly yesterday but I just thought it was because it was so cold outside.”
            She frowned. “It takes quite a while to heat up again. Would you like me to have a space heater brought over?”
            “No, I should be fine.” He thought of the cocoa and cookies and smiled. She was so good to him. He must have gained fifteen pounds from her wonderful baking. “Do you need me to light the pilot?”
            “Could you? I think I’m getting too old to be doing this kind of thing. I might need to look into a handyman.” She handed him a few strike anywhere matches. “Here’s a flashlight to help you see the pilot.” Ms. Melody pulled an antique metal flashlight from the basket and handed it to Tyler.
            With a smile, he flicked it on, shining the faint yellow light inside the boiler. “Did you ever think of replacing this old monster with a new, high-efficiency until?” His voice echoed inside the metal dome.
            “Oh, I have. Estimates are so high ad this one is a peach. It was made in Germany ages ago and shipped over when they built this house. This monster has been with my family forever.”
            Tyler scooted in farther, his arm muscles sluggish. “Ms. Melody … is the gas on?” He blinked, his vision blurred.
            “No, dear. I shut it off first thing. Are you alright? You sound strange.” She stepped closer to him and touched the small of his back.
            “Ms. Melody …? I just need some … air.” A metallic thud echoed from inside, Tyler’s head dropping against the inner wall.
            “Tyler?” She whispered, staring at his back. “Tyler, are you okay?” Ms. Melody sighed and clucked her tongue. She reached down and grasped Tyler’s legs, pushing the limbs into the boiler. She hummed a soft tune and shut the door, shuffling to the side of the boiler where she turned the gas valve on. Ms. Melody smiled as she opened the box of matches and squatted down, opening a small access door on the side of the boiler. She dragged the matchhead against the metal and then thrust the newborn flame inside.
            As the boiler heated, the old woman repacked her basket. “It used to be I needed a candy house to lure boys and now all it takes is a good deal on rent and some special cocoa.” She licked her lips. “And you’re oh so easy to fatten up, too with the beer and the baked goods.” She checked her watch and hurried up the steps to tidy up a bit.
            There was a knock at the door and Ms. Melody smoothed her silver hair. She answered it with a simple “Yes?”
            A young man stood on the doorstep. “Hello, I’m Ben. I called about the house.” He held up the classified section of the newspaper.
            “Oh yes, my dear, please come inside.” She stepped aside and watched him cross the threshold. “As the ad says, the house is furnished. Come, let me show you around.”

No comments:

Post a Comment