Over the next few weeks, Cora heard nothing strange in her new home beyond the usual creaks associated with older houses. With her father gone on the road during the weekdays, he had hired contractors to begin work on the house.
Among the people who were in and out of the house was an exterminator. He’d set traps and poison down for the rats and mice. (“Rats and mice!” Marcy had exclaimed, nearly fainting when the infestation was confirmed.) The bill for the exterminator grew about as fat as the man himself, for Mr. Rue also planted a bug bomb for cockroaches toward what Marcy hoped was the end of his frequent visits. Cora tried not to snicker when the robust man flirted with her mother. As for Marcy, she was relieved when Mr. Rue finished up on a Friday evening. Tom pulled into the winding gravel driveway, and she darted out of the house to her knight come to rescue her. Cora followed at a slower pace.
“Should all be taken care off, but you’ll need to stay outta the place for the next day to let it air out from the bomb,” Mr. Rue informed Tom the moment he stepped out of his car. His eyes shifted to Marcy and he winked.
Tom shook the man’s hand. “Thanks a million, Mr. Rue.” He kissed Marcy and said, “That should take care of the smell, darlin’.”
Marcy stepped closer to Tom, took his hand, and smiled. “A weekend away will be welcome after all the work we’ve been doing. More than a day, Mr. Rue. Now, if you’re all done…”
Tom’s phone beeped, and he reached into his pocket. “Sorry, gotta take this,” he murmured, stepping away from his wife.
Cora couldn’t agree more about getting away. The hotel would have WiFi. She’d used up her month’s allotment of data on her phone, and her signal was weak and the connection slow.
“I told Erin we’d be over at 8:00 to pick her up,” Cora said. “She hasn’t been to Cedar Point since she was ten.” She cast her mom a meaningful look. Erin was the one friend she had in the northeast Ohio farm town, a place she couldn’t yet call home. She’d met Erin while working at the one screen cinema.
“All right, Cora,” Marcy said, forcing a smile. “As long as we’re finished up here…” She tried not to sigh as she glanced at Tom, who was busy tapping away on his phone.
“All good to go, Mrs. Marson,” said Mr. Rue, winking again. “You’re paid up. Just let me know if there’s any problems.”
“Yes, we’ll be sure to do just that,” Marcy murmured as the exterminator got into his truck and pulled out.
Tom was suddenly at his wife’s side as he watched the pickup pull out of the driveway. “Problem, honey bunny?”
“So long as that man’s done with his job, there’s no problem. Important work stuff?”
“Yep. Well… Lemme just take a quick shower,” Tom said, tugging at his pants along his groin. “Ev’rything packed?”
“The car’s loaded,” Marcy said, eyeing Tom with a strange look. “I’ll do a sweep through the house to make sure.”
Cora followed her parents inside, wishing she could erase the last couple of minutes from her mind. After wading through drop cloths and dust from sanding, she went upstairs. Upon reaching the landing, Cora was about to turn to the right like she always did to go to her bedroom, but the air to her left was cool in the August humidity. She pivoted in that direction. The hallway was shorter that way and only boasted a single unoccupied bedroom. But at the end of the hallway rested another door.
“Just goes to the attic,” Tom told Cora weeks ago.
Cora shrugged it off until that moment. The chill in the air seemed to brush past her, and she shivered. Goose bumps covered her arms and exposed neck and shoulders. She wondered if she ought to change out of her tank top into something with sleeves. Shaking her head, Cora marched down the corridor with determination and stopped when she came to the attic door. She tried the handle. Locked.
With a scoff, she turned away and went to her room to grab her phone before they left this dingy pit of depression. The attic doorknob jiggled an eighth of an inch, counter-clockwise.