The Prisoner by prettybluebirds
What If? contest entry
Everyone thinks I'm crazy, I know they do. When I walk down the sidewalk I see people watching me out of the corners of their eyes. Even the guys where I work treat me like some sort of a nut case; always asking, "Hey, Jeff, how's your Grandma today?" I hear their guffaws and snickers behind my back. Everyone avoids me like the plague, and no one ever comes to visit me anymore.
Sure, I admit I'm kind of a scruffy looking guy but so are a lot of other folks, especially the young people today. My gray hair is too long and I wear tattered bib overalls all the time. It's not just my looks that bother people anyhow; it's because I live in a house with an old woman who died fifty some years ago, and I don't hesitate for a minute to tell my friends and neighbors about her. Her name is Grace, and she's just as real as you and me. I call her Grandma and we frequently have long discussions, mostly about her house.
I bought the old farmhouse twenty-two years ago today. It had been neglected for several years and needed a lot of work. I wondered, at the time, why no one ever restored the lovely old home. It was beautiful, well-built, and the best feature was a wraparound porch with all kinds of fancy trim. It wasn't long before I found out the reason why.
My wife, Mary, and I were still together when I bought the house. Our marriage was a little on the shaky side and we thought maybe getting out of the city might help improve things. That, and working together to renovate the house while living a simpler life. It was worth a try anyway. At that point in time, Mary didn't have much use for me and my lifestyle.
Besides the house, the farm consisted of forty acres, an apple orchard, and an old barn. The building was, and still is, a priceless memento to the old ways of doing things. All the beams are hand-cut and it is held together by wooden pegs instead of nails. Grace later told me how her husband and all the neighbors formed a barn raising party and built it in a little over a month...amazing.
Anyhow, to get back to my story. My wife and I moved into the house and started tearing some of the old plaster off the walls so we could insulate and drywall all the rooms. I kind of hated to destroy some of the old woodwork, but it couldn't be helped, we had to bring the place up to building codes. That was when I first met Grace's husband, Claude, and it definitely wasn't a friendly encounter.
Mary had gone into town to pick up a few groceries and I decided to do some work in the downstairs bedroom while she was gone. I got my step ladder and hammer so I could remove some of the trim up by the ceiling. As I mentioned before, the original trim was beautiful but it was too old and fragile to remove without breaking it. I climbed the ladder and started to pry off a strip of the trim; that's when all hell broke loose. A two-by-four flew through the air and struck my ladder, toppling me off to land on my hind end, but that wasn't the worst of it...
"GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, AND STAY OUT," an angry voice roared.
I jumped to my feet and looked all around but couldn't see anyone. "Who the hell are you that you think you can throw me out of my own house?" I hollered. An eerie silence was the only answer I received and I felt kind of silly talking to an empty house. I began to think I was imagining things but that didn't explain the two-by-four smacking my ladder.
It was while I was still contemplating the incident that I realized someone was pounding on the kitchen door. I went to see who it was and found Mary standing outside with her arms full of groceries. To say she was furious would have been an understatement. I went to open the door for her and found it locked. Those old fashioned doors locked inside and out and it took a key to open them. I retrieved the key from the drawer and let my wife in.
"Why the hell did you lock me out, Jeff?" my wife screamed at me.
"I swear, I never locked the door," I said. "You must have locked it when you left to go to town. I didn't know we had two keys, though."
"We don't have two keys and why would I lock the door anyhow, you idiot?" She slammed the groceries on the table and walked by me in a huff. Definitely not a good start for our reconciliation.
Later, after my wife cooled off, I mentioned the ladder incident and hearing the voice ordering me out of the house. Mary became the first person to give me the 'you must be crazy look'.
The door locking became an everyday thing. I could go in and out with no problem, but every time Mary went outside, she got locked out. She tried blocking the door open but even that didn't work. The door would slam shut with tremendous force and the block would go flying through the air. Other strange things happened too, more to my wife than me. Mary often felt like someone was pushing her and wanted her out of the house. When Mary fell down the basement stairs, she swore she was shoved. Finally, my wife said she'd had enough and it was her or the house; I could have one or the other but not both. Before the day was over Mary was gone and I was alone in the house with whoever else lived there. It wasn't a real comfortable feeling but something compelled me to stay...insanity?
It was shortly after my wife left that I heard from Grace for the first time. I was in the living room watching television late at night when I got the strangest sensation someone was with me. 'Please don't let it be that man again,' was my first thought. Then I actually saw her, a short, gray-haired woman dressed in an old-fashioned house dress. She wore a hairnet over her hair and heavy black shoes on her feet. I could see right through her and her image seemed to waver slightly; I knew beyond a doubt that this was a ghost. Strangely, I didn't feel any fear; the woman seemed to be a benevolent spirit. So I did the first thing that came to my mind and said, "Hi Grandma, it's nice to finally meet you. I hope you're not here to throw me out too." To my surprise, the spirit answered me.
"That depends on you," the ghost said. "I won't allow certain things in my house and that woman was one of them. I expect a neat house and she's a pig; this house was never so dirty in my days. I expect you to clean this place up at once if you want to stay. There will be restrictions on how much you restore the place too or I will turn Claude loose on you. Do you understand me, young man?" That's when I found out who the angry man was.
Later, the spirit told me her name was Grace, and over a period of time, she told me the history of the house and why she and Claude never left the farm to join the rest of their family in the hereafter. It seems that Claude built the house for Grace in 1928 for a wedding present and they lived happily in the lovely home for over fifty years. They raised fruit and milked cows on the farm; a typical life in those days. Unfortunately, they never managed to produce the one thing they wanted most, children. There were no heirs to leave the majestic old farmhouse to.
After Claude passed away, old-age finally forced Grace to make a decision about her beloved home. She sold the farm to some of the neighbors and moved into a nursing home. Grace hated to leave but she knew she was going to spend eternity with Claude and Claude refused to leave the home he had built with the sweat of his brow and his two hands. Grace knew she would return to her home.
Until this present time, no one, not even the neighbors who bought the farm, ever lasted long in the house. Claude made life so miserable and scary that no one stayed more than a few months or days. The only reason they decided to let me stay was because the old house really needed some help or it was going to deteriorate to the point of no return. I was allowed to stay, but only on their terms. Actually, you might say, they insisted I stay
Now, twenty- two years later, I'm still here and still living under Grace and Claude's terms. I have tried bringing in some girlfriends a couple of times but none of them met Grace's criteria. Grace sent those girls packing with some strange stories to tell. Probably nobody will believe them, the same as nobody believes me. I've tried to leave a few times but it's like I'm held by an invisible rope I can't break.
It's kind of lonesome at times but I do have Grace to talk to and about a dozen cats; got some real pretty kittens this year. I've sort of let my appearance go over the years too. My hair is long and scraggly and I forget to shave most of the time. I do take a bath every day though as cleanliness is one thing Grace is really strict about. The house is spotless too and Grace tells me just how to keep it that way. I never see much of Claude but we both prefer it that way. He is only letting me stay for the sake of the house which doesn't mean he has to like me or me him.
I don't know what will become of this place when I'm gone and it's not my problem. I only hope they won't expect me to stay here with them through eternity. Death is my only hope of ever leaving here and living my own life, or should I say, my own death.
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