My novel, Freedom’s Treasure, will be available for free download on Friday. I am posting a sample chapter here and will supply links and reminders on the morrow. Happy reading!
Anna Molly Mylan rolled into town on a beautiful day in May. She couldn’t believe how much the town matched her memories from childhood. Now was not the time to make comparisons, however. She’d been on the road for a week and she was ready to find the real estate agent she’d been in touch with and get settled. More than anything she wanted a nap. The online site had shown several cabins for rent and she hoped they had one readily available.
The address for the real estate agent came up on the left and Anna turned in to the driveway. Located next to the local ice cream parlor the building was small and shared their parking lot with the bank next door. There were several motorcycles parked in available spaces and a small compact car shone with a fresh wax. The lawn had been recently mown and spring flowers danced in the breeze. When Anna pushed the door open a bell jangled merrily.
Inside there was beige carpeting with colorful throw rugs scattered about. A coffee table with two comfortable armchairs and a coffeemaker were in the corner and the scent of freshly brewed coffee nearly made Anna swoon. On the walls were several pictures of houses and cabins, some with lake access but most without. Some photos had SOLD stamped across them, others had FOR RENT or FOR SALE. As Anna’s eyes continued down the wall she saw a flyer for the cabin she had been watching on the internet. There was a SOLD stamp across the front of it. Her head cocked to the side. She had known she should have sent a deposit.
Anna continued looking at the flyers as she made her way to the counter. At the moment there was no one behind it but she could hear sounds coming from somewhere in the back. There was an open door and she could see file cabinets overflowing with papers just inside.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” Anna saw a small bell on the counter and tapped the top gently. The countertop was glass and Anna could see more flyers underneath along with advertisements for local businesses including a canoe rental place for tours of the PereMarquetteRiver, auto repair and landscaping. There were several books about local history including one containing stories of the paranormal and hidden treasure. Anna was intrigued.
“Well, hello there! How can I help you?” She was the tiniest woman Anna had ever seen. She would have been amazed if the petite woman hit ninety pounds on the scale while soaking wet. Her silver hair was cut short in a sort of helmet and ruthlessly sprayed down with something that smelled like lilies. It took Anna back to her own grandmother and the sachets she had used in her drawers at home. She felt a girl crush coming on.
Anna flashed a broad smile. “Hi! Are you the agent here?”
“I am, dear. Let me just set these down and I’ll be right with you.” The woman appeared to levitate six inches and set the armful of empty vases she carried onto the counter. “I’m Elisa Williams. Now, who might you be?”
Anna peeked over the counter and saw a small stepping stool. Thrilled she had solved that minor mystery she reached her hand across the counter. “My name is Anna Mylan. I emailed you last month about a cabin. I guess I should have contacted you before I arrived today.” She gestured toward the SOLD stamp.
“Oh, yes! Of course! You were asking about the old Martin place. Oh dear.” A look of consternation crossed Ms. William’s face as she took Anna’s hand. Instead of shaking it she held on gently. “In your last email you said you would be arriving soon,” the woman stroked the top of Anna’s hand, patted and released it. “I thought it would be another week, however. They signed the papers on the Martin place yesterday. They’re moving in next week. Most of our vacant places are being rented. This is a busy week for us here.”
Anna took a deep breath and slowly counted to ten as she released it. “Is there a local hotel nearby?” Solution oriented, she could only blame herself for not calling ahead.
“I’m afraid that’s full up, too. We’re having the Blessing of the Bikes this week and this year’s turn out is bigger than ever! The only thing that brings in more tourists is our Trout-a-Rama.” Elisa Williams hopped off of her stepstool and came around the counter.
“Blessing of the Bikes? Trout-a-Rama?” Anna vaguely recalled the Trout-a-Rama from her childhood. A week-long celebration of the town, there were carnival rides, elephant ears and other foods, games and prizes. The library held their largest sale and fundraiser at the same time. Anna had bought her first and only copy of Gone With the Wind there the last summer they’d come for vacation. “I didn’t know they still had that.”
“Oh my, yes! It’s so much fun! That will be in August. If you’re still here in town we’ll rope you into volunteering, mark my words. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.” As she spoke Elisa walked along the walls, looking at each flyer she passed and setting empty vases at various points on the floor. “Now, the Blessing of the Bikes, that’s what’s going on in town, that’s another annual event. Bikers come from all over the state and Wisconsin to have their motorcycles blessed for this year’s riding season. It proves to be quite entertaining! We’re no Sturgis, mind you,” she referred to the annual event in South Dakota that had triggered movies, books and legends galore about the lifestyle of being a motorcycle rider. “The Blessing is this Saturday, you should come. The pastor would be happy to bless your truck. Would you like some coffee, dear?”
“Yes, please. It’s been a long drive,” Anna watched as the tiny woman went to the small table in the corner.
“My son just bought me this for my birthday,” Elisa fiddled with a machine in the corner. “Isn’t this a kick? It makes one cup at a time. No more filters or wasting coffee I don’t finish in the day. I limit myself to 2 cups a day, no more, no less. Cream or sugar?”
“Sugar, please. Ms. Williams-,“ Anna began.
“Call me Elisa, dear,” Elisa handed a sturdy mug full of steaming coffee to Anna. “The sugar is right there, help yourself.”
“Thank you,” Anna mixed in some sweetener, took a small sip and nearly groaned in pleasure. “This is fantastic! Your son made a good choice for a gift, from the looks of it.”
“That’s my boy, for you. Hunter is always so thoughtful in his presents. Now, what are we going to do with you?”
“Elisa, I hope you can help me out, I’m ready to start moving in today,” Anna sipped more coffee and considered buying one of those coffeemakers for herself.
“That old place wouldn’t suit a young lady, it’s been vacant far too long. I’m afraid the pictures didn’t do it true justice. Overgrown and overwrought, as my Hunter says. It took a solid week of scrubbing to make the inside habitable, much less the yard. It was out of control and still is if you ask me! Let me take a look at you, we’ll see where you belong.”
The intensity of the woman’s stare made Anna feel under-dressed in her khaki Capri pants, light top and dark blue spring jacket. Her hair was windblown and she wished she had tied it back before she came in.
“If you can direct me to another hotel nearby I can stay there until you have a cottage ready, it’s really no problem.”
“No, no, that won’t do.” Elisa snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it! Be right back, dear. Have a seat and make yourself another cup of coffee if you like.” She disappeared around the counter and Anna could hear shuffling noises coming from the back room.
Anna sat in a comfortable armchair next to the coffeemaker, crossed her long legs and wondered what this friendly gnome had in mind. False advertising, she thought, to post perfect pictures of a place that was, what did she say, overgrown and overwrought? Then again, that seemed to be the way the game of real estate was played. She’d heard some horror stories from friends who liked to buy properties, restore and flip them for a profit.
“I’ve found the perfect place for you!” Elisa popped out from the back room, a piece of paper waving gaily above her head. “It’s the Lucas place. Been on the market for a while, we don’t generally rent it for the Blessing of the Bikes as it’s a little ways out of town and mostly dirt roads to get there. Rather dangerous for those bikers. It wouldn’t be good to bless them and then have one of them slide out on their way home,” she nearly danced her way to Anna and hopped into the chair across from her. Elisa’s feet did not reach the floor and Anna had to stifle a giggle.
Elisa laid the page on the coffee table between them. “The Lucas’s are an old family here in town. They had a neighbor, Samuel Belvette who had traveled for months using the Underground Railroad. A runaway slave, he came here, set up a homestead on 20 acres and then went back for his family. He never returned. Rumor has it he was stopped in Kentucky and never heard from again.
“The Lucas family had a farm next to Samuel’s spread and they offered to take care of the place for Samuel until he could come back. When no one heard from him for more than two years they incorporated it into their own spread. As time’s gone on and things have gotten tougher for everyone they have opted to sell off parcels to pay taxes and the like.”
Anna was intrigued. She’d known there was deep history here in Baldwin, Michigan – there had to be as it was established in the mid 1800’s – but she had not known about the Underground Railroad.
“Now, look here,” Elisa spun the page so Anna could see the pictures. “It’s an A-frame with 1 bedroom and a sleeping loft. The interior is all open which is all the rage now. Apparently Samuel was ahead of his time,” Elisa chuckled. “The kitchen is electric and the appliances are in good working order. This nice deck here,” she pointed at the appropriate picture, “has a view of the stream that cuts through the back half of the property and a ways beyond that is the burial plot of Nathan Lucas, a civil war hero from right here in Baldwin. The Historical Society cares for the grave so it’s not something you’d have to worry about, dear. The original 20 acres have been bought and sold more times than I can count but they’ve been kept together. It has historical significance, you know.”
Anna found herself nodding along conspiratorially. “Yes, it sounds like it does.” This seemed to be far more promising than the Martin place had been. An A-frame could be fun. “It looks like it may be small.”
“Eh,” Elisa waved that away, “small means easier to clean and leaves more room for gardens.”
“Is that the original home that Samuel built?” Anna was very interested but wasn’t sure she should let on. Then again it seemed Elisa was determined to place her there regardless of her wishes.
“Oh, it is and it isn’t. As the years have gone by, parts have been repaired, replaced and the like. Same as with any house, I suppose. The rent is quite reasonable and there is also an option to buy.”
“Is it furnished?” Anna pulled the page closer and read the details under the various pictures.
“It has a bed, couch, a few tables. If you want more, you’ll have to provide it yourself. There aren’t any dishes or towels but there’s a shop just down the way where you can pick some things up second-hand. Lucy’s shop, down the other way carries quite a few things but if that doesn’t suit you, Ludington isn’t far and they have some of the larger chain stores.”
“How far is it from town? I’d like to be close but not too, if you know what I mean. I’ll need some peace and quiet while I’m working.” Anna slid her phone from the front pocket of her pants, pulled up an application and typed in the address from the piece of paper. While the phone thought about it she decided the place sounded perfect.
“Oh, 7 miles from here, give or take. The roads make the trip a little longer, depending on when they’ve been graded and how good of a job the county did,” Elisa shifted in the chair. “Pardon me, dear, I must stand up for a few minutes. These old hips don’t like sitting the way they used to. Not in these chairs. Give me a good old fashioned rocker on a porch any day. What is it you do for a living?”
Anna rose as well. “I write novels, or I’m hoping to. I was a writer for the newspaper in Grand Rapids until recently. I’d love to go take a look at it. It sounds good but, after what you told me about the Martin place I think I’d better see it before I agree to anything.”
“Of course! I’ll get the keys for you. If you like it, go ahead and start getting settled in. We can sign the papers tomorrow. If it doesn’t suit, come on back and we’ll try again. I’ll be here another couple of hours.”
“That sounds great!” Anna shook Elisa’s hand and waited while the woman went to the back for a set of keys.
“This one key works for the front and back doors. This second key is for the shed. There’s an old lawn mower in there, some other odds and ends. That phone there,” Elisa gestured with her head, “that’s not likely to work. No signal back in the woods.”
“Apparently there’s not much signal here in town,” Anna looked at the tiny screen with a spinning wheel that told her the phone was still thinking. She noticed she had full bars with some confusion.
“Did you search the address? I’m afraid Dexter Road doesn’t come up very often on those things. You’ll have to get yourself a good old-fashioned map of the county roads and I’ll write the directions here on the back of the paper. If you get lost just ask anyone about the Lucas Place. They’ll know.” As Elisa jotted the directions down Anna put her phone away. She liked the idea of her cell not working but at the same time it worried her. She’d lived in a larger city too long and only felt comfortable when she was connected. She’d have to look into a signal booster.
Elisa walked her to the door. “Well, at least you have a good vehicle for these roads. 4 wheel drive?”
“Yes, though I’ve never used it,” Anna matched pace with Elisa.
“You’ll get lots of practice now. Good luck, dear! Hopefully I’ll see you tomorrow.” Elisa waved happily as Anna climbed into her SUV and looked the directions over. It seemed easy enough. With a confidant, jaunty wave she pulled out of the lot and headed north on M-37.
Hunter Williams cursed at the lawn mower before he kicked it. The mower reacted by belching smoke, coughing and sputtering to a stop. He swiped his sleeve across his forehead before the sweat could drop into his eyes. He contemplated the mower, decided it would make a nice ornamental lawn piece and left it where it sat. At least he’d finished the front yard before it died on him.
He knew, didn’t he, that it was a piece of crap? He’d fought with it just last week and had sworn he’d bring his own the next time he had to come over here. And what was he even doing mowing? He had his real estate license, for sweet pity’s sake, so he could sell property instead of maintaining it. This was a job tailor made for high school kids.
The old battle axe had batted her eyes at him and before he knew it, she was manning the office and he was out making the rounds of the various properties that needed to be maintained. He couldn’t wait to get a renter into this place so it wouldn’t be his responsibility any longer. That was assuming they could rent the place out.
There were too many ghost stories associated with the cottage due to a few unexplained deaths in the deep woods on this side of the property line. No one ever knew what those men were doing back beyond the stream and the autopsies concluded they had somehow each shot each other with the same gun and died where they lay. The rumor mongers had a field day with that one. It hadn’t helped they were near the old cemetery that held only two graves. Nathan Lucas, the youngest son of the original owner of the land, and another tombstone so aged the name and dates could no longer be read.
Through the years there had been several unexplained deaths, both natural and otherwise, on the property. The locals didn’t know what the strangers were doing out there in the deep woods without a chainsaw or hunting gear. The old timers loved the gossip and, for the price of a cup of coffee or a beer, could give twenty different theories at the drop of a hat.
Hunter’s favorite involved the ghost of Samuel Belvette returned from the South to wreak havoc on white men who thought they could live on his land. He snorted, shook off the thought and made his way to the ramshackle shed. He remembered seeing another mower in there and he wanted to get this done. Making a round trip to pick up his own would take too long considering he wanted to get this last chore finished sometime during this season.
The next stiff breeze would probably knock the shed over and that would be one more task on his ever growing list. Hunter’s shoulders tightened and he made a mental note to go over the foundation of the shed and the A-frame one more time. It wouldn’t be a good thing to have someone move in and have the place promptly collapse. Liability issues were something he didn’t want to worry about.
Hunter grabbed the door handle and put his back into pulling it open. It squealed and he looked for the oil he was sure was just inside the door. He squirted some on the hinges, realized the oil was probably 20 years old and added some more. That done, he looked through the shed and took an inventory of the detritus collected over the past 50 years.
Old paint, different stains for the deck, canoe paddles, mouse eaten life jackets, a few garden tools, a couple of old metal gas cans he was afraid still had gas in them, and, oddly enough, one of those ancient metal ice cube trays. He really should clean this out before someone bought the place. Far in the back he saw what looked like lawn mower blades but, oh joy, there was no motor attached. It looked like he would be all the horse power available today.
Hunter wrestled the mower out and took a detour to his truck to grab his i-pod. He might as well have some raging tunes to go along with this mood. He selected the mix he generally used for his morning workouts, put the buds in his ears, cranked the volume and considered himself good to go.
By the time he’d done two stripes across the long grass he realized a couple of things. One, it was definitely hotter than the 65 degrees the thermometer read and two, using this contraption was going to take longer than if he’d run home to grab his powerful machine. Just outside the back door was a pump and he veered in that direction, leaving the mower where it sat, close to the other one. He’d have one heck of a collection going at this rate.
Hunter stripped his shirt off and used it to wipe sweat from his brow and chest. Ducking his head under the faucet of the pump he turned the knob all the way and let the ice cold, spring fed water sluice across his upper body. He was well toned from his daily work outs and from his second business of running the local high school boys in a seasonal landscaping business. It kept the kids out of trouble in a small town with nothing to do. He’d chosen to be the boss to avoid exactly this situation but the kids were in school for another week and he’d have to make due. His mother had been adamant he do some work on the old Lucas place today. He wondered what she was up to.
Hunter put the ear buds back into place, cranked up the volume and went back to mowing, lost in fantasies of garden gnomes coming from their hiding places and fixing the mower so he wouldn’t have to.
Anna slowly pulled into the end of the driveway and stopped. She instantly fell in love with the A-frame. It would have fit perfectly in a fairy tale, or maybe a horror movie. The siding was cedar and the sloping roof was a few shades darker. The deck was stained to match the cottage and appeared to wrap around the entire structure and, right in the front yard, a large fire pit was set up with several large logs placed around it for seating. She could almost imagine the stories that had been told around the fires that must have burned there over the years. She noted someone had stocked the firewood and she silently blessed them.
A woodpecker hammered away at a tree and hummingbirds buzzed around a small feeder on the corner of the deck. A small flight of stairs led up to the deck and the front door and she saw with glee there was a rocker exactly like the one Elisa had been wishing for placed near a corner where the sun beamed down.
Anna pulled up even with the front deck and decided this would be a good place to stop and take a look around. It must have rained recently as there were a few puddles in the driveway and, as she peered toward the back, she worried she might get stuck. She really did not know how to use the 4 wheel drive on her truck so, for now, it might be best not to test it.
She bent down and touched her toes a few times and wished she hadn’t sold her yoga mat along with the rest of her furniture when she planned her move. Pulling an ever present notebook from her pocket she added that to the list. She could use a good stretch or, better yet, a massage. She’d have to ask Elisa if there was a spa somewhere nearby.
Locking the doors to her truck she gripped the key for the front door and made her way up. As she passed the rocker she nudged it with her toe to set it rocking. A quick picture formed in her mind of early mornings, hot cups of coffee and complete peace and quiet. She nearly sighed with the pleasure of it.
Opening the door made her feel like a thief entering a stranger’s house. With the furnishings it looked like someone would be home any minute. Maybe it would be Goldilocks and the Three Bears. She let the screen door slap lightly shut behind her and saw a small wedge she could use to prop the larger door open. The place needed a good airing out but she wouldn’t worry about that right now.
The layout was open, as Elisa had said. She entered the living room and saw plain hardwood floors and a butt ugly plaid couch that had to be a pull out bed. That would have to go. The main room was small enough that if she did a cartwheel she’d be in the kitchen.
The appliances were old but well maintained. The refrigerator had to be from the 1950’s and was rather small but, as she was alone here, it would be perfect. Anna wasn’t much of a cook and when she did go crazy and start baking she preferred to buy her ingredients fresh. The electric stove had the standard four burners and a small oven. Two doors led off from the main room. Opening them she found a tiny bathroom with a – surprise – modern tub and shower and behind the other door a bedroom with a double sized bed with no blankets.
Anna turned and looked at the curving wooden stairs that led to the sleeping loft. Surely someone handcrafted those steps as they were too beautiful to be modern construction. She wondered if Samuel had made them before he left on his ill-fated journey back to the South. Climbing the steps slowly she gasped in awe at the loft. A small dresser and a queen sized bed took up the entire space but it was the window that caught her attention.
Outside she had a clear view toward the road. Doing her best calculations she figured out that was west. With the trees, the deep blue sky and lack of neighbors, she could only imagine what the sunsets would look like from here. It was at that moment she decided this was her place and she could forget renting; she wanted to own this and have it be hers for always.
She would turn the bedroom into an office, put in a desk and a computer so she could write in there when she wasn’t using the laptop on that gorgeous deck. She’d have to check the direction from the lower window, though she thought it might face to the north. It was okay to be slightly distracted by the view but that room was for working, not daydreaming. Lost in her thoughts, Anna worked her way carefully down the steps to the main floor.
In the kitchen she checked the cabinets for any form of food or mouse droppings, saw none and was sold. It would need a light cleaning but she could still smell the Pledge from the last person who had come through and dusted. She didn’t see a coffeemaker and added that to the pad in her pocket under the heading “Immediate Necessities”.
Looking at the paper in her hand she saw the note Elisa had included about turning the power on. Anna followed the directions carefully and was thrilled there were no burnt out bulbs or other piddling details she’d have to worry about before she could sleep. She flipped the lights back off and, making her way back to the truck she started hauling luggage inside.
Having only five bags to encase her entire life it did not take long to get everything and Anna chose to get completely unpacked before doing any more exploring. She would definitely need to get some groceries and basic necessities before she could finish settling in. She sat at the little table in the kitchen and made yet another list. Sometimes she felt like her entire life was lists and perhaps that was what drove her from Grand Rapids. Impulsively she slapped the notebook shut and tossed it in the conveniently located trash. She’d need liners for that, she thought, and went to add it to the list she had just thrown away.
On that note, she collapsed on the ugly couch and let herself take a fifteen minute catnap. Experience told her if she slept longer than that she would be in an ugly mood for the rest of the day.
Hunter shoved the manual mower back into the shed. He was covered with sweat and dirt and wished his shower were nearby. The last thing he wanted to do was get the grime onto the seats of his new truck. He’d just bought the Ford two weeks ago and he was enjoying the aggravation of keeping it clean. He checked his watch and figured he had another hour before the boys showed up after school to be given their assignments. He had time to run home but there was a shower right inside. Better that than putting plastic bags over the seat to save it.
He scrounged in the back of the cab and came up with half of a bar of soap and a questionably clean towel. Checking his pocket for the keys to the A-frame he went in through the back door and straight into the bathroom. It would be cold with the power turned off but Hunter could handle that. He never noticed the toiletries scattered across the sink and small counter, all he saw was a clean shower.
Anna startled awake, not sure where she was or what had woken her. She must have slept harder than she thought. After so much traveling this week it was a familiar feeling and she shrugged it off and made her way to the bathroom. She thought she remembered leaving the door open but maybe the wind blew it shut. She turned the knob, pushed the door open and screamed bloody murder.