My name is Layla Derelict. I am twenty two and recently finished college with a major in BS – aka Marketing. Just turned down the job of a lifetime managing two 5-star resorts in Isla Paradiso. Why, you might ask?
To chase ghosts, in essence.
I never expected to come back to this old farmhouse. Then again, what kid ever expects their grandmother to up and die unexpectedly, and then to leave everything to you in the will? And I mean everything. Their prized farm, prized horses, and ornery dog. Not to mention the money.
I don’t have time to worry about it. Not right now. I’m too tired to process anything; it’s been a full day of layovers and airport terminals. Thankfully there was a chicken casserole waiting for me in the kitchen – a condolence casserole from my grandma’s lawyer.
I eat right out of the dish and fork some off to Jasper, the dog. I don’t bother locking the front door or pulling my suitcases up to my room. What’s going to happen, someone’s going to come out to this stupid farm in the middle of nowhere? Just for my bras or clothes? Let ’em have them.
When I crawl into bed, Jasper jumps up with me, licking his lips and sighing in contentment. Luckily, between the crickets and Jasper’s soft snores, I fall into a fitful sleep.
…Only to be awakened at four in the morning by the damn rooster. Farm living.
After a lazy breakfast, I go outside to see one of the farmhands has already let the horses out. Bonnie and Clyde have been prize-winning show horses for three years and have sired two foals in the meantime. Both foals got sold off for a fortune, according to grandmother’s lawyer. I was told to expect another foal sometime next spring. Urg. I didn’t know if I even wanted to be here for that long. Surely I could sell this place quickly, and find a good home for the animals…
The nice thing is the garden. I was looking forward to getting in there and weeding the hell out of it. Grandmother had obviously let it go to waste. Most of the late-blooming crops were hanging heavy and ready to rot.
I finally decided to get inside and change into something suitable (I can only imagine what the farmhands would be saying about my traipsing around in my negligee). I was thinking about riding one of the horses down to the Equestrian Center to see if there were any buyers lined up, but got a little distracted. Jasper’s good at distracting.
Clyde was more than willing to let me put his tack on. Once I hopped onto his back, rather unsteadily, he started trotting through some courses. I fell back into the routine of riding after an hour of his slow trots and found myself actually enjoying it. It had been years since I’d ridden… ever since I moved off of the farm when I was eighteen.
We did a few laps of the farm before I nudged him back to the barn. It was lunch time, and he seemed grateful for a water break and fresh hay.
After lunch I ran across my old easel that grandma had bought for me when I was a teenager. Standing there, staring at it, I remembered a lot about her. And when I thought about her, I would wistfully think of my mother. My mother, the model. The beauty queen. The tragic runaway mother. Everyone said she died. I don’t know if I believe it. I saw her so often in my dreams, it was hard to imagine she could have ever left this mortal coil.I sketch her often, but today I unpacked my old paints and canvases and put them to work for the first time in a long time.
I finish up the painting late and find myself starving and still having done nothing with the garden. I grumble but run downstairs in order to work on weeding a few plants before I lose all light. The cool weather would be a nice change, after all – it’s absolutely sweltering when the sun is up. I got to the garden and started working. It was thankless, tiring work and Jasper kept wining for me to come and play with him.
I still don’t know how I didn’t see her sooner. This crazed, naked woman was standing right there, right beside me, and Jasper had been warning me! I felt cold terror filling my veins as a swollen, overripe tomato slipped from my hands. The woman snarled, showing hideously broken, bloody gums and cracked teeth.
Jasper growled and broke the spell. I launched myself into motion, hopping the fence and sprinting toward the house. Jasper was two steps ahead of me, waiting at the porch, still growling low. There was another one of those freaks by the porch, a man, just standing there swaying and making this awful gnashing sound with his jaws. I was up the steps and flinging the door open, Jasper galloping in right beside me.
I went straight for my room, locking Jasper and me inside. I had dialed 911 on my phone before it even registered that I had pulled the phone out of my pocket. I was sobbing by the time the night receptionist of the tiny local precinct answered, sounding bored.
I told her that there were strange people in my yard, one of which happened to be what looked like a naked, meth-addicted woman. The woman was quiet for a while, the only sound being her fingers on a keyboard.
Finally she asked, “Could you give me a detailed description?”
“Once the woman started snarling, I ran!” I exclaimed, fed up already. “I don’t know, older, maybe 50’s? Naked, pale hair… Oh God.”
“Ma’am? What is it?”
“She’s right outside. Oh my God. She’s watching me. Please, please send someone out!”
“Hello?!” I demanded.
I pulled the phone from my ear. The whole thing went dead. I plugged it into my charger, frantically begging for the phone to click back on. But nothing happened. I moved back to the window and she was still there, unmoving, staring up at my window.