Little Red Lies by Emily Shellabarger

Little Red Lies

Emily Shellabarger

            The Crux Realty sign was nearly hidden among the trees that surrounded the lane to the estate.  No one ever really noticed the property was there until they looked in the realty section of the local newspaper.

No one, that is, except for Michael’s wife Val Limscomb.  But, the Prius speeding out of the lane caught Michael’s attention more than the sign.

“Damn! She almost hit us,” Michael said as he took a sharp right turn on to the property.  When they reached the end of the lane, the house stood in front of them begging one of them to beg.

“Michael, baby, can we call them?” she said

“Honey, you didn’t even want to spring for an apartment three months ago.  What makes you suddenly want our own place now?”

“The basement’s getting old, Michael.  We’re twenty-six years old, married, and well, you did just publish your novel, babe.  I’m tired of writing my parents’ address on my credit card applications. I think I really am ready this time.  Plus, look at this place!  So many babies could run around in there.”

Michael was leery of his wife’s pleads, and he was not going to get his hopes up.  He had heard it all before; Val had been “ready” to buy their own place since they got married.  They had looked at apartments when money was tight, but Val would always change her mind right before the deal closed.

Michael watched as Val twisted her auburn hair around her finger.  She always played with her hair when her mind was processing – it was easier than talking to him, he assumed.  As they were pulling away, Michael was determined that this would be the house.  But he knew the conditions would have to be perfect for Val to leave her parents’ house for good.  Writing her parents’ address down didn’t bother him, it was the quiet sex, and the nosiness, and the food, and the cat, and the smell, and the carpet, and her parents.  They had been married for almost four months now and had a handful of moments alone, most of which had occurred during their honeymoon.

Money wasn’t what kept them at her parents’ house anymore.  Michael just published his breakthrough novel – a crime thriller.  He had been working furiously since he and Val were in college, always writing and always digging through newspaper clippings and old articles for the next great idea.  Each idea was always the next great idea, and his desk drawers were full of unpublished manuscripts.  Seven of them to be exact, but this last one finally caught the attention of an agent.  The couple was experiencing a taste of wealth for the first time in their relationship, but Val wasn’t quite used to it yet.  She had always been more comfortable with her parents than anyone else.

Val’s parents were more than willing to let them stay as long as they wanted to. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of the necessity to always know what their Baby Girl Val was doing.  Val was an only child, valedictorian, and star athlete.  She, as cliché as it was, would always be her parents’ pride and joy.  She knew this and the guilt of leaving her parents always weighed on each decision Val made; it took her three weeks to decide to marry Michael.

Michael tightened his grip on the steering wheel as they pulled into the driveway of her parents’ home.  Val’s mother Rhonda was carrying the recycling bin to the curb; it was overflowing with papers.

“My manuscripts!” Michael yelled as they pulled into the driveway.  “What the hell is she doing with my manuscripts?”

“Michael, honey, give her a…” Val was pleading but Michael was already fuming across the yard.

“O hello, bumpkin,” Rhonda said, “I just went through your drawers.  You seem so unorganized.  Now that you sold that book of yours, I didn’t think you needed all these scraps of paper.”

“It’s process. Ongoing.  Forever.  Never throw away,” Michael was incoherent as he grabbed the recycling bin from Rhonda and stormed into the house.

“Well, isn’t he just Mr. Crankypants?” Rhonda yelled to Val.

By the time Val was in the house, Michael was already on the phone with Crux Realty.

The realtor was six minutes late.  Val had been counting.

“Sorry guys,” she said.  She had one foot outside her red Prius, and she was violently working her high heel on to the other.  “I always underestimate how long it takes me to get out here. I’m Jen. Let’s get this show on the road.”

Michael and Val followed Jen up the wooden stairs leading to the house.  The Welcome mat in front of the door curled along the edges, and Michael knew this would be the first thing he got rid of when they moved in.

Jen’s hand wrapped around the iron handle.  It surprised Michael to see that Jen’s tiny arm could open the immense oak door.

“The foyer is one of the most breathtaking rooms of the home,” Jen lifted her right hand.  “The ceiling rises to fifteen feet. And if you get really close to the woodwork, you can see the detail that has been here since the house was built in 1912…” Jen opened her black portfolio, “actually it was 1913.”

Val’s face was full of lust and the hue of the woodwork was reflected in her deep brown eyes.  Michael couldn’t blame her.  Jen showed them the first and second floors of the home.  They saw four bedrooms, three bathrooms, the foyer, a study, and the living room, and there was still a third level to explore.

The staircase was only wide enough for one person, so the three climbed in a single file line.  Michael reached back for Val’s hand.

“And on the third floor is a guest bedroom and a studio,” Jen said. They were climbing up a narrow staircase.

Val caught glimpse of the five foot picture window that overlooked the backyard and ran to catch the view before Michael even got to the top of the steps.

“Michael, baby, this view is beautiful.  It will be the perfect place for you to write.”

Michael was watching his wife marvel.  She was striking in her sundress – her body was long and gentle like the cattails growing in the nearby creek.  Her fingertips touched the glass.  He longed for it to be his face, for them to be alone in the house.

“Can we see the basement?” Val swirled around to face Jen and Michael. “I mean we went up and up, but we never went down.  And I know there are a lot of important things in the basement like…like…pipes, and the pump thing, and the box full of fuses.”

“Yes, the fuse box honey,” Michael thought it was cute that his wife was taking the purchase of this house so seriously.  She was finally ready to move out.

“Yes, um, let’s go downstairs and I will see if I can unlock it,” Jen told them.

When they arrived at the basement door, Michael was pretending the stairs had not winded him.  All the writing he had been doing had really been detrimental to his physical fitness; he didn’t get to move as much as he used to.

Jen was digging through her purse, “I don’t seem to have the keys to the basement.”  Her head was buried in her purse; the two could barely hear her, “And we always keep the door locked – just for security purposes. I’m pretty busy this week, but you can drop by the office sometime and pick up the keys to the house.  You can come check it all out by yourself.”

Jen and Val were discussing how wonderful the backyard would be for a swing set as they walked on to the porch.  Michael followed, but he gave the basement door handle a twist on his way out.  It was unlocked.

Michael spent the majority of the next afternoon at the Newton Public Library sifting through old news stories looking for, yet another, next great idea.  It was also a wonderful excuse for him to be away from Val’s parents.

He caught himself flipping through microfilm articles mindlessly; he was getting nothing done.  His mind was caught up on the house.  Jen seemed so uneasy when they brought up the basement, and the house had been on the market for a significant amount of time.  There had to be something wrong with the basement, something Jen didn’t want them to know about – rats, termites, asbestos, leaky pipes.

Michael pulled his laptop from his tattered brown knapsack (Val called it a man purse) and placed it on the table beside the microform.  As he hooked up to the library’s wireless connection, he thought he would check Crux Realty’s website.  He found a picture of their prospective house accompanied by a short article:

Absolutely gorgeous home right outside of Newton. Four large bedrooms ready to accommodate any size family. The interior of this home detailed woodwork and a picture window overlooking the property. Outside you will enjoy multiple patios along with an architecturally landscaped yard.  Great history!

“Great history,” Michael said to himself as he pasted the address into a search engine.

Michael lived vicariously through research for his novels.  If he enjoyed anything about living with Val’s parents, it was the fact that their life was slow and steady – the pace he was comfortable with.  That’s why he wrote thrillers.  The plots he created provided just enough excitement, but he always got to tie up the loose ends.

The search engine found hits about the house with titles resembling lines from some of Michael’s murder mysteries.  He clicked on the first link titled: “Massacre Found in Basement of Local Home.”

A handful of children were filing into the library for an afterschool reading program while Michael’s visions of their dream home were fading.  The small giggles and whispers of the children were no comfort to Michael as he read that the basement of their future home had been used as a torture chamber for the notorious serial killer Max “The Midnight Man” Mason.  The article mentioned fourteen murders occurring from 1966-69 and featured a picture of the closet in the basement where the police found all the bodies three years after Mason fled the home.  They were so decomposed that few of the victims were even identified, and the blood had permanently stained a significant area of the basement floor.

Michael’s initial response was the idea that the history of his own future home would be a fascinating subject for his next novel.  His idea was soon stifled by the realization that his skittish wife would never allow them to live in a house with such a brutal history, so it would never be his future home.  He faced a decision.

“Hey, honey,” Michael was coming down her parents’ basement steps, “I stopped by the house and checked out the basement.  I was out, so I figured it would be easier if I just swung by.”

Val was sitting on the bed flipping through a Better Homes and Garden magazine.

“It seems fine,” Michael said, “There was a small leak in one of the pipes, but it’s nothing a little elbow grease couldn’t fix.”

“So the house is perfect?” Val’s face was illuminated with excitement.

“It’s perfect, baby.  There isn’t a thing for either of us to be concerned about.”

Four days later, Michael and Val were sitting cross legged on the floor of their new living room sharing take out Chinese on paper plates.

Michael stood up and took off his pants.  As he stood there in his boxer briefs, he started jumping up and down screaming, “I love Val Limbscomb.  I love Val Limbscomb!”

“Why did you take your pants off?” Val was startled by her husband’s behavior.

“We’re alone babe.  All alone.  Could you imagine if your mom would have seen me in my underwear?”

Michael sat back down in front of his plate as Val giggled and leaned over the empty box of rice to kiss him on the lips.

“I’m so in love with you,” she whispered.

She wouldn’t have had to say the words for Michael to know how much he meant to her.  He could feel her staring at him as he finished his rice.  Her eyes were filled with her admiration of him.  He grabbed his Styrofoam cup full of wine, but his focus was on the recent lie he had told his wife.  The house was far from perfect.  When Val found out about the basement and Michael’s lie, she would tell her parents.  Her parents would hate him, so she would hate him.  God knows what would happen from there – probably divorce.  His hands were shaking as his life fell apart in his imagination; he spilt his wine on the floor along with all his guilt.

“Max ‘The Midnight Man’ Mason used to live here.  Fourteen dead bodies were kept in this basement for over three years.  There are blood stains all over the basement.  This house isn’t perfect.” Sweat began to pour from Michael’s face, and he could feel his veins tightening in his neck.

Val’s brow furrowed making her forehead resemble the half eaten piece of pork on Michael’s plate.  Her fingers moved towards the tips of her hair.  Michael grabbed her wrist.

“Talk to me damn it!  I know you’re upset.  I lied, Val.  What are you going to do?”

Her forehead relaxed and she placed her hands on her lap.  Her two front teeth covered her bottom lip.  She was thinking, he thought, generating a tirade of hurt and anger.  Their life together was over.  She opened her mouth and took a deep breath.  A smile slid across her face.

“Relax.  This will make great material for your next book.”

© All rights reserved.

Photo by Sam Wildow. © All rights reserved.

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