I AWOKE WITH a dull pain pulsing in the back of my head. It kept time with the rhythm of the wind pounding against the walls of the house. The headache had been there since the previous night at the gas station. It had receded some since the encounter, but it lurked in the back of my mind like the wind lingered outside.
My vision spun for a second as I sat up on the couch where I had slept. I'd taken to crashing either at Jeremey's place or Lydia's after my parents moved away and sold the house. I guess I could have afforded an apartment somewhere, but I was living a low maintenance lifestyle at the time. My minimal belongings were distributed evenly between Lydia's room, Jeremey's place, and my car, and I think Jeremey liked the company anyway.
It was already past noon. I considered raiding Jeremey's fridge, but my need for a smoke outweighed my hunger.
I pulled on my sweatshirt and slipped my feet into my pair of used-to-be-white Converse. The backs of the heels were worn down flat because I tended to wear them like slippers with the laces tucked in—too lazy to tie the poor things.
My pack of cigarettes lay where I'd left it on Jeremey's coffee table, next to my BIC lighter. I really needed to get a Zippo because of the wind, but getting one seemed to me like accepting defeat. I shoved the pack into the back pocket of my jeans and kept the lighter in hand as I trudged toward Jeremey's porch.
The door gave a gentle creak as I swung it open. Cool air stung my lungs, and the screen porch walls groaned with each gust of wind. Jeremey was already sitting in his spot and rolling something on the clouded-glass end table.
"Don't get your hopes up, Harper, it's just tobacco." He must have known I'd be eyeing the cigarette, because he didn't even look up from his work as he said it.
"I wasn't looking for anything else," I said, which was half-true.
I sat down in the wicker recliner, lit a cigarette and took a drag, immediately feeling a bit more relaxed as some of the pain in my head subsided. I'd invented the idea that I had anxiety problems. I didn't, but lying to myself that I was smoking because I needed it to calm down made it easier to justify. Really, I was just addicted, plain and simple.
I stared at the dogwood in the yard across the street. Its leafless branches strained to stay on the tree as the wind knocked them around. Jeremey and I had always wished it'd been in his yard when we were kids so we could climb it. We'd tried anyway once, but Mr. Baxter had this mean as shit beagle named Ralphie that he let out on us. Dog bit me right on the ankle as he chased us off his lawn, growling and barking the whole time.
Dog's dead now. Mr. Baxter's in Florida.
Might as well be dead, too.
"Did you hear someone bought the old farmhouse on Clay Road?" Jeremey asked as he finished rolling.
"No shit?" A chill danced up my spine. The old building stood at the edge of town, looming over Millstone like a scarecrow watching its crops. "That place has been abandoned for at least a year."
"At least," Jeremey emphasized my words, sticking the hand-rolled cigarette between his teeth. He leaned towards me, and I lit it for him.
"Yeah, apparently the guy that bought it paid cash," he continued after taking a puff. "Can you believe that?"
"I mean, how much could it have cost, really?" I chuckled, trying to shake the feeling of unease that had crept over me. The stories we'd told about the farmhouse when we were kids buzzed around my mind. Even back when Mr. Jones and his wife had still lived there, we'd joked that the place was haunted, daring each other to venture past it on our bikes at night.
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•• Wattys 2018 Winner •• Wattpad Featured Story •• One day, a wind blew into the town of Millstone and didn't stop. Slowly people moved away. It was like the town was trying to clear itself out, as though it was preparing for something sinister. Whe...