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The Tenants

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In my early teens, we bought a farm a few miles away from where we lived. It was run down, but Dad's plan was to fix it up and sell it for profit.

He soon realized he would need more help than my siblings and I could offer with school and the responsibilities of the farm we lived on, so he would often hire extra workers to live in a two bedroom house on the other farm. Dad is a good man, and paid the workers well and treated them with respect. Usually it was a man, or a couple, sometimes with a few kids. Mostly they were just people down on their luck and looking for some steady work. Many of them became close friends to the family, eating dinner with us or going with us to run errands.

However, one thing never failed. Two or three months after starting work, each one would say they couldn't take it anymore and leave. Usually they would say they needed to move closer to family, or found a better job closer to town. We never questioned them. Their excuses seemed reasonable. Times were tough on everybody, and we always found other workers.

When I was seventeen, we had a particularly obnoxious couple move in. The police were called several times because of their domestic disputes. They broke windows, punched holes in the walls, and screamed at each other at all hours of the night. Worst of all, the man felt entitled to the place because he had lived there as a child. When he was arrested on drug related charges, the woman trashed the place and left.

It was a wreck. The place smelled terrible; a mixture of dog crap, urine and vomit. We tore out the carpet and found dark stains. When Dad told me it was mold. I wanted to believe him. After a month of hard work, Dad asked me if I would move in to keep an eye on the place. I jumped at the chance for a little independence, and moved in right away.

That first night, as I was cooking dinner for myself, I heard a woman singing on the radio. It was sweet and soulful and somehow familiar, but muffled through the wall. I walked to my bedroom to turn up the volume and realized that the radio was not only turned off, but unplugged.

I laughed at my nervousness, and finished eating. After finishing the dishes, I sat in the bedroom sorting through some junk that we had boxed up as we were cleaning. There were some sweatshirts, magazines, broken toys, nothing that anyone would save. I threw most away, and put the rest in a box for Goodwill. In the bottom of the last box I found a sock.

Picking it up, several pieces of paper and a driver's license, several years out of date, fell out. I studied the woman's face on the license. She was young with dark skin, and dark, braided hair. I did not recognize her, but I assumed she was someone who had lived in the place before we bought it.

As I was falling asleep, I heard someone knocking. I was alone and terrified, but when I carefully peered out the window, no one was at the door. Then there was a scratching sound coming from the kitchen floor. I made a note to set out mouse traps.

When I finally slept, I had an intensely vivid nightmare. In it, I dreamed the woman on the license was standing in the garden, singing that same song. I called out to her. Bruises appeared on her face and body. A wound appeared at her throat and her flesh fell away until her bones fell to the ground and sunk into the earth. I woke up shaking, but not with fear. Instead I felt an overwhelming sadness and the sense that I would never again hear that song.

The next day, Dad came over with my dog. I had told him about the strange sounds, and he wanted to make sure I was safe. We walked to the unused garden, to see about planting it next spring. As we walked past the spot, I remembered from my dream my dog became agitated, whimpering and howling. I bent and saw something shiny on the ground. It was a dirt encrusted ring, on a withered, skeletal hand.

I learned later about the aspiring singer who went missing while driving to an audition. Our former tenant told us even more from his cell. How fifteen years ago his father took in a woman whose car had broken down. How his father beat and tortured the woman for months until she ran away, and he slit her throat. How, at twelve, he was forced to bury the woman where she fell or face his father's drunken rage. The guard told us that the man had smiled as he gave the last statement. Under the kitchen floor, we would find another skeleton.

That of his father.

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