Our first home…but dare we stay in it?
Max and I had been married for three years, when we bought the old farmhouse on Dunhill Road. We were both tired of our tiny apartment in the city, and we saw it as a dream come true. But neither of us was prepared for the strange series of events that awaited us there.
I remember clearly the day we held the closing on the house. The couple we bought the farmhouse from, Lois and Brad Taylor, were about our age. They had lived there only a year, and, although their intentions were good, they had not done much in the way of restoring the house. They were also anxious to sell the house.
“I hope you two will be very happy,” Brad Taylor said. “I guess Lois and I just weren’t cut out for the solitude here —”
With that, Brad handed us two sets of keys for our new home.
“We always meant to get a spare set made, and never did,” Lois explained.
Max smiled. “This’ll be fine for now.”
“Good luck to you,” Brad said. He and Max shook hands. That was the last we ever saw of the Taylors.
On the first day of spring, we moved in. As we drove our rented truck through the small town of Wheaton, Max and I grinned at each other. I knew, without exchanging a word with him, that he was as happy as I.
We bumped and rattled past the Wheaton post office, the gas station, the grocery store, the laundromat. Everything seemed so cozy and friendly. On the outskirts of town, we made a right turn and headed down a dirt road toward 1211 Dunhill.
I could write a book about everything that needed to be fixed in that house. The porch sagged, the chimney needed patching, the shutters— the ones that were there– hung unpainted at crazy angles. But the sprawling old house had character and, we thought, possibilities. Besides, it was surrounded by ten gently sloping, wooded acres. After three years of cramped apartment living, we couldn’t wait to stretch out.
As we drove up to our dream house, Max pointed to the name Taylor on the mailbox. “This is the first thing that will have to go,” he said.
“I’ll put it at the top of our list,” I said, giving him a hug.
All the exuberance of that day was short-lived. Not long after we moved in, I began to sense that someone was watching us—or watching the house, to be exact. It was such a strong feeling that I told Max about it one night.
“You’re imagining things, Elaine,” he said. “Our nearest neighbors are three hundred yards away, and nobody drives down this rutted old dirt road unless they have to.”
I thought about the strange car I’d seen near our house recently. On two occasions, I’d been hanging clothes in the backyard, when I felt as if someone were staring at me. When I’d turned around, there was no one there. But, minutes later, I’d heard the sound of a car starting, and rushed around to the front just in time to see it disappear in a cloud of dust.
My apprehension might have turned to full-blown worry, if a more concrete problem hadn’t cropped up then. It was Max’s job. He was a lineman for the electric company, and we were both used to the fact that his work sometimes took him long distances from home—occasionally for weeks at a time. But we weren’t prepared for the news that, starting on May first, he would be assigned to Minton County, two hundred miles away. The job threatened to last well into summer.
Max’s leaving would set our renovation schedule back considerably. We were especially disappointed at the timing of his transfer—just when we were most enthusiastic about the house and the weather was most cooperative. But I tried my best to pick up Max’s spirits on the day he left.
“Remember, darling,” I said, as he threw his suitcases into the car, “I’m not completely incompetent with a hammer and saw. You’ll be surprised at how much I get done while you’re gone.”
“Just don’t tackle more than you can handle,” Max warned me with a grin. “Quit worrying about me.”
“The only thing I’m worried about is running off with the good car and leaving you with that old puddle jumper,” he said seriously.
“I’ll get it fixed,” I assured him. “It’s not as if I’m going to get stranded in a blizzard, you know.”
“Promise you’ll do it soon?”
“I’ll try to make it home every other weekend” said Max.
“I’m going to miss you,” I said, putting my arms around him.
“Only half as much as I’ll miss you,” he told me.
Our good-bye kiss was a lingering one, and, when I went back into the house by myself, it seemed lonelier than our apartment ever had.
The best medicine for my loneliness was throwing myself into the many tasks that needed to be done around the house.
The first week Max was gone I painted the kitchen and dining room, and waxed all the floors. Once in a while, I would still get the feeling that someone was watching me, but I tried to push it out of my mind. I vowed I wouldn’t let myself become a jittery housewife while Max was away.
On Friday, I got a call from a hardware store in Trenton letting me know that the wallpaper Max and I had ordered for our bedroom had come in. Although I didn’t look forward to the long drive there and back, I was eager to get the paper hung. So, a little after eleven, I set out some-what apprehensively for Trenton.
The car was more cooperative than I could have hoped and, by twelve-thirty, I was turning back onto DunhiII Road with several rolls of wallpaper in the backseat. A few yards from our driveway, I braked to a stop. I squinted at the mailbox. Where I had carefully lettered Hogan in red paint, there was nothing. It looked as if someone had whitewashed the entire mailbox. I pulled into the driveway and got out of the car. When I went up to the mailbox and touched it, I found out that my guess was right. The paint was still tacky.
“Well, if this is somebody’s idea of a joke—” I said aloud. I got back into the car, shaking my head. What I didn’t need was some practical joker making more work for me.
I planned on repainting the mailbox the next day, but when I went out to get the mail Saturday morning, I was in for another shock. In bright red letters across the side of the box, the name Corwin was staring at me. The paint, although fresh, was partially dry, as if someone had done it hours earlier.
The annoyance I had felt the day before turned to confusion. I thought about my suspicions of being watched, and wondered if there was a connection. I made up my mind to find out whatever I could about anyone named Corwin.
When Max called that night, I kept the conversation light. I decided not to mention the mailbox incident to him. I could tell he was tired, and I didn’t want to trouble him with any problems.
Monday morning, after a breakfast of toast and coffee, I went outside to wait for the postman. If anyone knew of a family named Corwin, I decided it would be him.
His truck drove up at ten o’clock sharp.
“Morning,” he called.
“Good morning—anything for Hogans?”
“You’re sure that’s your name now?” he asked. As he leaned out of the truck, I noticed he was lanky and well-tanned, and surprisingly young. Probably in his early twenties, I guessed.
“Elaine and Max,” I replied. “We plan on staying here for a good long time.”
“I wondered what was up when I came by Saturday.” He gestured toward the mailbox. “Saw the name Corwin on here, freshly painted.”
“It must have been the work of a practical joker,” I said. “We don’t know anyone by that name.”
“An old couple named Corwin used to live here,” he commented.
“Before the Taylors?” I asked, my interest aroused.
“They bought the place from the Corwins,” he answered. “That is, from their daughter, Blanche. Mr. Corwin died years back. When his wife passed on, Blanche came in from Chicago and sold it to the Taylors. They didn’t stay around long. A rumor started a couple of years back that the place was haunted—think it kind of spooked them. I’m glad to see you people here. The place is starting to look real nice.”
“Thanks. We’ve got great hopes for this house. It’s what we’ve always wanted.”
“Well, I’ve got to be on my way,” the postman said, handing me the mail. “Have a nice day.”
Standing alone in the driveway, I looked around, more confused than ever. Why would anyone letter the Corwins’ name on our mailbox? I wondered. Was there somebody who wanted to make us feel unwelcome? If so, why would they choose to paint the name of people who had been gone for years? Were dead, in fact. Although the day was warm, a strange chill went through me and I hurried inside.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened for the next two weeks, and I was beginning to feel I’d made a mountain out of a molehill. When Max came home for the weekend, he was pleased at how much I had accomplished around the house. I was so glad to see him, that I forgot all about the mailbox incident.
It would have been easy just to mope around the house after Max left, but there was more than enough work to keep me busy. I was varnishing the moldings in the living room one afternoon, when I heard a knock at the front door. Wiping my hands on a rag nearby, I went to answer it.
Through the screen, I could see a white-haired man holding a dog in his arms. My first thought was that the animal was injured.
“Yes? Can I help you?” I asked.
“I found your dog wandering down Main Street,” he said. “He sure is a cute little thing.”
For a moment, I was speechless. My eyes fell to the black-and-white puppy he was carrying. Around its neck was a red collar, from which a metal tag hung.
“That’s a smart idea you had there—getting that tag engraved with your address. If more folks did that, there wouldn’t be so many lost dogs.”
He seemed to be waiting for me to take the dog from him. Still, I hesitated, knowing there had to be a mistake, but not sure how to handle the situation.
“You must be awful glad to have Rebel back,” the man said.
“Oh, yes, I am,” I replied in a halting voice. The puppy was getting squirmy now, almost as if it did belong to me and was trying to get into my arms. I opened the screen door, and took him from the man. Immediately, Rebel started to lick me and wag his tail.
“He knows he’s home all right,” the man commented. “You know, I’ll bet it’s been twenty years since I seen one of these Boston terriers. Last one I saw belonged to the Corwins. They used to live right here.”
I swallowed hard. “That’s a real coincidence,” I said.
“By the way, my name’s Nate Morrison.”
“Nice to meet you.” I tucked Rebel under one arm, and extended my hand to him. “I’m Elaine Hogan, My husband, Max, and I just moved in a couple of months ago.”
“I thought so. Your little dog was probably headed back to your old place. Dogs are funny that way.”
I thanked Mr. Morrison for “returning” Rebel to me, and he left. After he was gone, I sat down in a chair with Rebel in my lap. I reached for the tag on his collar. It read: My name is Rebel. I live at 1211 Dunhill Road.
I tried to think rationally. Maybe the tag had been printed wrong. But we had met the handful of neighbors who shared a Dunhill Road address, and none of them had a dog like this one.
“You are sort of cute,” I said to the puppy, as he frolicked at my feet. “And I could use some company right about now.”
With those words, Rebel’s fate was sealed. Wherever he’d come from, he was mine now. Still, as the metal tag jangled against the buckle on his collar, I fought a growing sense of uneasiness. Where had Rebel come from?
This was one story I wouldn’t be able to keep from Max. Although I was sure he wouldn’t mind having a dog, I knew he’d want to know where I got it. And, in our relationship, lying was out of the question. I hoped that Max would do better than I at coming up with a logical explanation.
When Max called that night, I wasted no time telling him about Rebel.
“Darling, there’s going to be a surprise waiting for you when you get home,” I said.
“What kind of surprise?” he asked suspiciously.
“Well, it’s black and white, and has a cold nose—and it’ll be housebroken before you know it,” I added hopefully.
“A dog! Elaine, where did you get it?”
I went on to tell Max about Nate Morrison and the engraved dog tag.
“Mr. Morrison said he hasn’t seen a dog like this since the Corwins lived here.”
“The Corwins? Who are they?” asked Max.
“An elderly couple that owned the house before the Taylors. The mailman tells me they both died a few years ago.”
“I don’t understand why someone would have a tag made with our address on it,” Max said. “Unless they wanted us to have the dog as a gift.”
“Then why would they leave it wandering around in town?”
“I don’t know,” Max said slowly.
We went on to talk about other things then, but I could tell Max wasn’t very interested. The dog incident had obviously perplexed him as much as it had me.
Rebel did turn out to be a good companion—and a promising watchdog, too. In no time, I grew very attached to him.
The first floor of the house was starting to shape up quite nicely. I had gotten a lot done on the second floor also. So, one rainy day when I was feeling a little lazy, I decided to go exploring in the attic.
Attics have always fascinated me, even when I was just a girl. Never one to be turned back by a few cobwebs or a little dust, I made my way upstairs to the dimly-lit third floor of the house.
I could tell at a glance that the Taylors had probably never set foot up there. Sheet-covered boxes littered the floor, looking as if they hadn’t been disturbed in a hundred years. Rebel nosed around beside me, as I picked my way through a maze of forgotten treasures. If any of it were really valuable, I was sure the Corwins’ daughter would have taken it. What was left was exactly the kind of junk I loved to go through.
Opening some of the boxes, I found dozens of faded, old-fashioned Christmas ornaments, scraps of yarn and ribbon, license plates, and a musty army canteen. Shoved in a corner were an ancient pair of men’s ice skates and a wobbly dress form. Although my search was an interesting one, I knew most of my finds were destined for the trash can.
Next to the ice skates was a shoe box. When I took the crumbling lid off, I discovered that it was filled with old photographs. I sat cross-legged on the floor and began sifting through them.
Most of them had the first names of the people pictured and the date it was taken written on the back. There was Blanche at the beach, 1934. I recalled the mailman saying she was the Corwins’ daughter. She looked about ten in the picture. Another was of a man, who might have been Mr. Corwin, in a World War I army uniform. The date was 1917.
I was leisurely enjoying my trip through the past, when I came across a picture that really caught my attention. It was of a boy, who looked about fourteen, standing by a tree with his dog. The dog looked exactly like Rebel. I turned the photograph over. On the back it read Garrett, 1955.
I stared at the picture before me. Garrett’s pose was sullen, his eyes cold and penetrating. I could almost feel his presence in the room with me right now. Suddenly, my mouth turned very dry. I tried to remind myself that it was nothing more than a snapshot of a boy and his dog. But that didn’t bring the color back to my face or stop my heart from racing.
I put the other pictures back into the box. Somehow, I had to learn more about this boy named Garrett. Clutching the photograph tightly in my hand, I made my way back downstairs.
That afternoon I drove into town, Garrett’s picture tucked carefully into my purse. As I drove past St. Mary’s Church on Main Street, I noticed a sign out in front. It said, Senior Citizens’ Arts and Crafts Sale Today. I slowed down. This seemed like a perfect place to get the information I wanted. A quick right turn, and I was in the parking lot.
Most of the ladies inside the church hall seemed as interested in making small talk, as they were in selling afghans and knitted baby bonnets. Even so, I was having a hard time getting a conversation going about the Corwins. Finally, I met a gray-haired lady named Bess, who said, “Didn’t you just buy the old Corwin place?”
“Yes, my husband, Max, and I did. I’m Elaine Hogan. Did you know the Corwins well?”
“Oh, sure,” Bess replied. “Jenny and I used to sing in the church choir together a long time ago. She was a wonderful friend. They were all fine people, the whole family.”
“The Corwins had children?” I asked, pretending ignorance.
“Yes, two of them,” she answered. “Blanche—she lives in Chicago—and Garrett.”
At the mention of his name, I wanted to pull out the picture, but I held myself back.
“Where is he now—Garrett?” I asked.
Bess shrugged. “Dead and buried, I suppose. Nobody ever heard from him after he left home to join the Navy. That must have been twenty years ago. He was only seventeen or eighteen at the time.” She clucked her tongue. “He was always a strange boy.”
“In what way?” I asked.
“Well, he was pretty much a loner. He didn’t have many friends, never dated girls. His whole life seemed to be his dog, and an odd collection of antique knives.”
“He never wrote to his parents after he left?” I asked.
“No. It was unfortunate, but I’m afraid there were a lot of hard feelings on both sides. The three of them had never gotten along very well. Some people thought it was because he was a late-in-life baby. Jenny must have been forty-two or forty-three, when Garrett came along. Blanche graduated from high school that year. She moved to Illinois when Garrett was just a toddler, so the two of them were never close.”
“It sounds as if he had a lonely life,” I said.
Bess sighed. “Jenny and Tom did their best. It wasn’t easy raising a boy at their age. I’m sure in their way, they loved him. He nearly broke their hearts the day he went away. There was a terrible fight. Jenny was never the same after that.”
“By the way,” I said, trying to sound casual, “did you say Garrett had a dog?”
“Yes, it was kind of tough-looking, like he was. A Boston terrier, I believe. I’ll never forget that dog’s name—Rebel. Garrett picked it out himself.”
My eyes grew wide. My stomach muscles tightened. This was more than coincidence. I wanted to ask Bess more about Garrett Corwin. But she was distracted by a customer, and after a while, I quietly slipped away.
When Max came home that weekend, I showed him Garrett’s picture and retold the story I had gotten from Bess.
“Garrett’s dog was named Rebel,” I concluded.
“Rebel?” Surprise and confusion washed over Max’s face. “Elaine, I don’t understand what’s going on here.”
“I don’t either,” I said. “But do you think I’m just imagining that someone is watching our house?”
“What do you mean? Do you think Garrett Corwin is back?”
“I don’t know what to think,” I replied. “I’ve only had the feeling of being watched once or twice since Rebel arrived. But I wish your assignment in Minton were over, so we could be together again.”
Max held me closely. Although he seemed calm, I could sense his anxiety. I knew he wanted to be home with me, too.
I spent the next few days at home, alone, trying to make some sense out of everything. I was as jumpy as a cat since my talk with Bess. Something told me that there were more unexplainable happenings ahead. My only hope was that Max would be home before another one took place. But it didn’t work out that way.
The following Wednesday, the mailman came late. When I went to the mailbox, I found a package inside. It wasn’t any bigger than a handkerchief box, but it was much heavier. String was looped tightly around the brown wrapper, and the return address was B & L Antiques. I was walking toward the house with it, when I noticed the mailing label.
“Garrett Corwin, 1211 Dunhill Road,” I read aloud. My voice trailed off, and I stopped dead in my tracks. “Why? Why can’t you leave us alone?” I whispered. It was obvious that whoever was doing these things was not about to stop.
I ran into the house and grabbed my purse. The faster I returned the package to the post office, the better. I was reaching for the doorknob to leave, when I stopped. Looking at the package in my hands, I was suddenly overwhelmed with curiosity. What was someone sending to Garrett Corwin at our address?
I opened it carefully, and slipped the box out of the wrapper. My fingers were trembling as I lifted the lid. I had to dig through several layers of tissue paper. Finally, I touched something cold and hard. I peeled back the last layer of paper and gasped. It was a knife!
The blade was about six inches long, curved with a bow, and tapered to a point as fine as a needle. The carved handle looked like ivory. I had never seen anything like it.
I was beginning to wish I had never opened it. A growing terror had my heart pounding out of control. As fast as I could, I packed the knife up again and headed for the post office.
Before I had even reached Main Street, my car began to stall and sputter. I remembered my promise to Max that I would get it fixed, and cursed myself for putting it off. As I passed the gas station and pulled up to the post office next door, I breathed a sigh of relief.
The man at the window was an old-timer, sucking away on his pipe and chatting with a lady who was buying stamps. I held the package tightly, and walked up to him just as she was leaving.
“Hello, my name is Elaine Hogan,” I began, my voice quivering slightly. “This package was mistakenly delivered to our house today. No one by the name of Garrett Corwin lives at our address.”
The man took the pipe out of his mouth, and held the package an arm’s length away, squinting at the address.
“Uh-huh,” he said. “I remember this fellow. Why, it’s been twenty years since he lived in that house. Wonder why anybody would be sending him a package now?”
“Please be sure the mailman understands that my husband and I are the only people living there now,” I said.
“Oh, he knows,” the man replied. “George is on vacation, though, and the fellow taking his place probably didn’t notice the name. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Mrs. Hogan.”
The man’s relaxed attitude was starting to rub off on me. He threw the package onto a table nearby, and I felt as if someone had taken a huge weight from my shoulders.
“Thank you,” I said, and walked out.
I decided to try to forget about the knife, and concentrate on other things. This was made easier by the car’s wheezing and whining, which was getting worse by the minute. I decided to head for Art’s Garage on Third Street, and hoped I’d make it to the mechanic’s before the engine gave up entirely.
Max and I had met Art and his wife at a church social. He struck us both as honest and hard-working, so I felt confident turning the car and its problems over to him. After listening to my description of the car’s behavior, Art promised he’d have a look at it that afternoon.
“I really appreciate it,” I said, giving him my phone number. “Let me know what you find after you’ve checked it out.”
I was all set to walk home, but Art wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted on giving me a lift in his truck. Since it was starting to rain, I was more than glad to accept.
Rebel greeted me warmly at the door. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down, watching the summer shower through the kitchen window. My nerves felt raw, and, a short while later, I decided to lie down for a rest.
I was awakened by the sound of the phone ringing. Thinking it was Art calling about the car, I hurried to answer it.
“Hello,” I said.
At first, all I heard was the sound of someone breathing. I was going to hang up when a strange male voice on the other end startled me.
“Why did you take my package back to the post office?” the man hissed.
“Who is this?”
“You know. You were tampering with my mail—invading my privacy.”
“Who is this?” I repeated.
“Get out of my house, both of you. Leave! Do you hear me?”
Before I could answer, he hung up. I slammed the receiver down, then picked it up almost immediately. I had to reach Max.
The phone rang and rang. My eyelids squeezed tightly shut, I prayed that he would answer. Although the rain soaked sky had left little trace of daylight, it was only four-thirty. I knew that my chances of reaching Max at that hour were slim.
On the tenth ring, Max answered. “Hello,” he said breathlessly.
“Oh, Max, thank God you’re there!” I sobbed.
“I just got in. What’s wrong, Elaine?”
As coherently as I could, I poured out the story of the knife and the phone call from Garrett. There was no hiding the terror in my voice.
“Max, he said this was his house. He told me to get out. I—I think he’s crazy.”
“Do as he says,” Max said calmly. “Wh-what?” I stammered.
“Leave! Go to the diner or the grocery store, anywhere—just get around people. Don’t stay in the house! I’m leaving right now. I should be home by eight-thirty. Drive by the house then, and if you don’t see my car, keep going.”
“Please be careful, Max.”
“I will. I love you, Elaine.”
“I love you, too. Good-bye.”
Not until I was off the phone did I remember about the car. Quickly, I dialed Art’s garage.
The phone rang three times, then someone picked it up. I heard “Art’s Gar—” then the phone went dead.
I didn’t move for several minutes after I hung up the receiver. I tried to think, but my mind couldn’t seem to focus on anything. Now, it was impossible to follow Max’s instructions. I couldn’t get out of the house! I was completely on my own.
The rain was coming down in sheets now. As I glanced out the window, a deafening crack of thunder shook the house and a streak of lightning lit up the sky. It seemed to clear my mind.
I ran to the dining room window. Through the gray rain, I could see the phone line ripped away from the pole by the force of the storm. A wave of panic swept over me. I ran back to the kitchen. It was only five o’clock. Max wouldn’t be home for three-and-a-half hours. I’d never felt so alone in my life.
I was about to switch on the kitchen light, when an idea came to me. Garrett had told me to get out of the house. Although his voice had sounded menacing, he hadn’t actually made any threats against us. Maybe, if he thought we’d left the house, he’d be satisfied.
I drew the kitchen curtains closed and made sure the back door was locked. Then I moved to the dining room, the living room, and the two back bedrooms, carefully shutting all the drapes and pulling the shades. The house was as dark as night. I locked the front door and stumbled upstairs, Rebel close behind me.
The blinds in the spare room were already shut, so I felt my way across the hall to our bedroom. There I closed the shutters and sank slowly onto the bed. With the car gone and the house completely dark, it would look from the outside as if no one were home. If Garrett did come by, he would no doubt think I had complied with his order and would go away.
I tried to convince myself of that, as I sat nervously at the edge of the bed, Rebel curled up at my feet. From there I could watch the minutes ticking silently away on the clock, the sound drowned out by the rain hammering on the roof.
I hardly breathed for the next hour. By six-thirty, the tension of my lonely vigil was almost more than I could take. I stood up and walked to the window.
Opening the shutter just a crack, I could see the driveway and the road. The torrential rain was turning the dirt into a sea of mud, and I prayed that Max would be able to get through.
Another hour passed. I was sitting up in bed, my back pressed against the headboard, when Rebel stood up suddenly. A low growl arose in his throat.
“What is it, boy?” I asked, leaning over anxiously to pet him. I strained to listen, but all I could hear was the rain.
Rebel growled again. Goosebumps covered my arms. It was only seven forty¬five—Max wasn’t due home until eight-thirty! I heard a loud thump, and realized with a start what it was. It was the door to the storm cellar being flung open. Like many old farmhouses, ours had a storm cellar beneath it. While I had locked all the doors securely, I had forgotten that anyone who knew the old house, would know how to get in through the cellar. And, of course, Garrett knew the house well!
Before I could stop him, Rebel bolted out the bedroom door, barking wildly. I heard him run down the steps, and then, I heard him growling loudly. Never before had he sounded so ferocious. I tiptoed to the head of the stairs, my eyes glued to the darkness. The next thing I heard was a man’s voice.
“Rebel, is that you? Come here, boy. What’s the matter with you?” I heard him say, as he stumbled across the room, bumping into furniture along the way. Then, there was a click, and light from the dining room crept up the stairs. Rebel started to snarl again, louder than ever, and I began slowly to inch my way down the steps toward the door.
“What’s the matter, boy?” the man repeated. “Don’t you remember me?”
I reached the bottom of the stairs, and saw that Rebel was practically holding the man at bay in the dining room. The man had a thin face framed by gray hair. He looked about forty, and was wearing greasy blue overalls that were drenched with rain. But what I noticed most of all were his eyes. They looked empty and lost as they darted about wildly.
A sudden flash of lightning startled us both, and I was caught in its momentary glare. The man saw me then, and his eyes narrowed and his jaw stiffened.
“Why are you still here?” he asked, his voice low and threatening. “I told you to get out of my house!”
“Are you Garrett Corwin?” I asked. My voice was shaky, but I felt the only way out was to try to reason with this man.
He knelt down on the floor, and beckoned Rebel, who still stood bristling between the two of us. “What’s the matter with you, boy?” he said, his voice puzzled. He looked up at me, “Yes, I’m Garrett Corwin. This is my house, and this is my dog, Rebel. I grew up here—my folks are Tom and Jenny Corwin.”
Oh, God, I prayed, help me stall for time. Please, let Max get here soon.
“This isn’t your house, anymore,” I said, as calmly as I could. “Your sister sold it to the Taylors.”
“This is my house!” he insisted angrily. He stood up, abandoning his efforts to cajole Rebel. “You shouldn’t have come here. I scared those other people away—you should have gone, too. I warned you.” He advanced a step. Rebel growled lowly, deep in his throat, and Garrett, more puzzled than frightened by the dog’s actions, stopped.
Taking a deep breath, I said boldly, “This isn’t your home anymore—painting your name on the mailbox doesn’t make it yours. We own it now, my husband and I. He’ll be home soon, so you’d better—”
“You’re lying,” he snarled. “My mother and father live here—Tom and Jenny Corwin.” Tears welled up in his eyes.
“Your parents are dead!” I blurted out. I had inched my way to within two feet of the door. Now, in a mad scramble, I flung myself the remaining distance, yanking frantically at the lock and bolt that held it shut. Panic made me clumsy, but I managed to jerk it open. Rebel was silent, but I knew from Garrett’s cry of pain that he had attacked the man. The attack didn’t stop Garrett’s however, for he grabbed me around the waist before I could bolt outside.
Garrett swung me around with amazing strength, and dragged me back into the room. Rebel, who had been shaken off in the scuffle, attacked him again, and Garrett turned, kicking at the little dog viciously. When he landed a blow, which knocked the dog halfway across the room, poor Rebel yelped in pain.
I was trapped in a corner of the hall now. There was no escape as Garrett advanced on me once more. He was muttering, “Don’t you see. I went away, but now I’m back. This is my home.”
I slid down the wall, cringing away from him, my last bit of strength melting away. Just as he reached me, Rebel, recovering from the blow, hurled all of his small might at Garrett. He sank his teeth deeply into Garrett’s calf, managing to spin him away from me. Over Garrett’s shoulder, I saw a face appear in the doorway—it was Art! Then, from the dining room, another figure appeared.
Both men rushed at Garrett, and, catching him off balance—thanks to Rebel’s efforts—they wrestled him to the floor. He howled like an animal in pain.
A moment later, the sheriff’s car swung into the driveway. Soon after, Garrett Corwin was led away. He was sobbing like a child. “This is my home,” he kept repeating over and over.
George helped me up, and Art went to tend to Rebel. Five minutes later, Max’s car pulled into the rain-drenched driveway. He leaped out of the car before it had come to a complete stop.
The first words out of his mouth were, “Are you all right?” and he grabbed me up in his arms before I could say a word.
I assured him that I was fine, thanks to our good neighbors, and our very brave little dog.
Once Max was home, I did feel much better—oh, I was still a little shaky, of course, you don’t brush off an experience like that right away. George insisted on making us coffee, and Art told us that Rebel was bruised, but it wasn’t anything that wouldn’t heal in a few days.
Once we were settled around the kitchen table, Max told me his part of the story, which explained how George and Art had showed up in the nick of time to save use.
It seemed that the heavy rains had washed out a road. When Max saw that he would have to take a detour which would delay him half an hour, he called home to see if I was still there. When he found out the line was dead, he really started to worry. He called the diner and a couple of other places around town trying to locate me. Finally, he called Art’s garage. When Art told him about the car, Max realized I was stranded at the house. He told Art the situation, and asked him to check up on me.
That was where Art took over telling the story. He told us that the Taylors had talked about strange goings-on at the Corwin place. No one around town gave it much thought—they just chalked it up to nervous city folks. But when Max told him about the phone call, Art put two and two together, and came up with Garrett Corwin. It seemed impossible—because everyone thought Garrett was dead—but there was no other explanation. He met George on the road out of town, and asked him to come along for good measure.
It was after midnight, when Max and I said good night to Art and George. Max carried Rebel upstairs, and gave him an honored seat on one of our king-sized pillows which he placed at the foot of the bed.
As we snuggled together, I whispered, “Oh, Max, at last the house is all ours.”
“Just ours and the bank’s,” he teased, and he kissed the tip of my nose.
By the end of the following week, we’d learned Garrett Corwin’s history since leaving Wheaton. Apparently, he’d led a troubled existence. He’d been dis-honorably discharged from the Navy. After that, he just drifted from place to place, until finally, something just snapped. He showed up in a neighboring town about six months ago, and started doing things to scare the Taylors away. It worked, but then we moved in.
That’s where our story began. Anyway, Garrett Corwin is now hospitalized, until they can run some psychological tests on him. Art told me that some of the townspeople managed to trace Blanche, Garrett’s sister, and that she is arranging to get treatment for him in Chicago.
Now that the house is all ours—ours and the bank’s, that is—we’re planning to have a big housewarming party. Art and George are going to be our special guests, but Rebel is going to be the guest of honor.