Did new beginnings always have to be this painful? “Jose! We need to get the shingles off ASAP!” Her eye scanned over the construction site looking for the second in command as she wondered if he could even hear her over all the noise. “Where are you?” she screamed again. She flinched at the sound of her own voice; the pounding in her head increasing with every bang of the hammer. Why did she even try to come to the construction site with a migraine? She had to be here to supervise because Sam was not available on Tuesdays; he had been clear. Who doesn’t work during the week in construction? He made the crew work on Saturday instead, but the weather had prevented that. Why did it fall on her to take chances with the house? They had to get started today. He had been secretive about his reasons and she didn’t push the point. But today, she needed him here. The guys were not happy about working a sixth day and were not taking orders at all.
A young man dressed in shorts and a t-shirt covered in dust appeared through the front door. “What do you need? I’m choking on plaster dust here! You want this done today. You have to let us work!”
They wouldn’t have another delay. She was taking advantage of the break in the weather. Rain, rain and more rain halted all progress for the last two weeks. Why did they have to be so stubborn? Oh, she couldn’t think. The pounding of the hammers and crashing of shingles surrounded her.
“Come here and talk to me!” Beth walked across the yard quickly, meeting Jose half way. “I need you to get these guys working.” She pointed to the group of men on their fifth smoke break of the morning under the tree in her front yard. One was stretched out on the grass, with earbuds in his ears, jamming to a tune only he could hear. Another was leaning against the tree chugging a Gatorade. The other three were laughing and joking about God knows what. “How are we going to get finished today if they take a break every twenty minutes? Now I need you to keep an eye on things. I don’t feel good and I’m going to lay down. I will be in the car if you need me.” Beth turned and left Jose standing in the middle of the yard. As she walked away, she felt his eyes watching her as she stomped over to her car. She thought she overheard him mumbling to himself. “Damn woman. Why is she even here?” She glanced over her shoulder and saw him pull out his cell phone. No doubt to call Sam. Why wasn’t he here pushing these guys? Damn contractor.
Bam! A pile of shingles landed on the ground next to her sending her nerves on edge. Her migraine medicine was finally kicking in. Where was her iPod? She located the small device and started her music. The sweet melodies of Enya filled her head, blocking the painful racket. I’ll lay down in the car just for a little while. Her blue Hyundai was much quieter than the yard. She put on her shades and laid the seat back. The air conditioning made the sunshine bearable. What could possibly go wrong in 30 minutes? Her eyes closed; She drifted away to happier times…
The cool mountain air blew through her hair relieving some of the summer heat. The sun beat down on her skin as she leaned over the cabin front deck railing. What a beautiful day? Perfect, just perfect. She watched two men walk up the narrow path through the mountain sage swaying in the wind. In slow motion, her husband and his companion dropped their towels on the sandy shore and waded into the chilly mountain lake. She could only imagine the shock of the cold water. Something was wrong. She left her perch to run after them, yelling to not go into the water; but they weren’t listening. Her skin erupted in goose bumps and bile rose in the back on her throat. No. Don’t go in. She watched helplessly from the shore as the love on her life swam to the middle of the lake. The smile on his face broadened and his loud infectious laugh filled the air. Suddenly, a hand burst through the water surface dragging him under. Bubbles escaped his mouth as he gasped for air under the surface of the water. He could see a beam of sunlight. He struggled to reach for it. The arms wrapped tighter around him. Or was it her? Beth couldn’t breathe; her lungs filling with water. The faceless body held her under the water so she couldn’t escape. She needed to breathe. Let me go. Let me go. I can’t breathe.
She awoke coughing to a loud banging noise. Her chest hurt from her labored breath and her eyes tried to focus. Then she heard her name “Miss Beth, wake up! Wake up! You need to see this!” Jose was knocking on the car window.
She blinked her eyes trying to focus, nodding her head and holding up her finger to acknowledge him. She turned off the car and stepped out. Oh God, how long had she been out? She thought to herself checking her watch. Four hours. No way, that medicine must have hit me hard. What did Jose need? He was usually pretty self-reliant. Hopefully the men had been more productive while I was asleep. She couldn’t read his face. Had there been an accident? Maybe someone had razed something they weren’t supposed to. “Okay Jose, show me what it is”
Jose took her hand and led her through all the rubble of the day. Wow, they had made a mess today. There was plaster and wood all over the lawn. They were going to have to get this straight before we finish for the day. “Jose, it looks like a bomb went off. You better get this cleaned up.”
“We got this, Miss Beth. No Problem.” Jose tried to reassure her.
“Okay, but you are better than what I have seen today. Letting the guys run things. That’s no good.” He took her hand again as she slipped on some wood when she jumped a hole in the moddled yard.
“Be careful.” Jose said.
“Thanks.” She knew he didn’t approve of her being here and only put up with it because Sam said it was okay even though she was the boss. She looked up at the two story federal house that she had bought last month. It was just what she needed to make the changes she had promised herself when she lost her husband. He would have loved it and it was all hers. This was going to be an awesome art gallery. The history of the building had peaked her interest. It was built in the 1830’s during the Washington, NC boat building heyday. The city had boomed with the ships in the harbor and the fisherman and farmers used the ships to export to the North. Of course that was before the war. She had learned a lot over the last month working with Sam, an expert in historical restoration. He made sure that she stuck to the original aesthetics of the house. When she hired him she didn’t know what a pain his Tuesdays would be. She made a mental note to visit with him later about it.
Jose led her through the front door into what used to be the foyer. The only thing still standing was the staircase leading to the second floor. She looked through the rooms framed in but there were no walls. All the plaster and dry wall was removed. There were wires and plumbing weaving in and out of the studs. She could see a group of men standing around. Why were they always standing around? She glanced over at Jose with a frustrated look. He just pulled her toward the group ignoring her anger. Sweaty construction workers were not what she wanted smell after her migraine this morning. They looked up when they heard her footsteps echoing through the empty building. She realized they were waiting on her and hurried over to them to stare down into an open hole in her floor.
“Look, Miss Beth. We took up the floor and there it was.”
What in the world? “Hand me a flashlight.” One of the guys placed one in her hand. She stepped down onto old cobblestone stairs leading her down into a cellar. She was thankful that she wasn’t tall. Ducking her head, she stepped onto a dirt floor and back in time; the cool, damp air raising goose bumps on her skin. There were shelves containing stoneware, wooden crates, old tools and other household items. The spider webs were thick between the timbers that held the floorboards above. It was a good thing she didn’t startle easily. She brushed them off her face so she could see more clearly. She scanned the room and decided that they needed to be careful with this section of the house. She could tell some of these items were antiques. There was no telling how long this cellar was sealed. I need to call Sam. I wonder if he will pick up his phone today. Carefully, she headed back up the stairs to the kitchen area and turned to Jose. “Tell the men to stop work inside for the day. We need to finish the roof and clean up the yard. I know Sam will not be happy when he gets here. Get them going.”
Jose looked at her with anxious eyes. “Shit, the boss is coming. Gotta get cleaned up fast. He didn’t say he was stopping by when I talked to him earlier.”
“No Jose, the boss is here. Sam is coming.” She looked at him in a frustrated way. When will they accept being hired by a woman and why was Jose talking to Sam earlier?
“Sorry.” He quickly turned and started yelling in Spanish. The men reacted right away as if a fire had been lit under their feet.
She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed his number. Please pick up, she whispered into the phone, please pick up. Damn it, it went to voice mail. She disconnected and typed a text.
Found something of significance under subfloor. Please call ASAP.
Sam looked down at his iPhone and frowned. Why had he let her be at the site today? Jose had called him earlier to vent about her giving direction. The weather was clearing for the week and he would have them back on schedule by Saturday. But she had to push forward without him there. His crew did not like a woman supervising them and it did not help that she was so attractive. A brunette in her mid-thirties, she had a rough life and wasn’t afraid of hard work. Her determination made her even sexier. Damn it. Not right now. I am busy. She will just have to wait till he had a free moment. He slammed the phone in the desk drawer and closed it. And he went back to work. Just as the drawer closed the text appeared on the screen left for later discovery. The paperwork on his desk required his full attention. He promised himself that he would not check his phone until he was available. At one o'clock he left his office for the rest of the afternoon, stepping into a lecture hall full of half interested college students.
It was late evening when he made it back to his desk to recover his phone. The sun was starting to set and the evening sunset was beginning to turn the sky orange and purple. Man he loved the sky here. He glanced at the notifications on the phone. She had called 3 times but it was the text that made him anxious. What had she found? What had they uncovered? Shit. Now he wanted to kick himself for ignoring the first call. He gathered up his papers from his desk and stuffed them into his briefcase. He walked out to the truck and jumped in, throwing the briefcase into the passenger’s seat. He pulled out his phone to call her back.
The phone rang and Beth picked up. “Hi, I’ve been waiting for you to call back. Can you come by the site, please? I have something fantastic to show you.”
“Ok, fine. I need to change first but I will be over in about thirty minutes.”
“Better hurry, it’s getting dark fast and the guys have totally stripped the house. We will only have our flashlights.”
“Get Jose to see if he can put some lights up for you. Should I bring something to eat?”
“Nah. I’m not hungry. Are you sure Jose will do anything for me? He has been pretty stubborn today.”
“Really? I’ll talk to him. See you in a while.”
He started the old truck and took off out of the lot. As he pulled onto highway 264 and headed east, he noticed a traffic jam up ahead. He laughed to himself, Well, a traffic jam by Beaufort County standards, twenty cars lined up both ways. Sam sighed, how his perspective had changed over the years. It was only a license check but what a pain. Slowly, the cars pulled up to the sheriff’s car. As he pulled through the checkpoint he said hello to Deputy Williams. “How are you doing tonight Bill?”
“Ok. It’s been pretty quiet here lately. Everyone behaving themselves as well as can be expected. How are things up at the college, Professor Howard?”
“Pretty good,” he said, handing the Deputy his paperwork.
“Have a Good night.”
“See you later.”
“I hope not.” Deputy Williams said with a big smile.
Sam waved as he drove through to turn off the main road to his house. As he pulled up to the house, he threw the truck into park and ran in the house. He changed into some blue jeans and a white button up shirt. He switched his dress shoes for his work boots and headed back to the truck. Hopefully he doesn’t need anything special. What in the world did they find today? Now he wished that he had asked her some more questions. But he was mad and didn’t want to chat at the time. It wasn’t her fault that she didn’t know about his real job. Teaching was his priority. He jumped back in his truck and headed up the road back to town. He really wasn’t counting on this tonight. He had things to do. This job had turned out to be more than he had bargained for. This was not a simple remodel. After seeing the house, he fell in love it just as Beth had when she bought it. He knew it was going to be a big job but he didn’t care. To refurbish this jewel for the history of Washington was a privilege.
A blaring horn brought him back to where he was. Damn it, you’re driving he reminded himself. He waved thanks to the driver behind him, hoped he didn’t piss someone off. He turned down the street and pulled into the drive. The dumpster was overflowing and the new roof looked good in the twilight. Wow, they got a lot done today. Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing for them to work without him. He would inspect it more thoroughly in the morning. He could see spot lights blazing in the house. Jose must have hooked her up so Beth could stay after dark. The days were getting shorter now and they would need the lights anyway to get a good day’s work in. He knocked loudly on the door and yelled, “Beth!”
“Down here!” He heard from the kitchen floor. She poked her head up through the opening. She was absolutely filthy. “Hahaha. You should see yourself.” She was beaming with excitement. God, she looked good right now. No woman has the right to look that good, covered with cobwebs and dirt. Sam reminded himself that he was mad at her, but realized that no one could stay mad at her long.
“Shut up! Stop laughing at me. Will you get down here?!” It was a demand, not a request. “Wait till you see. I can’t believe it.” She disappeared down into the hole.
The nails were 18th century in the molding surrounding the opening. Now she had his attention. He stepped down into the cellar using the stairs worn from years of use. They were local stone: shaped by the local stonemason no doubt. He looked around the room. The ceiling was low but there was enough room for Beth to walk around. He had to bend down to move around in the space. She had placed the lights so that the room was well lit. As he started to inventory the items in the room, he understood her excitement. Oh man, a treasure trove of history.
“Have you moved anything?” He asked.
“No, I was waiting for you. It was hard to be patient, but you said that we should document things as we went through the process. I took pictures before it got too dark but I think the lights help a lot. I’m going to take another set.”
“Good thinking. Looks like most everything is from the 19th century or older. We will want to be careful. This is awesome. I’m glad you called.”
“You took your sweet time getting back to me. What was so important today anyway?” She jabbed at him, wrinkling her nose.
“I was busy. This is supposed to be just my side gig. Of course this one has required more work than usual, but I don’t mind. You have to give me my Tuesdays. Ok?” He looked at her.
She shrugged, “You still should have called me back. I had a lot of trouble with the guys today. Jose said you took his call.” She went back to snapping pictures. Her mind was too occupied to care at the moment. She forgot the anger she had felt toward him earlier in the day for not being there. For a moment the camera’s focus centered on Sam. He looked different today. He studied a crock and its contents like he had found the crown jewels. Look at that amazing sexy grin. The lines around his mouth gave him a rugged outdoorsy look. He glanced up from his treasure and looked at her. Their eyes met and heat ran through her body. She quickly turned and pulled a crate from off the shelf. Hoping he didn’t notice her staring, she sat it on the floor next to a light. Gently she pulled out a set of awls, setting them off the left. Then a set of hand planers, an old hammer and a hand drill. In the bottom were newspapers the original owner had used it to line the crate.
Dated October 24, 1862
Yellow Fever Outbreak Kills Hundreds
Looking over Beth’s shoulder, he noticed what she was reading. “It devastated Wilmington. The cemeteries are full of graves from that period.”
She glanced over the brittle yellowing paper carefully turning the pages. So many ads for runaway slaves. “Were there so many searching for freedom?” She looked at Sam.
He wasn’t sure if she was asking him the question or not. “When the sickness hit Wilmington, the slaves that were running turned towards Washington. There were thousands on the run. Trying to make a better life for their families. Slaves disappeared from the local plantations, running to our harbor. The owners advertised in the local newspaper with large rewards. There were good people here in Washington helping the slaves on their way to the North.”
Sam started sweating. The lights were heating up the room at a rapid pace. “We need to turn off the lights. The heat might damage some of our finds. Did you get all the pictures you needed?”
“I think I documented everything. What time is it?”
“Holy shit. I’ve been down here for five hours." She smiled. “I love this house. I better head to the apartment. Thanks for letting me be at the site today.”
Sam started turning off the lights one by one. “You’re welcome. But it looks like you got a lot done today. Jose isn’t going to want you back. You must have pushed them hard. Did you yell at them?”
“No I just reminded them that you were coming and wouldn’t like the mess they left. Well, maybe I yelled a few times. Why do they push back so much? I can tell they are dedicated to you.”
“You have to give them a little slack. They are hard workers when they don’t feel rushed. You will get a feel for the way they work eventually.”
“Hopefully before the project is over,” she laughed,
“Well I will see you later in the week.”
“Thanks Sam. See ya later.”
As Beth emerged from the house, the cool breeze hit her damp shirt. She had been down in the cellar for hours and the sweat had soaked her through. She watched Sam drive away in his old pickup. She walked down to the waterfront to cool off. The excitement of the day still had her adrenaline flowing. She needed to go get some rest but that would be impossible right now. She walked along the railing, listening to the waves lap on the retaining wall. There were so many people downtown tonight. On a Tuesday? How weird. Ahh, that breeze is heavenly. Her head had quieted now. Focusing on the sound of her shoes on the brick walkway, she headed toward her loft on Main Street. She had lucked out when she found this place so close and month-to-month rent. Lord knows how long the house is going to take. Maybe she should have signed a lease. Of course she wasn’t expecting to gut the place, but it had become necessary to pass code for a retail shop. She was going to live above the gallery. It was such an inspirational building. She couldn’t wait to open. Now she had the historical cellar, what was she going to do with all the antiques? Perhaps a local museum would be interested in them. She would check on that this week. She climbed the stairs, unlocked the door. It startled her to see herself in the mirror. Oh my God, I am a disaster and I’ve been walking around town. She laughed to herself. Awesome first impression with my clientele. She stripped and jumped in the shower. All the dirt and cobwebs washed down the drain. She watched the trail of dirty water run down the middle of the tub. Ah I needed that. She toweled off and headed straight to bed.
A whimpering sound came from Beth’s bedroom…. Beth peered into the darkness. She blinked to focus. Where was she? It wasn’t familiar. A shed with a dirt floor. But water was flowing into the building. It was coming in fast, swirling around her legs. She couldn’t move. Oh my God, she started to panic. She was trying to will her feet to move. They were stuck like they were in hardened cement. The water was getting deeper. She heard a noise in the corner of the room. There was a young black woman holding a bundle close to her. Her eyes were huge with fear. Beth’s eyes started to adjust to the darkness. The girl was dressed in a long cotton dress. Her hair wrapped with a scarf. She tried to talk to the girl but her mouth wouldn’t make the words. We have to get out of here. The shed started to creak under the strain of the water. It was going to collapse. We have to get out. The young girl waded to the door. She pushed on the latch but it was locked on the outside. She started to scream. She was banging on the door, but it only made the building start to sway. The water was up to Beth’s waist now. The beams holding the roof started to fall. Beth tried to dodge the pieces as they fell but her body wouldn’t respond. A huge beam fell and hit Beth in the head. Everything went black.
Beth sat up in bed. Shit, what was that? “It was only a dream. It was only a dream.” She repeated over and over again to reassure herself and tried to catch her breath. Oh man, what a nightmare.
All photos on the website are taken by Tammera Cooper and remain her property.