Fields. Fields as far as anyone could see and no sign of them stopping.
That was what Casey always thought of when she thought of a rural community. As the truck pulled up into the old farmhouse her parents had cooed over and insisted she would ‘adore’ she couldn’t say she’d been wrong. Looking out passed the house and back towards the dirt road, all she could see were empty, open fields, too full of tall grass to make out any discernible landmarks.
It would be too easy to get lost out here and never find a way back. Too easy to wander in to the grass and weeds and simply vanish.
The thought stuck with her as she hauled her suitcase out of the car with her and stared up at the old building she was supposed to turn into her home. The windows were dusty, and she could see prints from where someone must have peered inside at one point.
“I don’t like it,” she said and her mother turned her head.
“I don’t like it,” Casey repeated. “It’s old and it’s wooden.” She tried to think of something intelligent, logical perhaps, to explain why she didn’t like it, but nothing came to mind but splinters.
And how easy it was to get lost in a sea of tall grasses and crops.
Her mother smiled though. “It’s going to take a little getting used to,” she agreed. “Your dad and I have already checked everything out. The water, the electrical, the heating, everything you’re used to works. Just like it did in the city.”
Only, the city had given her things to do. There had been places to walk and people to talk to. Out here, the only thing Casey could see was grass, broken up occasionally by a lone tree. If she looked too long at them, even the trees looked like copies. A badly photoshopped picture of something that didn’t belong.
“Come on Sweetie,” her dad said and held a hand out to her. “You get to pick out your own room.”
That wasn’t a comfort, she decided, and looked behind her once more at the endlessness of rustling stalks and whispering shoots before she started up the stairs, without her father’s hand.
The grass belonged out here, and it knew she did not, she decided.
All of the rooms were bright, airy even. Things she’d dreamed about once upon a time, instead of cramped apartment bedrooms where the only sight was the building next door or the neighbor’s curtained windows. Despite the space, an unwelcomeness had settled here as Casey moved from room to room, trying to find one that didn’t feel so disproportionately owned already.
“What about this one?” her dad suggested. “It’s got a nice big window,” he said. “You always said you wanted a window seat. I can probably build you one now that we’ve got space for it.”
She studied it, and the view it offered. Even now, in the upstairs, she could see nothing but fields as they stretched out. The dirt parking area where they’d left their sensible little sedan and the dusty track connecting it to the drive seemed almost scared, as if they might be swallowed by the breeze-rippled grass too.
“All there is to look at is grass,” she said.
The comment seemed to surprise her father, and he looked at. “For now, yeah,” he said. “It’s going to take some work, but we’ll get a garden going and maybe plant a few more trees. It’ll look really nice, you just have to give it time.”
She moved on from that room, to one further up, and to the stairs. “There’s nothing up there but the attic,” he called.
“I still want to see it,” Casey replied, and headed up.
There were two doors. One to the attic itself, and the other to another door. “That other one’s locked,” her father called. “The realtor doesn’t have a key so we’ll have to get a locksmith out.”
Out of habit, and perhaps some odd sense of knowing, Casey still tried it. The handle jiggled a little, and then the door creaked back. Her father came up, steps steady and sure on the stairs.
“The handle needs replacing,” she said as she stepped in.
This room was smaller than the others, but still bigger than the others she’d had over the years of living in overpriced apartments. A wardrobe stood in one corner. Thick dust coated the floorboards, leaving a trail behind her as she set her suitcase down finally and moved to the small window, just under the eaves.
She rubbed at the dirt and age coating the window, clearing a tiny spot to look out to. “I don’t know about this one, Casey,” her dad said. “It looks dusty and cramped. I thought you wanted a nice big room?”
The window framed a tree perfectly, and passed the tree the road. There was still plenty of grass to be seen, but from here she could see something else too. What might have been another house, maybe.
“I like this one,” she said finally and turned.
He lifted a brow. “Casey? Jack?” Her mother’s voice echoed through the house, almost fearful.
“Up in the attic,” her father called. “Why this one, Sweetie?”
She shrugged. No answer came to her though, even as her mother’s steps came up at last, and joined her father’s on the stairs. “Why not?” she said finally.
“Oh, did you get this door open?” her mother asked. “I thought it was locked.”
“The handle’s broken, apparently, so the lock didn’t actually hold,” her father answered. “Are you absolutely certain this is the room you want?”
She almost agreed with him. It did seem silly, when she had other rooms to choose from, other rooms with big bright windows and plenty of space, to want the one so reminiscent of apartments and their minimal spaces.
A step towards the door leading back to the stairs reminded her of the sense of unbelonging. The idea of nothing but miles and miles of grass, no other views to be seen.
“Yes,” Casey said. “I’m sure.”
He still didn’t look sure. “Alright,” he said. “Well, we’ll still need to get that handle replaced and probably some other work done up here, I’m sure, but let’s start with getting everything else moved in. The movers should be here the day after tomorrow with the rest of our things.”
That night, after they’d unpacked plates and cups and cleaned the kitchen, Casey stood at the front window, looking out at the sight of nothing but fields as it darkened. She knew her mother had come in.
“You’ve been quiet,” her mother said.
“We’ve been busy,” she said.
“Sweetie, I know this is a big adjustment for you, but it’s a good one,” her mother said.
Casey turned her head away from the window at last, to look at her mother. “Why did you decide to move out here?”
“You know we’ve always wanted a house. It’s just too expensive in the suburbs.”
“There’s nothing but grass,” she said.
Her mother opened her mouth to say something, but her eyes flicked passed Casey to something at the window. Casey tilted her head.
There was no response, and Casey turned at last. She saw nothing, but she noticed how the grass had shifted slightly in one area, as if something had been peeking out of it.
“You know, you’re right,” her mom said. “There is a lot of grass. It’s getting late though, let’s…let’s get ready for bed.”
Whatever else might be said or unsaid, Casey decided as she followed her mom towards the back bedroom where they would all be sleeping on the air mattresses tonight, she knew the truth. The grass was out here. It was long and easy to get lost in.
Or perhaps, it was easy to hide in.
By A.J. Helms
Cover image via pixabay.com