The House on Cooper Lane

Chapter One: The House

Bud pulled off the road in front of a large sign that read, “Welcome to Madison LA.”

He wanted to browse through his selection of cassette tapes, as the one in the player had become wearisome many miles back. A fresh set of songs was called for, now that they’d finally reached their destination. The stop also seemed an ideal place to park and let Badger out for a bathroom break.

The 1973 Pontiac Grand Am rumbled as it idled beside the road.

“All right, boy, you ready for a little break?”

The large Doberman pinscher sat perched in the passenger seat and turned to look at his master in an almost humanlike motion. His canine friend appeared to be saying without words, “What do you think? Of course, I am.”

While Badger took care of his business beside the road, Bud changed the tape. He then stretched his legs and let Badger back in; “Well, did everything go okay?”

His friend let out something of a whiny bark in frustration at his master’s personal query.

“All right, let’s find out what this here town has to offer in the housing department.”

With the volume turned up and the windows down, the two rolled into Madisonwith rock and roll blaring and the warm summer air of 1984 blowing in their hair.

At nineteen years old, Bud Fisher had already been independent for several years. The recent job opportunity he’d received signaled a new prospect for the young man. He would need to travel with this company, but he didn’t consider that a problem. He liked this aspect of the job. The higher pay would balance the traveling expenses as well as greatly increase his abilities in the department of self-sufficiency. His first task, however, would be to find a place to stay with his limited funds; keeping in mind he would need to work several weeks before getting his first paycheck, Bud knew he must be thrifty with his money for a while.

“Okay, at least we know where the paper mill is.” As they drove down the road, Bud glanced over at a facility with smoke rising from its two large stacks. “That’s where I’ll need to be first thing Monday morning, so we’ve got to find a place to rent this weekend.”

Badger looked over at his master as if he liked hearing the words, regardless of what Bud was saying. The two then stopped at a convenience store and picked up a newspaper to check for rentals.

The construction company he’d recently hired on with would be working at the paper mill for the next three to four months, so they only needed to find temporary living arrangements. The rest of the day consisted of stopping by houses with rooms to rent within Bud’s price range. Of the few that hadn’t already been rented, there were none that the owners were willing to rent out on a temporary basis. With the daylight growing dimmer, his hopes for finding a place to stay began to fade.

As the fruitless day transitioned into evening, Bud drove out of town and found a dirt road. He parked on the side of the desolate stretch of gravel and crawled into the back seat to try to catch some sleep. Badger squirmed around the front bucket seat in a restless effort to get comfortable.

Just as slumber began to ease the young man’s mind and body, Badger passed loud and smelly gas.

“Oh man, ewwww... Badger, what did you do?”

He quickly jumped out of the car, trying to get a breath of fresher air.

“What have you been eating? Never mind. I know.”

He waited until the air inside the vehicle cleared and crawled back in to try again for some sleep. With the windows down, the mosquitoes were a constant nuisance. With the windows up, the heat became unbearable. As dawn slipped over the horizon, the two were exhausted from struggling all night for a little rest.

“Well, what do you say we go try again, buddy?”

Bud stretched his sore body. He felt as if he’d flopped around in a clothes dryer all night. Badger bailed out of the car behind his master. Shaking to rid his body of the turbulent night, the dog trotted up the dirt road a ways and began sniffing the side in search of a good bathroom spot. Bud decided his dog had a good idea and walked to the back of the car to answer a nature call as well.

Once again, the two rolled into town. Saturday morning, Bud thought. This time there was no music playing. He watched sternly as they moved up and down the streets, hoping for any sign of a room or small house to rent. Having exhausted all the possible rentals from the paper, he began to grow more concerned as the day wore on.

As his hopes dwindled, Bud considered renting a room at a motel, but this would take a significant portion of the money he had saved for rent.

“I don’t know, boy, this seems to be the making of another night on the old dirt road.”

Bud glanced at Badger, who had his tongue hanging out and was watching the scenery go by. The dog still managed to respond with a carefree whine.

The houses became larger as they moved through an older, upscale part of town.

“This must be the old ‘well-to-do’ neighborhood.” Bud rested his left arm on the door as they slowly moved down the street. The houses stood two stories high in an old but impressive picturesque display. A sense of stepping into a grand past came over Bud as the historic old mansions rolled into view.

“I don’t think there’s anything for us around here.” He again looked over at Badger and then at a grand old house creeping by on the right side of the road. They moved beside the house, and as they almost passed it, Bud caught a glimpse of something. He immediately stepped on the brakes causing the tires to squeal in protest.

“Wait a minute. Wait,” Bud shifted the Pontiac in reverse and backed up to get a closer view.

A rectangular sign stood erect in the front yard, and Bud read “Cooper Lane Apar—” The rest of the sign remained obscured by a bush with long stringing branches. He pulled into the drive to investigate further. As he opened the door and stepped out, Badger jumped into the driver’s seat and then out the door behind his master.

He ran into the overgrown lawn, which appeared not to have been mown for some time. Moving up to the sign, Bud pulled the bush back to reveal the word “Apartments.”

“Hey Badger, don’t do that. We don’t live here yet.” He cringed a little, realizing Badger had already delivered a large amount of “doggie do” on the lawn. The dog happily scampered back up to Bud as if he’d done something great.

“Oh boy, you may have just messed up our chances of getting a room here, you knucklehead.” His canine friend paid no attention to this and ran around him several times in a display of apparent relief.

Walking up the steps to the large porch, Bud noticed several plant pots with dry dirt in them. Leaves and other small debris lay scattered across the weathered walkway and appeared as if no one had set foot on it for quite some time.

A large ornate door stood on the left side, and on the right end, a smaller one that resembled a newer style and of having been added onto the house at some later date. He moved to the large door and tapped the bronze knocker several times. Badger trotted up the steps and stood behind him, staring at the entryway expectantly.

After a reasonable amount of time had passed without an answer, Bud used his hand to knock again. When this produced no response, he moved down to the smaller door at the other end of the porch; his knuckles were just about to knock on the wood when he noticed a padlock about midway down. His hand retracted, and he gazed back at the larger door in a vain hope that someone may have answered. Then, he moved back down the steps of the large porch. They began walking around the right side of the vintage house.

The young man now examined the massive structure as they moved toward the back. He couldn’t help but admire the lavish features that adorned the windows and trim.

The grass they moved through stood almost knee-high. As he came around the house, he found a stairway built onto the backside that allowed access to the second floor. A long walkway built along the length of the second story and doorways on both ends of the house could also be seen.

Farther behind the house, a storage building stood at the corner of the yard. A tall hedge ran along the edges of the property, concealing the houses and yards adjacent to that side of the old house.

He realized as he made his way up the stairs that this had been quite the mansion at one time but had obviously been renovated and turned into apartments at some point during its later years. The house reminded him of structures he’d seen that were built around the turn of the century. The newer alterations weren’t very becoming, but the mansion still held onto an air of dignity nonetheless.

Badger reluctantly followed his master up the stairs with his toenails scratching and searching for a grip on the wooden steps. Once they reached the walkway at the top, Badger raced from one end to the other in a display of victory over the stairs.

Bud examined the nearest door, and a padlock secured it just like the one on the front.

Moving down to the other door, he again became disappointed by the presence of an identical padlock. He peered out over the rail of the walkway. In the yard next door, he saw an elderly lady; she knelt over to prune some flowers in a well-kept bed that ran diagonally from her house.

He quickly trotted back down the stairs with his dog stumbling somewhat all the way down behind him.

“Come on, buddy. You’d better stay in the car. We don’t want to give an old lady a fright.” Bud walked back to the car and opened the door, gesturing for Badger to get in; reluctantly, he jumped in. Bud quickly closed the door behind him.

As Bud strolled over toward the house next door, he noticed the lady making her way up her front steps.

“Excuse me, madam.” Bud hurried to catch her before she went inside. “Excuse me,” He raised his voice a bit more this time.

Turning slightly, the lady seemed to hear Bud. Now moving quicker than before, she went to her front door, opened it and stepped inside, shutting it quickly behind her. As Bud made his way up the front steps, he could hear the lock clicking. He stopped midway before reaching the porch.

“Well, I must have frightened her even without Badger,” he said softly to himself.

He considered knocking on the door but decided the elderly woman likely didn’t want to be disturbed. He turned and gazed across the street from where the apartments stood. There, he saw another large two-story house with a well-kept yard. He jogged across the road to this house.

Badger barked in protest as he passed by the car.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Hold on just a minute.”

He moved quickly up the steps of the porch. There, he found a large screen door painted red, behind which stood a heavy door with a pane of stained glass. The door had the appearance of being quite old. Of the little knowledge he’d gained from his father about these sorts of things, he thought the door may have been produced in the 1930s or 1940s.

He carefully opened the screen door and knocked several times. Soon, footsteps could be heard on the other side of the large door. He then saw movement behind the stained glass. The door opened, and an elderly woman appeared.

“Hello?”

“Hi, I’m sorry to bother you. My name is Bud Fisher, and I’m interested in renting one of the apartments next door. Do you happen to know who owns them?”

The lady examined Bud as if a bit puzzled.

“You want to rent one of the apartments next door?”

“Yes. Please, do you know who owns them?” Bud turned slightly and pointed at the house across the street as he said this.

“Well, no one has lived there for a long time,” she replied as she pulled her sweater closed one side at a time. “But I believe the apartments are owned by John Beldon. He owns a number of properties around town, as well as the pharmacy on Main   Street.”

“Do you know where I could find him?” Bud was desperate to find an alternative sleeping arrangement after his night on the dirt road.

“I believe he might be at the pharmacy. I think it’s open today; it’s the only pharmacy on Main Street.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much. I’ll go see if I can catch him before closing time.” Bud raced down the steps.

“Well, yes, you’re welcome,” the lady replied as he trotted across the street to his car.

He located the pharmacy on Main Street with little difficulty. When he saw that the lights on the inside were still on, he almost shouted with joy. Walking to the front door, his main concern became whether the owner of the apartments would be there.

“I’m looking for a John Beldon,” he told a cashier with urgency.

“John is the guy with the beard behind the counter,” the young woman said, pointing toward the back of the store.

Bud moved briskly to the counter where a heavyset guy with a beard stood working. He wore a white lab coat and appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties.

“Hello, Mr. Beldon?”

“Yes,” the man said, turning to Bud. “Can I help you?”

“My name is Bud Fisher, Mr. Beldon. I work with the Cajon Construction Company. We’re replacing the insulation on the reciprocators at the paper mill. I’m looking for a rental house or apartment for about four months, maybe three depending on how quickly we finish the job. I saw the apartments on Cooper Lane and heard you would be the one to talk to about renting one of them.”

The large man stopped working, and his face went blank. Bud initially thought the elderly woman must have been confused about who owned the apartments. Mr. Beldon began working again.

“Nobody has lived in those apartments for quite some time,” he replied, never turning from his work. “I don’t know that they would be in any condition to rent.”

Bud knew he must work something out, or he would be spending another night in his car.

“Well, I’m not real particular, Mr. Beldon; I just need a roof over my head and the basic necessities. I have cash for rent as well as a little for a deposit right now. I also noticed the yard needed mowing, sir. I would be happy to keep it mowed while I’m there, that is, if you have a mower I could borrow.”

When he mentioned mowing the grass, Mr. Beldon stopped working again and glanced up at the potential renter. His demeanor seemed to change.

After what appeared to be some careful thought on his part, John Beldon returned to his work.

“The rooms are furnished, but as I said, no one has lived there for some time, so they likely need a good cleaning. If you keep the yard mowed, I’ll only charge you a hundred and seventy-five dollars a month. You can give me fifty for a deposit now and another fifty within the first month.”

The young man felt as if a weight had been removed from his shoulders as he heard this.

“Oh, that’s great, Mr. Beldon. I really appreciate it.”

Mr. Beldon continued, “There’s a mower in the storage shed out back. You can use it, but it’ll need gas.”

After paying his new landlord, Bud got the key to the bottom apartment with the big door. John told him this one appeared to be the best of the four.

Bud stopped by a department store and bought some candles and a flashlight before returning to the apartments. He also had a small AM/FM radio, so he bought some batteries for it. He then stopped at a gas station and filled a few jugs and soda bottles with water. The two then quickly headed back to the apartment to get settled in before dark.

Back at the house, Bud opened the large door, and the long unmoved hinges screeched out of unfamiliarity. He stepped inside, and the pungent smell of a long uninhabited dwelling greeted him.

The evening light shining in through the entrance revealed a spacious living room with a fireplace that had been closed in at some time. A gas heater was instead placed in the area where the log fires had once blazed.

As he slowly continued in, he found a large couch sitting to his right in front of the windows that faced the porch. From the style of the couch, he thought it to be twenty-five or thirty years old. Certainly, it was older than he was. However, it appeared to be in fair shape and didn’t have any rips.

In front of him, dividing the living room and bedroom area, stood two large doors with plate glass windows.

Badger remained in the doorway, seeming to wait for his master to give the “all clear” to enter.

“Come on, buddy,” he gestured for the dog to enter.

The young man sensed the grandeur of the house as he gazed up to the high ceilings. He walked up to the double doors and opened them both at the same time. A slight breeze flowed past him, and Badger stepped back as if he’d been sprayed with water or had a small rock thrown at him. Chuckling a little, Bud asked, “What’s wrong with you, buddy?”

He then moved through the doors and into a bedroom area. There sat a queen-sized bed on his left with a small stand beside it and a lamp on the stand. A single window across from the bed stood open about ten inches or so.

“Well, there’s where our breeze is coming from. At least it doesn’t smell so stuffy in this room.”

The two proceeded to the bedroom area and into the kitchen. To the immediate left, a little hallway led to the bathroom. A large porcelain-covered bathtub with the old ornate legs sat beside a toilet and small sink.

Back in the kitchen, they saw obviously newer cabinets and renovations, reminiscent of when the house was being turned into apartments. Although a little unsightly, the modifications were done well and didn’t ruin the original decor of the old structure.

From the kitchen, a back door opened to a small porch on the side of the house. Walking down the porch and around the back, Bud and Badger found themselves underneath the walkway that gave access to the second-story apartments.

As they stood examining the backyard, Bud spoke with a bit of reservation, “I suppose we’re going to be camping out with no electricity for a couple nights, boy.” He peered down at his friend as if expecting a comment on the matter.

By the time he’d unloaded the car, darkness had set in. He lit some candles, and the light danced off the high ceilings. Bud used some of the water from the jugs to clean up as much as possible. He sat down on the couch and finally relaxed for a few moments. It had been a rough couple of days, but he considered them to be successful, as they now had a place to live.

Monday, he would get the utilities turned on, and then the apartment would be great. He examined the spacious room in the candlelight. This would be comfortable, he thought. The humid night air made everything seem warm and damp. He opened the two large windows behind the couch. As the candlelight burned down and grew weaker, the two became sleepy.

Finally, he got up and headed to the bedroom, blowing out each candle until he extinguished the last one that sat on the headboard of the bed. Badger jumped onto the foot of the bed and lay down. A breeze floated across both from the open windows as they drifted off to sleep.

Sometime later, Badger’s sudden movement and low growl brought Bud out of his slumber. The darkness enveloped them both, and he couldn’t see much. Initially, he had no idea where he was. Then, as Badger continued to growl with attention toward the window, Bud began to recall moving into the apartment earlier. He strained to see anything familiar through the faint gleam of a distant street light.

He could hear something moving around outside. Badger hadn’t moved from his spot at the foot of the bed, but his head remained raised in an alert position as he continued to growl. The dog had been trained not to bark unless necessary.

Bud’s mind began to race as his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. Where did he put the flashlight he’d bought? Did he lock the front door? What could he use as a weapon if he needed to fight?

He quietly slid out of bed and began searching through the small pile of baggage on the bedroom floor. As he did this, Badger hopped off the bed and moved into the living room area, continuing to growl.

Terrified now, Bud crawled around frantically searching for the sack with the flashlight and batteries but had forgotten where he’d put them. He then heard movement on the front porch. One of the old flower pots with dry dirt was knocked over with the distinct sound of clay hitting the porch. Badger’s growl became more insistent. He backed up toward his master in apparent apprehension to the unknown nature of the threat outside.

Bud groped around more urgently for anything to use as a weapon. Opening a closet and feeling around on the floor, his hand came across something long just as he could hear the knob on the front door turning. Fear clutched him as he struggled to grasp the object and get up and into a defensive position. Badger’s growl became nervous but remained aggressive, as he also sensed the immediate danger.

He lifted what felt to be part of a broom handle from the closet floor, and then stood up as the front door began to open.

Charging toward the entrance, with the broom handle in his right hand, Bud let out a loud yell, or something between a yell and a growl, which came out as, “AARRRRGGGGHHHH.”

Badger picked up on his master’s intention of an offensive maneuver and began to bark loudly as he joined in the charge beside Bud.

With the sudden attack from Bud and Badger, the intruder was caught by surprise and fell back, kicking the fallen clay pot across the porch while tumbling down the steps to the ground. As Bud and Badger arrived at the open door, a dark figure scampered across the overgrown grass and crashed through the tall hedge, escaping out to the other side.

Closing the door and locking it, he then sat down on the couch, his heart still pounding fiercely. After a few minutes, Bud got up and lit a candle. In a weary state, he’d completely forgotten to lock the front door before going to bed. He must be more diligent from now on, he thought to himself.

After locating the flashlight and installing the batteries, Bud placed it on the headboard and stood the piece of broomstick beside the bed.

“Quite an eventful first night, my friend,” he said, looking down at his dog. Slowly, he calmed down enough to fade back to sleep, though not as deeply as earlier.

The next morning, Bud investigated the storage building behind the house. As John had mentioned, inside the shed, he found a push mower and other various yard care tools.

Finding a saw, he put it to use cutting a straight limb from a tree in the back corner of the yard, then fashioned this into a club about the size of a baseball bat.

Bud located a small gas can in the shed. After getting it filled and spending a fair amount of sweat and energy getting the mower started, he mowed the yard little by little, as the grass had become too tall to mow in a normal fashion. Finally, he put the mower up and admired his work. Badger ran about as if possessed by the smell of fresh-cut grass.

After finishing his yard work, Bud went inside and poured the sink in the bathroom full of water, then examined himself in the mirror.

Though only nineteen, he felt that he looked about twenty-one, at least. He also felt older since he had been on his own for a while.

Bud briefly thought of his broken home. He wondered if leaving his parents at such a young age was the right decision. Troubling events such as he’d faced the last several days often caused the young man to question himself.

As usual, though, these wavering feelings inside him only brought anguish. He quickly concluded that he would rather leave than choose between his father and mother. He gazed into the worn ceramic sink and tried to stop thinking about it.

Using a cup, he washed his hair in the old basin and cleaned himself up the best he could. Regardless of the frightening experience of the first night, Bud felt pretty good about his new home.