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I'm a 27 year old specialized RN, making 37/hr (150k/year pre-tax combined) living in GTA of Ontario, Canada
27 years old, make 37/hr (150k/year pre-tax combined with fiancé), live in GTA and work as a specialized RN
\ We decided while we were house searching to share all finances as we are very similar and my parents have always done this and rarely have ever fought about money. We have separate small personal savings which is typically used for personal non-essentials or gifts**
Location: Greater Toronto Area (East), Ontario, Canada
Occupation: Specialized Registered Nurse
Marital Status: Engaged, Wedding May 2020
ASSETS & DEBT
Retirement Balance: 18k through work pension, 20k for fiancé (B) work pension. We also both have RRSP at 750 each which we recently started.
Equity if you’re a homeowner: 75k
Joint Savings Balance: 7k in emergency fund and 5k in other joint savings/currently wedding fund
Personal Savings: 600 (only use this for gifts or personal things, currently saving for S/O weddings band – not sure how much he has in his. Once that is bought, I plan to squirrel away money to ‘pay myself’ when we go on our honeymoon)
Joint Chequing: 5k
Personal Tax Free Savings Account (invested): 3k (each)
Student Loans: N/A à I worked full time during University to pay for school and he was able to pay his off before we combined finances
Credit Card debt: N/A paid full each month – we do have about 4 cards between us that we put everything on in order to get the benefits from them such as travel points
Main Job Take Home: 4200 per month (I am not full time/permanent so I take home more than I would to make up for lack of vacation/benefits--full time contract indefinately)
S/O Take Home: 3800 per month
Side Gigs: 100-500 per month – we both serve when asked by close friend’s company and S/O also referees soccer a couple times a week as he works shift work and has lots of off time
Mortgage/Property Tax: 2736 (paying max)
Retirement Contribution: 100 each
Savings Contribution: 400 each into Tax Free + unregulated amount into savings when we feel comfortable to do so (about 1000-1800 every month or two depending on expenses)
Car Payment: 500/month for mine, S/O paid off – recently upgraded to large SUV anticipating a growth in our family over the next 5 years or so. We also have 2 large (90+ pound dogs who were sick of 2 Honda Civics!)
Auto/Life/Home insurance: 235
Donations: 50-100 monthly as it comes by
Cell phone: 120 for both
Netflix/Disney: use parents account
Health insurance: n/a, Canada, S/O work covers most
Since we track everything on a mega excel sheet, I am adding what we BOTH spend in a week as it is easily trackable and more realistic
Day 1 - Wednesday
5:30am: My fiancé, B, works shift work and only sometimes works days but when he does; this is his wake up time. Snuggle in bed with dogs before peeling myself up, change into black slacks and a beige turtleneck. Brush my teeth, splash my face with water and decide it is a no makeup day so just add a touch of moisturizer. Mosey downstairs to make tea for B to take to work while he walks the dogs.
5:50am: B helps me get the dogs into our new SUV. It pretty high for the dogs and they are not used to being in the trunk and so, it is such an ordeal. The golden retriever, F, immediately hops the back seats and sits in the back seat with a dopey grin while our Bernese Mountain Dog, A, tries to figure out how she can clear it without getting stuck. Kiss B goodbye while he heads to work and I head to my parent’s house. They live 15 minutes away, right beside my workplace, so on the odd day where B works days, my parents LOVE having the dogs over. They recently lost our family dog so constantly bug me to bring them over
6:00: Arrive at my parents and put a pot of coffee on. F and A sprint into the kitchen, knowing my mom left a couple treats there for them. I make myself and my dad each a cinnamon raisin bagel and pour coffee while he works his way downstairs. We talk over coffee for an hour before I head off to work. My mom leaves for work at 4:30am, so I won’t see her until later
7:30: Make it to work, put my head down and catch up on emails/incidents
Noon: Eat my desk lunch of a slice of multigrain bread with egg salad on top with a pear La Croix followed by a cherry yogurt
3:30pm: Freedom. Call my mom to see if she needs anything and head to their house.
4:00pm: Get bombarded with puppy love from A and F, take them on a quick walk and have a cup of tea with my mom. B is heading to a Nike sale after work so won’t be here until 7:30pm.
5:30pm: Feed dogs and head to the gym with my sister who lives at my parents with her boyfriend. She is 6 years younger than me but we are finally started to get along. Yay maturity! We do a shoulder circuit and head back.
7:00pm: Mom made Irish stew (where her and my dad are from, both with very strong accents), so we gobble that up. B gets there shortly and also eats. We watch survivor and head home to shower
9:30pm: Cuddle with B, A and F in bed, watch some bad YouTube and light out by 10pm
$0 for me; $48 – B got gas
Day 2 – Thursday
5:30am: Same wake up call. This time B walks dogs and drops that at my parents. I make his tea for him and make sure he has enough work snacks. Kiss goodbye and I head to the gym – lugging more than enough bags with me
6:00am: Meet my sister for a leg workout followed by quick abs. Ab workouts destroy me so I know I will be hurting tomorrow. Body shower at gym and then blow dry the sweat out of my hair followed by dry shampoo and tie it up in a high pony. Toss on some beige plaid pants and a black turtleneck, again. B states he doesn’t see my neck from October to February every year because I just love my turtlenecks! Add a touch of BB cream and mascara before I head out
7:00am: Stop at Starbucks for an egg white, spinach, feta wrap and black Americano ($9)
7:30am: At work, working and trying to clear as many people as possible before Friday. A part of my job is having to ensure people meet certain criteria to work within the hospitals
Noon: Lunch time! Leftovers of a cup of spaghetti with shrimp, chorizo, sundried tomatoes, spinach in a garlicky sauce. I devour this.
3:30pm: Pick up the dogs, thank my mom and head home. Stop to top up on gas as it is pretty low ($25)
4:30pm: Vacuum around the house and throw on a bad Netflix original Christmas movie. Feed fur babies and ‘wrestle’ with them – they always win. I don’t often like taking them on walks alone because they know I’m not as strong as B so will attempt to over power me to go exactly where they want to – the forest.
6:00pm: Start making dinner. Greens with onion, corn, avocado and lime dressing with blacked tilapia and a piece of garlic bread. What is a meal without carbs? Not a meal I want to eat, truly.
7:00pm: Enjoy dinner with B while watching an episode of Bobs Burgers.
9:00pm: Catch myself drifting to sleep so I head upstairs to take off my makeup, clean with Fresh Soy Cleanser, Origins Toner and Fresh rose moisturizer. Brush my teeth and water floss. My teeth are so close together as I have all the wisdom in the world with 4 extra teeth, so this has been a lifesaver for that and the wire from post-braces.
9:30pm: Sexy time and cuddle with B before snoozing
$34 – me; $0 – B
Day 3 – Friday
6:30am: Extra hour sleep is always perfect. Roll out of bed as to not wake B because he is evening shift tonight. Throw on jeans (FRIDAY) and a grey knit sweater. B is awake when I come out of the bathroom and kills me with kisses. He gets up to feed dogs and move cars around.
7:30am: At work making myself a coffee and tossing a bagel into the toaster. A co-worker brought them yesterday so I have been looking forward to this! A little cream cheese and tomato and eat that while browsing black Friday deals. Decide to grab a couple gifts for B, including a new phone case and SAXX boxers which he has been talking about for months. ($98)
9:30am: My mom is texting me as it’s her birthday today and wants me to go out for dinner with them tonight. I have been overstimulated all week with people so really wanted a night alone. She guilt-trips me into coming over with B for ‘dads curry’ and cards which really means we will all drink too many gins and laugh until it’s far too late. I promise I don’t usually see my family this much in a week but ‘tis the season I guess!
Noon: My co-worker sticks her head in my office asking what I brought for lunch. I explained that that bagel was the plan but was now long gone. I should just eat my banana and wait until dinner but I take the walk to the café with her. The fries are making me drool so I grab fries and a salad with coleslaw plus a sparkling water ($10)
1:00pm: Terrible idea. My stomach is so full and greasy feeling; I have no desire to continue working for the day.
3:30pm: DONE! Yes, the weekend! Head to the gym to meet my sister for some back and bicep work before heading to my parents. B texts me saying he is packing me an overnight bag to stay at my parents tonight with the dogs so he can sleep for a few hours uninterrupted when he gets home at 6am tomorrow morning. He is also bringing my moms birthday gift and the dogs with their food
4:30pm: Get to my parents and kiss B hello who is already there. We give my mom her gifts and she is over the moon. My parents are the only family in Canada, they got married when they were 19 and flew to Canada that same year for a better life. If anyone knows Ireland history, my mom is Catholic and my dad is Protestant so growing up in Northern Ireland was a struggle and them getting married was very looked down upon. We are all we have here and my mom lost both her parents earlier this year so I think this all means a lot to her right now
6:00pm: B leaves for work after ‘dads curry’ and my family and I continue the evening playing some cards, pool, darts and having a good time
9:30pm: I am pooped from social interaction so head to the spare bedroom to play some games on the computer and cuddle with A and F who have had WAY too many treats from my mom. Lights out by 11:30pm
$108 – me ; $4 – B got a tea on the way to work
Day 4 – Saturday
7:30am: A and F are crying like crazy outside of my parent’s bedroom. Before B and I bought a house, A lived here with me for 3 years. Every morning my mom would wake up at 4 to go to work, give A a treat, feed her breakfast and play with her. Even now, 2 years later, she expects the same. I hop out of bed at the same time my mom walks out of her room over the moon with all the doggo attention she is getting
8:15am: after a cup of coffee, my sister and I head to the gym for some cardio.
9:30am: Take the dogs out for a walk. I am dying to get home and put on a load of laundry and shower but I know as soon as we walk in the door dogs will be all over B so I am trying to keep it off for as long as possible
10:30am: Head home. Dogs sprint into our bedroom jumping all over B. I kiss B good morning and grab his laundry and mine to put in after scooting the dogs out of the room but B is up anyways. I turn the kettle on for him as I start laundry. B drinks his tea and heads to the gym while I take this time to watch Greys from last week
Noon: B is home and decides to clean the bathrooms before we shower. Water conservation y’all. Que some adult time.
2pm: B and I decide to go to walk dogs and pick up some groceries today. We usually would on Sunday but we have a busy day tomorrow with family. We grab some La Croix on sale, tomatoes, chickpeas, peppers, canned tomatoes, eggs, yogurt, bread, potatoes, tortillas, avocados ($22)
2:30pm: watch a movie and snuggle with B. It’s his last shift tonight before 4 days off so we can finally spend some more time together and have a date night on Monday or Tuesday!
4:30pm: Made dinner of tofu pad thai. Tofu hack: if you freeze the tofu first, let it thaw and squeeze the heck out of it to get rid of water, it has a spongey-like texture and will break apart pretty weird. Pop it into the oven at 400 and it is SO crispy delicious.
5:30pm: walk A and F once more around the block with B, hand in hand discussing the upcoming holidays. With B’s shift work, he will be working Christmas Eve and New Years day evening this year but that leaves us with Christmas day and New Years Eve! Yay! My dad and mom both work in hospitality in resorts/hotels so growing up, we always had strange holiday schedules. My brother now also works as a kitchen manager and my sister and I still serve here and there so we are used to it. B’s family however is a family of teachers so they get pretty upset when he has to work on days they have tradition which can be a bit hard on B.
6:00pm: B leaves for work and I head out to catch a drink and a movie with by best friend/maid of honour, S. Her and her bf of 8 years bought a house 5 minutes from us which makes our friendship even easier.
6:30pm: We grab a glass of wine and discuss the bachelorette plan for February and I pester about when they are finally going to get married, as she really wants to, then we head to see a movie. I pay ($42)
10:30pm: Movie done, I drop S home and head home to A and F who have gotten into the garbage again! F is so food motivated to he scrounges through the garbage while A is on look out and they share the findings. I put them on ‘time out’ while their tails wag like crazy, no regrets I’m sure.
11:00pm: Scroll through my phone in bed and fall asleep with F in bed as A sleeps by the front door waiting for B to get home
Day 5 – Sunday
06:30am: Wake up to B crawling in bed, small smooch and I’m back asleep
08:00am: Up and downstairs to feed the dogs. Tossed on a pair of black leggings and an aggressively yellow, large sweater. I boil the kettle and throw on my parka, hat, gloves and blundstones to walk to dogs. It is FREEZING up here!
9:00am: Have a cup of coffee and curl up on the couch with dogs – remember that we are meeting B’s parents for breakfast so tip-toe my way into our bedroom to change and put some makeup on. Garnier BB cream, benefit brows and some L’Oreal carbon black mascara while straightening my hair
9:45am: B is up and showering. I grab the dog’s food for tonight and tomorrow morning, a bottle of wine, frozen apps that we picked up last week and leftover cookies. Toss my gym bag together for 2 days, just in case I make it. It’s the first Sunday of December and since we can’t have regular holidays with my family, we make up other weird ones. This is pure coincidence that all my family things are in one weekend. Can you tell I am getting a little overwhelmed yet? Once you live alone, you develop a threshold for how much ‘family time’ you can handle. As much as my parents are my favourite people, this is hitting an all time high!
10:30am: Assemble the squad into the big car and blast the heat so A and F can have their heads out the windows the whole time. Once at B’s parents, we drop off dogs and head out to breakfast.
11:00am: Small diner in the area with super cheap breakfast! Order a black coffee and some poached eggs with toast to smother with marmalade and beans to smother with HP – shout out to my British friends who cover everything in marmalade and/or HP. We pay ($60)
Noon: Head back to B’s parents to walk A and F and their pup. F somehow managed to jump on the counter an eat an entire loaf of bread and 8 tortillas… A comes running up to us whining and wagging her tail (her way of ‘telling on F’ and letting us know she had no part) F is 4 years old and we can’t seem to break this dumpster diving/food scrounging habit even though we walk them 3+ times a day and they get fed enough. We make some tea and play a 7 Wonders which I NEVER win because I can’t decide on a strategy.
3:00pm: Head to my parent’s house with A and F for our annual Christmas tree decorating, Baileys making, gin drinking, and salad bowl playing tradition. Forgot that we brought some frozen apps that have been thawing in the car for the last few hours... good thing we live in Canada where they aren’t cooked at this point
3:15pm: My sister and I slip out to do some quick cardio at the gym
4:15pm: Toss a bunch of apps in the oven while the boys, B and my sister’s bf and my brother drag the Christmas stuff up from the basement. My dad has decided to retire from doing that since B and I got engaged.
4:30pm: Let the Bailey’s making begin. We try to do this before to many drinks as it involves egg tossing. One cannot make and enjoy bailey’s without tossing the eggs across the kitchen.
5:00pm: Throw up the tree and delegate putting the beads on the tree to B and my brother, as they are the most OCD out of everyone. We also tell my dad to go away for 10 minutes, as be loves to comment on the spacing of the beads and it will eventually drive everyone crazy. We follow this by eating apps around the kitchen island with some wine. My brother walks away for a minute to stretch. He is 3 years younger than I am but has undiagnosed chronic pain that is worse some days than others. Sometimes he can hardly chop a carrot at work while other times he is helping with the tree. It has been 2 years now so we are hoping it will finally have a diagnosis soon. It’s really hard to see him like that
6:00pm: Tree decorating has commenced followed by a game of salad bowl – it’s like charades on crack. We then head downstairs to play pool, eat Irish quality street chocolates (my mom grabbed it last time she was back last month – british chocolate is FAR superior to ours) and fight about what songs to play when at our wedding next year
9:30pm: Head to the spare room with B and the dogs, slightly tipsy. Pop an advil and chug water so I don’t suffer at work tomorrow morning and internally weep that B and the dogs will be off together all day.
Day 6 – Monday
Midnight: Hear F running up and downstairs whining so I go see what’s up. He clearly has to go outside – boy ate so much
2:00am: F is tapping downstairs again and I wonder why I am such a light sleeper as B is out cold beside me. I let him out and he is so sulky but I mean, he did eat 600 carbs today. Try to fall back to sleep but look at some Cyber Monday sales
3:00am: F is tapping again but this time I wake up B who jumps up immediately and goes to see F
5:45am: Wake up to go to the gym but realize is snowed WAY too much last night and decide it is not worth it so I get up to make a coffee. B also wakes up around 6:30am and goes to clean our car off as well as my brothers and dads in the driveway – angel.
7:00am: Head to work a bit earlier than usual to make sure I have enough time in this deep snow so I make a coffee and browse reddit
Noon: I grabbed a Mr. Noodles cup from our snack area at work and some carrots for lunch
3:15pm: Head out early because I cannot wait to just be in my own home
4:00pm: Welcomed by A and F who apparently had a lovely day hiking in the snow with B. B has vacuumed and started dinner so tells me to go get on some comfy pants and pop on a movie
5:30pm: We put on the new Netflix movie and eat crispy potato tacos on corn tortillas with homemade pickled jalapenos and onions. B puts on the kettle and rubs my feet while we watch. This is what heaven is like, I’m sure. It makes me laugh thinking about our relationship and how crazy great he is. We went to the same high school eons ago but he was ‘super cool’ on the football team and I was with my group of friends playing cards every day, studying like a maniac and doing way too many afterschool sports to be cool too. We knew of each other but I was quite the nerd and he was, well, not. The group of girls he hung around with, unbeknownst to him, bullied me like crazy (prank calling, shoving, and name calling). We actually connected on Bumble 3 years ago, after going to separate universities, made a date the same day we matched and the rest is history! My lil hometown hunni.
7:30pm: Movie is over and dogs are a bit restless, so we take them for a quick walk and to pee as it is snowing and looking magical outside. When we get back, we bring the laptop to bed, throw on a Disney movie while we chat and cuddle until we are both asleep by 10
$0; $54 – B on gifts
Day 7 – Tuesday
6:00am: Alarm goes off and I invite A and F into bed for a few snuggles. B was already laying awake on his phone
6:15am: I slump out of bed and into the shower which B joins me for. Brush my teeth, simple makeup and brush through my hair. I toss on a pair of black slacks, black sleeveless shirt and a long gray cardigan. BB cream, mascara and brows – toss my hair up again. B is downstairs making me a tea to take to work while I grab leftovers last night to make a potato taco salad?
7:30am: At work. One of the nurses is off suddenly so the workload right now is a bit ridiculous this week
1:00pm: Lost track of time so I eat my potato taco salad while finishing up some forms
3:30pm: DONE! Feeling a bit hyper with working so aggressively all day and probably not drinking any water now that I think of it.
4:00pm: Get home to get changed for the gym. B has made cold peanut rice noodle slaw that I taste and almost don’t want to go to the gym because I want dinner right this second. B grabs his bag, rips the noodles out of my hands and scoots me out the door with him. We discuss what movie we should go see tonight and I buy it on the app which we have a credit for. Yay for free movies. Get to the gym for some weights and a bit of cardio as I hardly moved all day at work
5:15pm: Get home, walk doggos and feed them, have some of the noodles for dinner.
6:00pm: Head upstairs to take change into comfy leggings and a warm sweater for the movie
6:30pm: At the movies and decide we are going to splurge and get popcorn ($9) and find our seats. Previews are our favourite part of any movie and we decide which ones we will have to see in theatres and which ones look ridiculous.
9:15pm: Movies all done and it was actually so good! We chat on the drive home about the movie. We pass a newer brewery that opened up recently and B asks if we want to stop for a drink. Absolutely! We head in and B orders a stout and I order a sour even though sour season is probably nearly finished at this point ($14). We sit for an hour discussing honeymoon plans and guest lists for the wedding before heading home
10:45pm: Remove my makeup and snuggle in bed with the dogs before I am out before my head even hits the pillow.
$23 - me; $18 – B printed off a few engagement photos
Food & Drink: 170
This is a pretty typical week for us, even with buying Christmas gifts. Between paying my college dues, birthdays, courses, etc. we typically end up paying 100-150 a week on one thing or another. Often, it would be for more groceries but we ended up at our parents for meals more than usual this week.
I was alone and happy during my stay at the ranch. Everything changed when the knocking started.
Great profile picture, I thought. The name on the ad was Elizebeth S.
The post read: Need a ranch/house caretaker for two weeks. Responsibilities are pet feeding, lawn care, and plant care. Pay is negotiable.
It seemed like a pretty decent job. Similar jobs in the past had paid somewhere between $800 to $1000 a week.
I dialed the number on the post. 10 seconds later, a female voice answered: ”Hello?”
”Uh, yes, my name is Caleb Scott. I saw your post on HouseSitters.com. I'm interested.”
”Oh, that's fantastic.'' She sounded relieved, ”My husband and I were getting worried no one would call. You see, our previous caretaker tragically died last week. Unfortunately, we now need someone to take his place. Are you good with that?”
”Yes ma’am, I'm okay with that. How long will you need me?” I asked.
”As I stated in the ad, we’ll need you for about two weeks. At least until we can find someone permanent. How does $3000 for two weeks sound?”
I was extremely surprised at the price she gave. I didn't even have to haggle with her.
”That sounds great.”
”Alright then. Now, we’re gonna need you asap. Tomorrow if possible. My husband and I are going on a one week vacation and we need you to be here immediately, so we can show you around the ranch and sign our caretaker agreement papers. Would 9:00 am be possible?”
We talked for a few more minutes exchanging information. After I got off the phone with her, I checked to see how far the place was from my apartment. I live in San Antonio and google maps showed the location about 110 miles south.
. . .
Later that night, my friend, Jerry, invited me over to his house for a dinner of beer and steaks. We played some video games —Borderlands 3 in particular— and talked a good while. During our conversation, the subject of my house sitting job came up.
”$3000 in two weeks? Bro, that's gangsta cash.” Jerry said. ”Not bad for a glorified babysitting job.”
My friends, mostly Jerry, never took my house sitting very seriously. It always frustrated me, because balancing a part-time college education, and working a decent paying job is sometimes very hard to accomplish.
”Yeah, It's paying good because I'll be taking care of a small ranch. It’s 40 miles from Laredo and about 2 hours from here.” I said,
”And you said you’ll be all by yourself out there?”
”Yeah. Apparently, It's in an extremely remote location. I'll be surprised if they have wifi out there.”
”Be sure to bring lots of skin mags if that’s the case.” Jerry snickered. ”You said it's near Laredo? You should totally give me the address.”
Jerry explained. ”I’ll be in that neck of the woods Wednesday to visit my aunt for her birthday. On the way down I'll give you a visit.”
An hour later I left Jerry's house. When I got home, I packed my bags and went straight to bed.
. . .
Monday morning came. I woke up at 5 am and left home in my beat-up Honda Accord. With the drive being two hours long, I decided to listen to my favorite Hugh Laurie album —Didn’t It Rain— to make the drive at least halfway bearable. I made two bathroom stops along the way: The first being a filthy gas station, and the other a Taco Bell where I bought a burrito for breakfast.
I was on highway 35, heading toward Laredo when Google Maps directed me to take an exit that led me to a private road. I drove on that dirt road for maybe 15 minutes until I realized that Google Maps was giving me inaccurate directions. I tried calling Elizabeth S. to get the right directions to the house, but there wasn't any cell service.
I drove for a little while longer until I saw a pickup truck coming down a smaller dirt road on my left. The driver slowed his truck and rolled down the window. The driver was a farmer type, in his mid-fifties with a cigar stump in the corner of his mouth.
”You lookin’ for the Spellmans?” He asked.
”Uh, yes. How’d you know?”
”Well, ’sides me, they're the only ones out here, and I sure as hell wasn't expecting company. What's your business out here, kid? If you don't mind my askin’.”
”Well, I'm their new caretaker. I’ll be here for nearly two weeks —That's if I can actually get to the house. Can you point me to where I need to go? I'm a bit lost.”
”Just keep headin’ on down the ways ur goin’ and you’ll come to a cattle guard on the right side of the road. The house is a quarter-mile down that turnoff.”
”Thanks. I appreciate it a lot, Mr...?”
”James Colton. If you ever need me, my house is down this road.” He shot a thumb behind him.
I looked in the direction of where he was pointing, his thumb was pointing down the road from which he just came.
“Thanks. See you around.”
I followed the directions and minutes later, found the cattle guard that led to the Spellmans house. Over the cattle guard was a massive steel arch that had the ranches name on it. It read: Spellmans Ranch.
I turned right, going under the steel arch. A short drive later, I finally arrived.
The ranch house looked fairly new. It was painted a sandy tan color with silver metal roofing, and windows with steel bars on them. The fact that the windows were barred made me wonder. Did Bigfoot break into your house? I thought.
Behind the house, in the backyard, was a chicken coop, dog kennel, campfire area, and a decent size metal barn. All the proper ingredients for a ranch house. Far off in the mesquite wood forest, I saw cattle grazing on the dewy grass, making the place look even more quaint and peaceful.
I parked my car, got out, and started walking toward the front door of the house. From the corner of my eye, I saw a white cat approaching me. The cat came over to start rubbing against my legs. I kneeled down and started petting it. The fur was soft and supple under my palm.
Elizabeth S. must have seen me pull into the driveway because while I was petting the cat, the front door opened. The woman with the massive breasts on the profile picture stood in the doorway.
”Well, I see that you and Sophie are already friends.” Her smile was welcoming. ”Caleb, right?”
”Yes, Caleb Scott. You must be Mrs. Spellman.”
We shook hands.
”Yes, but you can call me Elizabeth. Come on in, let me show you around the house.”
She showed me the living room, kitchen, hallway bathroom, and also gave me a short tour of the backyard. The house was marvelous. Whoever designed it knew exactly what they were doing. The last thing she showed me was the master bedroom, which was upstairs. When we entered the room, Mr. Spellman was busy packing his bags.
”Good morning son,” He put his hand out so I could shake it. ”George Spellman. And I see that you’ve already met my wife, Elizabeth.”
I shook his hand. It was hard and calloused. A ranches hand.
”Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Spellman. I'm Caleb.”
”It’s a pleasure to meet you, Caleb. Elizabeth and I sure are glad you called when you did. We were in serious need of someone to take care of the house. If it weren't for you, we might have had to cancel our vacation.”
He slapped a friendly palm on my shoulder.
”I hope you didn't have a hard time finding the place, new visitors usually do.”
”In fact, I did. I tried to call your wife to get some directions, but I couldn't get a signal.”
”Yup, no signal out here. Had to put in a landline years ago. If you need to make any calls during your stay, we have three home phones. One here,”
He pointed to a corded phone on the night table beside the bed.
”One in the kitchen and one in the living room. How’d you end up finding the place?”
”I was lucky enough to run into your neighbor.”
He raised an eyebrow. ”James Colton? Hmm, haven't seen him around in a while. These days the ol’ coot barely leaves his house.”
He went back to packing his clothing. ”Alright, son, I'm gonna finish packing my stuff. I'll be out in a minute to show you everything that needs to be done while we’re gone. Elizabeth, can you get Caleb a delicious glass of ice tea?”
. . .
The tea was delicious. I drank two glasses while Mrs. Spellman showed me the rest of the property, including the caretakers cabin.
”How do you like it?” she asked.
”It’s cozy. Totally wasn’t expecting to get my own cabin.”
The inside of the cabin had a comforting warmth that I instantly fell in love with. It had a potbelly stove that was by the front door, a small kitchen, an old Sony TV, a twin size pull-out ottoman in the living area; the bathroom was clean, and it had its own laundry room in the back.
I walked over to the closet that was next to the ottoman and opened the door to find clothing inside. Mrs. Spellman walked up beside me and said:
”All that belonged to Heraldo, our old caretaker.”
I was curious about the previous occupant, so I decided to ask her about him.
She explained: ”Well, I don't want to freak you out, but he died right over there in the bathroom. He wasn't well, mentally, and was on a lot of different medication. What happened to him is a damn shame. Last Tuesday, Heraldo wasn't coming out of the cabin. George came out here to check on him, and that's when he found Heraldo on the bathroom floor with his wrists cut.”
The story caused ice cubes to form in my lower back. The cabin seemed a lot less warm and inviting now.
”The few weeks before his death, I could tell Heraldo wasn’t stable. Sometimes I’d catch him talking to himself, along with other abnormal things. He told me that he started seeing things that weren't there, and said he kept hearing strange sounds at night. He kept talking about 'the knocking’. Apparently, the knocking was driving him crazy.”
“What do you mean? Like someone knocking at the door?” I asked.
“Yes. But it wasn’t me or my husband knocking, that’s for sure. It’s either he hallucinated the knocking, or it was a wetback trying to ask for water in the middle of the night.”
I frowned in confusion, ”Wetback?”
”An illegal immigrant. Sorry, that's what my husband calls them. Living with George for 18 years I've sorta adopted the term.”
”You get many of them coming on your property?” I asked her.
”All the time. More than we used too. After Trump was elected, immigrants have been crossing the border in droves. Did you notice the bars on our windows?”
She continued. ”About a month ago, our house was broken into. Whoever broke in stole some food and some of my husband's clothes. After that incident, we immediately had bars installed on the windows. I'm just glad they didn't break in while we were home, George definitely would have shot them with his shotgun.”
The front door to the caretaker's cabin opened and we both turned around to see Mr. Spellman coming inside.
”I see you started the grand tour without me.” He said with a grin. ”What do you think, son?”
”Your ranch is beautiful. I think I’m gonna enjoy my stay here.”
”Good. Hope you do.” He then glanced at his wristwatch and said:
”11:30 babe, if we want to catch the plane, we need to leave in the next forty minutes. Why don't you put your bags in the car while I go show Caleb how to work the feeders.”
. . .
The dog kennel had three sections, one for each of their dogs. The dogs were German Shepherds, two females, and one male. Mr. Spellman said the males’ name was Buster and the two females were Poppy and Ruby. He showed me how to work the water dispenser and feeders. After that, he showed me inside the barn where all the dog food and chicken feed was kept. When he finished explaining everything that had to be done, we signed the caretaker agreement papers.
”Alright son, that seems to be everything. Gotta go now, kept the wife waiting long enough.” He said as we walked to his car.
Mr. Spellman opened the car door, then he turned around and said:
”One more thing that I almost forgot. Do you know how to use a shotgun?”
”Sir, that… That won't be necessary.”
”No, listen to me. It's just a precaution. We got illegals coming onto the property all the time asking for water.”
”Yeah, your wife mentioned it. She also said you had a break last month..”
”Yup, that’s exactly why I’m telling you this. Now, I'm not saying you're gonna need to use it, but I just thought I’d let you know… Just in case. Shells are on a shelf next to the gun rack. ”
I shook his hand, and he got into the car. I waved goodbye to Elizabeth S. as they pulled out of the driveway.
As I watched them drive away, I felt a cold realization that I was all alone out there. The only thing connecting me to the outside world was my car. The highway was 15 miles away, the nearest town 40 miles. I had never felt such a strong sense of isolation in my life before.
It was around 12:30 pm when I started unpacking bags in the caretaker's cabin. The cabin did have an old Sony TV, but I wasn’t expecting to use it that much. Any free time that I’d get, I would use studying or reading novels. I was really glad I brought a couple of Dean Koontz paperbacks with me —along with those skin mags Jerry was talking about.
The rest of the day went by like a breeze. I made a pot coffee, had some lunch, took a shit, and fell asleep on the ottoman reading Twilight Eyes. When I woke up, it was dark outside. I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and then grabbed my coffee cup and dinner plate and walked to the small kitchen to wash them.
Standing there, enjoying the warm water run over my hands, I foresaw a hot shower in my near future. While scrubbing the dishes, I looked out the window over the sink and stared into the darkness. While I was looking out into the yard, the Spellmans white cat, Sophie, ran through my field of vision at breakneck speed, screeching and hissing. I thought it was strange, but nothing out of the ordinary.
I put the clean dishes on the drying rack and then went to the bathroom to turn on the shower when I heard the cat make a terrible noise from outside the cabin. I knew exactly what that sound meant: Sophie was being attacked.
I ran out the front door, and onto the porch to see if the cat was okay.
I looked around the yard, still hearing a faint death screech. But now, the direction it was coming from sounded like it was in the air. I stood there looking into the dark sky listening to the dying cats' final cries. And then: Silence.
I stood there for another 10 seconds waiting and wondering what happened.
When I turned to go back inside, the cat's lifeless body dropped from the night sky, bursting on impact from the belly, spilling blood and organs on the wood porch of the cabin.
”Holy shit!” I said in fear and confusion.
Her white fur speckled in red was the saddest sight I’d ever seen. Minutes ago she’d been alive and frisky. Now, she was the picture of death and dismay.
Coming up with the most logical explanation I could at the time, I told myself that it was probably a hawk or some other large bird that swooped down to take the cat as it's prey. And losing its grip, dropped the cat in mid-air.
I got a towel from the bathroom, scooped Sophie in it, and proceeded to clean the blood off the porch. After that, I got a shovel from the barn and dug a hole 20 yards away from the cabin. After the hole was dug, I went back to get Sophie's body and a container of coffee grounds. I put Sophie in the hole and sprinkled coffee grounds over the body to keep other animals from digging up the carcass.
While I put the dirt back into the hole, the sound of tree branches broke in the distance. I looked out into the dark mesquite wood forest. It felt like something was out there...watching me.
”Must be the cows” I muttered.
After burying Sophie, I went back inside the cabin to take a shower and go to bed. Way to end the first day of the job, I thought, before closing my eyes.
. . .
Tuesday morning, I had three cups of coffee and made 3 eggs and a couple of strips of bacon for breakfast. After that, I did all my chores: Harvested chicken eggs, fed the shepherds, cleared some brush from the fence surrounding the property, and checked the cattle trough. I ate lunch at 1:00 pm and did some studying in the cabin.
Hours later, around dusk, I found Sophie’s grave dug back up. The coffee grounds obviously didn't work. Goddamn coyotes. I dreaded the inevitable conversation I was going to have with the Spellmans about their beloved cat. I filled the hole back up with dirt and went back inside the cabin to eat dinner, read a book and go to bed.
That night, I had a nightmare where I was lost in the wilderness. In the dream, it felt like I had been walking for hours. I had no shoes on and my feet were bloody.
This dream was extremely weird for the reason that I could smell a terrible odor. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never been able to smell things in my dreams before. Eventually, I found where the terrible odor was coming from. Up ahead was a group of buzzards swarming a dead carcass. When I got closer, the birds flew away to reveal…
Knock Knock Knock. —I woke up.
I propped myself up on my elbows and looked around in the darkness of the cabin. Was the knocking part of my dream? I thought.
I laid my head back on the pillow to go back to sleep, when:
Knock Knock Knock —Shit, not a dream.
I had never felt such a strong feeling of fear in my life. At that moment, I wished that I had Mr. Spellmans shotgun.
Silence… And then: Knock Knock Knock.
At this point, I was wide awake and scared shitless. I waited and listened, staring at the cabins front door for what felt like an eternity. Eventually, I heard something happen outside: Slow, quiet footsteps walking off the porch. I nearly shit my pants, because now I knew for certain somebody was out there.
Quietly, I got out of bed. While crouching, I tip-toed to the front window. I moved the curtains to see the porch, but there was no one out there. And then, I had a frightening thought: What if they went behind the cabin to get in through the laundry room door?
Sure enough, the handle of the back door leading into the laundry room rattled. Like a frightened child, I grabbed the house keys off the dresser, unlocked the cabins front door and ran to the Spellmans house —Not enough time to grab clothing, I ran outside in my underwear.
Reaching the house, I unlocked the front door and ran up to the master bedroom for the shotgun. I stayed in there for the rest of the night, cradling the shotgun like the girlfriend I never had.
Luckily, I was very familiar with shotguns, —Mossbergs in particular. When I was in middle school, my dad took me to skeet shooting competitions to compete against other kids my age. Sitting there on the master bedroom floor, I realized it had been years since I’d even held a shotgun. Fortunately, I still knew how to operate it.
Wednesday morning came. I walked out of the Spellmans house in my underwear, pointing the shotgun in front of me. Slowly, I made it to the cabin.
Opening the door, I found that there was undeniable evidence that someone broke in: Cabinets were open, my wallet had been ruffled through, my car keys were gone, clothes were thrown on the floor, and…the smell.
I was really upset that my car keys were gone, not just because I couldn't use my car, but because they had a Scooby-Doo keychain on them that my deceased mother gave to me when I was 10 years old.
The door leading into the laundry room was closed. The terrible odor was definitely coming from there. While walking to the laundry room door, fear struck my chest like a cold shower. I put my hand on the knob to open it. I counted under my breath. One. Two. Three.
I found Sophie's lifeless body lying on the chilly tile floor.
. . .Sleeping in the cabin wasn't an option for me anymore. Hell, staying at the ranch wasn’t an option anymore. I went into the Spellmans kitchen to make a phone call, but couldn't hear a dial tone.
“Shit,” I said while slamming the phone back onto the receiver.
I went into the living room to try the phone in there, no dial tone. I tried the one in the master bedroom. Same thing, no tone.
As much as I didn't want to admit it to myself, the truth was that I was alone and helpless. Practically out in the middle of nowhere on a ranch with no way to contact the police, or the ability to leave in my car.
After an hour of thinking the situation over, I decided what must be done; I needed to walk to James Colton's house (The Spellmans neighbor) and use his phone to call the police or have him drive me to the police station. There was no way that I’d wait until the Spellmans got back, I felt it more likely that whoever broke into the cabin would return before they did. Staying was not an option.
Before I left, I made myself a quick breakfast of eggs, toast, and coffee, then I went into the backyard to make sure that all the animals were taken care of. I didn't know how long until someone would be back here to feed them, but I guessed they would be okay for at least 24 hours.
At 10:00 am, Wednesday morning, I began my walk. I carried the shotgun on my shoulder along with my book satchel, which I had packed with extra shotshells and two water bottles. Walking to Colton's house didn't seem like such a hard task. I mean, it was only a mile and a half drive, it shouldn't take long to get there on foot.
10 minutes of walking and I made it to the cattle guard. I turned left and started walking the long dirt road that led to the highway. Sweat was dripping down my face already, and I wished that I had looked for sunblock before leaving.
5 minutes later, a miracle happened. A familiar-looking black car was coming down the dirt road. It was Jerry’s car. I then remembered that he was coming to visit his aunt, and said he’d visit me on the way down.
I waved my arms so he would stop. The passenger side window rolled down and I was greeted by the face of my friend.
”We need to call the police.” I told him.
“Huh? Caleb... Why do you have a shotgun?”
“There’s someone out here messing with me, I think whoever it is might be dangerous. I’ll tell you about it on the drive out.”
After a second of thought, he said: “Uh, yes, of course. Get in.”
I opened the passenger door, put the shotgun in the back seat and then got inside. Jerry made a U-turn and started back the way he came. While looking down the scorching hot dirt road, he asked: “What the hell is going on? What do you mean there’s someone messing with you?”
“Last night someone broke into the cabin I was staying in. They left the owners dead cat inside the laundry room. This morning I found my wallet ruffled through and my car keys gone.”
“Why haven’t you called the police yet?”
“I couldn’t, the phones aren’t working. I think the landline might be cut.”
We were coming up on a right turn, the one that led to James Colton’s place.
“Turn here. There’s a house down that way, I’d like to warn the owner.”
Jerry nodded, and turned right, down the road. The house --which looked more like a shack-- was visible from the main dirt road and I could already see the massive pile of scrap metal that was in the front yard. There were old busted tires, beat to hell lawnmowers, tin roofing; what looked like a broken down children's swing set, and a shit ton of other metal scraps that I couldn’t make out. The house itself was a small wooden building that looked like it had gone through a world war: Missing shingles, busted wall panels, and a broken front window. Mr. Colton's truck was parked with the nose practically touching the front porch.
Jerry pulled into the driveway and put the car in park.
“Stay here, I’ll go knock on the door,” I said.
“Alright, make it quick.”
I opened the car door and got out. While walking to the front door of the house, I stepped on and almost tripped over a hunk of metal. I looked down to find that it was a brass doorknob. I bent over and picked it up. Turning it over in my hand, I could see that the knob was broken beyond repair. I looked at it for a second, and then it dawned on me.
The front door.
I dropped the brass knob and looked at the front door of the house. It was in the closed position, but the place where the knob used to be was busted in. I ran to the door to inspect it. Looking a bit closer, I could see that it looked like the knob was pulled directly out of the door.
“Holy shit,” I said.
Feeling a bit uneasy, I decided to get Jerry to help me investigate the inside of the house. Once he saw me walking towards the car, he rolled down the window.
“The place has been broken into, and the knob has been torn out of the door. How the hell is that even possible?”
“Was that what you were holding? Dude, we need to get out of here.”
“No, we should check to see if Mr. Colton is alright. Please. You need to come with me; two is always better than one.”
Jerry gave me an annoyed look and said:
“Alright, but at the first sign of trouble, we get the hell out of here.”
He got out of the car and walked with me up to the front porch. I didn’t see a reason to knock, there was obviously something wrong here.
“Mr. Colton? It’s Caleb, the Spellmans new caretaker. We met Monday morning, remember?”
I looked at Jerry, and he shrugged. I looked down at where the doorknob used to be, then reached out to open the door. Putting my hand on the massive hole, I hesitated for a second, dreading what I might find on the other side of the door.
There was a massive creaking sound from the hinges, it made an echo that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up like an unwanted erection. We stepped into the house at the same time, into what looked like the living room. There was an old TV with a VHS player, a nasty looking rug, and a couch with the foam stuffing bursting out of the stitching.
“Mr. Colton?” I said.
“Come on, dude. Let's get the hell outta here.” Jerry told me. At that moment he legitimately sounded like a frightened little kid.
“No. We need to make sure he’s okay.”
“Shouldn’t the cops do that?”
He had a point, but I didn’t let that stop me from continuing to look around. Mr. Colton could have been seriously hurt or even worse, and if so, I needed to help him.
“Just stay here. I’m gonna go check in there.” I pointed at the open door frame adjacent to the living room.
Slowly and quietly, I walked to the door frame. It was 5 paces in front of me and to my right. I couldn’t see directly into the doorway, but I guessed it was most likely the kitchen because I was able to see tile flooring and what looked like the side of a refrigerator.
“Mr. Colton…” I peeked around the corner of the doorway and found exactly what I was looking for. Just not in the way I would have liked.
Mr. Colton’s body was hung upside down, his legs tied to the ceiling fan with a chain. His mouth was open, and there was a pool of saliva on the floor where his tongue was hanging out. He was barefoot, his feet were purple from being tied to the fan. Other than his feet, he looked alive, whenever he died, it wasn’t long before. It didn’t take an expert to tell the cause of death, the evidence was right there in front of me: Both of his wrists had been cut, lengthwise.
I turned away from the dreadful sight in the kitchen and looked back into the living room, at Jerry. Our eyes met and he said:
“What’s the matter? You find something?”
I then lurched forward and vomited. Yellow egg yolks and black coffee stained the already filthy carpet.
Recovering from the ejection of my breakfast, I wiped my mouth. While bent over, hands still on my knees, I looked up at Jerry and said:
“Let’s get the fuck outta here.”
. . .
We ran out of that dreadful place and piled back into the car. We then drove straight to the police station. When we got there, both of us notified the Sheriff. While the police were looking into the situation, I called the Spellmans to tell them everything that happened.
Jerry and I were questioned by the Sheriff, while a deputy wrote stuff down. It was very important to show them the agreement papers that I signed, so I wouldn't be accused of the very thing I was reporting. The Sheriff spoke to the Spellmans on the phone and they confirmed that I was hired to take care of the ranch. Jerry wasn’t questioned for long, he didn’t have much to say about what happened, mostly because he didn’t see the body.
Two deputies were sent to check out Mr. Colton’s house. Hours later, around 6:00 pm, the Sheriff informed us that there wasn’t a body. Not even evidence of one.
“What the hell do you mean there isn’t a body?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“Just that, there isn’t one. Are y’all trying to play some kind of prank?” The Sheriff asked.
“No, absolutely not. Why would we want to play a prank on you? You saw the agreement papers I signed, you even talked to the Spellmans yourself. I’m supposed to be there right now, working. Why the hell would I waste my time pulling a prank on you?”
I was getting kinda pissed, the day had been way too long and way too stressful; it was starting to show.
“Woah, Woah, Woah,” The Sheriff raised his hands in a defensive motion, “Please sir, calm down. If you’re telling the truth then you must be pretty high strung right now, I get that. It’s most likely that you’re probably not lying. I just wanted to see how’d you respond to the question.”
I took a deep breath and apologized. The Sheriff went on to say: “As I said, there wasn’t a body or any evidence of one. I mean, my deputy didn't even find this Colton guy’s truck.”
“But, the doorknob. Did your deputies tell you about the doorknob? It was completely ripped outta the door. That’s proof of a break-in.”
“That’s not proof of a break-in, that’s proof of a broken doorknob. You and my deputies both said the place was a dump, maybe the doorknob was already broken.”
He cut me off, “All we have is your story, so, unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do. We'll keep in touch with the Spellmans and if they don’t see Colton in a couple of days, then we’ll look into it a little bit more. You seem like two reasonable fellows, and to be honest, I believe you. But we can’t do anything if there isn’t a body. And if there isn’t a body, we can’t hold you here. You’re both free to go.”
That hadn’t gone the way I envisioned it. I thought we might have had a couple more questioning sessions, or maybe spend the night in a jail cell while the police tried to figure out what was going on. Before we left, Jerry and I gave the Sherriff our phone numbers in case Mr. Colton’s body showed up in the next few days.
It was dark by the time we left the police station; we both decided to spend the night in Laredo. Neither of us spoke during the drive to the motel. Jerry looked blank-faced, probably thinking about how crazy the day had been. For me, it had been the strangest day of my life. I mean, first I was harassed by someone that woke me up in the middle of the night, only to break-in and ruffle through my things and steal my car keys. Then I found the dead corpse of Mr. Colton hung upside down with his wrists slit. It had been a really shitty day.
Sitting there in the silence of Jerry’s car, I wondered if my car had been stolen. The keys were already stolen, no reason for my car not to be the same way when I returned the next day. I would have to hire a tow truck and hope for the best.
The motel Jerry and I stayed at was a trashy little hole in the wall, with stained beds and a crappy TV. I took a shower and we ordered a pizza for dinner. I called Mrs. Spellman one more time to tell her I’d be returning to their house the next day, to tow my car and to check on the animals. She told me they’d be back Thursday evening --Their vacation cut short for obvious reasons.
. . .
The next day, Thursday morning, Jerry drove me back to Spellman’s ranch. Relief filled me as I saw that my car was still there. The tow truck had been following us there. Within minutes, my car was hooked up and ready to go. Before leaving, I checked on the animals and returned Mr. Spellman’s shotgun to its gun rack. I rode back home with the tow truck driver. (Jerry left after dropping me off, so he could visit his aunt in Aguilares.)
I got home around 4:00 pm. The tow truck driver unhooked my car in the driveway of my apartment. I paid for him and he left.
I walked up the steps to my apartment. Mail and a couple of packages were on the doorstep. I remembered that my house key was with my car keys, which meant I didn’t have my house key with me. Luckily, I kept a spare key under the welcome mat. So cliche, I know.
I looked under the mat, picked up the spare key and cleaned the dust on it with a quick blow. I then picked up my mail and packages. Key in hand, I went to unlock the door, but then I noticed something...
The front door was already unlocked.
“Shit, did I forget to lock it?” I said.
I opened the front door and walked inside. My apartment looked exactly the way I left it Monday morning. It was a bit dark, so I turned on the foyer light.
I walked into my small living room and noticed that I was wrong... something was in fact different. There was a framed picture on the shelf next to the living room window. The picture was knocked over.
The picture frame was in an awkward canted angle, it looked like it was on top of something. Even though the photo was knocked face down, I didn’t need to look at it to know which one it was. It was a photo of me when I was 5 years old, on the tire swing in my parent’s backyard.
In that instance, I remembered something: My wallet had been ruffled through.
I walked over to the shelf. Slowly, I reached out to flip the picture frame over. There was, in fact, something under it.
It was my Scooby-Doo keychain.