Sarah had never been happier. She had met Joshua at a church fundraiser the previous summer, where they were raising money for flood victims. The two of them had worked the dessert auction together, and had hit it off right away. After six months of dating, Josh had proposed and she had readily accepted. By the next fall they were walking down the aisle, and the contents of her small single life apartment had been moved into the sprawling old farm house that Josh owned on the edge of town.
After a quick honeymoon trip to the beach, which had really just been a long weekend, Monday morning arrived and so did Sarah’s first full day as a house wife. They had agreed that she would stay home and take care of the house and future children, while Joshua continued his work at a local insurance company. While she had never imagined giving up teaching before they had met, she knew that this was what he wanted and she was so enamored that she couldn’t say no.
Why would she? Joshua was perfect, and he wanted to take care of her. If that meant she stayed home cleaning and cooking, well, then it was completely worth it.
After breakfast he headed off to town, and Sarah made a long list of things to do around the house. It was an old structure, creeping up on a hundred years, and previous tenants hadn’t done the best job at keeping it up. Josh had worked hard to make all the big fixes, like a leak in the roof and worn out electrical wiring, but it was up to Sarah to get the place in tip top shape and so she set to work right away.
She dusted and swept, cleaned the oven with fervor, and organized their his and hers closets. After the bathrooms were scrubbed she set to work on dinner, and had the table ready as soon as he was home from work. The first day was tiring, but a true success.
Day after day she marked things off her lists, growing exhausted with so many chores, but wanted to stick it out to prove herself to her new husband. She got a reprieve every day when Joshua would come home and compliment her work, and that was enough to keep her going. Until she reached the attic.
Most of Sarah’s things had been unpacked already, but there wasn’t enough space for all of it. The study was already packed with Joshua’s books, so her own were left in cartons to be put away. He had mentioned sticking them in the basement, but she hadn’t liked that idea at all. The washer and dryer were down there, and she knew that it was a damp space that would ruin books over time. So, instead, she decided one steamy afternoon to lug them upstairs.
It was a real chore, especially since the entrance to the attic was a trapdoor with a ladder. She managed though, holding onto the narrow rungs with one hand and holding the heavy cartons against her hip with the other. She made four trips but finally got them all inside the square in the ceiling, shoving the last box in before scooting her way inside. She found herself in a space much larger than she had imagined, stuffed with things. Some of it looked rather old, broken bits of antique furniture and falling apart cardboard boxes, and she surmised those things had been left behind by the previous owners. The newer containers and items with less dust had to have belonged to Joshua and had come with him when he’d bought the house.
Sarah found a nice corner for her books, away from any windows or spots where the ceiling looked to have previously leaked. Once they were neatly stacked she gave herself some time to look around, noting nothing of real interest. A couple of old trunks sealed with heavy locks, and boxes with his neat handwriting on the side. A few of them were empty, and some of the others held only one or two items that they truly had no use for.
She was about to head back downstairs, ready to work on dinner, when she stepped on a loose board and nearly broke her neck. She caught herself before she stumbled through the opening in the floor though, letting out a deep breath of shock. The board had completely popped up from the floor, and her foot had gone through into the opening beneath it. After righting herself she got on her hands and knees and moved the board again, peering inside.
There were mostly papers, it seemed, a large manila envelope, and a small tin box. She took the papers out first and flipped through them, mouth turned in a frown. The bundle was a mix of marriage certificates, all with names she did not know, and corresponding death certificates. Each death certificate matched the name of a wife on the marriage paperwork, which sent a shiver down her spine. A strange feeling came over her then, something told her to put it all back and go on about her business, but she was curious now.
Opening up the envelope, Sarah tipped the contents out onto the floor. They were drivers licenses, at least ten, five of which bore a familiar face. There was Joshua staring up at her, though his name was never listed as Joshua. There was Jared Green, Kyle Larsen, Stewart Brannigan, Lewis O’Nan, and Kirby Cleary but no Josh. She balked then when she saw the women’s names on the others, realizing that they were the same women on the death certificates.
Sarah’s hands were shaking as she finally opened the tin, finding five tarnished wedding bands inside, a lock of hair tied to each one with a slender ribbon. All of them had also been blond, just like her. Her stomach lurched, working quickly to sweep all of the items back into the space and cover it up. She realized though, as she heard the front door open, that she was too late to run. He would come upstairs soon, and he would see the ladder or hear her descending. He would know she had found out his secret, and soon she would be another one of his.
“Sarah,” Joshua called out from the front hall, the sound of his briefcase dropping to the floor making her shake even harder. “Honey! I’m home!”