“Did you know about his gold?”
Anna rolled her eyes.
“If there was gold anywhere in this house, even a rumour of it, don’t you think it would be gone by now? That people wouldn’t have ripped the place apart to find it?”
“No. The ol’ bastard – did you know him? You look a bit like him in the eyes; Alecsander Brynerson? – he lived here his whole life, and now he haunts the place, so no one will get his stash.”
“A ghost?” Anna snickered, shook her head.
“Don’t laugh. At least not until you meet him and –”
“There are no ghosts,” Anna cut him off. “People die, and that’s it, they’re gone from this plane.” She wiped off the table and pulled out a chair and pointed him into it. The hand behind her back crossed two sets of fingers and tapped three times.
Bud sat down and pulled out a notepad.
“So, what is it you want done?”
“What can you do?” she said.
“Don’t ask for the builder licence numbers, ’cos I ain’t got ’em, but I can do anything. At least most things; sometimes it might take more than one person, but there’s nothing I can’t do once I put my mind to it.”
His pencil made a sketch of the floorplan of the house, marked the area of the kitchen and fireplace in the lounge.
“Do you want to get rid of the stove?”
His face relaxed, a slight smile stretched the lips.
“A good thing – they weigh a ton or more, and I don’t know anyone who’d take it, or even help carry it out. Would’ve had to cover it up and leave it in place, anyway.”
“I like wood-stoves. I’d like to run pipes behind it to heat the water.”
“Good move. Right. What next?”
“I’ve never done electrical – always left it to the professionals,” Anna said. “But I could learn if you want to teach me.” She took a breath. “You can do electrical?”
Anna got out her own notebooks, pencils and overlays and marker pens. She leaned her phone against a grimy tea canister and swiped until the photos of the house presented. Stopped.
“This is what I planned, and I’ve got a schedule – sort of, depends on a lot of things coming together at the right time – and these bits are my preferences, if possible.” She put the main items on the table in front of Bud.
It was so easy. So simple. The tasks came together. The plans built up until Anna could almost smell the new paint, the waxed floorboards, the wood-smoke.
The sun dipped far enough for the light in the window to become darker than inside. Anna looked up, realised how late it was. Bud went outside and came back in with a glass-topped lamp. A small flame created a golden glow. The smell was kero.
“Is that yours?”
“Nope. Was in the back of the laundry. He always had a few in different spots.” Bud looked her straight in the eyes. “He used to throw them at anyone who trespassed.” He leaned in so close she could see the sparkle in the black pupils. “Lit.”
“What? It would’ve burned the house down.”
“Nope. His aim was good. Always hit the target. Whether with the lamp or the bullet. Always.”
Anna began to slide the bits of paper into a neat pile. She put the main plans in one set, and notes and lists in another. Slid it all into the compartments of her folder.
“I suppose you have to go? It’s too dark to work now, but-”
“Yeah. My wife’s waiting. Don’t want to be too late when there’s a new woman in town – you know how they think, don’t you?”
“Yep,” Anna said. Married. Of course. She shrugged. “When things get worked out a bit more here, can I invite you both to dinner?”
“Why don’t you come to our place tonight? She’d love the company. No one ever comes to this side of the tracks anymore.”
A frown creased her head. What?
“Since the trains stopped running. People say the ghosts on this side are bad. Of course, they’re talking about old Alecs, but you know what country people are like.”
Yep. Anna knew.
“I’d like to offer you a bed for the night, but …”
“That’s alright. I’ll be fine here.”
Bud raised his eyebrow as he stood up.
“Don’t sleep in the front bedroom,” he said. “Just trust me. Sleep in your car would be better, but if you sleep in the house, don’t go in the front room.”
Anna smiled and nodded. He meant well.