by Toni Leland
We found our dream home on a dreary March day in southeastern Ohio – the kind of day that gives real appeal to the term "hibernation." In the hills above a large lake, an acre of mature trees sprawled over a steep slope behind the house and, where the land leveled out below, dormant planting beds formed dark brown borders along the deck, the white picket fence, and the house itself.
My pulse leaped with delight – a new frontier filled with mysteries soon to emerge with the warmth of spring, promised to be lurking just around the calendar corner. The house had been vacated the previous year, so by mid-April, we'd finished the deal. Though I didn't know what was already planted at the new house, I was determined not to leave many of my favorites behind. I began a flurry of garden-related activity at our home in town, impatient to begin my life in the country. The ground was still too cold to dig, but I could at least go to the new house and begin cleaning up and making plans.
At ten o'clock on a breezy April morning, armed with all my garden tools, a camera, sketch pad, and a list of the plants I would move from the old place to the new, I headed out of town to spend the day in my new garden. I methodically walked the property, making sketches and notes, taking pictures, and fantasizing about the magnificent gardens that would soon grace our new home. The temperature was chilly, but the sun and my enthusiasm kept me going.
Being the organized creature that I am, my next chore would be to clean out the garden shed and make it my own. I had some difficulty prying open the rusty latch on the double doors. It was one of those arrangements for use with a padlock, where a flat piece of metal on one door slips over a flat knob on the other door. Finally, I was able to get it unstuck and opened the doors to look inside. Of course the shed was filled with junk, and I set about hauling it all out. After four trips, I was too hot, so shrugged out of my jacket and hung it on the deck railing. Once the shed was empty, I arranged my tools along one wall, then stepped outside and closed the doors, taking care not to close the latch. It would need to be replaced with a new one that worked properly.
I spent another hour pottering about the property, soaking in the quiet and seclusion of life in a rural setting. No traffic, no factories, just the occasional far-away bark of a dog, or the drone of a small airplane overhead. I would love living here.
Realizing I'd need to take the shovel back home with me, I returned to the garden shed. Pulling the wooden door open, I went inside. I'd taken two steps when I heard the heavy thunk of the door closing behind me. But worse – the sound of metal against metal. The shed was dark inside except for a faint line of light through the crack around the doors. I took a deep breath and pushed against the door. It didn't budge. I shoved harder, hearing the metal latch scraping against its counterpart. The doors wouldn't open.
I stepped back in stunned disbelief. I was locked in a garden shed beside an empty house on a huge lot in a secluded neighborhood. My cell phone was in the pocket of my jacket hanging outside. I held my watch up to the faint light by the door. It was only two o'clock – it would be at least a couple of hours before my husband wondered what was taking so long.
I sat down on an old milk crate and contemplated my predicament. Other than smash down the door – if I even could – I had no choice but to wait until my husband came looking for me. Outside, my cell phone chimed several times, then fell silent. For the next thirty minutes, I sat in the dark wondering how I could have gotten myself into this ridiculous situation. Suddenly, I heard a heavy engine rumbling outside, then the unmistakable voices of children. A school bus! I jumped up and hammered on the door, shouting "Help! Someone help me!" The engine sounds faded down the road and the kids' voices disappeared. My phone rang again and my frustration turned to tears.
I sat down again and shivered as the April cold began to creep into my body. What if my husband didn't worry until it got dark? I'd be really cold by then. Another twenty minutes passed and I heard voices again, only this time I heard the tenor of a man's voice. I jumped up and pounded on the door. "Hello? Open the door! Please!"
Footsteps scraped on the decking, then I heard the low murmur of two men talking. Suddenly, I wasn't so sure about who might be on the other side of the door. It certainly didn't sound like my husband.
The latch pieces clanked and I held my breath, staring at the doors as they slowly began to open. Seconds later, I stared at two county deputies framed in the doorway, their hands poised above their gun holsters.
"Ma'am, would you step out of the shed, please?"
Overwhelmed with relief, I stumbled forward. "Oh boy, am I glad to see you!"
They both stepped back. "Ma'am, please stop right there. What are you doing here?"
I blinked. "What? I live here, I–"
"Ma'am, this house is empty and there's a realtor's sign in the front. May I see some ID, please?"
At that moment, my husband's truck pulled up onto the grass beside the house and he hurried toward us. Fifteen minutes later, the officers left after explaining that a neighbor had reported seeing someone prowling around the house.
For as long as we lived there, every time I entered that shed for something, I thought about my garden adventure. And yes, we fixed that latch.