“Karentown,” by Sisi Carroll

Apr 20th, 2024 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

I pulled my jeep up a dirt road. About a mile back, I had passed a house selling local honey which it looked like you paid for via the honor policy. Now things were even more remote and getting rocky. I was thankful for my off-terrain vehicle which didn’t get to test its features in New York City often.

I followed the instructions I had read on the Airbnb website carefully. “Don’t follow your GPS” Karen, my host, had written, “still don’t believe me?” Here followed a long tale about two previous guests getting hopelessly lost, which I only skimmed. As my GPS hadn’t even acknowledged the existence of Karen’s address when I typed it in, I wrote her simple instructions by hand and follow them to the T.

Now I was on the last step, follow the dirt road, pass the wide spot, then keep driving till it’s narrow. In front of you, you will see the dark, dark forest, then to your left will be Karentown. That’s where I was headed, for my one night stay in Karentown.

To my left was tall grass and a dirt area that looked like it was meant for parking. I pulled my car off. As I was collecting my things, I saw her emerging, through the grass: Karen. Grey hair past her shoulders, frizzy, curly, a midi dress that looked like it was made from a blue potato sack, sun speckled skin, mismatch earrings. I was glad to see her, remembering her instructions, “If I don’t greet you, please ring the large schoolhouse bell. Don’t wander onto my property. It’s not polite to wander around other people’s homes.”

I apologized for arriving almost on the dot of the scheduled arrival time. “People never arrive when they say they’re gonna,” Karen agreed ominously. “There’s another guest who’s supposed to be arriving tonight too. Let me show you around.” I followed Karen down the path shorn through the high grass. We passed the schoolhouse bell, a lone beacon hovering above us.

To our right, as soon as we entered the property was a tiny, gated area. Excuse me. The area that was enclosed by the gate was expansive. It was the gate that was tiny. The gate was six inches high. This six inch high fence ran around the perimeter of shorter, mown, bright green grass. Inside the enclosure were four guinea pigs. The fancy kind, with bangs.

“These are my guinea pigs,” Karen told me. We looked at them. “That’s Joe.” Karen said.

I looked past the guinea pigs towards a long, blue trailer home. It had an old 1950s feel—powder blue paint, chrome circular window frames, and a faded chrome door. At a picnic table in front of the mobile home sat Joe. He was waving at me in the slow style of the Amish. I waved back. Joe wore a powder blue checked shirt and jeans. Had he been in overalls it would have been more befitting of his personality. Henceforth in this piece he will be referred to as Overall Joe.

Karen led me through more tall grass till we came upon Karentown. Karentown, I had read on the website, was an estate of tiny homes. She had constructed (I later observed probably literally by hand) six different tiny homes, a small kitchen, two outhouses, and an outdoor patio, all next to her home, also situated on the property. Past the tiny homes there was a large field leading out to a valley and then, the dark, dark forest. Karen showed me my tiny home, one of the smaller ones. It looked like it had been constructed by placing a roof on a storage cube.

It had a single bed inside, rather short I learned when I lay down on it, and a sink to pour things down but with no running water. Oh, another thing to mention, there was no running water at Karentown and no electricity. Karen showed me the two barrels that collected rainwater, and the bucket to scoop it out and pour it into the contraption in the shower so you could take a rainwater shower. Rainwater was also used to wash the dishes. Drinking water was kept in two separate containers.

Karen and I looked out over her field. “Are you going to have dinner?” She asked.

“I think I might take a hike first.”

“Oh yes,” Karen agreed, “the walk out to the two trees is a must.” Karen and I looked across the field. Two large trees grew at the far end.

Suddenly there was a noise behind us. I turned. “This is Jimmy, one of our long-term stays.” Jimmy was behind us loading Corona after Corona into a cooler.

“Hi,” Jimmy said.

“Hi,” I said.

I went and got some more things from my car, locked my passport and laptop in the trunk, opened the trunk, checked to make sure they were there, then locked my car. And then locked my car.

On my way back to hike, I passed Karen who was now standing with Overall Joe outside her guinea pig enclosure.

Karen stopped me with some question, I forget what precisely she asked me, but I can only assume it was something to further vet how susceptible I was to joining a cult. Karen began telling me about her guinea pigs and the other farm animals they used to have.

“Oh, what happened to the other animals?” I asked.

“Well, my parents died and so…”

At this moment two guinea pigs began a fight over a piece of lettuce. Overall Joe found this hilarious and even Karen laughed a little bit.

Feeling tied to the conversation by some higher power I told Karen that my brother had had a guinea pig or two growing up but that I mainly had rabbits or hamsters. Evidently feeling touched that I had disclosed personal information about my family Karen opened up and told me about how she and her other siblings had held her brother down and let the guinea pigs crawl on his face.

Overall Joe was infatuated with this story. As Karen told it he got closer and closer to her face with his, grinning wider and wider, finally saying, in loving tones, “Oh no you didn’t, that’s terrible.”

In the pause that followed, realizing I was about to say, “Is this a guest or is this your husband?” I dismissed myself for my hike once again.

I set my things in my tiny home and then inspected the field to find another mown pathway. Then sun was out. The field was buzzing with that sound of nature and insects. It was about seven o’clock, so the sun was thinking about setting.

The walk to the two trees was shorter than I expected. As I rounded a turn in the high grass, I saw ahead of me benches under the two trees that were unfortunately occupied. Jimmy was sitting there with two girls.

It seemed weird to me to turn around, so I thought I’d just walk toward them, say hello and then follow the path past them.

They waved at me in the style of Overall Joe and the Amish. I waved back. I continued my walk toward them.

Hello we all said. They introduced themselves. One girl was tiny, her name was Lina. She was Jimmy’s girlfriend, another long term guest. She was dressed in all black – black cut off bootie shorts and a black tube top. She had heavily applied foundation and was wearing dramatic false lashes. I wondered what it was like to take your makeup off with rainwater at the end of a long day.

The girl next to her was dressed in all white. I swear on my life. She was wearing almost the exact same outfit but in white. White bootie, cut off shorts. Her tube top had cami straps. She had lots and lots of tattoos. Her blond hair had a small braid here or there to hold it out of her face. She was vaping and holding an unopened Corona.

Lina’s hair was in a messy bun.

All three of them wore flip flops.

I learned that the girl in white was the other new guest.

How long are you all staying, we asked each other.

The new girl was staying three nights. Jimmy and Lina had been there for three weeks. They were from West Virginia.

And how did it come about that you happened to have three weeks with no commitments or responsibilities to stay in an off the grid tiny estate, was the question I couldn’t figure out how to phrase politely. And from which criminal offence were you fleeing West Virginia, I also couldn’t weave in.

Jimmy and Lina began talking about other guests who had stayed on the property. “And one guy,” Jimmy said, “wouldn’t stay after Karen showed him that tiny home near the woods with the glass wall.

I expressed some curiosity in this story, so Lina and Jimmy began trying to describe this tiny home but between the two of them they struggled.

“What else is down there?” I asked. They shrugged. “Sorry, I mean is there like a river in the valley or something like that?”

“Maybe, possibly,” Lina said real friendly.

At some point they all decided to walk down and see the tiny home they had been trying to describe.

On the walk down the hill, the new guest Laurel, offered me her weed and her Corona. I turned down the weed claiming to be a paranoid high and saying I didn’t know if that would mix well with seeing an all-glass tiny home in the middle of the dark, dark forest. I carried her Corona for her cause her hands seemed full.

We came through the woods. Lina and Jimmy showed us where Karen kept some hammocks, rolled up into messy balls, that they explained you could string to the trees. Seemed like a lot of work to me. Then we came upon the tiny home. Since Lina and Jimmy had so much difficulty describing it, let me describe it here.

It was a box about one fourth the height of a normal tiny home, made out of white wood, and with one wall almost entirely made out of a plexiglass power screwed to the wooden frame; it was the length of a human being. Yes, I’m describing the dimensions of a spacious coffin. On what can only be called the foot end (because to enter through this side would mean that you would crawl into the tiny home and then be basically unable to turn around) was a small, lilac, hobbit door, that for some reason had two padlocks on the outside.

We established that this was a thing from nightmares, a murder house, or at the very best Snow White’s glass coffin gone wrong.

At this juncture the three guests said they would make their way back to Karentown and I said I would continue with my hike.

I wandered toward the dark, dark wood, observing that there was no longer any trail and therefore nowhere to run. I hiked back up the hill and waded my way back to the path where I headed toward the two trees again. Arriving at them, deserted this time, I realized that the path dead ended and didn’t loop back around so I turned in the only direction I could go and headed back to Karentown.

I entered the estate where Laurel was sitting on her porch. Her tiny home had three little steps up to a miniature balcony before she entered her home. She asked me if I’d like to come sit on her porch. I did so. She began telling me about her life.

I learned about her conservative family who was trying to accept her bisexuality, I learned that she was a Virgo, I learned that she was the black sheep of her family. Laurel was proud of her new LGBTQUI+ community. She asked me how many gay and trans people I knew. The first response that popped to mind was, you know what New York City is right? Sensing that she wanted me to reply with a low number and feeling charitable I said, four. She said, “See yeah, I know twelve.”

She told me that she was going out in Oberlin that night to sing Karaoke alone at a bar she used to go to in college. She asked me if I’d like to join. I was saved answering—at this moment Laurel cut her hand open trying to uncap the Corona with no bottle opener.

I retrieved the first aid kit from my jeep and bandaged her up.

She showed me her latest tattoo. It looked fresh. It was the death card from a tarot pack on the back of her right thigh. She told me she just got it because she had finally reached the conclusion of a bad breakup and that the death tarot card was a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings. She told me the final straw in the relationship was that after cheating on her, her boyfriend broke into her house, stole 100 dollars, took all his own socks and underwear back, and her television.

She told me that when she decided she wanted to report the robbery, she drove around and around looking for a cop.

She said, “I even speeded a little bit. I promised myself that if I didn’t see a cop by the time I drove home, I’d know I shouldn’t report the crime. Then, right as I was about to turn onto my side street, right as I was about to turn onto my side street… A cop goes by.” She snapped in my face. “I speeded after him—”

I couldn’t figure out a polite way to ask her if she knew that there were police stations where the cops just sat around, conveniently waiting to hear about crimes, and you didn’t have to chase them or anything.

She said the cop agreed that it was a felony but that her boyfriend didn’t turn up to his court date.

Laurel told me that she was in a pool league, just her and a bunch of older men. And that they were all like her dads. One guy, who was like, I don’t know, most her dad, this guy, had recently had another young man put in the hospital for three weeks.

She told me, “He asked me where this guy lives, and then said, ‘okay, that’s all I need from you, now forget we had this conversation.'”

She then said, “I truly don’t like to wish ill on people, but I hope when they’re stealing my TV back they like break his knee. I hope the break his kneecap. So he can’t serve. His dream is to be in the Marines.”

There was a pause and I realized it was one of the rare opportunities where I was expected to speak in this back and forth, so I muttered something supportive like, I don’t know, “Yeah, I hope they break his kneecap too.”

Laurel goes, “I haven’t told anyone that, only like four people. But I figure you’re never going to see me again.” She’s right, I haven’t told anyone, I only wrote it down. Besides, all details apart from easily identifiable tattoos and use of real names have been change for the purposes of this story.

The sun had almost set and the wind was starting to kick up a bit. Laurel said that while she was going to be massively hungover, she heard the sunrise was beautiful and I should wake her around six so we could watch it together. I waved her off and set my alarm for 8AM.

In the kitchen I inspected each pot, selected the most acceptable, and heated up some of the drinking water to make Cup Noodles. While the water heated on the tiny gas stove, I used my cellphone flashlight to inspect all the notes and memorabilia left by past guests on the walls and ceiling of the tiny wood kitchen hut. On the ceiling above my head was a map of the world. It had over fifty little pins stuck in it. Many of them in the US and Canada but some as far away as Europe and Asia. I wondered if it was where all her guests had come from. Or where their bodies were buried.

I ate my cup noodles on the wooden outdoor patio. One side was covered with more plexiglass on which people could write with dry erase markers. I read one line over and over, “In a life so dull, be a Karen.”

The sun was now almost completely gone and soon it would be that kind of darkness that you could only experience in the country. I had wanted to see stars, but a storm was blowing in, and I could just make the clouds out through the fading light.

Fed up with the sawdust outhouses after only one use, I kept my cup noodles cup to pee in. No way was I hiking out in a pitch black thunderstorm to pee outside or in a wooden box.

In my tiny home, I finished getting into my PJs by the light of my cellphone flashlight. There had been a battery charged camping lamp but that went out after I got my shorts on.

I decided to sleep with the window open. For quick escape.

I lay down, turned off the light, and looked out the window. Lightening illuminated the two trees.

Having forgotten to do something (not sure what, but probably just some simple thing to make myself more paranoid than I already was) I turned on my flashlight. On the ceiling was a black spider the size of a quarter.

I turned my light off and told myself I would have to pretend I didn’t see that. I mean I wasn’t going to remove him in the cup noodles cup. I turned on my light one more time. Now he was above my head on the ceiling, heading for the window. I turned off my light. I wondered if that was the same spider or if there were lots of spiders.

I thought of the Snow White tiny home and how much closer the ceiling was to your face out there.

I slept to the dulcet sounds of heavy rain on a tin roof. As well as being a soothing sound the torrential rain comforted me in another way. It seemed to me that if Overall Joe had been planning to commit my murder, he would find it awfully inconvenient in all this rain.

I slept fitfully waking every few hours to make sure I wasn’t being eaten alive by spiders that lived in my sheets and wondering if I would hear Laurel stumbling through the rain in her drunken post Karaoke state.

I comforted myself in the morning as the door to her tiny home was shut, implying that she did in fact come home.

In the morning, I journaled frantically. Karen appeared at her outdoor hot plates to heat up some drinking water. She offered me coffee. We were the only two people awake on the property. I considered staying to see if she would say anything else fascinating, or to see if she made her coffee from organic ground up ants, but then I worried that Overall Joe might also be an early riser. I had a feeling that Lina, Jimmy, and certainly Laurel would not be making an appearance in the AM. I thanked Karen, and passed through the high grass, got one last glance at the guinea pigs, and was driving away in my jeep before Overall Joe could wave goodbye to me.


Sisi Carroll (she/her) is an NYC based writer and actor. She can recite the entire movie Titanic from beginning to end, including scene and shot descriptions. Sisi’s play Is This You was part of Dramatic Question Theatre’s American Women Fellowship. Recently Sisi collaborated with a public performing arts high school in Cleveland, Ohio, to produce the first three episodes of a web series that she wrote, titled Survival; A Day Job Story. Sisi loves dachshunds.

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