‘A Season of Drake’ by Guest Author David Rhodes

Guest Author David Rhodes

Guest Author David Rhodes

Part 1

 That particular summer brought not only a natural change of seasons, but a hurried season of unlikely events that left the people of the small and cozy neighborhood bewildered, and taking a second look at the normal facade of the world around them they had so often taken for granted.

Though all the homes alongCrystal Avenuewere old (most were built in the forties and fifties), most were well kept enough to be homey, a satisfying abode for retirement, or someone escaping the seemingly inescapable problems of living in an apartment. The lawns and grounds along the street were well trimmed, products of an age in which weed eaters ruled. They buzzed and chewed like angry wasps, and it was often difficult for one to sleep in on a Sunday, as the air would be filled with their insect buzzing, along with the monotonous drone of two or three lawnmowers at any given time.

Thad could not remember the last time he’d been toSaltLake, except the years when he and his family had lived there in the early years, when his father had been alive. After Thomas Wendt had died of heart failure and laid to rest in the small but lovelyTaylorCemetery, with a large, beautiful headstone that only missed one thing – Abby Wendt’s date of death. After Thomas had died, the family had fallen to pieces, became dysfunctional, or maybe it had already been that way. Only Thad (his mother Abby still had insisted on calling him Thaddeus – it carried with it an air of influence, she had claimed) and his mother had managed to hold things together, at least between themselves, while Thad’s two older brothers, Markus and Samuel, had selfish dreams and goals that held no room for meaningless family affairs.

Two days earlier at the funeral Thad had seen his brothers for the first time in several years. It was not an occasion that demanded a heartfelt hug or handshake, or even a few civil words. Between them had been only silence. And it had been a shame considering how perfect the weather had been.

The old anger and hatred was still there, alive and well, lodged forever in his heart like an iron anchor. These rusty emotions had been a major influence of his past, and were now certainly a part of his present, and would always be a part of his future like a family curse.

They had stood on opposite sides of the grave as Pastor Henry Flaker from theChristEvangelicalChurchdelivered his eulogy, Thad with his head bowed, eyes red-rimmed and moist, while Samuel and Markus studied all the faces of those in attendance as if suspicious of everyone. Standing there in their black suits with their hands clasped behind their backs, they reminded Thad of the mysterious Men in Black, those mythical figures who secretly called on you in the middle the night to make right some great wrong perpetrated against the almighty government.

Or perhaps it was simply to lay an issue permanently at rest.

The Pastor finished his last words with a prayer, and then circulated among the folks offering condolences; but he soon was gone, as were the rest of the devoted people who began to drift toward their cars. Thad found himself staying behind, unable as of yet to just walk away.

He watched as they lowered the lovely sky-blue coffin into the grave with the mechanical lift, and then removed the entire apparatus altogether. But as the worker removed the artificial grass from the mound of dirt nearby, he discovered not unsurprisingly that he could not bear to watch these strange men in their green overalls bury his mother. He turned and walked toward his car without so much as a glance over his shoulder.

Near his beat-up station wagon was a shining black Jaguar, his two brothers leaning against it like body guards. The sun glinted off their sunglasses as if they had been polished to the purest possible sheen allowed by mankind.

Thad suddenly felt very small indeed in his cheap rented suit. His cold –hearted brothers had wide grins on their faces, and it was one of those frequent moments when Thad wished he had a baseball bat handy to bash the smiles from their faces. Now that would have been complete satisfaction. He took off his suit coat and tossed in on the seat next to him, and drove past his two older siblings without so much of a blink of an eye.

He hoped today would be different, but his intuition told him differently.

Thad drove his beat up Mazda station wagon up and downState Street, trying to spot some of the addresses on the larger buildings. Men with long hair that stuck out in knots and old army fatigues walked along the sidewalks oblivious of their surroundings; Thad thought that if someone were to shoot someone right then and there, these comatose figures would merely walk on. Perhaps they had once had normal lives, and he felt a pang of sadness at the very thought.

Every so often a prostitute would appear, walking along, shaking a chunky ass, or leaning against a building smoking a cigarette, winking at the prospective customers who slowly drifted by.

Thad pulled over in front of a white ten-story building that looked as if it had been carved from marble. Tall, thick columns flanked each side of the main entrance, and a long rectangular block of the same white marble on a perfectly trimmed area of grass close to the roadway read: United States Fifth Circuit Court. This was the place, and it seemed to cause a nervous reaction in him even though he was here for the reading of a will.

After locking up the car – not that there’s much to steal, he thought – he dumped as many coins as he could into the meter, which allowed him an hour and a half. He strode up the sidewalk toward the prominent building, which reminded him of an ancient Greek temple. Once inside, the cool air circulated around him and helped to ease some of the pressure. He dropped his keys into the plastic bucket at the metal detector, walked through, and the officer handed the keys back.

“Do you know where Walter Layton’s office is?” Thad asked.

“Fourth floor,” the officer said before turning to the next person. Thad said thank you anyway and headed for the elevator. He noticed that everybody in the building was wearing either an expensive suit, or even casual wear that made him look like straight from a skid row fashion show. In the elevator, he felt conscious of a few stares, but decided to let it go. In fact, he just did not care. Not everyone could fit into the special molds that certain groups of people create. He was here out of respect for his mother, and if someone didn’t like that, Thad didn’t care. He never took much credence in people anyway. There was a wolf around every corner just waiting for someone to make a little mistake.

Thad and a woman that had ATTORNEY written all over her exited the elevator into a hushed, carpeted hall. The woman strode off purposefully and disappeared into a room. The elevator doors closed behind him, and he heard the soft click of a door closing somewhere down the hall. He was alone in an alien environment.

He dug the piece of notebook paper out of his jeans pocket and again looked at the address and room number. 302. He looked up and saw 305 right across from him. He opted for the left and reached a door with 306 on the outside, and muffled discourse emanating from the inside. He turned and went the other direction, feeling somehow lost in this environment, like spending his first day in another country. He found himself dreading what he was walking into.

Thad stood outside of 302 listening for any sign of life on the other side of the door. He heard the shuffling of papers, and with a shaky hand grasped the cold metal knob and opened the door. At once, all eyes were upon him, the three people in the conference room sat around a large, oval table like judges.

The man at the head of the table wore a gray silk suit and purple tie. A briefcase and scattered forms lay on the table in front of him, and he lifted a page, gazing at the one underneath with quiet reverie. A ghost of a smile crossed his face when Thad entered the room, and he let go of the sheet he’d been holding and rose to offer his hand. “Mr. Wendt? I’m Walter Layton, your mother’s attorney. I believe we’ve met?”

Thad shook his hand and sat down at the table opposite the other two men. He quickly glanced at the two, and then looked away as if he had just seen something disturbing.

“Hello, Samuel. Markus,” he said, his voice conveying the utter dislike he had for his two older brothers, especially Markus, the middle of the litter. Thad felt strangely out of place among these men with their expensive suits and short, perfect haircuts.

His two older brothers looked at him smugly. “It’s about time you got here, Thad,” Samuel said. “But it is just like you to keep us all waiting.”

“Oh, I agree,” Markus said. “Typical Thad for you.”

“I had to find a parking place, and I had to drive all the way up here from Taylor in my piece of shit car. Did you guys ever stop to think about that?”

“There’s nothing to think about, Thaddeus. You were always making everyone wait for you. People get tired of it,” Markus Wendt said. In his pin striped suit, he reminded Thad of a gangster from the movies. Only, Thad actually hated this man more, even more than Samuel, even more than a lying president. Contempt almost started to flow from Thad’s mouth, and the lawyer stood up and cut in.

“Gentlemen, let’s finish what he came to do today, and then you can finish your lovely reunion, alright?”

Layton looked at the two older brothers, who were both glaring at Thad with something akin to disgust, and then he looked at Thad. Thad was smiling.

When Thad left the strictness of the courthouse for the warming morning sun, he was no longer smiling. It wasn’t because he was unhappy, however, although in a sense he was – he had seen his brothers again, and judging from past experiences these situations never turned out well.

But those memories, those dull black and white images that were always stirred up by these confrontations, were at the back of his thoughts; all he could think about was the check in his pocket, and how pissed off his brothers had been to see him get it. It had been satisfactory to see his brothers behave so, but Thad had not been there for the same reasons as they – that much had become clear when the attorney had handed him the check in a gray envelope from the life insurance for half a million dollars.

Thad reeled as he walked along the sidewalk, almost unconsciously walking to where he had left his car. The traffic on State Street swelled with the morning rush, and people in business attire were beginning to crowd the sidewalks around the courthouse. People trolled along in then- cars looking for that one mythical parking meter, the one with the large empty space in front of it. The very air seemed stagnant, the trees stationary against the conflicting sounds of the city.

But all this wasn’t registering in Thad. The scene in conference room #302 had been bad at first, and had escalated to something akin to a child throwing a fit. Walter Layton had announced that the two older brothers, while being loved and cared about, did not need to be taken care of, and therefore did not need any additional monies or properties to sustain them. The lawyer went on to read something his mother had written just for this moment: My dear Thaddeus, if you are listening to this letter for the first time, let me just say how much I love and care for you, and I’ll miss you. And your brothers. I love you all. But you, Thaddeus, you took it upon yourself to forsake much of your life for me. I know I must have been a pain sometimes, forgive me. What’s an old woman for, anyway? You stayed with me and comforted me when your father passed on, and oh, did I love him dearly. I needed you more than 1 let on, but it turns out that I didn’t need to say anything at all. You were there. I really wanted for you to go out and live your life, and go out and do wondrous things, meet new friends, really. But I somehow get the feeling that I wouldn’t have been able to force you anyway. My baby boy. As I write this letter, I can remember so many good times we all had when we were all together. Now you can go out and build a life for yourself, son. Your brothers, I love them, but they have all they need. You have nothing. That is why I’ve carried the insurance for so long, so you would be taken care of. Think of it as a going away present. I’m not going to go on forever, and make it hard. Go live your life and be happy, son. I ‘II always be with you! I love you, Mother. 

Everyone in the room was looking at the twenty-seven year with the tears all over his face. Walter Layton lowered his head, and passed a rather large, ominous looking check across the table to Thad, who merely looked at it through wet eyes.

Samuel Wendt had his arms crossed over his chest and was shaking his head in disbelief. Markus’ face had turned red, and when he could no longer hold the steam, he stood and burst out, “This is bullshit! Utter bullshit! You can’t tell me that he gets everything, and we get nothing! I’ll sue, I tell you, I’ll sue!”

Perhaps Walter Layton could sense the anger building up in Thad, or possibly himself, but either way, he spoke next, dropping formalities. “Why don’t you sit down and conduct yourself in a decent manner, Mr. Wendt,” the lawyer said. “And let me tell you something – there is no court in the land that is going to give you a cent of that money. I guarantee it. From what I’ve seen, he deserves it.”

Markus pointed a stubby finger at Thad, his face growing even redder, prodded by the lawyer’s remarks. “You! You don’t deserve it, you little asshole. What the fuck are you going to do with it?”

“Shut up, Markus,” Samuel said, staring at Thad.

“If you don’t leave right now, Mr. Wendt. I’ll be forced to call one of the policemen up here,” Layton said as he was standing.

All the madness and resentment that Thad carried with him came back full force, and he could no longer stay in the same room with his two brothers. Just out of spite he stood and snatched the check from the table and waved it in front of Markus’ face. Thad’s face was wet with tears. He thought he had something to say, but at the last moment choked on it like a thick piece of steak, and all he could do was rush into the hallway with Layton calling out after him.

Thad punched the buttons on the elevator panel, turned and saw Markus just appearing in the conference room doorway with Samuel trying to grab him by the shoulders and haul him back. Thad quickly looked around, saw the door marked stairwell, and like a cool summer breeze he was there one second and gone the next.

He pushed his way through the tinted glass door and was blinded by the brightening morning sun. He pulled a pair of cheap sunglasses out of his tee shirt pocket and descended the wide cement stairs that led to the sidewalk along State Street.

In just the short time he had been inside the courthouse, State Street had doubled its traffic, and the sidewalks had likewise become busy thoroughfares of bodies of all shapes and sizes and dress, all traveling in different directions but for the same purpose, which was to start off another day at work, another day of accomplishments, perhaps another day of begging for another dollar with which to buy a bottle of the cheap stuff. Thad never considered himself much of a drinker, but for some reason being among the throngs of the city he felt part of the latter.

As he made his way down the sidewalk, trying to avoid as many of the strange stares as he could, he could see the white capital building rising high up above the avenues at the north side of the city. Thad remembered all the times he had been in Salt Lake, and all the times he had decided that he had never wanted to live there. And true to his own thoughts and words, he had remained in Taylor. Not only had it been the love for his mother, but Taylor was just small enough to be peaceful and quiet, and friendly enough for people who did not even know each other to wave hello to each other on opposite sides of the street. But Taylor was also large enough to have everything a person needed, and more. A nice little city.

Thad stopped at the booth at the head of the parking lot and handed the attendant his validated ticket. No hellos, no goodbyes, just a wave of the hand sent him on is way. No, Salt Lake City was definitely out of the question. The whole city seemed to have changed; the buildings, the people, the freeways, which incidentally ran every direction and left most from out of town confused and wishing they could have as much distance between themselves and the city as quickly as possible.

Thad passed the court building, with its ancient looking statues and Greek fa9ade, and there among a group of people walking along the sidewalk next to the gasoline smells of State Street were Samuel and Markus. Samuel noticed him right away, but Markus’ attention seemed to be drawn elsewhere until big brother leaned over and whispered something in Markus’ ear, and suddenly Markus was looking in every direction at once, frantic and red faced, until he caught sight of Thad’s car.

He signaled for Thad to pull over, demanded was more like his wordless actions seemed to be saying, and Thad gave him the friendly universal symbol that needed no translation. Samuel scowled and then burst out laughing as Markus waved both fists at Thad and ran after the car until he tired and gave up.

“What the hell was that all about? asked Samuel. He could barely contain his levity.

“You may think it’s funny, you asshole, but we deserve that money just as much as he does. And I going to get it. At least some of it.”

“Look Markus,” Samuel said, “we already have tons of money. Too much money. We don’t need that money. Let him have it. After all, he did take care of Ma.”

“He only did it for the money. He must have known about that policy. Perhaps-”

“He didn’t know about the policy, Markus. And do you know why? Because we didn’t know. And we know everything. That’s how we got to where we are today. Face it, little brother, our mother pulled a fast one on us. So let’s go have a drink and laugh about it, what do you say?”

“It’s bullshit, Sam, and I’m still going to try to get some of that money.” Markus’ face was red and tensed and sweating.

Samuel said, “Look, you heard what the lawyer said. He is not going to let anyone touch a dime of that money. And I believe him. Let it go, Mark. Just let it go. Lets go have a drink, and celebrate how much money we already have. The overseas business ventures have been very good to us. We can’t complain.”

“I suppose you’re right, Samuel. After all, we have made a lot of money.” He grinned that bogus grin that only those who were close to him understood. It always left Samuel a little perplexed, perhaps even fearful. “Let’s go have that drink,” he said, smiling all the way to the nearest bar. But inside his constantly planning mind the wheels and cogs of deception were beginning to turn, spinning new ideas that only the mind of this successful moneymaker would conceive and eventually attempt to carry out.

During the drive home on the freeway, cars rushing around him like a speedway, Thad felt a rising fear, or maybe desperation to get out of the city, away from the cement and cars and lawyers, and return to familiar, more secure surroundings as quickly as possible.

He glanced over at the glove box, inside which was the gray envelope. He couldn’t help but smile, but not necessarily because of the money (that was still more of a shock to him than anything), but because he would have the pleasure of calling his telemarketing job to let them know he was quitting.

He /zafec/telemarketers.

For the past four or five years he had tried to hold down job after job, including taking care of his mother, which had become an increasingly arduous affair as she eventually gained so much weight she could hardly leave the bed, except to go to the bathroom -that’s where Thad drew the line. At first, anyway. Of the many jobs he’d had, he had either quit or been fired, predominantly the latter, unfortunately. And he had always felt that pervasive guilt at losing a job; Abby Wendt could always tell, too. No matter how hard Thad tried to hide it, all he had to do was walk into the room and she could read his face. “You lost another one, huh?” she would say, shaking her head. But she was never too hard on the boy, always had a hug for him anyway.

This time there would be no guilt, only pure satisfaction. He thought of saying something crude to his former boss, as everyone thinks about at one time or another, those working for “the man”, but he opted for something short and simple, and then it would be over. He would be a free man with a lot of money.

He pulled into the driveway and turned off the car. In the rearview mirror he could see the vacant house across the street, a sign that said For Rent stuck in the overgrown grass next the sidewalk.

Don’t let it get to you too much, Mom. We can’t help it if the guy killed himself…

He leaned his forehead against the steering wheel, listening to the tick- tick -tick of the cooling engine. He knew what was inside his house, he loathed what was inside his house. His personal demons were there, waiting for him to come inside so they could again try to get under his skin and drive him crazy.

Emptiness.

Solitude.

Loneliness.

They were all in there, alright; and though he had become somewhat familiar with these silent demons, he was still unaccustomed at having to live with them, eat and sleep and go to the bathroom with them constantly at his side. The day would come when they would all die, however, and Thad wondered if he would really know it when that day came.

Envelope in hand, Thad walked through the house like a prospective buyer inspecting it for the first time. He felt enveloped in a pocket of silence, and yet the very atmosphere of the place seemed resonant of sounds and voices like whispers: long lost conversations, his mother’s boisterous laughter, the clanging of dishes being washed, the subdued voices from the television in his mother’s room.

Echoes of life still hanging on like old ghosts that won’t go away.

The air was musty, odorous of a good many things, actually, an effect left behind by Abby Wendt’s reluctance to open the windows, especially at night. During the day she just never felt the need, and as far as night was concerned, she was always telling Thad, “You just never know what might come crawling in.”

Thad went from room to room, lifting up all the windows to allow the clear summer air passage throughout the rooms. For the first time since his mother’s death, he really took notice of the various messy areas in the house. The kitchen sink was choked with dirty dishes, and there were stacks of food-encrusted plates on the counter. There were dirty towels on the bathroom floor, and his own bedroom floor was littered with clothes. Thad stood in the doorway to his mother’s old room – her room was the messiest of the house, but it bothered him not. Instead, he thought with sadness: Everything will have to go. Every last thing. I just can’t keep her stuff for ever.

Her floor was also littered with clothing. The nightstand next to her bed was littered with romance novels, candy wrappers, and empty pop cans. On the floor next to the side of the bed she always slept on (the same side she had always slept on when Mr. Wendt was alive) were several empty potato chip bags, and one that she had been working on when she passed. The bed itself was old and the sheets had sweat stains and sprinklings of crumbs. Thad could still see the depression in the bed where her form had once lain. Before he could do anything, however, he would have to take care of the matter of the money.

It was still before noon, and again he found himself behind the wheel of his car, this time headed for the bank where he had his checking account. And if memory served him right, he had around two hundred dollars. Things were about to change.

Once inside the immaculate, air conditioned environment of the bank, Thad went straight to a teller and announced that he needed to speak to someone about making a deposit.

“I can help you with that,” the girl said. Thad guessed her to be around nineteen or twenty.

“I’m not sure about that,” Thad said. “It’s a lot of money.”

“That’s ok, sir. I’m sure we can get it taken care of right away.”

Thad took the check from the envelope and slid it across the black marble counter toward the girl. She took one look at the check and her eyes widened. The teller was trying to remain as professional as possible, and failing miserably. “Oh my gosh, sir, I didn’t realize. I’m sorry about that.”

“It’s ok, I was a little shocked myself,” Thad said, and they both smiled.

The teller, whose name tag proclaimed her to be Susan, pointed at a gray-haired man in a white dress shirt and tie sitting at a desk on the other side of the room, where there were other desks with men and women behind them. Some had customers seated in one of the chairs in front of the desk, but most were talking on the phone or filling out forms. The bank seemed too quiet with all this activity.

“That gentleman right there can help you – his name is Dale Farner. He doesn’t seem to be with anybody, so you can probably go right over.”

“Thanks a lot,” Thad said, picking up his check and putting it back in the envelope.

A short while later Thad left the bank with a new savings account and a thousand dollars cash in his pocket. Dale Farner had told Thad that he would not have to pay taxes on the money, as it was not considered earned income. It was a gift. The banker had wanted to go over some investment opportunities with Thad, but Thad told Mr. Farner that it just wasn’t the right time.

When Thad finally arrived home, the back of his station wagon was stuffed full of cleaning supplies: A new mop and broom, a large plastic bucket, several packages of cleaning cloths, a bottle of pine cleaner, window cleaner, a box of scented powder to sprinkle on the carpeting before vacuuming, a can of air freshener and three of the plug-in types, and several boxes of garbage bags.

Thad was going to be very busy, indeed, and he had all the time in the world.

Thad could never have imagined before her death what it would feel like to remove all of his mother’s clothes as if she had never existed. And though he certainly hadn’t thought of it in those terms, it felt as if he were disgracing her in one way or another, discarding her like a bad habit. He had to keep telling himself that he had to be realistic, and to keep her clothes would be foolish, even obsessive. He found himself crying as he removed all of her clothes in the closet from the hangers and placing them in plastic garbage bags to be donated to the local thrift store. His emotions could find no true place to settle; they had blended together to form an emotion he had never felt before, one that was odd and intensely sad.

When all of the clothing was bagged, Thad called the thrift store and asked if they could stop by in the morning with a truck to pick up some donations. As soon as he had hung up, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hello, little brother. Howya holding up? “

Markus.

“Why are you calling me?” Thad asked, although he already knew what Markus wanted, for there would be no other reason for him to call. Social calls had never been part of the family agenda.

“I just wanted to talk to you about the inheritance. Now, I know you’re pissed off and everything but let’s face it – you don’t know how to handle that kind of money.”

“And what’s it to you, anyway? Goodbye, big brother!” Thad said, mocking his brother with a great deal of satisfaction.

No, wait! Don’t hang up! I can help you out with th- “

Thad hung up. He should have been angrier than he was, but he was still dealing with the sadness he was dragging around as he cleaned out Abby’s room. The phone call disappeared into his mind’s fog as he began hauling black garbage bags of clothes out to the curb.

The strangeness of the day was taking its toll on him; and he decided there was only one way to deaden it so he could complete what had to be done. He dropped what he was doing and drove down to a local gas station and bought a twelve pack of beer, which was normally the equivalent of what he drank over a year’s time. Maybe two. He was sure his so-called brothers drank all the time, the harder, more expensive stuff. But he didn’t care.

He had his own little world to take care of for the time being.

In the kitchen Thad popped open a beer and took a sip from the cold can. The dirty dishes loomed in front of him, unbalanced stacks with food stuck on plates and pans and silverware. He began to remove dishes from within the sink so he could wash it out and fill it up with clean, soapy water, and every tune he moved a plate or saucer he expected a bug, maybe even a dreaded roach to come scattering out onto his hand. But there were no bugs, it was just an overactive imagination, he supposed. And, taking more sips of beer, he attacked the dishes.

 

 

Thad knew most of his neighbors in the small neighborhood by face alone, and actually knew the ones surrounding him by name. But he had never come to know any of them very closely, or they him, but they did know what was going on in the Wendt house, or at least thought they did.

The ones nearest to him knew Mrs. Wendt had died, and they also knew just how close Thad and his mother had been. They watched with empathy as they saw him come and go, seemingly busy with cleaning out the house. Some even knew what was in the black garbage bags just by looking at them.

Next door and east of Thad was an immaculate little house that never seemed to grow so much as a weed or a blade of grass leaned over on the sidewalk. And it was no wonder – Joseph and Anna Matson had been retired for a few years, and Joe really took to his lawn like a fly to shit. And although they were retired, and Joe’s hair  had turned a solid steel gray, they didn’t look old enough for the golden years quite yet. Thad had never spoken with them about such things, only menial things like the weather or the noise Thad’s other neighbors had made the night before. But it was enough to give Thad the urge, or perhaps, obligation to wave every time he passed by and saw one of them outside.

Across the street was, of course, the empty house, the twin of Thad’s house, and to its east side, directly across from the Matson’s was a Mexican family that Thad had never spoken to. Their mailbox said Martinez, and he occasionally saw the two junior high age daughters as they went to school or walked their black, yapping dog. The father was a rather large man, and oftentimes during the warm weather Thad saw Joe Matson across the street talking to the man, each of them with a beer clamped in one hand. By the looks of their lawns, they both shared the same lawn care obsessions.

Brent and Wendy Neilson, a much younger couple then the Matsons’, lived on the west side of the vacant house, and they had two small boys who Thad knew to be Gregg and Braden. There had been more than one occasion when Thad had seen Brent storming across the street at one or two in the morning to quiet the neighbors that lived next door to Thad on his west side. And to see Brent Neilson crossing the street with his overly large belly and clenched fists, frowning with anger through his lumberjack’s beard, made Thad glad that he was on the man’s good side.

But Thad could never blame him for being pissed off; the kids (although most of the crowd that partied there on the weekends were in their early twenties, they were still referred to as the kids) next door were outrageously boisterous on weekends, particularly Friday and Saturday nights.

That no one could ever figure out just how they seemed to know the cops were on the way just stoked the fire. It was almost as if the partiers had a second sense; everyone would pile inside the house and the outside fog lights would go out, and then the inside lights would go dim. Five or ten minutes later a police cruiser would float by, turn around and go by the other direction. They never bothered to stop, though, just the quick run and then they would vanish. And a short while later, people would float outside again.

Every now and then someone would go out and fire up the primer gray Mustang parked on the gravel drive. The car was loud. Really loud. It always set off a flurry of whoops and yells and shouts.

It was like an atom bomb exploding in an otherwise soundless desert.

Thad used to get more frustrated than angry early on, but when Abby began to succumb to health problems, Thad would actually find himself walking next door to stop the noise himself. And it wasn’t unusual to turn and find Brent Neilson standing behind him like a body guard. The Matsons would stand outside on their sidewalk and watch all this with their arms crossed over their chests. They always thought it best to stay in their own territory and let the police handle the noise. Which always failed miserably.

The last weekend, however, had been unusually quiet and Thad wondered if it was out of respect for his mother, who had died the previous Thursday. He knew it wouldn’t last. Abby’s funeral had been on Sunday. Today was Tuesday. The weekend would be back in no time, and with it would come what would seem like every beer drinking adolescent in twenty-one-years old clothing that lived in Taylor.

These thoughts were always there at the back of his mind, moving to the forefront as the days dragged on. Thad tried to keep at his work, felt almost ridiculous using a mop to scrub the walls, but what worked, worked.

The days dragged on, and the house had already seemed changed, had already taken a direction for the better, and he was quite pleased with the progress. Mother would have been proud. But then, she was always proud of Thaddeus Wendt no matter what he did, especially that he had thought not of himself but of her in the last few years. Mother would enjoy the place, he thought. He did something that he could not remember doing since he was a tiny child – he got down on his knees and prayed. He prayed to God for his good fortune, but mostly prayed to his mother for thinking of him and taking care of him, and he knew she was in a better place; and he prayed to God to please take care of Abby Wendt forever, so that one day he might see her again. The prayers felt good, positive, and he knew that she had heard every word.

He had been cleaning windows when he heard a large truck pull up across the street in front of the vacant house. Thad peeked out the living room window and a small white moving van parked at the curb. Two burley men in greasy green overalls climbed out and unlocked the back of the truck and slid open the jointed metal door. One man began to unload stuff on the ground while the other unlocked the front door and propped it wide open.

While the two movers unloaded furniture into the house, Thad looked all over for a sign of the new resident, but there was no one but the movers. And they seemed to be in a hurray. As they unloaded the not too particularly large amount of items, they went from window to window to open them to allow fresh air for the place, though it would really matter not to the new resident. Eventually, he would close the windows again, for hot or cold simply would not matter to a man whose body temperature was below normal anyway.

It had been only one year earlier that the house was occupied, family after family taking possession of the house. The last occupants had been the Turners. Sam and Tracy Turner, and their six-month-old baby. No matter how hard Thad tried, he could never remember the name of that child, only that in life it had been a girl.

They had never been what you might call the ideal family; Sam was a raging drunk, and everybody knew it. Hell, all you had to do was watch him try to start his lawn mower. And every now and then, on the hot summer days, he would see Thad out mowing the lawn or weeding a patch of ground, and amble across the street for a little visit. When he spoke, you really knew it. The smell of his breath could get you drunk. If you looked over his shoulder, there would be Tracy Turner in the window shaking her head or biting her lip, worrying what kind of mischief Sam would get into that day.

To talk to Sam Turner you would think the man never had a good day in his life. He hated this. He hated that. He was the biggest complainer Thad had ever known. Sam Turner could find something to complain about in every aspect of his miserable life.

And then, his life got even worse.

Sam lost his job at the foundry for drinking at lunch. Tracy Turner had picked up the slack and had gone to work as a waitress. The last thing in the world she had wanted was to leave their baby girl with her drunken husband, but they had no money for day care, so it was either that or starve.

And it was on one of those days when Tracy was out trying to bring home the family bread and butter that a call came in to 911 from a very drunken man claiming his baby daughter had stopped breathing in her crib. The call was from Sam Turner. Thad could recall that day, as could anyone who lived nearby, especially those who had been outside watching when Tracy had rushed home from work. She had flipped into the driveway and slammed on the brakes in their old Chevy before jumping out of the car and running up to Sam, who was on the front lawn talking to a paramedic and a policeman. He had his face in his hands, shaking his head back and forth, barely able to stand at three in the afternoon.

Thad had been standing on his own front lawn that day, filled with curiosity like most folks are when the situation involved any kind of emergency vehicle.

Tracy had run straight up to Sam, and began shouting, ” Where’s my baby? Where’s my baby? ” When he uncovered his face, she took one look at those eyes, those horrific red eyes that didn’t even look human anymore, and she shrieked and made a dash for the house. The paramedic made a half-hearted attempt to stop her, but she got away, flying through the wide open front door, screaming, “Where’s my baby? Give me my baby!”

It wasn’t long before the most heart-wrenching scream erupted from the house, a wailing so miserable that it put some into tears before they really knew what had happened. And then Tracy herself erupted from the house, rushing at Sam with her arms and fists flailing through the air.

“You bastard! You son of a bitch! AAAhhhhh!” She had managed a few good slugs at her husband before the policeman pulled her back in a screaming fit of sorrow and agony. It was then that people started to get an idea of what was going on. The baby was hurt, or worse, dead. And judging from Tracy Turner’s actions, it became more and more evident that it was the latter.

It was more than an hour later when Tracy had actually calmed down enough to stand by her husband, and even hug while the two wept. No one could have known their agony that day. But, there would be more to it than that.

Article from the Taylor Gazette, June 9th, 2003:

Medical Examiner Finds Evidence of Foul Play in Death of Child

Taylor, Ut.

The Utah County Coroner’s Office released its initial findings today in the case of baby Nicole Turner, the child who had died Monday in the home of Sam and Tracy Turner, both of Taylor, Utah.

“There is evidence of trauma to the brain, but we won’t know until further investigations have been done,” said County Medical Examiner Walter Smith. The county Sheriff’s Office would not release any statements today, pending another autopsy.

The father, who was, according to authorities, “extremely intoxicated and incoherent”, discovered the body of Nicole Turner dead in her crib around three in the afternoon on Monday.

No arrests have been made in the case, and authorities will not speculate as of yet if any charges are to be filed.

Article from Taylor Gazette, June 10, 2003:

Father charged in death of child

Taylor, Ut.

Authorities issued a warrant today for the arrest of Sam Turner of Taylor, Ut., for the wrongful death of Nicole Turner, the six-month-old baby that died in her home Monday. The Utah County Sheriff’s Office released a statement today.

“After a second autopsy, we have determined that the cause of death of Nicole Turner was trauma to the brain, most likely caused by the child being literally shaken to death.”

Police had received a call from the inebriated father stating that the child had stopped breathing in her crib. When emergency crews showed up at the scene, they tried to resuscitate the baby, who was not breathing and had no heartbeat. She was pronounced dead at 3:02 Monday afternoon.

Sam Turner is being charged with manslaughter and now sits in the Utah County Jail awaiting bail.

Article from Taylor Gazette, June 12, 2003:

Man commits suicide after charged In Death of Child

Taylor, Ut-

A man who was recently charged in the death of his child was found dead in his home yesterday, the victim of suicide. Sam Turner, 28, of Taylor, Ut., was found dead of a shotgun wound to the head. Turner had recently been charged with manslaughter in the case of his six-month-old baby, Nicole Turner. It was determined that Turner was drunk beyond legal limits at the time of his death.

Tracy Turner could not be reached for statement, but a family spokesperson said that she was “detached and unable to speak”. The spokesperson, which wished to remain anonymous, also said, “Nothing can ever bring back Tracy’s baby. Nothing. We are just glad that it’s over. We believe that justice has been served, even though it came from his own hand.”

 

 

That guy’s brains were everywhere, I’m talkin’ all of the walls and floors, and get this – his head had been spit open like a fucking clam shell. This small bit of news was from yet another neighbor whose name Thad could not recall. It didn’t matter. It was all true. A specialized cleaning crew donning special white suits, masks and all, geared for this unusual task came in when the house was completely empty, also donning masks with filters to protect them from harmful germs or contagious airborne viruses that may have been lingering around in the air, countertops, walls. Paranoia was the word of the day. And for good reason – just how many would be able to forget about the bizarre actions that transpired right in their own neighborhood.

The noise across the street settled down, and Thad found himself gazing out the window again at the two movers who were leaning against the truck’s cab, smoking cigarettes as if waiting for the new resident to show up. But little did anyone know that the man would not show up until late, out of sight of any watchful eyes.

Eventually, only after about a fifteen or twenty minute wait the men climbed into the noisy truck and rumbled down the street, smoke pouring from the tailpipe, until they disappeared around a corner and were gone, the aged growling of the engine finally growing quiet as it turned onto Center Street and rolled out of sight.

Thad tried not to take it too seriously, as he was sure some of the neighbors had, but instead went about his business, wetting the sponge mop and starting the arduous job of cleaning the walls. He wanted to do the entire house, but with how worn out he had already become, he just wasn’t sure how much he would get done. Maybe he was waiting for a car to pull up, or perhaps a mini van filled with children which really didn’t appeal to him, grown-up children that would contribute to the din next door on Friday and Saturday nights, so he tried not to concern himself with it too much.

Although Thad had consumed a mere three beers, he felt a dizzy, light headed buzz that kept him going throughout the house (which was one thing Thad could never understand, how beer left some glued to their TVs, while others could perform endless work, especially those that needed the work completed while adding a little fun to it. Beer, indeed, was oftentimes the catalyst to hard work, even though after some time the work may turn to trash, though it still managed to get done, no matter the outcome).

Thad never obtained a raging buzz, however, just a comfortable slight buzz (his beer drinking never amounted to anything more than sipping), or even just a glow that kept him busy for quite some time. He noticed the for rent sign was still planted hi the front yard of the vacant house – the movers must have forgotten it. But the sign soon was forgotten as Thad went about other tasks around the house, and the next time he looked out the window the sky had turned gray as the sun had lowered below the western horizon. As he was turning on some of the lights throughout the house, something his mother used to always complain about because of the outrageous power bills, there came a knock at the front door. Thad opened the door with a contented buzz and was actually happy to see the familiar lined faces of the Matsons from next door.

“Well, what a surprise,” Thad said. “Come on in.” Joe and Anna came just inside the doorway. “Wow,” Joe said. “Looks like you’ve been cleaning like gangbusters.”

“Just wanted to get the place back in shape,” Thad said. “Mother’s gone, but I think she’d like it.”

Anna said, “We just wanted to tell you again how sorry we are for your loss. If you need anything at all, anything, please, let us know. We’re here for you, Thad.”

“Of course, Thad,” Joe said, shaking Thad’s hand. “Anything for you, my friend.” Anna gave Thad a heartfelt hug, and over her shoulder he saw something unusual across the street at the newly occupied house. “Well, that’s a little strange, isn’t it?”

Joseph and Anna looked across the street and saw the same thing: Brent Neilson’s dog Sadie had gotten loose somehow and was intently sniffing around the house across the street, especially under the front door, where the dog whined and whimpered as if after some kind of quarry. His tail stuck straight out and his hackles were raised across his back.

“What the hell is that all about,” Joe asked.

Sadie barked at the underside of the door, and that brought Brent out through the front door and straight over to the house next door, where he had to struggle to get hold of Sadie’s collar before dragging her into his back yard and shutting the wooden whitewashed gate. He locked the back gate at the top of his driveway, waved at his neighbors, and moseyed back inside his home. The night was growing darker, and a hook of a moon was rising in the darkening, overhead sky.

“Thank you so much for your concern. You guys are wonderful, thank you.” Thad said, almost overcome by Anna Matson’s perfume. Joe had always been a nice neighbor, but Thad wondered if Anna had forced him to come over and drop his manly side for a moment. It really made no difference to Thad, it was just human nature at work. The Matson’s said their good evenings and walked next door, waving over their shoulders as they went. As he watched, Thad noticed something else at the house across the street; and it was quite odd indeed to have two cats on the roof of the house pawing back and forth, sticking their curious heads over the roofs overhang as it waiting for someone or something to make an appearance. Their obvious intent was strange to watch, and Thad found himself fetching his open beer from inside the house and sitting on the small front porch, watching the cats prancing around on the roof of a total stranger’s house.

Big Brent Neilson appeared at his screen door shirtless, saw Thad sitting alone on his porch nursing a beer, and started across his lawn when his youngest, Braden, tried to make his escape in pursuit of his father. “You get back in that house and get ready for bed, young man,” Brent said, and the little one ran back inside. Brent continued his trek across the street, hairy chest riding above a large pouch that hung over the waist of his faded blue jeans.

“You want a beer?” Thad asked.

“I didn’t know you drank at all,” Neilson said.

“Oh, once in a blue moon. And considering all things lately, I think this qualifies as a blue moon.”

“Hey, I’m really sorry-”

“It’s ok, Brent. Hang on a minute.” Thad went inside and returned with a cold beer for Brent, who popped it open and polished off half of it with several large swallows, followed by a raspy burp.

“I’ve had lots of practice,” he said, and they both shared a good laugh. Brent asked, “You seem to be interested in something over there. You know, I’ve never seen Sadie act like that before. I don’t even know how the hell she got out of the yard.”

Thad pointed to the cats on the stranger’s roof, which had just become three.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Brent said. “Just what the hell is the fascination over there? Dogs and cats after the same thing. What next, dog and cat sex?” He laughed at his own joke, and even Thad found himself visualizing it and laughing out loud.

Night seemed to be falling quicker, and the cats were becoming moving silhouettes against a darkening sky. Stars were becoming visible, and a half-moon had already become a nightlight high floating toward the west up in the darkness.

Brent finished his beer and set the empty can on Thad’s porch. “I better head home, my friend. Thanks for the brewski. I’ll talk to you later,” he said, his stomach bouncing as he headed across the street. Thad noticed Brent straining to see the cats on the roof of seemingly empty house across the street. The cats paid no mind to Brent, merely went on with their curious searching with the instinctive reasoning only they were aware of.

What would make those stupid cats act like that anyway?

He sat there a short while longer, sipping the beer and watching the peculiar events across the street. And then something crossed his mind, something that suddenly made him feel self-conscious: What if someone is watching me? They could have been peeking out a window this whole time, quite aware of Sadie sniffing around the place, cats creeping around on the roof with their incessant meows, Brent Neilson and me staring at the place almost as if we had been spying. But that was the last thing we were doing. We were just curious about the odd animal behavior, as he was sure the new resident across the street was as well. Or was he? Thad didn’t know why that thought crossed his mind, only that it seemed to run by on its own.

The thought of being watched (a little unnerving), combined with the strong scents of the various cleaning fluids he’d been using had Thad picking up Brent’s empty beer can and his own that was not quite finished, and going back inside the house for more cleaning. He was tired, yet he could afford to stay up as late as he wished. There would be no work in the morning, only a visit from a large old truck from the thrift store to pick up a few things. And then he could sleep all day if he wanted.

Thad opened his fifth beer with a smile on his face, trying to remember just what he’d been doing before receiving company. At first, he could not recall, and he laughed out loud at how absurd it seemed. But then it came to him – he had been washing windows. The beer seemed to be playing games with his mind, he took another step out onto the front porch, and sure enough, even through the growing darkness he could still see the cats as they prowled their lofty perch as if guarding some long lost secret.

If not for the street light that was planted in the strip of grass in front of the newly occupied house, the felines would have already been invisible. But, they had gathered too much attention , even if only a few people, especially the kids next door, had noticed their quiet movements. They automatically invited the few visitors they had outside to witness the spectacle, and to them the behavior of the cats became an omen, a precursor of bad things to come. The house instantly became a symbol of something dark, maybe even bad. The kids next door were a little frightened and fascinated at once.

Standing on his front porch with his mouth slightly ajar had Thad again feeling as if he was the one being watched. Maybe for someone else he was the cat on the roof. He shuddered at the thought, went back inside and locked the door behind him.

He set down the beer on the coffee table and grabbed the bottle of blue window cleaner and the moist rag lying next to it. He wasn’t even sure what room he had last been in, but it seemed to matter not. As he walked down the hall to his mother’s room, he stopped as if a barrier prevented him from advancing forward. He thought about his mother, as he had periodically most of the night. He felt that common, familiar grief, and tried to consider what a much better place she would have had to live in now. Somewhere, she was smiling at her son, proud that he was making the right decisions. Thad hoped that she was there and would always be a part of his life. And he knew deep down that she would always know that he would never forget her.

 

 

Thad went into his room first, just to look around at a room that seemed to be different now, like a room in a different house belonging to a total stranger. There was a double-sized bed, made up neatly, prim and proper. Against one wall was a brown wooden desk (he had purchased it at the same thrift store that he would be donating his mother’s things to) with a computer on it, surrounded by various books, mostly horror and mystery novels. Thad had once had a secret dream of becoming a writer, but all he had ever accomplished were a few short stories that were fairly well written, but they had no significance to Thad. Abby told him he had given up too easily, and that no one ever said it would be easy. Work, it would take a lot of hard work, and Thad did not know if he was ready for that kind of commitment. He wasn’t even sure he could keep up with it. Perhaps now he would have more time to think about it.

While Thad pondered over things in his bedroom, across the street the cats were still pawing around on the roof of the newly occupied house. The kids next door, who weren’t really kids at all, had gone back inside their house. One person, however, had decided to stay out a little longer under the blanket of night. Dennis “Bones” Strickland sat on the porch smoking a cigarette and watching the growing number of cats on the neighbors roof. Even in the dark, he could still see them clearly in the moonlight and dim yellow glow of the streetlamp.

Bones had earned his nickname years before, when he had been even skinnier than he was now. His cousins began to call him Bones, and the name stuck. Over time, he actually grew to like the name, preferred the name; and the name fit, as he was a different person now. The harder the music the more he liked it. He had a slow, mellow way of speaking no matter the situation. In fact, if an atom bomb were to drop nearby, he would merely declare in his calm demeanor, “Wow, did you see that? 1 mean, that was cool.”

The females in their circle of friends thought Bones was the coolest man on Earth. And his looks drew the females like a magnet. The hair on the top of his head was short, very short, but then at the rear he had a pony tail that hung down just below his waist. He never let it fly loose, though, always kept it tied at intervals all the way to the end so that it formed one thick, solid rope that the females simply loved. And he always had his share of female company. Bones was actually one of four guys that lived in the house, paid his share of rent and bills, and held down a pretty good job at a large food manufacturing plant in the neighboring town of Compton. But right now, it all mattered not. What did matter was the strange activity on the neighbor’s roof. The cats were striding to and fro, leaning over the edge of the overhang, scratching at the shingles, now and again swiping each other hi anger with their sharp little claws. Bones thought: What is this all about? There has to be something to it. Something not natural. That thought came from an open mind that only Bones possessed.

His curiosity kept him planted right on the porch, and he lit up another cigarette and blew the smoke up into the cool night ah-. Lester Keck, self-proclaimed computer whiz (or Worm as everyone else called him), and also a resident of the house suddenly appeared in the doorway.

“Aren’t you coming in, Bones?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there in a minute,” Bones said, without taking his eyes from the sight across the street.

“Well, you better hurry,” Lester said, “or Randy will drink every beer in the house. You know how he is.” Another member of the household, Randy Wilkins was a huge piece of work, the resident jock with the letterman’s jacket. He currently had no job, as he was waiting for word on his athletic scholarship. That he had no money seemed not to concern anyone – no one was going to argue with Randy.

There was one other student as part of the household, one who had a job as a cashier at a gas station. But Tim Dewolf could certainly put down his share of beer as well as anybody, except maybe Randy, who was a bottomless pit.

But Bones still wasn’t concerned. There was something wrong across the street, and he wanted to know just what it was. He didn’t bother to stop and think that maybe he was being watched as well, the thought never crossed his mind.

But he was being watched, just as Thad had been. Only Thad had had the good sense to go inside. Bones wouldn’t move. His curiosity was more dangerous than he knew. He continued to watch and to smoke. /’// bet all the dogs in the neighborhood would be all over that place if they all weren ‘t chained up or locked in their backyards or some shit like that. Cats can go anywhere they want.

Bones may not have realized it before, but he unexpectedly found that he was indeed being watched, for just over the crest of the roof a head appeared from the back side; and although it was too dark to discern any features, he was quite sure the head was staring directly at him. Eye to eye. His mellow demeanor could not stop the thumping of his heart, or that he felt frozen to the very spot where he sat. He saw a glint of moonlight in the stranger’s moist eyes, could almost see a sadistic grin. Yet again, it was dark. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him. But why could he not believe that?

Eye to eye.

The cats were hissing and making lunges at this person, who apparently saw no threat from the cats. But the cats apparently saw him as a threat, perhaps a mortal enemy, for they seemed to want to hurt him, or perhaps even worse. The man was obviously staring directly into Bones’ eyes, he could see and feel it, like a cold draft, and while the stranger did so, he made a movement so fast, so fleeting, that Bones at first did not understand what the man had done until he saw him clutching a cat by the neck. The animal struggled and tried to scratch and claw its way loose, but the man’s grip was much too strong. How could he have done that? It was so fast I could have blinked and missed it. There is something wrong here, something terribly wrong.

Bones started, his eyes widened, his mouth fell open, and his mind could not comprehend what he saw.

The stranger stretched the cat’s neck out and opened his mouth wide, wider than Bones had ever seen a person’s mouth open before, and making sure Bones was watching, he took a huge bite out of the cat’s neck and chewed on it, still staring at Bones. He then spat out the mouthful of flesh and gristle and hair onto the roof, and put his mouth to the open wound. He was drinking the blood. And for some reason he had wanted Bones to see, maybe to taunt him, maybe to drive him crazy because after all, if he told anybody what he saw, they would think him crazy. The man threw the cat over his shoulder, and it pin wheeled and disappeared from sight.

The other cats, ones that had not fled, were still making a stand against the odd figure, and he was suddenly standing on the front side of the roof in his dark clothes, bathed in dim light. What he did next did not surprise Bones at all. He still felt as if he was being forced to watch.

One by one he snatched each cat, snapped its neck in two, and hurled them off in different and distant directions. It seemed as easy to him as brushing a bothersome fly or mosquito off an arm. When the roof was void of any cats, the man took another look at Bones and disappeared over the back side of the house.

All Bones could do was sit there, trying to absorb the lunacy he’d just witnessed. Among the mixed up thoughts and images that bombarded his brain, a thought occurred to him, frightful and very real: He’s coming after me now. That’s what he’s doing, he showed me just what he could do, and now he’s coming after me.

That thought abruptly got Bones moving. He rushed into the house and locked the door behind him. He barely noticed the people sitting around the living room drinking beer and laughing at some meaningless joke. Randy sat on the couch next to his current girlfriend, Judy Hess (Randy, being the handsome jock he was, went through girls like a child that discards a toy after becoming bored). Sitting across from them on the loveseat was Tim Dewolf, his eyes bloodshot and shrunken to slits. Kyle Anderson and Ami Childress sat cross-legged on the floor, occasionally stroking each other’s knee or thigh, or sharing a kiss. Kyle seemed to be stoned frozen, holding the burning joint up in the air as they all watched as a crazy Bones ran from room to room closing windows and locking them. He turned on the swamp cooler that was mounted in one of the kitchen windows, and went into the living room, where he stood trembling slightly, looking at the stoned and bewildered faces staring back at him. And when he began to speak, even his usual slow, casual dialogue came out strained and shaky.

“There.. .is something freaky going on across the street!” he blurted out.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Randy asked, and then to Kyle he said, “You want to hand that joint over here, Bogart?” Kyle shook his head as if snapping out of a daze, and handed it to the big lug on the couch. Randy stuck out his lips to suck on the joint, and Judy giggled at the sight of those big lips sticking out in a silly looking impression of a kiss.

“Listen to me!” Bones said. “I just saw our new neighbor across the street doing some weird shit. I mean, it just wasn’t normal.”

“What was he doing?” Tim asked, with a cynical smile. Bones frowned, and clenched his fists.

“I think you’re pissing him off, Timmy. Better watch it,” Randy said, chuckling. Kyle and Ami were the only ones in the room taking him seriously. They looked enthralled with what Bones had to say.

“Will you guys shut the fuck up and listen to me?” Bones bellowed. The commotion had drawn Lester “Worm” Keck away from his computer, and he now stood in the hall just outside the living room, his long bangs hanging over his square, black-framed glasses, listening to the discourse with the scientific seriousness he was known for.

Randy said, “I’ve kicked guy’s asses for less than that, Mr. Bones.”

“Yes, I know Randy. I know all about it. But will you please just listen to me?”

Tim sighed heavily. “Ok, Bones, what was our freaky neighbor up to tonight?”

“When I was out there smoking my cigarette, I saw a couple of cats on the roof of that house across the street. And Brent Neilson’s dog was over there, too, sniffing around the house, so I know he saw, and Thad, because they were outside talking and Neilson had to go and fetch his dog and lock him up. I don’t know what Thad was doing, but I was watching the whole thing.”

“Watching what?” Randy asked, giving the joint to Judy. “The dog was chasing the cats. That’s what was going on.”

Aggravated, Bones said, “No, that’s not what was going on. I think the cats and the dog were after the same thing. I mean, after Neilson put his dog in his back yard, more cats showed up. And more. There must have been twenty, twenty-five cats up there, all of them scratching at the roof and running back and forth like they’d lost their minds.”

Everyone in the room had grown quiet, especially Kyle and Ami, who watched and listened with child-like intent.

“Then this guy’s head pops up. I swear, he was looking right at me! And the cats were all going fucking nuts, hissing, jumping around, and this guy stands up and grabs one. I swear to God he took a bite out of its neck! His mouth got huge. Big! He spat out a huge chunk of this cat’s neck, and starts sucking on the wound, and all the time he’s looking right at me! He wanted me to see!” Bones stopped for a moment, his eyes wide and serious. Randy and Tim wore faces of disbelief. Kyle and the girls looked somewhat shocked, Kyle’s forehead wrinkled as if he were trying to visualize the whole thing. Worm stood in the hall, indifferent yet attentive.

“I swear, I’m telling the truth. After he killed that cat, he threw it so far I couldn’t see where it went. And then he starts grabbing the other cats and breaking their necks, I could hear it! He threw them, too. And he was still looking at me when he went down the back side of the roof. I figured he might be coming after me, so I high-tailed it in here and shut all the windows and locked them. That guy could be anywhere.”

“Wow, man,” Tim said, feigning concern through bloodshot eyes. He threw his head back and burst out laughing. “You’re trippin’ Bones. Quit trying to freak us out.”

“I’m not trying to freak anybody out, Tim! I saw what I saw. You just watch, there’ll be something about cats in the newspaper tomorrow.”

Judy moved closer to Randy. “I’m scared, Rand. What if that guy is out there?”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of, babe. There’s no boogey man out there,” Randy said. He stood and gathered his balance, and headed for the door. The back of his blue and white letterman’s jacket had a large cursive T emblazoned there: Taylor High Titans.

“Where you going?” Judy asked.

“I’m just going outside for a minute to look for the boogey man.”

Tim laughed. “God, you’re an asshole sometimes.”

“I’ve kicked guy’s asses for less than that, wimp.”

“Don’t go out there, Randy,” Bones said. “At least wait until we see something in the paper about the cats. Then you’ll believe me.”

“Nothing is going to hurt me, and if he tries, I’ll take him down.”

Randy opened the front door and pushed out through the creaky screen door, letting it slap against the doorjamb, which startled everyone out of the creepy mood that had surrounded them. Worm vanished down the hall. Tim laughed, and Bones strode across the room and shut the door.

“No one else go outside,” he said, blocking the door. He was starting to sound like his old self again, his voice lacking the trembling words and excited inflection of a few minutes earlier.

They all heard the screen door opening, and turned their heads as if expecting something else to come through the door besides Randy Wilkins, something horrible and ugly, carrying Randy’s severed head in one twisted hand. Bones stepped back, and Randy came threw the door carrying an air of one who has just returned from a dangerous quest.

“Well, if there was something out there, there’s nothing now. Smells like there’s a dead mouse or something out there in the bushes.”

“Or dead cats,” Bones said.