by Keith Krogstad
Norman crouched next to the wooden frame, wiped the sweat from his face, and lifted the final wall of the shed. A grunt billowed in his throat, and a dull, searing ache pervaded his straining muscles. “Come on, you bitch,” he groaned, pushing the wall frame into place. Using his hammer, he nailed the frames together.
Beleaguered by the August heat, Norman reached for his toolbox, gripped the last two beers of the six-pack, and ducked for a patch of shade under the pine trees bordering Ms. Weber’s property. He chugged the beer and, although it had warmed considerably since he took it out of the fridge that morning, it was still refreshing.
He crumpled the empty can and tossed it into Ms. Weber’s rose garden. “That’ll give her lonely ass something to complain about,” he said, opening the second can.
Thirty minutes later, Norman stopped assembling the roof rafters to empty his bladder. While relieving himself on a Scandinavian lawn gnome perched next to the vegetable garden, a sliver of vulnerability crawled up his spine. His back muscles tightened. Someone’s watching me, he thought. Aw, who cares? I’ll just say the back door was locked and there was nowhere else to go.
He could feel the gaze moving up and down his backside, discerning. Norman zipped up his pants and whirled around—
There was a man standing next to the shed, head tilted down, staring at the ground.
Norman’s body petrified; the sweat coating his skin turned to ice. All color bled from his face. He stepped back, his legs heavy and detached. His eyes were fixed on the man’s black fedora. It can’t be, he thought. No, it’s impossible. Brimming with incredulity, he licked his lips with a dry tongue and asked, “Dad?”
The man lifted his head, peering at Norman. His upper lip pulled back, revealing a soft smile. “Hey, Norman.”
Norman trembled. His heart beat with an intensity that rattled his vision. A shaky whimper hung in his throat. “But...” his voice sounded foreign,“you’re dead...”
“True,” the man said, stepping forward. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Norman’s mind scrambled for a logical explanation. You must’ve fallen from the shed and hit your head; this is all a dream. No, it’s the heat! Dehydration. Heat stroke. You know, the one that causes people to see mirages in the desert. Yeah, that’s it!
The man was within arm's reach.
“Don’t come any closer!” Norman said, his back pressed firmly against the wooden fence. “Get away from me!”
“After the walk, this’ll all make sense.”
Sidestepping past the old man, Norman dashed for Mrs. Weber’s backdoor. Then, like a dog in full sprint reaching the end of its tether, something abruptly yanked him backwards. He collapsed on the lawn, disoriented and gasping at the pain in his ribs, lying before the man’s feet.
“Didn’t want it to be this way, boy,” the man said. He bent over, gripped the collar of Norman’s shirt, and dragged him across the lawn. Norman clawed and swung and bellowed, unable to break the man’s grip. He dug his fingernails deep into the man’s hand with all his strength. “You’re gonna feel silly when we’re done with all this.”
As they neared the gate, a sudden movement caught Norman’s eye: an elderly woman wearing a grey bathrobe. “Mrs. Weber! Mrs. Weber!” he yelled. She didn’t respond. Instead, she clucked into a cordless phone held against her face with a tremulous hand.
Get off the phone! Norman’s mind screamed. “Mrs. Weber!”
For a brief second, she glanced back in his direction, her eyes wide and uncomprehending. Her head quickly swiveled back to something on the lawn. Then he saw that she was staring at a heap of lumber where the shed once stood. He watched Ms. Weber gingerly walk around the—
Norman’s blood went cold at the sight of his prostrate body pancaked under the weight of the woodpile. “What in God’s..?”
“Happens to all of us some time or another,” the man said.
While the man in the fedora hat opened the gate and dragged him from the yard, Norman continued to stare at his body. Then the gate swung shut, and Norman saw nothing.
Copyright © 2007 by Keith Krogstad