by C. L. Kelley
|part 2 of 3|
They came for me a week later, while my parents were visiting my aunt and uncle. It was the first time all summer that I knew I was going to have the house to myself for any significant length of time, and I enjoyed it. If I were going to college in the fall, I didn’t relish the idea of a roommate. Maybe I would live off-campus, though the idea of affording a place by myself was a bit of a joke.
I relaxed on the living room sofa, channel surfing, trying to find something to take my mind off what was happening. Of course the graffiti had worsened, and taken a turn for the quietly sinister instead of the explicitly violent. One picture was of a man with his back turned, and just looking at it, I felt that to see his face would be an awful thing.
One of the messages scrawled on the wall had sent me running from the bathroom, begging another bag boy to finish the job. It said, “He’s watching us.” Below was my phone number.
No date or time of day attached to that one. Now every time the phone rang, I was afraid of who it might be. I never answered the phone myself these days, which had once made my father miss an important phone call. I stood in the kitchen, watching it ring and ring, while my father called, “Could you get that? Are you even listening?”
Thinking about these things, I didn’t know why I thought being at home by myself was such a great thing. I was long past the point where I could convince myself that this was all the product of a bored, restless imagination. Now I could only accept that it was reality, or that I was delusional and had gone insane. Increasingly, I felt like I would prefer being insane. I just wished that I knew someone to talk to about all of this, I mean really talk to without sounding like I had lost it.
At least I wished that someone else could see the writing the way I did. Earlier, before I had made the phone call, I had tried to force perception on one of the other baggers. I had asked Josh, a freckled boy who ran track at school, if he would help clean the bathrooms. I could tell that Josh thought this was an odd request, since I usually liked to do things by myself. But when I agreed to take care of restocking the milk — a chore that Josh hated — I got my help.
While Josh went to work on the stalls, I wiped down the mirrors, keeping an eye on him, seeing if he would flinch or at least say something about all of the weird graffiti, but he was completely silent as he scrubbed the toilet. I felt cold hands tearing at my stomach: maybe I really was crazy. Trying to keep the edge out of my voice, I said, “So what do you think about all the writing in the stall? That’s some messed up stuff, yeah?”
For a moment Josh didn’t respond, but then, without looking up, he said “Just the same kind of dumb crap you’d find anywhere. Nothing that weird. Man, these people need to learn how to spell.”
Before I realized what I was doing, I was at the mouth of the stall, and Josh whirled around. Fear flickered in his eyes like I was about to hit him. I almost did.
“What do you mean, ‘nothing that weird’? Are you crazy?” Hysteria rose rapidly. I jammed a finger at a picture like a medieval woodcarving of a grove of stakes with people broken and skewered on them. “Look at that! Do you know how long that probably took to draw, with no mistakes? Are you really telling me that you’ve seen something like that before?” At this point, I was blatantly shouting at him.
Josh looked at the drawing then scanned the entire stall. He frowned and had that confused, far-off look of someone trying desperately to remember an important bit of information. But then his face straightened, and he stood up, pushing past me, saying, “I’ve got to stock the milk. You have fun reading fart rhymes, weirdo.” I knew that no matter how hard I tried, no one would acknowledge what I saw. Some might even react violently. I was in this alone.
Suddenly, a knock came at the door, bringing me out of my thoughts and back to the present. It was a weak knock, almost too weak to hear, even though I had turned the TV off a few minutes earlier.
I jumped so high that I almost fell off the couch. Twisting around to face the door, I hoped that maybe I had been hearing things. But after a few seconds, another series of weak knocks sounded across the living room, more urgent this time.
I stood slowly and walked toward the door, body rigid with tension, drawn to it as if in a dream. I stopped a foot from the door, irrationally wanting to be far enough away that nothing could reach or punch through the heavy oak door to grab me.
However, I had to try and see who it was, so I moved closer. I put my eye up to the peephole cautiously and flicked on the porch light. The light didn’t come on.
The knock came again in rapid, panicky bursts. Being this close, I could now tell that the knocks were low on the door.
“Who’s there?” I managed to say, knowing it was a dangerous question. Nothing responded at first, but then, softly, came a child’s whimpering whisper.
“Mister, please let me in. Help me.”
Blind instinct already made me begin to unlock the deadbolt — before I remembered the warning I had seen on the stall. I slammed the bolt back and quickly returned to my place a foot back from the door.
“No,” I almost shouted, trying to sound imperious, “You are not welcome here.”
More whimpering that turned into crying. “Please... please... it’s so dark out here and I’m scared. I think somebody’s been after me. Please let me in before he gets me.”
Even after that many words, I still couldn’t tell if it were a boy or a girl, just that they were very young. I wanted very much to open the door, but I kept saying to myself that it was a trick.
The phone in the kitchen began to ring. The child outside was no longer crying.
“It’s for me,” it said flatly. “They thought I’d be done by now.”
I backed more away from the door while the phone continued to ring, madly insistent. The knocking began again, pounding the door. I stood, frozen with uncertainty, until I finally rushed into the kitchen and unplugged the phone. I was afraid that it would keep ringing, but thankfully, it fell silent after I yanked out the cord, leaving the air vibrating for a moment from its noise. The knocking at the door stopped just as abruptly, and I then faintly heard the slapping sounds of someone running down the sidewalk.
An hour passed before I plugged the phone back in, though I still left it off the hook. I went to my room as soon as my parents got home and pretended to be asleep so they wouldn’t try to talk to me. I barely slept that night, and the next morning I went out onto the porch to check to see why the light bulb wasn’t working. The light was high up above the door, so I had to drag out our small step ladder to do it. Looking at it, I saw it hadn’t been broken, as I had first suspected. Someone had unscrewed it slightly, just enough so that it wouldn’t come on.
* * *
Copyright © 2010 by C. L. Kelley