A New Familiar
by Eric Neher
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Lisa was sitting behind her gallows-like desk, her hands placed together under her chin. John knocked on the frame of the open door.
“Come in, John,” she said pleasantly. “Take a seat.” John walked over and sat down in the inquisition chair.
“You missed the sales meeting this morning,” she said with a smile. “But that’s all right; you didn’t miss much. Of course, you also missed out on all of the day’s action.”
“I know,” he said. “And I’m sorry about that, but I got caught in traffic. They’re working on I-35, and it was at a standstill.” Lisa brushed his excuse away with a swipe of her hand.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Do you like working here, John?” And there it was: the exit. He was sure that within minutes he would be unemployed, but wasn’t that what he had wanted just seconds ago? Suddenly he wasn’t sure. He and his sister hadn’t spoken with each other in years and what about all of his plants? He couldn’t take those with him all the way to Florida.
“Look, Lisa,” John said, “I know my numbers are down, but I’m trying.”
Lisa looked at him for a moment, and it occurred to him that this crew-cut woman really didn’t like him. He could see it in the way her icy eyes narrowed and the way her face had seemed to twitch just a little as he spoke as if disgusted by what now sat in front of her. Something about him rubbed this woman like sandpaper on a sunburn.
Suddenly her smile reappeared and she stood up, pointed at the custom coffee maker sitting over on her private bar. “Care for an espresso?”
“Please,” said John. at this point, he would take whatever peace offering he could get. The machine steamed for a moment, and then Lisa returned with two small cups, handing him one as she sat back down.
John took a small sip from the tea-party cup, the bitter taste coating his mouth, and waited. Lisa watched him for a few seconds and then reached over grabbing a slip of paper off of the corner of her desk. “John, I’m not sure if I should give this to you or not. We had a call in this morning, a single lady who is wanting a quote on the siding for her house.”
“I’m sure I can handle it,” said John, feeling a wave of relief wash over him.
“Can you?” said Lisa, not even trying to hide the doubt in her voice. “Because I happen to know that this lady’s house hasn’t been painted in twenty years and, with no husband to help, well, you know the rest.”
“I’ll close the deal,” he said. Lisa dangled it out in front of him for another excruciating moment and then handed it to him. John looked down at the slip:
Theresa Mayfield / single
823 N. 8th St.
Product: Siding. Home last painted: Unknown
“Thank you,” he said, standing up. “I won’t let you down.”
“You know,” she said as he was walking towards the door, “I’m pretty sure you won’t.”
John gave her a quick smile and headed for his car.
* * *
Carol had been skirting the edge of sleep, her mind still clinging to the sense of fear — and was it guilt? — for what she had done. The cat had deserved it! In her mind the image of Jack lying on the porch again appeared, his eyes still filled with rage. Only they weren’t his eyes, they were yellow, with pupils so narrow that it looked as though he might be blind. Suddenly his head turned towards her, his mouth opening and from out of its dark cavern came the skull of the blue jay, flying like it had been shot out of a cannon, landing at her feet with a thud.
Carol’s eyes shot open. There had been a noise, she was sure of it. The room was dark from her curtains’ shielding out the late morning sunlight. She made her way over to the window, opening them and felt a chill race through her. A car was sitting in her neighbor’s driveway, and it was empty. The driver, whoever it was, was in the house. Could it be the police? The car looked like it was a Ford, maybe a Taurus, or it could be a Chevy. She wasn’t a car person, but it certainly looked like something a cop would drive. Suddenly she clutched at her stomach; she felt it had become solid, weighted. A low rumble began from somewhere deep inside and Carol rushed into the bathroom.
* * *
The house certainly needed work. John looked it over as he sat in the driveway, the roof was three layers thick, at least, and the eaves had large chunks of wood missing. Normally he would have chalked it up to being a shack owned by someone who could care less, but the neighborhood was nice, which meant that the property values would be at risk.
This woman was probably feeling the heat from her neighbors and more than likely being pressured by them into doing something. All of this was good for John. As one who could no longer lie to himself, he knew that this was a make-or-break situation. Lisa was probably back at the office at that moment, preparing his severance papers, stamping the terminal “CC” —Can’t Close — at the top of the page: .
The house next door with the red Escalade was a photo-op for the Pride of Ownership magazine with its new windows and metal roof. It left little doubt in John’s mind that they would be the first to throw a party if this lady began to fix up her house. John popped open the trunk and got out of the car. He could smell the fragrance of roses in the light breeze coming from the flower bed next door as he walked around to the back of his car. You have to close this, he told himself, grabbing his briefcase.
He slammed the trunk and made his way to the front porch. The stairs were made out of untreated 2x6 planks and looked like they could cave in at any moment. He made a mental note to throw those in for free if he had to. The old wooden door stood like a relic, its paint every bit as bad as the paint on the house. There was no doorbell, only an old tarnished bronze knocker. John reached out and gave it a couple of raps.
Within seconds he heard the lock unlatch, and the door swung open. The woman looked nothing like what he had imagined; he had expected an old lady, possibly leaning towards haggish, but instead what stood before him was a woman of thirty or so whose emerald-green eyes were welling with tears. She was wearing a halter top that was struggling to contain two large breasts. Her long blonde hair was ponytailed behind her round beautiful face. For a moment John stood there speechless.
“Yes?” she said.
“Uh, Miss. Mayfield?” John stuttered.
“Yes,” she said, reaching up with her hand and wiping her eyes.
“My name is John Graves. I’m with Americraft Siding.” The woman stood there for a moment looking at him, she then stepped back. “Come in.”
John walked into the living room. The carpet was a thick dark grey shag, over to his left sat a leather couch, its covering ripped in places allowing white stuffing to poke its way through like a boil, an old coffee table sat in front of it and on the other side was an old chair skinned in burlap. The house had the smell of incense mixed with cat urine. A little further in was a doorway that led into the dining room, and John could see the edge of a Formica countertop just beyond the opening.
The woman closed the door behind him, walked over and fell heavily onto the couch. She reached over to the small coffee table next to it and grabbed a tissue out of a disposable box.
“If this is a bad time we can reschedule,” John said.
“No,” she said, in a husky voice that John found very attractive and pointed him over to the chair. “I have to do something.” So it was the neighbors. John now had his angle.
“This is a nice place,” he said, sitting down. Always start with a compliment. Miss. Mayfield just looked at him, her emerald eyes locking onto his. “I mean it’s very well built and the neighborhood is nice.” He loosened his tie; the cold sweat was back. “It seems quiet.”
The woman looked at him for a moment longer and then dropped her eyes. “It is quiet,” she said. “But not always so nice.” At that moment John heard a wretched gagging sound coming from the dining area like something was drowning. The room was then filled with an odor that reminded him of decay.
He turned towards the doorway just in time to see a black matted creature crawling into the living room. At first, he thought it was a rat, like the one you would see in the city sewers. Its hair was clumped together and saturated. John then realized that what he was looking at was a cat, and there was something very wrong with it.
“Look what that bitch did to Xavier,” the woman said. John felt a chill seize his spine. The cat continued into the room, stopping briefly to regurgitate onto the grey shag, leaving bile splotched with blood. “She poisoned him.”
John was reaching in his pocket searching for his keys, his eyes never leaving the deformed animal as it crept closer. “I think we should do this another time,” he said, his pulse had now become its own percussion section in his ears.
“Look at him,” she said, leaning forward so that one of her breasts had fallen out of her shirt. “Look at him!” John didn’t want to look at him or her breast. All he wanted to do was leave, to get away from this crazy lady and diseased cat but found that he couldn’t move. His head was beginning to swim, waves of heat washed over him as the black creature came closer. He looked down to where it now stood just a couple of feet away. The cat had its head tilted up towards him, and John could see pink foamy saliva dripping out of its twisted mouth. Again he tried to stand but was stopped. The cat’s eyes were now both yellow and burning. They sank into him like a pair of hooks and began to pull at him, clawing their way into his terrified mind.
The room was becoming dark, fading into a shroud of mist. John tried to scream but could only manage a whimper. The blackness continued to grow until all he could see were those two terrifying orbs, glowing like a pair of faraway stars.
* * *
The uneasiness was not leaving, even after she had finished most of the chamomile tea and placed the cup in the kitchen sink. Carol felt as though a storm was coming. It was because of what she had done; she was sure of it. Of course, there would be some degree of guilt. How could there not be? She had never killed anything before in her life. If it was the police, she would just tell them the truth. The cat was on her property, after all, and she has a right as a homeowner to protect her property.
Just then she saw the man walk out of her neighbor’s door — stumble out was more like it — and then practically fall down the front porch stairs catching the handrail and saving himself from dropping to the ground. The man was dressed in khaki pants and wore a blue sports coat over a white button-up shirt, his red tie loosened at the knot.
Relief washed over Carol. This couldn’t be a cop. The man stood near the front of his car swaying back and forth, like a drunk. It suddenly all added up; the man, the women, and the big boobs, it all made sense; her neighbor was a prostitute, probably running a brothel out of her house, and those other women were working for her, most likely as call girls.
It was then that the man turned towards her house and her heart froze. His blue coat began to whip out like a sail behind him as he suddenly began to run towards her house, not even bothering to slow down while nearing the waist-high white picket fence, splintering the gothic slats like a soulless tank.
The man raced to Carol’s back porch leaping over the five steps and hit the back door with enough force to rattle the entire wall.
“Get away!” Carol screamed. The man had his face up against one of the panes of glass divided by the colonial grids that she loved so much. She was about to turn and rush out of the kitchen when she saw the steak knife still sitting on the countertop. She grabbed it just as the man shattered the glass and reached in for the deadbolt.
Carol let out another scream and slashed out with the knife, feeling the blade slice its way into his pudgy fingers as he flipped the lock. Blood began to poor on her freshly polished floor, but Carol hardly noticed. The door slammed open, shattering what was left of the glass in the panel. Carol turned to run out of the room, but the man moved with unnatural speed, grabbing her by the throat and spinning her around.
Carol felt his grip begin to tighten, could feel the warm wetness dripping down the front of her blouse from the wound on his hand. With what remaining strength she had, Carol thrust the knife into the man’s stomach, driving it all the way in until her hand could feel his damp shirt. A sound like escaping gas filled her ears but was soon deafened by her own heart beating in her ears.
The man continued to squeeze. Carol reached for his wrists, trying to pull them away, but they were like vise grips. Specks of light began to dance in front of her but soon started to fade, until only a pair of yellow shimmering points remained, like those of a cat.
Copyright © 2019 by Eric Neher