Saturday, October 22, 2011

Locke Hills - Day 1, 8:30 pm

They ate a silent dinner in the hotel restaurant. Tim and Marcy were no longer flirting by that time, but they sat close together, heads low over their plates as if huddled in quiet discussion. They went to the lobby, and Vincent distributed the keys for the three rooms. Before anyone could comment he put Mike and Gordon together, and told Marcy she was in her own room on another floor.

"You're with me," he told Tim, who glanced at Marcy and saw Mike looking at her also. There was no discussion, and soon they were in the elevator, and then vanishing down dark-carpeted halls.

"I'm a heavy sleeper," Vincent said as he unpacked his things around his bed. "You won't wake me up if you open the door. But make sure you're good to go for work tomorrow." Tim said nothing. He became nervous, glancing at the door and at his bags, unsure of what to do. But soon Vincent had dug himself into the sheets and switched off his table lamp. It was settled. Mike was trapped with Gordon, and Tim was free. He brushed his teeth, looked at himself in the mirror, and then walked out.

"Thanks," he said as he passed the dark lump in the bed, now almost asleep. "You're a good guy."
"No I'm not," Vincent grunted.

Tim walked back to the elevator and hit the button. He and Marcy had not talked about meeting like this, and he wasn't sure what she'd say. But she seemed upset, rattled. At least he should go back and check on her. That's what he told himself. At her door, he glanced down the hall to see if he were being watched (By whom? He didn't know.) He took deep breaths to steady himself and then knocked quietly. For awhile there was no movement. But just as he was about to knock again the door opened.

Marcy looked at him, devastated. The room was dark and her eyes were red-rimmed; she'd clearly been crying. He entered, and she closed the door without turning on the lights. Before he could say anything, she clutched at his shirt and kissed him hard on the mouth. They fumbled toward the bed, shedding clothing. They did not speak. She held him tightly, urgently, and they moved together and he had questions, but she wanted him. Now she said with her hands and her body -- Now. And he took her and didn't dare ask.

"I know you need to leave," she said at last as they lay together, their sweat cooling.
"I'm not going anywhere." She put her face to his neck and he could feel the smile.

"You didn't hear it, did you?" she asked him.
"I didn't hear anything." He wouldn't say more.
"It was a bell. The bell on a little girl's bicycle. A long time ago I hit a 10 year-old girl with my car -- she just... just came out of nowhere while I was backing out of my driveway. It was so quick. It was so quick I couldn't react, and she just -- it was over before the ambulance arrived. She was gone."
"And tonight..."
"Tonight I thought I heard that bell again. I heard it ringing in Locke Hills." He pulled her tighter to him and kissed her ear.

"I do not want to go back there," she said.
"I know."
"But I need this job."
"Yes. Yes you do."

While they drifted off to sleep neither of them saw the glimmer of light coming from under the door. Or the pair of feet that eclipsed it as someone stood just outside, listening to them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hi There.


Excuse me. The flight is pretty packed, and I don't think there will be empty seats. Believe me I hate doing this to people. I almost never fly for this reason. Because eventually I will have to board a crowded airplane and force someone to sit next to me for several hours.

You seem very nice so I'll be honest. It might help. Within fifteen minutes you'll notice that even though I am extremely friendly and polite there is something off about me. You won't be able to put a name to exactly what's wrong. Maybe you'll fixate on my face -- tell yourself that I am somehow sinister-looking. You might make yourself believe it's the sound of my voice, or something strange about the way I smell, or the way I try too hard to please... You might even begin to think I remind you of someone in your life, someone unpleasant. But whatever the cause, you will become absolutely terrified of me within one hour. And underneath the explanations you tell yourself, you won't really know why.

I just do this to people. I am the kindest guy you've ever met but for some reason I will make you feel worse than any nightmare you've experienced. Meeting me is nice and bland at first, and then it gradually puts you on edge, and that sensation will increase and increase until it's almost exactly like you're being buried alive. Scratching at the inside of the coffin as you feel the thump, thump, thump of shovelfuls of dirt hitting the lid and covering you forever. My therapist said something like that to me during our first session. There wasn't a second.

Call it ESP or dark magic or something else about the human mind we don't understand. But I have it. And I can't turn it off. In fact, right now I am concentrating as hard as I can to hold it back, because if I didn't... Well, let me put it this way: If I waited until we reached cruising altitude and then relaxed even for a second everybody on this plane would be screaming and desperately trying to storm the cockpit and pop open the emergency doors. The aircraft would depressurize and dive into the ground. And that final gut-wrenching descent would be the second most terrifying thing you'd feel.

My parents left me a lot of money when they died so I've never needed to work. But I've been alone my whole life. Alone with this horrifying power inside me that I'm always fighting to control even though no one will ever treat me with the slightest kindness. I often wonder why I bother. I live like a freak right now. Hated. Abused. But if I used this thing I could force people to do whatever I wanted. Couldn't I? It just wouldn't be right though. It's tempting, but it wouldn't be right.

Even now I can tell you're starting to change. It's really, really bad, isn't it? You'd give me anything to make it stop, and all I can do is make it worse. Life's funny.

You want those pretzels?

Having A Nice Lawn Won't Keep You From Dying

I walk by your place often, and I just had to stop and say something. That is one nice lawn you have. It's just beautiful. You've cut it to exactly the right length, and you've properly aerated it so it's nice and thick with no bad spots at all. And that color! Believe me, when you die and new owners move into this house people are going to notice. I don't think anyone will be able to maintain it like this.

That's fescue, isn't it? It's a good, hardy grass, but it browns easily. For you to have it thriving this early in the spring takes work. You're probably out here almost every day watering, fertilizing, putting plugs in the rough areas. It's an accomplishment. Like raising children or getting some kind of advanced degree. You'll probably flash back on this lawn in the last, terrible moments right before the icy hand of death sweeps you out of this world and turns all your triumphs into ash forever. I love the diagonal striping, by the way.

I saw you mowing the other day, and I respect the fact that you don't care for this thing with a riding mower. You'll never achieve the same precision in the corners that you can get with a good old-fashioned push machine. Plus it's a great workout. It will help keep your blood pressure down and delay a crippling stroke for as long as possible. Of course if you overdo it there's always the risk of a fatal heart attack, especially with that extra weight you have around your midsection. That's a killer for guys in their -- what are you, 62, 63? I thought so. But the point is we all face the impossible but irrefutable fact that some day we are not going to exist. At least you have this wonderful lawn to be proud of. I noticed you have a gazebo in back, right? Perfect.

It's sad to think that after you're gone some couple will be living here and letting the place go to hell while they mindlessly shuttle their kids to band practice and soccer games, all while they're subtly growing older and -- in those moments of horrible midnight lucidity -- realizing that they too will someday breathe no more, that a lawyer will be absent-mindedly sifting through their most intimate and prized possessions before putting them into one of those storage units near the highway off-ramp. It's good you won't be here to see that.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that your yard won't stop your death or my death, or even what scientists call the heat death of the universe itself -- when all matter in the cosmos is spread out in an impossibly thin and cold mixture, and all traces of the stars, planets, and every artifact of the human species has been irretrievably erased forever. But still... grass that green has to make you smile!

(Photo by Paul Frederickson. License information here.)
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