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  • Untitled Document

    Another World

     

    I first got my big, risky idea about two AM while standing at my kitchen sink in nothing but my pajama bottoms.  I was drinking a glass of water and peeking out between the window curtains at some bizarre activities going on in my neighbor’s yard. 

    I am living in a little house I inherited from my parents.  The house is an old two-bedroom bungalow, a perfect bachelor pad.  When mom finally died, I could not wait to make it my own.  Out went all her old furniture, the china, the crafts, the silver which was only plate anyway.  Out went all the smelly old carpeting, the window coverings, the floral pattern wallpaper.  I stripped the place and spent several thousand making it tidy and modern and odor-free. 

    I had not returned here after college.  Except for an annual visit, I did not see much of my parents.  We were not conflicted; I just did not have sufficient reason and I was busy.  Dad had died of cancer at fifty-one.  Mom then lived alone in this house for the next twelve years. 

    I knew the neighbors by name but never spoke with them, except for Ellen Langer next door.  She had moved over there when she was in her early twenties and I was in college.  Ellen’s property was a corner lot bounded by a high hedge along its side street and along the alley behind our houses, so Ellen only had mom and dad for easy conversation, and later only mom.  At the time of my last exchange with her, Ellen was thirty-one, my age, and had never married.  I called her the girl next door.  She had a beautiful face with a prominent narrow nose between exotic, very dark almond eyes.  She liked to wear either black or brightly colored clothing and oversize jewelry.  It must have been two years ago that I had finally asked her out.  I was feeling settled and ready to start a family.  She seemed caught off-guard and her response was a little puzzling.  She smiled and said, “Oh.  Well…  It’s nice of you to ask but I’m not interested now.”  Then we had an awkward parting at the fence that separated mom’s yard from hers. 

    Sure, I hardly knew her.  We had never carried on a lengthy conversation, just polite remarks across that fence, but I did have fantasies of her in the kitchen making my meals, or in the basement doing the laundry—domestic bliss as they say.  And I wanted boys, a houseful of boys. 

    There were times when I came home from college on holiday and never saw her at all.  Mornings, I would just hear the bang of her screen door as she headed off to that shop where she worked, and later owned.  But there was that thing she once did that started a fire in me. 

    Ellen liked to hang her wash on the clothesline in her backyard when the weather was nice.  With that shrubbery on two sides of her lot, and her house and mom’s house covering the other two sides she had some privacy, and I think on this occasion she did not know I was visiting. 

    I was in dad’s old wing chair catching up on some of my journals when for no good reason I just reached over and poked up the blinds to have a look into Ellen’s yard. 

    She was hanging her wash on the clothesline wearing a black maillot swimsuit that perfectly complimented her long straight black hair.  The cuts that showed her upper thighs, the deep V-neck and scooped back exposed a lot of skin.  I could see that she was one of those people who would be slow to age.  She was barefoot, and whenever she bent over that laundry basket to pick up a piece of clothing the dark little cave between her breasts invited some wild speculation on my part. 

    I had heard Ellen was very athletic and loved the outdoors.  She frequently went camping with friends.  Now that was confirmed as I saw the ripple of muscle across her back and those straight, square shoulders.  I let out a deep breath and took my time dropping the blind back down.  I did not care if she saw me peeking.  So what?  She would have been flattered.  Women want to be the object of that male gaze.  It gets them aroused. 

    Sure, a beauty like her was going to be getting regular attention.  So okay, I was in love if lust is love.  Let’s say it’s potentially love.  Let’s say it’s the first hurdle toward love.  Yeah. 

    I write manuals and protocols for industry and occasionally for the military, so I can work anywhere there is a place to plug in my computer.  When dad died, I could easily have made the six-hundred mile move to live with mom after graduation, but I was happy enough where I was.  I also thought that having mom underfoot in addition to my work would not have left me enough time to pursue Ellen so a move at that time was not worth the trouble. 

    Now with mom gone, here I stood in the kitchen of a house that was mine alone.  Maybe my decision to move here came out of a weak clue I had.  It came from that one word Ellen Langer had said to me, now months past.  It was the word, “Now.” 

    “I’m not interested now,” she said.  Did it mean in her own mind she just might be interested at some later time?  Did she have a guy that she was uncertain about?  After all, if she had wanted to put me off permanently, she could simply have said, “I’m not interested.” 

    Maybe she only wanted to buy time to adjust to the idea.  Maybe she was testing to see if I would persist.  Maybe she was a sadistic tease.  It did not matter to me.  Perhaps I could get closer over time by just selling her on the idea that I was a good neighbor. 

    So instead of putting the house on the market, I renovated it and moved in.  But I had not thought this through. 

    A month after my move I finally had to admit that just being a neighbor to Ellen was going to be difficult.  She was seldom home.  She had her business.  She had a cluster of good friends that consumed a lot of her spare time.  I grew weary of the speculation and the emotional roller-coaster, so I decided to break the pattern.  I would do some business with her. 

    Ellen’s enterprise was on the four-thousand block of 36th street.  It was in an old building that had been a haberdasher’s back in the day.  It was on a street lined with old buildings.  Boldly displayed on the door was a five-pointed star, a pentagram.  That said it all.  The store was called Another World which I found accurate when I entered, the bells on the door jangling. 

    I was immediately hit with the strong aroma of incense.  I browsed around.  There were a lot of books.  There were candles of course, thousands of them.  Some were lit and illuminated the darker recesses of the place.  Chalices and flagons were on display.  There were mortar and pestle sets, scales to weigh small amounts, and a large wooden cabinet fastened to the wall behind the checkout.  The cabinet had tiny drawers labeled with the names of plants and roots and seeds.  There were items of clothing and a lot of clunky jewelry.  I had not realized that crystal balls were so expensive. 

    I saw crucifixes and pentagrams in all sizes.  I saw statues of the Catholic saints.  There were wooden grottos with shelves, meant to be hung in the corners of rooms where the statue of a saint or some other relic or talisman could be venerated.  There were small altars, images of demons and other creatures of mythology. 

    “May I help you?” 

    The female voice coming from behind me was not Ellen’s.  I turned to see a young woman with straight black hair much like hers, but this person was dressed in an unremarkable black skirt and white blouse and wearing wire-rimmed glasses.  She looked like a high school librarian.  She had a sweet smile and curious eyes as she looked at me. 

    “Well, maybe you can,” I said.  “Is Ellen here?” 

    Yes, but she’s upstairs holding a private showing for some customers.  She will be finished in about an hour if you’d care to come back.” 

    “Private showing?” 

    Yes sir.  We keep our largest tapestries upstairs where the light is better for display.  They are very valuable, and people are only allowed to see them by appointment.  Of course, we have photos of them on our website.” 

    Tapestries.  Ellen must be one helluva businesswoman to have more than two or three small ones in stock and this girl had just said “large.”  We are talking big bucks here.  I was initially impressed, but a high-end business like this would not be compatible with any kind of domestic life.  I could see my work cut out for me, and I was disappointed, frustrated; but I had a Plan B. 

    I said, “Oh, this isn’t that important.  I was just wanting to say hi because she is my next-door neighbor.  I am sure you can help me with what I really came for.  I’m looking for an incense-burner.” 

    “Oh, of course,” she said.  “They’re just around the corner here.” 

    There must have been hundreds in different sizes and designs.  “I’ll take one of these,” I said, pointing to an onion-shaped sample in brass.  It had an intricate pattern of air holes that were dotting some very complex and flowing floral etchings. 

    “These are hand-crafted and more expensive than the others,” she said.  “Isn’t it beautiful?” 

    That’s fine,” I said.  At the moment cost did not matter to me, just the chase. 

    And what kind of incense were you thinking of?” she said. 

    Is there something that will help me relax?” 

    Well, Ms. Langer has a formula of her own if you’d like to try that.” 

    I would.  Let us go with her creation.” 

    Okay.”  She selected a palm-sized box from a shelf stacked with boxes of incense.  “Will there be anything else?”  By now we were at the counter.  She put the two boxes in a plastic bag and ran my credit card.  Then she picked up a small booklet from a stack by her computer and held it up for me to see.  She said, “Would you be interested in knowing something about the Other World?  People like me and Ms. Langer enjoy sharing what we know about a world we can’t see or understand right now, but which is real and sometimes shows itself to people.” 

    “Sure,” I said, “Just put the booklet in the bag with the rest.  Tell Ellen that Terry Adamson said hello.” 

    The seed was planted, but in my mind, reality raised its ugly head.  There was not much chance anything would come of this cheap little ploy. 

    When I got back to the car, I took the booklet out of the bag and skimmed through it.  It was the usual spiritualist stuff.  I put the booklet back in the plastic bag with my purchases.  I was surprised Ellen was such a flake, but still I wanted her now more than ever.  And who knows?  Maybe she was not really that way.  There are plenty of people who lead phony lives.  That is because there are plenty of other people with money, and gullible enough to support a hoax.  I could live with that in a woman.  In fact, if Ellen were that way it would only add to her appeal as far as I was concerned. 

    I started the car and headed for home, stopping on the way to get gas and toss the plastic bag and its contents into the quick-shop trash.  Plan A: Fail.  Plan B: Doubtful.  I was not going to wait for results.  My level of frustration returned to its original peak. 

    But three days later, out of the blue, came a distraction.  A Sunday afternoon at a sports bar, a bumped elbow and a small spill and Taylor Benson came into my life.  Taylor was twenty-seven, a graduate student, and we hit it off like it was destiny.   It was so refreshing to be with someone younger and full of energy and inquisitiveness.  We had a lot in common over science and technical matters, and we talked for hours.  I could not believe my good fortune and I could not believe it again when in our second week of dating she began inviting me for overnights at her apartment. 

    This was so easy.  While Ellen was strikingly glamorous, Taylor was not.  While Ellen held only an enigmatic promise, Taylor was an eager mate.  She was just sexy as hell in her close-cut ash-blonde hair with that little point her hairdresser put at the nape of her neck.  A little on the short side, she had quite a skinny waist which enhanced the rest of her lavish figure.  I could not keep my eyes off her, but then I could not keep my mind out of hers either.  She said she felt the same way and we agreed to pace ourselves just as a matter of common sense.  The girl next door just sort of faded out of my mind as Taylor and I settled into a routine that remained unbroken for a month or so. 

    Now here I stood at my kitchen sink looking out through the gaps in the curtains and watching Ellen’s seventeen-year-old nephew Donavan dig holes in her garden in the dark of night.  He could not have seen me.  I know my way around the house well enough without turning on any lights, so if Donavan had bothered to look up, he would only have seen my blacked-out windows. 

    In this case I had awakened at 2:00 a.m. with a driving thirst.  I got up and went to the kitchen for a glass of water, but I was not just thirsty, I was upset more than I would have thought.  I was shaken up badly and could not get to sleep right away because I had just heard some very disturbing news a day earlier. 

    Donavan, his parents, and some other family members were in town because Ellen had died, just like that, out of the clear blue sky.  Honestly, Ellen and I had had nothing together, not even a close friendship.  But I was surprised at my own feelings. 

    I discovered that I was actually holding a sense of ownership over her, and now without warning she had been taken away from me.  So, looking at Donavan now occupying her house, even temporarily, I felt cheated.  I hated that lanky, mindless twit for sleeping in Ellen’s bed. 

    It came out later that she had gone on her twice-a-year kayaking trip with friends who shared her passion for the outdoors.  From what I heard it was almost like a religion with all of them.  This time they were paddling around somewhere in the Rockies.  They had worked their way upstream to a swimming hole they all knew and had camped out there for three nights.  I guess they had done some worshipful skinny-dipping, the thought of which sent my imagination into erotic fancies.  The float back would have been easy since travel was downstream.  Ellen’s friends remembered that she had been complaining of headaches the whole trip.  Her upbeat personality had become withdrawn, moody.  After an hour or so on the water she became separated from the group, so they pulled over to wait for her.  When she did not appear, the strongest paddlers turned back upstream to search and found her overturned kayak in the middle of the stream, wedged between two large boulders.  She was still in it. 

    An autopsy had found a brain aneurism.  She had not drowned. 

    As per her wishes, she would be buried in nature at an undisclosed place.  I hated this.  It was like working one of those claw machines at the arcade and the prize is held by the claw, and just as I get it close to the chute the claw suddenly opens, and the prize is dropped back in the pile.  I had desperately wanted to think she was within my reach if someday I could persuade her to give up that shop.  She would not have had to work if she stayed with me.  But now she was just plain gone. 

    I told Taylor the next day.  The aggravation of it all had thrown me into such a funk that she became concerned.  Taylor said she understood but I could not see how.  She had no way of knowing how much I had wanted Ellen.  Anyway, the whole thing was moot now.  Taylor encouraged me to attend the funeral and she would accompany me to provide support.  I did not need support.  I needed satisfaction. 

    So now what on earth was Donavan doing digging holes in Ellen’s backyard garden?  He was staying alone in Ellen’s house.  The rest of the family members preferred to stay in a motel, but Donavan had an “alternate lifestyle” and nobody wanted to share a room with him. 

    Fair enough.  This all made sense so far.  It also made sense that if Donavan wanted to do something on the sly, he could do it at night and his family would know nothing about it.  He did most of his sleeping during daylight hours anyway. 

    Now I watched him go into the house and then a minute later come out with a large Mason jar cradled in each arm.  And these were not the usual quart jars used to can jellies and jams.  These were the big ones; I think a half-gallon each. 

    I had counted eleven holes in the garden.  He made eleven trips in and out of the house, each time putting two jars in a hole for a total of twenty-two jars.  Then he took a garden rake and used it to pull the dirt back into the holes and tamp and smooth it all over, scattering the surplus. 

    Well, this was obvious.  Ellen had hidden some kind of stash in the house and Donavan had discovered it.  He did not want to share, so he buried the treasure in Ellen’s garden.  He was clearly hoping to retrieve it at some later date when family members were not around, and the house was locked up pending the settlement of the estate. 

    Now was my chance.  This was just too perfect.  Donavan was a moron who did not shower.  He stank.  I once caught a whiff of him from a hundred feet away.  I looked through his trash in the alley, set out next to my own.  It seemed he lived on Cheez-Pops, soda, and chips and dip.  You are what you eat, and Donavan was clearly a dip.  I watched him for three hours.  During the time he had been using to dig up Ellen’s garden I was watching and calculating. 

    Donavan was a gaming addict whose entire life revolved around the manipulation of video characters.  Once he finished burying the Mason jars, he returned to his obsession full-time, back to numbing his little pea-brain in front of the flat-screen.  I figured I had a safe period from 1:00 a.m. until 3:00 a.m. every night, but first I had to know if all this was worth the risk. 

    The next night I was out there with a shovel and a rake and a crude probe made from a stiff wire.  In less than fifteen minutes I was back in my kitchen and a single jar was in the cabinet under the sink.  I could not do any more without turning on a light, but I could see and tell by the weight that the jar’s contents were bills and not coins.  Good 

    The next morning, I was up at dawn, so excited I did not eat breakfast.  I had to get this done because Taylor would be here right after her eleven o’clock class.  I had given her a standing invitation to come around for lunch since the campus was only five minutes away. 

    The bills were packed so tightly into the jar that I just put it in the sink, wrapped it in a towel and carefully broke it to get them out and on the table in a hurry.  The bills were fives, tens, twenties, but mostly fifties and there were no new ones among them.  It took me an hour to count the total, which was one hundred thousand dollars exactly.  I could not believe my eyes.  If all the other jars had the same amount inside, I was looking at twenty-two jars at a hundred thousand each: two-point-two million dollars.  This project was definitely worth the risk. 

    I had the rest of the jars inside after two more nights of digging and smoothing-over.  Where to hide them?  In plain sight.  After a hasty trip to the grocery store, I slipped each jar into a sack of pancake flour I had partially emptied out.  I resealed each sack carefully and put them all in my little pantry.  I also stocked up on other ingredients—stuff I would never use.  It would all work together to lend credibility to my explanation for the huge quantity of flour: All this was for a big pancake dinner I was planning.  Sometime.  In the future. 

    And now Taylor wanted to move in with me since her lease would be up in two weeks.  Things could not have been better. 

    Ellen’s funeral was conducted by one of her nature-buddies who called himself a druid.  Taylor was unusually clingy at first, but she relaxed as the service wound down to a close.  I watched Donavan.  For Pete’s sake he was playing games on his phone the whole time.  At least he had the sense to mute the damn thing.  Nobody would sit near him. 

    Back home, Taylor and I flopped down on the couch.  I nuzzled her gently under her ear.  She said, “Stop that.  We’ve just been to a funeral.”  Ridiculous.  But I could tell she was not very serious because she was smiling, and she did not move away. 

    Flushed with all my good fortune, I could not resist sharing the news.  “Honey, I have a confession to make,” I said.  I told her about the jars, with all the details.  I thought it would motivate her to stick with me, but I did not anticipate her reaction. 

    She just sat there.  She did not speak for the longest time, then, “You stole over two million dollars?”  She looked at me with wide eyes, her mouth slightly open. 

    “I don’t really think of it as stealing.  I was taking advantage of an opportunity.” 

    That money belongs to the estate of Ellen Langer.” 

    She won’t care, and it’s already been stolen once, by Ellen’s worthless nephew Donavan.” 

    I don’t think that will fly in court.” 

    I’ll make the best use of that money.  It’ll just be squandered by Ellen’s family.” 

    It’s theirs to squander.  And if the family gives jobs to people by building new houses and buying new cars, then at least the money’s going for a worthy cause.  It’ll be gone in months and likely in the hands of people who work for a living.” 

    “That leaves me out of the equation.  I can benefit more working people with the way I squander my money.”  I felt a little desperate now.  Taylor’s reasoning was just too sound. 

    She shook her head.  Then she said, “You know, if you use that cash to buy lots of toys for yourself or to pay your bills, sooner or later someone’s going to get suspicious and think you’re a drug dealer or some other sort of criminal and the cops will be at the door with a search warrant.  And you just can’t dump it all in a bank for the same reason.” 

    She had me there, for a minute.  Then I had an idea.  “I’ll buy a cash-only business and use it to launder the money.  I would launder the money with a laundromat, or two, or three, or a carwash.  If I were patient and careful and did the numbers so as not to raise alarms, it would be easy.  I would get business loans.  I would pay my taxes just like any other citizen.  In ten years, those jars would be empty and my bank account full and nobody would be the wiser.” 

    She crossed her arms and scowled at my TV, which was turned off.  She said, “I can see you’re determined to do this.  Fine.  But I want no part of it.  I’m seeing a side of you I don’t think I like much.”  I just smiled into her eyes, then she turned away. 

    Good.  I had not lost her.  Sure, she will put up a token resistance at first but that is all theater.  When it comes down to it, women just want to be managed.  I figured she would come around eventually, especially when she fully realized she may never have to work again.  We cuddled and watched TV until midnight, then we hit the sack. 

    But it was somewhere between three and three-thirty when I woke up to a noise.  I listened.  No, nothing odd was going on.  Taylor was purring into her pillow like usual.  I settled back.  My bladder was tickling me, but I did not want to get up.  It was not that bad.  I could still sleep until six. 

    I woke up again.  Only a half-hour had passed.  This time I was sure I heard a shout and it was coming from Ellen’s house.  Was he being tortured over there?  No.  That twit Donavan would sometimes yell and woo-hoo when he made a big score at a game or slayed the dragon or whatever, and I could hear it from anywhere in my house but this was the first time he had awakened me from sleep.  Now I needed the bathroom, so I got up. 

    Five minutes later I leaned over the kitchen sink and peeked through the curtains.  I thought I saw movement over at Ellen’s but that was probably just the flickering and flowing of Donavan’s video screen behind the blinds of his window.  Then I heard a loud series of thumps, like when someone falls on a carpeted floor.  Klutz.  I bet there were Cheez-Pops scattered everywhere, crunchy Cheez-Pops—no—the fluffy kind.  Donavan was fluffy in the brain.  Yeah.  Fluffy.  I went back to bed. 

    I felt Taylor get up at six.  She would be headed for the shower, then breakfast and a trip to the computer lab at the U.  She was working on her thesis having to do with bioplastics or something. 

    By eight Taylor had been gone an hour and I was ready for my day.  I had some writing to do and was at my desk in the spare bedroom.  That is about when the screams started.  They were shrill female shrieks from a pair of healthy lungs.  I jumped up and got out the front door as fast as I could.  There was a new brown Buick parked at the curb in front of Ellen’s house.  It belonged to Donavan’s parents.  The screams had been coming from inside Ellen’s house. 

    Ellen’s front door was wide open, and I rushed in.  Donavan was on the living-room floor flat on his back, his huge white sneakers cocked up in the air at angles.  His dad, in his Army Reserve camos was on his knees next to him doing CPR compressions on his chest.  His mom was by his head, brushing his hair back gently.  She knew he was dead.  His dad was not admitting it. 

    I called it in.  Both of them were totally focused on Donavan so I walked out on the front porch and waited.  I was alarmed at the sight of Donavan’s eyes wide open like he had seen some horror way out of league with his video games.  His mouth was open, spread in shock, his lips stretched in a gaping “O.”  His hands were curled into claws. 

    Two cruisers and an ambulance had answered my call, followed later by a Crime Lab van and two more cars from the Sheriff’s department.  The place was crawling with uniforms.  All the neighbors in sight were standing on their lawns, watching.  The lab guys took control of the scene and would not let Donavan’s body be moved right away.  More relatives arrived and took Donavan’s mother in hand.  I had to make a statement to a detective named Larry something and I took advantage of that to hang around longer and overhear some conversation. 

    There had been no robbery.  The house had been locked from inside and Donavan’s parents had let themselves in with one of Ellen’s keys.  All windows were secured.  There were wet spots on the floor that the police detective could not account for.  Donavan’s rapper T-shirt was deeply wrinkled at the front around the collar like it had been stuck in a vise, but no marks had been found on his body so far. 

    By the time Taylor came home for lunch only the lab van and one police car were left over there.  When I told her what had happened she immediately worried about the cash in my pantry. 

    I told her that while I was being interviewed at Ellen’s house I was asked if I had heard any unusual noises during the night and I lied and said no.  I didn’t want them doing any follow-up on my property, so none of the officers had come nosing around my house, nor had they shown any special interest in Ellen’s garden, which I had done a pretty good job of tidying up. 

    Taylor was bothered and distracted, but she had interviews in the afternoon, so we had a quick lunch together and she was off to the University again.  She did not like my lying to the cops. 

    That evening at supper she said, “No blood?” 

    No blood.  No bruises.  No scratches.  No punctures.  No nothing.  Only a look of terror on his face like I have never seen, even in a bad movie.” 

    “Robbery?” 

    Nope.  No sign of forced entry.  The house was shut from inside.  Everything was as pristine as it could be with Donavan staying there.” 

    Taylor put down her fork and sat back in her chair.  She was quiet for a while—like she was mulling it over in her mind—then she looked at me and said, “I don’t like this Terry.” 

    “Look, honey.  I really do not think it had anything to do with the money.  I just think the kid had a medical problem nobody knew about.” 

    Taylor was eating slower than usual, sort of meditating over her meatloaf. 

    “Are you alright?” I said.  At times I knew a direct question could catch someone off-balance if they were trying to hide their thoughts from me. 

    She looked at me.  “Yes, I’m okay.”  Then, she suddenly remembered to smile at me. 

    I hoped that smile was a brave smile and not a fake one.  That night she was not as frisky as usual.  In fact, she was passive. 

    Then at five in the morning she was fiercely shaking me awake.  She was standing by the bed in that long tee nightshirt, looking down at me.  Her face was in such a grimace I thought she was in pain, but then I recognized the look of panic. 

    “What…” 

    “Come here.  Right now!” 

    I rolled out of bed and put on my boxers.  She led me toward the kitchen.  It was still dark outside, and she knew I did not like lights being turned on, so she had the tiny flashlight she kept on her nightstand. 

    She said, “I came into the kitchen a minute ago and stepped into something wet.”  Then in the darkness of the kitchen she directed the little spot of her flashlight onto the floor and glistening on the new vinyl were footprints—wet barefoot prints, and stray drops of water here and there. 

    “Whoever made this was dripping,” she said.  I could hear her out of breath with fear.  Stray light from her flashlight threw grotesque shadows onto her face from underneath.  Her eyes bored into me and she held that stare until I swallowed. 

    The prints seemed to start in the middle of the kitchen floor and lead to the pantry.  They stopped in front of the shelf where I had put the flour sacks.  I turned to Taylor.  “Did you do this?  Is it your prank to scare me into giving this up?”  In the half-dark and shadows, I saw the surprise and hurt on her face, like she could not believe what she was hearing. 

    I said, “Look.  This is not the time to lose it.  There’s got to be an explanation for this.”   

    She sighed.  Then suddenly her face was calm, resolved; like she had made a decision.  She said, “Check the house.  Make sure nobody has gotten in here during the night.”  Her voice was flat.  She was angry.  I would have to fix this. 

    I checked.  The place was tight.  No open windows, no unlocked doors. 

    We could not sleep anymore so we dressed and went to Barkers 24-Hour.  I bought us an early breakfast.  She calmed down.  She smiled at me across the table like she had been the victim of some kind of joke. 

    Taylor had her usual commitments at the University, and I had to take a day trip to do some hands-on research at a manufacturing plant two hours away.  When I got home, Taylor was gone.  Moved out.  She did not even leave a note. 

    I went straight to the pantry just in case Taylor out of vindictiveness had been tempted to take some of the loose cash from the broken jar.  No.  It was still in the coffee tub where I had put it, undisturbed.  Then I reached over to touch one of the Mason jars in its flour sack… 

    I was pulled away violently, my head wrenched back to face the ceiling.  I stumbled and grasped a shelf to recover my balance.  There’s nobody in here!  I tried again and was again pulled back.  It’s like something has a physical grip on my brain itself! 

    I felt no pain.  It was like pressure, a power that was kind of physical and kind of—something else.  Terrified, I backed out of the pantry shaking and gasping, my hands palms-away in defense. 

    A butcher knife in the drying rack by the sink jumped up, then clattered to the floor.  Panting, I scrambled to leave the house for the rest of the day, to think and calm down.  I forgot to lock up. 

    Dancin’ Jack’s was a 24-hour roadhouse I liked, so I went there for a dinner of six draft  beers laced with tomato juice.  On my empty stomach, that got me buzzed-up and not so edgy. 

    Beer in the morning, sailor take warning; beer in the night, sailor’s delight.  Something like that, uncle Barney used to say…  I giggled.  This is bullshit.  I need to get my life back. 

    I decided I was just shook-up and delusional from Ellen’s death and Taylor’s surprise departure.  Getting back to work after a night’s rest should be the cure.  I went home and found the place undisturbed.  It was almost 9:30 p.m. 

    I changed the bedding to get rid of Taylor’s delicious scent, showered, and got between the clean sheets.  I was exhausted and went to sleep instantly—and three hours later I woke with a jolt and a gasp.  Paralyzed, I stared at the ceiling.  I could not move; afraid I would disturb…  it. 

    There was weight on the mattress next to me, pressing it down.  Finally, my heart pounding, I quickly rolled away and sat up.  I faced the wall.  I could not breathe.  I must have been like that for a half-hour, but I could not stay that way forever.  Finally, I turned and passed my hand around on the sheet.  There was nothing there but a chilled area near the middle.  The room was quiet.  I must have sat there for another hour.  Run?  I knew I could.  I had already once.  But I knew I must always come back.  Finally, carefully, I lay down, petrified.  It was still quiet except for the “click, click, click” of the quartz clock on the nightstand. 

    Then it came back. 

    I felt smooth, cold, luscious skin against my own, and icy jasmine breath across my face, but my wide eyes saw nothing near me. 

    I now know I will never be able to touch the money.  I do not want to die like Donavan.  It seems I have become bound to a callous, dangerous, voluptuous companion. 

    The girl next door is not next door anymore.  I choked a little as I realized that in some twisted way, I got what I wanted. 

     

    About The Author

    Neal Zeilinger

    Dr. Neal Zeilinger has a BS in general science (math/physics) from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas; a Master of Divinity from Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa; and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  He has served as pastor to congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church-Papua New Guinea and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as Ordained Lay Preacher to The Metropolitan Community Church, and under license to the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ.  Neal’s work history includes motion picture projectionist, auto and truck technician, marine engine mechanic, industrial spray painter, and machine operator.  Neal is retired and spends time writing, riding motorcycles, feeding the homeless, and as ally for the LGBTQ+ community.  He is married, with two adult daughters.