Friday, August 17, 2007

Chapter 2: An Odd Greeting, Part I

Knuckling his back as he climbed out of the car, Vernon looked at the white house again and grunted. Even with the rebuilt porch and new windows, no amount of cosmetics could hide the fact that this was an old broad.

"The pictures didn't do this place justice. I'll bet it's at least sixty years old. Ethan should be paying us to live here."

His wife barked a laugh, pulled Raymond from his car seat and wrapped him in a yellow-and-blue-striped blanket. The baby's screams dwindled to whimpers that faded to nothing as she hugged him.

"I've got to feed him," she said, bouncing him on her shoulder. "Can you get Alexis and start unloading this stuff?"

"Sure." He opened his daughter's door and pushed the lever on her seatbelt. She squirmed in his grip until he swatted her leg. "Be still."

"I want Mommy," Alexis replied, arms folded and her bottom lip pooched out.

"Not right now. She's got to feed the baby."

"Aww, man." That was one of her new favorite phrases. "Can I go play on the swing?"

"What swing?"

"Over there, silly." She pointed behind the house, to the northwest corner of the property. Two ropes suspended a board from a branch of the huge pecan tree. Even knowing it was there, he found the swing hard to pick out. The tree cast a nearly impenetrable shade in the dying daylight. I bet that thing's great for sitting under in the summer.

"Sure, sweetie. Just don't go anywhere else, and come up to the house if we call you, OK?"

"OK, daddy." She grabbed his leg in a bear hug before tearing across the yard to the tree and calling over her shoulder, "I love you."

"I love you, too."

When he got back to the house with an armload of books from the back of the car, Cheryl was sitting on the porch in a rocking chair, breastfeeding the baby. Ray's blanket draped across her lap.

"Cheryl, cover up or go inside. There's a church next door, for crying out loud."

"When someone complains, I'll cover up. There's no one around, Vern."

"Yeah, I noticed that. Kinda creepy, isn't it?"

"A little. Look, it's going to be dark soon. Could you hurry up and get that stuff out of the car?"

Shaking his head, Vernon walked up the porch. At least Cheryl had propped the door open and turned the lights on. A dingy glass shade overhead cast dirty light across the walls and cobwebs festooning the corners. An ancient air conditioner sat in the side window. Cavemen must have used that thing. Floorboards creaked as he walked through the living room, only slightly muffled by a threadbare, green carpet. He could feel the hardened pad crumbling as he stepped. He wrinkled his nose at the dust and a musty odor that permeated the house, as if it has been shut up too long. Boxes and furniture covered most of the floor, often right in his path. He navigated the obstacle course, sidestepping mountains of cardboard, tables and a dresser before stepping through a curtained doorway on the far side of the room.

Pale blue linoleum squeaked as he stepped into the kitchen. The flooring looked intact, although it mounded into a hump against the left hand wall, just behind the dining table. This room was slightly less cluttered, although several boxes marked "dishes" sat on the counter. Pine cabinets lined the eastern wall on his right, half the doors standing open and exposing empty shelves inside. A pair of long windows showed darkening sky above the double sink. He found a clear spot on the table and set his books down. He opened the refrigerator with some trepidation. The light came on and cold air drifted out. As he suspected, it was empty. As he shut the fridge, its compressor kicked on, and the lights flickered. What kind of wiring do they have in this place?

Shadows leapt out of the open cabinets in time with the pulsating lights, streaming toward him as the power failed, and sulking back when it returned. Vernon shouted and fell back in a chair, which skittered across the floor. One flailing arm knocked the stack of books onto the floor. He stared about wildly, shrinking back from the darkness reaching for him.

Light sputtered once more, then steadied. Shadows became mere puddles of darkness again. He stared, but no matter how hard he looked, they refused to move. He wiped a trembling hand across his eyes and pushed himself to his feet. Don't be stupid. It's just the stress catching up with you. Now get to work.

Turning, he noticed a cracked window between the fridge and stove that looked out onto another room. Puzzled, he walked to the door on the other side of the refrigerator and into the back room.

Ethan had had the back porch enclosed. Their washer and dryer sat in one corner, while a blue sleeper sofa and a desk bearing a television and DVD player occupied the far side. The room's only window held a smaller, newer air conditioner than the one in the living room. A door near the laundry area led into the home's single bathroom.

He stepped inside the bathroom, shoes squeaking on more of the blue linoleum. A soft hiss and fwoomp made him jump. He turned to face a propane water heater in the near corner. Drawing a deep breath, he tried to steady himself. He blew sharply through his nose at the dull odor. It smelled like exhaust fumes he remembered from sitting on one of Houston's six-lane parking lots during rush hour.


Part II coming Monday!

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At August 17, 2007 2:54 PM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

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At August 20, 2007 12:58 PM , Blogger shadowstalker said...

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