Monday, October 15, 2007

Chapter 6: Second Night, Part I

Vernon reached out and placed a hand on the knob, but continued to stare at the door for several minutes. Worse? How could it possibly be any worse? He might have laughed if it weren’t such a frightening idea. What’s going to happen tonight? His grip tightened, then turned. The door pulled from its frame with a loud creak, and a breeze blew through, carrying an autumn chill and the fresh scent of the surrounding pastures. Vernon closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. It was a clean smell, void of the foul odors of livestock he usually associated with the country. Knotted muscles in his shoulders started to relax. He leaned on the doorframe I guess that’s one benefit to living out here – the clean country life in Jennings Grove really is clean. It’s just the sort of place we always wanted for Alexis and Raymond. Sighing, he opened his eyes as his mood sank once more. He remained leaning, arms folded as he watched the sun dip below the horizon and tried to recapture a bit of that feeling.

Shadows crept across the yard. Vernon blinked and rubbed his eyes. It made no difference. Darkness slid amoeba-like from underneath his car, deepening as it spread. Smaller puddles slunk from behind small hillocks and crawled out of dips in the yard. They sought each other out, running across the yard and pooling into larger and larger shadows that soon surrounded everything except the few places still exposed to the sun. Those islands of light dwindled and vanished until the only source of illumination came from the living room behind him.

Darkness oozed from between the boards near his feet and underneath the stairs to wash across the porch. The current eddied around the small rectangle of light, pushing at it. Vernon watched a moment, then straightened and flipped a second switch by the door. A bulb snapped on, bathing house and porch in its white brilliance. Shadows retreated to the edges. He slammed the door shut and turned to face the empty house.

Given how many people had been there, he found the living room surprisingly clean. The residents of Jennings Grove were polite intruders, it seemed. They’d left the furniture straight, Cheryl’s wingback “reading chair” and his recliner sitting side by side against one wall and the couch framing the walkway to the kitchen. He stooped and fished a couple of balled napkins from the floor, but couldn’t find any other signs of the party. After a quick glance to his left to make sure the light was on in the bedroom, he walked through to the kitchen, tossed the napkins in the trash can – which had a new liner in it – and looked around. As spotless as the front room, except for dishes stacked in the sink.

“Gotcha,” he muttered and walked to the counter. The dishes had been washed. What’s with these people? They live in a place where the night eats their families, and they just barge in whenever they feel like it, but they’ll stock your cabinets and wash the dishes while they’re at it? “Rod Sterling, take me away.”

He left the plates, bowls and glasses to dry and wandered into the second bedroom. Alexis’ bed remained as pristine as when they had moved in, the pink and yellow comforter nearly bright enough to banish the night by itself. All the boxes had been removed here, as well. In his own room, the furniture had been straightened and clothes put away, but the bed remained unmade. Ray’s nest of pillows – had it only been this morning? – still sat in the middle of the mattress. I guess they were more concerned with getting all the boxes taken care of. Or maybe they just wanted to leave me something to do. An oddly mundane chore given all that had happened in the last day or so. He shrugged. Might as well get to it. Heaven knew he could use some sense of normalcy, and he would have to get used to domestic duties sooner or later.

Pillows got tossed on the floor. He yanked the pale yellow sheet and dark blue quilt back and pulled on the corners of the fitted sheet until they lined up perfectly with the mattress. Cheryl had always been very strict about that. Next, the top sheet went back on the bed. He spent some time making sure the edges hung equally from both sides before tucking it in at the foot of the bed. He never quite understood why his wife insisted on that when the quilt covered everything anyway. “If you’re going to do it, do it right,” she always said. If only she could see me now. He smoothed the last few wrinkles out of the quilt and set about piling the pillows at the head of the bed. By the time he got it just right, all traces of day had vanished; if not for reflected glare from the light overhead, the window might have been a hole opening on some remote region of space. Vernon stepped back to admire his handiwork. Looks like a soldier’s bunk from some war movie. He gave a single, satisfied nod and walked out the door.

His hand, moving out of an ingrained habit, slipped back into the room, slapped the wall and slid down. The light switch flipped off.


Part II coming Friday!

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