by Starman & Charlie
"Time is on your side, Charlie," I told myself, while glowering impatiently at the clock on the wall. "Tick, tick, tick," the horologist instrument would mercilessly taunt me with each second's passage. I couldn't wait to see my hubby get home each day, while I waited for the front door to be opened. Every time Max came home it practically flew off the hinges, as he flung it open with a great exuberance. I lived to see him standing in the doorway with his arms outstretched wide over his head, saying, "Charlie, I'm home!" I couldn't wait to meet with his embrace. He had me hypnotized by the fire in his eyes, its amber hue coloring my glow every time we kissed. This is where I belonged, what I was born for, to love and be loved deeply and truly by the greatest man in the world. To me he stood ten-foot tall and no one could compare to him. I was his and his alone and no one could shake us as long as we were together. We languished in our dreams of the future and planned with an excited flush for a lifetime of happiness together. May be even kids someday, but there was plenty of time for all of that; being young and in love we had our whole lives to do those things we imagined. Just being together every night and day was enough for us, the novelty of married-life still reverberating in our hearts and in our heads.
It is hard to explain how I was drawn to him, as if a voice imperceptibly whispering to me of true love, was taking me by the hand on a journey we had known before. Odd little perceptions like that one kept occurring that we both felt as weird sensations of déjà vu. It all sounds a bit nutty and spooky now, but it happened just that way, right here on this quiet cul-de-sac. Little did we know that a time bomb was about to go off in our lives, as we nestled closely each night. That was seven years ago, shortly before my husband Max left me. He disappeared from my life suddenly and without warning, like rising smoke vanishing into thin air. The one I married all those years ago, the one I still picture as a dreamy-eyed young man, an impatient man, a man unaltered by time...and he was gone from my life forever! "How could I go on? Where do I get the strength to survive dark days like these?" I told myself these heartbreaking questions.
"Every little thing we could do to help Charlie would make a difference right now," my friends told each other with well meaning whispers and smiles, as I vainly pretended not to hear them. Wistfully thinking of Max and the life we had together was all I ever did, and no matter what anybody said or did, at the end of each day I was perpetually imprisoned in my grief.
"He was killed in a lab accident," the authorities claimed, but I still have no clue as to how or why it happened. "Sorry Charlie," they said to my restrained face, which was nothing more than a mask for my anger and rage of loss and being kept in the dark about it, "but it's classified," they told me with coolness and rigidity in their voices. Max disappeared into a shroud of mystery that was not going to be to penetrated by me, leaving me entombed within icy walls of silence. My abject failure to either resurrect or bury my husband Max rendered me more dead than alive. To the world, I was an obsessed automaton repeatedly colliding with antiquated cold war policies of official secrecy that left my life a train-wreck. Despite my innocent and innocuous demeanor, naiveté represented only my game-face, when I purposed to seek the truth in a matter. Anger and frustration grew within me as my quest for answers about Max; to gain closure, heal my wounds, and to reclaim my life were murdered repeatedly.
Feeling there was some underlying evil determined to keep me in the dark forever, this only caused me to dig my heels in deeper till I knew Max was really dead and not languishing in some third-world prison, left there by the CIA to rot. This would be his thanks I reasoned considering how America abandons its heroes in favor of a new generation of wunderkind. Many injustices conspired for him to suffer this fate, after he provided them with brilliant solutions to many an enigmatic problem. I surmised from the circular answers I had received from the authorities, which closed ranks on me, leaving me a widow’s perpetual pain of not knowing their husband's fate. The CIA headquarters, known as “The Puzzle Palace" in Langley, Virginia was obviously well named, and had no intent of offering any clues to what had been going on prior to Max's demise or what he had really been working on.
In the meantime, my wild-goose chase for resolution and peace of mind was going nowhere. My dilemma was exacerbated by my belief that vows of holy matrimony are sacred, being equivalent to a lifetime commitment. To me anything less would be pointless. Unless I could nail-down my true marital status as a widow or not, the situation could not be resolved satisfactorily. In view of this traditional community's heritage, I might as well deny myself and pray for an early death, rather than hope to fall in love again and remarry. Max's official cause of death was looked at suspiciously by my neighbors on the cul-de-sac, as no body had been ever been found. These choices seemed preferable to me, as opposed to either living like a recluse or being perceived a harlot by those hypocrites in the round. I stood at the opening to the cul-de-sac sometimes at midnight, like a conductor trying to direct an orchestra of fools, as I faced the houses in a semi-circle ahead of me, and then breaking down in tears realizing that for me here, re-marriage was an unthinkable act. I cared too much what the folks in each of dwellings, some brightly lit up and some peculiarly dark at night in comparison, thought about me. Somehow I blamed myself for Max's suffering and demise, and though I tried to hide my imagined badge of shame, I was thinking, "They can see it written on me like a 'Scarlet Letter'." To exemplify my inextricable dilemma, I still wake up shivering, expecting to find him lying next to me. Calling tenderly, "Max," I reach out for his warmth, but paw only an empty, lonely pillow. Like my broken-heart, it silently greets me with a message..."Cold, so very cold."
Is this what I have become, a cold unfeeling woman, blocking out the assailing stares and whispers aimed at me every day from a gossiping Cul-de-sac? Most neighbors publicly greet me with pity, but others are openly contemptuous of this lone widow woman struggling to get on with her life. "Whee!" I gleefully greeted each new day, every moment an adventure waiting to be revealed, but now instead, each one is like awakening from a blow to the head. Staggering through my world sadly disoriented and alone, my eviction from reality finally seems complete. Though the sun may rise and set I scarcely notice or care anymore, appearing a foreigner to even my own mirror. Husband-less, the days roll toward me in endless succession of drear, there arrival demolishing me like a runaway locomotive, with each night's uneasy slumber interrupted.
Fortunately, life was not always like that for me, where the sheep and goats around me didn't care if I wore a mask or not to cover my small disappointments. Visiting the lost faces now in the cemetery of my mind, is a pleasant trip to a safe ground where order prevailed and chaos seemed less pervasive. In those days as a child on Aunt Myrtle's farm, I gave each creature there a colorful and animated name, according to how I imagined them if they were people. Strange as it sounds now, I believed that this personalization caused them to welcome me, Charlie, into their big fairly-tale world, just as they were a part of mine. Even the old owl residing on the nearby stump reminded me of a scholarly old professor, staring at me with those wise old eyes. In my mind I became his student and somehow we connected. I felt a powerful resonance whenever he was around. Uncannily, Owl seemed pleased when I would learn the lesson he seemed to be teaching me. "Excellent!" Owl would communicate to me. When finished with our imaginary conversations, Owl would fly away and disappear into a quick moment, like he does now in the misty miasma of my mind. Back then though; my every child's breath was intoxicating. I was a spirit soaring.
Love was in the air back then, like a child's prayer it swirled happily all around us. Sometimes wee little girls dream of, "Who is going to sweep me off my feet, marry me, and make me a princess?" Mostly my dreams were concerned with that whole faraway fairytale, with an aviary of bluebirds, butterflies, and hummingbirds fluttering joyfully around me. Then too soon, the little girl in me grew up and met her Prince Charming, leaving Aunt Myrtle and her farm far behind. Those were charmed days. In a blinding flash of love, Max and me were married, surrounded by church, family and friends. "Till death do us part," we both agreed. Happily we rode off into a golden sunset together, side-by-side in a white chariot, pulled by the most beautiful white horses ever seen. Symbolizing our newlywed purity and bliss, even old Jake and Julia, The plow-horses that worked the farm seemed impressed, if not secretly mouthing a jealous bit. Our lives made more sense then, before the world went haywire around us...
Everywhere was a rhyme and a reason,
Everything had a time and a season,
For our young hearts, yet knew no treason.
La dolce vita, the sweet life, par excellence!
Still, despite my unyielding efforts for the last seven years to come full circle with the truth, I was seriously beginning to think it futile to continue to fight the silent stares and whispers of the cul-de-sac, not to mention Big Brother’s all seeing eye. Considered for a while moving someplace else, possibly back east to visit my folks again, and see Aunt Myrtle's farm one more time, since the family was going to be forced to sell it after her recent death to pay off the debts the estate accumulated when she was too old to manage her affairs anymore. Too late we found out that she was broke after the couple that she let move in with her to care for the farm robbed her blind. After getting power of attorney signed over to them, they placed her in a horrid, smelly nursing home, and instead of caring for her like she did for so many others; Where then were Myrtle’s rescuers? Nowhere in sight, they abandoned her to the dogs that ran the place. America, when did your compassion disappear? Like so many things, it turned out to be an illusion.
Sadly, Aunt Myrtle's friends and family back east who had been circling around her like vultures waiting for the carrion to drop so they could pick her bones clean, found out she was bankrupt and was about to lose the farm. They abandoned her too, and like rats deserting a sinking ship, seemed to have forgotten this poor sweet woman in her hour of need. "How can people be so cold and heartless?" I thought to myself. I was unable to help her being caught up in my own malaise and unaware of even the passage of time for months on end. Like a dead twig, I was separated from the tree of life, and blinded by my grief of my loss of Max. There I was living off of the widow's pension the government paid me, after Max's accidental death was officially determined. Unease was in the air I breathed. My cousin Janet, who I spent my summers on the farm with was the exception to all of the selfishness and unbelievable acts that occur around the dead after they pass on to be with God. She visited Aunt Myrtle at the home until she passed a short time ago. Another blow to body for me, as there was now one more face joining all the others in my mind's cemetery I told you about earlier. When cousin Janet heard about how poorly I was doing she got touch with me. After Aunt Myrtle got buried, we agreed she would come out to visit me for awhile until deciding what to do, now that Aunt Myrtle didn't need her help anymore. "I am on my way Char-girl, hang in there,” Janet told me on the telephone with a laugh as she hung the phone before I could think of a good comeback to dissuade her. Besides, I could use a friendly face for a change, and Janet was not the kind of girl to take no for an answer!
Speaking with my cousin put me in a reflective mood and I considered, "How swiftly life changes in chaotic, autonomous and unpredictable ways." Max, a world-class scientist and a philosopher like Aristotle himself, would have approved. Strange, how my emotions keep pulling me back to him. Feeling the weight of the world was in my hands, I longed for my former anchor in this life to secure me in my place. Like a ship powerless and set adrift on the open sea, I often wondered, "How do I change course after so long, and go on without him? Without him!” I cried. The pain of loss rips deep, writhing within me, like a swallowed can full of noxious worms that burrowed holes into my soul. Thinking, as I often do about better days on Aunt Myrtle's farm, when she would fix those delicious country biscuits steaming with gravy and lovingly made by her own age-creased hands, their smell crept in to comfort me allaying my fears. Deep in peaceful thought at last, my tortured moments were momentarily tethered and eased. "What had I possibly done to cause Max to leave my life?" I wondered, finding miserable comfort in friends to sooth my imagination of how he must have suffered without me. Mercifully, I nodded off into another time and space, snippets replaying in my mind of a bucolic scene.
"Howdy, Charlie!" a voice prodded into my cosmic consciousness that ripped apart the veil of my inner peace. Reality's blindfold was removed from my mind's eye revealing things I didn't want to see anymore. Awakened from my daydream into my nightmare again, I found my neighbor Abigail shaking me, shaking me back into a topsy-turvy world, my party where all my candles where blown out and all of my balloons were maliciously popped at once. Facing my blues, I never felt more alone, except here was Abby to save the day!
"Oh hi, Abby. Sorry, I did doze off in this old rocking chair again, didn't I? This old porch is still my solace, reminding me of when Max and I first moved in here. Our furniture didn't arrive for a day or two, so we spent a lot of time outside, just sitting, talking, and relaxing while waiting for the moving van to finally arrive from back east with our things. It was nice. We had time to kill, since we arrived a few days early to set up house on the Cul-de-sac, before Max started work at the new government lab. These blessed old rockers were all we had to sit on, left over I suppose, from the old couple that died here mysteriously in their sleep."
Abigail eyed me with a wary eye, and laughed an uneasy laugh saying only, "Charlie are you sure you are alright? Maybe we should go inside, I think this night air is getting to you."
"Oh nooo! Somebody help me please! Dear God, somebody plee-aase...Help me!" Wailed a sobbing man from across the cul-de-sac.
“What on earth, Abby?” I said, feeling a cold chill come over me, so I instinctively pulled tight my robe to cover my thin nightgown, and hearing the commotion ran toward the curb. The five other front doors on the cul-de-sac opened too, as their occupants ran to our neighbor Randy’s station wagon in his drive. Randy was standing beside it, his eyes wild with fear, calling uncharacteristically for help and sobbing uncontrollably. I immediately thought the strain of losing his brother, my husband Max, had gotten to him. But this was something more.
When he saw me coming, he called out to me, “Oh, Charlie! Look!” He pointed to his new, white station wagon, and he looked so frightened. Instinctively, I ran to him. He was my husband’s younger brother, and he'd been my anchor since Max had disappeared seven years earlier. But now he threw his arms around my neck and leaned on me.
“What is it, Randy?” I asked. “What’s going o…?” The sound of my voice melted in the crisp air, and I stared at his driveway, not believing what I was seeing. The station wagon’s back door was hanging open; its white, shiny newness in stark contrast to the remains of what looked like an old fashioned casket. Randy was sobbing, but I drew him with me toward the car and his neighbors. As we drew closer, we all gagged at the stench. It was a moldy coffin with its lid half-caved in. I knew then why he was sobbing. All those years of "knowing" Max was alive and well, and now... He thought this was Max. But given the coffin's age, it couldn't possibly be, could it?
Then the investigator in me took over my mind, as I remembered through the steps that my boss, Bob had taught me. The police and their shoddy methods of detective work and crime solving did not impress the PI in me. The locals in this town were more likely to be arrested for disturbing the peace or cited for public drunkenness on a Saturday night at one of the tourist dives downtown, than to be involved in a serious investigation with mysterious coffins showing up in the back of station wagon in the middle of the night. So if this did have anything to do with the strange occurrences on the cul-de-sac since I have lived here, then i wanted to know how. These were generally good people here, but they had an extra-ordinary propensity for unexplained deaths or disappearances here, just like the case involving my Max. It was just a hunch, but if there was something connected to any of the other cases that remain unresolved here, then I definitely wanted to sniff out the evidence and get to the bottom of all of this cloak and dagger stuff once and for all. Who knows, maybe I might get lucky, and catch a real thief or killer in the process. Then I would make the papers for sure. Somehow though, my instincts warned me to be a little more careful on this one, as I had the distinct impression that I was being watched.
I observed carefully the scene, and who had come out to merely gawk, and who had a worried look on their faces and who didn't. It was the typically scene of a neighborhood that had seen too much of its share of shock and awe, with several of its members suffering loss in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tragically, the folks around the cul-de-sac started acting funny with one of the women inexplicably running down the street in the middle of the night. They said it was menopause kicking in, but if so then what about the men who seemed to be losing it too, No there is something about this place that beings out more then its share of dread and nightmares among normally behaved people. I myself have had a recurring nightmare about this very scene before. No here it is, but no this is just a coincidence. Max always taught me not to believe in premonitions, that there was always an answer if one looked hard enough for it. Some say it has to do with the cul-de-sac being built over the old Indian burial ground alleged to be here. Who in their right mind would believe in the dead haunting the living in the 21st century? I thought all of that thinking went out in the last century, when most of the charlatans who undisguised around here, and left heading for greener pastures elsewhere. Still, there were a few old timers who swear that the curse of the Indian burial ground was true .
Anyhow, back to the investigation that I had begun in my mind...So next I took in the condition of the coffin, and its position of the car. What in the world was it doing there? I want to ask Bob, but he is so shook up, I am worried about him. Who else seems too interested in this that might be playing a prank, you know college kids looking for kicks. Probably some sickos did this disgusting act. Probably read about it in the paper tomorrow, about some fraternity initiation or something. One time in college, some of those guys took apart the Deans car and reassembled on the roof of the student union!
Getting back to the task at hand, I looked around while my neighbors all milled together. There was Irene, my next-door neighbor, wearing pink flannel pajamas. She’d come out without slippers even, and was looking at Randy with shocked, worried eyes. Then there was the entire Roland family (they lived across the road from Irene). They too looked bewildered and only half-dressed. There was also Sam Ellister, shaving cream on his face — obviously getting ready for work, and his wife, with curlers in her hair. Some people have no shame at all.
Selma Codway was there too, a new widow, who looked uncomfortable in her expensive kimono, who kept tisking, “Oh dear. Oh dear. ” I felt sorry for her knowing how this feels. I should bring her a cake or something and visit her, or invite her over for coffee, the poor dear.
Standing a little away from the rest of us, there was Abigail who followed after seeing me dash off the porch to run to Randy's side. She lived at the end of the cul-de-sac, so maybe she knew something. I meant to ask her before the night was over about this, as the question nagged at me, ever since she woke me up right before all this commotion broke out and I leaped into action to help my brother-in-law. “Randy,” I said emphatically, while holding both of his shoulders, and looking into his frightened eyes, “Did you hear anything last night?” He took in a long, gasping breath, but still whimpered. I knew he was trying to calm down, but his eyes were slightly dilated, and I feared he was going into shock. I took off my robe and wrapped it around his shoulders and turned him toward the safety of his house.
Irene hovered near us, staring up at Randy with her big, brown eyes. “Call the cops.” I told her, as I helped Randy into the house. As we moved up his walk, I reviewed all I’d taken in.
Three things I noticed that I thought were important:
First of all, it did not appear that the coffin had come from underground. There were cobwebs and dry-crumbly corners-- neither dampness nor mud. But since all the burial grounds I could think of were grass cemeteries, where coffins went six feet under, I was at a loss figuring out from where it had come.
Secondly, all of my neighbors but one were still in pajamas, and were either obviously frightened or superb actors.
Thirdly, there was my normally recluse neighbor Abigail again, whom I noticed was the only one fully dressed when she visited me, and now she had gloves on too! Interestingly, she hung back a little from the crowd—enough so that she couldn’t have seen what was in the station wagon, and she looked more frightened than any of them. I made a mental note to talk to her again later. I had no idea how important that would be. "He who hesitates is lost," I mumbled to myself, and turned to speak to her anyway, "Oh Abby!" but like a ghost she was gone. So I shook it off, and turned my attention to my brother-in-law again.
"Com'on Randy” I said as I helped him back to his house and onto his living room couch, then grabbed the throw that was draped over its arm, and tucked it around him. He didn’t look too good. So I hurriedly shut the door and ran to a bedroom, grabbing a pillow and a blue blanket right off of the bed. I rushed them back to my stricken brother-in-law, being the white sheep of the family. There was something else about Randy that drew me out of myself this night. He looked so much like my Max; I drew in my breath as I touched his cheek. His face was too pale. As I propped up his head and tucked the second blanket in around him, I hummed softly, trying to sooth him. He was shaking badly now. I looked around and saw his telephone lying on the coffee table to my right. Not knowing if Irene had come through, I dialed 911. I dozed off in Randy's spare bedroom, not wanting to be alone that night either.
I woke up to the smell of coffee brewing and Randy standing over me with a steaming cup that he handed to me. "Thank you," I said and drank the beverage, rich and dark, which felt good going down. After regaining my wits we parted ways and I went back home to recoup after that horrid night. "Why must things like those moldy old coffins turning up always happen around here? I know we are not the 'Desperate Housewives' of Wisteria Lane, with their own crazy little cul-de-sac, but that was purely TV fiction, and this was real life. So why us, why now, just when things have started to look up again?" I went home took a shower and spent the rest of the morning relaxing to Mozart. "Lovely melodies, still sounding good after all of these centuries. Like me, some things are just timeless," I mused.
By afternoon after all the police had left, and the moldy old coffin rode away in the coroner's wagon, we were still left not knowing a thing. In other words it was business as usual for the cul-de-sac, like there was some ancient curse over this place causing always questions, but never answers to satisfy them. I chalked it all up the mysterious things that happened around the cul-de-sac from time-to-time, then shrugged it off as just another example of the same. Besides, I had bigger fish to fry and was about to get some help doing it. Not wanting the nosy neighbors on the cul-de-sac to know my business, I pretended to have an errand and backed my purple sports car out of the drive. Some of them watched me carefully, peeping out past the partially opened drapes of their front windows.
"Vroom!" went the engine as I drove around the corner and down the street to meet my cousin Janet, who had just arrived in town. I found her parked in front of the town hall in a no parking zone, which so typical of her, and waved to her to follow me in her car. Finally arriving at my house on the cul-de-sac, we jumped out of our cars and excitedly hugged, then we left my car and we both climbed into the passenger side of her nondescript-colored Honda. We took off again with Janet at the wheel and me hangin’ on for dear life. We were on another adventure, just like when we were kids on the farm. Only then we rode bikes and horses or walked when we wanted to get somewhere fast.
We had wonderful imaginations that never failed us which is what made life so fun. Janet, being a free spirit who made up her own rules and never took too good to authority figures, heard the latest chapter in my story about Max's disappearance. Then with a gleam in her eye, she decided it was a good idea for us to get involved with PI work again. "Oh no," I cried as off we went again on two wheels with gravel flying out behind us, all the windows down, and our hair blowing around like two kites in the breeze. What a sight we were, two gals on the loose again! The cul-de-sac would never be the same again, that much I was sure of, and those nosy neighbors would never know what hit 'em. This was all no surprise, since even as kids she liked to pretend we were Charlie’s Angels. The mischief we got into, but somehow just like the Angels in the movies and TV, we had a few close calls that we laughed about later, but everything always came out all right in the end. And that’s how I got my nickname — it’s what she called me, and it stuck with me all these years. Sliding around corners, we’d hold out our invisible guns, ready to do battle. We invented all sorts of characters to play. Her favorite was Stella, a frumpy college student, and mine was a leggy blond named Daisy. O' what fun we had!
Now suddenly, here was Janet to save my day. Of course she had placed my disguise was right where I knew it would be, laying in the back seat of her old Honda. I pulled the blond wig from the jockey box and carefully put it on over my short, brown hair, combing the long, platinum strands behind my ears, and primping up the top to give it a little more height. I was getting good at it. I carefully applied two coats of pink-red lipstick to my mouth and smudged some off onto a tissue. Last, I put on the daisy sunglasses and looked into the mirror. Perfect. We switched places and I jumped into the driver's seat, since I knew the streets better than Janet who had only visited a few times over the years since Max and me moved here. We waited two hours before we saw Abigail drive past Janet’s car parked in my driveway in her cream-colored sedan, then I casually pulled onto the street and followed her.
Tailing her at a safe distance, Abigail pulled into a parking lot, and never seemed to notice us—but the funny thing is that I’d never noticed her much either or more immediately, what that building was where she parked. It seemed always to be empty. I waited until she went inside before I parked the car two buildings down. Through my telephoto lens of my old spy camera Janet had retrieved from Aunt Myrtle's attic, before heading west to visit me. I could see that it was a church of some sort, so I took off my sunglasses and put on my clear-lensed pair, still keeping with the daisy motif. I pulled my yellow-hand bag’s strap onto my shoulder and casually walked up to the church. The door was locked. I knocked on the door. I could see Abigail coming toward me, looking more frightened than ever. She opened the door. “What do you want?” She said, looking at me with a bit of a warning in her brown-green eyes. I made my voice sultry, “I wondered if there was a pastor here. I’m just coming through town, and my car broke down…”
She shrugged her shoulders and walked down a hall. I stood there a little while, watching her go. She never looked behind her or invited me to come. What would she expect me to do? I shrugged my shoulders and followed her…
The hall grew darker, as did my unease. The hall branched off, and I didn’t know which way to go. Again, I made my voice sultry, “Excuse me, ma’am, which way?” I heard foot falls to my left, so I took that direction. About ten paces in front of me, I could see a shadow. That must be her. Suddenly, I felt a presence behind me. I reached in my pocket and grabbed the tiny gray paper dot that would tell my tale. I let it drop. Janet would find it there and know what it meant. Hands pressed against my shoulders, and I fell…
Janet had dozed off waiting for me to come out of the building, after driving 4-days and nights to meet me. She looked up at the clock and realized five hours had passed. "Surely she’d be back by now, “Janet thought worriedly. She checked her phone for messages—nothing. "Charlie would be posing as “Daisy”—that was her favorite character." she reasoned. That left Janet with, hmm, oh yes… Stella! An unstellar college student she sometimes posed as in our imaginary sleuthing. She put on the short, brown wig, and untucked her blouse from her slacks. She put her arms through the backpack and went into the garage. She’d take Charlie’s car—no, wait. She’d been trailing someone from Charlie's own block, so that wouldn't do either. Janet pulled out the bicycle she hadn’t used for years. Its tires were flat. She looked around, and was relieved to see a hand-pump nearby. "What luck!" she thought to herself. Soon she was pedaling toward town, hoping to spot her car somewhere along the way.
Her thighs burned with exhilaration. It was nice to be going somewhere for a change on a bike. She’d been cycling in place for the last ten months, and it was refreshing to feel the wind lift the fake curls from around her face. About halfway down 1st Street, she spotted her car. She looked around—it must be that church-place, she thought. She tossed her bike into the bushes on her side of the street and crossed over. The parking lot was empty. She tried the door; it was locked. She looked up at the Grey, slat-like windows, but no inner light could be detected. Still, she thought, she could be seen…
It was dusk and the light was quickly fading in the desert sky as the first stars began to twinkle. There was an old-fashioned drugstore nearby, the kind that had a soda fountain. She sat down on a swiveling stool at the counter and ordered a frosty mug of root beer. “Thanks, she said to the clerk as she slurped it down quickly. Janet, her thirst quenched, got up and clanked two dollars and quarter in change on the counter.
This was a town that time seemed to have forgotten, and along with the natural beauty of the stark mesa in the distance, one could easily forget it was the twenty-first century. Then, she walked around the store for a while first examining this item and then that one. She lingered there trying on some new shades of lipstick and checking her look in the cosmetics mirror, and finally just wandering down the aisles for a while. On a whim, she purchased a few items that she put in her purse, and when she walked outside was surprised it was so dark already.
Janet slid around the church building’s brick walls to the back. Sure enough, there was a back door there, with a knob. Still, it was harder than usual to pick open. She heard a click, and the knob turned. She carefully pushed it open. Darkness engulfed her. She stood, hardly breathing, listening with her whole being; nothing. Stealthily, she pulled her black light from her pack and flicked it on. If something had gone wrong, then Charlie would have left the Grey dot. She would find it. As quickly as she thought prudent, she glided down the dark corridor, swinging the light back and forth, looking for that tiny glow of invisible plasma; nothing. She turned down another hall searching, gliding, and almost tripped over an unbonded seam in the carpet. As she leaned forward to catch her balance, she saw it—the dot. Then she noticed that it wasn’t a seam she’d tripped over, but some sort of a trap door. But how could she open it? She walked around it, pushing against the wall, tapping every conceivable place on the floor with her toe; nothing. She stepped backward, and then it clicked open and swung down. She looked over the brim, and saw Charlie there on the bottom, squinting up at her.
“You all right?” She asked.
“I’m all right—just a bump on the head. Did anyone follow you?”
“No. I’m sure, but let’s get you out of here. Hurry.” Janet reached down, and I reached up. She pulled, and I hopped. I was thankful for the many hours she’d been putting in at the gym lately. I straightened my blond wig, and smoothed my slacks. But where was my purse? “Janet, you didn’t happen see the yellow handbag up there, did you?”
“No…” she answered.
“Great!” I said, “Just great. Now they’re going to start tracking down ‘Daisy’. Darn it! I liked her.”
“It’s Okay. We’ve got her well covered. What excuse did you give for coming here?”
"Broken down car” I moaned. “Out of state.”
“We’ll get your boss Bob on it. He’ll come up with something,” she said, and stepped back on the hidden floor panel, closing the trap door. “But for right now; let’s get out of here.”
“Wait.” I said. “I want to know what this place is.
“Okay,” Janet said, “but let’s hurry. This place gives me the creeps!”
Some time later, we found ourselves on a catwalk, way above a large stadium-like room. We were rounding a corner, when we heard faint voices coming. I scurried into a recess, but Janet was left out in the open. “Quick,” she whispered, “hand me Daisy.” We traded wigs and shoes, and she handed the backpack over to me, but in the shuffling, one of her shoes fell. We waited, rigid, and then light flooded the room….
Meanwhile, back at the cul-de-sac, Irene watched the police cars leave. They knew something. They didn’t even inspect the coffin—just hauled it off from the scene. There was something strange about that Abigail woman too. Irene saw how she’d hung back from the scene, terror in her eyes. It hadn’t taken long for her to drive away, either. Where was she going?
Irene sighed and went into Randy’s house. He looked much better—resting easy. She picked up the throw that was beside the couch and sat down beside him. “Well, that was some ordeal,” she said, looking over at him.
“You’re telling me,” he said. “Is it gone now?”
Irene didn’t have to ask what he meant. She knew. “Yes. They took it with them—said they’ll take over the investigation from here.”
“Well, then” he said, getting up, “I’ll let them. I’ve got plenty to do around here without worrying about that. Did they say they’d let us know when they found out something?”
“No. We’ll just have to wait and see. Personally, I think they know something already. They were so cold about the whole thing.”
“Really? How so?”
“Well,” she said, smoothing the throw on her lap, “for one thing, they never introduced themselves. They didn’t tape the scene—just took the…the thing, and left. And, they didn’t question anyone. That seemed odd to me.”
“No kidding? They didn’t ask whose car it was or anything?”
“No. They seemed to already know. I guess Charlie must have called from here and told them.”
“I guess so,” said Randy. “I don’t know. I was pretty out of it. Hey Irene, do you mind staying for a while? I mean, I’m Okay. But I really don’t think I can take any more surprises for one night.”
“No. I don’t mind. What do you want to do? Watch a movie or something?”
“Oh, no way. I’m going to keep busy—cook up a storm—do some laundry.”
“Oh that sounds fun,” Irene laughed dryly. But she stayed. After all, it was the least she could do
She found an apron to put on and washed her hands. “So tell me,” she queried, “how long have you lived here?”
Randy smiled over at her. “That’s right. You’ve only lived here a few months, haven’t you?”
“Six actually,” she said.
“Well I’ve lived here for about ten years. That’s how old this cul-de-sac is. The land used to belong to the Grayson’s. I guess they used to own a lot of land around here, never did anything with it, though. But what they didn’t get by way of agricultural means, they made up for in steep profits...” he stopped talking. Irene had dropped her knife on the floor.
“What’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Irene stood up straight, put her hands on the counter for support, and looked him straight in the eye. “Grayson’s? She asked, “As in Alex Grayson?” He nodded yes. “Haven’t you heard about the legends regarding his property? He was said to have never torn the soil because the land was cursed, or blessed, however you want to look at it. It is old Indian burial ground. I knew I shouldn’t have moved here.”
“I never heard anything about that.” He said. “Abigail Warner, she lives two doors down from me, she’s their grand-niece, and she never said anything about it. Come to think of it though, she never says much about anything. We could call her and ask her though. I’ll bet she knows something.”
“No,” Irene said, “I saw her leave about an hour ago. She looked like she was in a hurry.”
“Oh Irene, you don’t think she…did you see which way she went?”
“How could I? She pulled out of the cul-de-sac—but there’s only one direction to go.”
“Get your coat, Irene. Let’s go find her.”
“No. Wait. I know she knows something. My guts just know it. She’s gone. Let’s go check out her house.”
Randy, over-whelmed with a powerful need to find answers, grabbed her hand in his and pulled her out the door and toward Abigail’s house. The cul-de-sac was quiet. It was getting on toward midnight. They walked confidently through Abigail’s backyard and up to her back door. Curiously it was unlocked….
Irene involuntarily took hold of Randy’s hand as he opened the door. A faint light was glowing from the kitchen. They moved quietly around the furniture toward it. The dishes were undone, but piled neatly on the counter by the sink. Nothing looked out of place, or out of order. There was a pile of letters on the computer desk, stacked perfectly, from largest to smallest, all white envelopes. Irene carefully flipped through their corners, using her middle finger to hold down the stack—all the normal mail—bills—all were bills.
Randy opened the pantry door. Shelves of dry goods were there, nothing strange. They moved together down the hall toward the bedrooms. The air grew a bit moist—almost…dank. Definitely dank. He stepped forward a bit, motioning Irene to wait, but she grabbed his hand instead, and clasped it to her waist. Again, together, they moved forward. Then Randy opened the first door on the right—a bathroom. They went to the next door—the guest room. They went to the next—what must have been Abigail’s, but it was very strange. An eerie golden glow spilled out from underneath the closet doors. They sucked in their breath and began to open the doors, but just then, they heard the distinct sound of the front door slamming. They were trapped. Randy put his arm around Irene’s waist, and together, they yanked the doors open and stepped through. Quickly they pulled the doors closed behind them. Irene, afraid to look, put her head under his arm and squeezed her eyes shut. Randy looked down at her, pleased with her trust. And feeling protective lifted his chin and gazed steadily ahead. And what was ahead of him gazed steadily into Randy’s eyes. Randy stifled his snort of fear, and hugged Irene all the tighter—he wasn’t sure if it was for his own assurance, or to assure her.
It was tall—taller than he was—maybe six foot eight in height. And his eyes were bright gold, and glowing. His body was bare, but for a loin cloth and his golden muscles were brawny, and tight with readiness. In his right hand, he held a tomahawk, with a bright green feather tied in place with a blood-red cloth. In his other hand, he held a golden ball (about the size of a baseball) that was ribbed with curious writings. There were cracks in the ball that let out a bright green glow. The being looked human, and yet was definitely not so. He looked steadily at Randy and Irene. Then he suddenly brought up his left hand and flung the golden ball. Randy flinched, but he needn’t have. The ball stopped in mid-air...
Back on my porch in the cul-de-sac, as the first streaks of dawn began to emerge, a spooky Jack-O-Lantern seemed alive as its eyes flickered their amber light, and the ribbed orange pumpkin orb flashed a toothy grin to the world.