Become a Fan
He Should Have Seen It Coming
By Brendan Carroll
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Short Story Entry for Red Adept Contest: Twists and Turns
Should Have Seen It Coming A Short Story by Brendan Carroll Word Count: 5416
The angry butcher slammed Kurt against the stainless steel cooler door and held a wickedly sharp boning knife against the base of his throat, handling him effortlessly like a sack of potatoes. The burly Australian pressed the blade close enough for Kurt to feel the edge, but not close enough to bring blood.
"Look, mate," he growled in a low voice very close to Kurt's face. "Next time you come in here accusing me of being a root rat, I’m going to put me old fella up your freckle and give her a gobful."
Kurt nodded minutely, barely daring to breathe. He should have seen it coming. He had made an ass of himself coming here in the first place. Why did he care if Jeri left him? She was nothing but trouble. They fought constantly over the most insignificant things and she was too free with his money. He'd probably paid the notes on the butcher's four wheel drive for the past eight months just from the over-priced meats and cheeses Jeri had bought from the muscular Aussie who was now pressing a knife against his neck. The butcher let go of him and shoved him back through the swinging door and out in front of the glassed counter. He straightened his jacket and started for the door, but the man called him back… by name!
"What?!" He said angrily and then glanced at the customer standing near the counter.
"Your missus ordered it special. Said it was something special for you," the butcher gave him his best Aussie accent and grinned as he shoved a package wrapped in white paper across the counter. "Sixteen fifty."
Kurt tossed his debit card on the counter and just glared at the man while he rang up the purchase. He picked up the heavy package and his receipt and stomped out into the light rain as the man invited him to “Come back anytime, Dipstick!”
He should have seen it coming, but his mind had been elsewhere on the drive home from work. If Jeri found out what he'd done, she'd kill him. He dumped the shoulder roast on the counter and shook the beaded water from his hair. When he reached for the refrigerator door, the last thing he expected was a Dear John note tacked on the refrigerator with a ladybug magnet. He was devastated and not even his loyal pug, Buster, had come to meet him. A quick tour of the house turned up no dog and no Jeri.
But why? Why would Jeri leave him and take his dog?
The note didn’t really say that she had taken the dog, but…
Kurt let out a long sigh and backed up with the note in his hands, taking a seat on one of the swivel barstools at the breakfast counter. The note really didn’t say much at all, but it had a familiar ring to it, almost like déjà vu. Sadly, she hadn’t taken the time to write it, but had typed it on the computer and printed it out. She hadn’t even taken the trouble to sign her name. No punctuation. All lower case letters except the ‘I’s’, the ‘Me’, the ‘My’, the ‘God’ and ‘the Jeri’.
kurt I am leaving I will have someone come by for My things in the garage I tried to pack them out of your way do not try to find Me I knew it was all over on thursday some things are just not meant to be do not forget to feed the fish and for God’s sake don’t blame yourself Jeri
The phone rang in the den, causing him to drop the note. It drifted down perfectly landing in Buster’s water dish and laid there, soaking up the water, until he snatched it up and pressed it against his jeans on the way to the phone.
“Hello?” He answered hopefully.
“Kurt?” Kris’ voice sounded shrill, grating on his overwrought nerves.
“I heard that Jeri walked out on you.”
“You did?” He was truly surprised. He’d only just gotten home from work and found the note less than fifteen minutes prior. His mind jerked forward and back, making him dizzy as he tried to think if he had told someone, but…
“Yeah, news travels fast. I am so sorry. Are you all right? Do you need anything? A pizza? Some beer?” She attempted a bit of levity to no avail.
“Gee, Kris, that’s so… thoughtful,” he said derisively and fell sitting in his recliner. He propped up his feet and turned on the news.
“Well, you know, I’m actually glad she’s gone. You can do much better. In fact, I know someone who…”
“Whoa!” He cut her off and turned up the volume a bit. “I don’t think I’m ready for another Cinderella, but I appreciate the thought. Look, I need to get a shower. You know? I just got home. I’m funky.”
“OK, alright,” Kris relented. “Just don’t’ forget to take your meds, Kurt. You know you need them. If you need anything, call me.”
“Thanks, Kris, you don’t have to worry about me. I’m a big boy.”
“Ok, but really. Call me if I can do anything at all. It’s the least I can do for my faaaavorite brother.”
“I’m your only brother,” he said as usual and suddenly felt very tired. He already missed Buster. He would have his pug back. That much was certain.
“Take care, kid,” she said and the phone buzzed in his ear.
He laid his head back and closed his eyes as the local news droned on in a surreal montage of tastelessly presented, poorly written horror stories that passed for the latest headlines. Somewhere between the traffic report and the weather center, he fell into a restless sleep and just as the credits from a ten-year-old Simpson’s rerun scrolled up the screen. A noise behind him made him jerk his head up.
“Buster?” He called tentatively. He’d thought he had heard his pug snorfling, which was something that belonged exclusively to little push-faced dogs like Pugs and Pekingese when they had to almost stand on their heads in order to snuffle the floor.
Receiving no answer to his call, he assigned it to his imagination and picked up the remote. He surfed the channels absently as his mind wandered back to the previous Thursday. The note from Jeri was still attached to his jeans where it had dried. What had she said about last Thursday? He peeled the note from his pants and held it up. “I knew it was all over last Thursday,” he read aloud.
What was all over? What had happened on Thursday that had finalized Jeri’s resolve to dump him? Thursday? Football night. They had watched his favorite team play her favorite. His team had lost miserably, but Jeri didn’t really care about the sport that much and she had never complained about him watching the games on Sunday. He wasn’t a sports nut and she seemed to enjoy the games that they watched together. She even had a jersey with her quarterback’s number and name on it that she always wore for luck. No, it wasn’t the game. Couldn’t have been that, even though he had lost a $50 bet on it.
Thursday was the day that she had surprised him with a new tattoo. Not bad as far as tattoos went, but colorful and expensive, not to mention painful and possibly dangerous. A little ladybug about the size of a quarter on her left shoulder, her favorite icon with his name underneath it in fancy script letters. How could she name a ladybug after him? It was dumb, he had told her. He was a man, not a lady or a bug! Worse yet, she had charged it on his American Express. Three hundred and fifty dollars plus a fifty dollar tip! That had caused a fight before dinner, but everything had settled down before the game. It couldn’t have been the tattoo.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and froze when the snorfling noise came again.
“Buster!” He called more forcefully than before. “Where are you, Boy?”
The snorfling continued this time accompanied by a familiar whine.
Wearily, he dragged himself from the chair, walked down the hall to the bedroom and put his hand on the doorknob. The hall was dark. He didn’t want to go in the bedroom again. Not yet. All of her things were gone. Her perfumes and photographs were gone from the dresser. Her clothes were no longer in the closet. Her nightstand was bare except for the lamp that matched the one on his nightstand. Her painting of a sunset over Catalina Island was gone from the wall. The three drawers she had used in the bathroom were completely empty. Not even a stray cotton swab littered the floor or counter. Her side of the double lavatory was spotless and sterile, gleaming under the bright light.
He waited for the sound again. Nothing. An uneasy feeling crept into his head even though he consciously refused to acknowledge it as anything more than a symptom of his mental disorder. In spite of his confident assurances to his sister, Kurt had not taken his meds for two days and he’d let one of his prescriptions expire altogether. He was sick of popping pills and listening to therapists drone on and on about how he should do this and how he should do that… Besides, half the people in the country had bipolar disorder and dyslexia. He was just a little paranoid; that was all. The way the world was, it was only natural to be paranoid. Everyone was paranoid.
“Buster!” He called again and again received no answer. No familiar barking or scratching at the door which was the usual response whenever Buster accidently locked himself in the bedroom or bathroom.
The phone rang in the den again. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone and he was imagining things. Buster was not there. When the phone stopped ringing, he checked the caller ID. Jeri’s mother. The call list was filled with her number and little else. The nosy old bat must have called a hundred times in the past few days. Probably plotting and planning Jeri’s… Jeri’s… Jeri’s what? He searched his mind for a noun that succinctly described the act of dumping one’s boyfriend or girlfriend by tacking a crappy little note to the refrigerator and disappearing in the middle of the day or night without a word of warning. He could think of nothing in his vocabulary that adequately covered it and thought perhaps he might invent one when he was feeling better.
Back in the den with a bottle of beer and a bag of corn chips, he scanned the movie channels and finally settled on an old werewolf movie for background noise.
Dragging his laptop from the coffee table and his black lacquered lap desk from the floor he plopped them in his lap and signed in to his weblog intending to give himself a bit of therapy by blogging about Jeri and why she might have left him. He opened a new post and typed two words: Why, Jeri?
When he closed his eyes and concentrated on where to start, he heard another plaintive whine, a bit louder now and then a low growl. A shiver ran up his back and over his head.
“Crud!” He said and set the laptop back on the side table, convinced that he was not imagining things after all. Buster was somewhere in the house! Somewhere that he should not be obviously. He skirted the bar and headed for the mudroom. The whining, snorfling and growling continued this time. “Buster?” He whispered and the noise stopped. When he opened the door, Buster nearly bowled him over, rushing from the enclosed space, feet and claws scrabbling on the tiles in the kitchen as he made a mad dash for his food bowl.
Kurt’s spirits lifted immediately upon seeing his old friend and he went down on one knee as Buster gobbled kibbles from his dish. The pug didn’t miss a crunch as Kurt roughed his ears and patted his rather pudgy sides, talking to him happily.
When he stood up again, a chilly blast of air struck the back of his head and he turned to look at the darkened door to the mudroom.
“Hey, Buster,” he said as he walked toward the door uncertainly. “What did you do? Leave the door open?”
When he flipped on the light, he was surprised to see the door leading to the walkway between the house and the garage standing open. The night air was damp and cold. A light rain was falling and the floor was slick. He threw a soiled bath towel from the laundry basket on the floor to absorb the water and stepped outside. The rain made him shiver as he yanked on the door knob. The door would not budge. A few moments struggling in the semi-darkness revealed that a small chunk of firewood was jammed under the door. Kurt kicked it away, closed and locked the door and went back to the den where he found Buster curled in his recliner, already asleep and snoring.
“Don’t let me bother you, Boy,” he chuckled and moved to the sofa with his laptop.
Settling back in the cushions he looked up at the television where a mob of villagers was chasing the werewolf through an eerie forest of bare trees and mist. The werewolf stopped on a rocky outcropping and howled pitifully causing Buster to perk up and howl with him. The sounds of their combined howls sent chills up his spine.
He typed the words on the laptop. Thursday night after the game, he and Jeri had watched a zombie movie. No, that was not right. They had tried to watch a zombie movie. A new release on pay-per-view. He had hated it. Vampires and werewolves were fine, but zombies? Ridiculous. It had been Jeri’s idea. She had been convinced that this was the movie that would change his mind about zombies, but after he had laughed through the first ten minutes, she had grabbed the remote and erased the movie, calling him insensitive, selfish, asinine and thoughtless among other things. As usual, he had found her ranting amusing, unable to fathom why on earth she needed him to become a zombie fan to prove his love for her. His attitude had enraged her even further and she had thrown several things at him before stomping off to bed and locking him out of the bedroom… again.
Kurt recounted in his blog how he had stood outside the door, begging her to calm down, telling her that vampires and werewolves were more interesting, more believable than rotting dead people wandering around, aimlessly cannibalizing non-zombies, pointing out that there was no romance, no tasteful way to present zombies, no way to make people love a zombie hero. There could never be a Dracula style zombie, dark, dangerous, irresistible to the ladies, nor could there ever be a lovable, but misunderstood zombie like the American Werewolf in London unless Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s counted. These pleadings only brought the sound of breaking glass from the other side of the door and the smell of his favorite cologne inundating the hall. Another stain on the carpet.
Thursday night. What else? He stopped typing as another draft of cold air wafted past his head. He turned around on the sofa and looked at Buster who was now sitting up in the recliner, looking toward the dining room, growling. The hairs stood up on Kurt’s arms this time.
“Wassup, Buster?” He whispered the question, but the pug kept his bulging black eyes trained on the dim recesses of the dining room.
Reluctantly, he pushed the laptop onto the cushion beside him and got up quietly. Slipping on his shoes, he walked silently across the carpet to the double French doors leading to the dining room and pulled them open. Again, a chilly breeze brushed his face from within the darkened room. He felt for the switch and turned up the lights in the chandelier. The table’s polished surface and crystal centerpiece gleamed in the light. Nothing amiss there, but he leaned over and looked under the table all the same. The matching double doors leading to the formal living room creaked as an errant wisp of air pushed one of them slightly open.
Kurt frowned, crossed the dining room and stopped. The light from the dining room fell on the carpet in the next room in distorted squares of prismatic light through the antique beveled panes, leaving the rest of the living room pitch dark. He pushed the door open with one finger and shivered involuntarily. The room was cold and he could hear the wind blowing through the trees in the front yard.
“Doggone it, Buster,” he said inanely as if the pug could be blamed for leaving the front door standing open. Only Jeri could have done such a careless thing. He could not begin to imagine how much money he had spent fixing the things she broke and ruined during their tumultuous eight months spent together. He hurried across the room and grabbed hold of the front door knob. Again, the door must have been open for some time since he could hear water squishing under his feet. The carpet was soaked and multiple dark wine stains were visible in the fibers! What was she trying to do? Let vampires in? He laughed aloud at the absurd thought.
He closed and locked the front door and, cursing under his breath, he made his way back to the den, passing through the kitchen long enough to grab another beer. The idea that he would have to spend Saturday shampooing the carpet irked him, but the carpet needed a good cleaning.
After writing everything he could remember about Thursday in his blog, he went back to the kitchen intending to take something from the freezer for dinner the following night. He opened the freezer and picked up the frozen shoulder roast from the butcher shop, intending to put it in the freezer, but it was impossible. The freezer was full of similarly wrapped items from the butcher shop. There was no room for the roast. He cursed again and put the rock hard chunk of meat in the sink to thaw. It was big enough to feed an army, but he could cook it and freeze part of it in a smaller package or maybe invite Kris and her boyfriend, John, over for dinner or something.
After a long, hot shower, one more beer and another old movie, he fell asleep and did not move again until his alarm woke him at 6:30 AM sharp even though his dreams were filled with visions of beautiful female vampires who all looked very much like Jeri, stalking him all night.
Friday at work was typical. The workweek wound to a close uneventfully and the warehouse where he worked closed on time with little or no drama. On the way home, Kurt stopped by his favorite supermarket to rent a carpet shampooing machine. The man at the service desk frowned at him and then looked at him over his reading glasses after perusing the rental form for several minutes. A few moments later one of the store managers showed up and took over at the window.
“Mr. Cantwell, correct?”
“Yes. Kurt Cantwell, why?” Kurt asked.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to let you have another shampooer,” the manager said.
“What do you mean another?” It was Kurt’s turn to frown.
“I’m afraid you have an overdue machine checked out.”
“No way. Not me.” Kurt shook his head.
“Kurt Cantwell, 563 Walking Way, 555-6798?”
Kurt reached for the slip of paper and read it with increasing puzzlement. Apparently, someone had rented a shampooer in his name last Friday. He owed a considerable sum of money for it including late charges.
“Our records show that no one has answered or returned our calls,” the manager added.
“Jeri,” he muttered.
“Pardon me?” The manager asked him.
“My girlfriend… ex-girlfriend,” he said and felt his face burning. “Go ahead and settle the bill. I’ll go and find the machine.”
“We’ll have to keep the deposit until you return the machine in working order, Mr. Cantwell. We can extend the rental for another day.”
“Fine,” Kurt mumbled as he waited for his bankcard.
By the time he reached the house, he was livid. Jeri had left without a forwarding address. He was sure she would never answer her phone and he would never get his money back. He punched the garage door opener viciously and watched as the door opened slowly. The machine in question was sitting next to a number of new packing boxes beside the riding mower.
He got out of the car and pulled his phone from his pocket. Her number rang several times. He hung up and called her number again as he walked. When he reached the garage he stopped as the sound of her ringtone reached his free ear. He looked around the garage in dismay. Her voicemail answered, he hung up and dialed again. A few moments later, he located the phone inside one of the moving boxes.
She was so careless! She must have lain her phone down or dropped it inside the box! Well, he would surely see her again now. Jeri couldn’t live without her phone and her… laptop. He picked up a sweater and stared into the box. Her laptop lay under the sweater, along with her leather garment bag, her makeup case, her backpack and her Kindle eBook reader wrapped in its expensive purple leather cover.
Kurt closed the garage door and rushed back to the den where he found Buster sleeping in a spot of sunlight on the floor with Jeri’s tattered note under one paw. The pug had neatly chewed off one corner of the note. Buster loved paper. Kurt extracted the note and read it again.
Who was coming after Jeri’s stuff? Surely she had run away with someone able to supply her with all her needs. Someone with money! But who? He scratched his head, puzzled. It really didn’t matter in the long run. He would make sure to request payment for the shampooer from whoever showed up.
In the kitchen, he wadded up the note and tossed it in the trash before going for a beer. He opened the beer and took a swallow and then sighed as he saw the shoulder roast still sitting on the drain board.
He’d forgotten to put it in the fridge. It was room temperature, soft, completely thawed and he even thought he could smell it already. After wrapping it in a plastic trash bag, he picked up the bundle, took it outside and dropped it in the trashcan, hoping it would not attract animals during the night. Trash pickup was three days away and there was a growing number of strays running loose in the neighborhood.
After a cold sandwich, more chips and another two beers, Kurt found himself on the sofa in the den with Buster sitting next to him, mooching chips. A black and white film from 1941 entitled the Wolfman starring Claude Raines and Lon Chaney, Jr. kept him entertained with an almost comical werewolf in an unconvincing makeup job, but before the movie was over, he was asleep on the sofa with Buster snoring next to him.
At two o’clock a shuddering howl awakened him. He sat straight up, dumping the pug on the carpet.
Buster howled and then scampered toward the sliding glass doors leading onto the deck, barking his fat little head off. The howl went up again and Buster stopped barking. Kurt turned slowly and watched as Buster backed away from the window whimpering softly. Kurt stood up and then cringed when he heard the crash of the metal trash can. The shoulder roast! Garbage would be everywhere!
He jammed his feet in his slippers and picked up the fireplace poker before sliding the door open. He could hear dogs growling and barking as he turned on the outside lights and stepped outside brandishing the poker while shouting “Get out, you mangy mutts!!” as loud as he could.
The noises stopped except for one surprisingly close, guttural growl that caused the short hair on the nape of his neck to stand up. Before he could react, a shaggy beast leaped at him from the shadows. He instinctively brought up the poker and screamed as the animal knocked him to the deck while simultaneously skewering itself on the poker. It howled piteously and then went limp. Blood flowed down the tool’s handle and onto Kurt’s arm and body as he struggled to free himself of the lifeless carcass.
The smell of blood and ruptured internal organs made him gag and he had to run to the railing before losing his supper into the yard. After a few moments, he regained his composure and looked back at the animal lying on the deck. It was gray, with long, unkempt hair, matted and nasty. It looked more like a wolf or a coyote than a dog. Its mouth was open and blood trickled down its protruding tongue and over a set of vicious yellow teeth. Creeping closer, Kurt kicked at the thing with one foot and jumped back. It was hideous and the smell was horrendous. A rustling noise in the flowerbed beside the house made him jerk his head around and it seemed he saw another shadow there before he leaped over the dead creature and slammed the sliding door closed. He locked it, set the alarm and closed the draperies. The dogs could have the garbage! He’d clean it all up tomorrow.
Dawn crept in late on Saturday under the cover of a steady gray downpour that put a pall on the entire world outside Kurt Cantwell’s home on Walking Way. By the time he stumbled half asleep into the kitchen to make coffee, it was almost ten o’clock. He opened up a pair of Jeri’s strawberry toaster tarts while his coffee brewed and then stared out the window at the rain while he drank his first cup of the morning and ate the pastries cold. It was going to be messy burying the dead dog in the rain and then picking up the garbage. What a day! And all because he didn’t like zombie movies? It didn’t seem fair. Vampires were much better. At least the undead didn’t usually rip off arms and legs and munch on brains, but werewolves sometimes did. After his close encounter of the night before with the chupa cabre or whatever it was, he was swearing off of werewolf movies for awhile.
He dressed in a slicker suit, rain boots and gloves before sliding back the glass door open. To his astonishment, there was no sign of the dog he had killed the night before. The dead body, the blood and even the poker was gone. He knelt in the pouring rain and ran one hand over the boards. The rain had washed away all the evidence that anything had ever happened here. He stood up and looked around warily. What if it wasn’t dead after all? One good bite and he’d end up spending the rest of the day in the emergency room waiting for stitches and rabies shots.
He opened the small tool cabinet on the deck and took out a pair of garden shears before clomping down the steps. A quick look around the yard turned up no sign of the animal, alive or dead. Whatever had dragged it off had been big and hungry. The thought made him shiver to his toes. He had spent the night on the sofa after the attack and some time while he slept, another creature had slunk onto the deck and carried off the carcass. The idea that only a pane of safety glass had separated him from the second intruder made him wonder if shouldn’t install something more substantial to protect him from the ‘wilderness’ outside his doors.
The garbage was scattered, but not too terribly. He had to wonder what had happened to the roast that had caused this latest fiasco. It was gone. Only the blood-stained butcher paper remained in his yard. He made quick work of the trash and was soon back inside, sitting at the bar, drinking another cup of coffee. The more he thought about the ugly critter on his deck, the more uncomfortable he became. At last, he picked up the phone and called the police to report the attack. If the dog was still out there alive, it might bite someone, a child perhaps.
Almost two hours passed before his doorbell rang. Two uniformed police officers stood on his front porch.
“Kurt Cantwell?” One of the men asked immediately.
“Officers, thank you for coming,” he said and invited them inside.
He took them to the kitchen and had them sit at the bar where he offered them coffee.
When he turned around with the cups, one of them laid his fireplace poker on the counter.
“Do you recognize this?” The officer asked him.
“Yes!” Kurt nodded and set down the cups. “That’s my poker. Where did you find it? That’s what I killed it with.”
“It?” The other officer asked him, ignoring Kurt’s question. “You killed it?”
“Yes, the dog, the coyote or whatever it was.”
The two officers looked at each other in surprise.
“Yes, I killed it with the poker when it jumped me,” Kurt explained to them.
“Really?” The first officer’s eyebrows went up. He looked around the kitchen and noticed the pug’s water dish. “Where is your dog, Mr. Cantwell? Are you sure it wasn’t your own dog?”
“Oh, no, of course not,” Kurt laughed. “Buster is out on the deck. That thing was huge!”
The second officer frowned slightly and glanced at his partner. “I’d like to see Buster.”
“Sure, but I don’t understand. Buster was as scared as I was,” Kurt shrugged and backed up as one of the officers got up and approached the refrigerator cautiously.
“Show Buster to me, Kurt,” the other officer said and took him by the elbow. “So you live here alone?”
“I do now.”
“What does that mean?” The first officer glanced at him.
“Nothing in particular. She left me,” Kurt said as he led the officer to the den. “She’s gone. I tried to call her…” Kurt’s voice trailed off.
“I see. That’s too bad.”
Kurt pulled back the curtains and put his hand on the door handle. Buster stood looking at them through the glass. A dirty chunk of meat hung from the pug’s jaws.
“Buster, my God!” Kurt blurted when saw what the dog had been chewing on. “Put that nasty thing down! You’ll be sick!” He turned to the officer and smiled apologetically. “My shoulder roast. I’m afraid it spoiled. I forgot to put it in the fridge.” He opened the door and Buster dropped the meat on the deck.
The policeman frowned at the sight of the smudged ladybug with the name ‘Kurt’ written in fancy script tattooed underneath it.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to come with us, Mr. Cantwell,” the officer said as he took Kurt by the arm.
“Dear God!!” They heard a muffled screech from the kitchen.
The officer pushed Kurt ahead of him as they entered the kitchen. The second police officer stood at the sink with one hand over his mouth. The freezer door was open and number of white packages were scattered on the cabinet. In the sink was a sheet of bloody wrapping paper and inside the paper was a severed human forearm.
“Shoulder roast?” The first officer looked at Kurt in horror. “What is that? An arm roast?”
Kurt felt a scream rise up in his throat, but no sound came out.
As the policeman secured his wrists with handcuffs, he heard the butcher’s laugh and heard his words again.
"Your missus ordered it special. Said it was something special for you."
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