Stories and other such blarney...
The Girl With No Eyes
Kensy was happy with his new apartment, just not with having to move all his stuff. He had to get furniture. It was either take the tiny place over on Pine St., fully furnished; or the massive, basement apartment down at the end of Fourth St. Clarksburg didn’t have a lot in the way of rental space and an inexpensive, but bigger apartment with utilities paid, appealed a whole lot more. Two things almost caused him to change his mind, though. The reclusive landlord who lived upstairs, and the only thing in the place other than the toilet brush left by the last tenant; a large painting of a girl with no eyes. The portrait had been screwed and glued to the bedroom wall. It didn’t make sense, but he was too excited to care.
Iowa was a lot like Nebraska and Clarksburg not much different than his hometown. It was a phone call that brought him. His friend Tommy quit his job at Faulker’s Manufacturing out on highway 13, in order to move back to Lincoln to take care of his mom. His spot was open and his high school pal dropped his name. Kensy had a week to show up and claim the Press Operators position, or forget about it. He was there in three days, his junkyard bound Chevy Impala smoking and steaming when he raced into the small parking lot. The boss said he liked him—deal done.
He had put the new door key on his Kubotan key ring. Pulling it from his pocket by the tiny weapon used for poking out mugger’s eyes, he walked down the concrete stairwell behind the old Victorian. It’s not like he was going to get mugged in Clarksburg, but the small plastic rod projected an air of machismo, and he liked that. Kensy balanced the box of sheets and towels on his shoulder as he unlocked the door.
There was a doorbell. For what? All the guests he wasn’t expecting? It looked cobbled, like the installer hadn’t a clue. He laughed at the absurdness of it and pushed the button. 220 volts of electricity coursed up his arm as a sick sounding bell rang inside. The charge filled his body from head to toe and caused his hair to stand on end. The box tumbled from his shoulder as he jerked his finger away. “Shit!” he yelled up toward the landlords rooms. Shaking it off, he looked at the burnt spot on his finger tip. Not so funny after all. It would be his first complaint as soon as he saw the landlord.
He stepped inside and the smell of burnt insulation filled his nose as an acrid smoke drifted out through the door. Looking at the wall just inside, he saw two slightly brown lines moving up the wallpaper to the ceiling. He hadn’t held it long enough for there to be fire, but if he had…
Stepping further into the room, he looked around, occasionally bringing his eyes back to be sure there was still no flame licking the wall. Moving into what he supposed had been the dining room, he realized for the first time how dark the place was. Two large windows high up on each side of the door, faced the woods behind. The others were just as high, but smaller. The sun would never get in there.
Setting the box on the floor he walked around, imaging how it would look with furniture. The old plastic tiles on the floor were loose and made odd noises as he walked. At least someone had taken time to plaster the walls and paint them white. But white or not, it didn’t help. He turned on lights as he went. The spacious living room, the long galley kitchen and the supposed dining room, all made him realize he’d have to take out a loan just to furnish the place. Moving into the bedroom, he flicked the switch and his eyes fell on the painting.
Why didn’t you give her eyes, asshole?
Everything else was perfect about her. She must have been somebody from the fifties. The background was park-like, and other people had been painted in as well. They all stood in the distance behind her, doing assorted things. The girl had been given blond hair, cut into a bob, a heart shaped face, and a button nose. She wasn’t smiling, her lips were thin and grim. If she had eyes, she would have been glaring, Kensy could just tell. She didn’t have eyebrows either, and that made her appear as if she had a really high forehead, the flesh stretching bare from her nose to her hairline. He wasn’t going to look at that all day. He would have to hang something over it.
By the end of the week, he had his couch, TV and its stand, set where he wanted them. He bought some lawn chairs from Hale’s Hardware and placed them around. His new pal, Fred, a welder, needed to store a ping-pong table somewhere, and Kensy jumped right on it. The green table with its silver legs now sat in his dining room. Fred promised to find the paddles and a few balls to handover so Kensy and his guests could play. He doubted that would ever happen though. But the thing was good for tabletop storing and other things that he would find a place for later.
The real problem came when he tried to set up his bed. He didn’t want to wake up looking at that painting, but the frame and mattress where queen size. It wouldn’t fit unless he put the headboard against the wall under the artwork, or on the outside wall where he’d have to wake up to her eyeless face every morning. Sleeping with that above his head gave him the creeps. He decided to do the outside wall. After getting it all put together and his box springs and mattress on board, he made it up, using only a single sheet. Then taking a ratty old pillow case, he draped the painting before laying down on his bed to make sure it was suitable. Problem solved.
It was on a Friday night he arrived home close to midnight. Checking to be sure his little ‘Don’t Touch!’ note that he had taped above the doorbell was still in place, he went inside. He was bushed and just wanted to sleep. Locking the door behind him, he set his lunch box on the floor and undressed on his way to the bedroom, dropping clothes as he went. Falling onto the blanket-less mattress in his boxer shorts, he felt the coolness of the sheet and was glad for the benefit of a basement room on a hot summer night. Rolling onto his back, he pillowed his head in his hands and felt his eyes grow heavy. It took a few seconds for Kensy’s brain to acknowledge that the painting was no longer covered.
He could see the girl in the dark as if the painting glowed with a subtle phosphorescent illumination. Something was different now. He jumped to his feet and a finger sought the light switch to light the single bare, flyspecked bulb at the ceiling. Flipping it on, he saw the girl now had and eyebrow. It was dark blonde and seemed plucked to a perfect semi-circle above where her right eye should be. She looked even more real than before. Sitting a little higher now, he could see the shape of her breasts in the tight, short sleeved sweater top she wore.
The pillow case he had hung, now lay folded in the corner. He was spooked. Somebody must be messing around. Maybe the landlord was coming down in the day while he was gone. Probably trying to finish his painting. He would have to ask the next time he saw the old guy and complain about the doorbell. Rehanging the pillowcase, he used a piece of duct tape to keep it in place. He needed confirmation—gravity or trespasser. The wood of the frame seemed to tingle at his touch. Must be overtired; starting to imagine things!
The next morning he cleaned the apartment for the first time. Dusting, sweeping, and mopping the floor. Kensy was happy there was no carpet to vacuum. A vacuum cleaner would be a hassle. A simple broom and mop was all he needed, along with an old dust rag to wipe stuff down, and his favorite standby cleaning solution, Windex. He used it on everything. When he got to the bedroom, he remembered the ratty old area rug next to the bed. Bending to pick it up, he found it tacked to the floor at the corners.
“Crap! Who tacks a rug to the floor?”
Grabbing an edge, he yanked it hard. It ripped loose at three corners, leaving the tacks in the floor. The fourth launched across the room to hit the wall. He coughed within the dust cloud he had created and hacked out a, “Dammit.”
Rolling up the rug, he carried it outside and tossed it on the steps. Then returning to the bedroom he grabbed the broom on the way. As he swept, he remembered the remaining tacks and leaving the broom in a corner, he went to the kitchen and grabbed one of his two butter knives. Returning, he kneeled on the less-faded tiles where the rug had lain. Not only lighter, but also pinker. “Huh?” Something had been spilled; something red, like paint, but closer to a water color tint. The landlord must have placed the rug to hide the discolored flooring. After prying the tacks loose, he rose to grab the fourth, but couldn’t find it. He turned around several times, searching the floor, and even looked under the bed, but to no avail. “The hell with it, I’ll find it when I sweep,” he said out loud to no one.
He swept, then mopped, but he never found that tack. His eyes constantly strayed to the linen covered portrait. It seemed to exude some kind of a vibe when he passed close by. His curiosity was getting the better of him and he wanted to peek behind the pillow case to see if anything else had changed. He talked himself out of it. Putting away his cleaning implements, he went in to shower and shave. Dressing in clean jeans and a short sleeve polo shirt, he decided he would eat at the tavern tonight and maybe stay out late drinking if any of his factory buddies showed up. Exiting the door onto the steps, he remembered he rug. “Hell with it. Time for a new one anyway.” On his way by the garbage cans, he tossed it.
It was about 7:00 when Fred showed up with a few others from the factory, and after Kensy finished off a couple of Po Boy sandwiches and two orders of home fries, he drank nearly a twelve pack of Old Milwaukee, played pool and bullshitted with his buddies until closing time.
Stumbling down his apartment steps, he fished his keys out of his pocket. The Kubaton got caught several times on the way out and he cursed under his breath. When he finally got them free, he leaned the top of his head against the door as he prepared to push the key into the lock. But the door swung open, and he almost fell on his face.
“Damn, I thought I locked that?”
Too drunk to care, he slammed it shut and flipped on the night latch. Staggering to his bed, he fell face down at somewhat of an angle across the sheet and passed out. He didn’t notice that the pillowcase that he had taped securely to the portrait, now hung from a corner of the elaborate frame, and the girl had acquired her second eyebrow.
Morning found him awake by 10:00am. Groggy, slightly nauseous and his sight still foggy with sleep, he sat for a few minutes on the edge of the mattress rubbing his face. Then shedding everything but his underwear, he trudged to the tiny bathroom to stare at himself in the mirror. Splashing his face, he wiped it down with a towel and moved to the kitchen to chug down a glass of water. He might need a day to come back to his normal self. Maybe a day on the river fishing would be good. Breakfast was out of the question. Going back to the bedroom he donned a pair of jeans, a tee shirt and slipped on a pair of sandals. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he spied movement at the painting, and slowly bringing his face around, he saw the cover askew and the newly completed set of eyebrows.
He walked over and studied her. Yes, she now had eyebrows. The people who stood behind her were closer and staring intently, but their faces were still indiscernible. It was like they were waiting for her to perform some kind of action. She was seemed more lifelike now and had acquired more dimension. Her new eyebrows were perfect. In fact, so much so that it almost looked like real hair. He wanted to touch them—just for confirmation sake, but… he didn’t dare. He feared if he did, she would come alive, jump out of that frame and grab him. Even young guys can have heart attacks, and like anybody else, he didn’t want to die that way. If she came out of that painting to latch onto his throat, he sensed that’s just what would happen. But why not? That kind of shit just wasn’t possible.
Finding an old, torn sheet, he yanked down the pillow case and re-draped the painting. The fingers that touched the frame tingled briefly as if it put forth some kind of energy, so he didn’t tape it this time. Hurrying from the room, he grabbed his fishing pole, tackle box and hat, leaving the apartment at a run. He stopped to pick up a small carton of fishing worms on his way past the little gas station and spent the rest of the day out.
Kensy couldn’t stop thinking about the painting. Sitting on a big rock next to the river, he cast and reeled, but every time he rebaited his hook, the painting barged into his head. He tried to think about other things, but to no avail. There was something unnatural going on in that apartment and he felt like he didn’t want to go back. He felt—he was in danger. The pinkish stain next to his bed just kind of eased into his mind’s eye and he shuddered. He thought maybe to contact Tommy, to see what he may know. But Tommy had dropped out of sight. The call he had made to Kensy, came the night before his buddy left the apartment. Now that he thought about it, Tommy sounded nervous and he just wasn’t that kind of guy.
All this thinking made Kensy feel worse. Leaving the river, he walked up Main St. to the Blue Front Tavern and had himself a couple of Old Milwaukee’s, two chilidogs and a thing of onion rings. Not wanting to go back to the apartment afterwards, he joined Fred and the boy’s for a few games of pool. He wanted to bring up the subject of the apartment to find out any history they may know, or anything about its reclusive landlord. Yet he feared he’d come off sounding like some kind of chicken shit if he acted like he was scared.
Seven beers and a ton of horseplay later, Kensy had forgotten all about his apartment. At midnight they left the tavern and jumping into Fred’s car, he drove them drunkenly to house party in full swing out in the countryside at his brother’s hog farm. There were a ton of woman there from Clarksburg and Coogan. He met a sharp little brunette who said her name was Megan. They talked for a long time, just getting to know each other. She gave him her number and he had to give her the landlords because Tommy’s old phone had been disconnected, and he hadn’t bothered changing that. Then she was gone and he moved to a group sitting at the blazing fire ring, passing a joint, and a bottle of Mad Dog.
At about five in the morning, Kensy passed out on a wicker sofa that sat on the huge front porch of the old farm house. It was the rising sun shining on his face that brought him awake. Looking at his watch he saw it was nearly eight. Fred’s brother and his three teenage sons were already working the farrow house, and Fred himself sat at the other end of the porch in a big white wicker chair, smoking a cigarette.
“Ready to go Kensy, ol’ buddy?”
“No, but… what choice do I have?”
On the way to the car, they woke up the others who had passed out on the lawn, and crawling into the old Cadillac with groans, grunts and a, “Oh man! My head hurts,” they drove slowly back to Clarksburg as if the car itself was hungover.
They dropped him off out front of the old house, and with a bunch of halfhearted goodbyes and a “See yah tomorrow at work!” Kensy climbed out and stood on the sidewalk to watch them go. Turning back, his eye caught a curtain falling back into place up in the landlord’s living room. A whispered voice inside his head, said, “Don’t go home.” But that same head was splitting and he needed his bed and a few more hours of sleep. He convinced himself that he was acting silly and that there was really nothing to be concerned about. “It’s just a fig newton of your imagination, buddy,” he said to himself as he walked around back.
The door hung open and he hadn’t left it that way. He stepped inside and listened. Then creeping around, he looked in all the rooms, but only gave a quick peek into his bedroom. It was enough to know he wasn’t going to sleep in there. He was sure he had locked his front door. Maybe the landlord had come down? He would ask later. Going into the bathroom, he drank an Alka-Seltzer. Avoiding his bed, he lay on the sofa and fell into a fitful sleep.
Kensy woke in the afternoon. The air in the apartment was heavy, but not like stuffy heavy, more like ozone heavy. He could smell it. Opening his eyes things seemed hazier then if it had just been typical grogginess. He sat up, rubbed his eyes and peered into the unused dining area with its ping pong table. He felt cold even though the temperature outside must have been eighty degrees. Then as if the bedroom was sucking in all of the air, the living room cleared and the temperature rose to match one more likely for summer. The haze appeared to condense into a wisp and slither away into his room. The chill left his skin, but now his hair stood on end. A cheap full body mirror he had found at a curbside yard sale was visible in the dining room. It reflected the doorway to his room and the foot of his bed. He had tacked the mirror on the wall directly across from his bedroom door. The idea being, he would be forced to look at himself upon exiting. He kept his clothing on a hook in the bathroom and would have to go there in his underwear. This gave him a chance to see if he might be gaining any weight and he feared getting fat.
He watched the wisp of mist in the mirror. It formed a thick cloud inside his room and then just dissolved away. Kensy thought to leave, but his curiosity drove him to go and look. Peeking around the door jamb, he saw the sheet piled on the floor beneath the painting, and the girl now had an eye.
He almost shrieked but caught himself. The eye was pale blue and crazy. He forced himself closer. As odd as it was, he needed to look. It wasn’t like him to be afraid and he felt a need to get to the bottom of what was happening. He found himself mesmerized by the one-eyed girl. The figures that stood behind her had all come into focus as if they had walked closer. The girl seemed to sit even higher than before, and Kensy could see she now had a hand behind her back. She also seemed larger as if she too had come closer to the foreground. Squatting, but keeping an eye on her, he gathered up the sheet. That one eye seemed to follow… but wasn’t that the way it was with all paintings? He stood to the throw the cover back over the frame and a shot of adrenaline hit him like a punch in the stomach. One of the figures on the grass behind her looked exactly like Tommy.
A loud, “What the…” escaped his mouth and he hurriedly flung the sheet over the portrait, hooking it over the upper corners of the convex cove of the frame. He left it to find something to tie it on with, hoping for a cotton cord left over from moving day. He found none. So braving the tingle that the frame would give him, he took several of his pants belts, buckled them together and strapped them around behind the protruding edge, to buckle them at the bottom. It was good and tight. No way was it going to just fall off.
Backing away, he tried to calm himself, but it wasn’t happening. He left the room, not seeing the surface of the sheet ripple and push out in some spots as if small hands on the other side had sought an opening.
Kensy went into the kitchen and stood with his back against the counter. He was close to hyperventilating. He needed a shower and a change of clothes. There were clean jeans and a shirt hanging on the back of the bathroom door, along with fresh socks and skivvies stacked on the toilet tank. But he was afraid to get undressed, fearful he might have to flee the apartment naked.
Finding a half finished beer in the fridge, he chugged it. He needed to get to it. There no sense to what was happening, but he felt the need to get on with his life. Going into the bathroom, he closed the door and double locked it. Undressing, he showered quickly. Not bothering to shave, he applied, deodorant, cologne and brushed his teeth in a half-assed fashion. Then unlocking the door he peeked out. Clear, no spooks. Stepping out, he opened the fridge, grabbed a hunk of salami for supper and headed for the door. Someone was knocking. A soft, kind of assuming knock. Kensy stopped and stood still, trying to make out the shape outside through the curtain on the door. Finally willing himself to open it, he saw it was the landlord.
“There’s a phone call for you, upstairs.”
“Oh… okay, so who…”
“She didn’t say.”
With that, the strange old guy turned away. Kensy followed, thinking it odd that the old man wore a long flowing house robe with pajamas and slippers. Maybe going to bed early, or… They went up the back stairway and through the door into the kitchen. The landlord closed the door behind them and pointed to an old rotary phone. It sat on a stand just to the left of the huge opening that led into a massive dining room. The man moved around a mammoth table with a place setting at every chair. Stopping on the opposite side, he pulled a cigarette from a drawer and slipping it into an ivory cigarette holder, he lit it and puffed away, watching Kensy with baleful eyes.
Kensy realized he was staring and the landlord said, “Well, you going to take it? If not, you can just get the hell out.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry…” Picking up the handset, Kensy said, “Yeah? Who is it?”
“Kensy? Hey Kensy, it’s Megan, what’s happening? Thought I’d give you a call and see if maybe you were free tonight for a few beers?”
“Uh… yeah, I’m free. Want to come over?”
“Sure, yeah. So… meet you at your place?”
“Yeah, good as any.”
He gave her directions and told her she should stop by and pick him up. But then he thought differently of it and wanted to tell her to meet him at the Blue Front instead. Before he could tell her different, she blurted, “See you there!” and hung up. Now he had to wait, and worse yet, at the place he least wanted to be. He had been watching the landlord during the whole conversation and realized the guy didn’t look anything like he remembered. It came to him that the old man resembled the girl in the painting downstairs. Kensy was sure the he wore a blonde wig, and Kensy didn’t remember his eyes being that pale of a blue. But he had sunglasses on the day they first met. So, Kensy wasn’t sure. He also noticed the multitude of paintings in heavy frames that hung on the walls. Everyone, a portrait of someone from a different time period. On top of all that strangeness, everyone he could see, had pale blue eyes. It made him shudder.
“Thanks,” he said to the landlord and hurried out.
“Rents due the first! You got a day and then I want to see it… or else!”
Kensy didn’t say anything and not bothering to pull the door shut behind him, he hurried down the back stairs into the yard.
Megan picked him up out front. He could feel eyes upon his back as he got into the car, but he didn’t turn.
“You okay… you look a little peaked.”
“No… what? No, I’m okay.”
“Are you sure? Looks like you’ve seen a ghost or something.”
“No… well, my landlord, he kind of freaks me out.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember this place now. Used to run through the backyard with my friends going down to the river. That old guy would come out and stand on the back porch yelling at us. I heard he never leaves that place.”
“Yeah, come to think of it, I’ve never seen him outside except for today. But yeah, whatever. I don’t want to talk about it. To the tavern! There’s a beer there with my name on it!” he declared, pushing his hand toward the windshield like he held a sword. Megan laughed. “You got it, mister!” she sang out and flooring the accelerator, they sped away.
The drapes at the front window fell back into place and the light behind, went out. A short time later, the curtain at Kensy’s bedroom window glowed from the bare bulb at the ceiling and a shadow moved across the watermarked fabric. It was around midnight when the light went out, leaving an unearthly green glow in the room. The landlord quietly locked the door to Kensy’s apartment, and with paint box and palette in hand, he moved up the stairs in the dark, to slip quietly through his backdoor.
Sitting in his kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, the landlord could just hear the incoherent mumbling from the apartment below and the slight shuffling of feet. They were assembling to await the arrival of their pray. It wouldn’t be long now. With a smirk upon his lips, he poured his tea.
Kensy and Megan were having a good time. All of his new friends had shown up and the jokes were flying. They were soon playing pool for money and Kensy was on a winning streak. But he didn’t feel like drinking, so he nursed a beer, hoping no one would notice. Something was bugging him. The apartment, the landlord—and his friend, Tommy.
They had been pals a long time and it wasn’t like Tommy to not have been in touch by letter. Kensy had checked the post office every day and still nothing. A sense of foreboding had eked in and then grown worse. Now all his senses were screaming. He could easily drown them out with a few shots of whiskey—but something said, “Don’t.”
He bought round after round for Megan and his friends. The drunker they got, the less they would notice his lack of participation. The clock was ticking closer to two, and the tavern was going to shut down. He didn’t really want to go back to his place. He thought maybe he could spend the night at Megan’s. She had been acting quite amorous all evening. He wanted her as much as she seemed to want him. So, the real question was, where was it going to happen, his place or hers.
Arnie, the bartender, called last call, and Kensy set everyone up with Old Milwaukee. He held an empty bottle and when everyone chugged down their last, they filed out the door onto the street. Kensy set his bottle on the table as Megan grabbed his hand and pulled him out the door. “Night Arnie, have a good one!” he called out as he stepped outside. “Same to yah!” Arnie said and locked the door.
Megan wrapped an arm around him as they stood outside on the corner. She was a little tipsy, but she could pack them away. A seasoned drinker. She looked up into his face, just staring. When he finally made eye contact she brought herself up onto her tiptoes and kissed him.
“Ahhh! You two…” Fred said and laughed drunkenly. “I know what you’re going to do, you… you… animals!”
“Give it break Fred, ain’t none of your business,” Megan said and laughed. Becky, her friend from the factory let loose with a series of giggles and stumbling left, bumped into Fred who caught her, his arm wrapping her chest and forcing her large breasts up to form some deep cleavage at her collar.
“Oh, Fred! You brut,” she said and laughed some more.
“Need a ride home, Becky?”
“Sure do… by the way of your place,” she answered and laughed.
"Okay, we’re going,” Fred said, and the other couples scattered to their cars parked on the street.
“See ya Monday, buddy,” Fred said to Kensy, as he and Becky walked away.
“Bye, you guys,” Becky called back and slapped a hand on Fred’s rear-end as his arm wrapped her waist. Kensy saw him look back and wink.
“See you!” Megan sang out.
Turning his attention back to Megan, Kensy looked into her eyes and she smiled innocently up and said in her sweet voice, “So… your place or mine?”
“Sounds like fun!”
Kensy wanted to go back to his apartment and grab some clean clothes for the morning. That way he could stay away all Sunday and maybe he and Megan could catch the game later. “I want to go back to my place and grab some clean clothes for tomorrow… you don’t mind do you?”
“Ah, no… you get to drive, though. I’m too soused. You okay with that?”
“Sure, no problem.”
“Great,” she said and moving to stand in front of him, she threw her arms over his shoulders and standing again on her toes, they kissed one of those long, tongue involved kisses. Coming up for air, Megan said, “Come on, let’s get going. You got me all hot and bothered, and I can hardly wait.”
Kensy grinned and they walked to her car. He opened the door for her and she kissed him again, pushing the car keys into his hand. They were soon moving down the street toward the old Victorian. The closer they got, the more foreboding it seemed. Kensy wondered why it never seemed that way when he first moved in. Now it was a huge hulking mass, sitting in the dark down at the end of the street, like a monster waiting to gobble him up.
Megan was singing to the radio, she knew all the words to Stevie Nick’s ‘Go Your Own Way’. But the sweetness of the moment didn’t change how he was feeling about that house and the girl with no eyes. Something about that painting was unnatural. He didn’t want to believe what had been happening since he moved in. It was yesterday’s confrontation with the landlord that seemed to bring him around. The subtle sinister way he acted, and that wig. Kensy realized what he had told Megan earlier that evening was true. He never saw the guy around. He’d always slipped the rent under the door, cash in an envelope. Kensy felt a chill as he pulled up outside.
“Okay, I’ll wait here. You go get your stuff, Okay?”
“Sure,” he said distantly, staring at the front of the house.
“Hey, Kensy… you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m alright, be right back,” he said.
“Hey! Just a sec.” When he looked at her, she leaned across and they kissed.
“Now go, or I’m gonna strip you naked right here!”
He gave her a halfhearted chuckle and got out of the car, leaving the engine running. Walking up the front walk, he noticed the greenish glow behind the curtain in his bedroom. Megan pounded on her window and he about jumped out of his skin. He looked back obviously annoyed, but she threw him a kiss, followed by a shy smile. He wiped the look of exasperation off his face, gave her a fake smile, and continued.
Something was terribly wrong. Why would there be a green glow coming from his room? It was so faint, one would hardly notice. Like when you pass a house with all the curtains closed and the TV on. Moving around back out of Megan’s sight, he stopped and stared down into the dark stairwell. A hole with a door at the bottom.
Don’t be silly! Just go down there like you always do, get your shit and get out! If any one of his new friends saw him now, he would most certainly be labeled, ‘Kensy The Pussy’. Forcing himself down the stairs, he shivered, but continued.
The tattered lace curtain that covered the window on the door was partially open. Whenever he shut the door hard, it always blew back and then would snag on itself. He would have to manually unhook the ragged edge to get to it hang properly. Now it was snagged again. He learned to close the door gently enough to avoid it getting caught. It was either that, or rip it down and toss it. It wasn’t his, and he didn’t want to have to replace all the old crap that didn’t work. He already owed the landlord for a rug. The thing was, he had been careful when he shut the door upon leaving, and now…
Kensy bent over and peered through the opening. The green glow from his room splashed out onto the floor of the unused dining room. It vacillated with shadows as if something or someone moved inside. His hand fell on the door knob and he turned it. Squeaking like it always did, his eye caught movement in the mirror he had hung just across from his bedroom door. The reflection showed someone standing just inside his bedroom. He could just make out the poodle skirt, tight fitting sweater, and a greenish glow off a blonde bob. There came a glint of steel and a butcher’s knife rose up into a ready position as a dark mass of what looked like a group of people, gathered behind the threatening silhouette. The girl was out of the painting now and she had brought her friends. His worst fear had come true.
The greenish glow lit the faces of the ghouls behind her, but he only recognized one of them—Tommy.
Kensy froze, not sure what to do. His stomach hurt and his chest was so tight he could hardly breathe. They were waiting for him to join the party. The one he wouldn’t survive. The girl’s face remained in shadow, the large gleaming knife hovering, waiting for the moment it could be plunged into his chest. A stern voice in the back of his mind, said, “Ain’t gonna happen.” His hand moved from the knob and reaching into his pocket he pulled out his keys. Using the plastic Kubotan in place of his finger, he brushed his note aside and pushed the doorbell. This time, he held it until the smoke blocked his view and the flames began to lick the curtain. When he was sure it was going to take, he ran up the stairs and back to the car.
“Hey, where’s your clothes?”
“Forget it, I don’t need them,” he said, sliding into his seat.
Megan pushed herself across and threw an arm over his shoulders. “So, what were you doing back there? I almost got out to go and look for you.”
“Oh, yeah… sorry, I tripped and fell. Ended up flinging my damn keys. I was digging around in the weeds trying to find them.”
“Well… yeah! I was so pissed I just said the hell with the clothes. Didn’t want you to lose your mood.”
“Smart thinking mister, so… let’s get to my place, huh… before I do.” She twisted his head around and kissed him hard, her right hand falling onto his crotch. He put the car in gear and raced away, wanting to be out of sight of the house before the smoke was noticed.
Kensy lay under a sheet, staring at the ceiling. The sex could have been better, but Megan didn’t care. She didn’t seem to noticed his performance, and he wondered how long it had been since a man had lain on her mattress. She had been wild, and now there came a slight purring snore from her from her side of the bed. Thoughts from the episode at his apartment buzzed through his mind, driven by the sound of sirens from the other side of town. He wondered if the landlord had gotten out before the house went up in smoke. He told himself he had an alibi, no problem, and besides, it was the old guys fault, anyway. Should have fixed that doorbell.
It was early afternoon when he woke up to Megan dashing into the room still wearing just a pair of bikini panties and a short white tee shirt that read, ‘FOXY!’ in big pink letters. She was holding a rolled up copy of the Gazette as well as the Sunday Clarksburg Chronicle. She fell onto the bed and crawled up to him using her elbows. “Look at this! Man! You could’ve died!”
“What do you mean?” he said, knowing fully well that if whomever was in his apartment last night had gotten to him, he just might have.
“The fire! There was a fire at your place. Man, oh man! You were lucky.”
She stuck the chronicle in his face. The headlines read, “Historic Clarksburg Landmark Burns To The Ground’. There was even a picture taken bright and early, the sun topping the horizon behind the trees. The foundation, and a corner of the house still remained, smoke rising up in the morning light.
“You see! Man, it’s a good thing you came here last night or… you’d be DEAD!” She giggled and tickled him.
He squirmed, but continued to read. The line that caught his attention the most was the one that said: ‘The landlord and his tenant appear to be missing, as no bodies were found.’ He could understand why they didn’t find him. But what about the old man upstairs?
It was later in the day when the deputy sheriff finally located him and they had a brief talk, mostly just to make sure he was alright and if he knew anything about the landlord. The cop didn’t seem at all suspicious and he never asked questions that led Kensy to believe they suspected him of any wrong doing.
It was after work on Tuesday he stopped at the Jack & Jill food store. He wanted to stock Megan’s shelves because she had been so kind to offer him a place to live. The stock boy, Jimmy Shure, who also happened to be the owner’s son, stopped Kensy in the produce isle to yak him up.
“Hey, you’re the guy that lived in the house that burned up, right? I mean… not the landlord, but the guy who lived downstairs?”
“Yeah, that was me, what of it?”
“Man, you were lucky!”
“Yeah, lost everything. Had to buy a whole new wardrobe over at Sally’s, if you know what I mean? Good thing I spent the night at my girlfriends.”
“Can imagine, so... was talking with ol’ Percy Holub… the fire chief? He told me it was faulty wiring. That old place hadn’t been redone since last century. You’d think the landlord would have fixed that. But… they can’t find him either. I just betcha he burned the place for the insurance. What do ya think?”
“Don’t think nothing, except I lost all my stuff. I work at Faulker’s… don’t make that much money you know. Well, see you,” Kensy said and walked away.
Jimmy watched him go, distracted temporarily by the strange girl with the poodle skirt and bright blonde bob that came out of the canned foods isle. She carried a covered picnic basket and followed behind Kensy at a distance. Jimmy shook his head and mumbled to himself, “Oh man… how 50’s can ya get.”