Short Fiction from Dennis Lowery
“A house is never still in darkness to those who listen intently; there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand presses the snib of the window, the latch rises. Ghosts were created when the first man woke in the night.”–J.M. Barrie
Cindy’s phone rang just as she turned the key in the lock. Arms full of books, freehand opening the door, she couldn’t answer it. But the ringtone shouted, ‘It’s Mom and 9:00 PM!’ Mother was nervous about her living alone in her grandmother’s house and called every night. Pushing the door open, she stepped in and deposited books, purse and keys on the long narrow table running from the entryway down the hall to the living room. She pulled out her phone and took a right through the dining room into the kitchen. The orange blinking light on her iPhone signaled her mother’s voicemail. Pressing number two on speed dial (her mother insisted number one was for 911), she called her back. “Hi, Mom.”
“Are you okay? You didn’t answer.” Her mother couldn’t understand just because your cell phone was with you… you couldn’t always answer it immediately.
Goliath, her German Shepherd, had met her at the door and quietly followed into the kitchen. His silence was something her grandmother had taught him. Barking was for outside. Cindy was 5 feet 7, and Goliath’s head came to her waist. She patted him, and he looked up at her then at his bowl and back.
“I’m sorry,” she said to both the dog and her mother, “I got stuck late at work,” adding as she looked around. “Hope I don’t have a mess to clean up.”
“What mess Cindy… what are you talking about?”
“Sorry. That was for Goliath.”
“You should have someone in that house with you. It’s too big to live in alone.”
“Do you have a man for me, Mom? Or maybe a woman?” She couldn’t help twisting her Mom’s nose. At 25 she had still never dated any boy for long, and her family worried about her sexuality. She took her Mom off that awkward silence hook. “Grandma lived alone here for ten years after grandpa died.”
“She was a grown woman.” Her Mom bit that off. They’d often talked that Cindy was an adult, too. “I wish you’d sell it and move closer to others.”
Cindy knew ‘others’ meant closer to home. She also knew her mother was lonely since her father had died last year. But there weren’t any jobs back home, and when grandma left her the house, she had done some checking and found a law firm in nearby Orlando willing to hire someone who’d just passed the bar. They’d had this discussion before. Selling it wouldn’t be right. It had been in the family for over seventy years. Grandma had left her the house to have a place she wouldn’t have to pay for. Thanks to her she could pay off student debt quicker.
“I’m okay Mom. It’s been four months, and it’s quiet here. No one bothers me.” She heard her Mom sigh before she continued, “I’m going to make some dinner now. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Okay?”
“Okay. Be sure to check the doors and lock all the windows!”
“No worries, I’m okay. Batgirl don’t take no shi–”
“Do you have to say that every time? I hate it when you curse!”
“It just means I can take care of myself, Mom.”
“I know you haven’t been scared of anything or anyone since you were twelve but you–”
“Have to be careful. I know, Mom. Love you.”
I like the quiet, she thought as she ended the call. But it would be good to have someone around to talk to in the evenings. “Besides you my big friend. Let’s go outside so you can do your business,” she rubbed Goliath’s head, and he licked her hand as he went out the door.
She wasn’t worried about being alone. She knew she wasn’t a beauty, but she also wasn’t ugly. Just hadn’t met the right man, yet. That made her think about the cute guy she’d seen on the motorcycle when she gassed up at the Hess Mart on her way home. It was just a look exchanged through the pumps, but his dark eyes caught hers. They were quickly hidden as he pulled his helmet on over spiky black hair. As she pulled out, his head pivoted to follow. She noticed and smiled to herself. So, guys do see me and must like what they see. And one of the firm’s partners had made an invitation she’d had to refuse firmly. Some men wanted the quiet ones and took it for granted they’d be receptive or appreciative of their attention and eagerly respond. They thought quiet meant weak. She’d disabused him of that idea pretty quickly. Sweet face and figure do not an easy mark make, she thought. Maybe I’ll get that tattooed on my forearm. That made her smile. She already had one tattoo, and her mother would have a conniption fit (thanks grandma for teaching me that saying) if she got another.
Goliath was at the back door wanting in as she opened the windows that faced an expanse of backyard ending in the copse of words that arced around and thickened to hug the side yards. They let in a breeze that would chill even further as night deepened. It was the first cool snap of autumn and felt delicious. Perfect weather for leftover stew. “Come on in, boy.” She opened the door for him.
He followed her as she busied herself in the kitchen warming two bowls; one for her with a handful of Saltine crackers and the other for Goliath. She sat and ate looking out of the large windows, drapes pulled back, at the moon full and bright over the trees. Too bad there’s not a witch or bat around to fly across it, she thought. Especially a big old bat. Dark gray clouds were building and the low ones scudded across the face of the moon, shrouding the light. The breeze strengthened, and she heard the wind soughing through the trees. The house creaked and then settled with a sigh. Night noises her grandma called them. ‘This old house has many so pay them no mind,’ she’d say.
“We won’t get any trick-or-treaters, though,” she told Goliath sitting beside her, sad at the thought. Halloween was her favorite holiday. “Too far out in the boonies.” He finished his bowl and while licking his muzzle, tongue almost wrapping around his nose as he did, gave her his ‘Is there more’ look cocking his head and then looking toward the kitchen. She answered him, “Nope, that’s it.” Seeing his sad expression, and for a dog who didn’t bark he had many, she added, “But we’ll have eggs and bacon for breakfast.” He smiled. The word bacon made it all better.
She turned on the TV just in time to catch the start of Hocus Pocus with Bette Midler, one of her favorite Halloween movies as a kid. It was 11 PM when it ended, and she could barely stay awake. Her day had started at 5 AM and was glad tomorrow was a planned day off. Her first in a month to get some work done around the house. She could sleep in.
“Time for bed.” Goliath was ready, too. At ten years old, he wasn’t a young pup anymore; stiff in the hips he rose and moved toward her bedroom. Cindy checked the front and back door and shut the windows. As she did, she heard the Doppler sound of a motorcycle from the road. Then silence. The left window, near the back door, always gave her problems. The windows were the old wooden sash type, and some were stubborn. “Dammit.” She put her weight, all 147 pounds, into it. Grudgingly, with a dry rubbing squeal, it came down but stopped short six inches from being closed. She could hear her mother’s voice again. “Lock all the doors and windows and check them before bed.” Sorry, Mom, I’m too tired to wrestle with it, I’ll call a handyman tomorrow, her yawn cracked wide as she pulled the drapes closed.
A stop in the bathroom for a quick shower then down the hallway to her bedroom. Leaving the door open so Goliath could get a drink if he were thirsty, she saw he was already beside her bed. Actually, halfway under since it was an antique bed with room to crawl around underneath. He was on the Batman blanket she’d given him. She’d had it for years; as a child believing it kept her safe from the monster in the closet. Batman was brave. Batman did not take any shit. Goliath had seemed so scared and small as a pup, and he’d slept with her and that blanket, hundreds of times.
At 12, she had still dreamed of being Batgirl, who could fight the monsters and bad things that gave her such terrible nightmares. Her father had helped her get over that, and by 13 she knew there weren’t any monsters going to get her. She had figured Goliath needed the blanket more than her. She looked down at how big he’d grown, now barely fitting under the bed, and also saw the gray in his muzzle. She stretched out and reached over the side to pet him, “Good dog…” He licked her hand as always. Dead tired, she drifted off to sleep.
Suddenly awake, Cindy turned over and looked at the clock. It was 2:33. Wondering what had woken her, she was usually a sound sleeper, she burrowed down pulling her blanket tighter. She heard a noise down the hall. A dripping, tapping. These tile floors sure carried sound, she thought. But a leaky faucet dripping into the drain of her bathroom sink didn’t warrant getting out of a warm bed. “No big deal,” she decided as her eyes closed. She reached her hand over the side of the bed; Goliath licked her hand–reassurance–he was there and would protect her.
At 4:09 her eyes snapped open again at hearing something… the sound was louder. Annoyed now, but still not wanting to get up to check it out, she decided to have the handyman look at the sink, too. Drowsily she reached down and brushed the tips of stiff, bristly, hair with her fingertips. She got a hand licking in return as she fell back to sleep.
At 5:00 her alarm-clock radio came on. She’d forgotten to turn it off. She rolled over to look groggily at the clock then slapped the alarm. Shut up! Something seemed different about the night table, but that thought never formed as she dozed. The radio jarred her. She’d hit the snooze button. Blinking and fuzzy-headed with sleep she sat up. It didn’t register with her that the bedroom door was now closed. Head clearing, she saw something had been stuck to the radio. Picking it up she read as the announcer blared:
“BREAKING NEWS – The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is searching for a prisoner who escaped late yesterday while being transferred to California law enforcement authorities. 23-year-old Isaiah Creel is a white male with dark eyes, black hair, five feet six inches tall and weighs 165 pounds. He has several noticeable tattoos, the most prominent of which are on his arms; intertwining vines with thorns that extend to the backs of his hands. He was last seen wearing OCSO orange and white striped pants and white shirts with OCSO Convict on the back. Creel was recently arrested in Casselberry, near Orlando, and is wanted in California for the brutal murder of five young women in the San Francisco Bay Area. He first killed the victim’s pets in the night and left a written message he would see them—the victim–again. Police believe he would then remain in the house, killing the victim shortly after they were awake and had read the note. He is considered extremely dangerous. Do not approach. Do not confront. Anyone sighting him or with any information should contact local law enforcement or the Florida State Police at 800-555-1212.”
The note in her hand read: YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL. I’ll SEE YOU SOON. She dropped the slip of paper and slammed the radio’s off button as she grabbed her phone from the night table. Standing, she felt a hand come out from underneath and stroke her ankle. She screamed as she jumped away from the bed, cell phone still in hand. She pressed for 911 but got #2 instead. Just as her Mom picked up, she faced what slid from under her bed.
“Hello… Cindy is that you… why are you calling so earl–?” Her mother’s sleepy voice was cut off as she screamed again.
The man said, almost in a purr, “Humans can lick too!”
Dropping the phone, Cindy whirled to grab the Louisville Slugger her dad had given her when she turned twelve. He’d told her, “Anything comes out of your closet you just give it the lumber.” She’d slept with that bat beside her bed ever since.
“Goliath!” she screamed.
“He won’t be joining us,” Creel smiled as he showed her the bloody knife in his hand. “And soon you’ll be joining him… trick or treat… trick or treat… how I want something good to eat” he crooned to her. He lunged forward and sliced at her left arm, catching the sleeve of her nightshirt. The blade cut through the cloth and into the skin bisecting the black and yellow tattoo on her upper arm close to the shoulder.
Backing away to gain room enough to swing, his dark eyes—ones she recognized from the gas station—followed her. When he was two arms lengths away, she stopped, planted, and swung for the fence. There was a cracking sound when it connected.
“Bitch,” he dropped the knife and cradled his hand. “It’s going to be slower for you… I’m going to–”
His back was to the door when it exploded inwards. Goliath shook his head, blood flying from the deep wound in his neck. Staggering, he lunged at Creel, jaws locking on his arm. Cindy heard the crunching sound as Goliath’s teeth met and Creel’s arm bone splintered. Screaming, he turned toward Goliath, and she teed off, bringing the lumber, and felt it down to her toes as the bat caved in the back of his head.
Dropping to the floor, she pushed Creel’s body away and took Goliath’s head in her lap. Pulling her shirt off she used it to put pressure on the wound in his neck. The blood from the deep cut ruining her tattoo had run down her arm onto the hand that picked up the cell phone. She called 911 and when done with that pressed #2. She heard her Mom crying when she answered. “I’m okay, Mom. Batgirl…” she looked down at Goliath as he licked her hand, “and Batdog, don’t take no shit,” she told her mother.
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