(Sorry, today's short took longer than expected to post. My dryer died on me and I ended up having to set up a clothesline. Thankfully, it's in the 90s and dry here--you'll never hear me say those words ever again! Luckily, it's going to be nice and chilly for the Halloween party. I even got a little fire pit just in case people get chilled. We tested out the lighting last night and it was creeping me out! I can't wait to get the video on YouTube of the party. The film showing against the shed with the dolls is the most brilliant thing I've ever concocted. The effect is truly grizzly. The dolls are lit by it and a strip of the movie casts on the wall of the house up to the peak of the roof with the dark outline of the dolls against it and some of the dolls have the movie flashing on them, so they become part of the Brothers Quay film about dolls dissecting dolls apart. Feels like a post-apocalyptic cobbled together theater outdoors. I ended up changing my costume too. Much too chilly for tank top and shorts, so I'm going as a druid. Today's short was inspired by "When a Stranger Calls." BTW, Devin, hope you don't mind me using your name. I think it's pretty awesome, so I just had to use it.)
The countryside breezed past Devin as he approached the covered bridge. Slowing down, he gauged the efficacy of the red structure in comparison to his sports car. There was no sign warning of weight limits, so he braved it. New England was new to him. Hell, the countryside was new to him. Driving across country from California, he’d seen more than he wished of wide open spaces. As crowded as LA had seemed, it was hard for him to imagine how much of America was completely unpopulated. He wasn’t sure how he felt about isolation. No malls? No cafes? The idea of darkness and silence troubled him. Hell, it was the locals he worried about most. He was hardly the “New England” type. He imagined them to be of hardy stock and very no-nonsense. Everything about him would repel. It was going to be a long month.
He expected a gorgeous modern A-frame when his boss said he was sending him to his cabin. No, this was a true cabin, rustic and small. It was situated atop a hill with a huge wall of forest behind it. Devin looked to the right and left. In the far distance, he saw only one other cabin against the line of trees.
Nearest neighbors: One-half mile.
He didn’t mind at all promoting organic cheese makers and windmill manufacturers. He was used to doing PR for forward-thinking companies. He just wasn’t sure what an eco-weenie was like in New England. He was used to the celebrity types in California, motivated by a spiritual movement. He wasn’t sure he understood the generations of farmers and small businesses who had been “green” all along before it was hip. In LA, slapping a “green” symbol on something made it a hot seller, but in New England, many times it was simply a practical way of manufacturing carried on for centuries without ever thinking of it as a marketable feature.
It didn’t take long before the curious neighbor noticed the black convertible in the driveway. Two hours after he arrived, a woman in a sensible madras skirt and polo shirt with a bundt cake arrived at his door. She smiled sweetly, her face completely nude of makeup, a sight he almost never had seen on a woman.
“I’m Charlotte. My husband Fred and I are up there.” She pointed to her right. “Are you just renting?” She looked over his shoulder as if hoping for a friendly wife.
“No, actually, this is my boss’s cabin and I’m staying here while I get some work done over the next month.” He explained. “I’m Devin.”
She studied him and he knew the first thing she noticed was the blonde streaks in his spiky hair. Then, she took note of the earring, a full carat diamond. Next, her eyes glided over his body (courtesy of Jacques the best trainer in Hollywood). Then, she studied the tattoos that draped one entire arm to the wrist. Her fawn eyebrow rose.
“I see from your plates, you’re from California?”
It was funny how going across country, being from California was amazing, awesome, and a blessing. He arrives in New England and it’s seen like a deformity or curse.
“Thank you for the cake.’ He choked out as he held up the unwanted treat.
As if accepting his hint, she said her goodbyes and walked off in her practical Birkenstocks.
Devin sighed and looked around him wondering where the trash went. He took the unwanted cake into the cabin and set it on the buffet in the dining area.
One veggie omelet and a glass of merlot later, Devin went outside and gathered some wood from the pile and then came inside to sit back and study the sunset from the large front window. Admittedly, it was different when it wasn’t reflected off the ocean. With the trees aflame in October colors, the sunset had some fierce competition with the forest. Hoping that such introspective moments might get him into a New Englander’s head so he could promote their companies, Devin took quick notes on his laptop as he watched the last of the light outside.
He finally gave up and went to check the fireplace. It had wood in it, but he didn’t know much about starting a fire. He studied the contents and realized there were ashes beneath the wood. Someone had a fire and then put in more wood without cleaning it out. He wondered if that was safe or common. He’d grown up in SoCal. This was all so odd to him, but as the cabin became decidedly cool, he lit the fire with wads of newspaper and then as he began to choke on the gray smoke, he remembered the flue.
The cabin became a warm cocoon. Every now and then, Devin passed by a pad of paper near the phone and wrote down imagery.
“Warm safe nest from the weather outside.” The howling winds punctuated his last note. He lived in California and could understand seeking the outdoors, but here he could understand in late October one might enjoy the darkness complimented by the heat and light of a fire in the hearth. Old nostalgic Christmas specials came to mind. He remembered as a kid envying the children who lived where it snowed like it was “supposed to.” He understood the feeling of security and sanctuary the indoors offered. He smiled at his new wisdom and insight.
Getting up to turn out the lights for the night, Devin passed by the buffet. The plate with the cake on it was missing. Had he tossed it out like he wanted to? He looked into the trash can. Empty. He looked on the floor and then the other counters and then in the fridge thinking he might have absentmindedly put it away in case the neighbor wanted to come by for cake and coffee.
The missing cake aside, Devin decided to retreat to his room. He studied the fire and wondered what the safety rules for leaving it for the evening. Once he was certain nothing flammable was nearby, he brushed his teeth and prepared for bed, stopping in the hallway to study the locked door at the end of the hall. More than likely Ted kept valuables locked in it when he away. So far as he knew, the man only visited every Thanksgiving in memory of his New England childhood. Devin yawned and retreated to the bedroom and a pile of blankets to keep his thin blood warmed.
During the night he awakened several times to turn over in the lumpy bed when he heard the distinct creaking of floorboards. His aunt had an older home in Encino and he knew what that sound was. The cabin was no doubt settling under the temperature changes. He heard some rhythm thumping and a muffled sound as if it were a moan. He didn’t like the idea of animals outside the cabin. It unsettled him. That distraction kept him up for a little while and just as he began to nod off again, the alarm went off.
Eager to rush off and meet the clients, Devin barely made some instant coffee and puckered up as he drank the nasty stuff. He grabbed an egg he boiled the night before and a banana and left without his usual morning workout. It wasn’t until he passed the open cabinet that he frowned. He was anal-retentive about everything being in order. A granola bag was opened and bits of it sprinkled down onto the counter below. He frowned and picked it up looking for a bit of twine in the junk drawer to tie it up. He looked past the canned goods and dishes and found nothing. Some kind of creature? He shuddered at the thought of the wildlife getting inside. Perhaps that’s where the cake went? He shuddered again at the thought of a raccoon or a dreaded rat scampering around, little claws clicking on the hardwood floors.
“Thanks Ted.” He grumbled.
When he got home from a long day of meetings, Devin dropped his car keys and rushed to the fridge for a bottled water. The cabinet was open again. This time the box of gourmet crackers were opened. He snatched them up and studied them, removing several of the front crackers in case some kind of creature had touched them. He twisted it shut, put it back into the box, closed the box, and opened the drawer and slipped it inside. There were no animal droppings.
Taking to the powerful cleaner and the counters and cabinets, Devin was relieved that the place was nearly livable. How did Ted do it? From a Malibu mansion to this? Perhaps it was the contrasts that he believed made him humble. Devin understood that. Usually the LA crowd found spirituality in occasional bursts of deprivation from fasting to coffee enemas to using green materials in building their mansions.
After typing up his notes, Devin decided to go to bed. He set his alarm clock, climbed into bed, and then proceeded to listen to the floorboards creak from the end of the hall towards the fireplace in the main room. He heard a bit more shuffling and then a cabinet close and he sat straight up, wide awake at this point. Diving into his slippers, heart thumping with adrenalin, he raced out into the hall and towards the kitchen without a thought as to what he might do when he encountered whatever the creature was.
He heard it shuffling in the pantry. Devin cautiously stepped up, hoping it wouldn’t see him before he saw it. Not wanting to know what it was or deal with it, he slammed the pantry door shut. Looking around him hysterically, Devin looked for something to shove against the door and then took a moment to clear his thoughts with a deep breath.
No rat or raccoon is going to turn that doorknob.
The flash of car lights in the front window drew his attention. Devin went over and opened the front door and wandered out to the truck idling in the driveway. He wandered to the driver’s side, the robust man leaning out the window.
“Hey there! You’re Devin?”
“I’m Fred, Charlotte’s husband.” He announced. “I thought I’d see if you need anything up here.”
“I think I’m okay.” He told him, wondering if he should explain that the city boy was scared of the creature in the closet.
“You got your car worked on today?”
“No.” He looked over at his car wondering why he’d think that.
“It was gone this morning and there was someone walking around inside. It wasn’t you?”
Devin shook his head. “You sure you saw someone there? I was at work all day.”
“Hmm.” The man turned off the engine and climbed down. All 6’4” and 250 pounds of him leaned into the cab and pulled out a rifle. “Well, maybe we should be taking a look at that.” He offered.
“There’s no one here. I do have an animal in my pantry though. I captured it in there. I don’t know what to do with it.”
“You got a critter? What kind?”
“I don’t know.” He admitted. “I didn’t look. I just shut the door on it.”
That made Fred chuckle. “Well, I’ll take a look at that for you. You can’t be too cautious around here lately, the escapee and all.”
“The escapee?” Devin stopped before the front door.
“Yeah, sure. Didn’t Charlotte warn you? Well,” he sighed, “it was two weeks ago. By now they’ve rounded him up. Still, it’s worth checking. I’m sure that was a person in your front window looking out.”
“Escapee from where?” Devin refused to move any further.
“Well, there’s an asylum over the ridge about 3 miles through the woods. Every now and then one gets loose. The sheriff usually rounds them up in town. They don’t normally come through the woods. There’s nothing there for them to go to. This one, though, he was kind of antisocial, the sheriff said. Thought it was the end of the world and was looking for a safe house. This cabin’s closed up all year long. Could be too good to pass up.”
“It’s closed all year? I thought Ted rented it out?”
“Nope.” The man shook his head.
“But there was canned foods…”
“Ted and I clear those cabinets out every December.” He sighed. “There wasn’t anything in there when he left.” The man shifted the rifle into his left hand and opened the door cautiously. “You want to stay back?”
Devin looked around the cold dark yard.
I’m going with the gun.
He followed Fred towards the kitchen. The big man pushed the cabinet closed with the rifle tip and stopped and listened. As they turned the corner, the pantry door was wide open.
“I closed that door. I know it was shut.” Devin insisted.
“Yeah, well, raccoons don’t open doors, now do they, Devin?” He admitted.
“Jesus, I was just worried about animals getting inside.”
“Wonder where he’s been staying around here?” Fred looked around. “There’s no attic.”
Devin blinked. “The end bedroom. The door was locked. I thought Ted locked it to keep people out of his things.”
“That’s the extra bedroom, Devin. It’s always open.” Fred ran a hand through his wavy dark hair and sighed. “Well, suppose we ought to call the sheriff first. If we corner this guy, we might want him here.”
Devin nodded and went for the phone. Fred crept down the hallway. He’d barely gotten off the phone when Fred called out. Devin wasn’t sure if he wanted to see what he had to show him.
“Door’s open.” He nodded.
Devin squinted down the hallway. The door was open and it was dark inside.
“Shall we?” Fred grinned. The big man was actually liking the excitement.
They stepped down the hall, the boards creaking under their feet. Devin recalled the sounds in the house, something rifling through the granola, the locked bedroom door. An insane escapee had been sleeping only feet away from him with his door unlocked? Devin felt a wave of nausea and dread.
Fred clicked on the light and lunged into the room, rifle pointing at the corners until he felt secure that it was empty. Devin stepped up and looked around at the mussed up bed and the unopened foods he’d bought at the store just days ago.
“Looks to me like you scared him off when you closed him in the pantry.”
“How did he get out? I was here?”
Fred shrugged and walked over to the window. It was wide open. Just then, they heard the distinct sound of a truck starting up and grinding through the gravel.
“Son of a bitch!” Fred raced out with his gun aimed as his truck drove off down the dirt road in the distance.
The police car came into the driveway from the other direction and Fred angrily waved them on. When they took off, Devin dropped Fred off at home and thanked him for the help. Admittedly, he wasn’t excited to go back to the cabin, but at least he knew the guy had taken off.
When he went back inside, Devin considered closing and locking the bedroom. He walked into it and looked around more closely. The bed was a mess. He pulled back the blankets to find a pile of bloody duct tape and it puzzled him.
The phone rang and he picked it up.
“Devin, it’s Fred. You need to get out there, man.”
“What?” He asked as he looked at the window and the bloody fingerprints across the glass.
“The sheriff just caught up with the truck. It was a woman. She’d been kidnapped by the escapee and kept tied up in your place. She got free and ran. The guy wasn’t with her.”
Devin felt the chill prickle up his spine and the sense of being watched. He knew he was here. Somewhere hiding in the room, perhaps behind the door. Listening to his conversation.
“Well, I appreciate that Mr. Scott.” He said, trying to sound casual. “I think we’ll have to check out your warehouse tomorrow.”
“Huh?” Fred replied.
“You know, see if it’s still there. I’m sure it is. I think we left it there. It’s still in the warehouse.”
“It’s okay, sheriff’s here, I’ll send him over.” Devin could hear the voices talking. Fred returned. “Stay on the phone. Make up some nonsense.”
Devin continued to babble on about superficial things, recalling the days he first arrived to LA from La Jolla and hoped to become an actor. Sweat poured down his back as he kept himself turned away, but every second knowing the escapee could come forward without him knowing it and hit him over the head or stab him or shoot him or….” He was dizzy with fear when the police car pulled up out front. Devin wasn’t certain what to do at that point. He could very well be a hostage.
“Just a second Mr. Scott. I think I have that in my appointment book.” He cautiously edged his way around the bed, purposely looking down the hall and not into the corner where he could sense the man remained. Trying not to be threatening, he moved slowly and quietly and then made it into a dead run as the sheriff entered the hall and passed him, gun drawn.
Devin cowered in the kitchen as he listened to the confrontation. Minutes later, the sheriff was angrily wrestling the beastly dirty and gaunt man down the hallway.
“You’re a lucky man. He was standing in the corner with a knife in his hand.” He waved the knife as he shoved the man in handcuffs out the front door. The crazed man turned and study Devin with pale gray eyes that were bloodshot. He grunted as the sheriff pushed him forward. As the sheriff stuffed the man into the backseat of his patrol car, he turned to Devin.
“Next time you have a critter in your kitchen, Devin. Call our office first.” He snorted. “A raccoon in his pantry.” He laughed to himself as he climbed into the car and drove off into the inky darkness.