Saturday, May 23, 2009

"A Gentleman Caller" by J.F. Juzwik

Penelope Francis Maitland was a handsome woman. No one had ever remarked to her, or about her, that she was beautiful, or even attractive. Handsome was the word they used to describe the way she looked. But it was always coupled with an attestation of her impeccable personal hygiene. Father had always stressed the importance of maintaining an immaculate state of one’s mind and body at all times. The sessions of intense prayer provided the necessary cleansing of the soul, and the time she spent with Father in his corner room had truly purified her. His big, strong hands on her--in her--preparing her, exorcising the demons that held her captive.

His assuming sole charge of her salvation was what she was most grateful for, and proud of. Mother had never shown any interest in her to speak of, even when Penelope was a child. But, Mother had really begun to distance herself from Father after Sissy was born. By the time Penelope was twelve, and Father had begun her training, Mother was already occupying a separate bedroom, and would only remain in the same room with Father during meals.

Mother had fawned over Sissy some after she came along, but then pulled away from her after the accident, into her own dark, little world. Penelope believed Mother had been lost long before either of her daughters were born.

Margaret Kittering had been a beautiful, young woman of nineteen when she and her parents moved to Lake Meade. Her father had retired with a comfortable pension, and was looking for small-town charm and quietude. Lake Meade certainly had an abundance of both. The residents were very community-oriented, but not averse to newcomers. The Kitterings were welcomed with open arms by all the townsfolk.

Margaret’s mother was a homemaker who really enjoyed caring for her family, and her father derived great personal satisfaction from hanging a birdhouse he had made himself, and seeing the roses he had planted bloom in the spring. Margaret had been concerned as her father’s retirement approached. She had read articles and seen documentaries about men who retired, and a lot of them simply couldn’t cope with it. They no longer felt needed or necessary, and just wasted away and died. Their spouses followed soon after. Margaret’s parents were very close and, even after being married almost 40 years, very much in love. She knew if anything were to happen to Father, Mother wouldn’t be able to go on.

But her fears were totally unfounded. Jeremy Kittering had worked hard all his life as a floor supervisor in a manufacturing plant. He had also been looking ahead and planning how he would spend his time once he no longer had to work. There would be no wasting away for him. He had a tremendous love of the outdoors, and gardening. He loved to read and even tried his hand at writing a bit of poetry now and again. Not that he ever had any plans to get anything published. He would write lovely words just for the pleasure of writing them.

Her mother, Anna, was an elegant woman. That was the word Margaret felt best described her: elegant. Whether she was washing dishes, hanging laundry, or playing the radio and singing along with the lilting ballads, her eyes were always bright, and she always wore a warm smile. She filled their home with love and sunshine, and no matter where they lived, Margaret knew that if her mother was there, all would be right with the world.

Margaret adored her parents, and being with them. She always felt safe and content. She did want, at some time, to meet someone, fall in love, and begin a family of her own. Her greatest hope was that her life with her own family would be as full of happiness as her parents’ had been. When she met Daniel Maitland, she believed her prayers had been answered.

Daniel’s parents had been of loose morals--drinking, smoking, always groping each other like a couple of dogs in heat. He was determined when he was on his own, and had his own family, life would be very different. Prayer would be in their lives on a daily basis, and they would not be corrupted by the evils of the world. There would be no record players, or television, or magazines. The Bible. That was all they needed.

His parents, for all their flaws, had provided well for their son. When they died, the house was paid off, and there were no debts outstanding. There was also a generous annuity, which oddly enough, paid out in spite of the manner of their death.

Daniel was 18 when they committed suicide. He had been staying overnight at a youth retreat sponsored by the church, and a neighbor had heard the shots. No one ever really understood why they had shot each other. They were found close to each other in the sitting room, on the daybed. It appeared as though they were sitting and chatting. They were turned toward each other, leaning against the wall. Only the fact that their faces had been shattered by the gunshots, and the blood spray covering them, confirmed this as a double suicide.

Daniel remained calm when he was told. Everyone thought it was his deep faith that kept him strong during this tragic period. But Daniel was glad they were gone, as now he could begin to live life as it was meant to be lived. Discipline. Hard work. And prayer. When he and his family lived in this house, evil wouldn’t be permitted a place at their table. He would see to that.

Margaret’s parents didn’t care for Daniel Maitland. He was too severe a person. Margaret was accustomed to receiving affection and kindness. It appeared Daniel possessed neither of these qualities. But Margaret knew in her heart that he was just being respectful toward her. He wanted a decent, moral woman to manage his home and raise his children. How she wanted to be that woman. She knew he would loosen up after they were married and in their own home. She would have him laughing and smiling in no time at all.

Margaret’s parents had decided to relocate to Miami after the wedding, leery of leaving their daughter with that cold shell of a man. They had really enjoyed Lake Meade, but now that Margaret would be on her own, and since Daniel had made it abundantly clear that they were to be left to their own devices without interference, perhaps it was time to just enjoy each other. Besides, it was what Margaret wanted, and she had insisted they go, and begin their lives together. She, in turn, would begin hers.

Margaret had been right about one thing. After they were married, Daniel’s attitude toward her did change. He became even colder and more distant. He informed her that they would ‘couple’ only to conceive a child. Couple. When he talked that way, it made her feel as if she were some sort of animal being used to breed. Margaret never told her parents how bad things really got; she knew it would just break their hearts. They had both passed on before the birth of her second daughter anyway. God moves in mysterious ways, she thought at the time. Best they didn’t share the time that followed.

Penelope was a horrid child. Margaret felt guilty at first when she viewed her first born that way, but there was no other way to describe her. She was just horrid. Her appearance was acceptable, at best, but it was her attitude toward her mother, and people in general. The child treated Margaret as if she were in the way in her own home. Constantly following her father around, wanting to be alone with him. Margaret could almost tolerate that, except for the fact that Daniel went along with it. All that time alone with her in his corner room. God knows what was going on in there. In her heart, Margaret knew, but she never went in. Seeing would be too much.

Daniel never touched Margaret. Never put his arms around her. Never kissed her. Margaret prayed hard during their evening sessions. Not for the exorcising of evil that Daniel was ranting about, but for her husband to seduce her. Margaret could feel herself dying inside a little each day, and she wasn’t quite sure what she could do to stop it. She needed somebody to love her. Or at least go through the motions. She resisted temptation over and over again, but being a beautiful woman, young men coming through town would often approach her on her walks or while shopping. One Saturday, she decided to resist no longer.

Who he was didn’t seem important. He was young, good looking, and showered her with compliments. That most wonderful thing about him was the way he put his hands on her. Everywhere. Gentle and warm. He made her feel alive again. Their afternoon together only lasted a few hours, and then he was gone. That was alright with Margaret. She believed she could get by for quite some time on that memory alone. Then she realized she was pregnant. Penelope was ten, and they hadn’t discussed having any more children. But Margaret knew she had to convince Daniel it was time to ‘couple’ again because she wanted another child. Time was of the essence.

When Johanna Marie was born, or ‘Sissy’ as they later called her, Margaret couldn’t have been happier. The timing was a bit off, but she had managed to convince Daniel that Penelope needed a little sister or brother for company. Penelope didn’t want a little sister or brother for company, of course, but Margaret felt that perhaps once the little one came along, maybe she could make some sense out of their lives. Perhaps achieve some balance. Something.

Johanna Marie was a beautiful child. Happy and loving. Nothing like Penelope or her father. Margaret thought, this one is like her father, whatever his name was. It brought a smile to her lips when she remembered that afternoon. Things just might be alright after all, she thought, they just might be alright.

No one knew how Johanna Marie had hit her head so hard when she tumbled out of bed. She was a little past two, and sleeping in a bed by then. But it was low to the floor, and to have hit her head with that much force… The doctor said it was an accident. Things happen like that all the time, he said. Really a shame, though, such a pretty little girl. Probably won’t do much but remain in the home. She’ll have to be cared for and all, and get some sedatives regularly to stop the seizures. Probably live to a ripe old age, but won’t develop mentally or emotionally much. Real shame.

Penelope watched her mother crawl inside a deep, dark hole in her mind after Sissy’s accident. She never came out. Father found her one morning, dead in her bed of an overdose of Sissy’s sedatives. Since life had obviously become just too much for her, Penelope thought, she may as well just pack it in. That’s best.

Sissy wasn’t too much of a bother to care for later on. She didn’t wet the bed or anything, thank goodness. Penelope really didn’t think she could cope with that. Just keep her sedated and quiet in her room. Sometimes when Penelope would walk in, Sissy would just be sitting by the window just staring out. Who knew at what though, since there probably wasn’t much of a mind in there anymore. But she would come down for meals to the kitchen and be able to feed herself. Penelope couldn’t stand the thought of feeding her. It was bad enough cleaning her up now and then with a soapy washcloth. When Father was alive, he told Penelope he would take care of that, but Penelope wouldn’t have it. She just knew Sissy, probable footstool that she was, would try to get Father’s attention and convince him to train her too. Train her for what, mind you. No decent man would want such a thing as she had become. No. Penelope would care for her. She promised Father she would. Always.

When Father died, Penelope took it as a sign. He had taught her that after he was gone, she should seek a decent, moral man as her husband, but never to let him have his way with her. Father had tried for all those years to purify her and prepare her to be clean enough to take her husband, but it was to no avail. Father had told her that Mother had been unclean, and so it passed on to her. He knew when they married that she had been with others, and that if they had daughters, he would have to work very hard to try to erase all the evil that had been born in them. Sissy was a lost cause--the ultimate punishment for Mother’s sins. Penelope had come along quite nicely, but in spite of all of Father’s efforts, she would have to maintain a celibate, childless marriage. Do not pass the evil on, he had told her, keep it unto thyself, and let it die with you. She knew Father had been right--he always was.

Penelope was on her way home from the Pharmacy with more of Sissy’s medicine when she saw him. He stood at the end of the driveway to the house on the hill and waved to her. She nodded and continued on her way home. She had heard someone finally bought that house. It had been so long since anyone lived there, Penelope couldn’t remember the name of the former residents. No matter. Noisy and Godless, they were. Playing music into the night, laughing, children running around in the front yard at all hours. The house was just across the road and had a long driveway as did hers, but one could still hear all the commotion coming from that house. This man looked about 50-ish, and there wasn’t anyone outside with him. Maybe he lived alone. Penelope hoped so. She had gotten used to the peace and quiet, with that house and hers the only ones at the end of the cove.

She had put Sissy’s medicine in the kitchen cabinet and was going to start making lunch when there was a knock on the door. Penelope wondered who would bother them at lunchtime. Once in awhile a salesman would get lost and knock on the door to get directions to find his way back to town, but that was a rare occurrence. Penelope preferred her solitude and made it clear to anyone who showed any sort of interest in socializing, that the Maitlands did not. They kept to themselves, and believed others should do the same.

The town’s folk respected that, and didn’t come around, except to hand out invitations to that annoying Harvest Ball of theirs. Some ridiculous function held each year in early October at the town square. There were streamers, and lights, and music; as if Penelope would allow herself to attend such a blasphemous thing. The story was that new love was revealed on Harvest Ball night. Anyone recently becoming engaged, going steady, or keeping company, shared it with the rest of the town on that night. Everyone would applaud and drink a toast and congratulate them. New love was found there too, as couples danced the night away, romances were born. Penelope knew what went on there. She had heard their noisy ritual. Now it was coming up again next week. Well, she and Sissy would do what they always did on Harvest Ball night. Eat an early supper, pray, and go to bed. Perhaps she’d give Sissy an extra pill tonight so she could get some rest. Sissy was so annoying when she woke up in the middle of the night. Crying and whining. Penelope couldn’t do anything to settle her down. She certainly had no interest in holding her. Yes. Another pill tonight. She’d done it whenever she needed to rest and didn’t want to be awakened in the middle of the night. Surely it won’t do her any harm.

Penelope went to see who was at the door. She moved the curtain ever so slightly to see who was standing there. She would never just open the door. You just never knew these days who could be at your door. Penelope was startled to see the man from the end of the driveway. As soon as he saw her peeking through the curtain, he began to smile and wave again. Penelope opened the door a couple of inches.

“Yes?”, she said quietly.

“Hello,” he said, his voice deep and calm. Like Father’s. “I’m your new neighbor, and I wanted to come over and introduce myself. My name’s Chester Wilming, and I’m new to the Lake Meade area. I’m originally from San Diego, but now that I’m retired, I decided to make a real change. Come and enjoy the beauty of the countryside. Goodness. Here I am just chattering away. I just wanted to introduce myself, Ms. Maitland. Not to be a bother to you or your sister. Just to say hello.”

Penelope opened the door wider, letting a cool rush of air into the stale kitchen. Strange feelings were coming over her, and she didn’t understand them. She felt embarrassed by them. But there was something about this man…something familiar…something warm…

“How do you know my name?” she asked. “And how do you know about my sister?”

Chester smiled and said, “Oh, I asked around, Ms. Maitland. I like to know who my neighbors are.”

He looked past Penelope and saw the place settings on the kitchen table.

“Oh, I’m intruding on your lunch. I’m terribly sorry. We can talk another time. Perhaps you and your sister would like to come by some evening to sit on the porch and have some nice, cold lemonade? I think it’s always good to get to know your neighbors. And if I do say so myself, I make a mean glass of lemonade!” Penelope noticed his eyes sparkled when he smiled. Like Father’s.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, “my sister doesn’t go out. She’s… well, she’s ill. She had an accident when she was a child, and she wouldn’t… I mean, she isn’t… She doesn’t go out. I don’t generally… perhaps I could if it was very early evening. Just for some lemonade and conversation, you understand. I don’t get involved with card playing or music or anything like that. Just for some lemonade and conversation. If it was very early.”

Chester thought to himself, what an incredibly sad lady. He had heard talk in town about the two of them, and the whispers about their parents. Still, it’s always good to get to know your neighbors. Since he was making a real change and starting over here, he wanted to start off right. Just lemonade and some conversation. He figured he could handle that.

“Well, well,” Chester smiled. “Is this the other Ms. Maitland? I’m happy to be able to meet you too.”

Penelope turned around and saw Sissy standing there in her gown and robe. Sissy. With that idiot grin on her face. Doing it again. Trying to interfere. Just like when she was little. With Father. Didn’t even bother to put some clothes on. Her gown and robe were flannel and floor-length, but she shouldn’t have come to the door in them. She should have put on some clothes before she came to the door. No. She shouldn’t have come to the door at all.

Penelope grabbed Sissy’s arm and pulled her away from the door.

“Thank you for stopping by, Mr. Wilming,” she began.

“Chester,” he said, “please.”

“Well, Chester, then,” she continued. “It’s time for Sissy to have her lunch and her medicine. Perhaps I will find time to stop by for some lemonade and conversation in a little while. Perhaps.”

“I’ll count on you then, Ms. Maitland,” Chester said. “Why don’t we plan for around seven? Supper is finished, and things settle down about that time. Is that alright with you?”

Penelope felt flushed. She prayed hard it didn’t show. Why was this happening to her? Now, after all these years. What kind of evil did she carry in her that she should get so flustered when a man knocks on her door. But, it wasn’t just any man knocking on her door. This one was different. There was so much of Father in him. She could see it. She could feel it. Perhaps he is the one. The one she will spend her life within celibate bliss as Father foretold. Perhaps. Sissy began squirming in her grasp.

“Yes, Chester,” Penelope said quickly. “Seven will be just fine. I’ll be there at seven. Just me. Thank you, and we really to have to get lunch now. Goodbye.”

Penelope quickly closed the door and latched it. She pushed Sissy against the counter, and slapped her face so hard it left the mark of her hand on her cheek.

“No!”, she snarled. “You will not get in the way this time. You had no business being with Father because he was mine. Mother tried to get in the way, but he didn’t want her. You tried to get in the way, and well, you know what happens when you interfere. Or maybe you don’t.”

Penelope grabbed Sissy by her shoulders until Sissy began to flinch.

“You were told you fell out of your bed. You were told you were a clumsy dunce, and you fell out of your bed on the hard floor. But that’s not the way it happened. I caught you watching Father and I through the keyhole in his corner room. That was our private time. I made up my mind you would pay for sticking your nose in where it didn’t belong. So, after you went to sleep, I came in your room and pulled you out of the bed and slammed your head on the floor. Hard. Harder than even I had realized. Guess I didn’t know my own strength. You didn’t know any better, you idiot. You were always stupid anyway. And after your ‘accident’, well, let’s just say we didn’t have to worry about you snooping anymore.”

“Don’t even think about doing anything like that this time, little miss, if you can think. I won’t have it, do you understand? I think from now on it probably would be better if you had your meals in your room. I’ll bring your meals to you and your medication, and you just stay in there. You have your own bathroom so you won’t need to come out. When it’s time to wash you, I’ll come and take care of everything. We’ll just keep that door of yours locked so you can’t get out and hurt yourself on anything. We wouldn’t want that now, would we? Why, it would be just awful if you had another accident.”

Penelope dragged Sissy upstairs and pushed her on the bed.

“I’ll bring your lunch up in a little while with your pill. You just rest there for awhile.”

Penelope pulled the heavy door shut and turned the key until it clicked. There, she thought, that should keep you.

The lemonade and conversation on Chester’s porch was just as enjoyable as Penelope thought it would be. Chester was very respectful toward her, and behaved like a perfect gentleman. He is the one, she thought, he is. Father said I would know when the proper man crossed my path. She hadn’t been inside his house, nor he inside hers yet. That would never do. Alone with a man in any house wouldn’t do. Not until they were married anyway.

Chester had said that he had come to Lake Meade because he had heard about it from Sheriff Sydney Todd. Penelope wondered why, when Chester had said he was from San Diego, it triggered something in her memory. Sheriff Todd was from San Diego. Evidently, they had known each other there, and when Sheriff Todd decided to come back to his hometown to finish his career in law enforcement, he told Chester about Lake Meade and what a beautiful place it was. Chester had been some kind of engineer, and when he took early retirement, he packed everything up, came to Lake Meade, and bought the house on the hill.

Penelope wondered which house they would live in. She could use a change. Besides, his house seemed larger and a bit more cheerful. Perhaps they would live…

Sissy. My God, she thought. What to do about Sissy. Sure, he would take her in out of kindness, but what kind of a life would they have with her around all the time? ‘She’ll probably live to a ripe old age’, the doctor had said after her accident. What to do, Penelope thought, what to do about Sissy.

The sedatives, she thought. She had just refilled the prescription anyway, so there were plenty. They had worked with Mother years ago. Everyone had believed Mother had taken her own life; just too full of despair. Well, Sissy was capable of taking too many. Penelope only gave her one in the afternoon like she was supposed to. It wouldn’t be Penelope’s fault if Sissy got hold of them from the kitchen cabinet. People knew she wandered about the house--Chester had seen her.

Penelope came in from another pleasant evening on Chester’s porch. Sheriff Todd had been there as well. They were old friends, but Penelope was hoping they would be alone again. The more time they could spend together, the sooner he would see that she was the one to manage his home and share his life with. In prayer and discipline. In that big house. Just the two of them. When she opened the back door, she saw Sissy closing the refrigerator.

“What are you doing in here?” Penelope screamed and slapped Sissy so hard she fell on the floor. “How did you get out of your room? Well, I guess we’ll just have to take care of our little situation, then. Can’t have you wandering around and all, upset and depressed that you are. I told Chester all about it tonight. How worried I was and how I needed to leave early to go check on you.”

Penelope reached down to grab Sissy’s arm and felt the pain go through her arm like it had been set on fire. Sissy had plunged the carving knife in Penelope’s forearm almost all the way through. Penelope grabbed the handle and pulled the knife out, feeling her legs start to give out from under her.

“You bitch!” she screamed. “What is this? A temper? Getting even maybe? I should have finished you off when you were two. Well, now’s as good a time as any!”

Penelope sat at the kitchen table shaking. She had wrapped her arm and the bleeding had stopped. This was going to be hard to explain to a doctor. Maybe she would go to the city to one of those minor emergency places and make up a story. Yes. That would work. And Sissy? She would dispose of her tomorrow. She would clean everything up and just tell people Sissy wandered off. They would search and search, but she would not be found. Perhaps someone picked her up in a car, Penelope would suggest. You just never know what kind of people are out there these days, do you.

She poured another glass of her ‘medicine’. Father would have understood. All the stress and everything. She kept the gin in the refrigerator because it was easier to drink all cold like that. It did have a funny aftertaste tonight though. Oh well. No matter. She felt warm and relaxed and believed she’d sleep well tonight in spite of all the commotion. After she emptied this pitcher, she would rinse it out good and get rid of whatever that funny taste was.

Her vision started to blur, and as she looked at the pitcher, she saw some white powder that had settled to the bottom. Now, what could that be, she thought. She picked up the pitcher and decided to pour the rest out and rinse it. She almost fell walking to the sink. What’s going on, she thought, I only had a couple of glasses. She started to giggle, until she noticed the cabinet next to the sink was open. The only thing in that cabinet was Sissy’s medicine bottle. The one she had just refilled the other day. But the top was off and the bottle was empty. Empty!

That bitch, Penelope thought as she struggled to stay on her feet. That’s what she was doing in the refrigerator. She put her pills in my medicine. And just to distract me, she cut me with the carving knife. That bitch. Well, I fixed her… I did. I…

Sheriff Todd forced the back door open. Chester hadn’t seen either of the Maitland sisters for several days, and they didn’t answer the door, so he called his friend to make sure nothing had happened to them. Nothing could have prepared them for what they found. Penelope Maitland was on the kitchen floor, a glass in her hand that had contained gin and triple the lethal dose of sedatives, they would later learn. And Ms. Sissy Maitland was upstairs on her bed with a carving knife in her throat. Judging by the cut on Ms. Penelope’s arm, it appears they had fought, Ms. Penelope had murdered her sister is a fit of rage, then taken her own life with the overdose.

Sheriff Todd wondered if they would ever find out what Ms. Penelope had done with her sister’s eyes. Perhaps some things are best left a mystery though.

Sydney Todd put the flower in his lapel. He was really ready for Harvest Ball tonight. What a sad week this had been, with the Maitland deaths and all. Such pitiful ladies they were, he thought, and so alone. They really should have attended the Harvest Balls. He had gone to every one since he came back to Lake Meade. Of course, it was only to share the happiness of others until he could share his. But tonight, he would announce his love and share his happiness. He and Chester Wilming had found each other in San Diego. Now, Chester was here, and they would proclaim their love at the Harvest Ball. The people in Lake Meade were an understanding sort. Some people already knew Sydney preferred the company of other gentlemen, but they treated him just like everyone else. Sometimes the high school boys would say rude things when he drove by the school, but they didn’t mean anything by it. It was just to show off or something to each other. They would outgrow that.

He was so happy tonight. Chester was here to stay, and they would be together, and everything would be out in the open. He still felt bad though for those Maitland sisters. If only they had come to the Harvest Ball once in awhile. Perhaps they could have met someone. But if they especially could have come tonight, when Sidney and Chester announced their love to the town. Then, those poor, sad ladies would have seen just what a beautiful thing love can be.


BIO: J. F. Juzwik has had a crime fiction novel (King’s Bishop Takes King’s Rook’s Pawn) published by DiskUsPublishing, a horror short ("Too Late a Lesson Learned") published in the anthology, Deathgrip: The Legacy, and a crime short ("Byline") published here on Crooked. She has written numerous crime fiction and horror stories, and is currently working on a thriller short and two crime fiction novels. She is a member of several writers’ networks, and maintains a blog for both writers and readers at Information on all her projects can be found on her website at

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Brunette In Black" by Jake Hinkson

The human body contains about ten pints of blood, and Adam Nicola’s body hadn’t been any exception. The problem for me was that his blood was all over my bedroom floor, soaking into my carpet, and I didn’t have much time to do anything about it.

I ran into the bathroom. My left eye was starting to swell, and my vision seemed to be melting. I sat down on the edge of the tub and held my face in trembling hands. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes, trying to let my vision clear a bit.

In my bedroom, though, Adam Nicola kept bleeding on my carpet. I didn’t hear anyone outside the house yet, but I knew they were on their way.

I stood up and looked at myself again. My hair hung down like old party decorations, dabbed here and there with blood, and my bottom lip was filling up like a water balloon. My expensive black dinner dress was torn.

“What a fucking disaster,” I muttered.

I walked back into the bedroom. It already smelled like the dead man’s whiskey-diluted blood. I wasn’t surprised by that; he’d shown up at my door so drunk I was surprised he was walking.

I eased over to the window and peeked through the drawn shades. Adam’s car was embedded in the dogwood in my front yard. The neighbors stood on their porches, cell phones pressed to their ears, but no one approached the house.

I walked back to Adam and leaned over him. His graying hair was matted with blood, his eyes rolled back.

My entire body convulsed, and I moved away from him. I didn’t know where to go, though. Leave the room? Stay? Run outside?

That seemed like a good idea.

The neighbors gawked at me as I bolted out of the front door. One thin, middle-aged man with wire-rimmed glasses approached me like a timid professor.

“Are you alright?” he asked. For a year or so, I’d seen him go in and come out of his house, but I had no idea what his name was.

“No,” I said. “I think he’s dead.”

“Oh my god,” he said looking to the house.

Two teenaged girls eased over to us. One of them—I think her name was Jenny or Penny—said, “I called the police. They should get here any second.”

She’d barely said that when a patrol car turned down the road, stopped in front of us, and a big cop with a crewcut climbed out.

The neighbors pointed at me, and I told him, “There’s a man in my house. He’s drunk and he has a gun. I think…I think he’s dead.”

“Everybody get back to their homes, please,” the cop barked. He pulled me over to his car, and said, “Why do you think he’s dead?”

“He said he was going to kill me. He beat me up, but then he just…shot himself…” I choked up and started crying. The funny thing is, it wasn’t an act. I mean, I wasn’t really overwhelmed the dumb bastard had shot himself—he was better off dead, god knows, and the world was better off without him—but I stared crying anyway. Maybe it was just the stress of the moment.

The cop must have been new to his job because he was clearly affected by my tears. “You’re safe,” he tried to assure me. “You’re safe now.”

“I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”

“Where’s the gun?”

“I think it went under the bed. I’m not sure.”

The cop crept toward the house, took out his gun, and disappeared inside. A few minutes later, a few more cop cars showed up, as well as an ambulance and a fire truck. The whole goddamn world. I cried then, too.

They took me inside, sat me down at the kitchen table, gave me an ice pack for my face, and questioned me. The main cop was a hard-faced blonde woman in slacks and a man’s business shirt. Detective Steed. She was six feet tall and had cold blue eyes, and she did not give a shit about my tears.

“Adam Nicola. Fifty-two. This a boyfriend?”

“Not exactly.”

“What does ‘not exactly’ mean?”

“We were seeing each other.”

“How long were you seeing each other?”

I shrugged. “A few months.”

“How many is a few?”

“Three or four, I guess. Since about February.”

“How long have you known he was married?”

That felt like a trick question, but I didn’t have time to think about it. “He told me right from the start that he was getting a divorce.”

“Uh huh.” Detective Steed looked down at her open notepad and tapped it with her pen. “He come over here often?”

“I guess.”

“How often?”

“I don’t know. Every…week, I guess.”

She looked back up at me. She didn’t have much in the way of lips, but there was a tiny scar in the corner of her mouth. I pressed the icepack against my bottom lip.

“Every week since February sounds serious,” she said.

“It was mostly sex, okay? I like sex. So does he. Did he. So did he.”

“He ever get violent before today?”


“You know he was arrested in January for beating up his wife?”

“No, I didn’t know that. Not that he would have told me, I guess. But he was never violent with me before.”

“So what happened today?”

I shook my head. “He called me this afternoon and said his wife Gina had left him. He wanted to move in here, and I said it was a bad idea.”

She watched my eyes when she replied, “I thought he told you right from the start he wanted to divorce her.”

“Yeah, well, I figured that was just something he was telling himself. And me.”

“So then what?”

“I said that moving in here was a bad idea. I liked having sex with him, but I wasn’t in love with him or anything.”

I stopped, pressed the icepack to my mouth, and looked at her. She kept looking me in the eye and didn’t say anything.

I said, “I hung up on him. He showed up—”

“When was that? When did you hang up on him?”

“I don’t know. Three or so.”

“And according to the neighbors he slammed into your tree and ran in here about four. Any idea what he’d been doing?”

“Well, he smells like a bottle of Jack Daniels.”

“What were you doing when he got here?”

“Nothing really.”

“What’d he say when he got here?”

“Not much. He was crying. He started slapping me around. He’d never hit me before, but he beat the shit out of me today. I ran into the bedroom, and he came after me. He had a gun. I thought he was going to kill me, but instead he just pressed the gun against his head and shot himself.”

Detective Steed nodded and wrote down what I said.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I told her.

“Just one second,” she said. “We’re almost done. I just wanted to ask…I notice he ripped your dress.”


“Nice dress. Looks expensive.”

I shrugged. “It was on sale…”

“You said earlier that you weren’t going anywhere.”

“No. Well, I mean, I might go to dinner. I was thinking of going to dinner.”

“You dressed up at four in the afternoon just in case you might go to dinner later?”

I pressed the icepack to my mouth. I wished I could shove the whole thing down my throat.

“Yeah,” I said.

“You dressed up at four o’clock in the afternoon just in case you might go to dinner later on,” she said.

I nodded. “Yes.”

She stared at me.

I shrugged. “All dressed up and no place to go, I guess.”

Detective Steed clicked her pen a couple of times and dropped it into the pocket of her shirt. She said, “You can go use the bathroom now. The boys are almost done.”

I went to the hall bathroom and peed. Through the small window above the sink I could see the crowd around the house beginning to disperse. The ambulance and fire trucks were gone. Adam’s body was gone. Most of the cops were leaving. I flushed the toilet, washed my hands, and went to find Detective Steed. She was standing on the doorstep.

“Are you done?” I asked.


“Am I going to need to…I don’t know, come down to the station or anything?”

Detective Steed looked at my scarred but standing tree, and then she turned to me and flipped open her notebook.

“Well, it seems pretty clear cut what happened. Gina Nicola says her husband Adam left about twelve this afternoon after she told him she wanted a divorce. We have people at a bar who say he was there getting drunk an hour or so before he showed up here. His cell phone shows he called you at three twenty-three. On his way here, he knocked over a mailbox and clipped a couple of side mirrors. Witnesses all say he plowed his car into your tree, staggered out with a gun, walked up to your house and kicked the door in. A few minutes later a shot rang out. From the look of the scene, it all happened like you said.”

“Well, I’m just glad—”

“Here’s the thing though,” she interrupted. “That dress.” She nodded at my sleeveless black dinner dress. “I’m confused about why you were laying around in a five hundred dollar dinner dress at four in the afternoon.”

I shook my head. “I just put it on,” I said flatly. “I was thinking about going out. Maybe I didn’t make that clear. I didn’t have any definite plans, but I was thinking about it.”

“Yeah,” she said. She slid her notebook in her pocket. “Well, that’ll be all for now. I’ll call you if I need anything.”

“Thank you,” I said.

She gave me a curt nod and walked to her car.

I went back inside the house and sat down on the sofa.

The sun went down and the stars came out. Cars eased up and down the street, and parents flipped on the yard lights for their kids. A man walking a dog paused at my yard, and while his mutt pissed in my grass the man inspected the damage to my tree. He left, and I sat on the sofa in the dark.

I was still sitting there when the back door slid open and Gina’s footsteps crept through my kitchen. She found me in the dark.

“Are you okay?”she said.


“I can’t believe you actually did it.”

“I told you I would. You said it’s what you wanted.”

“It was,” she said. “It is. I just can’t believe it. He’s dead.”

“He’s better off. And so are you, and so am I, and so is everyone else.”

“Did he know about us?” she asked.

“He didn’t say anything about it.”

I looked up at her for the first time, standing there in the moonlight in an expensive dinner dress. She sat down next to me on the sofa, and her long brown hair swept across her bare shoulder.

“I told him I wanted a divorce this afternoon, just like we planned. Then he left, and the police say he went to a bar.”

“He called me from there,” I told her. “It’s almost funny if you think about it. Our whole plan—you break it off with him and then I break it off with them and then we tip him off that he can find us together at the restaurant—all that planning to set up a self defense killing…all of it was for nothing. He called me drunk. I was getting ready to go to the restaurant when he showed up here, rammed his car into my tree and started waving a gun around. When he shot himself, I wasn’t even touching it.”

“I got ready to go the restaurant like we’d planned,” she told me. “Then I saw my little gun was missing. I just went cold inside. I knew he’d taken it. I almost called you.”

“It’s a good thing you didn’t. The cops would have wondered about that.”

“I know.”

“But it’s over now.”

She nodded. “And I still get the insurance money,” she said. She placed a hand on my knee. “We get the insurance money.”

I nestled back against the cushions.

She leaned forward and kissed me. “It’s so crazy. To plan…you know, to plan something like that, and then to have it turn out this way.”

I said, “I wouldn’t have planned to kill him if I knew we could get him to kill himself.”

“Do you feel bad?”

I shrugged. I thought about the light going off in Adam’s eyes when the gunshot exploded into his head. Even as his eyeballs bulged out, his pupils had imploded.

She touched my bruised cheek. “Are you okay?”

I took her hand. “They’re just bruises.”

She smiled. “They heal.”

I touched her pale, delicate, beautiful face. “You should know,” I said.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"The Devil In Disguse" by Randall Pretzer

I hadn't written a short story in a few days. It may have been a month or more. I couldn't remember. I didn't feel like checking the dates on the word processor to find out when I last wrote anything. It didn't seem to matter. The publishers would tell me the same thing. They enjoyed it but can't use it. It doesn't fit their current theme. They would wish me well and told me not to let their rejection discourage me. They never considered how many rejections I may have had before the one they just gave me. I didn't really have anything and if I did I wouldn't know where to start. I broke my rythmn. I had been writing a short story a day for a month or two almost but then gas prices went up. I found myself without much money and I had my computer at my parents house. I couldn't afford to go back and forth from my apartment to my parents and my cycles of writing was disrupted. I never really gained it back. I gave up. I got another rejection and thought what was the use? I went to sleep at my parents that time after I turned off the computer.

I woke up an hour before I had to go work. It wouldn't have been a problem except I forgot I had stayed at my parents. It meant I had a longer way to get to work then if I had been at the apartment. I had to skip a shower and only brush my teeth, shave and put on deodorant. It took me a few minutes. I liked getting to work at least 30 minutes before I had to go in to chill and listen to my music. It prepared me for the day. I loved working the nights but I hated just going straight into work right when I got there. It just felt as if something was missing. So I waited until about 10 minutes till or so and headed to the time clock. I had to be at work around 4 pm and I got there around 3 30 pm. It was perfect. I was excited for yesterday I had finished up a book called Man Of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov. It was written in 1840 and seemed to feature the first existentialist character. The more original aspect about the book was the attitude of the character. My brother said it sounded modern with such lines as "I was bored with her…..I sometimes despised myself….I had the misfortune of being born…" I would not qoute me on those lines for I don't know if they are exact but it is those kind of words that make it ahead of its time. It was sort of the Rebel Without A Cause of the early 1800s and I had finally finished it. I was able to start a new book at work called The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton. I couldn't wait. It was about the police attempting to inflitrate a local anarchist cell to break it up. It sounded really good and I would finally get to start it at work in about 20 minutes.

I got out of the car at 5 minutes till and checked my tires. They were okay. I checked to see if any of the lights were on in my car and they were not. I was good to go. I headed to work. I walked in and it felt as if I had not been there for years. I was not sure why. I was off only the day before but that was my only day off until Sunday. It was strange. There had not been much happening yesterday. I just went to the mall and bookstore as I always did on my days off. I didn't understand it but I didn't mind going into work. I loved working nights and was so glad I was finally made the night person. I just didn't understand this feeling of alienation I seemed to have from work. I am gone one day and it feels like an eternity since I had been here when I come back. It felt like an episode from the twilight zone and what a great tv show that was. They didn't make any like that anymore. I checked my watch as I headed to the time clock and all that thinking wasted 3 more minutes. I had 2 minutes before I was late. I was not too far away from the time clock but I would remember to clock in before I let my mind wonder.
I clocked in just in time. There was about twenty seconds before I had been late. I got on the freight elevator and headed to the dock. The two dock guys ready to relieve me were waiting. Our boss was not there today. She was never there on Thursdays. We never had any trailers on that day. It use to be only on weekends we didn't have any trailers but they changed that. The docks guys greeted me.

"What is up, Gilbert?" Roland said.

"Not much….happy to be working nights." I said.

"Yeah….makes it easier on us….we hate nights." Robert said.

"So what is going on for tonight?" I asked.

"There is nothing. No truck so no boxes and we have not had any pick ups… furniture pick ups should be an easy night." Roland said.

"All right…thanks…I can get started on this one book." I said.

"You finished the last book all ready?" Robert said.

"Yeah…I finished it this morning….around 4 am." I said and we laughed.

"You are prolific reader…" Roland said.

"I am not really…it took me too long to finish this last book…"

"I see you always with a book…you read a lot…" Robert said.

"I try to read as much as I can.." I said.

"That is good….well see you later….truck tomorrow…" Roland said.

"All I will have the dock all ready." I said.

"Thanks….see ya…" Robert said and Roland waved as they went on the freight elevator.

I went to a nearby stool we had and sat down. I opened up The Man Who Was
Thursday and the phone rang. I picked it up agitated. They couldn't let me get settled in first.

"Hello receiving this is Gilbert?" I said.

"Hey Gilbert….do you think you could bring us a rounder?" She said. It was Amanda. She worked right next door to the dock.

"Sure be there in a minute." I said.


"You're welcome." We hung up. I headed to our supply room to get the rounder. We had plenty of them made so I didn't have to worry about putting it together. They were just rough to push through the store sometimes. Some of them had messed up wheels and it was hard to keep them steady while pushing them. They would just want to go all over the place. I found one and it was a breeze to push luckily and so I got it to her in no time. I brought up near her register.

"Here you go." I said. She looked up at me and seemed startled.

"I am sorry I didn't mean to scare you." I said. She was silent.

"Is this the right fixture?" I asked. She went up to the rounder and grabbed a hold of it. She didn't say anything and moved it to where she needed it.

"Did you need anything else?" I said.

"Thank you for the rounder. No, I don't need anything else." She said indifferently. She had never talked to me with indifference before. What was going on?

"You're welcome for the round, anytime. Just let me know if you need anything else." I said. She just nodded her head and went to pick up some clothes to hang on the rounder. I disguised my doubts and confusion caused from her reaction. I went back to the dock and sat down. I was depressed. We had been talking for almost a year now and she had always been friendly. I couldn't understand her change in behavior. I think I sensed fear now that I think about it. I decided to wait until next time we saw each to her to see if she would react the same way or back to the way before. It could have been just a bad day for her. We were all entitled to bad days.
I sat back down in the dock and picked up my book. I couldn't read. I couldn't concentrate. The way Amanda reacted to me just had me all messed up. I couldn't think of anything I had done. She was friendly with me over the phone. It seemed as if nothing was wrong. You can't tell everything from someone over the phone but she always sounded the same way on the phone. I got up and started pacing around thinking about it. I was afraid to go back out there to see if she would react the same way or not. I was scared that she would and it would tell me our friendship was over. I knew it was too soon then to go out there so I waited. I would go back out 40 minutes later. She would still be working. She worked until 7 pm. I had time. I just didn't know if I could wait 40 minutes. I was really worried. I could find out right now just by walking out there I thought to myself. She would be in the same area most likely for she was doing something that took sometimes an hour. I didn't want to seem to eager. We had been talking for 30 minutes to an hour each day we worked together for the past year. It was just so baffling and sad. I wish I knew what had happened. You always get worried when a friend acted differently towards you than before.

I sat down on the stool for I was exhausted from pacing around. I checked my watch and only 15 minutes had gone by since I decided I would go back out to see her in 40 minutes. I was out of shape and getting old. I should have kept up the running. I shouldn't have been so tired after just pacing around for 15 minutes. Oh well, I would try to run again when I could but at that point I tried to read the book again but the phone rang. I had barely sat down for 2 minutes.

"Hello receiving this is Gilbert."

"Hello Gilbert this is Rachel. I was wondering if you were not too busy could you come pick up some boxes?"

"Sure." Rachel and I went further back then Amanda. We always got along. I may have had a chance to date her but it was a .000000000001% chance. I was too modest and lacked an ego to consider even a woman I had a crush on having a crush on me. Rachel was always receptive to me and she had started talking to me first. I was nervous around because I liked her I never knew what to say. I did want to talk to her but her area never needed anything. There was not a chance for us to talk because of that fact. She eventually started dating someone and it became serious. I gave up but we remained good friends. I went to pick up her boxes. I grabbed a flat bed. It took me a minute or so to get to her area.

"Hello Rachel…are these the boxes over here?" I said. She looked up at me and didn't say anything at first. She looked back down at the computer screen on her register.

"I am sorry…" I said. She looked up at me.

"The boxes are over there. Thank you." She said indifferently. Her reaction was the same as that of Amanda. I couldn't believe it. I never would have expected this reaction from Rachel. I was shocked enough from Amanda but Rachel? We went so far back. I examined her as I picked up the boxes. I sensed fear in her. Why? What had I done? The same questions I had about Amanda went through my mind again with Rachel. She normally would be talking to me as I would be picking up the boxes. She remained silent and just continued with her work. She was never like this even when she was having a bad day. Some handled their bad days differently and it was fine. Some stayed the same and others kept to themselves. It was okay we all had our own ways of doing things but Amand and Rachel were out of character. Why would they be afraid of me or indifferent? I picked up the rest of the boxes and pushed the flat bed back to the dock.

"I will see you later." I said.

"Thank you." Rachel said indifferently without even looking at me. I didn't know what was going on. I had not even bothered to ask them if I had done anything wrong. I was afraid to. There may not have been a problem and it could have just led to a fight. Why should I think anything is wrong? I don't know how to have explained it to them. I didn't want to make them feel like they were being rude. I didn't want to offer criticism of them or anything. I stopped thinking about it and headed to the dock. There was nothing more to really say about it. I just realized as I went to pick up her boxes I didn't even look to see how Amanda would react to me if I said hi. I close to her area and I would say hi and see how she reacted.

I was by her area in a few minutes. I looked around for her at one of the registers as I pushed the flat bed to the dock. She was the one nearest to the dock entrance. I thought here goes nothing.

"Hi Amanda." I said. She looked up at me and just made a weak smile. I had never seen her do that before with me. She always said hi Gilbert. She was always so friendly about it. This time she didn't even say anything. She just gestured towards me. It was not a fluke the first time. There was something wrong. I didn't ask her though. I was too afraid. I had hopes that maybe she was just having a bad overall and didn't feel like talking to anyone. It meant I had to wait for the next day we worked together and that was two days from now. I am not sure I could wait that long. I would probably go in the next day or so on my day off to see if things were okay between she and I.

I went back into the dock and sat down depressed. I couldn't read. I just sat there looking at the floor thinking. I had lost two friends today it looked like. I didn't even know why. I just know it seemed as if it was over between myself and Amanda and Rachel. The phone rang. I was the worst day for a busy day. It seemed like no breaks.

"Hello receiving this is Gilbert."

"Hello Gilbert…I am new here….I needed someone to break my lock….are you the ones I call?"


"Can you meet me at my locker now if you are not too busy?"

"Sure…I will be there in a minute."

"Thank you." I hung up and went to the freight elevator. I got to the locker area before she did. I should have been depressed more often I seemed to move faster than usual. She came by about 1 minute later.

"Hello…dock right?" She said.

"Yes…." I just realized I forgot the locker cutters.

"I am sorry I forgot the locker cutters…."

"Oh…that is okay…I am on my lunch break..I will wait here…"

"Okay…I will be right back sorry."

"That is okay."

I went to the freight elevator and as I turned to push the button to close the door I saw the locker cutters. I laughed a little and went to pick them up.

"I found them they were right here." I said.

"I am forgetful too." She said. We both laughed.

"I thought I was just getting old." I said. She didn't laugh. It was silence.

"Which one is your locker?" She didn't say anything but pointed to where it was.

"Now those are the kind of locks I like." I said and laughed a little. She remained silent and shrugged a little. It seemed everyone was having a bad day. I remained silent and broke the lock easy.

"Piece of cake."

"Thank you." She said indifferently and opened her locker.

"Did you need anything else?"

"No, thank you." She said and I sensed some fear in her voice. I turned around and headed back to the freight elevator. What did I do her? I had never seen her before in my life. This was strange. I guess maybe to her I came off as trying to flirt with her. I wasn't but I could understand how she might think that. I would remember not to do that next time. I sat back down in the dock hoping for a break. I couldn't read I was just too depressed. I felt like music though. I had brought a Jimi Hendrix compact disc and I put it in. It was his album Electric Ladyland. I put it on the song Little Miss Strange. I loved the opening and I just sat on the stool and listened to it and stretched out my arms. I heard his voice sing out the lyrics. It was his bass player singing and I liked his voice.

"No one knows where she comes from maybe she is just a devil in disguise." I couldn't understand the rest after that but I loved the sound of his singing and the music so it didn't matter. I would get the lyric sheet for it when I got home.

I got out of work a little early and left the compact disc in the cd player. I just realized this after I left the store. I really wanted to hear that song while driving in my car. I needed it and wanted to drive for awhile. The way the women reacted to me told me I needed a night drive. I had other compact discs and I figured there would be one there to fit the mood. I would do it after the bookstore.
I got into my car and started the engine. My gas was low. I had to head to the book store and then home. I didn't have enough money to fill up. I got paid two days from now. I went home and was so tired I fell asleep. I woke up a little frustrated. I had a plan each night after work to go to the bookstore, come home, do some reading and writing and watch some situation comedies I had on dvd I had not seen yet. It was about 1 30 pm. I didn't have much time to get a situation comedy watched. I had to take a shower and eat. I listened to a record when I ate and well I was little too tired to get up just yet to try to get the situation comedy watched. I laid there for a few minutes. My phone rang.


"Are you busy right now?" Rensen said.


"You mind if I come over?"

"No, just I have to be at work at 3 pm…just be for a little…"

"That is fine."

"I will be here." We hung up.

He got there almost after I hung up. I put on some underwear, jeans and socks and went to the door. I slept in my shirts. I didn't even check to see if anything I had put on was even clean or something I wore from the day before. I answered the door.

"Hey…" I said.

"What is going on?"

"Not much…was frustrated I didn't get much done last night…no reading…writing or situation comedies watched…."

"I didn't get much done last night either…I was too tired from work…didn't get out until midnight or so…"

"Late night customers…"

"Yeah as always."

We headed to the living room. I sat on the chair and he sat on the couch.

"I got to get out of this town….."

"I am fine with it…..but not for everyone."

"I just can't focus anymore. There is nothing here. What is there to write here?"

"I have been writing pulp fiction lately….autobiographical type stuff bored me…."

"This town is boring me." His phone rang.

"Hello……okay…….I will be there in a minute." He hung up.

"I got to go. Duty calls at home. Off today. My turn to do the housework. I took a break to get some lunch."


"I will see ya later."

"See ya." He got up and left. The clock on my vcr read 1 40 pm. I had plenty of time. I took off my clothes and left them on the couch. I went into the bathroom to get ready for work.

I didn't even think to tell him about what had been going on. I was one to let someone confide in me first and then get to myself. I headed to the bathroom to take a shower, brush my teeth, shave and put on deodorant. I was going to then watch a situation comedy as I always do. This one episode of Seinfeld I loved. The pilot episode. There is not an episode were George and Seinfeld discuss things in depth as they do in this episode. I could related for I discuss things in depth too and over analyzed as they do in that episode. It was great stuff. I had all but two seasons on DVD. I was too broke to get any more but I would get the rest one day.

I went into the bathroom and I looked in the mirror. I yelled in fright as I saw myself and ran out quickly. I shut the door. What was it that I just saw? I couldn't understand. I felt my face and my body. It felt the same. I had not changed. What was going on? I went back into the bathroom and looked at the mirror. There was nothing. I wonder if I had just been working myself too hard? I was depressed about my friends who got distance all of a sudden. It must have been stress. I grabbed my toothpaste and toothbrush. I put the toothpaste on the brush and I turned the water on and wet the toothbrush briefly. I looked up and I saw it again. I spit out the toothbrush and ran out again. I couldn't take seeing it. I felt my face again and still it felt the same. There was nothing with my face. What was it in the mirror? I went back in slowly. You had to face your fears they say. I looked in the mirror and there was nothing. I looked away briefly and looked back. I still saw nothing. I couldn't be crazy. I saw it. I saw it twice. I couldn't be dreaming. What was going on? I looked down for a few minutes and then looked up again at the mirror. There was nothing. I attempted to brush my teeth again. I don't know why I was being so casual but I had to be at work soon. I didn't think this was anything real. I was just overwhelmed with things. I looked down at the toothbrush and then looked up. I saw it. I was not going crazy. I moved my head and it moved its head. I looked up and down and all around and so did it. It was mimicking me. I yelled at it.

"Who are you? What are you doing here? Leave me alone." I screamed almost at the top of my lungs. It moved its lips as I moved mine. It mimicked me perfectly in every sense. I picked up the toothbrush and wailed it around. The thing in the mirror did too. It didn't go away this time. It was permanent. What was it? Why was it doing this to me? Was it anything? Was it alive? It seemed to just be copying me. I moved my arms and hands and walked back and forth. It did the same. It was like it was a mirror image of me. I felt my face and my body. It felt the same as before. There was nothing wrong with me physically. There was just this thing in my mirror. It was harmless so far but what was it? I walked out the bathroom and looked for something to show my reflection. I found a clean butcher knife I had but never used. I looked into it and I saw the same thing. I moved my head and it moved its head. It was what I looked like to the outside world. How could I go out in public like that? How did I get rid of it? I called my work.

"I am sorry I can't make it to work today. I am not feeling too well. I am sorry. I will be out for a few days."

They understood. It was pretty smooth. I may need a doctors excuse they told me depending on how long I was out. I didn't know how I would get one. They would not believe me on this. They have to have seen it though. My friends who became distant. It explained everything. They didn't see me but what I saw in the mirror. How come my friend didn't say anything? I wondered about something. I immediately called my friend Richard.

"Hello Richard…could you come over?"

It was good that he finally was free. He was the only one available. This couldn't wait. I knew my friends schedules and he was the only one off. I didn't have the gas to go over to my parents and didn't want to ask a total stranger. I am sure I had other options but couldn't think of them at the time. I was trying to be as logical as I could. However, under the circumstances logic didn't come easy. I waited for Richard.

He was there sooner than I thought. He usually took about an hour or so. I opened the door and he didn't react as one would seeing what I saw in the mirror.

"Hey Richard…."

"Hey…so what do you want to do?"

"Just hang out…chill.."


"Let us go in the living room….maybe we can watch the new Rambo I got it yesterday.."

"Sounds good."

We headed to the living room and he sat on the floor. I never knew why but he did. I sat on my futon.

" I like look different to you?"

"What do you mean?"

"What do you see of me right now?"

"What I have always seen. You have not changed since the last time I saw you…granted that was only yesterday but you look the same……why?"

"I was just curious." I could tell him the real reason. He would think I was as crazy as I thought I was when I first saw that image in the mirror. I had no other answer.

"Just an odd question…."

'"I know…Richard….just forget it…"


Richard's phone rang.

"Sorry…hold on….Hello? Sure…I will be there in a minute." I was curious now about something.

"I am sorry I have to get going." Richard said.

"Are you sure I don't look different to you?"

"Why do you keep asking me that?" He was different than I saw him before now. He never used that tone with me. Was I just paranoid? I didn't know. It was just odd that is phone rang and he had to get somewhere. I know things come up but the same thing happened with Rensen.

"Richard…..hold one minute…."

"I have to go…."

"Just hold on…."

Richard rolled his eyes. What was with him all of a sudden? He never showed such impatience no matter if he was in a hurry or had to get somewhere. I went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. I saw it. I was right. It explained Richard's behavior. I came back out. Did it disappear when he first came over? Why would it disappear and then reappear? What was going on?

"I am sorry about the Richard….something felt wrong…"

"The world is wrong…..I am late…..I got to go…." He walked away and out the door. He didn't say goodbye. His tone was completely different than anything I had heard from him and he never showed such cynical attitudes either about the world or anything. He saw the thing in the mirror and not me. I can't blame him for not telling me but why didn't he just scream and run out? Why didn't my friends at work just scream and run away? Why didn't they report me or did they?
I called up work.

"I am able to make it to work today. I will be there at the regular time." I hung up.

I looked at the time and I had about ten minutes to get to work. I had no time to get ready. I was all ready dressed luckily. I headed out the door.

I hurried through the employee entrance and up to the time clock. It was a one the second floor. You had to hit a button so they would know to beep you in and open the door. It was for security reasons. This would be the test. I was let in. I must have looked like myself again. I immediately went to the bathroom to check myself in the mirror. I briefly checked rhe reactions of everyone I came across making eye contact. There was not any. It looked good so far. I made it to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. There was nothing. Maybe it was gone. I didn't know but surely I figured it would have shown itself by now. It didn't. I smiled and left the bathroom to get to work. I wanted to be able to check without having to go to the bathroom so I bought a mirror they had in the handbags section. I was surprised they had any for sale. It was a small one and it did the job. I didn't see anything so far for I was checking after I bought it on my way to do the receiving area and there was still nothing. Why did it not come out now? Why did it come out at all?
I sat in the dock for three hours and no one called. I like it that way. I wanted to read but it was not the time. I kept checking the mirror and nothing. It was still me. I was about to maybe try to read and the phone rang. I picked it up immediately.

"Hello receiving this is Gilbert."

"Hello Gilbert this is Amanda…I was wondering if you could bring us a four way?"


"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

We hung up at the same time. It was strange but she was not distant this time. She was as friendly on the phone as she always had been up until that last time I saw her. I looked in the mirror quickly but nothing. It was still me. I may have just gone insane for a few days or just plain became disillusional or was it just a lack of sleep? I didn't know. It seemed all right now. I went up to our room and got the four way. I brought it out to her area. I placed it near where she was at register.
"Here you go." I said. She looked up and ook back down without saying a word.
"I am sorry I didn't mean to interrupt you." I looked at the mirror quickly and there it was again. I was not dreaming. This was not a nightmare. What to do to now? I didn't know. I waited.

"Where you left it is fine." Amanda said indifferently almost ice cold without looking up.

"Sure. Is that all?"

"Yes." She said without looking up and she said it almost like that of an automated voice. I looked at the mirror again and it was there. I had to get out of work. What would be my excuse? My boss was all ready gone. I would go to tell the assistant store manager. She was always good about these things. She was very understanding. I hurried up to her office. I kept glancing at the mirror and it was gone once I was away from Amanda. I hope it didn't return again when I would be talking to the assistant store manager.

It took me only five minutes to reach her office. I looked at the mirror right before I went in and there was nothing. It was me. I went into her office.

"Hello." I said and looked at the mirror. It was there again. I wanted to leave but the assistant store manager all ready had looked up at me and she looked back down.

"I need to go home. I am sorry but something has come up."

"I was going to send you home."

I was confused. Why was she going to send me home? I looked at the mirror and it was still there. She saw it. Again, why didn't anyone scream when they saw it? Why was she not screaming now??

"Did I do something wrong at work? I didn't mean to be sitting around but there were not any calls and the dock is clean."

"We always understand that. It is not that. We are overstaffed in the dock and we have to cut down on labor. I am sorry. We will call you back when we need you. However, you don't need to report into work until we call you. I am sorry." She told me all of this without looking up.

"I am sorry to hear that. I will be here when you need me." I said.

"Thank you. Goodbye." She said this just as Amanda had said like an automated voice. I left and glanced at the mirror again. It was just me in the reflection. I just didn't understand. How was I to find out what was going on? There had to be a way but I was sensing a pattern. I wondered now if I still had a place to stay. I hurried to my car and to my apartment. I didn't want to risk living out in the street. I am not sure I could get another job. This thing just seemed to pop up at certain times. It was selective. My Rent was due. I had the money saved up for that luckily and I didn't have to give to them in person. I could just drop it off in this box they had like they did at the video rental stores. I would not let the management see my face until this thing was gone. I would lose the place for sure if they saw me. I had just lost my job more or less. I had a month to figure stop this thing and then I would be thrown out. It may still be a fluke. I will try to get a job and see what happens. I will try everywhere just to test to see if it comes out then too.

I was correct. I looked in the mirror at each job interview or place of employment I applied at and all the employers who interviewed me were distant and cold as the assistant store manager was. It was not permanent. I was not myself now. The image in the mirror never left me. I didn't know what to do or where to go or why this was happening. I tried to buy a supply of food that would last for a month but everywhere I went they refused to serve me. I was forced to dig I dumpsters and anywhere else I could find food. I went to the homeless shelters and they threw me out. The food at my apartment would have to do. I am not sure how much I had left nor how long it would last but I had no choice at this point. I headed back to my apartment from the third homeless shelter I got thrown out of and laid on my futon mattress. I had to find out what was going on. Was this some kind of attempted possession? I was so tired I fell asleep at that last thought.

I woke up at 7 am the next morning. I immediately went to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. It was not me. It was that thing. I tried putting a towel over my head and it made no difference. I couldn't even see the towel over my face through this thing. It looked the same. I tried putting on everything that I could over my face. I tried shaving cream, deodorant, soap and etc. It made no difference and yet when I moved my lips or my head in one direction or another the head and lips of this thing would move in sync with mine. It just didn't make any sense. I couldn't cover it up but it was able to mimic my facial and head movements. I was glad no one had seen me come in or out of my apartment. It was amazing no one had. I was sure no one had because the tenant didn't try to throw me out or anything. I was lucky to still to be here. I didn't know where to go or what to do. Was someone behind this? Why would they be doing this to me? My life was just about ruined. I laid back down on my futon. What else could I do?

I couldn't sleep. I got up a few hours later and checked the mirror again. It was not me. I left the bathroom and sat down on the couch and put on the Seinfeld episode I had watched the other day. I left the dvd in there. My cell phone rang. I answered it.


"Is this Gilbert?"

"Yes, this is Gilbert."

"Have you seen Tom?"

"May I ask who this is? I am not trying to be rude but I don't recognize your voice."

"I am his wife."

"Oh….well I only know one Tom….he works at Bells…"

"Yes…he is my husband….have you seen him?"

"I have seen him at work….maybe two days ago?"

"I called his work two days ago…he was not there…"

"He may have been out of work by then…"

"No…he told me he was closing…and he also let me know when his lunch break was…I called him at the time he told me to call…he wasn't there…"

"Well…I am sorry I don't know….but I should have asked you this sooner…why are you asking me about him and…how did you get my number?"

"I can't tell you…..but I know you know him….and if you are covering up for him…"

"I am not covering up for him….I only have talked to him while at work…and even then…it was just a hi or a few comments about how work could be rough….I really don't know him…."

"Can we meet somewhere?"


"Meet me at the Pancake Palace in 30 minutes."

"All right….but I don't look normal….there is…"

"I don't care… doesn't matter to me….this is important…30 minutes Pancake Palace."

"Sure…" She hung up. I was confused and lost. I was also surprised at myself. Why did I talk to her for so long? Why did I agree to meet her? I wanted to be be kind. I always made an effort to be kind but considering what I look like currently what will happen? I should not have agreed to meeting in a public place but it happened so fast. There was not any logic to this. I know. Who was she? Why did she ask me about Tom? I didn't really know him. It was strange. However, she sounded sad or like she was in trouble. I always willing to help. I checked my watch and ten minutes had gone by. It took me fifteen minutes to get there. I left the apartment and ran to my car in hopes of no one around seeing me. I headed to the Pancake Palace. I made it there in 10 minutes. I went inside and they threw me out. I should have known. I forgot or something. I waited outside for her.

She got there about five minutes after I did. I got up to meet her. I expected her to get distant and tell me she had to leave.

"Hello…I am sorry I was kicked out for some reason."

"Right…I forgot….come with me to my car and will talk. We will just drive around."

"All right." I couldn't believe it. She didn't get distant or anything. She invited me into her car. I was afraid to ask her if she knew about it or something. I followed her to her and she opened up the door for me and I got in. She shut it quickly and got in on the other side.

"I am sorry I should have got the door for you…it is my job…"

"It is all right…" She smiled at my comment and started the car. We drove down Waterfall Avenue. My favorite place to go driving at night. I was just one long road from one end of the city to the next. It was near the beach. I looked at her and I saw the same thing on her as I did on me. I jumped a bit.

"He is on to me." She said.

"You have the same image over your face that I have over mine. I was afraid to say something and I don't know why."

"This is the work of Tom."


"Yes. What is over our faces is a holagram."

"So that explains why nothing covered it up."


"How does he do it? He couldn't project it this far."

"He found a way somehow. He is a wizard when it comes to this kind of thing….incompetent when it comes to relationships."

"Amanda said something about that."

"This is about Amanda."


"He is in love with her. He saw you and her talking and got jealous. He got this crazy idea to mess up your life because of it. He wants to mess up mine too because I am telling you everything."

"How do you know so much about it?"

"He told me about it all. He wanted me to be his partner. I refused but promised I would not tell anyone."

"The million dollar question is why you told me?" She smiled at that.

"Amanda told me about you. She and I are like sisters…but actually just good friends….feels like sisters…"

"I know the feeling…I have a few friends who feel more like siblings we are so close…"

"Anyway….she told me you were a very kind person.."

"I will thank her for that…and I thank you for telling me…"

"You're welcome….anyway…..she told me after Tom decided to pull this on you…I agreed not to tell anyone because I thought you were out to hurt him….I love him and didn't want to see him get hurt so I let him do it to you….however after what Amanda told me….and what others in the store were telling me about you…I decided to stop him….you wouldn't do anything to hurt anyone…I came to believe that…."

"Thank you for everything you said and for helping me….I am sorry if I came off as wanting to hurt him or anyone…."

"You didn't…..Tom told me you were out to hurt him…since I love him so much….I believed him….I was wrong…I am sorry…"

"I understand…..human nature…"

"I am having a lapse of logic here….how is he able to see us…can hear us too?"

"He can only see us. I don't know he is not able to hear us yet."

"What do we do now?"

"I am going to give you the address of where he is at. It is the only thing I can do."

"It will be enough. Thank you."

She slowed down and pulled up into someone's driveway. She pulled out a pen and paper. She wrote down the address and handed me the slip of paper.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. I have to let you go here. His place is not too far from here. I don't want to risk him finding out what I am doing. He just knows we are talking."

"He has no time to move anything….how far away is he from here?"

"He is two houses down. Excuse me." She reached over and pulled out what looked like a television remote. She handed it to me."

"What is this for?"

"I planted a bomb in his place. The bomb will go off when you hit the top red button. You can get him out of there and destroy the building or you can get within 20 feet of it and hit the red button. I don't care at this point. I love him and if I can't have him no one will but I refuse to let him take anyone down with him….that is why I helped you….:"

"Thank you….I can't kill anyone….what he did to me and you was wrong but not worth killing him for." I handed her back the remote.

"You take my car…forever…..I won't be back." She took the remote and got out of the car. I got out of the car and walked up behind her and got in front of her. She walked fast and almost plowed into me.

"Look….this is not worth dying for….I know you love him….he loves Amanda but…." She held up the remote.

"I will hit the button right now if you come any closer…" I backed away a bit.

"Please think about what you are doing…..he needs help…I forgive him for what he did…he doesn't deserve to die….you don't deserve to die…"
She put her finger on the button.

"You don't shut up right now and get back into that car I will hit the button right now. He will be dead."

I had not much time to think. I could charge her and she would hit the button. There would be only one person killed instead of two but someone would be dead. I couldn't think. I then thought of something.

"All right…." I caught her. She had told me I could either get him out of there or kill him while safely outside.

"You told me that I could lead him out and destroy the building or do it when he is in the building. I told you I couldn't kill anyone and you took the remote from me and are now heading over to kill him….You gave me the option of either killing him and his contraption or just destroying the building….why don't you let me just lead him out of the building and destroy the contraption he uses to create these images in front of our faces?"

"I thought you would kill him…..I was wrong so I took back everything said….I want him dead and I wish to die with him….a romantic suicide…" She took off running after she made that last statement and I went after her. She was fast. I never got within four feet of her. She made it into the building and it exploded shortly after. I fell to the ground and pieces of debris landed near me. It was a miracle that none landed on me. I slowly got up and looked at the wreckage with sorrow. I felt so bad for both of them. They needed help. Their pride wouldn't allow it. I checked my little mirror and it was me again. I wiped away the tears but they kept coming.

BIO: My name is Randall W. Pretzer. I have been writing since I was 15. I started off writing short stories and then I moved to writting plays and poetry. I recently got back into short story writing in 2006 and I have primarily just been a short story writer from then on. I live in Texas and currently work at a department store in the receiving area. I am currently working on about three short stories. My favorite authors are my father, my brother, Knut Hamsun, John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Anne Bronte, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.