** Note ** The formatting when I copy and pasted this story got slightly skewed. As a result, when a new paragraph starts (after the first one) it doesnt indent in. Please forgive my computer.
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** Note ** This story, while not as good as my poetry, was also submitted. I was hoping for atleast an honorable mention (I didn't think I'd win first, Ive won for the past 3 or 4 in a row) but I didn't get a thing. THis was inspired by a true event. OF course, being the person I am I stretched somethings a bit ;D but hey! What can I say. Tell me what you think. Was it good enough for atleast some kind of recognition?
** This contest was open to my entire school, k-12. My category, 7-12, had about 5 or 6 kids apply to the creative writing category, to the best of my knowledge. This is out of about 225 kids eligible. Why doesn't anyone read or write anymore?!! Enough of my ranting. Please read. Thank you.
Nothing by a Psychoative Mess, I Must Confess...
“So I think I'll be home in about 4 days."
"Alright… want me to tell Dad?"
"Do you have a number we can reach you at?"
Sophia frowned and pulled open the drawer of the bedside table, looking for the requested digits. "No… I haven’t even talked to him yet. I left a message on his cell and I'll look up his home phone once I get off the phone with you."
"Oh, well - you have your cell phone, right?" Sophia glanced at the small blue phone and nodded.
"Yea, I got it. You know the number. Thing is, I don't think Jason does."
"So you haven’t reached him yet?"
"Nope. I've been trying to… I hope he checks his messages."
"I hope he checks the time and realizes you’re at the airport!" Sharon pulled the brush through her hair one last time and sighed. "Well Mom, I gotta go, I think my boyfriend is here."
"Ooh, you mean Liam? Tell him I said hi! And remember, be good." Sophia paused and smiled knowingly, saying, 'Now, let me talk to your father."
"Sure Mom! Here's Dad, I'll see you later."
"Bye Chris." She hung up the hotel phone with a quiet click. now what was that number? She rummaged through her purse for an elusive granola bar that had been stashed specifically for mind racking moments such as this. She sighed as she ran her fingers through her hair. The rough feel of her unwashed waves reminded her that she had to get in the shower. i really should get it cut… and maybe dye it too... back to black? maybe ill frost it She wound a piece of it around her fingers, inspecting it in the dimly lit hotel room.
“Split ends, just as I thought!” She declared indignantly to the digital clock. “And all you can comfort me with is the fact that’s its 6:32 in the evening? The television says-“ she glanced at the dancing screen, locating the clock in the corner – “6:35.” She shook her head at the small box, and was intending to continue admonishing it for being slightly off when she remembered the number.
“That’s right!” Grabbing a pencil, she scribbled down the digits before she could forget again. As she dialed, she picked up her flight itinerary, reading over the information. The other end rang. And rang. And rang. When the answering machine picked up, she almost hung up. She had always hated answering machines. “Hi Jason, its me. I’m just calling to make sure that you know to pick me up at the airport tomorrow morning. JFK, Flight 72, I'll be there about 10:30." She trailed off. She had always been bad with answering machines, especially finishing the message.
She carefully set the phone back in the receiver, and began packing.
She was at the airport and had just gathered her bags when she thought to look about for a clock. She was stuck in the middle of a nervous crowd of people who were constantly bumping and shoving for something – pushing for their bags, for more time, for a clear avenue through the throngs, for a closer and longer look at flight schedules – always pushing.
She slowly scanned the cavernous terminal for anything resembling a clock. She made an irritated sound in the back of her throat as her search turned fruitless.
"I guess no one needs clocks anymore?" She rolled her eyes and caught a glimpse of a clock, hidden away in the corner. “Oh. That’s a great place for it.10:45! He should be here.” She shouldered her luggage as she began the trek to wall of doors that led to the parking lot. “I better go wait outside for him, he would never be able to find me in this chaos.”
She pushed through one set of double doors and rested her backpack against the curb. There was no sign of Jason, so she took a seat on a benches snug against the building. There were benches everywhere but the logical places like next to doors, by bus stops or under trees. such is america
She had just decided to pull out her book when she sensed someone looking at her. It was Jason. He was dressed in loose black slacks and an oversize dress shirt. The baggy clothing couldn’t hide the fact that he was still gaining weight, and his copious amount of forehead drew attention to the receding hairline, which framed two beady eyes. Occasionally they would pop out when intense emotion was required, but usually they were unchanging. His nose looked as if it was shying away from the graying mustache, which bristled over his upper lip, making his chin seem to sink into his neck. He smiled at Sophia, his yellow, crooked teeth catching the warm sunlight.
“Hi! How are you doing?” she beckoned him over and gave him a tight and energetic hug. “So where’s your car?”
“This way,” Jason waved in a very general direction towards the parking lot behind him, and turning abruptly started walking. There was a sudden heaviness in the air around the, forbidding anyone to talk, threatening consequences for violating the uncomfortable silence.
She tried to ignore the vibes as they continued walking. She realized that they were way out the in the no mans land of parking lots – the spaces way out there that are never filled unless there is some sort of mass exodus. The air shimmered in the distance, creating mirages of dancing figures and objects. The Florida sun was already baking the concrete, even an hour before midday. A dark rectangle on the horizon broke up the unending lines of white paint that defined the parking spaces. As they drew closer, it turned out to be a car – the paint peeling by the handles, rusting on the hood and around the tires, especially bad in the area where any dirt and debris got thrown off the tires. Sophia almost walked past Jason as he slowed and veered toward the vehicle.
“That couldn’t be his car,” she muttered to herself, one eyebrow lifting as her friend fumbled with his keys in an attempt to unlock the driver side door. He found a key that fit and the door opened with a squeak, protesting all the way. The interior was done in a dark red cloth, the seats, roof, and floor all done up in the same shade. Approaching the trunk, she called for Jason to unlock it. It popped open and she swung her biggest bag off her shoulder and heaved it in, setting it next to a box of black garbage bags claiming to be ‘Stronger and Tougher’, some gardening tools, and a length of rope wound around the tools. She peered at the sticker still stuck on a shovel, dirty from previous use. “The Dollar Shoppe?” She exclaimed in surprise, shutting the trunk.
Jason may be a miser when it comes to paying for me, but he would never shop cheap for himself she thought to herself opening the passenger side door of the Dodge Spirit. The maroon paint had weathered to a brown, and the red tint inexpertly applied to the windows was peeling and chipping. The condition of the car was another surprise – the last time Sophia had met up with Jason, he had a silver Lexus, a far cry from the relic that she was currently sitting in. Due to an inheritance he had come into as a child, Jason had never wanted for anything, and wouldn’t settle for anything less.
She left the door open and rolled the window down, fanning herself in the hot interior. The hot concrete hadn’t been pleasant to walk on, and with all her activity over the last few days; her back needed a rest too. it will be cooler once we get moving, closing her eyes, leaning back to breathe in deeply and coughing it all back out. It was more than just old car smell – there was a scent of sickness, and the entire inside of the vehicle felt and looked dirty. Not that that was anything out of the ordinary. With four kids her car was usually a mess. But this was different. I t was almost as if instead of being cluttered from constant use, it seemed left over from someone else. so then why the hell not clean it? Sophia glanced at the man next to her, who was again fiddling with his keys, but his face was perfectly composed, and his voice sounded even and well modulated, if nasal, when he next spoke.
“So, what do you want to do? Go directly to my house?”
“Have you eaten yet?” Sophia patted her stomach and smiled as she suggested getting lunch.
“Alright, there’s sure to be some place along the road.”
Sophia rubbed her neck as Jason steered the car out of the parking lot and down a busy cut through. It reminded her of meeting him for the first time in the city – different vehicle and atmosphere, same route, same actions.
They had known each other for a few years now, introduced through a mutual friend who had since ended his relationship with Jason. Jason was a hard person to be friends with – he was often demanding and temperamental and had been that way forever. He had always had money, and therefore was for all intents and purposes excused from ever working. He missed out on the typical daily grind and stresses that come from working for a living, but also somehow didn’t learn the qualities of wisdom, patience, and common sense that came from that lifestyle. The every day events that shape a person, smoothing rough edges and hardening soft ones, somehow passed him over, leaving an incomplete personality. To make up for what he lacked, he used more of what he knew – the limited range of solutions to problems, and even smaller assortment of emotions he used in response to situations. As a result, he was either overbearing and exceedingly annoying or submissive and irritatingly subdued.
His permanent vacation and unhappiness with his life may have been the deciding factors in his choice to be homosexual. The mutual friend that had introduced the two was at the time a boyfriend. After they separated, Jason had blindly felt around for another man, but being a male himself had no idea how to go about it. He finally met another someone about two years ago, and when they got together had called Sophia, ecstatic and overflowing with the news.
His name was Charlie. Sophia was often regaled with tales of the wondrous lover, who, according to Jason, was a great handsome man who was supposedly very continental – he skated, but liked eating out at high-end restaurants. He would wear thrift shop leftovers but was equally comfortable in expensive suits. Personally, Sophia thought that he liked Jason’s money more than Jason himself, and had no qualms telling her friend the situation as she saw it. Of course he didn’t listen let himself believe her. Denial and desire both reign supreme in a discontented lover. So he poured his money into the relationship, not realizing he was reflecting his personal wants and needs in the way he treated Charlie.
So far, Jason hadn’t made a single reference to the man, and Sophia wondered if he head strangled what they had with too much. He might have simply tried too hard. But still, no information might mean that things were going normally and he felt no reason to confide in her. Her safest bet now was to assume that Charlie was living with Jason. She decided to ask anyways.
“So what has Charlie been up to? How are you two doing?”
:”Oh, Charlie’s fine. He’s living with me at the house…” He let the car coast into a parking lot to an eatery, maneuvering around a stray shopping cart as he braked into an empty space. Turning off the ignition, he moved both hands back to the wheel and clenched it, whispering, “He isn’t there right now, though.”
“Oh,” Sophia nodded, noting his white knuckles.
“Everyone says – they all say - they all think I - I killed him.” He stared straight ahead, his voice shaking as he tried to contain some unidentifiable emotion.
“They say I buried him in the backyard, or something to that effect.”
Sophia sat silent, furiously running through proper responses in her head, finally blurting out, “Why would anyone think that?”
“People say he hasn’t been around. But you know, people go to different places. I think most people are on my side. Why wouldn’t they be? Why would I try anything like that at all?”
Sophia stayed silent, hoping for more information on this obviously sensitive subject. “Well,” she began tentatively, “When was the last time you saw him?”
“Oh, not long ago.”
“Well then he’s not dead!” Sophia shook her head. “It must be frustrating to have to deal with people like that.” i wonder when he saw him last? and who are these people who keep saying this stuff? hmm
Any further questions were cut off as Jason abruptly opened the car door and slammed it behind him as he walked towards the diner. Sophia groped for the door handle and hurriedly jogged after him.
A sign on the smudged glass door promised “good coffee and good company” bells tinkling as she pushed the door open. Shifty eyes slid across the room focusing on her as she joined Jason as a small table in the corner. Two menus had been provided, and she silently sat down, picking up the menu.
After orders had been made and the chunky waitress had shuffled back to the kitchen, Sophia pulled a small notebook out of her bag and slid it across the table to Jason. “So lets come up with some dates for the project.” As he stared at her blankly, she rolled her eyes and told him again the criteria. “Pick out days you want to be present to sell your stuff, a few days to work on the design, and some other ones just to give us some cushion.”
His eyes lit up as he comprehended her, and he fished in some mysterious pocket and self-consciously flipped through a small black book he procured. He stopped somewhere in the middle and wrote something on one page and shut it. He imitated Sophia’s previous actions and slid the book across the table, smoothing his hair with one hand. She wanted to throw it back at him. One day?! Opening right to where he wrote previously, she saw he marked off the weekend of June 24th and 25th. i have to work. She snapped the book shut and tossed it back to him, wanting to see it hit him right between his eyes.
“You picked out one day? One Saturday?” Sophia asked incredulously. “I can’t even do that weekend, I have to work. A big reason I came here was to hammer the small stuff like dates and other things out.”
She could have sworn his lower lip trembled as he cradled his book, stroking it with one finger. He flinched like he had been burned and jumped to his feet, his face contorted into a wounded expression.
“How dare you do this to me?” He almost shrieked the words. His usual nasal baritone had morphed into a child’s petulant pitch, and Sophia sat there, shocked into a wide eyed silence.
The waitress waddled back out with their orders, and set down the dishes in front of both of them. Sophia saw her eyes keep darting toward Jason, even as she kept her heavily painted and lined lids down demurely. She fussed ostentatiously with silverware and napkins, trying to get a better look at the old man who currently looked about 6. Sophia glared at her and loudly cleared her throat, sending an obvious message. As soon as she left Jason tore right back into her.
“I thought we were friends!” he reproached Sophia, breathing hard from his outburst. He looked like a kindergartener holding onto a teddy bear for protection, having just having recovered from a tantrum. His eyes brimmed full of hurt and resentment, wide eyed, revealing a memory of childhood naïveté lurking behind the shaggy brows.
The diner was silent around them. When neither of the two moved or said anything, the regulars turned to each other with forced smiles that said too much, and spoke quietly among themselves, continuing their meal. Tourists and other random customers that had witnessed the incident self-consciously cleared their throats and clattered their silverware a little louder, trying very hard to look completely unaware of the pair.
obviously he s waiting for me to say something Sophia thought as Jason continued staring at her.
“Umm… Jay? Your scaring me. Stop it.” She paused a moment, staring at the man-turned-child who stood in front of her. “Lets pick out the dates some other time. I’m ready to go.” She pushed away the half eaten sandwich and stood.
The waitress now scuttled out with the bill, all business as it became apparent there would be no more entertainment forthcoming from the two. Her eyeliner was smeared, Sophia noticed, a dark shadow under her left eye. She was the perfect country girl who got beat up by her boyfriend, typical story of various injustices. She saw that Jason was paying for the bill, counting out the bills slowly but correctly. So he goes from a skitzo to a regular guy?
She left the greasy joint while he was still counting out a tip, waiting by the car in the sunshine. She was glad to be out of the dark building, and the cheery daylight helped clear the haze from her gaze. Jason walked out to the car and calmly unlocked his door. She sat down next to him as soon as he let her in, neither of them saying anything about the episode in the restaurant. As they pulled out of the parking lot, Sophia decided to not make any references to it at all, preferring a easy trip to an uncomfortable one any day. You know, he always was pretty quirky. Maybe this is just one of his quirkier days. Besides, I think this is gonna be a long ride. She had learned of his oddness before she even met him, so it wasn’t totally unexpected. Just mostly unexpected.
They filled the first ten minutes with talk of directions and distance. Apparently his house was out in the woods, about an hour and half from where they were starting. They had to take the thruway for another 45 minutes before their exit, and from there it seemed to be a network of backcountry roads and one-car bridges. As the ride continued, the conversation died completely, and they rode in complacent silence as the trees reclaimed the land from the concrete jungle, and the vibrant green of the Florida countryside filled the land.
Some two hours later, they were deep in rolling pine forests interspersed with farm pastures. When the road split in two in front of them, Jason continued driving at the same speed kicking up a cloud of dust as he took a left down the less traveled side. It seemed they were no closer to their destination that they had been an hour ago. come to think of it i haven t seen any houses or any other cars for the past half hour
“Jay?” He winced at the despised nickname, but she plowed on. “Where is your house? How much farther?”
“Oh, we’ve got ten more minutes at least.” Jay paused, and turned to stare at Sophia. He blinked his eyes slowly, but the lids could only hide her for so long, and he turned back, slowly drawling out a response. “You’ll love the house though. It’s great.”
Fifteen minutes later they pulled up to a dilapidated white house, the paint peeling on the windowsills and corners, the roofing tiles on the verge of slipping to shatter on the gravel below. Jay pulled up to the front door, parking his car close to the house on the circular drive. Sophia gathered her bags, following her host after a slight hesitation. The house – ahh its just a house anyways He unlocked the front door with no problem and gestured for her to follow.
Sophia hitched her purse up on her shoulder, and steeling her resolve and determination, followed him into the dark doorway.
She was alone in a long white hallway, bare of any sort of decoration. Unless one considered the gothically carved ornamentation. The only shapes that broke up the corridor, six doors on both sides lined the hall. They were all closed, completely devoid of any sort of difference or identifying characteristic. The floor was done in a dark hardwood, the boards rough and unpolished underneath her feet. She paused and cocked her head, listening for a sound to tell her where Jay had gone. Nothing moved. Stepping lightly on the boards to avoid creaking, she walked quietly past three doors – two on her left, and one on her right. She stopped as she came up to the second on her right.
Her hand let go of the backpack strap and hovered over the door handle a moment before she threw politeness to the wind and let her curiosity win her over. She twisted the door handle and pushed, and then twisted the other way and pushed.
“No luck,” she muttered to herself, and turned to the other side of the hallway. She was about to try the door when it swung open before her and there was Jason, staring up at her.
Barefoot, he walked away from her and into the room. She followed, relieved to have some company and get out of the intimidating hallway. The first thing she noticed was the absolute uniformity of the color scheme. The dull white paint picked up all the dirt and fingerprints, and showed around the cracked light switches and the door handle. It seemed that there were years of use embedded in the dirty walls, contradicting Jason’s recent purchase. so someone lived here before him so? huh the carpeting looks original too Pathways were worn into the carpet from many habitual trips around obstacles, to goals, and back again. this is not his style what s going on here?
She did think the windows were nice, two large eyes on the forest outside, bordered by neutral brown curtains. The natural light they let in was much more soothing than the dim hallway. The only artificial lights were the fluorescents, built into the ceiling in an institutional manner. Not in use at the moment, the amount of flies that had gathered suggested infrequent replacement and cleaning.
She saw that Jay was seated on the only article of furniture in the room, a semi-circular ‘conversational’ couch positioned directly in front of a huge big screen TV. From the wooden frame and the clunky buttons, it looked like the earliest set ever sold to the public. why doesn t he buy stuff for this place he would afford himself that luxury any other time without any problem. it s just other people he has problems supporting Approximately four feet from the couch, it seemed too close to Sophia. Jason seemed happy enough, holding an old remote in his hand, staring up at the set.
She set her bags by the door and went to join him on the couch. She was tired and it felt good to sit down, even though the springs dug into her thighs, and her eyes watered in the cloud of dust she kicked up.
“I should call Chris.”
Jay was silent a moment longer, absorbed in the blank screen. It seemed as if a wire was sparked in him, and he sat up, acting more lifelike. “Your cell phone? Oh, it wont work here. There’s no towers.”
“Well can I use your phone?”
“Oh no, there’s nothing out here. Nothings connected except a generator.”
“Nothing?” Sophia thought of her small phone, snug in the bottom of her purse. Gone, her only link to the outside world. Her small tether of security and confidence was suddenly cut, and she swallowed hard as she tried to ignore the knot of apprehension that was building in her stomach.
“Nothing,” Jay flashing his yellow teeth in a mockery of a smile. someone better tell me i was imagining that he kept that smile just a bit too long
She ignored the knot that still stuck in her throat, and spoke up, saying, “I’m thirsty. Would you go get me a drink? And while your out you could go get your calendar.”
Jason nodded and leered at her over his shoulder as he walked out of the room. quietly too for a big man she thought to herself, and she remembered her phone and went to check for a signal.
She waited with bated breath as it powered up, but let it all out in one whoosh as no bars appeared. She was on her own.
Ten minutes later, Jason still had not returned, and Sophia grew impatient with waiting. Taking one last look at the light filled windows, she inhaled deeply, counting to three before she pushed to door open and went back into the hallway.
She was at another door, two doorways from the room her bags were located. She turned the knob and pushed gently; half hoping that this would be locked as well. The hinges disappointed her as they easily swung the heavy door inward, revealing a perfectly square and perfectly empty room. The walls had paler patches, inorganic shapes from what had hung there before. The worn carpet stifled all sounds, muffling her footsteps as she backed out.
She closed the door quietly, feeling better after finding nothing too sinister in the room, but wondering where he hid furnishings. She went to the next one down, and finding it unlocked as well, pushed the door open with more confidence. There was nothing in this room either. The only window was built out of reach in the corner, a square of light in the otherwise dark room. The lighting cast a damper on her resolution and as she tried to peer into the deep shadow away from the window her imagination sent prickles down her spine. She conjured up secret meetings between strangers who dealt in death, observing her even now from the dark recess in the corner. Fleeting connections between the last occupants of the house and her feelings about the shadow presented themselves, but were ignored by the logical waking mind. Only in her dreams would the impressions return, and by then they would be so distorted as to mean nothing more than a bad taste in her mouth in the morning.
She retreated quickly and shut the door securely; not noticing her hand was shaking slightly. As she looked down the hallway, she almost felt like she was being pulled toward the doorway at the end. She found herself in front of it, and seeing it was already hanging open slightly, pushed the opening wider. The half-light from the hall revealed dark steps down. The ceiling above the stairwell showed the underside of a stairway going to the second floor, presumably. She shivered as a cool breeze wound around her ankles, and on an impulse closed the door.
She turned and bumped right into a wall of flesh, and barely kept from screaming before she figured out it was Jason. His eyes were indiscernible in the dark but she felt him focus on her, and she smelled his breath, sweetly rotten and hot in her face. He turned without a word and walked through an open door two down, a cross breeze smelling of fresh oxygen wafted through teasing her starved senses. She placed a hand over her pounding heart as if to slow the beats, and with legs of jelly walked after Jason.
The windows had been opened, making the room much more bearable. Jason didn’t mention her presence in the hall and barely acknowledged her as she walked in the room. She saw that he had turned on the huge television. The screen was made of glass, which had warped and sank, and the reception was blue and wavering and filled with static. He flipped through a few channels, which looked like just so much bad reception, and settled between channel three, a distorted picture of some decade old horror flick and channel six, which must have bought the rights to an old Oscars show. He placed the remote next to him and settled back into the worn green cloth of the couch, comfortably crossing his legs as the springs squeaked.
Sophia watched this whole scene progress with growing disbelief, and waited for a minute and a half, watching Jay soak up the program. After she was sure that he would continue to be absorbed in the screen, she snatched up the remote with a chiding tsk, and pushed ‘off’. He grabbed the controller back and pushed it on again. He put it down slower this time, carefully maneuvering it closer to his leg. He glared at Sophia and resumed watching the awards ceremony, but she ignored his hint and held onto the remote. She met Jason’s aggravated gaze calmly, letting his nasal protests stream past her. As his pitch rose, she stood up and moved the remote out of his line of sight.
“You know what?” She suddenly interrupted the battle of intimidation. “Where is your room? I haven’t seen any of your house. You should show me, around, give me the tour and such.”
Jason’s face transformed from dangerously emotional to a placid acceptance as his breathing slowed. Sophia continued smoothly, confident after defusing the potential situation, “And we will get to those dates after that, right?”
He nodded as he walked over to open the door for her. His sudden chivalry was unexplained as the rest of his actions, and Sophia wasn’t sure she liked it.
They walked down the hallway together, passing all the doors until they came to the last one. Jason paused dramatically, and then threw open the door with a flourish. He felt inside for a light switch, and he flipped it on, casting heightened shadows from underneath the stairs. Taking the first step, his figure became distorted and darkened in the gloom, and she wrapped her arms around herself as she followed, casting a wary eye over her shoulder.
They made their way down the creaking steps, and Sophia made sure to have one hand on the iron railing for support. As they reached the bottom she realized the floor as dirt. Jason reached into the darkness, pulling a dangling chain, the bare light bulb shining in most of the corners.
She almost missed the bedding on a bare mattress hidden in a niche built into the cold stonework. The dirt floor was bumpy and dusty, with piles of dirt in the corners. She kept a neutral face as she surveyed the room, inwardly wondering how he could live like this. She was relieved that Jason wasn’t looking at her for acceptance or approval. She wouldn’t have been able to give it to him.
He started licking his lips nervously, and after another minute said, “Alright, now you need to leave, because this is,” he paused, glancing around, “my room. You need to leave now.” She avoided his gaze but immediately accepted his suggestion, scampering back up the steps, not feeling comfortable until she was waiting for him out in the hallway. i can understand that yea most definitely i don t like people in my room either… or something like that i m just glad to be out of there
When he came up empty handed she didn’t even mention the calendar. She just followed him back into the living room and sat down next to him on the couch, still recovering from the basement. It had been like something out of Blair Witch, and his bed was reminiscent of a rat’s nest. She blinked as noise invaded her thoughts, and saw that he had turned on the TV again.
She got really pissed for a moment, and in a instant of blind anger she resolved i m not standing for any more this shit and grabbed the remote, turning off the set and standing in one motion. “Lets go outside. I want to see the sun.”
She started off first, but caught him turning the other way in the hall, and made him lead the way. She had no choice, then, but to trail along behind him at an infuriatingly slow pace, which was one of her pet peeves. But since she had no idea of the door and didn’t want to stumble onto corpses don t be so morbid! or bloody axes whispering of murder Sophia! or something equally frightening. The gory scenes of Carrie and The Exorcist and all those horror films she had been frightened by as a child flashed through her head as she followed him, waiting as he unlocked a glass sliding door to a deck.
Is he mad? His actions were meshing all too perfectly with her idea of what a maniac would act like, gleaned from both good and bad sources. She still sometimes had dreams of being stalked, a hand reaching for her hair emerging from the dark, right on her heels and the gloom was coming to envelope her in obscurity and she would just run and run until her heart was screaming bloody murder and its right there behind, oh its got me it got me and he’s shining sinister in her eyes as she wakes, and she’s gasping for breath in the hot night, it was just the blankets, just the blankets after all. Freeing her sweating limbs she would fall back asleep in five minutes, exhausted after the adrenaline, hoping to forget the nightmare entirely. She always remembered in the morning.
He had gotten the door unlocked, the sliding doors reminding her of home. The breeze was still there, blowing her hair back from her forehead as they walked outside. Jason went to the railing, and surveyed his yard quietly as he waited for her to absorb it.
if he was hoping to impress me, she almost laughed, shaking her head at the thought. The air was heavy and pushed oppressively down on the relatively barren land. There was little to no undergrowth beneath the scraggly dark pine trees that struggled upright, reaching heights of 40 feet at the tallest before they stopped growing. The trees were widely spaced apart but between them somehow managed to coat the forest floor in pine needles. It was obviously new growth - the original forests must have been clear cut, and barbed wire peered through branches and poked out of trunks that had burled out and closed over the wire, showing evidence of past farms, perhaps ranches.
Jason was still hunched over the railing, motionless for some minutes now as he leant on the smooth sanded wood. Unpainted and unstained, it looked recently built. Two white deck chairs sat close to the edge, practically dripping with normalcy. She got closer and saw mold and watermarks staining the plastic on the arms and in the deepest part of the seat where water collected. Leaning her head back she closed her eyes as a warm breeze blew cool relief in her face. She wiped the back of her hand across her forehead as sweat rolled down her nose. She hadn’t realized she had been so stressed.
She collapsed thankfully into the chair on the left, and leaned back, enjoying the support and relaxation. Clasping her hands across her chest she sighed deeply, and Jason spoke up.
“This is old ranch land from about 40 years or so back. The realtor told me there was horses and cows around, but I most likely wouldn’t see one.” Jay’s talk of normal every day issues eased Sophia’s nerves. Here was a normal Jason topic of conversation.
As he turned and caught sight of her, his whole stance suddenly changed subtly. “Oh, that’s alright, you can sit in that chair.” His voice had become totally strained and sounded about to crack. He remained silent and didn’t elaborate any more upon the subject, and didn’t say another word until after Sophia did.
“Umm… what about the other chair? Can I sit in that one?”
The little man shook his head with a ferocity that moved his whole body, and his face began turning red as his voice rose a key. “That’s Charlie’s chair and he needs that chair to always be his so his spirit energy can always have a place to return to its his for his spirit energy, it’s his!”
Needing no more motivation and wishing for a lot less, Sophia jumped up from her seat and jogged down the steps onto the lawn, following stones laid into the ground. She hadn’t noticed them before, and thanked them silently for a distraction. There was something wrong with the person she was supposed to spend two days with, and she knew this after only four hours of close contact. She knew now that she needed to handle him carefully. Very carefully.
I need to steer the conversation away from Charlie. From his skin color and voice changes, it was evident to her that he was a sore subject.
“Is this land all yours?” she started cheerfully, forcing herself to smile and sound interested. “How many acres did you get?” She paused briefly in front of one of the larger pines, and Jay cleared his throat from the desk.
If she didn’t know that it was the two of them for miles around, she would have sworn it was someone else who spoke next. A wavering voice imbued with tones of a crazy hermit shrilly told her, “Say hello to Mr. Happy Tree!”
She whipped her head around to look at Jay, who stared right back at her, his hands gripping the railing so tight the knuckles were turning from white to purple. She didn’t like it. At all. wrong move, turning my head like that. i hope i didn t startle him she turned her head back around more slowly this time, and moved away from the tree without responding.
She spied an anthill a few feet over and, in desperation, used it to change the subject. “Oh, is that an anthill over there?” Anything, anything to change the subject. She moved on down the stone path, pausing in front of what looked like an entrance.
“Now ask Mr. Nature Spirit for permission to walk down the path.”
Sophia froze with no idea of what to do next.
“You mean,” his voice began to waver dangerously, “You don’t see Mr. Nature Spirit?” Another look back showed his eyes narrowed to tiny slits, and his mouth set in a straight line.
“I think you should leave now,” The old man tone still hadn’t left his voice, and he slid over the vowels, dragging out the o’s to bring attention to the you and now.
She jumped at her chance. “I quite agree. I’m ready as soon as you start the car.” She literally ran into the house, giving Jason as much room as possible on the deck, and tearing through the rooms to get back to the living room. As she stood over her bag zippering and cramming things in, she looked up to see him standing over her.
“Wouldn’t you rather take the bus?” He hissed, glaring at her openly in the daylight.
She paused a fraction of a second before she smiled in his direction and continued zippering, cheerily responding, “No, I’d rather have you take me, thanks.” She straightened quickly, heaving her bag over her shoulder. There was no sign of the crazy man, so she grabbed her purse and hurried out of the room, making it out of the front door with no problem, feeling much better as she stood by the car. She saw Jason dragging his feet as he made his way down the front steps, and glanced at the passenger side door. She saw it was unlocked and by the time he had reached the driver side, she was securely buckled and locked in.
She pushed aside visions of Jay laughing hysterically as he chased her with the car, pinning her up against a tree or through barbed wire. She smiled in his direction and he glowered at her and started the car, shooting her evil glances the whole way down the driveway.
No words were exchanged the whole ride back – all two hours of bumpy back country roads, rickety county bridges and the gray carpets of the interstate, rolled out across the gentle swells of the earth. Sophia tried the radio, getting only static for the first hour back. She left it off, preferring the normal, identifiable noise of the engine to the chilling silence of the old house, to Jason’s unsettling silence that had a quality that was anything but identifiable.
It was only after they had reached the main highway that Sophia could really feel like she was out of the woods, at least part of the way. She told him to go to the nearest hotel and get her a room. She was adamant, and didn’t mind when he drove past a Holiday Inn, and disregarded signs for a Bed n’Breakfast. For a rich guy he sure could be a penny pinching bastard, but she preferred anywhere to spending the night with him.
He finally turned into a Best Western and parked, once again, in the corner of an empty lot. He lingered a minute in the car after she got out, simply holding the keys and staring at the steering wheel. She began to be afraid he was going to drive off without paying the bill, and when he finally did get out she followed him in to make sure he would be there to pay.
As they procured a room and a bill inside, Jason tried to pretend he didn’t have his credit card. When hotel staff pointed out his Amex poking out of the top of his wallet, he grimaced and pulled it out reluctantly, slapping it down in front of the clerk disgustedly. After signing the bill he turned away seething, and Sophia promptly took the key from the clerk and walked to the elevator. She didn’t look back.