Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
It was late in the day. The night was sneaking in, cooling off the grass still warm from the summer sun. The air smelled sweet of lilacs and freshly mowed grass. Someone was grilling off in the distance. Right before all the light was dimmed for the day, that was my favorite time to walk. Most people were off the streets, retreating in for a late supper with their families. You could walk down the sidewalk and hear their noises growing fainter and fainter as they retired in for the evening. Resting up for another day of sprinklers in the front yard, popsicles and hot dogs, basketball games in driveways and swimming down at the lake. A few lightning bugs were popping up here and there, blinking in and out of existence.
Summer is the most exciting time of year here. All the families coming in from the city to fill up the empty houses. A few friendly faces offer a hello or a smile in my direction. No one really knows my name or who I am, they just recognize me from my nightly neighborhood walks. And I liked that. Anonymity. I could come and go as I pleased with no one too concerned. “Blending in”, my Aunt Dorothy had called it. She said sometimes I was so good at it she’d forget I was there. She would always be startled walking into a room I was in. I used it to my advantage.
It has been almost 30 years since I have been back here. But everything seems to be just the way it was when I left it. A few more roads, a new community building. The yuppies even went as far as to take away the pool slides. Sissie’s. But all in all, the same story. A lifetime away installing security systems in the city, just to come back to the same old place. And things couldn’t be more the same.
Small towns are always more difficult though. Less people to drown out the noise. But yet, more people to worry over things. The little things that went by the wayside in larger cities. I could blend in completely in a place like Chicago, or even in a smaller suburb. Not here though. Too many watching eyes from shaded porches. More listening ears from inside their stuffy homes, windows wide open hoping to invite in the cool night air.
Aunt Dorothy passed away finally from her chronic lung disease. She fought it long and hard, but it always wins in the end. Funny how her one earthy pleasure ended up being her demise. I was surprised when I got the notice she had left the old lake cottage to me. How could she think I would want the dilapidated old thing? Fond memories she thought, perhaps? Or maybe it was the only thing she had left in the end. Maybe I was the only thing she had left in the end…Oh Dorothy, maybe you are on to something.
I’ve scouted out all of the old neighborhoods already. Being a vacation community for most people, some roads were completely empty. Others were completely lit up, parties lasting until the wee hours of the morning. Cars and bodies were peppered in like sand on the beach. The sometimes one lane roads wound their way around in a big circle, around the towns one major attraction, the lake. That’s where most people wanted to be. Laying out on the beach or cooling off in the water. But not me. I longed for the times when the neighborhoods were empty, quiet. Mine.
A squirrel crosses my path. Cute. You could usually find a random herd of deer or a rogue racoon walking the streets late at night or in the early hours of the morning. There were still quite a bit of woods surrounding the area, so there was always some kind of wildlife to wonder about. I liked that. No one thought twice when the road department was scraping a dead deer off the side of the road. Must have been an auto accident, right? I have moved on from all of that though. It seems so trivial now. Animals are for the minor leagues.
It’s the kind of place you expected to see people out walking or working in their yards at all hours of the day. Always a young unattended child on a bicycle. Too worried about dropping their ice cream cone to notice the man creeping up behind them. A lone, drunk stumbling teenager making their way home through a timber path too late at night. Children left alone to swim at the community lake. Nothing bad can happen on vacation, right? Summer is the best time of year here, no one pays attention in the summer. Just like in my old camp days, I always loved summer camp.
Back in my younger days my Aunt used to make me go to summer camp to meet new friends. New friends, like I was even capable of having friends. That was my aunt’s way of getting rid of me for the summer. She had always feared me, repulsed by me. Sometimes I feel like she knew, maybe not exactly what I was but she knew enough. Her knowing eyes, at the end of that Virginia Slim, staring deep into my soul. Too many coincidences. Too many accidents. Too many dead neighborhood pets.
Whenever I would come home with new things, she knew they weren’t gifts. Who would give me anything anyways? I was nobody. The soft worn in socks weren’t a gift from a fellow camper. She knew I took them. She knew I slept with them and treasured them. Pretended they were mine. She knew the necklace of seashells were not made in arts and crafts. I had an entire collection from my friends. Friends that I had never even spoken to, but I felt like I knew because of their possessions. It made us closer, bonded us.
I will always remember my first time at camp. Because that is when I met Anne. She was a lifeguard at the lake and a camp counselor. She was beautiful. She was a bit older than I was, but she reminded me of my mother. And I really liked that. One time I had ridden my bike past Anne’s house, hoping to get a glimpse of her walking down to the lake with her friends. I had carelessly fallen onto some rocks and scratched up my knee. Anne had rushed over, fussing over me to make sure I was ok. It felt so nice to be worried over. I knew she was mine after that. And I knew she felt it too.
I remember one memorable evening at the end of my first summer at camp, our group crowded around a fire for smores. I decided this was my chance to sneak away. Just for a short while. No one would notice, they never did. All the counselors had been by the lake. Some were setting off small fireworks, others were telling scary stories around the campfires. I snuck into Cabin 4 ever so gently. It was almost impossible not to make a noise with those squeaky old doors. But no matter, no one was around to hear except for me. And as soon as it snapped shut behind me, I saw the reason I had left the warmth of the fire. Anne’s shell necklace. She only wore it for special occasions. I would have hoped she had worn it that night, since it was our last night of camp together. But it was no matter. Because now I had a piece of Anne for my collection. Forever.
Finding and connecting with new people, hearing their background stories. Where did they come from? What is their family like? Who are they really? What is their favorite song or book? These are the kind of things that interest me. The little details that make people who they truly are. Seeing the way a shirt lies across a person’s shoulders. Where did they buy it? Did their mother make them wear it? Did they like that particular pattern, or was it just the only shirt readily available at the time? Would it look the same way on me? But clothes, just like people, always seem better when they belong to someone else. Once I make them mine, they begin to lose my interest. They don’t seem special anymore. And then I must start all over again. Curious.
Sometimes I would let my curiosity get the better of me. I hated when that feeling started to bubble up. Hot in my throat. I’d try to suppress it for as long as I could. But it would always come out white hot in a flash eventually. A sickness. I had gotten away with it for the most part, I had a few slip ups here and there. Nothing ever too noticeable. Maybe I had forgotten to place the slacks exactly the right way, back into the dresser drawer. Maybe I hadn’t cared to make sure the shirt was completely buttoned back up like all of the others. Sometimes I left out the record I had listened to, or the pictures I was admiring. Harmless really in the scheme of things. Usually people just thought they remembered wrong. Maybe they hadn’t put those shoes away like they thought. They had to have listened to that album last, it didn’t just magically appear there now did it? Doubt. There was always doubt.
At first it was just all in fun. Dressing up in other people’s clothes, pretending to be them. Trying to see if I could fit into their clothes as well as they did. Feeling like I finally fit into someone’s home and had a family of my own. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes if you will. I was tired of being me. I wanted to be them. They had it all. Eventually it evolved into spending the night in their beds. Watching tv on their couches. Seeing how long I could get away with living in their homes while they were away for the slow season. That’s when I started to get carried away, that’s when it got the better of me.
Sadly tonight, it will all come to an end though. And what a perfect night for it. Off for one last visit to Chippewa Court before heading back to the city. A dusty blue cape cod that I would never be able to afford, on a cul-de-sac off one of the main roads. Surprisingly, the road is not remarkably busy, despite being one of the nicest and oldest rows of houses in the community. It’s only about a 15-minute walk from my place, I know the way with my eyes closed. And only a few houses on the lane, all empty and dark. But more importantly, no dogs. Perfect.
One of the only streetlights on the whole lane seems dim tonight, only a cold glow. It almost feels like an invitation back. At first, I just went in for a peak. Just to make sure she was doing ok all alone in that big house. I hadn’t seen or heard of Anne in the many years I was gone from this place. But as soon as I was back that old feeling started creeping its way back up again. But now it’s special, because it’s Anne. And she’s all mine now, finally.
As I grow closer to the side entrance, I hear a car horn honk somewhere off in the distance. Firecrackers shoot off a few roads over. Not loud enough for Anne to hear now though, with her hearing aids lying on her bedside table for the evening. Routine. That’s another one of my interests. I find that very interesting, what a person chooses to do night after night.
The side door is probably the squeakiest of all the entry doors to Anne’s place, but it has been my favorite this summer. Maybe because it’s the most used door, so it feels like I’m a part of the house when I walk through it. Like I’m supposed to be here. Brazen. As I enter the kitchen, I notice the window above the sink is ajar. That’s not typical. It’s like she’s trying to invite something sinister inside. Curious.
I make my way through the kitchen and dining room, down the hall to Anne’s bedroom. The house is dark and quiet. The only sounds are that of the coo coo clock ticking in the living room and the crickets singing outside the kitchen window. As I move through the hallway, I can smell the dust coming up from my foot falls on the old dried up carpet. It’s ancient. Just like the aged wood paneling lining the walls. The cracks are starting to appear now that my eyes have adjusted to the dark. Anne’s place always smells of mildew and dust. She just can’t keep up with the housework anymore at her age. And now all alone. Poor Anne.
I ever so quietly crack open the door to Anne’s room, though completely unnecessary. She’s there, sleeping so peacefully. Hearing aids lying on her bedside table. Oh how I adore sweet, predictable Anne. I head towards the walk-in closet. There hanging on the right-hand side is all of Anne’s late husbands’ worldly possessions. Suits, ties, t -shirts and loafers. All still hung and folded as if he’s going to pull up in the drive and need a change of clothes one day. I slip into some matching pajamas Anne has laid out for him. They’re a little baggy but they’ll do just fine for the night. Anne has been laying out pajamas for her late husband Edward every night I’ve visited this summer. There’s that routine again, so sweet.
I crawl into bed next to her and cover us back up with the large quilt she has laid out, just like I have on so many nights before. I stroke her forehead as she whispers, “good night Edward”. She’s still so beautiful, but unfortunately time has not treated her well. I’ve gathered through my visits here that she has been ill for some time now. She’s very frail and weak. No memory left whatsoever. Time is a scary thing. It takes no prisoners.
“Good night Anne” I say as I watch her drift back off to sleep. How easy it would be to place a pillow over her mouth and nose and watch her eyes roll back into her head, extinguishing the light that was once Anne. She would be no match for me. But no, that would be too easy. I would rather have some fight out of her. I have waited too long for this. And that’s what I enjoy the most, the fight.
Maybe she will wake up from her dreaded disease and realize I’m not Edward. They always say how people have their ins and outs with Alzheimer’s. Would she even remember me in a moment of clarity? It would break me if she didn’t. Maybe someone will finally knock on the door and demand to know who they saw sneaking in. Maybe a long-lost relative will come to take her away and I’ll have to take care of them both. Doubtful though, I have never seen another soul visit Anne this whole summer I’ve been back. My thoughts carry me off to sleep.
A loud crash from the kitchen shakes me from my sleep. What could that have been, I thought to myself. I creep out of bed to investigate. It already feels a lot cooler the closer I get to the kitchen. That window might have been open more than I originally had thought. Or maybe I was asleep for longer than I thought. Ouch, I step on something sharp and my foot feels wet. Damnit, what was that? As I instinctively go to flip the kitchen light switch, I realize what I’m doing and stop mid movement. This isn’t even my house! I try to adjust my eyes to the darkness to see what caused the commotion. Everything is a shadow. The window is halfway open. Wait a minute, there’s no screen in this window. Peculiar that Anne would leave this open. She knows better than that. I take a step forward to close the open window.
Then it all happened very quickly. A bright light, a hissing screech and then a bang. Then nothing, just darkness.
I’m trying to piece this puzzle back together. It’s all still so foggy. The shadows again. The last thing I remember is the light flashing on, a racoon jumping from the counter, and then being hit over the head with something hard. Anne. Anne must have woken up when I left the bed and knocked me out. I knew she was a fighter.
I’ve been waiting on her for what feels like hours. She has me locked onto some old piping with a lock and chain around my ankles. It’s cold and damp down here, Edwards pajamas seem so thin and uncomfortable now. I’m very sore and thirsty, there’s some kind of glass in my foot. I must have stepped on something the racoon had knocked over. It’s so quiet, eerily quiet. I wonder what she has planned for me. She must not be calling the police; it has been hours since she knocked me out. I can see light peaking in from the one remaining window. It looks like the others have been blocked off or covered with something. Odd, I never noticed that before. As more light sneaks its way in I see a pile of rubbish not too far from me. Maybe there’s something in there I could pick this lock with and free myself.
As I move closer to the pile of worn out bedding and furniture, I see a rat scurry away. That’s not a good sign, I think to myself. I knew times had been rough on Anne, but not that rough. Being as carful and quiet as I can be, I try to search through the pile to find a sharp object or something I can pry with. There must be something of use within reach.
I hear the toilet flush, water moving through the pipes overhead. Anne must still be here. I hope she’s ok. So curious that she has seemed so fragile up until now. Like any wrong movement could break her bones into dust. Yes she could carry a full grown man down a flight of stairs and chain him up. Maybe Anne has been putting on a show, but for whom?
My eyes begin to focus in on the object I’ve grabbed from the rubbish pile. As my brain starts to catch up I realize the object I’m holding looks like a bone. A femur. I let out a loud gasp. I swear I hear laughter from upstairs. It’s all starting to take shape now. There is a complete skeleton lying on the floor before my eyes partially wrapped up in some old bedding. Edward. She knew the entire time.