The sales clerk fidgeted restlessly in his chair wondering why he woke up so early every Monday morning to open a store that never got any business until late afternoon. He glanced around the store trying to find a gadget or trinket that he hadn’t yet used to pass the time. People can only be bored for so long before they have to start feeling something else. Unable to find anything, he started to feel the anger building up in his gut. Too much time to think is not a good thing for some people. Their minds take them to strange places. This man’s thoughts took him to an angry place.
His thoughts were interrupted by a small jingling noise as the door slowly opened and a woman entered the store. She stood at the entrance and stared at her shoes for a minute before making her way to the counter.
“Can I help you Miss?” asked the clerk.
Her gaze wandered about the room as if to avoid eye contact.
“I need um; I need a knife to cut meat.” she responded quietly.
“Oh okay, no problem. What about this one?” he asked as he pulled out a large stainless steel knife with a wooden handle.
She answered quickly, “Um no, that’s too big and it needs to be sharper. And a stronger handle with a good grip please. And I prefer it be retractable.”
“Well I don’t think I have anything like that, but I might be able to special order something.” he suggested.
“Um sure, when would it come in?” she asked.
“It’s still early. I could get it in tomorrow. Take a look.” he said, presenting an image on his computer screen. It was a 7-inch switchblade knife with a black rubber handle.
She examined it for a minute, “That will be fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Then she hurried out of the shop as if being chased.
Some time later, a group of children passed by a parked car on a driveway. A woman was sitting in the driver’s seat; her gaze fixed on the steering wheel.
One of the kids remarked to the other, “She just sits there like that every day.”
She did. She sat in the driver’s seat and stared at the steering wheel lost in her thoughts. At first she just thought about her day. In the end, though, her thoughts ultimately drifted to one topic, how much she hated her husband. She pondered on how she hated every little thing about him; how he walked, how he talked, how he always sat there reclined in his chair, every little thing. It started out small. At first she’d sit in her car for a few minutes thinking about their last fight or something he did which angered her. Then as the weeks passed, five minutes turned into ten, and ten turned into twenty. A few thoughts about one or two odd occurrences mutated into a systematic evaluation of every invalidating aspect of his person.
The man sat alone reclined in his chair, exhausted from a day’s work. He looked up at the clock. His wife was late coming home again. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His drift into sleep was interrupted by the sound of the front door closing.
He looked up at his wife, “I’m sorry, I was too tired to cook so I ordered a pizza. It should be here any minute.”
She looked back at him, “I’m not hungry. I’m going to go to bed.”
“All right then, good night.” he said as he shut his eyes pretending to not notice her disgruntled expression. The ensuing argument was cut short by the sound of the doorbell. As he left to pay the pizza man her mind trailed off again.
She sat there on the floor with her arms folded around her knees. She could hear the birds chirping outside. “If I was a bird, I could fly away” she said out loud. She looked over at the wooden knife-handle sticking out of her husband’s chest and reminded herself of how she put it there. She relived the moment.
She heard his voice, “Where is my phone. I can’t find my phone. Where did you put it? Why do you always lose my things!” It was at that moment that she decided she could no longer wait for her special ordered knife to come in. She took the first knife she found in the kitchen and called out, “I found what you’re looking for!”
She waited for him next to the kitchen entryway. As soon as he walked in she came at him from the side and stuck the knife straight into his chest. Years of laziness and poor eating habits had made his bones weak and brittle. Still, there was more resistance from his ribcage than she expected. As he struggled to speak she pulled out the knife and again…and again…and one more time. Finally, he lay lifeless on the floor and she examined the wooden handle sticking out of his chest.
The man sat in his reclining chair eating his pizza. His wife had decided to join him. He looked over at her, “I knew you’d take some. You love mushrooms on pizza.” She looked back at him, “Did you hear? Some lady killed her husband in their house. They say she stabbed him multiple times.” The man continued eating, “Yeah, I heard that. Some people are crazy.” She reached to get another slice, “You know, I think about killing you sometimes.” He looked down at the empty pizza box, “I know, that’s why I make sure to order the mushrooms.” She took a sip of her water, “They’ll keep you alive, for now.” They both laughed and she said, “Thanks”.
The sound of every hundred raindrops hitting the car was quickly drowned out by the sound of the next hundred. I could barely see the road ahead of me. I kept driving in search of a place to stop. Ten minutes may not seem like a long time but in this storm every second holds the potential for a wreck. So in a long ten minutes, I came by a somewhat nice looking hotel in the midst of all these open fields. Of course, considering the current visibility, my “nice looking” observation did not mean much. I parked in what I hoped was only one parking space and rushed to the front door. I paused to push the wet hair off my face before ringing the doorbell. I took a step back and waited. I started thinking, how many hotels have a doorbell? But how many houses have a parking lot? Just then the door opened to reveal tall man dressed in a navy blue suit and an unnaturally large smile.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Yes, I’d like a room please.” I answered.
“A room?” and he began laughing.
Confused, I asked “Is something funny? You have to have at least one room open. I need some place to wait out the storm.”
The overly joyous man responded, “You’re the third person to make that mistake today! This is not a hotel. This is my private residence.”
“Oh, my mistake.” I said. I was a little unsure of what to do next. I still needed a place to stay, but I didn’t want to intrude. Not only that, but with every passing second this man seemed stranger and stranger. He must have sensed my uncertainty. His enormous smile somehow became even larger as if his smile was smiling. Then he said, “You are welcome to stay here until the storm clears up. Like I said, you are not the first person. Two other guests are already inside.” I glanced over at the parking lot and sure enough, there were two other cars parked there. I decided I was better off taking my chances with the overly joyous man than with the storm.
“Thank you so much,” I said as he stepped aside to let me in. I stood on the entrance mat reluctant to move. The floors were well-kept and I did not want to get rainwater on them.
“Allow me to take your coat,” said the man. I handed him my coat and responded “Thank you mister um…”
“Barnaby is the name! And who do I have the pleasure of meeting today?”
“My name’s Quinn. Nice to meet you too.”
He looked at me still smiling, “Right this way young man.”
Young man? I hadn’t been called that in a few years. I vigorously wiped my shoes on the entrance mat and followed him down the hallway into an elaborately furnished room where two other guests had made themselves comfortable on the couches. The house was kept scrupulously tidy. The only thing I could see that was out of place was the unnaturally large set of keys placed on the side table next to the lamp. The key ring held more keys than I could count and in fact had several rings attached to each other with more keys on each ring. Why would anyone other than a medieval dungeon master need so many keys? He offered me a variety of refreshments that were readily available, as though he had been expecting company. As the night progressed, the other visitors and I used the time to get to know each other. Meanwhile our gracious host observed silently, interrupting only periodically to ensure we were all comfortable. There was the African American police officer named Finn who had taken some time off to visit his relatives in the next town over. Then there was the young college guy named Seth who was on his way back to school. Seth didn’t talk too much either except to make the occasional joke. Like most young people, he spent most of his time on his phone.
As the night progressed, Barnaby stood up and said “Gentlemen, it does not look as though the storm will come to an end any time soon. It appears as though you will need to stay the night. The guest rooms down the east hall are ready for you. Please select whichever you like and do make yourselves at home. I only have one request; down the west hall passed the furnace room is another room with a lock on the door. Please stay away from that room as I do have some personal effects stored in it. With that I bid you good night.” He then rushed off as though he had some important business to attend to.
I stood up. “Well I should be getting to bed as well.” The other two followed my lead. We all said good night to each other and headed into the separate rooms. I took the farthest room, Finn took the next farthest, and Seth took the first room in the hallway. It was a simple yet nice room. Across from the queen sized bed I noticed that the fire place had already been started. I noticed the fireplace in the previous room but I didn’t think much of it. Many houses have a fireplace, but who has a fireplace in each room? Especially in the modern day? The construction did not appear to be old at all. In fact, I would guess it was a new construction not more than ten years old. I laid down on the bed. I wasn’t ready to sleep yet. The place wasn’t sitting well with me. I stared out the window into the darkness. I couldn’t see the storm in the dark, but I could still hear the raindrops hurtling down with all the vigor in the world. I needed a way to pass the time. My mind wandered to the one place it was not supposed to go; the locked door passed the furnace room. I remembered the keys on the lamp table. I waited a few minutes to ensure that everyone would be asleep. Then I slowly opened the door, peeking out to make sure the hallway was clear. I could hear Seth snoring as I walked passed his door. In the center room, the light from the fireplace gave me enough light to see the keys still next to the lamp. I walked over and picked them up. I used the light from my phone to guide me down the west hall. I went passed the furnace room and to the end of the hallway where a massive lock was placed on a small door. One by one, I tried all the keys until one of them opened the lock. I stepped inside the room and pulled the string above my head and the lights turned on. It was a closet. There were rows of shelves on the right and left and straight in front of me was a mop and bucket. I quickly began looking through the shelves for anything interesting but all I found was cleaning supplies, towels, soap, detergent, cleaners, sprays etc. I did notice one semi-interesting thing. On the top shelf on the right side I found a large very carefully crafted dagger. The blade was approximately 16 inches long and very sharp. I could almost see my reflection in the steel. That’s when I heard footsteps. I turned off the light. I put the dagger back where I found it and quickly shut the door. I fumbled with the lock. It wouldn’t lock. The footsteps kept getting closer. I struggled with the lock a bit more until it finally locked. I rushed over to the furnace room and twisted the doorknob only to find that it was locked. Now I could see the small light emanating from the phone in the hands of a man who was making his way over. As he got closer I breathed a sigh of relief as I noticed it was Finn.
“Finn you scared the hell out of me!” I whispered.
“Sorry man, but you’re the one who is some place he’s not supposed to be.” He responded.
“Well that brings me to the question, what are you doing here?” I asked.
“Same thing you’re doing here my friend. So did you take a look in the room?” he asked curiously. I took a minute to explain to him that there were only cleaning supplies. He didn’t believe me. I showed him the closet and although we both found the dagger intriguing, we were still disappointed in the whole “adventure”. I placed the keys next to the lamp and we headed back into my room. We began talking about what could have been in that room. In the end, we were just bored and trying to pass the time. While the man and his “private residence” did seem strange, we were both adults. As adults we both knew that more often than not, strange just meant strange. There was probably nothing crazy or news-worthy going on. Finn did say one thing to me that made me think. It was something his grandfather told him, “Sometimes, when we want to find something, we see it even when it isn’t there.” I suppose, maybe that’s what happened to us tonight, or maybe we really were just that bored.
At some point I fell asleep. When I woke up, I noticed the sun was shining through the window and Finn had fallen asleep in the corner.
“Hey Finn, wake up, the storm is over.” As he woke up and rubbed his eyes; it became obvious to me that he hadn’t gotten much sleep.
We headed out of the room and down the hall back into the central room. That is where I saw Seth standing over a dead body in a navy blue suit. The dagger from the cleaning closet had been relocated into Barnaby’s neck. Blood was spilling out in every direction from wound site. I made eye contact with Finn and then looked over at Seth.
“I didn’t do it. I found him like this. I swear! I know what it looks like but it wasn’t me.” The words spilled from his mouth like vomit.
I turned to Finn, “Do something. You’re a police officer!”
He looked back at me, “I lied. I’m not a police officer. I just said that to make this a safer environment. Nobody tries anything with a police officer around.”
I looked back at the body, “You sure about that?”
Finn stared at the body for a minute before he said, “Nobody move, I’m calling 911.”
While we waited for the police to arrive I looked over at the lamp and noticed that the keys were gone. I looked around the room but I didn’t see them anywhere. I noticed a cut on Seth’s arm. When I asked him about it, he claimed it was from playing basketball earlier in the week but tossing and turning in his sleep had caused it to open up again.
When the police finally arrived they took all of our statements and information. They allowed Finn and I to leave but took Seth with them. I reached into my pocket to get my phone and noticed it was not there. I notified one of the officers who allowed me to go back into my room to look for it. On my way to the room, I wondered what really happened. Why would Barnaby kill himself? Just because a man has a secret cleaning room doesn’t make him suicidal. But why would Seth kill Barnaby? It made no sense. Then again, I really didn’t know anything about Seth. But what about the cut on his arm? Then something strange hit me. The fireplace in every room was always on. So why was there a furnace room and why was it locked? Perhaps the furnace was broken? Whatever it was, the police would figure it out. I walked back into the room and noticed my phone on the night stand. As I passed the window on the way out I saw something that was hidden in the dark rain. Outside my window, a sign had fallen on the grass. It was still attached to its post which was weathered and broken from the storm. The sign read, “The Countryside Hotel. Visitors welcome” …
Upon opening the newspaper, the following week, I found all the answers I was looking for. There was a note found on the inside pocket of the navy blue suit.
“I did it. I killed the owner of this hotel and hid his body in the furnace room. I had no choice. The man was hiding dangerous chemicals under the guise of cleaning supplies; chemicals with which he made and sold drugs. You see, I am a heating repair man. An employee of the hotel had called me to work on the heater. As a result of the storm, only the owner was present that day. When I arrived, I informed him that I was there to look at the furnace. He must have had me confused with one of his drug-trafficking associates because he took me right to the furnace room which to my surprise was actually a miniature laboratory. It became very clear that I was not who he thought I was. He was ready to kill me when the doorbell rang. Using the distraction, I grabbed the dagger located on the table and killed him. I quickly changed into my navy blue suit which I had brought with me. I intended to change into it at the hotel after my work was done to attend a dinner party afterwards. I answered the door and it was a young man seeking shelter from the storm. I could tell from his eyes that he knew something was amiss. He suspected me. I thought if I told him it was my private residence; it would deter him from staying but the storm was fierce enough that he stayed anyway. I remember turning on all the fireplaces so that the place would stay warm and no one would attempt to go to the furnace room. When an African American police officer arrived claiming to seek shelter from the storm, I knew the young man had turned me in. He was on his phone all day and now a police officer has shown up. As soon as the storm ends, I know he will search the area and arrest me. A third young man arrived and I sincerely hope he does not get involved in any of this. I attempted to keep my composure for as long as I could but as night approached, I found that I was no longer able to sit with the guests. In the night I heard noises down by the furnace hallway and I knew they had figured me out. So now, regrettably, I see no other option for myself. I have done a terrible thing and from this there is no escape. I will do this out in the open so that they will all walk out and see me at once and no one will be accused of my murder should this letter not suffice.”
Everyone always told me…
“Son, watch out for time.”
“Time will pass you by.”
“Before you know it, you’ll be an old man.”
As if time was a living predator waiting to overtake me.
And they would stare off into the scenery, as if seeing something I was blind to.
It’s not that I didn’t believe them.
But it’s one thing to know something and another to understand.
And it’s even another to experience it.
And sure enough time had overtaken me.
But not like a predator.
More like I had snuck up on myself. And then I watched myself pass me by.
And I sat there Monday morning watching the clock move very slowly.
And I wondered how my juniors had grown older than me.
I wondered how years passed me by around me yet I lay frozen in the past.
Not a minute of progress, not an inch of growth.
And when my age slips my tongue, I don’t believe myself.
Now I sit and stare at a scene everyone else is blind to.
And yet…though I’m not that old….I know that 40 years will pass in 4 minutes…though it may be a long 4 minutes. And I’ll still be here.
I’ve seen the devil. The truth is, I see him all the time. If you look, you’ll see him too. Look for him in every playground bully. Find him telling an old man to yell at the cashier for a problem he wasn’t born to see. Watch for him on the road filling people’s minds with angry thoughts. No one knows how to drive. Fight this man. Watch him turn civilized adults into enraged children. See him persuade people that fighting is resolving. See him turn children against their parents and parents against their children. Why would a parent not understand their child? Or a child not understand his parents? Truly it is the devil between them that they do not understand. The devil between friends and the devil seeping through the cracks of each marriage. He thrives on every conflict and on every misunderstanding. He grows strong on the soil of ignorance.
Feel him coursing through your veins, convincing you that his whispers are your own thoughts. Twisting your emotions this way and that. Anger is his right hand; envy is his left. And verily he is a great manipulator. Transforming humility into self-pity, confidence into arrogance, and kindness into weakness; exposing the dark side of every facet.
Then when the sun sets and the night turns cold, the people leave to their homes. I see him take his final form. His whispers come from every direction. He tells me I am alone. He reminds me of my failures. He tells me these thoughts are my own and the only solution is his. Each night I find myself a little less resistant against every false promise. Each night my reasoning falls a little further from morality. He is a master of his art. And I hope he never leaves for he will only leave once his battle is won.
He has seduced you with everything you never wanted forcing you to leave everything which you loved. Who else pushed for betrayal. Who else instilled fear in the hearts? Who else convinced you to prove your value in the worst way? The cold truth is; we are all possessed.
An after image.
The fading remnants of a thing since spent.
A false verity, truly only a memory.
A man deceived hopelessly seeks these.
Yet sun and moon take turns playing him the fool.
Slowly snatching away a false glory of yesterday.
And through his endless pursuit he finds himself in a state of endless loss.