[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a short story I entered in a Halloween-themed short story contest back in August. To clarify: The entry deadline was in August, and the winning stories were picked in September to be read at various Halloween season events in October put on by the writers’ group which also sponsored the contest.
And while I’m clarifying: This is actually a much better version of a short story I entered in a Halloween-themed short story contest back in August. Unfortunately, in August I pulled a very amateurish move and let my desire to enter the contest trump the fact that I had procrastinated in writing the actual story and thus had left myself insufficient time to properly edit and revise said story before the deadline. The end result being, of course, the submission of a not-very-good story. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t win anything in the contest with that inferior version of this story.
But now, not only is this story much better than it was a few months ago, it’s something even more notable: BLOGWORTHY. Enjoy.]
“So…this is the place…,” Fiona said, entering the foyer.
“So, yeah, as I mentioned on the phone, it’s a fixer-upper. But I sense you two are savvy enough to see the potential here. With a little elbow grease, this could really just be a fantastic place. Not showy, but lots of great details—all hardwood floors, for example.”
Barry and Maria had noticed the floorboards. The ashen color of the wood. Their geriatric creaking with each step. Fiona noticed that they noticed. She soldiered on.
“You know, you go to Lowe’s, rent a buffer and buy a few cans of stain and some brushes and rollers and BOOM! Brand new floors! Those are the things I’m talking about.
But let’s look at the kitchen first. Do you like to cook?”
She didn’t wait for an answer.
“You’re going to love it. Lots of counter space, little breakfast nook, real tile floor—not that linoleum stuff…so. Here we are.”
Barry and Maria looked up, down, around. Both gave the “not bad” face to no one in particular.
“And there’s a laundry room actually right through here. You can be doing the laundry and the cooking at the same time; no running down to the basement to fold clothes while the cake’s in the oven or whatever.
And the laundry room has another door that goes right out to the back yard. So if you’re outside doing some gardening, or yard work, or you’re giving the dog a bath or something, when you come back inside you go in there and throw the dirty clothes into the wash. No trudging mud and debris through the house. Come take a peek and then we can look some more at the kitchen.”
Fiona unlocked the laundry room door. She turned and looked back at the couple; they had decided not to follow her yet. Barry was touching the counters, trying to figure out how they made faux granite. Maria had opened the refrigerator and poked her head inside as if she already lived there and was looking for a snack.
Fiona found the light switch without looking and then turned towards the laundry room, still addressing the couple. “So there’s a little step down into this room, so just watch yourOH NO!” In one loud, fluid motion she killed the light and slammed the door shut again.
This—unlike her sales pitch up to that point—got Barry and Maria’s attention.
“Sorry, there was—I think I, uh, saw a spider in there. Sorry, I know—fraidy cat! Guilty!” she said, raising a hand. “Let me—I’ll get the spider, and then we can—”
“I’ll get the spider. No sense in you doing it if you don’t like them,” Maria offered.
“NO! I mean, that’s very kind, Maria, but not necessary.” Maria shrugged and turned back to the refrigerator.
“Well, be careful. Maybe it’s not a spider in there. Maybe it’s a ghost. Or a monster,” Barry said, chuckling.
The couple flinched at the inexplicable volume of Fiona’s laughter. She noticed and dialed it back.
“Ha ha, well…okay…so, why don’t you go ahead and just keep exploring the kitchen and I’ll find out what in the dickens is going on in this laundry room! I’ll be right back.”
Fiona entered the laundry room, shut the door behind her, and cursed herself. Smooth—you couldn’t have just said you had to step out to take a call? A freaking spider. Honestly.
She opened the door to the back yard.
“WHAT. Are you doing outside?”
“I locked myself out, okay? It’s been quite the day.”
“Oh, it’s been quite the day, huh? For God’s sake, I—”
Doug stepped past Fiona into the laundry room, oblivious to her attempts at shushing him. “You know what, Fiona? Don’t wanna hear it right now. You know what else happened to me today? My jaw became unhooked. Yes. THAT HAPPENED. And it’s not like I can go to the doctor or the dentist or the ER or ANYWHERE about it without causing a public freakout. So I spent the better part of today outside, in the cold, by myself, messing around with my jaw until it went back into place. It took forever to fix it and it’s still killing me and—”
“Oh, ‘killing’ you, is it? You know, that’s an interesting choice of words. I mean, for you, because—”
“You know what I mean!”
Fiona sighed. “Well what’s the plan, then? You were supposed to already be UPSTAIRS. In the bathroom. Hiding. Remember? I lead them there, you’re behind the shower curtain? I lock the door and slip out and you do your thing there where it’s ‘easier to hose down the mess afterwards?’ Those were YOUR WORDS; it was your plan. I can’t let you in while they’re in the kitchen. They could make a break for the front door, and if they made it out, the jig is up! I mean, how would you propose I introduced you, anyway? ‘Hey, you two: This is my pal Doug. He owns the place and I brought you here under the guise that the house was on the market because I owe him some fresh brains, so he’s going to murder you. Sorry—no hard feelings, ’kay?’”
“Well in case you’ve forgotten, you DO owe me some fresh brains. Or should I call in an anonymous tip about John Doe?”
“You know—I don’t even know why I let you hold that over me. You never even saw anything!”
“I saw enough, She-Wolf. It being a full moon that night and all.”
“Well, you’re not coming in right now. You just aren’t, or our deal’s off. You stay in here until we leave, and I still owe you, okay?”
“And you still owe me.”
“I still owe you.”
Fiona re-entered the kitchen.
“Sooooo…” Barry said, “Get that spider?”
“Oh, yeah. It was…yes. I mean, I think maybe it got away, but…no problem. Yes.”
“It sounded like you were talking to someone.”
“Oh! That, I—it’s a weird thing I do. I talk to houses.”
And then Fiona made the unfortunate decision to dramatize her newly made-up habit.
“No spiders in THIS laundry room! Our houses are pest-free!”
Barry and Maria traded glances.
Fiona regrouped. “Okay…you know what? I’m sorry, you two. I didn’t become a Second Quarter Top Earner this year without being able to read a room. I can tell you’re not feeling this place. I’m not going to keep pushing it on you if it’s not for you.”
“But we haven’t seen the second fl—”
“There’s actually another place just a few blocks from here that I think might be more your style. Let’s go.”
Fiona ushered them back through the hallway and out the front door.
She let the couple go on ahead to their car as she took out her phone and placed a call. It went to voicemail.
“Vlad—it’s me. About that blood I owe you? I can be at your place in about fifteen minutes. If you’re home, just text me and let me know before I get there. Okay, see you soon, maybe.”