A short story penned by my friend Lola Gentry-Dey and me. We co-authored stories on the Internet.
A creepy arson tale for Halloween!
“He’s out there,” my mother said at the front window. “DID YOU HEAR ME?” She rushed from the front window and snatched her cell phone from the dining room table. Her hand trembled while she dialed. She almost dropped the phone twice before she put it to her left ear. “Hello? Police?” Her face contorted into a mask of disappointment. “Sorry,” she said, “I dialed the wrong number.” Her bottom lip trembled as she began to cry.
Someone pounded against the front door. This time she did drop the phone.
“Don’t answer it,” she said to me as she pressed her body behind my chair where I sat with my laptop, shocked into a long moment of stillness. When I realized that my heart was still beating, I looked at my computer. The screen showed my Facebook wall and five new updates that waited for me to click on them. Fear finally broke the numbness. The doorknob rattled.
“Is it locked?” I asked about the front door.
“Yes.” My mother’s voice sounded brittle.
The pounding started up again, louder.
“Is the back door locked?” I asked.
“Yes … NO.” She hurried away to lock it.
The downstairs windows in the house were closed and locked to keep out the January cold. When my mother returned, the pounding stopped. She snatched up her phone and managed to call the police.
“Hurry,” she told them. “I think he’s insane!”
She paced and peeked at the front door while we waited. I felt protected. He hadn’t forced his way inside. I updated my Facebook wall and let my friends know what was happening. Several of my friends said that he should be behind bars for terrorizing me and my mom.
“He’s been pissed ever since the divorce,” I wrote.
“Where are the sirens?” my mother asked. She went to the front door and peeked through one of the three diamond-shaped windows. “His car’s still there but he’s not inside.”
I looked at the back door past the kitchen. He stood there, large and dark and hulking, peering through the glass.
“Let me in,” my step-father growled.
“The police are coming,” I yelled. I stood and blocked my mother from rushing at the door. “Let the police handle it,” I said as we embraced and waited.
My step-father vanished from the door’s window.
“Why aren’t they here yet? This is a small town. They should have been here.” Mother lit a cigarette from the pack of Marlboro Lights on the table and sucked menthol-flavored smoke into her lungs. She held her breath for several seconds, then let it out slowly. Smoke rushed to the ceiling. I had closed my computer while she had struggled to light the cigarette. Now I sat and breathed in the pleasant smoke and waited for the police.
The cigarette was crumpled in the ashtray when I went to the front window. His blue 1990 Impala was still there. Rust had eaten into the doors and fenders. Times had been hard on him since the divorce settlement. The plastics factory where he once earned premium wages had closed. Someone said he now worked as a part-time maintenance person at one of the Wal-Mart stores near Buffalo.
A floorboard above my head squeaked.
My mother hurried toward me. She was looking at the stairs behind me. I grabbed her. “Don’t go up there,” I said.
“No. NO.” She struggled. “Let me go.”
His voice bellowed from upstairs. “Don’t you come up here, Jessica. I have a gun.”
“Get out of my house, Howard.”
I pulled my mom to the front door.
“Not your house,” Howard yelled. “Never has been and never will be.”
I unlocked the door, opened it, and—
“It is my house, Howard, you sonofabitch.”
“Come on.” I pulled mother outside into a winter chill that bit through the back of my sweatshirt. I shivered in the frigid front lawn below the afternoon gray sky. “The police are coming,” I reminded her and myself.
A window broke upstairs and smoke pushed its way out.
Mother screamed. “NO.”
I held her from running inside the house. Orange flames leapt from the broken window and from the front door I had left open. That’s when I knew Howard had doused the inside with gasoline.
When I heard the gunshot come from inside, the house was ablaze and its angry heat came blistering at us. We stepped away and stood in the street as the first police car drove up. A fire engine followed, its siren wailed behind us and we stepped aside to let it pass. It was followed by many vehicles with pulsating blue lights. Another fire engine arrived and people on the street shouted and scurried about. A firefighter hurried to where we stood. “I’m so sorry, Jessica,” he said. He looked at me sadly. “Maggie, you poor child.”
“Howard was inside,” mother said. She took him by the arm and he steadied her. “He did this to us, Johnny. He swore he would get the house back”
Johnny Peters shook his head. “If there’s anything I can do,” he said.
Mother pushed herself closer to him. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Where am I going to live?”
Johnny put an arm around her. The ring finger of his left hand no longer held the gold wedding band. Lucy had died of cervical cancer more than ten years ago. It had taken him this long to let go.
“Don’t worry,” he said. Mother rested her head against his shoulder. They looked like two lovers at a bonfire.