Til Death Do Us Unite

Jeremy Miller drove through the night, fingers clenched around the steering wheel, his high beams cutting through the darkness. Dried blood was crusted on his hands and clumped in his hair. Beside him, Natalie, the love of his life, lay slumped against the passenger side door, breathing deeply in sleep. Her yellow lace dress was streaked in rusted strips and splotches.

A dip in the road caused Jeremy’s stomach to lurch and the body in the trunk to thump. Or maybe it was the sound of the body that caused his stomach to drop. Who could tell at this point? He was strung out on adrenaline, every nerve in his body was tense, and he felt like he was going to wretch at any moment.

Natalie groaned as she woke up. She stretched as she shifted away from the door and sat up. “Are we almost there?” she asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“Almost where?” Jeremy asked. “Where are we going? What exactly is the plan here?” He looked rapidly back and forth between the road and her.

She leaned forward in her seat staring through the windshield at the road winding through the steep mountain cliffs, the pavement and rocks illuminated by the headlights.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“No idea.”

“How do you not know? You’re driving!” she asked, her opened wide.

Sure he was driving, but this was her plan. It was her plan to run away from her boyfriend of two years. She was the one who asked him for help. A mere 24 hours ago she was just the girl next door he had loved from afar.

“We need to get out of the province so if the road said east, I took it,” he tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “If you don’t like my decisions, then maybe you should have stayed awake.” His eyes felt dry and gritty, like he hadn’t blinked in hours.

Natalie crossed her arms and huffed, but didn’t counter. Bruises clung to her arms and her cheek was swollen, some were from the fight, but others were part of the accumulation that lead to her wanting to run away.

They drove in silence as slowly the darkness lifted breaking way for the pinks and oranges of dawn peaking through the tall pine trees that surrounded them. Jeremy rubbed his eyes trying to prevent them from falling closed.

“I need to stop somewhere for coffee.” He glanced at his hands. “And to wash up.”

“We need to ditch the body first,” Natalie said.

“Excuse me?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.

“If we get pulled over, we screwed. And we don’t have a chance of crossing the border until we get rid of it.”

“We should have just called the police,” Jeremy whispered. knowing it was a touchy subject.

“No,” she said with finality.

He glowered. He hadn’t agreed to this. He was just going to help her run away. Not to kill Sam. But Sam had been so enraged that Natalie had no choice. She’d been the one who stabbed him. Jeremy hadn’t been able to do anything, but look on in horror from his place on the floor where Sam had been kicking him.

Immediately, everything stopped. It was like being at the top of a roller coaster, hovering over the inevitable descent, knowing what was coming and being powerless to stop it. Then, suddenly time was moving again, faster than before. Sam slumped to the floor, bleeding everywhere. Natalie sobbing. There was blood everywhere. His blood. Sam’s blood. Natalie’s blood.  Then Sam was dead and they had to get him out of there. No body, no crime scene and no one to come looking for them.

Jeremy pulled over into a lookout and they hauled Sam’s tarp encased body out of the trunk. He was taller than Jeremy and much heavier. They half carried, half dragged him down a little path into the woods and quickly veered off into the trees away from where tourists snapping selfies might catch sight or smell of the soon-to-be rotting corpse.

An hour and a half later, exhausted, out of breath, and every muscle aching in his body, they finally got back to the car after ditching him in a thick patch of bushes. As the doors slammed shut, he looked over at Natalie sitting the passenger seat. How many times over the past year had he envisioned running away with her.

He threw the car into gear and pulled back out onto the road. His greatest dream and worst nightmare had simultaneously come to fruition and there wasn’t a plan or destination in sight.

Meandering Thief

Tracy didn’t feel guilty. You do what you have to, to survive and she was ensuring not only she survived, but also her daughter. So no, she didn’t feel guilty.

She hurried along the sidewalk towards the building of doctors’ offices, her large blue canvas bag bumping against her leg as they walked. Her daughter, Madison, straggled along behind her as Tracy pulled her forward by the hand.. As they passed the entrance to the parking lot, Tracy craned her had back looking a blue Honda in the distance. They continued to walk quickly down the street until Tracy stopped abruptly.

She guided Madison to the lawn to the side of the sidewalk and pointed to the grass at their feet. Madison stood staring at her toes as her mom talked, her head only coming up to her mom’s waist. Her large, round tummy stuck out in front of her, pushed further out by her slouched, curving her back. She nodded her head as Tracy, hesitantly at first, walked back towards the parking lot entrance. She glanced behind her a few times, reassured that Madison was still standing on the grass staring at her shoes.

As Tracy turned into the parking lot and out of sight of her daughter, she broke into a jog towards a blue Honda with the open windows. She glanced around, then reached in, unlocked the door from the inside, and pulled it open. She disappeared into the car for a few moments and when she came back into view her bag was slightly bulkier than before. She glanced around the parking lot again, then walked slowly back to her daughter who had become distracted by a fluttering white moth and was wandering in circles about the grass as she followed it.

Tracy quickly snatched Madison’s hand and pulled her forward across the street towards the mall on the other side. She walked quickly, half dragging the young girl behind her, who still appeared to be fascinated with the moth and had her head craned back around trying desperately to see behind her, her sneakered feet stumbling and scrapping the pavement as she walked.

They cut through the shrubs that bordered the mall parking lot. Tracy scouting the cars as they walked until she veered sharply to the left, her sights set on a rusty, white pick-up truck. She left Madison standing by the driver’s side door and disappeared around to the other side. Madison stared at the door and ran her finger over a rust spot halfway down the door. She drew the outline with her finger feeling the rough, chipping texture.

Moments later Tracy was back, and once again her bag bulged larger than before. She took a wild look around, before taking Madison’s arm and pulling her away. They weaved their way through the parking lot, stopping at this car, then that one. Finally, they slipped onto a bus and were gone.

By the end of the day she hadn’t quite got enough to pay for Madison’s medication, but it was close. Another day like today, and they would be golden for October. The key was to never hit the same place twice.

The Desire to be Invisible: Part 2 of 2

And so it began. Some days the woman came in with her children, other days she was alone, but regardless of who she was with, she also came over and to say hi and to have a quick chat. Over time Richard learned her name was Annabelle.

As time went on Richard began to notice a change in those around him. As he talked to Annabelle more and more, others began to notice him too. One time, a woman asked if the chair beside him was taken. Another time, the cashier spotted him behind the counter and shooed him away. Stunned, he realized he was losing the best thing that had ever happened to him. So, he stopped going to the coffee shop. He withdrew and avoided Annabelle at all costs and slowly things went back to normal.

A few years went by and he occasionally saw her. She always waved and smiled when she saw him, but he withdrew and hid, unwilling to surrender his anonymity, his shield of silent.

But one day, as he was walking along the sidewalk enjoying the late spring sun, something shifted. He’d been feeling rather tired that day and thought a nap in the afternoon sounded like a splendid idea.  Before he could get home, however, a tightness in his chest caused him to pause his walk. Then the tightness grew sharper and slowing spread up to neck and jaw like a claw reaching out of his heart clutching, grabbing. He looked around for someone to help him, but no one saw him. Fuzzy black spots crept in from the sides of his vision and he tried to clutch a nearby tree to keep from falling, but it was too far. He fell in the middle of the sidewalk and struck his head on the pavement. No one saw, save one woman on the other side of the street. Annabelle.

He woke up in the hospital attached to tubes and wires that ran to beeping machines and other hospital contraptions.

“You’re awake,” Annabelle said, rising from a chair in the corner.

Bernard groaned. “It’s you again.”

She ignored him and walked out of the room. After a few moments, she came back with a nurse trailing behind her. “I’m so sorry Mr. Torres, I don’t know why, but we keep forgetting you’re here,” she said. She bustled around the room checking this and that as Annabelle stood off to the side smiling at him. Finally, after the nurse left, he asked: “How is she able to see me.”

Annabelle shrugged her shoulders. “You have a gift and I have a gift.”

“What’s your gift?”

“I have the ability to open people’s eyes and help them see the truth in front of them.”

“That’s why people see me when you’re around?” he grumbled.

“Kind of. I’d think you’d be grateful at the moment,” she frowned for the first time since he’d met her.

“ I am.” He grumbled. After a long pause, he added, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she responded, smiling broadly again.

“So everyone can see me now?” he asked.

“No,” she shook her head. “Some people are more stubborn than others. Like you for example.”

He laughed in surprise. “Who do I need to see.” He looked around the room. “Is someone here?”

She frowned. “No. Like I said, it takes some longer to see the truth, but that truth doesn’t need to be a person.”

“And what truth do I need to see?” he asked.

“That you need other people.” She smiled.

He frowned and said nothing.

“Like I said, it takes some longer than others.” She sat down in her chair and pulled out a book while he sulked in his bed. “But you will see. You all do eventually.”

The Desire to be Invisible – Part 1 of 2

Richard Torres was invisible. He had been this way since his twenties, and now, well into his eighties, he hardly even noticed.

He had always towered above everyone. Rarely did someone’s head reach the height of his shoulders. When he was younger, he used to stoop and slouch, but now he stood ramrod straight. It didn’t matter what people thought about him because, quite frankly, they didn’t think about him at all.

It’s important to understand at this point that invisibility is not how they portray it in the movies. Hollywood depicts it like a superpower, or that you need to walk around naked because your clothes will give you away, or that mysterious objects appear to levitate when you pick them up. But all of that is simply ridiculous. If you’re clothes or the objects you pick up give you away, then you aren’t really invisible, now are you?

No. Richard was fully clothed. But perhaps, instead of invisible, it would be more accurate to say that Richard was exceptionally evanescent. Maybe people could technically see him, but they took absolutely no notice of him.

Richard, or Rich, as his friends would have called him, if he had any friends, enjoyed his invisible existence. People were a hassle and he enjoyed not dealing with them.

Now, on this particular day he walked into his favourite coffee shop and passed the long line that snaked nearly to the door, past the cashier, and stepped behind the counter. He picked up a coffee cup and helped himself to his favourite dark roast. If someone had been paying attention, they may have noticed that something was amiss, no one ever did. They either stared at their phones or off to the side with glazed over eyes. Some spoke in animated conversations with others in line, but they didn’t notice  him either. Each person was utterly captivated by their own small worlds. Richard was essentially orbiting in an entirely different solar system from them.

But don’t feel sorry for him. Like I say, he rather enjoyed his extreme anonymity. And he hadn’t needed to pay for anything in decades.

After grabbing his coffee and swiping a muffin, he settled into one of the armchairs by the window and opened his newspaper. He slowly flipped through the pages, the crinkling of the paper breaking through the soft music playing in the background.

As he sat there a woman walked by the open window. She had unruly orange hair and was wearing an overcoat and rubber boots despite the warm day. She had two children in tow, both with the same untameable orange hair. As they walked by, the woman stared straight at him, smiled, and waved. At first, he didn’t realize that she was looking at him. Unfazed, he assumed the wave was meant for someone standing behind him so he ignored her. But then she stopped walking and continued to wave at him. Finally, feeling a bit silly because really, who can see an invisible man, he checked to see who she was waving at. Sure enough, no one was behind him. He pointed at his chest as if to ask, “me?” To which, she nodded, grinned.

Stunned, he raised his hand and gave an awkward finger waggle. At this, she finally stopped waving and turned to catch up with her kids who had not paused at the window. Suddenly, Bernard felt exposed. He looked around. Could everyone see him? But nothing else had changed.

The couple at the table to the right had not even paused their rather loud argument. The woman in the armchair next to him, was still buried in her book, and the people in line were still oblivious to his existence.

Finally, just to make sure, he leaned forward and asked the woman sitting in the armchair if she would mind passing him the magazine that sat on her side table. She didn’t respond. He tired again, this time making his voice a bit louder until he was nearly shouting, but even then, she didn’t acknowledge him.

For the rest of the day, Leroy found himself more alert than usual checking to see if anyone else noticed him. By that evening he’d convinced himself that the woman must have been looking at someone else.

But this was not the case as the same thing happened the next day. And the day after that. It was on day four, when she was on her own rather than with her children, that she slipped inside the café and sat in the chair beside him.

“Hello,” she said, smiling broadly at him and clutching the purse in her lap.

“Hi,” he said, his voice croaky from lack of use.

“Whatcha reading?” she asked.

“The newspaper,” he replied. It had been over 60 years since he had had a conversation with another person. No one else in the coffee shop appeared to notice the conversation, but he still wished the woman would go away. Clearly, he needed to find a new coffee shop. Or maybe he should just stay home from now on.

“I can see you,” she smiled.

“Yes, I noticed that.” He frowned.

“They can’t,” she said, looking around at the others in the café.

“I noticed that as well.” He paused and leaned forward. “Why can you see me?’

She shrugged. “You have your gift and I have mine.” With that, she stood up and walked out.

A Summer to Remember – Part 9

Carter’s dad was standing on the front porch looking at the myriad of police cars littered about the cul de sac, his arms crossed and his foot tapping. Carter saw the exact moment his dad caught sight of him and felt himself slowing down. The cop beside him urged him on.

Seconds later, their screen door flew open and his mom came racing past his dad and down the walkway before enveloping him in a giant hug.

“We were so worried! Why would you try to rescue Mr. Stalnaker all by yourself?” she asked, still holding him in a tight hug.

“I didn’t think you’d believe me,” he said, when she finally released him. “I mean, you didn’t believe him when he said there was a woman being held captive.”

“To be fair, neither did you,” his dad said.

“Well, he seemed crazy.” Carter shrugged his shoulders.

“Exactly,” his dad said. “We might have believed you, but you didn’t even give us a chance.”

“That was insanely dangerous!” his mom added.

Carter looked down at his feet scuffing the toe of his sneaker on the pavement.

So much for feeling like a hero.

* * *

The next day he managed to finish up the rest of garage. After they got home from work, while, his parents were inspecting the garage, Mr. Stalnaker arrived home from the hospital. He caught sight of  Carter as soon as he got out of the car and immediately started walking towards their house, much to the chagrin of his son.

“Thank you my boy!” he said, throwing his arms up in the air as he walked towards Carter and his parents. “If it wasn’t for you I’d still be stuck in that house with that wretched woman and her sons.”

“How did you get caught by them to begin with?” Carter’s mom asked. “That must have been a truly dreadful experience.”

“It was,” Mr. Stalnaker said, grimacing. “I told you earlier that I had seen someone waving for help from the front window. No one believed me, mind you.” He gave his son a sidelong look. His son look mildly chastised and stay quiet. “Turns out, I was right. Her name is Denise and they had locked her in the basement at the end of their last party. Apparently, she was snooping around and discovered that Karen is an alias. Her name is actually Barbara Her and her son Robbie are quite the identity thieves.

“What about Jeffery?” Carter’s dad asked.

Both Carter and Mr. Stalnaker laughed. “Hardly,” Mr. Stalnaker said.

His parents looked at them confused, but Mr. Stalnaker didn’t seem to notice. “Anyway, that’s why the parties stopped. They couldn’t very well have a bunch of people in the house. Someone might have heard her calling for help. But they’re basement wasn’t exactly secure or soundproof, so I guess they brought contractors in to build a soundproof room until they figured out their next move. But, then they had to bring her upstairs during the day and blasted that horrid metal music so no one would hear her.

“And you’re telling me Jeffery didn’t know about this?” Carter’s dad asked.

“Well, not at first. But Denise told me that she was able to get his attention after a few days thinking that he might help her.”

“He didn’t?” Carter’s mom asked.

“Hardly, he used it to secure the landscaping job,” Mr. Stalnaker said.

“So, that’s why his mom hired him.” Carter laughed.

“Yup. I told you there was something fishy going on.” Mr. Stalnaker grinned proudly.

“Yes Dad, you did. Now can we inside. You just got out of the hospital.” Mr. Stalnaker’s son gently put his hands on his dad’s shoulders and tried to steer him back towards the house.

“Party pooper,” Mr. Stalnaker muttered as he was led back to his home.

“See you tomorrow,” Carter called back.

“Wow,” Carter’s mom said. “All that was happening just next door and we didn’t know anything about it.”

“Yeah, cool,” Carter said, already losing interest. “So, do I get to go to Mason’s cabin?” Carter asked, motioned towards the newly organized garage.

His parents shared a look, then finally agreed.

A Summer to Remember – Part 8

It was the following morning after Jeffery had caught Carter snooping around their yard. Carter sat in the middle of his driveway in the sun watching the Brockett house. He was becoming almost as obvious as Mr. Stalnaker had been.

He was almost finished organizing and cleaning the garage. It had taken him all of July and the first part of August and now he had maybe a day and half’s worth of work left. He was so close to earning that last week of summer vacation, but now the garage sat forgotten.

Clearly, Jeffery had bought Carter’s treasure hunting story. First thing that morning, Jeffery had sent home his landscaping crew and was now shoveling holes in the yard by himself. Every few minutes he would stop and shoot Carter a glare, but Carter had other things on his mind.

He was sure that Mr. Stalnaker was in trouble and just as sure that he was locked somewhere in the Brockett house. Metal music blasted from inside the house as the construction crew came in and out. He needed to find a way to sneak in.

His biggest worry was how to get past Karen and her son Robbie. If they were in the house, and he was pretty certain they were, they were sure to catch him. Too bad Mr. Stalnaker wasn’t here to tell him their schedule. He’d been watching them for weeks and would have known that. Although, now that he thought about it, he hadn’t seen Karen leave the house in weeks.

He needed to somehow create a diversion. The minutes ticked by and then the hours, but by 3:30 he still wasn’t any closer to figuring it our.

“What are you doing to my lawn!” a voice shouted from the backyard. Stomping around the holes and mounds of dirt, Karen, in her stilettos came marching around the side of house. Jeffery stopped digging long enough to look up, before ignoring her and getting back to work.

“Answer me! There are holes everywhere!”

Jeffery kept digging. Obviously attracted by the shouting, Robbie came sauntering out the front door and pulled up short after a few steps as he also caught sight of the yard.

“Looks like you’ve added a few more holes. Nice work.” Robbie smirked.

“You think this is funny?” Karen turned her anger on him.

“You hired him,” Robbie held up his hands in front of him and shrugged. “I told you not to, but you insisted.”

“Do you even have a plan?” Karen asked, looking around wide-eyed. “And where’s the rest of your crew?”

“I sent them home.” Jeffery said.

“You sent them—” she broke of her shouting when she caught sight of Carter sitting in the middle of the driveway watching them

“Backyard, both of you,” she hissed at her sons.

“Let’s discuss this inside,” Robbie said, starting to walk back to the front door.

“Not a chance. He’s covered head to toe in dirt. You are not five anymore!” she shouted the last bit at Jeffery before stalking towards the back yard. Robbie sighed and followed while Jeffery set his shovel down and meekly followed. Then he stopped suddenly, whirled around to look at Carter, before going back to retrieve the shovel.

“Now!” Karen shouted.

Jeffery stumbled over the mounds and holes with the shovel safe in hands and they all disappeared into the back.

Quite suddenly, Carter found himself staring at an empty yard with all of the occupants in the back. He waiting a moment, then scrambled across the cul de sac, up the front yard, and was about to go through the door when two of the construction workers could be heard walking down the hall towards the front door.

Carter flew into the bushes lining the front of the house and waited until they passed him. When the coast was clear he quickly and quietly slipped into the house and up the stairs.

If he had known the evening would end with the police escorting him home yet again, he might have given his plan a bit more careful thought.

A Summer to Remember – Part 7

It was 2:30 am and Carter stood at the end of his driveway in indecision. It had been a week since he had seen Mr. Stalnaker and he was genuinely worried. He hadn’t seen him since the day he snuck off to investigate the Brockett’s yard.

Checking the darkened windows of his neighbours carefully to see if anyone might be spying on him, he finally just took a deep breath and crossed the cul de sac. Once he hit their yard he swiped the flashlight on his phone to light a path.

Over the last week the “landscapers” had dug numerous holes throughout the yard and he didn’t want to take the chance that he might fall into any of them. As he carefully weaved his way though to the backyard he listened carefully for any noises that might indicate someone had seen him.

The backyard, if it was possible, was in worse shape than the front. There was a small bulldozer sitting precariously on a small hilltop of soil. Random boulders lay strewn about the yard brought in for what he assumed was some sort of aesthetic look.

He carefully tiptoed up to one of the basement windows and peered inside. It was utterly and completely dark even with his hands pressed against the glass cupping his eyes.

He then slipped over to the next window. Again pitch black. Felling defeated he sat back on his heels when something in the bushes caught his eye. It was Mr. Stalnaker’s hat. He reached out his hand to pull it out when someone grabbed him by the arm and wretched him upwards and back.

“And just what do you think you’re doing?” Jeffery shouted at him.

“Ah, I was looking for,” he glanced around the yard trying to quickly think of a possible reason for why he would in their yard at 2:30 in the morning.”

“Well?” Jeffery asked, shaking Carter’s arm in a grip that was sure to leave bruises.

Finally, something clicked. “I was looking for buried treasure. I figured that’s why you’re digging all of these holes. But all I found was this hat.” He held up the hat he’s just managed to swipe

The grip on his arm loosened a bit as Jeffery looked around the darkened yard. “You think there’s treasure here.”

“Well, sure,” Carter said, feeling more and more grateful that Jeffery had been the brother to find him. Robbie wouldn’t have been fooled nearly so easily.

“Well it’s not yours! It’s mine! Go dig up your own yard.” He pushed him forward towards the front lawn. Carter nearly fell into one of the holes as he fought to regain his balance.

“Go on! Get out!” He shoved Carter again.

This time Carter fell flat on his face. He scrambled up and raced through the yard as fast as his legs could carry him. Meanwhile, Jeffery stood with hands on his hips surveying the yard with renewed interest.

A Summer to Remember – Part 6

Carter had been working on the garage for most of July and now he was halfway through the floor to ceiling boxes. He was starting to look forward to the days his dad asked him to work in the yard or mow Mr. Stalnaker’s yard. It broke up the monotony and gave him some time in the sun.

Rock music blasted through the cul de sac from the open window of the Brockett house. It drove Mr. Stalnaker crazy. It started at exactly 6:45 am every morning just before the construction crew showed up and didn’t stop until after they left. If they wanted him to stop peering at them through his binoculars, they were going about it all wrong.

As Carter stepped out of the garage to break for lunch he noticed there was a man laying on the neighbour’s grass sprawled out on his back. At first he wasn’t sure if he should call an ambulance or if the man was simply sleeping.

He started walking down his driveway to investigate when Mr. Stalnaker appeared out of no where and said, “Man’s just sleeping. I saw him lay down earlier.”

“Who sleeps in the middle of someone else’s lawn?” Carter asked.

“You can sleep when your boss is the owner’s son. It’s Jeffery’s landscaping business.”

Carter turned away from the sleeping man to look at Mr. Stalnaker. “Oh yeah, I think my dad said something about him when they first moved in,”

“Your dad was going to hire them?” Mr. Stalnaker asked.

Carter laughed. “No, he said, ‘what do I need a landscaper for?’ he has me.”

“He’s lucky,” Mr. Stalnaker said. “My friend down the street hired them. They destroyed his yard. The yard is dead. It’s a wasteland and then they just dropped him saying it was his fault because the drainage was poor. You’d think seeings as he’s her son she’d have known not to hire them.”

Carter shrugged, “Maybe that’s why she hired him.”

“You didn’t see my friend’s yard. Even my son wouldn’t be allowed near my yard if that was the kind of work he did.”

Suddenly a loud scream shrieked through the music.

“What was that?” Mr. Stalnaker stood upright with attention his binoculars pressed to his eyes again.

“I think it was just the music,” Carter said, trying not to laugh. “It’s heavy metal. They send to scream.”

“No, there was a face! See look!” He handed his binoculars to Carter frantically and pointed to one of the upstairs windows.

Carter hesitated then took them with a sigh. All he saw was a window reflecting back the sunshine. “Sorry,” he said, handing the binoculars back to Mr. Stalnaker.

Mr. Stalnaker glared at him and took a step towards him so suddenly it caused Carter to stumble backwards. For a second, he was afraid Mr. Stalnaker might hit him.

“No one believes me, but there is something going on over there and I’m going to find out what it is. Then all of you will be sorry you didn’t listen,” he huffed, then stomped back to his yard.

The next time Carter saw him was after lunch when he noticed Mr. Stalnaker tip-toeing by the still-sleeping landscaper as he made his way around to the back of their house.

Carter groaned. “What are you doing now old man?” he muttered. He thought about going after him, but instead returned to work on the garage. What was the worst that could happen? Besides, he was determined to finish the garage so he could to Mason’s cabin at the end of summer like his parents promised.

A Summer to Remember – Part 5

“I can’t believe Wally’s plan worked,” Carter’s mom said at the breakfast table. It had been a week since Carter helped had first helped Mr. Stalnaker with his lawn. Since then there hadn’t been any more parties.

“Yeah, well, don’t say that to him,” Carter said, buttering his toast.

“Why not?” his mom asked. “I would think he’d enjoy the credit.”

“He doesn’t think it worked. He’s convinced the parties stopped because they’re up to something.”

“Up to what?” his dad asked.

“No idea. He’s old and crazy.” Carter shoved half the toast in his mouth in one giant bite.

“Carter!” His dad glared at him.

“It’s true though,” he mumbled through a mouthful of bread. “He’s obsessed. He spends all day sitting on his porch staring at their house through his binoculars. It’s creepy.”

“Oh dear,” his mom sighed.

“Keep an eye on him,” his dad said standing up and wiping the crumbs from his fingers.

“Please clean up the breakfast dishes and pull the chicken out of the freezer for dinner tonight.” His mom kissed him on the top of his head as she followed Carter’s dad out the door.

“Sure mom.” Then he shoved the last of his toast into his mouth.

* * *

Carter was on his way to the garage when a low rumbling motor started up. Thinking Mr. Stalnaker was up to some of his antics he ignored it and kept walking to the garage. He began his now daily task of sorting. His dad had already taken a truckload of junk that was broken to the dump.

He’d only been in the garage for about 15 minutes when something caught his attention.

“Psst! Hey boy! Err, Carton,” a voice called softly behind him. “Cartoon?”

Carter turned around and saw Mr. Stalnaker peering around the open garage door. He waved his hand motioning him to follow, then disappeared.

Carter rolled his eyes. What now? He followed Mr. Stalnaker around the side of the garage where they were hidden from view of the street by a giant bush.

“Have you noticed what’s going on across the way?” Mr. Stalnaker loudly whispered over the sound of the motor.

“Err, no,” Carter replied. He tried to step back onto the driveway to get a look, but Mr. Stalnaker pulled him back. “Don’t. They’ll see you.”

“So?” Carter asked.

“They’re very touchy about people watching them.”

“Do you think it might have to do with the fact that you’ve been staring at them through binoculars for the past week?”

Mr. Stalnaker just grunted. “I’m serious. There’s something fishy going on. First that Robbie boy took off in car that wasn’t his.”

“His name you can remember,” Carter muttered.

“Then the parties, which had been going on every night since they moved in just stop.”

“Maybe enough neighbours complained,” Carter suggested.

“And now there’s a construction crew!” He gestured towards the Brockett house which was still hidden from view.

Carter looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “So?”

“What are they hiding?”

“They aren’t hiding anything. They probably just want to renovate.”

“That house was renovated top to bottom last year by the previous owners. There’s nothing left to fix,” he huffed, glaring at Carter.

“Maybe it’s not about fixing anything. Maybe they just want it to look different.” Carter shrugged. Mr. Stalnaker’s mouth dropped open like he was going to say something else, then decided against it.

Finally, he just said, “Fine, so you aren’t going to help?”

“Help with what?” Carter asked, perplexed.

“Never mind.” He shook his head and shuffled off towards the driveway and back to his house.

Carter returned to the garage and continued working. It wasn’t until the end of the day when his parents pulled into the driveway that Mr. Stalnaker came back. “Do you see what’s happening?” he waved his binoculars in front of him.

“Hi Wally,” Carter’s dad said, stepping out of the car. “What’s happening?”

“The neighbours. There’s something f—”

“Fishy going on,” Carter finished for him.

“Yes, Carton here doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal. But that Robbie has been power washing all day long. What can there possibly be left to power wash?”

“Maybe he only has it for a short time and wants to make the most of it.” Carter’s dad shrugged.

“There was screaming.” Mr. Stalnaker raised his eyebrows like he’d made the defining point in their argument.

“What?” Carter’s mom asked.

“When?” Carter asked. He hadn’t heard anything. Although to be fair, he’d been wearing his headphones all day.

“An hour ago. And when I heard it, I looked up and a hand came out the window and was waving for help,” Mr. Stalnaker said, gravely.

“How do you know they weren’t waving hello?” Carter asked.

“Because it was too frantic.” Mr. Stalnaker said, getting visibly frustrated. “And besides, Robbie saw me looking. As soon as he saw the hand, he raced back inside. A few moments later the window slammed shut.” He leaned forward and whispered, “I didn’t hear anything after that.”

“Yes, well, that does sound quite, er, dramatic,” Carter’s dad said, carefully.

“Perhaps you should call the police,” Carter’s mom said. His dad caught her eye and raised his eyebrows. “Well, who knows. What if someone is in trouble? Better be safe just in case.” She lifted her hands and shrugged her shoulders apologetically.

“I did call the police,”Mr. Stalnaker said. “They didn’t come. They didn’t seem to think it was a valid threat.”

“Well, if the police don’t think anything of it, then it’s probably nothing,” Carter’s dad said, putting a friendly hand on Mr. Stalnaker’s shoulder.

“Like father like son,” he grunted. “Mark my words. There is something going on over there and I’m going to figure it out.” He shuffled off back to his house.

“That poor man,” Carter’s mom said, once he was out of earshot.