by Patrick Sipperly
Really Scary Short Stories: Spiral / Ooze / Window
Kelsey listened to Amanda, her older sister, coerce her witty four-year-old down the wood paneled hallway toward the dreaded evening bath. Dreaded baths that preceded the even less desirable bedtime.
“But I want to help aunt Kelsey on her computer.”
“I know, Honey, but you need your pretty girl sleep so you can help her tomorrow.”
A smile stretched across aunt Kelsey's face. She'll miss her niece when she's gone, but staying isn't an option. She's so done feeling like an intruder on her sister's family and their small house.
The listing second from the top on the next page read, “HouseSitter Needed ASAP” Kelsey clicked on the link and read the details:
Mesa homeowner going out of town for 5 days 4 nights, February 24-29th. Housesitter Must be responsible and available to sign for important deliveries at odd hours. Residence is immaculate and well stocked. Willing to pay $300. Please reply with references.”
Kelsey scrolled down the rest of the page then went back up to the listing when Amanda entered the kitchen.
“She is so wound up tonight,” Amanda said rolling her eyes.
Kelsey smiled and turned her laptop to face her sister. “What do think of this?”
Amanda leaned down toward Kelsey. She whispered the words as she read the listing.
“Three hundred bucks to watch a house and sign for mail?” she said looking at Kelsey. “Shoot. I'd do that in a heartbeat. Does it say where in Mesa?”
Kelsey shook her had. “Just Mesa.”
They both read over the listing again. Then Kelsey hit “Reply.”
“I should at least check it out. Be a reference for me?”
“Sure, why not. But what about work? Don't you have to be at that house to get those deliveries?”
“I'm sure I can talk my boss into letting me telecommute those days. He knows I'm trying to get into my own place,” Amanda said while typing. “If this does work out you'll be rid of me and have your house back.”
“Yeah, well. You haven't been too much of a pain in the butt.” Amanda looked up at the red tea kettle clock on the wall. “I hope Chris remembered to stop by the store on the way home. Speaking of better halves, what's up with Steve? Is he still in the picture?”
Kelsey took in a deep breath and stretched. “Steve... Uh, no. He was getting clingy. I can't stand clingy anything. Or drama. I don't need anymore drama.”
Headlights flashed across the butter cream wall and the sisters looked out the kitchen window just above the sink. A tall man stepped out of a blue Ford truck with a business bag in one hand and a grocery bag in the other. He closed the door and headed toward the house.
“Yesss! He remembered,” Amanda said turning to the oven. “ How about I bake something sweet?”
Kelsey was still on her laptop in the living room long after everyone else had gone to bed. The aroma of peanut butter cookies lingered in the air along with the sounds of the house adjusting to the cooling night temperatures.
Kelsey checked her emails once more and saw a response from a Craigslist account. It was a request for an in person meeting at the house. Kelsey checked out the address on Google Maps. From the satellite view, it appeared to be a large house on an oversized lot with trees and a pool.
“Three hungred bucks for five days and four nights,” she said to herself. “If it gets me into my own house, I can do this standing on my head.”
Kelsey replied with an agreement to meet the homeowner at nine in the morning, and closed her notebook. Then she unfolded the blankets on the sofa and turned out the light.
In a quick turn of events, Kelsey felt like she was taking a giant leap in life. Another step toward feeling like an adult and not a twenty-four year old teenager.
Kelsey drove past the entrance to the Crimson Ridge subdivision and to the very end of the quiet street. It was a two-story house with a black Mercedes E-Class parked in the driveway. Kelsey lowered her sunglasses to take in everything. The house was as immaculate as described. She lifted her phone to take a picture of the house, including the car and license plate, and sent it off to Amanda in case this homeowner turned out to be a psycho. Amanda texted back with, “Nice. Be careful.”
“Kelsey? I'm Richard, please come in.”
He was a tall, well dressed man in his fifties, maybe. Sandy blonde hair that grayed a bit around his temples.
He led her into the living room that was drenched in morning sunlight. “Would you like some coffee or tea, perhaps?”
“No, thank you, I've had plenty already, ” she said looking around. “You have a gorgeous home, Richard.”
“Thank you. Work keeps me away so much I feel like a visitor, really.”
“What do you do?”
“International buyer for industrial parts,” he said. “It sounds more glamorous than it is, but it pays the bills.”
They stood accessing each other for a quiet moment. Then Richard said, “Shall I show you around?”
Kelsey nodded and followed his lead.
They started at the top where the three bedrooms were. Then back down to the main floor for a more detailed look at the den, kitchen, and living room.
“The pool unfortunately is out of commission,” Richard said as they stepped out onto the back deck. The murky water reached halfway up the sides of the pool and was littered with dirty leaves. At the deep end, below a spiral slide was a dirty red ball.
“The whole filtration system went out some time ago and I just haven't had the time to get it replaced. I hope that isn't a deal breaker for you.”
“Somehow I'll make due without the pool,” she said with a smile.
Below the main floor was a seldom used basement with a brick fireplace, pool table, and the breaker box.
Kelsey waited for something amiss. Some red flag about the house or the man who owned it. Richard was a perfect gentleman, though she sensed a sadness about him. Something deeper than mere loneliness.
After a peek in the garage they were back in the kitchen.
Richard opened the refrigerator door and said, “You're loaded with fresh or frozen foods to keep starvation away.”
Kelsey looked at the full fridge, a fully stocked carousel of Keurig coffees next to the machine itself, and then back to her host. “I'm sorry, Richard, but I have to ask this. You don't seem like a man who has to use Craigslist to find a housesitter. What's up with that?”
Richard leaned against the counter near the sink. “For one thing, this was very short notice and my options are limited. I don't have any family nearby. Friends are busy and can't stay at the house the whole time. Are you declining the offer?”
“No, I want the job. I was just curious. What time do you want me here tomorrow?”
“My flight leaves at eight-forty tomorrow morning. Can you be here by six-thirty?”
“I'll see you at six-thirty.”
By seven-fifteen the following morning, Richard was gone and Kelsey was set up in the second bedroom across from the hallway bathroom. The bedroom was sparsely decorated, as was most of the house. No wedding ring on the homeowner's hand explained everything.
At eight, Kelsey turned on her notebook, made herself a cup of coffee and looked out at the shaded back yard. The tall trees lined the property borders, casting shadows across a perfectly manicured lawn, a strip of sandy gravel, then the sorely neglected kidney-shaped pool. She sipped her hazelnut flavored coffee and looked down at the red ball. It floated motionless near the steps.
Kelsey had just finished a set of reports for work when she heard a van pull into the driveway. The first of the three deliveries. She signed for the parcel, set it on the desk in the den and went in search of some music to not feel so alone. The entertainment system under the huge flat screen TV was more complicated then she wanted to deal with, so she turned on the Bose radio in the kitchen and went back to work. At about three-thirty she closed her computer for the day.
Her evening in order of events was half of a frozen pepperoni pizza, celery sticks, and a diet Coke. Some channel surfing and Netflix with a side of white cheddar cheese popcorn. And by ten-thirty she was ready for a real bed – not a sofa – and a full night's sleep.
By eleven, the house was all locked up for the night and the housesitter was on the edge of a dream.
A loud vibration ripped though the darkness.
Startled, Kelsey looked over to the night stand. Light oozed out from under her phone as it vibrated again. She picked it up and squinted at the bright face.
“What the – Hello?” she said with a pounding heart.
“You called me just a minute ago. What'd you want?” The young man's voice sounded tired and perturbed.
Kelsey's brow furrowed. “I didn't call you. I was sound asleep.”
“Well I got a call from this number exactly two minutes ago. I just heard breathing on the other end. Check your phone. If you didn't use it, someone did.”
“It wasn't me, so...whatever. Sorry.”
Kelsey ended the call and sat up. She looked over the activity on her phone. Steve was right. A call was placed from her phone a few minutes earlier.
She look around the room for a moment, puzzled. The bright phone light dimmed, and she set it face down on the night stand again. A full half-hour would pass before she was at ease enough to fall back to sleep.
Kelsey's eyes were heavy the next morning. As she waited for the brewer to finish filling her cup, she watched the tree limbs gently wave to her from the backyard. And just outside the sliding glass door, on the deck, was the dirty red ball.
The second day, Saturday, was less eventful than the first day. There were no deliveries. She worked at the dinning table till about four in the afternoon. Instead of three square meals, she ate five small ones, and finished the evening with a brisk walk up and down the quiet street keeping the house in view. After more TV and some extended Facebook time she called it a day.
“Don't ring,” she said to her phone, and turned out the light.
Sunday announced itself with quiet moring light through the draperies. Kelsey slept in as long as could. Then she got up, put on her milk silk pants, a simple camis and slippers. Then she grabbed her phone and headed for the door, but froze two steps later.
On the floor at end of the hall way was the red ball.
Kelsey remained on edge after she took the ball outside and kicked it back into the pool. She had trouble sleeping, and at least twice thought she heard voices out in the hallway well after midnight.
An evening storm moved in from the east on the last day. It pummeled Mesa when the final delivery arrived around nine-thirty. Between signing for the flat and chasing after it when the wind ripped it from her hands, Kelsey was soaked from the drenching rain.
She decided to change out of her wet clothes, get a shower, and pack. Then she'd straighten up the house before Richard's arrival around eleven.
She took her time under the falling hot water, letting the heat soak into her body. The steam filled the bathroom and covered the mirror. She dried herself, then wrapped the towel around her body. But she stopped before she could wipe the mirror.
On the glass in front of her was the freshly written word, “Hi.”
That was it. Kelsey was completely packed in less than three minutes. She zipped her overnight bag shut and set it in the hallway, then looked over the bedroom and bathroom once more to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. When she returned to the door for her bag, it was gone.
It was at the end of the hall way where the red ball was the morning before. Every pocket was unzipped.
The rains had all but stopped when Richard's car pulled up to the house about ninety minutes later. He pulled his suitcase from the trunk and noticed that someone was in Kelsey's car. As he closed the trunk, Kelsey got out.
“There's something very wrong with your house!” she said fighting back tears of fear and anger.
“Kelsey, what happened?”
“I'm done! Just give me my money. I'm done and I'm not going back in there.”
Unable to calm her down, Richard quickly went inside and returned with a check.
Without a word, Kelsey grabbed the check and left. Richard stood looking on until her tail lights had disappeared.
It was several miles later before Kelsey's body even started to relax. The back window was covered over with condensation offering zero visibility, but traffic seemed extra light. She took in a deep breath and said, “I'm okay, It's over. “I've got money for my own place now. It's okay.”
Ten minutes later she was back at her sister's house. It was a blessed sight for her sore eyes.
Kelsey stepped out into the cool air and started for the house. She saw Amanda at the kitchen window and waved. Then she remembered her bag in the back seat and turn around again. She stopped at the back door but it wouldn't open. It shouldn't have been locked, so she tried again. Then she let go and stepped back.
Written on the wet glass was the word “Hi.”
meet The Man Upstairs!
Ashley Found the house of her dreams.
Too bad it was already occupied.
Click To Order The Man Upstairs