The man with the hair and the skinny white nose, and the overgrown toes, who killed her new friend right under her bed, tasting Gail’s tan while licking her hand, and making her giggle while humming a song which is so wrong and now he will never taste anything again.
The flight to Virginia was uncomfortable for Brian. After two back surgeries and years of overuse, he was almost always in pain.
It was a quick trip, a flight to Virginia to pick up the van – a 2017 Chevrolet Express 3500, converted by Quigley into a 4×4 – a night at the Marriott on the beach, and drive home. Brian’s wife was with him, not only as a second driver but because hell would freeze over before she let him go to the beach without her. Brian didn’t care about going to the beach. He had been looking for a van just like this one for over a year and could hardly contain himself.
When they finally pulled into the Vans of Great Bridge, the sales team had everything ready to go. Temporary plates, two sets of keys and a few signatures, and Brian and his wife hit the road with Johnny Five.
Johnny Five was the name that Brian gave the van as soon as saw a photo of it on Facebook. Grey, with a top rack and black accents, he named his van after the robot in his favorite childhood movie.
Poor Johnny Five had to sit in the parking garage for the night so that Brian’s wife could enjoy the beach. At barely 45-degrees, it was hard to enjoy anything outdoors, but she wanted to see the ocean and that was her concession for making the trip. It was bad enough for Johnny Five, but worse for Brian, who suffered insomnia, and had to wait up all night to see the van again. One long night and a few hours in the morning of waiting, and Johnny Five, Brian, and his wife set out for New York. “Are you ready for some great Ad-Van-Tures?” Brian asked his wife, as they took off in his new wheels.
Brian was everything that Johnny Five ever wanted in a human. He cared about the dirt on his paint, made sure his tank was full and the tire pressure was perfect, and kept the inside clean during the long drive home.
During a normal drive, Brian’s back would be screaming at him to stop driving after about two hours. It wasn’t until five hours into the trip that Brian noticed his back didn’t hurt. After that, his wife wanted to drive so he decided to lay down in the back to see if the seats were comfortable -and he slept for two hours. Johnny Five seemed to rock him right to sleep.
When they got home later that evening, Brian was pleasantly surprised to find that he was in no pain at all. No backache – even his legs weren’t sore, and he had been sitting for ten hours straight.
He went to bed that night happy as a lark, and he kept his grin right past the ten o’clock news and as the clock ticked past midnight. By around 3 a.m., Brian’s grin was gone. He was tired, yet his insomnia had kicked in. Peaking at his wife, sleeping soundly as usual, he decided to go lay down in the van. What’s the worst that can happen? He thought. Another Ad-Van-Ture.
Well, Brian did sleep that night. As soon as his head hit the grey cloth wrapped armrest, his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep, not waking until after 7 a.m. when his wife texted him asking, “Did you go out for beer and cigarettes again?” It was a joke between them, whenever one thought the other was being a little weird, he or she would say, I’m just going out for beer and cigarettes – I’ll be right back. Sure I will.
But one would never leave the other, they both agreed that they were in this marriage until death.
Brian and his wife had a few Ad-Van-Tures together, mostly day trips, and he did on occasion stumble out of the house and into the vehicle on a sleepless night. He back never hurt during their trips, and Brian did marvel that it would start to ache as soon as he would hop out and shut the door behind him.
The outings were fun for them, and for Johnny Five, who liked to be a part of a family, and was happy to help Brian to feel good and sleep well. Johnny Five was happy, until one day, when Brian’s wife was getting out and was heard saying, just before she slammed the door shut, that perhaps the next time they went to the shore for the day they could take the Subaru.
After that, Johnny Five started to act up. At first it was an alignment, then the tire pressure signal kept dinging, then the motor would stall. Brian was unhappy. Johnny Five was unhappy. But Brian’s wife seemed to be just fine, and Johnny Five saw her smirk a few times while getting in the Subaru.
It had only been a few months after Johnny Five came home with them that the arguing began. It wasn’t always about the van, but it usually started with the van – about how much money it was costing, about how a newly converted van shouldn’t be acting up like this, about how if Brian loved the darn thing so much, he should just go sleep in it every night.
Johnny Five heard all the arguing, as the van was tuned into the frequency of the Smart Hub that Brian and his wife had in the house.
Bright and sunny Saturday mornings in the early fall should always be happy times. This particular Saturday morning was not a happy one, not at all. Brian and his wife were having an argument, and they were doing it while taking a drive, ironically, to see the beautiful views. Johnny Five doesn’t remember what they were arguing about but does remember Brian throwing the shifter into park after quickly pulling off the road, and letting out a howl that would have woken the neighbors had they been parked at home. His wife tried to get out, but Brian grabbed her and pushed her into the back of the van, holding her down in the front row of seats. Then, as calmly as one can appear while committing murder, beat his wife to death.
When Brian started the engine about thirty minutes later, after cleaning himself up and pulling his wife further into the van, securely buckled into the second row of seats, Johnny Five started right up. Purred right to life, as they say.
They went for a long drive, Brian and Johnny Five, as the day wore on and the sun began to set. By the time they pulled into the parking spot at home, it was dark. Brian was feeling more like himself, and he knew that he had to clean up his mess and face the music.
When he looked over the seat to see what he had done to his wife, Brian cried out and fell backward, right into the shifter. Scrambling, looking but not sure he wanted to see, Brian sat in the front row of seats, facing the rear. He peeked over the top of the seat to look over, which reminded him of a game he used to play with his siblings when they were young. He peek-a-booed over the seat and saw that the seat from the second row had half-eaten his wife. She was not only sunken into the seat, but it looked like the upholstery had formed a mouth and was sucking her in.
Suddenly so tired that he couldn’t keep his eyes open, Brian lay down on the front row seat, the one that wasn’t eating his wife, and closed his eyes. He slept like a baby all night long, and when he opened his eyes again the sun was just beginning to peak through the windshield. Slowly, Brian peered around the seat to investigate the back and was not so surprised to find that his wife was almost entirely gone. Only her right foot and left shoulder were still sticking out. The rest of her was … gone.
He noticed something else, as well. There was no blood, not even a metallic scent, not a rot, not a gut. Later, he found two earrings and her wedding band in the cup holder. Other than that, the only noticeable change was that Johnny Five now sported a red, shiny leather-like second row seat. Leather-like is what Brian would call it, not quite cow hide or even synthetic, but most certainly not human. No, not human. That would be gross, unheard of, and suspicious.
Just like that, Brian started telling his friends and family that his wife finally went out for beer and cigarettes for real. The Ad-Van-Tures continued, and Johnny Five ran just perfectly from that day on. Brian ran fine, too. No more back pain, no more insomnia, and no more headaches. Life was great, an Ad-Van-Ture at every turn.
By Amy S Cutler As read in the Holiday Horror facebook episode by The Rejected
I am real. I could feel your warmth as you unwrapped me, could smell Christmas breakfast on your breath when you took me out of the box.
I am real. I could see the dandruff on your fleece pajamas as you held me close to you.
I am real. I could hear the way you sighed when you first saw me. Sadness seeped through your thank you. Your parents might not know it, but I do: you are disappointed.
Why don’t you want me?
You wished for a real dog, and what you got was me. You see me as a stuffed toy. You don’t think that I am real. But I am, you just don’t know it yet
But you will, soon enough, when you fall asleep. You will see me in your dreams. I will talk to you, and play with you, and never leave your side. I will be the best friend you always wanted, all you have to do is close your eyes, and fall asleep. I will be waiting for you, night after night, until you believe that I am as real and alive as you are.
I don’t have a pulse. I don’t even have a heart. But I do have a soul, and you are now my soulmate. Best friends. And while you dream, we will play, and you can talk to me about anything. I will talk to you, too, and in time I will be in your head all the time. While awake, while you slumber, even in death.
I am watching you now, as you close your eyes. So close to the truth that I wish I could wag my cotton tail.
And when you close your eyes for the last time, we will be together. Forever and ever.
by Amy Sampson-Cutler, Published by The Pitkin Review
Dorthea had never felt so happy in her life. Not that she could remember, anyway. Window shopping on the streets of Manhattan, she wandered into a bookshop. This shop was different than other bookshops – it had a bohemian feel. Tapestries hung on the walls, and the scent of lavender and vanilla hung in the air from a scented candle near the checkout.
Over the smell of the candle she could detect an older smell – the musky scent of old books. A used bookstore, she thought, that makes sense.
Choosing a title from the shelf of old books, Dorthea found a dimly lit corner of the store with a wicker ottoman and sat down to read. Since she was a young girl, she could get lost in a good story. The story she chose on that day was a book of deceit, of grand illusion and the struggle to fit in.
Dorthea wouldn’t normally sit like that in a bookstore. She would pick out a few books, flip through them quickly right there in the aisle, and purchase them before going home to get lost in the story. Possibly because this was a used book store, she felt comfortable touching the pages. She lifted the book to her nose and imagined that she could not only smell the old book, but the story as well. Damp, musky leaves of a forest combined with an animal scent, feline perhaps. Possibly it was a combination of the fact that the books were used and this store was so inviting, Dorthea settled in, tucking her feet up under her legs.
It would have been a perfect day, except that what Dorthea’s mind could not grasp was that she was indeed in a library. The Alzheimer’s did that to her sometimes: put her in places where she wasn’t, confusing details and twisting her own sight. The library was quiet that day, with only Sondra working at the desk. She watched the old woman shuffle in, wearing loose green sweatpants and a pink cardigan. She kept an eye on her as she slowly wandered the aisles, finally choosing The Complete Alice by Lewis Carroll. When the old woman meandered over to the sitting area, Sondra made a task of shelving some returned books nearby.
The woman had beautiful grey hair, Sondra noticed. It was well-kept, brushed straight and tucked behind her ears. The mismatched outfit didn’t quite jive with such precisely styled hair, in her opinion, but Sondra has gotten herself into trouble before by being too nosy, so she tried not to wonder too much about the woman, even as she noticed the woman’s right foot trying to move to the top of the chair, like she was trying to casually tuck her feet. They kept twitching together, raising up a bit before falling back to the floor.
The woman must have felt Sondra staring at her, because she suddenly turned to face her. Sondra found herself looking into milky blue eyes. Fumbling for what to say, a simple “Hello, lovely day,” was all she could manage.
“Ich bitte um Verzeihung?” the woman asked, confused.
Sondra found herself hugging the book she was holding to her chest. Unable to pull away from those eyes, she tried again. “I see you’re reading about Alice. Do you need any help?”
Dorthea dropped the book to her lap, closed her eyes, and said, “Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen.” Over and over, “Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen,” “Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen.” What started as a soft chant grew in volume, she shouted “Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen,” hands covering her face, book falling to the floor. In her head, she shouted the same words that she spoke aloud, “I do not understand!”
Sondra dropped to her knees in front of the old woman. She thought the woman may be speaking in German, but she did not know for sure. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, let me help you,” she pleaded. The woman was sobbing now, repeating that same phrase and patting down her beautiful hair as if in slow motion. As she picked the fallen book up off the floor, Sondra noticed a Medical ID bracelet on the woman’s wrist. Gently, she took her hand and held it closer to her so that she could read the bracelet. Dorothy Schmitt, Shady Oaks, Alzheimer’s Patient stood out in bold letters.
Sondra held the woman’s soft hand in her own. She expected it to feel dry and wrinkled, but she swore if she closed her eyes those hands would feel like her grandson’s skin, smooth and soft. “Dorothy,” she whispered, “it’s ok.”
At the sound of her name, Dorthea winced. “Dorthea Schmittendorf,” she said with a nod. “Dorthea.”
Sondra smiled. It was not hard to put together what had brought Dorthea into the library. The Shady Oaks Retirement Home was only a few blocks away, and so she must have snuck past the front desk and wandered into her library. Looking at the ID bracelet once more, she wondered about the shortened version of Dorthea’s name, and thought that something like that was typical of an old age home that did not put their patients’ needs first, not even above the staff who most likely couldn’t be bothered to learn a name like Schmittendorf.
Knowing that she would have to call the home and tell them where their missing patient was, Sondra decided that particular task could wait a few minutes. She got Dorthea settled, brought her some tea, and flipped through the pages of the book with her. After a while, Dorthea seemed to see the library for the first time. She smiled, and reached for her new friend’s hand. As their eyes locked, one set a deep brown and one milky blue, Dorthea spoke her first English words in months. “Thank you, my friend.” Sondra squeezed Dorthea’s hand, and Dorthea squeezed back. In an instant, she was back in the Manhattan bookstore, with her new friend.