Authors: Richard Laymon
“That’s nice,” Gillian said.
“Nice? It’s great! I got an ‘A’!”
“Somebody did.” The “A” called for a ten-dollar bonus in addition to the twenty-dollar advance John had paid her for writing the paper. She held out her hand.
Smiling, John produced his wallet. “You’re terrific, you know that?” As he slipped out a ten-dollar bill, a sudden gust of October wind snatched it from his fingers. Gillian made a quick grab for the tumbling bill as it fluttered past her face. She missed. It sailed over the battered picket fence.
“Shit!” John yelled.
Several yards beyond the fence, weeds in the overgrown yard snagged the bill.
“Don’t stand here like a numbnuts,” Gillian said. “Go get it.”
“No way. I’m not going in there.”
Gillian sighed, set her binder and books on the sidewalk, and rushed toward the gate.
“I wouldn’t do that!” John called.
“Obviously,” she said. The gate hung crooked, held up only by the single hinge at the bottom. She lifted it, shoved it inward, then ran through the weeds. She plucked the money off a sticker bush.
“Boy, that was stupid,” John said when she returned to get her books.
“The only stupid thing was that you made me go after its ”
“That’s Mabel Brookhurst’s place.”
“So? Who’s she?”
John’s eyes brightened as if he were thrilled to meet someone who hadn’t heard the story. “She was a lunatic. My dad’s a paramedic, you know. He was one of the guys that went in and got her. She’d been dead like three weeks, hanged herself. The stink was so bad the neighbors had started complaining. That’s how come she got found.”
“Pleasant,” Gillian muttered.
“They say there’s no way to get the smell out. That’s how come nobody’s bought the place. And there’s the writing. Dad said she’d written weird shit everywhere—all over the walls and ceilings. With a marking pen. You can’t just paint over a marking pen, it comes right through the paint. So even if they could get rid of the stink ...”
“What sort of stuff did she write?”
John shrugged. “Who knows? Weird shit. She was cracked.”
“Didn’t anybody read it?”
“I don’t know. Dad didn’t. I mean, the place reeked. He didn’t stick around any longer than he had to.”
“I wonder what she wrote,” Gillian said.
Grinning, John said, “Why don’t you go in and find out?”
“Sure thing,” Gillian said. “You think I’m nuts?”
It was a Friday. Before her parents went to bed, Gillian told them she would be staying up late to watch TV. It was not exactly a lie. At that time, intrigued as she was about the writing Mabel Brookhurst had left on the walls and ceilings before hanging herself, she doubted that she actually had the courage to sneak over to the old house for a look.
After an hour of staring at the television movie, wondering about the Brookhurst house and trembling, she made up her mind. She left the TV on with its volume low. She turned on the light in the downstairs bathroom and shut the door to make it appear that she was inside—just in case one of her parents should come downstairs and wonder why she wasn’t in front of the television.
In her bedroom, she changed from her nightgown into jeans, a chamois shirt and sneakers. She picked up her Polaroid camera and tiptoed downstairs and out of the house. In the garage, she found her father’s flashlight and a screwdriver.
The walk to the Brookhurst house took no more than ten minutes. She stopped in front of it. Her mouth was dry, her heart thudding. She felt the wind under her shirt-tail, chilling her back.
Lights were on in some nearby houses, but she saw no one.
And no one sees me, she thought.
The Brookhurst house looked dismal. The weeds in front shifted and crackled in the wind. One of the front windows was broken, a star of blackness on the reflecting sheen of its pane.
I must be nuts, Gillian thought. I’m not going in there.
She walked past the crooked gate and kept on walking, and felt her fear slide away.
I’ll just go back home and forget it. Nobody will ever know. It was a stupid idea.
Instead of relief, Gillian felt a sense of letdown.
What’s the worst thing that could happen if I did go inside, she asked herself. The cops might get me. Can’t be much of a crime, sneaking into an abandoned house. They’d take me home. I’d have some explaining to do, but Mom and Dad are okay. They’d think it was a weird move, but ...
What’s really the worst thing that could happen?
I’m not, for godsake, going to meet Mabel’s ghost.
The worst thing, she finally decided, would be to sneak in and get herself nailed by some kind of creep or pervert. A deserted, run-down place like that, anybody might be staying there.
She began to feel the fear again. This time, she recognized that part of it, at least, was excitement.
Just watch your step, she thought, and get the hell out if there’s any sign the place is occupied.
Gillian had already reached the corner of the block. She turned back. On her way toward the Brookhurst house, she watched the neighboring homes. Most of the draperies in the lighted windows were shut. Someone might be peering out a dark window, but she was willing to take the chance. If the cops grabbed her, too bad, but so what? A little embarrassment. She could live with that.
She swung open the gate and ran through the weeds to the side of the house. Ducking around the corner, she leaned against the wall and tried to calm down. For a few moments, she couldn’t get enough air. This seemed strange to Gillian. She was in good shape; running such a short distance shouldn’t have winded her at all. It had to be nerves.
Soon she was breathing more easily but her heart continued to race. Though she was no longer cold, she felt shivery inside. She noticed a tingling tightness in her chest and throat—a peculiar cross between pain and pleasure that she associated, somehow, with sliding down a rough hill on her rump. Her skin was crawly with goosebumps. Her nipples felt stiff and sensitive, alive to every touch of her blowing shirt. The inseam of her tight jeans pressed against her like a finger. The denim was moist.
For a long time, she didn’t move. She simply leaned against the wall, hidden by a thick hedge along the neighbor’s property line, and wondered what was going on with her body. It had to be a combination of fear and excitement—the thrill of doing something forbidden and a little bit dangerous.
I’d better get on with it, she finally told herself.
Easing away from the wall, she walked alongside the house. The weeds crunched under her feet. She crouched each time she came to a window. At the rear of the house was an overgrown yard.
She found a back door. Stepping up to it, she tried its handle.
The door was locked. Good. If it hadn’t been, she might have given up, figuring that somebody else might be inside. She realized that she hadn’t tried the front door.
Too late for that now.
With the screwdriver, she dug into the doorframe beside the lock plate. Bits of wood broke off. Splinters tore loose. Finally, she worked back the lock tongue and opened the door.
She entered the house.
The stale air was warm and had a faint, sweetish odor that Gillian found a little sickening, but not so bad that she needed to gag.
She was in the kitchen. For a while, she stared straight ahead into the darkness and didn’t move. She heard the rush of her heartbeat, the sounds of her shaky, ragged breathing. She tried to hold her breath, but couldn’t. She still trembled. The current sizzling through her body seemed even stronger than before; it made her ache for release, to cry out in terror or quake in orgasm.
Get moving, she told herself.
She turned on the flashlight and swept its beam through the kitchen. There was no writing. Maybe John had it all wrong.
Then Gillian stepped into the hallway. The ancient wallpaper, yellow with age and peeling in places, looked like the canvas of a crazed graffiti artist. So did the ceiling. Amazed, she swung her light beam along the multi-colored words and drawings.
All the drawings seemed to feature an obese woman. They were as primitive as the artwork of a four-year-old: bloated bodies, pumpkin heads with scrawls of orange hair and faces composed of bright slashes and circles, oval legs and arms, stick fingers. There were pictures with colors scribbled onto represent clothes. In many of the pictures, the woman was naked, with mammoth, pendulous breasts and huge red nipples. Here and there were drawings of a rump that looked like a pair of clinging balloons.
Must be self-portraits, Gillian thought. She felt a little sorry for the woman, but her pity was mixed with astonishment.
As if she had discovered a hidden treasure.
She read some of the scrawled messages:
Mabel Mabel big as a stable,
Finished her meal
So she ate the table.
I think that I shall never see—
Blubber. Blub blub blub.
It is no fun
To weigh a ton,
It is no fun at all.
It’ll take a crane
As big as a train
To pick me up if I fall.
Deader is bedder.
I have no kids,
No Mary or Bill.
It’s just as well.
I have no kids,
No Bonnie or Jim.
If I had kids
I’d eat them.
Hang and dangle.
Gillian didn’t read anymore. She had brought her camera along, intending to take photographs of whatever she might find interesting in the house, but she wanted no reminder of this woman’s torment.
She didn’t explore the rest of the house.
Would’ve been fine, she thought as she walked home, if the woman hadn’t put such depressing shit on her walls and ceilings.
What d’you expect? The gal committed suicide. You’re lucky you didn’t find something a whole lot worse.
Sneaking in that way, spying into her life.
Next time, don’t pick a goddamn suicide.
Gillian wanted to feel that way again, to feel as she did before the gloomy drawings and messages ruined it for her.
The next day, she called John on the telephone. “Guess what I did,” she said.
“Finished my history paper?”
“I had a look inside Mabel’s house.”
“I wanted to see what she wrote all over the place.”
“Yeah. And what did you find out?”
“She was fat. A blimp. Apparently, that’s what drove her crazy enough to kill herself.”
“I knew you didn’t go in there. You kidding? She was nothing but skin and bones. Dad said she looked like one of those pictures you see of Auschwitz survivors.”
“Hey, she was always that way. I used to see her around. She’d turn sideways, she’d disappear.”
The revelation astonished Gillian. She couldn’t get over it. Though Mabel’s problem certainly seemed tragic, she felt as if she’d made an amazing discovery.
What if every house held strange secrets?
And even if they didn’t, there was the thrill of sneaking in to explore.
That night, after her parents had gone to bed, she broke into the house of Ralph and Helen Norris, friends of her parents who were in Las Vegas for the weekend.
She felt a frenzy of fear and excitement.
She searched their closets and drawers.
Though she made no startling discovery, it didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was being there.
She tried their bed.
She took pictures and notes of every room.
What else? She wasn’t ready to leave. Not yet.
She drank a cold beer and ate potato chips at their kitchen table, sitting in the darkness, hardly able to swallow because of her thudding chest.
Still unwilling to leave, she went into the master bedroom. There was a huge sunken tub. She filled it, took off her clothes, and climbed in. Except for the dim light from the window, the bathroom was dark.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thought. I must be nuts. What if they come home and find me naked in their tub?
Hi, folks. I’m Goldilocks.
With a trembling laugh, she slipped down into the deep, hot water.
The Norris experience had been the start of something big. A life-changing event. The beginning of a series of adventures that led to a weird kind of addiction. It set in motion within her a yearning desire to discover the innermost secrets of other people’s homes. In doing this, Gillian found an immense sense of fulfillment. A needy gratification that was almost sexual.
The highlight of it all, though—the cherry on top of the proverbial cake—had been bathing in the Norris’s tub. After that, the ritual bath had been the highlight of every one of her intrusions.
Later. Two years and forty or so intrusions later, she’d tried to reason out, why baths? Why this fetish with other people’s bathing arrangements? That first glimpse of the bathroom itself, the tub and the accessories that went with it: oils, shampoos, talc, deodorants, perfumed soaps. They all played an important part, leading up to the real climax. The shivers of excitement, the thrill of invading the inner sanctum of some unknown person.
Then. Easing into those hot bubbles.
As good as an orgasm.
The sensual release of some kind of mental climax. Lying naked and up to the neck in some guy’s hot, foaming bubbles, she’d come, no problem.
Other girls had sex with strangers. Just for the thrill of it. Wham bam, thank’ya ma’am. And goodbye forever. No hassle. No hangups. No long-winded affairs to cool off, or drift into indifference. Two ships that passed in the night.
For Gillian, it was like: who needs a man when you can have it all in a stranger’s tub?
You get it off in a hot tub? In somebody else’s bathroom? D’you get all of your kicks this way? Like as in some kind of titillation? The whole experience is a come-on?
No shrink had heard of this one.