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Authors: Michael Phillip Cash

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BOOK: The After House
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He dropped the sugar bowl so that the white contents fanned out across the dining room floor in the shape of a whale. He knocked over a table or two, made the pictures on the walls all crooked, stole her shawl, slammed doors—the usual stuff. Nothing really horrific. He was, after all, still a gentleman. Just a little something to scare her off the property. He should have known what was going to happen, should have been better prepared, but Sarah always said he was a cloth head.

The woman came in the next day with a live chicken and sacrificed it in the kitchen. Its squawking scared the shit out of Eli. She waved the bloody carcass at him, the head bobbing, blood and chicken droppings splattering the floor.

He stood in frozen horror. He had to do something fast. Concentrating hard, he forced himself to materialize as she started plucking the chicken for Pat’s soup. Delilah screamed shrilly and threw the damn chicken at him. Its carcass smacked against the wall loudly, startling old Pat into wailing like a banshee about flying dead poultry.

Well, that brought the neighbors, an effeminate lawyer and his husband, barreling into the small house brandishing golf clubs. Two men married to each other! They even wore rings. Eli was astonished. He rolled around the room laughing himself sick. The lawyer took in the bloody bird, Pat talking to the empty corner, and Delilah throwing water from a dark bottle at the shadows on the wall. The dandy passed out, knocking Pat right out of his chair. Well, Pat hit his head, and that was the end of that. He was placed in the nursing home lickety-split, where Eli knew he wouldn’t last too long. Weeks later, he quietly died in his sleep.

Eli stayed with him, helping him cross, startled to see the young man Pat once was when he first purchased the old house. They visited a bit, spoke of times past, and then, somehow, Pat was gone. Eli wasn’t sure where or how, but he’d bet boot nails to bobbins it had something to do with the two pale-faced, white-haired loobies he’d seen lurking around the place. He used his best material on them but received barely a nod. Cold as ice, they were, reminding him of the old sailor who found him after three days floating in a tangle of seaweed, deader than last week’s fish. Had those same vacant-looking eyes. “Well,” he thought. “Two can play that game.” Every time he caught sight of the shiny material of their clothes, he shut down, making himself as blank as them.

Either way, he missed the artist. They ran a tight operation—no waste and everything was ship shape.

“Those were the days,” he thought ruefully. Now not only did he have one female, but she brought along
another. Beastly child. Eli shook his head. She followed him everywhere. A man couldn’t think with the infantry on board. She was a quiet little thing, able to sneak up when he wasn’t expecting anyone. It was wrong, all wrong. The whole thing got twisted up somehow. To top it off, they were changing things in the house. What was so bad that they had to fiddle with it? Everything had been fine for years and years. Pat liked it, the family before—the Hensons—were happy, and the couple before that, and so it went.

This, however, was a horse of a different color. They painted the bedrooms pink! There were flowers everywhere, fluffy pillows, ribbons—the house was fair to bursting with fripperies. Unnecessary furbelows, gimcracks, and don’t get him started on the music, if that’s what you wanted to call it. They irritated him. Whiny, interfering females cluttering up his home, filling it with nonsense, leaving him no peace. That’s what Eli craved, peace, and now he had a decided lack of it. Someone was going to have to leave, and Eli knew he had nowhere special to go.

He entered the bedroom—pink like a pig’s skin, cloying, sweet, not the least bit subtle—and gazed at the woman. She was on her side, her small hand curled under her cheek, the damp tracks of her tears visible. He lowered himself to her dressing table, looking at his reflection in the mirror over the messy surface. The image wavered, like simmering heat over sand, then settled into the familiar lines of his face. He was tall by nineteenth-century standards, with coal-black hair—dark as a raven wing,
he recalled someone once saying. A close-shaved beard lined his lean cheeks, and his black eyes darted around the room. His aquiline nose, inherited from some noble, French ancestor, saved his face from being too beautiful. He touched the scar that bisected his dark brow, trying to remember just where he got it. The memory eluded him. The fleeting images flitted through his head but refused to settle.

He ran his nails across her comb and touched the delicate doily that covered the surface of her dresser. His calloused fingers snagged in the lace. He raised the corner and rubbed it between his fingers. Indistinct images teased his brain, and he tried hard to grasp them. They flickered like a dying flame, leaving only the remnant of charred ashes. He picked up a perfume bottle and lifted the glass stopper to inhale the scent. It tickled his nose, making his eyes tear. A woman’s laugh echoed loudly in his head.

He caught sight of the white-haired ones with the dead-fish-looking skin observing him from above the window. Turning, he sneered at them, his teeth transforming into fangs, his eyes dripping blood.

He distinctly heard the male chuckle as he whispered, “Parlor tricks, Eli? Is that all you’ve got?” They were gone in a blink.

Eli spun, searching for them, ready to throw a fire-ball at their iridescent clothes, but couldn’t find them. He replaced the cap of the perfume lid heavily. It teetered, then fell with the clink of glass, filling the room with the familiar smell.

The female sat up, her eyes reflecting light like a cat’s. Eli’s breath caught as the amber gaze searched the room. He hadn’t noticed her eyes before. They lit up the night eerily.

“Baltic amber,” he whispered. Her eyes were the color of Baltic amber. He had bought earbobs, for…for…whom?

“Who’s there?” she demanded, holding the cover against her chest. Her breath came in short pants. “Scott?” she whispered. Reaching down, Remy grabbed a baseball bat she’d stashed under the box spring, then she carefully got out of the bed. Holding the bat defensively, she sniffed, smelling the overpowering odor of her perfume heavy in the night air. She walked toward the dressing table, shivering as she was encased in freezing air. Spinning, she looked at the window, squinting to make sure it was closed. She swung the bat into the nothingness before her, registering she was alone.

She lit a lamp on the dressing table and righted her split cologne. Her eyes scanned the top of the dresser, looking for a reason the perfume fell. She pulled several tissues from a box and sopped up the spilled liquid. Remy looked around the empty room, wondering why she was thinking of Baltic amber.

“You think he’ll remember?” Marum asked from her perch under the roof.

Sten clicked his tongue impatiently. Vacation was over. They had been recalled earlier than he had hoped. “I’m not a mind reader,” he said testily.

“That’s not what they told me when they paired me with you.” She looked at him sideways.

“Well,” he conceded, “I am, but that’s neither here nor there. I guess the universe feels Captain Eli has laid around here long enough and needs a gentle reminder.”

“I hardly think Olivia’s a gentle reminder.” Marum smiled, her white teeth gleaming. “She’s got more impact than the chicken.” They both grinned.

“Oh, the chicken incident, that was priceless.” Sten laughed. “Olivia’s hardly subtle, but sometimes they need a little jolt.”

Their iridescent clothes gleamed in the moonlight. Marum rubbed her back against the support beam of the house.

“Uncomfortable, are you?” Sten asked, his blue eyes concerned.

“Itches.” Marum was grumpy.

“You’ll get used to it.” Sten stood, brushing off imaginary lint from his shiny pants.

Marum raised her pure, white brow. Her bright eyes were mischievous. “Here he comes,” she said as they faded into the ether.

emy came awake with a start, the sound of clinking glass alerting her that she was not alone. She reached over and grabbed the bat from the other side of the bed. She had slept with it next to her for the remainder of the night. The noise was coming from the kitchen, so she padded down the stairs, her back to the wall. Rounding the corner, she tiptoed into the kitchen and found her father washing the dishes in her sink.

“Dad!” She bounced into the room.

He turned, opening his arms to embrace her. He always made her feel tiny in his bearlike hug. He kissed her cheek roundly, then motioned to the table.

“I made you coffee,” he said in a gruff voice. He tousled her hair. “Go get dressed, Remy. I’m making eggs.”

“You don’t have to, Dad. I’m not hungry.”

“Get dressed, sailor.” He peered closely at her. “This galley is a mess.” He was an old navy man and had served in the Mediterranean in his twenties. “Hop to it!”

Remy raced for the steps, showering and dressing in record time. He set a plate before her, brimming with buttered eggs.

“I’m surprised at you, Rem. I don’t expect to come in here and find a sink full of dirty dishes or a half-finished bottle of scotch.”

“It fell, and some of it spilled.” Remy shrugged, her mouth full of eggs. She refused to meet his eyes. “Where’s Mom?”

“At some library thing in town. I dropped her off.” He glanced at his watch. “I don’t have much time. Do you want to come home? The nights when Olivia’s with Scott will pass faster if you stayed with us.”

Remy shook her head. “Thanks. I did OK. Olivia will be home later today. I have things to do at the studio.” She reached over to cover his age-spotted hand with her own. “Thanks, Dad. It wasn’t as hard as I thought.”

Brian Tanner’s faded amber eyes took in his daughter’s pale face. “This isn’t what I planned for you.”


“You deserved better. I thought you might make a match of it with David,” he said, referring to her first boyfriend.

“Dad, that was ages ago. High school stuff.”

“I never liked Scott.”

“I know, and I should have listened, but I didn’t.”

“The man has no honor,” Brian said through gritted teeth.

“He’s Olivia’s dad.” Remy laid her fist on the table. “We have a child between us, and I’ll have to deal with him for the rest of my life.”

BOOK: The After House
2.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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