It was one of those damp overcast days where it was just warm enough to not need a jacket, but too chilly to go out in a t-shirt. I’d spent most of the morning and early afternoon working on my car in the garage. My wife was working a mid shift at the pharmacy and my daughter still had a few more weeks before she came home for college break. This was one of those rare days off I actually had to myself. If I had it my way, I would’ve gone the whole day without talking to anyone.
The sun had dropped below the murky gray horizon and the sky was growing dark. I’d finished welding a crack in my car’s exhaust—my final task of the day—and was about to take a shower when there was an unexpected knock at the door. It was faint, yet loud enough to catch my attention. We live at the end of an old farm road about 20 minutes outside of town. We never get random visitors.
I was hesitant to answer the door and waited for another knock. A minute of silence crept by while I stood frozen in place. My pulse was racing as my brain cooked up bizarre scenarios of what was going to happen. Another minute went by and I started to think that maybe I was imagining things. There was no knock. Relief swept though me and my heart returned to its normal rhythm.
I started heading upstairs to shower when I heard a pounding at the door that shook the whole house. I nearly tripped over myself as I ran down the stairs. This kind of knocking was almost always used by the police or emergency personnel. The first thing that came to my mind was my wife and daughter. What if something had happened to one of them and the cops were here to break the bad news?
The adrenaline was pumping through my veins and I ripped the door open, rattling its hinges. At the moment I was unaware of my own strength. I expected to see a person in a blue uniform with a solemn look on their face. Instead, I was met with a tall, skeletal figure with gangly arms and pale white skin. He was wearing a faded blue button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled above his sharp elbows. He had on black dress pants that were just a little too long. They folded a half-inch under the heels of his graying black loafers where smudges of dirt were smeared on the fabric.
“Sssory to bother you sssir,” the man said with a toothy smile.
“Can I help you,” I replied with caution.
Somehow the man’s smile grew even wider. His innumerable teeth were an off-white color; resembling sun-bleached concrete. They clashed with the drab white skin of his bony face.
“My car broke down and I was hoping I could use your phone.”
He didn’t move but it felt as if his presence was engulfing me. I had become a prisoner trapped in his black, lifeless eyes. I couldn’t do anything.
“You don’t have a cell ph—”
“Died! I’m afraid. Ssseems they don’t make them like they use to.” He took off his hat—an old bowler that looked as faded as his black shoes. His charcoal colored hair was slicked back and rested right above his abnormally wide shoulders. “I really hate to impose upon you, but I’m in a bit of a jam. I guess you could sssay I’m at your mercy, good sssir.”
Wider and wider grew his smile. At some point I thought the tight skin on his face would crack like old plaster.
I didn’t know what move to make. Everything in me screamed to slam the door and bolt the lock. Yet at the same time my conscience nagged me to help this stranger. It was the right thing to do, but something about this man was off. “Well, I’d love to help, but—”
“Please don’t feel forced,” he interrupted. “If you can find the generosity in your heart, you can sssimply bring the phone out here. I know the world we live in is full of dangerous characters.” His smile stretched to grotesque proportions. “Why, I myself would be wary of helping a ssstranger way out here.” He leaned in close and his breath reeked of rotten meat.
“Yeah, that’s fine. Just give me a second.”
Delicately, I pushed the door shut. I could see the stranger’s eager smile through the door’s blue and green stained glass window. As I walked to my kitchen, I could feel his black eyes boring into my back. I picked up my cell phone off the kitchen counter and texted my wife.
STRANGER AT THE HOUSE. IF I DON’T CALL IN 20 MINUTES CALL COPS
I knew this would freak my wife out and I was probably being paranoid, but something didn’t feel right. Why was this man this far out in the woods?