He was still standing in the same spot when I returned. I handed him the cordless house phone—we barely used it but kept the line in case of emergency—and his long spindly fingers snatched it from my hands. I watched with unease as his index finger stabbed the numbers.
“Jay? There was a long pause. I couldn’t hear any voice from the other line, but the stranger seemed to be listening intently. “Yes sssir. Please be quick about it.” Another long pause. All the while that eerie smile stayed glued to his face. “Thank you, sssir.”
He hung up without saying goodbye. There was something unnatural about the conversation, or lack thereof.
“My good friend is going to pick me up and help me with my car.” His eyes narrowed to slits as he spoke. “Could I possibly bother you for a glass of water as I wait, sssir?” He leaned in closer. The overhead porch light covered his face in shadow as he handed me the phone. Only a faint glint of light off his black eyes was visible. “I’m very parched.”
“Umm… sure. Just wait here.”
Again, I closed the door and went back to the kitchen. This time I moved with extreme efficiency: I grabbed a clean glass out of the dish strainer, filled it with cool tap water, and headed right back to the door. It took less than a minute.
“Here you are,” I said, handing him the glass.
“You’re very generous.” He slurped down the water in one big gulp like some kind of lizard. “I’m sssorry for taking up ssso much of your time.” He handed me the empty glass. Two of his long fingers brushed my palm and they felt like icicles.
I realized while I’d been talking to this man, the evening had given way to night, and the slight chill of the day had turned frigid. The stranger remained smiling, but I could see his thin body tremble slightly.
“It’s no problem. Is your friend going to be long?”
“Oh no. Ssshouldn’t be more than ten minutes.”
A thought occurred to me. I wasn’t sure how to broach the subject, so I just blurted it out. “How does he know where I live? I didn’t hear you give him any directions over the phone?”
For the first time since the stranger arrived, his smile faded from his face. It was only for a moment, but his lips and lower cheeks sunk down into a menacing frown as he stared at me coldly. “Hmm… I wonder?” His smile returned. “Your wife ssshould be home sssooon. Correct?”
I felt the blood drain from my face. “Excuse me?” That was all I could think to say. He had caught me completely off guard. I took a step back and glanced at the grandfather clock behind me. Sure enough, he was right. Her shift finished 15 minutes ago and it only took her 25 minutes to get home. How long had it been since I texted her? I left my cell phone in the kitchen and wasn’t sure.
“Only a faint glint of light off his black eyes was visible.”
“How did you know that?” I asked, turning back around.
He was now standing in the doorway. He bent his neck awkwardly to keep his head from hitting against the top of the door frame. I hadn’t realized just how tall he was until he was standing on level ground with me. The stranger was a few inches taller than me when he was outside, but he was standing two steps below me then. Now he towered over me like a gnarled weeping willow tree.
“Don’t be frightened, sssir.” I was now looking up at his wicked smile and could see the razor-sharp points of his top teeth. “I had ssspoken to her on the phone earlier this morning.”
I flipped through the events of the day in my mind. Then I remembered, I’d taken a quick snack break before my wife left for work. She was on the house phone talking with someone. When she finished, she looked like she had just seen a ghost. I asked her who she was talking to and she told me it was a salesman. Then she told me she had to go to work, so I wasn’t able to question her any further. She rushed out of the house as if she were going to be late even though she didn’t start for another hour.
“Spoken to her about what.”
“Books. I’m a book sssalesman,” he said with that bizarre hiss.
“What kind of books? Why didn’t you mention that first?”
“Oh, how rude of me.” He stepped all the way into the house and put his hat back on. “You sssee. My business deal is with her, not you.” His eyes flashed red like a demon and his smile grew more rigid.
“Get back!” I picked up an umbrella and held it like a baseball bat.
“Well, this is most unfortunate. Isn’t it?’ He took a step forward. His two legs were spider-like and made no sound as he moved. “I’m afraid I haven’t been entirely honest with you. For that, I apologize.”
He went to take another step forward but stopped short. I caught him staring with rage in his black eyes at the cross we have hanging above the living room entrance. “Perhaps you ssshould check your phone, Mr. Sssinclaire.” He nodded toward the kitchen.
I backed slowly into the kitchen—making sure I didn’t take my eyes off the stranger—then picked up my phone.
I’m so sorry Michael. Please forgive me. He was going to take Anna. I had to make a deal, my wife’s text message read. There was nothing else.
I looked back up but the man was no longer there. The front door was shut, yet a chill was left behind.