“You still there?” I asked, speaking to the nothingness of an empty house.

I grabbed a kitchen knife and walked carefully to the entrance way. I peered out the window but there was nobody outside. Then I looked into the dark living room. Empty. I went through the whole house but there was no sign of the stranger. It was as if he was never there. I put away the knife and waited at the kitchen table.

After ten nervous minutes there was a beep outside. I rushed to the window and saw my wife walking away from her car toward the house. I met her at the front door.

“What’s going on,” I demanded.

“What are you talking about?”

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“The book salesman. The damn book salesman!’ I pushed my phone in front of her face displaying her text message.

” I don’t… Michael, I forgot my phone in the bedroom. I didn’t text that.” The color washed out of her skin.

A light drizzle hit the walkway with gentle taps. My wife came inside and I locked the door behind her.

“Megan, who were you really talking to on the phone this morning?”

I could see a look of worry come across her face. “It was a salesman. He was trying to sell me college textbooks.”

“College textbooks,” I croaked out.

“Yeah. He asked if we had any kids in school and I mentioned Anna.” Tears started to well up in her eyes. “Michael, I’m scared. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. A man came to the door earlier. He was—”

That’s when I saw a shadow in the empty kitchen behind my wife. The figure was blocked off by the kitchen doorway, but a long, tree limb-like shadow stretched over the refrigerator and counter.

“What’s wrong?”

I put my finger to my lips to quiet her. Then I pointed to the shadow.

Her eyes lit up with fright and she mouthed the words, “I’m calling the cops.”

She reached into her purse and pulled out her cell phone. She began dialing 911 while we both walked toward the front door. I unlocked the deadbolt as quietly as I could and we both backed our way outside, down the two concrete steps, then made our way to her car in the driveway. Once inside the car—her at the wheel, me in the passenger seat—she locked the doors and hit the call button on her phone.

“Hello? Yes, I think there’s a strange man in our house,” she whispered to the 911 operator. “No, we got out and are sitting in the car outside.” She paused, then resumed talking, “It’s a long drive to town. Yes, please hurry.”

She looked at me with unusually calm eyes. “The cops will be here as soon as possible. They said we should just stay put.”

“Okay.”

I was getting worried; none of this felt right to me. There was something amiss. Then it hit me.

“Wait, you didn’t give them our address,” I said.

“Oh, they umm… They got it from caller ID,” she stuttered.

There was a tinge of panic in her voice. I knew she wasn’t telling the truth. “Caller ID? But you called on your cell—”

My heart stopped. The realization of the situation set in.

“I thought you said you left your cell phone in the bedroom?”

She took a deep breath in and out, then closed her eyes. “I’m so sorry Michael. I didn’t have a choice?”

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“What? I don’t understand?”

“It was the grifter. He made me do it. He said he would take Anna if I didn’t lure you outside.” She started sobbing loudly. “I’m so sorry. I love you!” Suddenly she bolted from the car and sprinted back into the house, slamming the door behind her.

I got out in pursuit, but the door was locked by the time I got there.

“Let me in. Please honey! We can talk about this!” I pounded on the door until my knuckles were raw, but it was of no use.

“Sssorry to do this to you Michael. But it’s time you came with me.”

The voice hissed behind me and sent a shudder through my whole body.

“After all, a deal’s a deal.”

He laughed loud and long, but it didn’t sound human. I could feel the grifter looming over me, but I didn’t turn around. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. But if it meant Anna was safe, what choice did I have?

“So you made a deal with my wife, huh?” I could see that wide evil smile in the window’s reflection in front of me. “I’d like to hear about this deal.”

“Oh, you will. That I promise.” The icy cold fingers of death dug into both my shoulders. The fiery hot stench of decay permeated all around me. “Now, it’s time we leave, sssir.”

With that, everything went dark…

Forever.

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