#20 – Things That Go Bump in the Night
- Strangers Frank Denzre and Kerstin Waterford move into The Rockwell across the hall from each other.
- Frank saves Kerstin from an attack in the street.
- Kerstin and Frank grow closer.
“Oh my God, I hate these kinds of movies,” Kerstin said, rolling her eyes dramatically. “You know that; I told you that.” She set her jaw defiantly.
“I know,” Frank replied with a smirk.
“Then why did you…”
He held up his hand in the classic ‘talk to the hand’ gesture; she stopped speaking. “Does Sandra Bullock mean anything to you? Hmmm?” He said rhetorically, she pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, “yeah, that’s what I thought. I watched that whole damned movie last night and didn’t say a word.”
“Excuse me? Not a word?”
He tilted his head to the left slightly in acquiescence, “well, almost not a word.”
“And, uh, a two and a half our long moan,” she added.
He leaned in close to her and grinned broadly, “that part had nothing to do with the movie,” he said softly and kissed the side of her face.
“Crude,” she said flatly, but the smile on her face betrayed her.
“True,” he countered; he was standing again and she watched him take the movie from its case.
“So we’re really going to watch that?”
He nodded, “yup.” He turned to look at her as his fingers found the eject button on her DVD player. “But you can feel free to bury your face in my chest during the scary parts… y’know, in my chest or… wherever.” He flashed that grin again.
She shook her head but laughed in spite of herself. She straightened herself up on the couch and played serious for a moment, “you would talk to a lady of good breeding in such a manner?”
“Who me?” He said, feigning shock, “I absolutely would not.” He turned back toward the DVD player and then quickly spun back around to look her straight in the eye; conspiratorially he said, “why is there one around?”
She scowled and threw a pillow at him. He caught it easily and threw it back at her; she failed to stop it on its path and the large white pillow hit her full in the face. “Omph,” she said, as she pulled the pillow out of her line of view. “And,” she added, “I’m pretty sure I had to wake you up twice during that mo…”
The rest of the sentence was lost to the muffle of the pillow being shoved back over her head and Frank’s weight pressing on top of her. “Let. It. Go.” He said over-enunciating the words. “We’re watching this movie and you’re going to like it… or not. Tomorrow you can make me watch Bridget Jones of Madison County or some crap… but tonight we’re watching this.”
Fred looked over at the sleeping form on the seat beside him. “Poor little bastard,” he said aloud, although softly enough as not to wake the sleeping child. “Life just ain’t fair,” he said; as he shook his head he realized just how stiff he’d gotten from the hours long drive. He cranked his neck from side to side in a futile attempt to work out some of the kinks.
He glanced back at the kid before returning his gaze to the dark road in front of him. He couldn’t help but think that the kid looked awful peaceful for a boy who had gone through so much pain. “Your parents were good people,” he said to the sleeping form. “Just bad luck you ended up with me,” he added.
The windshield showed the distance they had travelled; the dust and dirt from the cross-country trip had been building up outside the sweep of the wipers as the miles passed. He rubbed his head again; it helped him clear his thoughts. He didn’t know what he was doing. He had just packed the kid into the truck and headed north-east; he didn’t know what he’d find in the little town he’d never heard of, he didn’t know how he’d finally explain to the boy that the trip was one-way.
“Where are we going, uncle Fred?” The kid had asked with a gleam in his eye when Fred had started packing up the few bags that would fit into the pickup.
“We’re going on a trip,” he’d told the lad, “out east, where you were born.” He had winced when he’d said it, expecting the comment to evoke sadness in the youngster. It did not.
“Yahoo!” The kid had exclaimed and jumped into the air, “can we see the ocean?”
Fred laughed in spite of himself at the thought. “Asshole,” he muttered to himself as he drove. He was the only person left in the world that this kid knew and trusted, and here he was an hour away from dumping him off on some stranger’s doorstep.
“Jesus Christ,” he’d said when his brother’s lawyer had told him that he’d been given custody of his nephew. “I don’t know anything about goddamned kids.”
“Mr. Culiton, the will was very specific in this matter,” the woman had said, “Ben and Alicia wanted you to take the boy.”
“What about his birth mother?” He asked.
“I don’t have the authority to make contact with the birth parents,” she’d replied. “I can only follow the will.”
He’d lasted three whole weeks as the kid’s guardian; three whole weeks. The will provided a home for the two of them, but as luck would have it the home that was provided was the one that burned down when his brother and sister-in-law had died. The estate would rebuild the home eventually, but in the meanwhile Fred was expected to keep the kid in his one-bedroom apartment.
“I tried, I honestly did,” he said to the sleeping form. “I am just not father material, kid,” he said more for himself than for the boy. “I mean, you can’t raise a kid on mac & cheese and bologna, I know that… but I don’t know what the hell kids do eat.” He sighed loudly, “I’m a real fuck, aren’t I?”
The boy stirred slightly and rolled over onto his other side. His eyes didn’t open.
Fred turned his attention back to the road for a long while. “It’s been almost eleven years, surely your birth mother is ready to take care of you by now…” he said aloud.
His thoughts and self recriminations were interrupted by the lights of a town approaching. He read the sign: “Welcome to Emerald Heights”.
“Kerstin,” he said; his hand stroked her cheek. “The movie is over.”
Her eyes opened and she looked directly into the smiling face of Frank Denzre. His face was illuminated by the blue glow of the television. She smiled. “Oh,” she said sliding herself up into a sitting position. “Were you sitting on the floor?” She asked as she realized that she had been stretched out on the couch.
Horror movies were not Kerstin’s genre of choice and so she had escaped into the folds of Frank’s shirt or behind one of the large white pillows for most of the movie’s duration. Frank had chuckled at her as she tried to endure watching the screen in the intervals between the gore.
“You fell asleep,” he said, “I wanted to let you sleep.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “You looked so peaceful,” he turned back toward the television that was no longer displaying an image, “unlike the poor bastard in that movie… he basically lost all his…”
She crinkled her nose and raised a hand, “please, no details,” she said. She sat cross-legged on the couch and pressed the heel of her palm into her eyes. “I’ll have friggin’ nightmares.”
He slipped up onto the couch, “I will protect you from the bad guys,” he said in a knightly voice as he moved his body to loom over her.
She looked up at him and smiled, “you already did that.”
“Oh. Yeah. I guess I did.”
She moved herself up and her lips met his. They kissed for some time before she laid back on the couch, looking up into his face. “So,” she said, trailing off.
“Yeah,” he said, “I guess you want to get to bed.”
“You bet I do,” she said as he pulled her to a standing position. She wrapped her arms around him and they stood pressed tightly together, kissing each other for some time. She luxuriated in his warmth, his strength, the feeling of his body against hers. She smiled through the kiss.
As they separated he looked into her eyes, “good night,” he said softly and kissed her again before turning away.
She frowned, “what are you talking about?” She said rather than asked, “I said I wanted to go bed… I said nothing at all about going to sleep.” She kissed him again on his cheek, playfully avoiding his seeking lips.
“Well, well,” he said, “I am all for saying nothing about sleeping.” He kissed her passionately; he added, between soft, quick kisses, “gotta… feed… the… kitty.”
She pulled back and tilted her head to the side, “uhm, what?”
“My cat, I need to feed him.”
“Oh, I thought that was some sort of weird euphe… never mind,” she said as she slipped down the hall toward the bedroom. “Hurry back…”
He slipped the truck into park and pressed his head back against the headrest. He exhaled through pursed lips as he tugged on the latch that released the door. The windows had been rolled up in the truck for a few hours before arriving in Emerald Heights and the ocean air smelled strange to his nose.
He walked toward the phone booth and seized the book as soon as he could reach it. He spread it wide open and started leafing through the pages, looking for an address to go with the name. He repeated the name to himself over and over. “Son of a bitch – there are ten of them!” He cursed.
He tore the page out of the book and slammed it shut.
He climbed back into the truck and pulled the door closed. The boy groaned a bit as he was startled awake, “are we there yet?” The kid asked. His uncle nodded.
“Yeah kiddo, almost there,” he said softly. The poor kid still didn’t have any idea what was really going on, and Fred had no idea how to tell him. He felt guilty that he was going to dump the kid off at a veritable stranger’s house – albeit a blood relation – but at the same time the feeling of relief was starting to creep in knowing that soon his brief foray into fatherhood would be over.
They turned another corner as Fred Culiton looked for the first stop in locating the kid’s real parents. He didn’t have a clue where he was headed. He had to stop and ask for directions.
He swung into the convenience store and jumped out of the vehicle. “I’ll be back in a minute, kid,” he said. He walked into the store and immediately approached the counter. “Yeah, I’m looking for some directions,” he said, slapping the page from the phone book on the counter, “I’m looking for… 1818 Juniper Ave…”
The young cashier, Isaac, looked slightly startled as Fred spoke. “Juniper Ave,” Isaac repeated but not in the form of a question. He glanced briefly at the truck in the parking lot and then back to Fred. “You a friend of ’em?” His tone was unsteady, and there was a hint of urgency in his voice.
Fred cleared his throat, realizing all of a sudden that asking for directions in the middle of the night probably set off more than few alarm bells. He looked in the teens face for a moment, before answering, “Uh… well, yeah… kinda,” he lied, trying to come up with something quickly. He hoped that the kid didn’t know the resident as he continued, “old… war buddies. We served together – the, uh, Gulf War.” He paused, “I just came to look him up, y’know, for old times.”
He watched Isaac cock his eyebrow and stare for a moment, “I owe him a beer or two, y’know,” Fred said.
Isaac flinched slightly and said “Gulf War, huh…” he glanced down quickly, and then back up, “so, yeah, I’ll write down those directions. Just let me get, uh, a pen.” He watched Isaac scribble the directions onto a matchbook and then thrust them toward Fred. “Here, uh, anything else?” There was something in his voice that made Fred curious, but he didn’t feel that he could say anything more that wouldn’t shine a greater spotlight on the strangeness of his own request.
“Thanks,” Fred said genuinely and gave a little wave to the kid before he turned and left the store. He hopped into the truck and turned the key, he revved the engine a few times before pulling it into gear. He looked at the youth who had fallen back asleep on the seat.
He had reached it: the point of no return. If he turned left he would be heading back the way he came, taking the boy with him. Going back home and resolving himself to being a dad to this kid forever – something he couldn’t see himself doing, even if he tried. Turning right meant that he was committed to finding the kid’s rightful parents and giving them the chance to raise the boy.
He rolled up to the turn and stopped, looking left and right.
He had to do what was best for the kid. He had nothing to offer the boy as a father figure. He didn’t have his life in order – and liked it that way. His home didn’t have a bedroom for the kid; who knew how long it would take before the house was rebuilt. The boy deserved so much more than he could offer. Sure, he cared for him, and he could give him that – but love doesn’t buy new shoes for school.
He knew that, if he was honest with himself, he didn’t want to get saddled with the kid either. Selfish, perhaps, but that was who he was. He wasn’t ready for a family; he wasn’t ready to have a son.
“Here goes nothing,” he said, flicking on his blinker and spinning the wheel.
He let his foot off the brake and the tires rolled forward, the truck turned slowly toward the right as he edged out into the street.
The sound of screeching tires pierced the air as a fast moving black truck slammed into the side of the red pick-up sending it flipping end-over-end across the boulevard. The truck rocked up one further time before lolling slowly over to come to rest upside down. Smoke poured from under the hood and fluid leaked from the engine and the gas tank.
The truck’s windows were smashed and a pool of blood was beginning to form on the ground beneath Fred Culiton’s still form.Tags:Frank Denzre, Kerstin Waterford