Every week I’ll feature a sample from a Kindle book.
Title: Take the Monkeys and Run
Author: Karen Cantwell
The sky was black, my toes were numb and I was a lunatic.
Forgetting that our recent October nights had turned colder, I had set out on my mission barefoot. I had no idea what the thermometer said, but the ice cold brick beneath my unprotected feet told me plenty. And my worn-thin-through-the-years knit jammies were certainly no match against the biting air. Evidently I had left my brains in the house along with my shoes and down-filled parka. Indiana Jones, our orange Tabby, followed me and purred while he rubbed against my legs, offering a tinge of warmth at best.
I squinted into the darkness. “Three thirty in the morning. Am I totally insane, Indy?”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
Yes, I’m a grown woman and I talk to my cat. What’s the big deal? My cousin Samson the psychiatrist tells the family I’m delusional and should be medicated. Pshaw I say. Samson has a psychiatrist of his own as well as a far more disturbing obsession with large farm animals, so I severely doubt his legitimacy. As long as Indiana Jones talks to me, I’ll keep talking to him.
My name is Barbara Marr. I’m not a lady coroner, bounty hunter or crime scene investigator. I don’t fight vampires, werewolves or flesh-eating zombies destined to destroy humanity. Even worse, I don’t knit, sew, bake gourmet goodies for sweet English ladies or refinish houses then flip them for a profit. In fact, I lack a veritable encyclopedia of talents and accomplishments. I have managed to give birth to three children, but when my teenage daughter looks at me like I’m an alien from the planet Freak, I wonder at my parenting abilities.
Then of course there is my marriage. Not long ago I would have bragged to anyone about our solid bond. True love. True fidelity and commitment. That was before Howard dropped the bomb and moved out. So perpetuating matrimony can be added to the list of things I don’t do.
When reviewing the list of lifetime achievements for which I am proud, being mother to my three girls sits at the very top, followed by the time I saw Yul Brynner in a convenience store and discreetly let him know he had ketchup on his chin. He was so thankful that he autographed a bag of Fritos for me.
And most recently I got familiar with the video camera again and shot a music video with my daughters. We called it Four White Girls Do Madonna. I posted it on You-Tube and got over twenty-five views. It was very exciting. Still, I’m not exactly setting the world on fire.
So when Howard left, I decided it was time to resurrect my dream and write about movies. I love the movies. Old movies, new movies, musicals, dramas, comedies, westerns, action, science-fiction, and anything starring Meryl Streep. Some years ago, in between changing diapers and potty training, I had bought a domain name, ChickAtTheFlix.com, with the intention of building a movie review website. I kept the domain name, but got side-tracked by little things like ear infections, strep throat, pre-school, elementary school and baby number three. Now, with my life deteriorating before my eyes, the time had come to take the bull by the proverbial horns and start anew.
After putting the girls to bed, I needed a way to keep my mind off Howard. I plotted and planned a grand design. The website would contain reviews of current release movies as well as DVD releases of older classics. I would also have a weekly blog where I waxed enthusiastic on different subjects of the cinema. Since I had just recently watched a Men of Mystery Film Festival on the Classic Movie Channel, my first blog title would be, “Charlie Chan or Sherlock Holmes? Whodunnit Better?”
At two a.m., I was too tired to think about the website, but too upset about my marriage to sleep, so I turned on the TV. Movie fare included The First Wives Club, A Bill of Divorcement, An Unmarried Woman and The Breakup on HBO. Disgusted, I turned off the TV, turned out the lights and contemplated learning voodoo so I could hex Howard with a festering urinary tract infection.
By three a.m., I had been crying for at least twenty minutes when I heard the rumble of a truck outside my bedroom window. Suddenly, I had something else to occupy my frazzled mind. The truck was back at House of Many Bones.
And that was how I ended up outside on a cold, fall night with no shoes on.
Howard hadn’t changed the porch light bulb before skipping out, so I was resigned to forging ahead with my crackpot scheme sans illumination to guide me. I’d give him a piece of my mind the next time I saw him. Not that I knew when that would be.
With teeth chattering, I crossed my arms and shuffled forward blindly down the brick walk from my front door, intent on catching a glimpse of the activity next door at House of Many Bones.
“Come on boy,” I said to my cat. “You can protect me.”
Indiana trailed behind, but I detected trepidation in his gait.
Nine Hundred White Willow Circle, dubbed by me as House of Many Bones, was the neighboring house to my left, and the current source of my midnight madness. A contemporary style home with avocado green painted siding and beige trim, it camouflaged nicely with its wooded lot and appeared to be like any other house in our quaint and quiet town.
But appearances can be deceiving.
This particular house had been vacant for nearly thirty years. Even stranger, none of the retired couples who had lived on our street long enough to have some knowledge of its history would talk squat about it. They’d talk about the weather, how much their new roof cost, or the woes of their latest hip replacement, but they wouldn’t give up one itsy bitsy little word about the strangely vacant house. In my twisted mind, there could be only one reason a place stays uninhabited that long: skeletons. Be they literal or figurative, I was sure that house just had to be full of skeletons.
I had developed my skeleton theory and coined the nickname five years ago – not long after we moved into the neighborhood. Every Tuesday, rain or shine, I observed a rusty El Camino pull into the driveway of Nine Hundred White Willow Circle at one o’clock sharp. One hunched-over, arthritic man would crawl out of the car, do various jobs around the place then leave. After a few weeks, being the neighborly sort I am, I attempted contact. He had just finished mowing the lawn. The meeting remains vivid in my memory.
“Hi there!” I remember saying, offering my hand for a friendly shake and smiling my friendliest smile. “I’m Barb. Barbara Marr. We just moved in next door.”
He didn’t return my smile. Instead, my hand lingered awkwardly mid-air. I pretended to swat at a fly instead, just to avoid looking foolish. I highly doubt that I accomplished that goal.
Undeterred by his silence, I bumbled forth. “So, I notice you don’t actually live here. Do you own the place, Mr . . . .”
Mr. Whoever-He-Was just stood there staring. Bent, wrinkled and mute. As the silent seconds ticked by, I started getting nervous like a dog that doesn’t like eye contact. If I’d had a flea to scratch, I would have scratched it. He broke the stare by pulling a hanky from his back pocket and wiping the sweat off his face. Then he blew his nose. I cringed.
“So,” he said finally, replacing the hanky. “You like your life?”
“Excuse me?” I covered my mouth, trying not to gag. That whole, blow-your-snot-into-a-piece-of-cloth-then-cram-it-in-your-pants thing has disgusted since I was five and saw Grandpa Joe blow a loogie the size of Texas into a dinner napkin thinking it was his trusty, crusty nose cloth. I still turn green remembering.
“It ain’t a trick question, Toots. Do you like your life?” He pointed a gnarled finger in my face.
“Yes,” I gulped, a little disturbed by his manner, but also surprised to hear someone actually say “Toots.” I was sure only criminals in 1940’s gangster flicks used that word. “Yes,” I coughed.“I do like my life.”
“Then don’t come over here again askin’ questions. Very simple. Stay away from me. Stay away from this house.” He moved off, pushing the lawnmower to the garage.
Needless to say, that was the beginning and the end of our relationship. And that’s when I decided there was probably a whole lot more in that house than dust and cobwebs. Who knew what madness lingered in the mind of Grumpy Lawnmower Guy? Maybe years ago he chopped up more with that lawnmower than just blades of grass, and now only the bones lay hidden within the walls of that house just waiting to tell their sad story.
So at three o’clock in the morning, nearly five years later when I heard a truck with muffler issues rumbling into the driveway next door for the second night in a row, my curiosity was piqued. Uber-piqued. Grumpy Lawnmower Guy was scary, but he was predictable to a fault. Middle-of-the-night errands were not his style. Not at all. Something was definitely up in my generally calm little corner of Rustic Woods, Virginia and I wanted to know what. And Lord knew I needed a diversion from masterminding painful plots on Howard’s well-being. Hence my frigid barefoot foray into the cricket infested dark night. Truth be told, I was probably also channeling a bit of the Chan-man after watching that Men of Mystery Film Festival.
Regardless the reason, I was moving forward and the only question really was, should I keep going? Reaching my driveway, I realized that acquiring a reasonable view of the house or the mysterious truck was going to be harder than I thought. First, the black of night was a major impediment. With no moon or streetlights to help, I was like a bat with radar malfunction. Secondly, the significant distance between the two houses and the fact that they were separated by a line of dense trees and shrubbery meant I would have to walk out into the middle of the street to really see anything of worth.
“What do you think, Indy,” I whispered. “Out to the street or back to our house?”
He didn’t answer. He purred and rubbed, but he was keeping mum.
“The street is cold and the house is warm, and at least I was able to see the top of the truck from my bedroom window. And one of the girls could wake up and get scared if they don’t find me in bed. Whadaya say?” I was weighing the pros and cons with my hands moving up and down like the Scales of Justice. “Street? House? Street? House?”
“Great minds think alike.”
The cat and I agreed that a warm and toasty house was a far better alternative to a frigid and fruitless expedition. Turning back toward the front walk, I stopped when my eyes caught a hint of light glowing through the trees between my property and House of Many Bones. Based on the location of the light and how low to the ground it was, I had to assume it was coming from one or more of its basement windows near the rear. Aha, thought I. Maybe there was something to see inside that window. The gears of my curious mind were turning again.
“Look at that,” I whispered again. “Maybe we should just take a gander over to those trees, peek through and . . .”
“Out for a nighttime stroll?”
With a jump, I grabbed my pounding chest and stifled a scream that, left un-stifled, might have aroused the entire neighborhood. Luckily, it was just my neighbor and friend Roz, who had sneaked up from behind, nearly causing me a major myocardial meltdown.
“Don’t scare me like that.”
Roz Walker lived in the house on my other side. She was smart. She was wearing shoes. Fleece lined. And a puffy coat over a flannel robe. Playboy wouldn’t be calling her anytime soon, but she was warm.
“Sorry.” She handed me a flash light. “You look like you could use this.”
I turned on the flashlight. “Thanks. How partial are you to those shoes?”
“You’re spying aren’t you?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Of course I’m spying. So are you. Your turn.” I shined the light onto her shoes for emphasis.
“Keeping the shoes. Not necessarily partial to them, but I like my feet. You can keep the flashlight though. I won it in a raffle.”
“What are you doing awake at this hour?” I tucked the flashlight under my arm so I could blow warm air into my icy hands.
“The truck woke me up. You?”
“Never fell asleep.”
“Instead of counting sheep, I tried counting my blessings. When that didn’t work, I tried counting ways to hurt my hideous husband.”
“Did that help?”
“I’m awake, aren’t I?” With fingers warmed enough to function again, I shined some light onto my lawn illuminating a maze of carved pumpkins and Styrofoam tombstones.
“Can you see the truck from your house?”
Roz shook her head. “Barely. I could see you real good though.” She tugged at my sleeve. “Did you know your pajamas glow in the dark?”
“They’re Halloween pjs – those are little ghosts.” I pointed to the glowing white figures on my top. “I’m trying to stay festive despite the sad state of my life.” I shined the light toward House of Many Bones. “Do you think it’s a moving truck?”
“Could be. mall one.” Roz’s breath was visible when she talked.
“Did you see Grumpy Lawnmower Guy?”I started bouncing to get my blood flowing.
“I didn’t see anybody. Maybe the house has been rented or sold and someone’s moving in.”
“At three thirty in the morning?”
“Actually, it’s after four now. You should go back inside and try to get some sleep.”
My ears detected a faint noise from next door.
“Wait!” I stopped bouncing. “Did you hear that?”
“That.” I turned my ear. “You don’t hear it? It sounds like . . . hmm.”
“It kind of sounds like a monkey.”
“It’s your cat.”
“No. No it’s not.” Reaching down, I picked up Indiana Jones and held him under one arm. The noise was still there. lmost a vibration. Barely audible, but definitely from House of Many Bones.
“I’m going a little closer. I’m sure I hear something.”
“Well you’re on your own. Peter made me promise to come out just long enough to give you the flashlight and find out what you were up to.”
“Then give me your shoes.”
“No way. I have to walk through sticker vines to get back to my house. Come by tomorrow for coffee. Or lunch, depending on when you wake up.” She flicked on her own flashlight and stepped gingerly away, leaving Indy and me alone to fend for ourselves.
Stepping out onto the frosty grass, I had second thoughts. The icy blades felt like millions of needles pricking the bottoms of my nearly gangrenous feet. Damn! At the very least, I was going to need a pair of shoes if I was going to attempt a peek through those trees. The minor noise had faded anyway. And maybe Roz was right. Maybe this was as simple as new neighbors moving in. Neighbors who worked odd hours. A bartender perhaps. bartender bringing a few things by after his shift ended at two.
Reason trumped wild imagination. I took two steps backward onto the driveway and put the cat back down.
“Let’s go, Indy. We’re not cut out for adventure after all.”
I hadn’t even turned back toward my own house when out of the blue, piercing the dead still of the night, a high pitched howl stopped me in my tracks and sent my heart rate racing at breakneck speed. This was no vague sound drifting through the crisp night air. This was loud, sharp and painful to the ears. Sort of a man-beast howl. Hard to describe, but every decibel was chilling to the bone. Seconds later, I heard a door at the rear of the house swoosh open followed a flurry of activity on the ground behind House of Many Bones. Leaves rustled wildly and there was a pounding of footsteps. I couldn’t see what was happening, but it didn’t sound good. It seemed that something very violent was going down. I looked back for Roz, but she was long gone.
Forgetting my feet altogether, I flew up the driveway, across the walk and up to my front door. Indiana had beat me there and was clawing to get in. As my hand landed on the door knob and turned, I heard a man yell from the backyard.
“Toes!” he screamed.
Wow, that was one mad bartender.
Indiana and I leapt across the threshold. We were inside, but not yet safe in my mind. Just before the door slammed shut, I heard the man yell again.
“Toes, you chickenshit fuck! Get back here!”