People had been disappearing. First it was a little girl who got grabbed out of her house while her mother was in the kitchen cooking. Some dude just rang the bell, waited, and then grabbed her. Next it was the guy who worked at the grocery store on Main Street. He was counting out for the night and a neighbor saw a black sedan pull up, and no one had seen him since. Next it was a woman who’d made a local name for herself constructing elaborate bird houses. These bird houses were really something. If they were only a little larger, only a fool wouldn’t want to live in one. No one even saw the guy who took her. She just hadn’t shown up anywhere in over a week. My friend and I decided something had to be done. We’d always been a bit remorseful about not joining the force and working our ways up through the ranks. If we’d joined the force five years earlier, we would have been detectives by now for sure. We both felt very strongly that we were detective material. So we drove by that house where the little girl was snatched. We rang the buzzer, but no one was home, or else no one was answering the door. We considered going through the garbage to look for leads, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. Instead we headed over to the grocery store on Main Street, and tried to look inconspicuous by feigning interest in the low-carb potato chips. We were studying the ingredients and nutrition tables, but what we were really doing was taking it all in. We disagreed as to the nature of a small pool of liquid in the middle of an aisle, but couldn’t deny the fact that something was funny about the Pez dispenser with the exotic bird head. Not only was it a strange choice for a Pez dispenser, but the texture of the feathers was rendered with such dexterity, if we hadn’t known better, we might have figured it was an actual bird head on that dispenser. And of course that would connect somehow to the woman who made bird houses. We got into our vehicle, and headed down the back roads towards the woman’s house. As soon as we got there, we saw the exact same exotic bird sitting on the front porch of a miniature converted barn the woman had set up at the top of her driveway. The miniature converted barn was so gorgeous we almost forgot that what we were supposed to be looking at was our next clue. “We’re on to something for sure,” I said to my friend. “For sure,” my friend said. “What do you think it is?” “I have no idea,” I said, “but we need to get it right before someone else disappears.” “For sure,” my friend said. And so we headed up the driveway and onto the front porch of the woman’s house. “Should we go inside?” I asked my friend. “It’s our duty,” he said, and reached out for the handle. I tripped over the Yellow Pages sitting on her welcoming mat, but made it over the threshold. We started opening doors looking for her work studio, and happened upon her bedroom. It didn’t take me long to start looking through her underwear drawer. She had some strange garments made of nice fabrics loaded with all sorts of complicated clips I was glad I’d never come across before. “I found her studio,” my friend called to me. “This place is incredible.” But I was busy by then walking around with lace underwear on my head like a helmet. “Oh my god!” my friend called again. “I’ve got it! I can’t believe this!” “Believe what?” I called back to him. But when I got to the studio, my friend wasn’t there. I looked all around the house, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I looked around the studio again, carefully studying each tool and unfinished project, but I couldn’t figure out what he’d found. And I still couldn’t find him. I went outside onto the front porch, and felt my heart sink. I sat down on the top step, and stared out at the lawn. I’d gotten distracted by the underwear. I’d done so many things wrong. From now on I was going to have to stop being stupid. The exotic bird shot across the lawn, riding on an air current. I jumped off the porch, and started after him. He was faster than I could ever be, and he could fly, but I was determined.
The Woods at Night
There was a murderer on the loose. It was all over the news. He’d crept up on a woman in a parking lot a couple of towns over, with a piece of wire in his hands, and grabbed her from behind. Road blocks had been set up, interviews were being tape recorded, small objects were being zipped and unzipped in plastic bags, but my gut feeling was that none of it would come to any good. And I had a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Once I found a nickel from 1899 in the mush at the bottom of a pond. In any event, when I heard something moving around in the bushes outside the house, I got a little nervous. When I heard it again, I grabbed a flashlight, and ventured across the bed of pine needles in the driveway. I caught a couple of mildly suspicious dead flowers with my ray of light, but otherwise, everything seemed cool. I was heading back inside, when I heard the noise again. It was around back, near the clothesline. I hooked around the corner of the house, but there was nothing doing in the backyard. Just some laundry that should have been brought in days ago. No crime there. But then I thought I heard something inside the house, so I crept over to the kitchen window, and peered inside. There was a guy standing by the stove, someone I’d never seen before. He was trying to cram long pieces of spaghetti into a pot, and then stirring them around with his wooden spoon. “Yo,” I said, before I could think better of it. The guy turned around, raising the spoon as if it were a legitimate weapon. “What do you want?” he asked, and backed up toward the kitchen entrance. “Nothing,” I said. “I’m sorry. But who the hell are you?” “All right, mister,” he said. “Just take it easy. I’m not looking for any trouble. I’m not gonna call the police or anything, just please leave.” “All right,” I said. “I’m not looking for trouble either. But you happen to be standing in my kitchen. And, if it isn’t too inopportune to mention, there’s a killer on the loose around these parts, if you see what I mean.” The guy stood there for a moment. I could see him trying to open his mind to the situation. He stepped back to the stove. “I see your point,” he said, and replaced the spoon in the pot. “But I have to tell you, and I can only hope you believe me, I’m not that guy.” He seemed sincere enough. “Fair enough,” I said, and looked off toward the woods. “Fair enough,” I said again. I was about to turn and start walking down the path toward the berry patch at the edge of the marsh when I remembered that this was, after all, my house the guy was cooking his dinner inside. “There’s one other thing,” I said, and leaned my head back toward the window. “What’s that?” the guy asked. “This house—” I said. “This house is mine,” he interrupted. “I’ve been living here for ten years, ever since my brother left it to me when he was killed off the point in the hurricane of ‘64. You have no idea how many people have shown up here, just like you, out of nowhere, and tried to take this house away from me. Don’t you start with me, too.” That’s when I noticed that the clock on the wall wasn’t the same ceramic clock on the wall I’d always had at the house. Neither was the refrigerator the same refrigerator. Impossible renovations had been made. “Sorry to have bothered you,” I said to the man. “I guess there’s been some sort of misunderstanding. You enjoy your dinner now.” And so I turned and began heading down the path toward the marsh. An owl was hooting somewhere in the thick stands to the east. Other animals were moving around somewhere up ahead. Leaves were being disturbed. I didn’t know what all was happening around there, but things were certainly happening. Things were always happening in the woods at night. I sat down under a beech tree, and began listening. According to my approximations, I didn’t have anything in particular to do for about 30 years, when a woman’s life would be in danger one night in a parking lot a couple of towns over.
While we were looking through The Herald for some real estate rentals, we spotted an article about a helicopter crash on the outskirts of the county. Some dude had gone down in the woods, and walked with a couple of broken ribs back toward civilization. If he’d chosen any other direction, he would have wandered into thousands of acres of National Forest. But he got lucky. He found a house at the edge of the woods with a woman living in it, and this woman called an ambulance when she heard him collapse on her front porch, and he was carted off. That was all well and good, but my friend and I still had to find a place to live for the duration of the summer, and the coming winter. We circled a few leads in Bic, and set out for the inspections. At the first house we came to we were greeted by a woman with peroxide hair, a high metabolism, and a door mat that read, “Mi casa es su casa.” Dragging us through the cookie-cutter living room, she got to talking. She said that things around there were very quiet, that even though the area was no longer dry, everyone was well behaved, frightfully so, and that even her husband, who was a bit of a bore himself, had decided they needed to get the hell out of there. The only craziness that had gone on around there lately, she added, was a few days ago, when some guy had crashed his helicopter and wandered up onto her front porch around two in the morning, and fallen over. We walked outside onto the back porch and she pointed out across a field and said he’d wandered in from that direction. There was a large field filled with flowers that made you wish you knew the names of flowers. The only hitch was, the direction she was pointing in, there weren’t any trees as far as the eye could see. “You’re sure about your story?” my friend asked her. “I mean, we read about that guy in The Herald this morning. We heard he crashed in the woods at the edge of the National Forest.” “Oh fine,” the woman said. “You caught me. That guy didn’t really come up onto my porch. And I don’t really have a husband. And I’m not really renting this place at all.” She squashed a ladybug onto the rail, and flicked it off into the flowers. “Well,” my friend said, and turned away from the field. “I guess that just about settles things. We should probably be on our way.” We were headed back across the living room, and hadn’t yet made the front door when I heard a loud thud-thud-thud coming from one of the upstairs bedrooms. “What is that?” I asked the lady. “That,” the lady said, and looked up at the ceiling, “I don’t like to speak about. You’re gonna have to stick around for a few drinks if you want to find out about that.” The chandelier above the coffee table was rocking with every thud. I was about to tell my friend a few drinks sounded like a fine idea when I heard a bureau shatter upstairs, or maybe a bed, a window exploded, and a brown horse fell hooves first behind my friend’s back onto the front lawn. It landed with an awful crack. “Nooo!” the woman began screaming. “Nooo!” “Holy fuck,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. The woman pushed passed me, and ran down the porch steps, and dropped to her knees on the grass next to the horse’s enormous chest. She lowered her ear toward where the enormous heart should have been beating, above the enormous stomach, but there was simply no way this horse was alive. “We should do something,” I said to my friend. “There’s nothing we can do,” my friend said. “Let’s just keep moving.” The woman was sobbing on the front lawn, and stroking the horse’s withers. My friend gestured toward our vehicle, and we headed down off the porch and across the lawn. We got into our customary seats, and without glancing back at the woman or the horse my friend reached up to drop the keys from the visor. “Things like this usually occur in threes,” he told me, and turned the engine over. The Herald was all aglow on the dash in the afternoon light. I put my sunglasses on, and looked up at the sky. Whatever was falling next, I wanted to make sure I saw it coming.