Continued from The Parade: Part IV, Under the Mackey Building
Mystery on Maryland Avenue
Maureen pulled her car onto Baker, the street leading to her neighborhood. A thin fog had settled in amongst the trees and had given everything a faint glowing aura. She slowed to enjoy the view. Despite its inherent danger to drivers, Maureen had always enjoyed the magic of fog. Fog could make any landscape mysterious and otherworldly, even the plain streets of Rivercross.
She reached over into the passenger seat and flipped open the styrofoam take out box from the Star diner. She extracted a single french fry and shoved it into her mouth. She hadn't had anything to eat since she'd begun her shift at four. She ate several more fries before closing the box. Once she got home, she and her husband Daryl would have a late dinner. He always waited so that he could eat with her. Although he usually had four or five beers before she got home.
Daryl had tried cooking dinner once long ago and had nearly burnt the house down. Maureen had forbidden him in the kitchen since. Her compromise was to bring dinner back after her part time shift at the Star. She worked mornings at Norris grocery and a few hours in the evening at the Star. After two shifts, Maureen just didn't have the energy to cook as well.
Between her jobs and Daryl's mechanic work at Arnold's Tire and Lube, they were able to keep the mortgage paid and live semi comfortably. Daryl would just have to deal with take out during the week. She popped the box back open and had one more fry. Maureen made the final turn onto Maryland Avenue. It was a long straight stretch to her house, but the glow of tonight's fog made it special. She was driving into mystery.
She rolled down her window and let in the cool moist air but was immediately annoyed. All the neighborhood dogs were barking again. Last night, something had set them all off and like a chain of firecrackers. She rolled her window back up to block the noise. So much for mystery. She was glad she had a cat.
Maureen pulled into her driveway and climbed out of the car. She sat her purse on the roof and leaned in to grab the take out boxes. Pepper, the Wilson's golden retriever, joined the barking and ran back and forth at the fence that separated the two yards. She didn't see the Wilson's car. They were probably shopping in Hamptonville again. She suspected they would move there soon since Harriet had gotten the job at the hospital. As she extracted her dinner from the car, Maureen called to Pepper.
"It's just me Pepper." Pepper continued barking. She took a french fry from the box and walked over to the chainlink fence. Pepper paused in her barking and rushed over to greet Maureen with generous tail wagging. "Hey Girl!"
Maureen leaned over the fence and dropped the peace offering into Pepper's waiting jowls. Pepper gobbled it quickly as Maureen ran her hand across Pepper's ears and head. Pepper immediately ran back to the other side of the fence and continued barking. Maureen rolled her eyes and sighed. She moved back to the car and grabbed the boxes and her purse. Maureen paused to listen. Now that the car wasn't running, she could hear the dogs more clearly. Their barking had different timbre than last night. It seemed...urgent. She stared into the darkness and suddenly felt not mystery, but menace.
"What's going on Pepper?" Maureen asked as she moved to the porch. Pepper continued to bark at the night.
As she unlocked the door, the Halloween skeleton door knocker on their front door cackled at her and glowed red. She started at the sudden noise and nearly toppled the boxes. Daryl liked to turn the knocker on at night, but she wanted to save the batteries until tomorrow night. She also didn't like the damned thing going off when she wasn't ready for it. She suspected that Daryl enjoyed giving her an evening scare. She moved inside and pushed the door to against the laughing skull. It's laughter continued, muted by the thick door.
"Daryl, I'm Home" In the living room, a hand appeared from in front of the recliner.
"Hey babe!" She could see a beer on the table beside him.
"I've got dinner. You wanna eat in the living room or at the table?"
"I'm watching the game." That was Daryl code for in the living room. Maureen leaned in to give him a passing kiss as she moved to the kitchen. She put her purse and the take out boxes on the kitchen counter. She opened the boxes and made plates for Daryl and herself then joined him in the living room. She went back and grabbed the mustard and ketchup from the fridge and brought them into the living room as well.
"How was work?"
"Busy. Everybody in the parade wants their cars running perfect so we were wall to wall all day. How bout you?"
"Norris was steady, usual Friday. It was crazy busy when I got to the Star this afternoon though, but it got quiet before we closed. Ruby was pissy all night. We had to clean everything twice."
"Herbert Lester came into the shop all ticked off today. He thinks he's got a coyote or a fox on his property. Something ate all his chickens last night - maybe a 'coon."
"The dogs here have been going crazy last night and tonight."
"Nah, his place is all the way over at the county line. Anything over there is gonna stick near the river. Oh yeah - I gotta go in early tomorrow. Charlie Matheson dropped his truck off just before we closed. He needs a tune up before lunch so he can be ready for the parade too and I gotta help Arnold decorate the damned truck." Every year Arnold decorated the shop's tow truck for the parade.
"What did he decide on?"
"A ghost - the whole thing is gonna be covered in white sheets except the windows."
"How's he going to -"
"I dunno. He says he's got a plan. I don't know why he always waits 'til the last damn minute." Daryl shook his head.
Maureen laughed quietly. Outside of car repair, at which he was an expert, Arnold was the king of over the top ideas. Last summer he wanted to turn the tow truck into a giant Uncle Sam head for the fourth of July Barbeque. The truck ended up looking like a weird birthday cake with a creepy bearded face bursting out of it. It was entirely possible that Daryl might end up driving a large pillow through the parade.
"I'm gonna paint my face up like a skull to drive. You almost done with your witch costume?"
"Yeah I just gotta paint my nails tonight."
"Get it! Get it!" Daryl yelled at the television. Maureen always forgot that if there was a game on she was only ever getting half a conversation from Daryl.
"Have you seen Daisy?" Daisy was their tabby cat. If Maureen was sitting, she was usually at her side.
"She's around here somewhere. She's been inside since I got home. She won't go out."
"I'm sure all the dogs barking hasn't helped."
"I tried to get her to go out when I got home, but she hissed at me and ran off." Maureen frowned. Daisy was always friendly and sweet. She assumed Daryl had done something to piss Daisy off. Navigating cat moods was somewhat of an art and Daryl did not have the subtlety for such things.
She picked up their plates and moved them to the kitchen. She piled the left overs on to a single plate to give to Pepper. Pepper hadn't liked Maureen when they had first moved in, but her regular offering of leftovers had made Pepper her best bud. She grabbed her cigarettes and the plate and exited to the back porch.
She lit her cigarette and took a long draw. She'd begun smoking outside last year to help curb the habit and to take it out of the house. She had grown to dislike the way it made the house smell. She had been trying to get Daryl to move his smoking outside as well but his lazy ass wouldn't budge from the TV. She spotted Daisy moving cautiosly down the stairs inside and opened the back door.
"Hey sweetie!" Daisy approached Maureen with her tail up but stayed just inside the door. Maureen scratched her cheeks and back. Daisy curled around Maureen's legs and purred softly. "You wanna come outisde?"
Maureen stepped back outside and left the door open. Daisy cautiously moved to the edge of the door and looked out. She sniffed the air tentatively. Her demeanor changed immediately. She stopped purring and curled herself up just inside the door. Her tail grew slightly bushy. She had only seen Daisy act this way in the presence of unfamiliar cats.
Maureen heard a noise from the far end of the Wilson's yard. She turned to look. Perhaps it was another cat. When she looked back, Daisy was running up the stairs. Maureen knew she would find Daisy underneath their bed later. Whenever Daisy got skittish, that was her hiding spot. Maureen closed the door and continued with her cigarette.
She suddenly realized that she didn't hear Pepper barking anymore. She could still hear the other dogs barking, but Pepper was silent. She grabbed the plate of left overs and moved to the fence. As she drew close, she smelled a putride odor. It was a thick fishy smell. She wondered briefly if maybe she'd given Pepper one too many left overs. She took a drag on her cigarette and reached over the fence with the plate.
"Hey Pepper sweetie, I got a treat for yo-" The leftover food slid off the plate and to the ground as Maureen's grip suddenly went limp. The light from the street cast no light directly on the Wilson's backyard but it illuminated the space between it and the yard beyond. A rough shadow was moving about near the end of the backyard.
The shadow was large and oddly shaped. From what Maureen could see, it was furry but its movement made her think of a snake. Its breathing was a ragged wheeze. She could hear a wet crunching sound as it moved. Maureen gasped. The shadow raised up and screeched at her. It rushed towards the fence where she stood, clanging the chainlink with its impact. Maureen screamed, dropping her cigarette and the plate as she ran. She could hear the chainlink rattling as the thing climbed over the fence.
She rushed up the back porch steps and into her house. She slammed the door behind her. Something immediately thudded against the door and she heard another screech. It sounded as though there were a crowd of people running across the porch. She screamed again and fumbled with the door mechanism several times until it finally locked. She backed away. Daryl was at her side.
"Are you okay? What is it?" He tried to look out the window.
"I don't know! I don't know! Get your gun! It got Pepper!"
Daryl rushed upstairs as Maureen grabbed the phone and dialed 911. As she listened to the purr of the dial tone, she flipped on the back porch light. She looked cautiously out the back door window, but the porch was empty. She moved to the side window and looked over into the Wilson's yard. Nothing moved there. There was a large uneven dark spot in the grass where the shadow had been originally. She could not see Pepper anywhere. Maureen gulped to hold back the nausea brewing in her stomach. She backed away from the windows and into the hallway.
"C'mon! C'mon!" Maureen pleaded with the phone. She glanced back up the stairs, waiting for Daryl and the gun. On the landing at the top of the stairs, Daisy sat just beyond the bars of the railing staring down at her.