The final stretch of the drive was uneventful. Regina Tollman was returning home after a long day of planning. Planning for the future. A future that did not include her soon to be ex-husband Roger Tollman, and it had been a long time coming. For some unknown reason he had an aversion to parting with half of everything he owned, including the profits from his last movie Deep Terror; a low-budget film that was going gonzo at the theaters. Regina considered the movie her crowning achievement in her short acting career, even if she did detest those schlocky horror movies. Roger was just too much of a control freak to put up with on and off the set. Tomorrow it would all be over with the stroke of a pen.
The mammoth SUV hugged the curves of the road, swaying to the left as it ascended the curved driveway up to the house. A small electric motor on the garage door groaned to life as it slowly opened and moments later swallowed the vehicle whole. The descending door belched shut with an abrupt thud followed by silence then the click of the car door as Regina's slender figure exited the vehicle.
She was returning home late this evening after a rather strenuous aerobics class. Though physically exhausted earlier, she felt as if she had to go to class that evening just to relieve some of her stress. Morning would come early and there were plenty of arrangements to be made. "After all, it's not everyday you get divorced from your pig of a movie producer husband and get half of everything you ever wanted," she had proclaimed to her best friend Larissa earlier in the day.
"Fester! Fester! Here kitty-kitty!" she called as her keys chinked to the counter, setting down two overflowing plastic grocery bags.
A faint mew emanated from the bedroom at the end of the hall. Fester, the cat, couldn't just show up. He needed to "make an appearance" as it were. Within moments the four-legged figure was sauntering aimlessly through the kitchen, weaving a web of calico around her calves. The phone rang.
"Oh, hey Larissa," she resounded wearily, taking off her shoes as she spoke. "No, I just got back from the gym. Charlie's Organics was the only thing open so I stopped and picked up some stuff for the celebration tomorrow. After six fucking years of that asshole it's finally done and over with. I should be out of there by about ten. He's not contesting a thing," she said, pausing slightly at the end to state her point. "Okay. Listen, I'm beat. I gotta go. Okay. See you in the morning. Yah, bye."
Her head drooped a bit as she let out a small sigh, staring at lumpy bags of vegetables and tasteless dip sagging loosely in their plastic skin next to the sink. She picked both bags up in one hand and opened the refrigerator with the other.
"They'll still be here in the morning," she sighed as she placed both bags on the top shelf and closed the door. "What do you think Fester? Time for bed?"
Fester was more than happy to be woken from a long, comfy nap only to catch a quick nuzzle and then be forced into another long, comfy nap. Turning out the kitchen lights as she went by, they both headed down the narrow hallway to the bedroom. The lights of the city came into full view through the bedroom door. The picture window at the head of the king-size four-poster bed provided a centerpiece for the room that illuminated down the hallway into the rest of the house. It was something she had learned in a Feng Shui class. The bed should be aligned with the windows and doorways to allow energy to flow over you as you slept. Her instructor, Master Cheung, had mentioned to her earlier in the week that her aura was stronger than he had previously seen and told her that she appeared to be at a turning point in her life. It was with great confidence and pride that she related to him the course of events that would be concluded within the coming days. She had to admit that she couldn't remember feeling better in her life.
She turned on the small reading lamp on the night stand next to the bed as Fester curled up and buried himself into the down comforter between two cushy pillows. She then walked over to the adjoining bathroom and filled the sunken tub with hot water. The steaming bath soon relaxed her sore, tense muscles as she contemplated the events of the next day.
"Finally!" she thought. "To be free again." Not that she hadn't been for the past two years but this was to be the last time she would have to deal with him on a regular basis.
As she dried her hair with a towel she thought she heard a faint jingling noise coming from somewhere in the house followed by a slight click. She wrapped the towel around her body, tucking in the end to secure the tubular shape then walked out and surveyed the bedroom. Nothing out of the ordinary roused suspicion.
"Too much thinking for one day," she groaned as she turned off the bathroom light and crossed the room.
The towel slid to the floor as she fluffed up the heap of bed covers then slid between the mound of fabric and feathers. After a few moments of wrestling with the duvet for just the right position, the warmth soon engulfed her. Meanwhile, Fester expressed his dissatisfaction with the flurry of activity by jumping down from the bed and wandering off to the kitchen to grab a quick midnight snack. He would return later when things settled down.
She scanned a few pages of Cosmo before sleep came. A click of the lamp plunged the room into darkness as she nestled in for a dreamless nights sleep. Total darkness faded as the moonlight spilled through the veiled window at the head of the bed. Peaceful sleep descended upon Regina. All was quiet. Shadows played back and forth through the windows like marionettes dancing in the wind. Leaves only occasionally rustled, breaking the perfect solitude.
After what could have been an hour, or an eternity, the silence was broken. Not by a crash, but once again by the faint tinkling of bells. Small jingle bells seemed to be passing in the distance. The jingling had a distinctive rhythm to it; however, no one was awake to notice. The sound was definitely centered somewhere inside the house. Regina shifted in her sleep in response to the broken silence. The jingling stopped as abruptly as it had started. Dead silence. Uncountable minutes passed. The room remained quiet except for the slight snore that began to emanate from the prone figure in the swollen bundle on the bed.
The metered jingle started again, only this time, it resumed closer to the bedroom. In time, the bells made their way into the room with the sleeping woman. The jingling could now be heard moving from one side of the room to the other. It was soon loud enough to stir the sleeping figure when it eventually came to rest at the bedside floor.
"Fester… come to bed kitty," she mumbled half asleep, rolling over to face the source of the incessant jingling. "Here kitty, kitty, kitty."
It was in this half dream state that she sensed the possibility that something wasn't quite right.
"Fester?" she questioned. Fester had never worn bells on his collar. None of her cats had ever worn collars. They were all indoor cats and she felt that they never had any need to wear them.
She closed her eyes tight as she reached across the bed for the light switch on the nightstand. A slight click announced the break in darkness. Slowly she opened her eyes to accustom her pupils to the abrupt change. A figure was visible directly in front of her at the bedside. Groggy eyes shot full open immediately as she stared intently, and directly, into the face of a clown. Bent over at eye-level, head cocked to the side, and silently staring back at her were two bright red eyes and a large, fiery red grin. Bright white teeth were displayed within a broad smile. The creature slowly stood erect until his long, ratted tendrils of red hair grazed across the textured ceiling. She had meant to scream but the breath had escaped her lungs before her vocal chords could react. The earth-shattering scream came with the next breath as she scooted into the middle of the bed then curled into a ball against the headboard. The creature said nothing. She now took her eyes off the hideous face momentarily to look down and examine the rest of the behemoth standing, swaying, before her. The silk costume was a mottled mess. Blood stains spattered and smeared throughout the white silk top with its frills of yellow and blue. Ratted balls of brightly colored yarn for buttons covered the front of the silk top while the checkered red and white pants were faded and torn. Behind the torn patches of cloth there was no reflection of skin. Her eyes peered deep through the dark and hollow holes in the cloth as if light had entered the creature only to disappear. Thick black marks were streaked across its chest and legs as if it had recently been in a car accident and crawled back from the depths of hell to walk the earth.
Regina remained curled there not having the courage to move. Her lip quivered momentarily in a mindless rant.
"What do you want? What do you want?" she shouted between fits of sobs and screaming.
There was no answer. The viciously leering creature then moved with giant steps to the foot of the bed and continued around to the other side. Bells tinkled slightly with each step. Then, the unthinkable happened. The hulking figure dove to the floor and disappeared below the side of the bed. The monster was completely hidden, except for its humongous floppy shoed feet poking up from the bedside. It then slowly lowered the feet down beside the bed out of Regina's view. The bells stopped tinkling as soon as she could no longer see any trace of the being. Her muscles tightened up as she clutched at the duvet. She did not know what was worse: the fear of hearing the bells or the silence. She sat up slightly, still gripping onto the duvet below her chin.
Silently, and much too soon, knotted red locks of hair rose slowly from the opposite side of the bed. As the figure rose to its full height and was hovering above her, she wondered to herself, how could it get from one side of the bed to the other so quickly? The wicked smile and brilliant white teeth remained constantly in her focus as the clown rocked back and forth above her.
Believing that she must be dreaming, she took the only defense at hand. She jerked the covers tightly up over her head and let out a whispered cry, "Please, please, please, please, go away! Go away!" The words had barely passed her lips as she spoke when the silence was broken by a vicious slam of a door.
Quiet again. It was dark under the covers. No shadows, no light, and for the moment, no sound. Every nerve in her tense small frame was now shaking inexorably as the stillness ensued. Her breath was shallow and almost unnoticeable as she pulled down the duvet. Both hands slowly inching it down as her tears streaked across the inside of the cloth. She peeked out. The room was quiet but even more haunting was the stillness. Nothing moved. The blanket was at her chin being clutched in two tight fistfuls at her cheeks. Only her eyes moved. They scanned the room looking for any sign of what had transpired. The hallway door was shut tight but the adjacent bathroom door remained halfway open just as she had left it earlier.
That's when the tapping started, almost imperceptible at first. It was coming from the window behind her at the head of the bed.
"Oh no, not again," she whined quietly, trembling uncontrollably. As she slowly turned around all her fears had come true, for there was that visceral grin staring back at her through the window.
"It's outside," she thought to herself. "It's outside now. I've got to get out of here."
She turned back toward the foot of the bed preparing for a sprint to the hallway door only to find she was confronted with the same hideous face at the foot of the bed again. Her head jerked back to the window behind her. It was empty.
Slam! Regina whipped her head around. The sound was deafening enough for her to wonder how the framework could have remained intact as she noticed that the bathroom door was now closed. Her eyes moved back and forth between the two closed doors.
No more tears could well in the young woman's eyes. Her ears were still ringing from the force of the exploding door. Her hands grew white as all of the blood was squeezed out from the clenched fists gripping the duvet. She sat there in silence, staring at both closed doors in front of her through the bedposts. The bathroom or the hallway: which door held the trap that led to certain death?
Her vision became blurred as her head shuddered back and forth, eyes darting from one door to the other. Waiting. Knowing. Reflexively, she moved her head to the window again. Nothing.
She heard a click at the other side of the room. Her head jerked back toward the doors. She knew what it must be. She watched as the knob on the hallway door slowly began to turn. She then noticed the same action happening with the bathroom door. Both doors clicked at the same time as the latches broke free of their strike plates. She felt her neck muscles strain as the doors slowly opened. The muscles of her chest also began to tighten more. Her entire body began to convulse uncontrollably. Stiffened with fear she could not move as two monstrous creatures ducked through the doorways and slowly made their way to the foot of the bed. The spectacle would soon be over as fright consumed Regina. Her vision began to tunnel and blur; breathing became impossible as every muscle contracted with a force that seemed to crush bone as she fell to her side, knees pulled up to her chin, convulsing in terror. Her trembling subsided shortly thereafter. Stillness. Quiet.
The two hulking figures remained silent at the foot of the bed for a few minutes longer before they slowly backed up to the hallway door, turned, then exited. One of the two creatures stopped momentarily on the other side of the archway, scooped up a pair of small jingle bells, and gave Fester a parting scratch under the chin as the cat returned for his nap.
"Good morning, Alan," a jovial Roger Tollman announced as he entered the law offices of Silverman and Epstein. His six foot one, three hundred twenty-five pound frame announced itself before he even arrived.
"Good Morning, Mr. Tollman," counsel responded.
"Listen, I hope you don't mind but I'm on kind of a busy schedule. I had to pick up the stars of my new movie as I was passing through. It's called Three Rings of Death. These guys are gonna be huge I tell ya. Their apartment is on the way to the studio so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone, if you know what I mean. Alan Silverman, I'd like you to meet Jay and Edward Rivers."
Mr. Silverman reached aggressively around the rotund Tollman to shake hands with the two tallest black twins he had ever laid eyes on.
"My gosh! You're already huge!" exclaimed Silverman.
"Nice to meet you sir," they responded simultaneously. Broad smiles crossed their face as they were shuttled into the waiting room of the law office.
"You guys understand, don't you?" Tollman asked. "This is kind of a sensitive issue. We'll be back in a few moments. There's some nice magazines out here though."
"Well Roger, if you'll follow me, let's take a seat and we'll get started just as soon as Mrs. Tollman arrives. She should be here any minute."
The twins, sitting on the couch in the waiting room, looked up from their magazines and turned their heads slowly toward each other. A knowing smile crossed each of their faces as they overheard Mr. Silverman's remarks and then slowly faded as they turned their gaze once again down to their open magazines.