Threshold

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic


A man's house is the last stop on a tour of Binghamton.

Submitted: September 05, 2017

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Submitted: September 05, 2017

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THRESHOLD

 

by

 

Harris Proctor

 

 

 

A tour group was in front of my house again.  It had been a while since I’d seen one.  I cursed into my second cup of coffee as I stared out the window at them.  The groups all looked the same.  Eight to twelve adults of varying height.  They usually had pot-bellies and were seldom attractive, even by walking-tour standards.  As always, Edgar stood in front of them.  He gestured at my house with his typical enthusiasm.  This was his big finish.  He was wrapping up the overnight tour of “Ghoulish Binghampton.”  My house was the grand finale.  The two-bedroom, one-bath home that contained, so he claimed, the Gateway to Hell.

 

I slid open the window.

 

“There’s no ‘P’ in ‘Binghamton’, Edgar!” I yelled through the screen.  He stopped and turned to me slowly.  It drove him nuts when I interrupted his enthusiastic description of “Gehenna’s Maw” or wherever the heck he was in his rant.

 

“There used to be!  In olden days!” he shouted back.

 

“Never.  I looked it up.  You just misspelled it when you ordered your t-shirts, and now you have to pretend it’s a real thing!”

 

Edgar clenched his jaw.  The veins on his neck stood out from beneath a misspelled t-shirt that anyone on the tour could purchase for 25 bucks.  He pivoted back to his group.

 

“That, ladies and gentlemen, is literally the owner of Hell House.  We don’t know if he is a servant of Satan or merely an idiot.  We do know that he interrupts people constantly.  However, it’s impossible to determine if he is playing dumb or if he is truly, incredibly stupid.”  He looked over his shoulder and glared at me for a moment.  Two of the tourists snapped a picture of me.  One had a massive old camcorder like my parents used to have.  I hadn’t seen one of those in years.  I took a sip of coffee.  Edgar turned back to the group, inhaling deeply as he prepared to dive back into his description of the Jaws of Hades.  I cut him off.

 

“It’s just an old well, Edgar!  And there’s still no ‘P’ in ‘Binghamton’!”

 

“Yes, there was!  Back when your parents were supposed to be teaching you not to interrupt people!”  Edgar had this habit of slapping his arms straight down when he was agitated.  He looked like a penguin.

 

“You look like a penguin when you do that!” I yelled through the screen.  “Is that where your stray ‘P’ came from?  From the word ‘penguin’?”  He struggled for a comeback so I dove in again.  “You folks should insist on a properly-spelled souvenir.  I have some great shirts here that are spelled correctly and only 12 dollars!  Two for twenty if you act now!”  One old fella pulled out his cash and started counting.  His wife made him put it away.  I snickered into my coffee.

 

“Pay no attention to the diabolical moron, folks!” Edgar said trying his best to stand between me and the group without stepping on my lawn.  “His t-shirts are literally cursed.  If they exist at all.”

 

“Stay off my lawn, Edgar!”

 

“I’m not on your stupid lawn, Alan!”

 

“There’s no gateway to hell, folks.  Not in my basement anyway.”

 

“If that’s true, then take us down there and prove it,” Edgar yelled.  The tour murmured in agreement.  One time I told a tour they could see the gateway to hell.  Then I pressed my butt cheeks up against the window screen.  The tour group took pictures.  That was how my ass ended up on the Channel 40 news at ten and, subsequently, the internet.

 

“I shouldn’t have to let strangers into my house to prove I don’t possess an imaginary portal to the afterlife in my cellar.  Besides, I’m already late for work.”  I headed back to the kitchen as Edgar carried on his monologue to the group.

 

“I have seen it myself, folks!”  He hollered.  That was true.  He had seen the well.  I bought the house three years earlier.  A particularly successful hot-air balloon festival had driven the cost of rent in Binghamton sky high.  It seemed the balloon enthusiasts were inclined to rent rather than buy, as the continued success of the festivals was impossible to guarantee.  Especially since weather is such a factor in ballooning.  A friend suggested I buy a small house and build some equity rather than throw money away on a lease.  That’s how Edgar got into my basement.  The one time.

 

While my house isn’t very large, it has always been more space than I need.  I figured renting out the second bedroom would help with the mortgage payments.  Edgar was the first to respond to my online ad.  He seemed ok when he came over to view the room, despite his overuse and odd pronunciation of the word ‘literally’.  After a long chat, Edgar asked to see the basement.  I brought him down there, explaining it wasn’t very big and I didn’t keep much down there besides rusty old gardening tools.  Certainly nothing of value.  Edgar took one look at the old well in the corner and started shrieking.  At first I thought he saw a mouse or something.

 

“What is it?” I asked, stepping over to the well.  It wasn’t much to look at.  Just a circle of rocks about four inches high and two feet around.  Full of loose dirt.  I looked for anything horrifying as Edgar ran up the stairs and out of the house.  I popped out of the bulkhead to try and catch up to him, but he was booking it down my street, screaming the Lord’s Prayer.  I assumed that meant he wasn’t interested in being roommates and scratched him off my list.  Nine months later he was standing in front of my house with his ridiculous t-shirt and his first tour group.

 

At first I tried to ignore them.  I wasn’t sure what to do about the situation, but it was mostly harmless.  They would just hang out and stare at my house for half an hour or so.  I assumed it would stop after a while.  It didn’t.  I found the website for “Ghoulish Binghampton” tours.  They would meet in front of the Broome County Courthouse at midnight.  The tour took seven hours and included a choice of cheese stick or pudding.  I asked my friend Sheila (really, just a friend) to take the tour so I could know what was wrapping up outside my door.

 

She said that it was a very detailed tour of several real and a few imagined horrors and alleged hauntings.  Apparently there were more serial killers in Binghamton’s history than we knew.  Also, Edgar was under the impression that Blackbeard was active on the Susquehanna River.  Sheila decided to have the pudding and mentioned that Edgar used the word ‘literally’ too often and inappropriately.  She said that it was fairly entertaining but got a little boring for a couple hours toward the end.  The big finish with the Gateway to Hell apparently rekindled the group’s interest.  I wondered if the tour was built around my well, or if he added it to jazz up an interminable walk.

 

One morning I found eight to twelve adults of varying height looking in my windows.  I hit the roof and filed a restraining order to keep Edgar’s silly tours away from my house.  Unfortunately, I was late for the court hearing.  My podiatrist is legally blind, so the appointments can be lengthy.  I should have rescheduled.  The judge didn’t care for my excuse.

 

“I’m pleased to know that your feet are in good shape to tread upon the respect this court demands, Mr. Steuben,” he said.  I corrected the way he pronounced my name.  It isn’t like the Baron von Shtoy-ben.  It rhymes with Reuben.  Like the sandwich.  You wouldn’t order a Roy-ben with extra sauerkraut.  The judge didn’t care for being corrected.  He ruled that Edgar’s rights of free speech and peaceable assembly were inviolate, provided that he and his tours remained on the sidewalk.  I protested as peaceably as I could that the Gateway to Hell was not in my basement.  The judge cautioned me that he was in no legal position to rule on Edgar’s religious convictions.

 

I considered moving, but who would want to buy a house that has a walking-tour infestation and (allegedly) a doorway into damnation?  Most of the time I tried to maintain my policy of ignoring them.  If it was the weekend, I’d just sleep in.  Then, one morning, I overheard Edgar talking about me.  Not the Hell-well.  Me.  At that point I was left with no other recourse than to exercise my free speech at Edgar through my front window. 

 

“He could be a lunatic.  He could be a Satanist.  He certainly is sick and probably twisted,” Edgar was saying.

 

“Shut the hell up!” I shouted over my coffee.  Edgar was stunned into silence.  “Hey,” I yelled.  “There’s no ‘P’ in ‘Binghamton’.  That’s a sick and twisted way to spell ‘Binghamton’.  Lunatic!”

 

“There he is!”  Edgar flapped his arms like a penguin.  “There is the madman who literally lives here!”

 

“That’s right, Edgar,” I shouted through the screen.  “I don’t metaphorically live in my own home.  I literally live here.”  I watched him flap his arms for a moment.  “That’s a stupid-looking shirt,” I said and shut the window.

 

Edgar and I had crossed a line.  When I came home from work, there was an envelope in my mailbox.  No letter, no note.  Just eleven greasy dollar bills.  I didn’t think it was him at first.  But every time a tour came by, an envelope would follow.  Sometimes there was a 20 inside.  Sometimes it was full of loose change and taped shut.  At first I thought he felt guilty over calling me a maniacal devil-worshiper.  Then it occurred to me that he felt we were partners now.  If the talk of Satan’s doorstep had juiced up his boring tour, having a villain to cross swords with must have done wonders for his performance.  I realized he was violating the judge’s order by crossing the threshold of my property to deliver the envelope.  That was the price of a modest trickle of cash.

 

The tours and the envelopes started thinning out.  I read something in the paper about how this year’s disaster of a hot-air balloon festival had done a number Binghamton’s tourism industry.  I started to think that Edgar had thrown in the towel.  It was strange.  There was a sort of loss I felt at that chapter of my life closing.  Until I saw the latest tour and heard Edgar’s stupid voice again.  The feeling of loss was replaced by pure hostility.  It took all my effort to keep from running him over as I backed the car out of my driveway.

 

“There’s no frickin’ Gateway to Hell,” I said, rolling down my window.

 

“You literally don’t know that!”

 

“Yes I do.  There’s no fire, no brimstone, no screaming, and no demons.  There’s just an old well full of dirt.”

 

“Dig it up and prove it!”  The group started mumbling in agreement again.

 

“And how far do I have to dig?” I asked.  Edgar stared at me like I was speaking Greek.

 

“Until you reach Hell,” he said as though it was obvious.  The group muttered further agreement.

 

“Sure,” I said, pulling away.  “I’ll go dig some dirt.  You go pound sand!”  As I drove to work, I reflected on the thought that Edgar had a sliver of a point.  I literally didn’t know that the well wasn’t the Gateway to Hell.  I didn’t believe it was.  I was pretty certain it wasn’t.  But having never dug up the well, I didn’t technically know with a hundred percent certainty that it was merely a well.  It sure looked like an old well.  I assumed that the Devil would have a more impressive front door.  The Prince of Darkness went and got all modest when it came to his Gateway.  The splinter of unreasonable doubt stung my mind.

 

An envelope waited for me when I got home from work.  Inside was a single dollar bill with a cartoonish middle finger drawn on it.  I got back in my car and drove to my parents’ house out in Castle Creek.  Sure enough, they still had their old camcorder.  And a tripod.  I even found a tape full of old episodes of Cab Stand!  I didn’t think they’d mind me taping over it.  My plan was fully hatched before I made it home.  I was going to record the excavation of the well.  And I was going to sell the tape to the highest bidder in Edgar’s next group, provided they agreed to post the entire video online.

 

It would be nice, having something besides my butt-cheeks out there for the world to see.  As I set up the camera, I wondered if I was playing into some master-plan that Edgar had been working on all along.  He stayed at home ordering more t-shirts while I was doing all the heavy lifting.  Here I was, getting on my hands and knees, literally doing his dirty work.

 

I looked down at the circle of loose earth.  I grabbed a rusty spade and scratched the surface.

 

 

THE END

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Harris Proctor. All rights reserved.

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