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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
“I'm not as they say.” He deserved a lifetime's retreat to a paradise island, but these words were all I could bandage his wounds with. I left him like a scathed soldier without water in the hot desert sun. It didn't matter; we were both infected, both would die. This secrecy, of which my occupation demanded, bounded me from ever connecting completely with a human being. Rule number one: their business is exclusively your business. This was a message sent from my subconscious most nights.

Submitted: October 21, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 21, 2012



The Shutaways

The salt from his oceanic blue eyes burned through my skin. Water leaked heavily from his cerulean eyes, flooding the space between us. Thin threads of protein were all that defended my insides. I was raw exposed pink tissue at the mercy of the toxic teal water engulfing me. My internal organs were pure; only my hard exterior was tainted. Crimson waterfalls poured from my skin; the fluid gushed from my system, and of this I was only dully aware. My heartbeat was a rapid-fire THUMPTHUMPTHUMP, threatening to shoot holes from inside my chest. The taste of bitter spit and blood sloshed around in my mouth; my head had a migraine with the force of a steel hurricane. Madly, my thoughts spun, searching for a resolution, searching for a cure, but I was so fatigued that I only could mutely watch the events unfold before me.
Still, I stood defiant, on two legs, nothing but internal organs veiled by thin stands of skin, and I knew I was going under. Angry, acidic waves thrashed against my being; my internal organs soaked their corrosive contents, bones crumbling to dust from their poison. Furious at my defiance, the waves steadily grew massive, and at once, I was sent to sea. The fever rushed through my veins, contaminated what was still clean. My fingers bowed to the venom. I was infected with the madness; my mind becoming a noisy static. The water charged into my lungs, left me gasping for air. All became black. Even drowning, there was no peace; a shrilling scream broke through the water, and the final blow left me feeling the agony, the hatred, and the pain of broken promises and abandonment that gouged his soul. I shook under the weight of that hatred, and it was only at this point was I able to regain my breath. Slowly, the water drained from my lungs, allowing me to faintly wheeze. I stopped trembling; the water disappeared.
He stood before me, an intimidating mass of muscles and firepower, and I was weakly buckling under the weight of his eyes. I felt him pulverizing me with his eyes for my lack of responses, my heavy breath, and the sweat that dampened my forehead. He continued soul-searching; his eyes evident of the trauma and emptiness that haunted his existence. How could I band-aid such a broken man? What words could bring a resolution to someone so dispirited, so discontent? The truth was taped underneath my tongue, unable to escape. My rapid heartbeat was my only lullaby. Distantly, I heard waves greeting the shore.
“I can't,” I told him, his haunted eyes only grew larger, like vacuums sucking up the last of strength in me. “I can't tell you that.”
He looked down; it was over. Realizing this piece was all he would ever have, a long sigh escaped from his crusty, dry lips, and a peaceful silence filled the air. I closed my eyes, appreciating the darkness, the nothing, and didn't desire to return to the scene again. My heartbeat slowed, and the fog surrounding my thoughts evaporated. The kettle screeched from the stove, but neither of us dared to get it. Finally, he muttered, “Just tell me you're not what they say.”
“I'm not,” I responded, with full force. “I'm not as they say.” He deserved a lifetime's retreat to a paradise island, but these words were all I could bandage his wounds with. I left him like a scathed soldier without water in the hot desert sun. It didn't matter; we were both infected, both would die. This secrecy, of which my occupation demanded, bounded me from ever connecting completely with a human being. Rule number one: their business is exclusively your business. This was a message sent from my subconscious most nights.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I stood at the edge of suburban nowhere by a tall iron fence. Beyond the fence, in this isolated country, sat the ugliest mansion to grace the avenue. It's green marble was obscured by the green of the trees. The cracked bay windows gave a glimpse into the sinister darkness the mansion slept in. The first floor windows were boarded up with rotting wood. The mansion seemed resistant to noise, light, and people. Secluded from civilization, it seemed ideal for the unfriendly. It'd take someone with a loner personality to find delight in such a place, but these weren't the qualities of the previous owners of the house.
For September, it was freezing out, with no promise of sunshine to bring hope into this wasteland. Cold, I zipped up my red jacket to the top, and hid my hands inside the jacket's pockets. I didn't feel like I was watching the mansion; I felt like the mansion was watching me. My breathing was somehow disturbing it from its slumber. Accompanied only by the howling wind, I felt goosebumps spread across my body. I looked at the tall iron fence, wondering if the fence was saving intruders from the disease of the mansion, or if the fence was protecting the mansion from intruders. It was laughable that this forsaken house was once a home; the foreboding look it had gave no indications of what used to occur inside that house. However, I needed to remind myself the past was real, and so, I walked nearby the entrance of the fence. Sure enough, engraved in the cement were the signatures of Amelia and Harvey Caldwell.
It was hard to believe that neighbors used to complain about the noises this mansion emitted. Now, it slept in an almost ominous silence. I remember the bright lights from the chandeliers that used to shine out upon those passing by, like a beacon of hope for the weary. The mansion was once a castle of inventions; it was a factory of noise and light. I remembered the smell of Ms. Caldwell's cookies that greeted strangers as they entered. In each room, sat an assortment of odd, colorful inventions, each squeaking, honking, or buzzing in some weird way. New friends or business clients of the Caldwells would peer at all of them, as if they were in museum, and ask Mr. or Ms. Caldwell how each worked. A lot of them were abandoned projects, but each of them was fascinating in some way. They were objects of the extraordinary, and I always left the mansion filled with wonder and awestruck. I couldn't tell you where those inventions were now. In fact, I couldn't tell you where Mr. or Mrs. Caldwell was.
They went missing while I wasn't missing them. Caught up in my own fantasies, chasing after dead end dreams, I discovered a newspaper bearing the news front page. They could have been assassinated; they could have ran away. Nobody knows. The most infuriating part of the news was I received it from a newspaper. The second most infuriating part were the questions regarding their fortune. Few were close enough to worry about the couple; everybody, rather they were close or not, was worried about the money. Two weeks ago, the news circulated, but complaints of their abandoned property dated eight months ago. It was only until enough complains, until enough signatures were acquired, that investigators decided to peer into the case. Granted the rights to search the property, investigators entered only to find papers everywhere. These were documents detailing everything from the next full moon, to how fast their grass was growing, and to the best recipes for cake. Some were written in an indiscernible language; others were just maps. It didn't matter now: authorities seized the majority of them in hopes of finding some clues as to the whereabouts of the family.
I only had about ten minutes or so before the darkness outside matched the darkness inside the mansion. Evening came early; clouds concealed the moon. I hadn't even the benefit of stars to light my path to my next destination. Four miles away, my grandfather sat inside his warm house, drinking imported tea. I welcomed the thought of it rushing through my body, curing the chills that ridden me out here. Despite the looming darkness, this wasn't the neighborhood to worry about thieves and murderers. I walked alongside the road I had known my entire life, trying to figure out how to tell Grandpa Frank. Sometimes, I'd hear an owl hoot or a bush rustle, but these noises were better than silence.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He limped towards the stove, and shut the back burner off. The rusty kettle stopped screeching. Pops wrapped his meaty right hand around the kettle's handle and dumped the steaming water into a tall, muddied glass. He then deposited two teabags into the water, waiting for the tea to filter through the paper. I leaned awkwardly against the doorway, watching how graceful he moved throughout the dark kitchen. A pile of once-white porcelain dishes, all cruddy with food from forever ago, sat in the sink. Flies danced around them.
Grandpa Frank looked up at me, and said, “It's Jasmine. Do ya want some? Imported too. Don't steal any this time.”
“Sure,” I responded. He poured water in another muddied glass, and dumped three of his treasured teabags into my cup. The tea quickly blackened the water. After fetching a stained spoon, he dumped ten tablespoons of sugar inside my glass. Even after all that troubled him, he remembered how I liked my tea. Without any sugar and without any cream, Grandpa Frank grabbed his glass, and sat down in one of the cushioned wooden chairs by the small, round table in the kitchen. The table had a vase filled with wilted flowers. The chair creaked death under his bulky figure, but that wooden chair had resiliently held him for over ten years. I grabbed my glass from the blue counter, and sat down in the chair across from him.
In the last year I had seen him, Grandpa Frank had aged centuries. Looking up at him, it was easy to see this man was just a dim comparison of what Grandpa Frank used to be. His joints were slowed by arthritis, but his mind was as calculating as it had been when he was fresh out of college. His long face was buried beneath thick, unrelenting gray eyebrows, and there was no fat belly or balding typical of men his age. Figuratively and literally, his back didn't bend, and I could hear the authority he once had in his voice. The man's bulky figure wasn't as intimidating as the scar that stretched over his left eye. I never had the courage to ask him about it.
I looked up at the kitchen. It was a small, square space dimly lit by a large, musty window. Dark blue checkered curtains hovered in the light breeze. Outside, one could see the front yard with overgrown grass, and an old, rickety wooden fence that was falling in. The walls were a plain, pale blue, and the floor tiles were checkered white and periwinkle. There was enough cabinet space to satisfy the needs of two people. Inside, I knew the cabinets were home to an empire of spiders, who decorated the dusty glasses with their thin, silvery lines. They were the reason Grandpa Frank always fetched tea; the spiders would send me halfway across the country within five seconds. I saw a calendar with a photograph of a golden retriever hanging on the fridge; it was from the year 1943, last year. The month read August, even though it was September right now.
Grandpa Frank finished his drink in two large gulps. After smacking the glass on the table, as if in a bar room, he begun, “Your sisters. You'll see they are taken care of, right, m'boy?”
“They're fine. They're happy,” I said with no certainty. I couldn't remember when I talked to them last nor what the conversation was even about. In monotone, I responded, returning his heat-filled gaze, “You could always write them, y'know.”
“Nonsense!” Frank exclaimed. “They have my address! They can write me. I'm old, and I can feel arthritis kicking in. See how my hand barely moves?”
“Oh, my apologies!” I replied sarcastically, as I sipped my sugary heaven.
“Yes, but your hands are strong,” he said. He glanced to the left of me; his head firing with conspiracies I could hear miles away. Silent for a moment, he continued, “I trust your line of work is enough to maintain these estates, right? I'm leaving them you. All in the papers now.”
“My work is enough to maintain three estates. Really, the girls would probably benefit from them more than I. They should have it. Think of their families,” I rushed, trying to persuade him to give his property to them. Their big families could resurrect the place; they could chase the cobwebs out, clean the stains from the furniture, and let light pour into the place. It desperately needed a rebirth, and I wasn't capable of giving the house one it deserved.

Narrowing his eyes at me, he said, “They have their husbands, who, if good men, will want to build their own legacy, not continue one existing. I built this house for my son in hopes he’d pass it onto his. And your father had his legacy too.”
I responded by sipping more of the tea out of the clouded glass, savoring the sweetness of it.
“Besides, I’m leaving the girls enough to be more than comfortable should something become of their husbands,” Frank spoke lowly, as if whispering a secret. “So, do we have an understanding?”
“I guess so,” I shrugged. Whatever he wanted.
“You guess? You can’t keep half-stepping through life, m’boy! Real men rise to the occasion. Look, you either took a left or a right getting here. There was no half left or half right. If I told you how to get here using directions like ‘I guess’ or ‘half,’ you’d be lost! But you got here, didn’t you? But you’re still lost, lookatya!” Frank banged his fist on the table to awaken me from my distraction.
It worked. “Speaking of the lost, guess who's joined them?” I began.
“You've lost your mind? You've finally checked into an ayslum?” Grandpa Frank smiled, a little too overjoyed by his rude assumption.
“No, of course not! I'm not Cald...,” I trailed off stupidly, dismissing the thought with a wave of my right hand, “but the Caldwells are. They're lost...like gone. It was on the newspaper two weeks ago. No one knows if they were kidnapped or if they ran away.”
“Well, I'll be,” Grandpa Frank said, genuinely shocked. He clipped a dried petal off of the wilted flowers before him. Silent for a moment, he continued, “And so, that's what brought you here...?”
“Someone had to tell you,” I answered, unable to meet his eyes.
“Oh, but I have known about them for some time,” Grandpa Frank explained. I looked up at him. “For years, they had been moaning about wanting peace. People asking them all the time to fix their problems. Invent a magical problem solver to fix everything. Then one day they stop calling me, no letters come in. And now there's news of their disappearance. I find nothing strange about it.”
“They were supposed to fix you,” I whispered.
“But what is broken about me? Haven't I lived a full life? Sure, I have grown old in the absence of family, but I grew up surrounded by the best. Sophia spoiled me, and she blessed me with your father, who blessed me with you and the girls. I went to school, worked hard to get this house for you guys all to fill up. I had friends – the Caldwells to keep me insane – and there are many great memories. I am not saddened by this.”
“They could've kept you alive. You could have lived for centuries if they wanted you too,” I reasoned in a low voice.
“The Caldwells knew of my thoughts on such a thing. What sense is there in prolonging life? I would be nothing but an empty vessel. Death isn't an end – it's inevitable, and I will face it with a cup of a tea when it comes,” Grandpa Frank reassured me. My concern softened the hard expression that wrinkles had carved into his face. The kindliness was stifling; the scene was knifing itself into my emotions.
“More tea, Grandpa?” I offered, eager to break contact between us. I looked pass him as I collected his glass and went over to the kettle. Fifteen minutes had passed between us and our first drinks, but the water was still steaming. That's because it was a gift from the Caldwells; it was specifically designed to keep the water hot for Grandpa Frank. I poured it into the glass, and dropped two teabags into the water. I felt Grandpa Frank looking at me as I did so.
And no, I wasn't crying.

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