Copyright © 2012 Aaron Dries
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
The house was a moonlit carving in the dark. There were no chirping crickets, no birdsong–just winter silence. The sigh of trees. Stacy Norman slept inside, unaware of her role in The Forgiveness. She'd been chosen because she appeared innocent, but she would suffer because she'd committed the crime of kindness.
Her murderer had appeared at her doorstep two months earlier, asking if a particular family lived there. Stacy had smiled at him and told the tall, deep-voiced man no. “Not much help to you, am I? Good luck, though,” she said, and closed the door, catching a glimpse of his smile.
This was the first of three visits he would pay to her house. The second was to scout for hiding places, surveying turns and locating the stairs, accumulating all the information he would need to make the third visit a problem-free affair.
A breath of air through the house, coming from an open window somewhere– it had nothing to do with their entry. Stacy's murderers had used the key under the doormat, which they had discovered on visit number two. Stacy would suffer because she was kind, but she would die because she was trusting.
The tinkle of ladles, suspended from the kitchen range.
It was a small, rented house on the outskirts of Preston–redbrick exterior and shingled roof that trembled when the winds blew hard. It was a lengthy commute to work at the architecture firm in Seattle, but Stacy knew it was worth it. There in Preston she had privacy and silence; that was enough for her.
She used to be afraid of living alone but not any more. The solitary life grew more inviting with each passing year. Her loneliness wore thin and soon, her rented redbrick house became a home she was proud of. She didn't own it– but that was okay. Renting taught her the value of patience, of working towards what you want. One day she would live in a house that she herself had designed and paid for. It, too, would be on the fringe of a city surrounded by trees. And silence. Just the way she liked it.
Clocks ticked in the living room. Photographs of Stacy's family from Maine lined the walls, faces trapped under glass. A dog-eared copy of Even Cowgirls
Get the Blues was bent over the arm of a chair. She was fifty pages from finishing.
Her diary sat on the desk in the study, an eagle feather marking her place. Her father had slipped it into her suitcase the day she had left home to study in Seattle. That had been six years ago.
James stayed over last night, read one entry. At first I didn't want him to, but I gave in. Not to him, but to my damn hunger. I know that sounds stupid. Hunger. But I don't know any other word for it. I'm not making excuses– it was nice. He was rougher than I like but what the hell, right? He made me coffee in the morning. I think I'm falling hard. I don't know if I want that.
Stacy Norman, the pretty architect who walked the homes of others in her mind, who no longer feared the dark. Stacy, who knew that time was short but life was long– that it was okay to be in love, but dangerous to fall. Stacy Norman slept with the knowledge that the world would be the same tomorrow. Hard and lonely. She could live with that.
The two men were under her bed. They knew what time Stacy returned from work, what time to hide.
Once her breathing had grown labored, they crawled out from under their hiding spot, Stacy's gentle snores the soundtrack to their achievement. Their hearts were beating fast, excited. A little frightened. Stacy was their first.
Not a fingerprint was left behind; there were no stray hairs curled up in the carpet fibers to be found. Not a trace. Just their heavy imprints on the carpet, disappearing in slow motion. They were careful. The musk of sweat-on-dried-sweat radiated from them. They both needed to piss.
Their breathing in the dark.
The man who had knocked on Stacy's door and asked about the family was tall and thin, but full of wiry strength. His comrade was short and solid, a little overweight. Fitting under the bed had been a struggle. The tall man straightened up, looking enormous below the room's low ceiling, stepped forward and flinched when his kneecap popped. The sound shattered the silence. Whatever control they thought they had, disappeared.
Stacy opened her eyes, bolted upright, the mattress creaking under her weight. She wasn't afraid. The old house groaned at night and the trees outside often played music against the gutters. When she'd first moved in, such sounds would send her room to room, armed with frying pan and cell phone, searching for intruders who were not there. True, Maine had its fair share of trees, gutters, old redbrick houses –and intruders too– but this was the city. Her parents had cautioned her about home invasions and suburban drug crime in their thick, New England drawls. So when she heard those sounds in the night she often heard their voices too.
Stace, you got to keep the house bolted tight. Tight as a robin's asshole.
“Jesus, Dad!” They had laughed.
Yessum, always ask who's knocking before you go and open up that door.
Maybe we should get you a gun for Christmas.
“Ha, yeah right. There's a spirited idea. No thanks, I think I'll settle for the usual Sears socks and Barnes & Noble gift cards if that's okay with you.”
Once Stacy had learned the noises of her new home, her decision to not get that gun and to leave a spare key under the back door mat was a deliberate one. She refused to live in fear any more.
Stacy Norman would die because she was proud.
In the dim light she saw two white faces bleed out of the darkness. One smiled and the other looked sad. In the fleeting moment between seeing them and the pinprick stab of the needle in her neck, she recognized the faces for what they were. Greek dramaturgical masks.
Comedy and Tragedy.