Love and Meatballs in Boston, Part 2

Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

(Check out Part 1, which focuses on love and Part 2 on, well, meatballs.)

By the time she had left me for good – 1999 – I had moved out of my hovel in Beacon Hill (though people paid a lot of money for said hovels) and to Brookline. I still had 4 roommates, though different ones. This time, the folks were much more normal and none were actually Emerson students: two brothers – Mike and John Fader – as well as Mike’s girlfriend Stephanie. And their friend Ralph. And Ralph’s cat. I got along really well with everyone except the cat.

To be clear, my roommate turnover wasn’t because I had zero close friends at Emerson or was a terrible roommate (other than sleeping with one). I did have a couple friends but for various reasons never lived with any of them. And of course the aforementioned disastrous relationship kept me busy for most of the time anyways.

I did have a very good core group of friends that I developed earlier while at Bowling Green State University. And one in particular, Jared, I became close with only after graduation. Jared had attended a rival school a half hour away – the University of Toledo*. We had mutual friends but didn’t hang out too much while in school. But after graduation, as it was harder to pin me down as I bounced around to other cities, Jared was one of the friends who visited me the most. With Boston being the most notable and early example.

(*As an aside, Toledo’s mascot – the “Rocket” – literally carried a whiffle ball bat to football games. At one particularly heated game at Bowling Green, the Rocket attacked and beat my poor, helpless mascot – Freddie Falcon – while his co-mascot Frieda looked on in what I imagine was horror. Though her expression externally never actually changed (it was the outfit), she eventually threw herself on top of Freddy in an attempt to stop the attack.)

So it was that Jared came to visit as 1999 came to a close, as real and potential pandemonium was predicted to occur on New Year’s Eve.

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, Jared and I along with a few roommates spent most the day playing video games and watching football. The Playstation was particularly utlized – and especially a certain WWF (this was pre-WWE name change) game. Then like today, the thrill of hitting your friend over the head with a virtual chair brought a warm feeling. And the ability to customize your wrestlers – my 400 pound wrestler was named “Cow Patty” – made it even better. I was more of a Sega Hockey player, and arguably one of the best ever at that game and nearly unstoppable with the Detroit Red Wings and Jeremy Roenick. So this was a nice break into something different, and it allowed me to be on equal footing with all comers and not call on my Fred Savage, “The Wizard” level of video game prowess.

At some point we flipped on CNN – which was the biggest news channel at the time – who were dutifully covering the worldwide New Years Eve celebrations as they rolled from Syndey to London and progressively across the globe. And of course the newscaster waited anxiously, and dare I say hopefully, with cameras planted everywhere, for something truly terrible to happen related to Y2K.

As we watched, there was a sudden “Breaking News” graphic that flashed followed by a breathless report on a suspected terrorist plot that had been thwarted. The camera showed two Algerians being escorted into police cars, and I noticed something familiar about the buildings and the neighborhood. Jared walked to the windows and put his head out one and said something along the lines of “what the hell” and sure enough – they were being arrested down the street. Only then did I notice the flashing lights from the street that reflected onto our wall. I was living directly across from a large Jewish temple in Brookline – the Kehillath Israel – and hadn’t thought twice about it until that day.

Unperturbed, we seamlessly went back to playing our video games, and eventually Jared and I took off for our New Years Eve bar where we were going to spend the evening: The Last Drop located in the Back Bay. There wasn’t a whole lot to the bar itself, and it had the inglorious nickname of “The Last Stop” due to the fact that it was regarded as the place you went at the end of the night after hitting up the other, cooler bars (with classier ladies) in the area. But I loved the place.

They were offering all you could drink and eat for like seventy-five U.S. dollars. And this was the late 90s, so seventy-five dollars would be like a thousand dollars today!

He and I actually dressed up a bit – khakis, buttoned up shirt and sweaters – which was normal for Jared but was essentially at the tux level for me. After a cab dropped us off we posed for a picture out front before we entered The Last Drop. We had this great concept to take a picture every hour that night of ourselves as a sort of time-lapsed chronicle of the evening. The first one captured was straightforward, as we were dead sober, smiling, buttoned up and feeling great.

We walked in and began to drink, eat, and have the expected wonderful time. The bar wasn’t overly crowded which was a great sign to me but also could have been an indication that we had chosen the lower end of the entertainment options that evening. But considering I was paying my own way through graduate school, there weren’t many other choices. It was also the reason we were one of the first people there: we wanted to get value for every penny of that seventy five dollar entry fee. Jared and I were quite convinced that the establishment would be taking a big financial loss on our entry fee that night.

The food was the normal, bar food sitting over heating lamp variety – potato skins, chicken fingers but also some frankly extraordinary meatballs. It was if they were somehow lost while being transported from a 5 star restaurant and ended up at The Last Stop instead. Think of a delicious meteorite landing on a bland Earth from some foreign (probably French) corner of a more edible cosmos.

One minus of the bar was that it had one bathroom with a single toilet for both men and women. That wasn’t an issue at first when the bar was mostly empty but once the night got going, the drinks got flowing and we “broke the seal” it definitely became problematic. So it was that Jared and I found ourselves in line a few hours in, and having to pee quite badly but doing our best to be patient while we waited for folks to rotate in and out of the bathroom.

At some point as we waited, a cute, yet sloppy drunk girl in a tight dress started walking to the front and butted ahead of everyone. Her looks allowed her to get away with a fairly onerous party foul since everyone behind us in line was primarily dudes. She reached Jared and I – we were at that point the next two to go – and asked to go ahead of us. Being gentlemen we of course told her to go fuck herself, and to wait in line like everyone else. A wave of obscenities began to pour from her mouth, and they continued as I went to the bathroom, did my business and then opened the door to let Jared take the next turn. The chick shot me a glare as I walked by her and again dropped some nasty words from admittedly lovely lips in my general direction. I just smiled and waited for Jared.

Jared exited a few minutes later, held the door for the girl, cavalierly waved her in, smiled and walked over to me. He then pulled me quickly to a spot at the bar as far away as possible from the bathroom and began to laugh hysterically.

Uh oh.

“What did you do?” I asked Jared both wanting and not wanting to know the answer.

“I pissed on the seat,” he replied.

“Ha! Nice!” I said. That girl probably deserved it. Sadly it didn’t end there.

“And then I pissed on the sink. On the wall. On the floor. Basically there isn’t a single dry spot left in that bathroom!” And then he ordered us both a beer and laughed.

Nervously glancing over my shoulder I eventually noticed the girl who suffered from Jared’s bladder’s tirade walk by us at the bar, give us both the finger, and without a word walk out the door with the rest of her friends.

We found someone to take another picture of ourselves to celebrate our urinal victory. The picture showed two smiling guys, but both of whose shirts were hanging out. I also had meatball stains on my sweater.

We drank more and as the evening wore on I tried to keep to myself and my friend for the most part. That wasn’t easy when hanging out with Jared, who was far more extroverted than me and engaged anyone who would or wouldn’t listen to him in conversation. He thrived on being the center of attention, and would have made a great stage actor if he hadn’t been miscast as an auditor. Still, he tended to be funny, obnoxious and prone to do about anything. Perfect company for a New Years Eve binge.

On yet another trip to the single stall restroom, I literally bumped into a girl wearing a white dress. Luckily I didn’t get any meatball stains on her. Her white dress really stood out. And not in a good way. It wasn’t a smart cocktail-type, white dress. It was more of a “princess at the ball” dress which made her look silly considering where we were. And I told her so.

“You have prom tonight?” I asked, in a not quite inebriated but quickly getting there manner.

“I’m an assistant to the mayor of Boston – Mr. Menino. I just came from a banquet attended by some of the biggest politicians from town. I’m meeting a friend here. Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“Just some asshole,” I said honesty. “Got anyone to kiss when the ball drops?”

“Yes, and it ain’t you buddy, that’s for sure. Piss off.”

Boston girls were pretty awesome.

We didn’t make a ton of friends that night, though we certainly had a number of folks we didn’t piss off (or on) as the night got later and everyone got more and more drunk. But we also didn’t make any additional mortal enemies. And it became pretty obvious to both of us that there would be no female companionship to kick off the millennium. But with Jared sleeping on the couch and the amount of fun we were consuming, it really didn’t matter.

New Years Eve counted down live on a small, mostly green colored television in the corner.

Dick Clark stared into my eyes like a soulless vampire. He was telling me to do something for him. I just wasn’t quite sure what. I assumed there would be a subliminal code word involved that would activate his plan.

Some girls poured champagne into a party hat like a funnel, which at the end contained my mouth.

We took another picture to celebrate. This one showed Jared and I both drenched in sweat and alcohol, my glasses were on crooked and both our shirts were out and unbuttoned showing t-shirt underneath. I had lost my sweater completely at that point.

Later, we decided to catch a cab back to my place and I took an entire container of meatballs off the table nearest the exit with me. It probably weighed twenty pounds and my hands actually got burned a bit as I held the tin catering receptacle. I was beyond fear at that point and didn’t try to hide them (not that I could have) or run. I simply walked outside, strode calmly past the bouncer and the line of folks waiting to get in and straight into the cab.

The perfect crime. And a victimless one at that.

A confession: for some reason when I was younger I had a habit of stealing food at the end of heavy, holiday-related drinking nights. At another New Years party a few years prior, at complete stranger’s house, I actually placed an entire honey baked ham under my arm and ran out the door yelling “Out of my way! Ham!” I’m not sure if it was the theft or the fact I had also fallen into the (covered) pool earlier in the night that caused me to never be invited back. I’d like to think the culinary thefts were because I didn’t have a lot of money in those days. But on reflection I was being less “Robin Hood” and more “really drunk guy who had uninhibited decision making.” I’m happy to report though that it was just a phase, and after a certain point I stopped stealing food and instead just went through a late night Taco Bell or White Castle drive-thru.

Anyways, Jared, I and the still heavenly pan of meatballs all returned to my place in Brookline. Mike, his girlfriend and Ralph were all back as well – and everyone was in similar, late night New Years Eve shape. In fact, as we walked in the door Mike was banging on his bedroom door and yelling through it to Stephanie, who had somehow locked herself in the room.

Acting purely on survival instincts, since, she could probably only survive in there for a week, tops – I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a butcher knife. I then proceeded to chip away at the wood around the door latch. This, surprisingly, did nothing but eventually remove a few hundred dollars from our security deposit. Luckily, Jared had a similarly well devised plan and ran full board from the adjacent bathroom and slammed his shoulder into the door in an attempt to unhinge it.

The door was unimpressed. And Jared crumpled to the ground writhing in pain.

The incident did have a happy ending, as Stephanie eventually simply found the lock that was miraculously attached to her side of the door and unlocked it, thereby setting her free.

When all was said and done, the terrifying Y2K bug ended up not really resulting in mass blackouts, electronic failures or really anything at all. It certainly didn’t effect the Playstation, which we fired back up and played till the sun came up.

Jared’s shoulder ended being only badly bruised. And truth be told the only really horrific injury that occurred on New Years 1999 occurred to Jared’s custom wrestler, who was beaten senseless by Cow Patty with a virtual chair to the head at least a hundred times that early morning.

Love and Meatballs in Boston, Part 1

Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

In 1999, people thought their computers were going to kill them.

Since then, the “Y2K bug” has been a largely forgotten episode but it was a pretty damn big deal at the time. To be clear, since you are reading this – obvious spoiler alert – the world didn’t end, but at that time folks were definitely unnerved and thinking that was a possibility leading up to New Years Eve and the end of the 1990s.

Even without social media and the level of connectivity the world has today there was a lot of chatter and speculation. The press played its normal role of framing the story, instilling fear and generally freaking the more gullible subset of the human populace the fuck out.

And what better story than the Y2k bug? If you recall (and please continue even if you don’t) there was a glitch in computers of all types that would manifest when the internal computing clocks struck 2000. Apparently, in many computers the code was programmed in such a way that only the last two digits in years within the computer’s internal clock would change, meaning anything past 1999 wouldn’t be recognized or the internal clocks would change from 1999 to 1900 and stop functioning. In the run up to New Years that year there were a myriad of other related, horrific, Maximum Overdrive-style possibilities being floated.

(Yeah, that description sucked. Look, I’m not a computer scientist and you most likely have internet access. Feel free to go Wikipedia to find a better explanation, Einstein.)

As my admittedly diluted explanation shows, I (and most people) were never quite clear on the mechanics of how it was all going to go down but that still didn’t stop us from thinking a computer glitch was going to cause ATMs to stop working, transit systems to not function and planes to fall out of the sky. Factor in the timing – the end of the century and millennium – with its typical religious zealots and never-do-wells predicting the end of the world and the Y2K bug story became bigger, and more frightening, than was probably necessary.

For me though, that year was marked not just with all that nonsense floating around in the collective human ether, but my impending completion of graduate school in Boston. Those two factors – and an additional one more personal – resulted in me having a very “fuck it” or, to be more polite, “come what may” attitude as the millennium closed.

To add more color to this wondrous period of my life, I was in my mid-20s finishing up graduate school at Emerson College. Emerson, located in downtown Boston, had a fairly unique set of classes at the graduate level. For me specifically, they offered the relatively rare option of receiving what amounted to a Masters of Arts in marketing. Since I despised numbers of all types (stop staring at me 27!) and my undergraduate degree was in marketing I made the decision that the “B” in MBA wasn’t ultimately necessary to my career. Plus my GMAT scores – a test which I took on two hours sleep and terribly hung over – showed me to be highly proficient in the area of verbal matters, reading comprehension and creative writing. Conversely, my scores in math placed me firmly in the middle seat of the slow bus to Dumdumville.

And honestly, after being out of school for a year and a half and working for a Wendy’s franchisee I decided I wasn’t ready for the real world quite yet. Especially if the real world entailed me sitting in my Honda Prelude timing how long it took on average for a car to make it through the Wendy’s drive-thru. For 75 locations. In 3 different states. With that or graduate school as an option, tens of thousands of dollars in school loan debt didn’t seem so bad.

I was and continue to be aware of the fact that marketing and advertising folks are generally held in about as high regard as politicians and serial rapists and that historically marketing classes tend to attract an “Island of Misfit Toys” collection of castoffs from other, more esteemed curriculums. But for whatever reason, I seemed to have an aptitude for the “art” and theories of marketing. As a result, I enjoyed those classes immensely and almost exclusively, no doubt resulting in the good grades I received in those classes. Those grades then propelled me into the academic virtuous cycle that dropped me like a twister (cyclone not ice cream) in Boston.

And resulted in my story present-time as well as future-tense predicament: a marketing career.

One of the other plusses to attending Emerson College was that at the time they were considered one of the most “wired” colleges in the country. And though the late 90s don’t seem that long ago, when considering the acceleration of technology that has occurred in the past decade plus since; we were at the time closer to rock scraping Neanderthals versus the multi-screen consuming super humans we are today. A “computer lab” with a half dozen computers with Word Perfect installed was a big deal. And the ability to readily access the burgeoning World Wide Web was hugely impressive. And not just for the photos of naked women you could view and/or print out. And all joking aside, that process DID occur painfully slow as the photos revealed themselves line by pixilated line like an extended computerized erotic massage.

In addition to shifting my career toward more digital-oriented marketing, there were a number of big personal events that occurred while in Boston.

Just physically living there was one of them.

I had moved to Boston after getting accepted into Emerson College without every visiting either the college or city. The first time I experienced both was when I pulled up in my friend’s car and moved in with 4 people into a tiny multilevel apartment in Beacon Hill. I had never met any of them before. It was a very real world experience, in a MTV kind of way, too. Eventually I met people from all over the world, of all creeds and politics (okay, well, it being Boston it was mostly liberal), and even became good friends with a number of gay guys – which, for someone who lived his life primarily in small towns in the Midwest was eye-opening.

Very early during my first year in Boston, I ended up in a relationship with one of my 4 roommates. She was smart, beautiful and my first true relationship. She was half Spanish, half Columbian and was at Emerson to be a political reporter. She actually even had her own multi-hour, NPR-like political radio talk show at the school. My father had discussed/yelled politics at me my entire life and here I was at 24, sipping a beer with a beautiful girl and discussing the pros and cons of European-style socialism versus the free market system.

It was a passionate, intense and ultimately confusing relationship for me. It was the type of relationship where we would scream, she would spit in my face, I would break something against the wall, and then we would immediately smoke weed and sleep together. We broke up multiple times and she cheated on me every time she went back home to New Orleans (and of course made a point to tell me about it). And in the interest of full disclosure, I cheated on her as well but only during our “breaks.” She never agreed with the importance of that distinction, but I truly felt like I had some emotional and definitional air cover for my actions.

I wouldn’t trade that relationship for anything. Sure, it was ill-conceived and crazy – as she and I both likely were – but I learned a lot about women and life, even if the primary lesson was that dating a roommate is a poor idea in general. This is in addition to the ancillary, repeatedly forgotten lesson that my intelligence drops in half in the face of real (or imagined) interest in me from females.

We broke up for good a year and a half after it began. We had been running on fumes at that point, and she wasn’t really happy in Boston. We discussed me moving back with her to New Orleans and I actually considered it for a spell, but even with my then emotional naiveté I knew that would end badly. Most likely for me.

One night she took a call from the apartment in Southie she rented while sitting on my lap in her kitchen (she had moved into her own place at that point). She listened, hung up and then began to sob uncontrollably. Her mom had called to tell her that her father had collapsed in the kitchen and was at the hospital in a coma. He had suffered a brain aneurism mid-sentence during a dinner party.

I helped make travel plans for her, and in fact bought her plane ticket on a credit card. She caught the first flight out that next morning. A small blessing was that she ultimately managed to make it in time to see him before he died – though he never regained consciousness. It was a crushing shock to her mom and family, as he was only 50 years old when he passed.

There was a very real possibility that I wouldn’t see her again.

But I did. But only once: when she came back to get her stuff and fill out paperwork dropping out of Emerson.

She had decided to withdraw from Emerson and move back to New Orleans to live with her Mom, and this while needing only a few more credits for graduation. There was no discussion between us because I had zero say in the matter. And I had made the decision previously that I wouldn’t move there. Not that it mattered, since she had started dating her high school boyfriend in the month since our separation. Which (again) she dutifully told me about and who she promptly cheated on…the day she told me.

The next morning, I walked her to the “T” – the subway in Boston. There, I stood with her waiting at the Harvard Avenue stop for the “B” Green Line that would eventually take her to the airport. We ended up quickly hugging but it had as much passion as a hand shake with a stranger.

She stepped on the subway. And I never saw her again…

…But I did trade an email with her once.

A few days after Hurricane Katrina I sent her a quick email asking her if she was okay and if there was anything I could do to help her and her family. Earlier that night, I had been watching hurricane coverage and became concerned when the network anchors explained that Metairie, just northwest of New Orleans (and where she had moved back to) had been particularly hard hit by the storm. I emailed without expectation of a reply. And respond she did (and quickly), thanking me and telling me she had lost everything and was temporarily living in a dorm room at the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. (I couldn’t help but think to myself – with whom?) She also told me she was a reporter and part-time producer for the local CBS station in New Orleans, and had been one of the last to stay on the air that night. She mentioned that she and her family were relocating to Houston and she didn’t know what would happen next.

And I don’t know what ever did, either.

[Editors Note: Well, until…]

Flight from the Shadow

Reading Time: 1 minutes

Heard this on the Reboot Podcast, that was sent to me by a friend after they read my previous post. And it really struck me. It is from Chuang Tzu, who was born in 370 B.C. It again shows the struggle that many people go through…and captures it wonderfully:

There was a man who was so disturbed
by the sight of his own shadow
and so displeased
with his own footsteps,
that he determined to get rid of both.

The method he hit upon was
to run away from them.
So he got up and ran.

But everytime he poot his foot down
there was another step,
while his shadow kept up with him
without the slightest difficulty.

He attributed his failure
to the fact
that he was not running fast enough.
So he ran faster and faster,
without stopping,
until he finally dropped dead.

He failed to realize
that if he merely stepped into the shade,
his shadow would vanish,
and if he sat down and stayed still,
there would be no more footsteps.

Exact text quote courtesy of The Unbounded Spirit.

-AD

Unquiet Minds

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I envy those with a quiet mind. Mine tends to push me, scold me, and process items, angles and obsessions. Promote addictions like the devil on my shoulder. And my thoughts can loop over and over. Anything from an upcoming presentation and running through worst case scenarios, to rethinking sentences that I uttered to coworkers and friends.

Could I have said X instead of Y? What does B think of me? They obviously think I’m weird, an idiot, a fool. Why do I keep saying those things? 

There is also the envisioning of praise from people, and imagining conversations that don’t exist or situations – like compliments from someone who would never give you one – that haven’t and probably won’t, occur.

This is some of the best thinking I’ve seen.

Many people have these kinds of thoughts. Doubt is normal. Periods of minimal personal esteem is not a niche. Light obsession, over an ex- or potential love, a presentation, your body, that first grey hair, your paunch, is part of most people’s life at some point. Misspeaking or saying and doing things you regret, not being able to sleep, as you become frustratingly mindful of the hour of the night, and the decreasing amount of time you have until your alarm goes off – these are parts of the human experience.

“Voices” can just as easily be encouraging as a mental albatross.

You you look like you’ve lost weight. Even at your age, you are exceedingly handsome.

To personalize things, a strong support group of friends and two lovely boys and an understanding wife keeps me – relatively – emotionally even. Without sleep, it is harder to fend off. And when you have two very young boys and a hectic life, you suffer an almost constant deficit of both sleep and mental energy. Overlaying all of this is the stark realization (don’t call it a crisis of midlife) of getting older, which, sure as shit ain’t helping.

Is this really it? This is life? Lose some weight, your fat face is tough to look at in the mirror. 

Now, far be it for me to hide behind science, but, well:

“Social economists from the University of Melbourne have found that happiness levels is the lowest in people aged 40 to 42.”

(So yeah, swimming upstream a bit here with that combo of genes + Father Time.)

This constant mental processing is called thought loops or circular reasoning. For those who can’t relate – and lucky you – its a constant rumination that surfaces repeatedly throughout the day. For me, it’s around particular topics and/or people in my life. Or future potentially stressful moments – airport trips with kids, presentations to clients, upcoming meetings or talks with people who make me uncomfortable. The way it works, you can be sitting at your desk listening to jazz music, and in pops a certain line of thinking. Think of it as trying to drive straight, minding your own business, but your car keeps veering off the highway every few minutes as you struggle to straighten.

You wake up and its there. You eat and look at the water fountains and it’s there.

So many people will be at that presentation. What was I supposed to say. I will blank. I always do. People will get uncomfortable and look downward. My face will turn red.

For the most part, its controllable. For me, I have a tendency for some mild manic thinking anyways. Exercise and yes, a few glasses of wine, help tremendously. Plus, to be perfectly honest, I’ve dealt with such a range of shit anyways throughout my life that I have a pretty good grasp of about every disorder, situation and chemically induced (or otherwise) feeling a human can have. I’ve been blessed/cursed with hyper-self awareness earned through experience. So there is no fooling myself and I look these things pretty squarely in the eye (or write about it at least).

No one will read this. Which is good because, you aren’t a good writer anyways. You voice is not needed.

And to be clear, this kind of stuff – anxiety, depression, insomnia or whatever is mentally stalling you – effects a large swath of the population.

As a quick aside, I was disgusted by the way the media handled talking about the German pilot who took down that plane full of people of few months ago. It was a horrific thing, but the framing and demonizing of his depression was really shitty. (One of the many reason I don’t watch news.)

As the stats above show, these feelings are quite common in people. It’s important though, to understand that looping thoughts are one thing. Thoughts of hurting yourself or others is another thing all together. And I don’t mean light fantasies, I mean, really getting to that point where you plan it out. Please, please get help if that’s the case. Talk to someone. Get on the drugs to even you out. Many people talk to therapists. It is common and effective. I had a spell where I did and it worked for me.

Or did it?

And talk about it with people who understand or at least will listen. For me, in addition to the exercising and the aforementioned battery of “natural” chemicals I have an exceedingly strong support group of friends. Loneliness begets loneliness. Stepping into the light and fighting is the best medicine.

But to be frank, if you are inclined to such thinking – it probably won’t just up and go away completely no matter what you do. There is no “cure.” That should never be the expectation. Spikes will occur. It’s inherent. Always there. And doubt, and some self-criticism to drive you to be better, and getting nervous and having anxiety are actually pretty normal human emotions. Obsession isn’t, nor is deep depression, but its more about smoothing out the peaks and valleys.

I thought this was about you? You are deferring. And pretty obviously I might add. 

Be in the present. Feel. Enjoy friends. Have lunch and conversations with someone you have a connection with – no matter who they are. Your kids. Your spouse. Coworkers. Whoever or whatever makes you feel good. And more importantly, makes yourself feel something real.

No one cares. They sure don’t. He doesn’t and neither does she.

That is by no means to say I have my own shit together. I’m not a self-help guru speaking platitudes and “truth.” But I have learned one truth about myself: I don’t write for readership, I write for my own sanity. That has always been the case.

And maybe you can find that outlet, too. And maybe someone reading this will be helped in some minuscule way…even if it is ultimately, just me.

-AD

Madness in the Mist

Reading Time: 22 minutes

Nathan Anders couldn’t believe this was how it was going to end—shaking, crying with his mind beginning to tear as the figure moved through the house. Nathan’s pants were wet, which meant he probably pissed himself.

He heard a crash, which, he suspected, came from the lamp outside the bedroom. He knew who (or what) did it. That he couldn’t do anything to stop it made it neither better nor worse. At this point, it just was. What could he have done differently in the last few days? What could he have done to avoid the fate that awaited him?

* * *

The family beach house in the Outer Banks of North Carolina was as empty as it had been for most weeks between October and April. Nathan’s parents had left the home to him in their will (and to his sister and brother) when they died a decade earlier. The three siblings mostly used it as an investment property and rented it out in-season when the temperatures and rental fees were high.

The thin strip of land off the coast of North Carolina is packed with Midwestern and Northeastern tourists from May to September. The barrier islands ran from Ocrakcoke Island all the way north to the Virginia border. Nestled between the sound and the Atlantic Ocean, it was both beautiful and fragile, but, sadly for locals, far less isolated with each passing year. Butting out into the oceans as it did made it an easy target for hurricanes and developers. Nathan’s family home was at the northern most point before the Virginia border. Carova (the name came from a combination of “Carolina” and “Virginia”) had avoided much of the brunt of storms over the years. Though the homebuilders proved to be much more difficult to sidestep.

Carova Beach was unique in many ways—Spanish wild horses still roamed free and canals originated on the sound side. Even now, the only way to access the beach homes increasingly sprinkled throughout the area was to drive on the beach; there were no direct roads (as well as no commercial businesses of any kind). During the summer season, the beach, though secluded, got very crowded, and the locals fought bravely to keep it as unspoiled by humans as possible.

But, at this time in mid-November, as Nathan made his way south from Norfolk down the US-168, the area would be quiet and secluded. Just as he liked it, especially with where his head was at the moment.

* * *

After stocking up his Toyota 4-Runner with groceries and booze at the Food Lion in Corolla, he started the short drive north to the beach access road that would take him to his family home. Nathan Anders was in his mid-30s, and he had been going to the Outer Banks since he was born. As the years progressed (and his family’s finances increased), the family vacations skipped further north each summer, from Nags Head to Kitty Hawk then Duck for a number of years and eventually up north to where he was currently driving. The family home in Carova was built only 15 years ago and was as large as most homes were in the area: five bedrooms, four baths, and sitting (obnoxiously to some he was sure) right behind a short dune on the ocean. The house was three stories, and, from the top floor, you could see the ocean, but the beauty of the location was that from all the decks—and really the whole house—you could hear, smell, and feel the Atlantic.

His sister June came down with her family quite a bit to stay in the home. His brother Tom had never set foot inside at all, as far as he knew. Nathan lived in Pennsylvania and June in Delaware, so they were both relatively close drives south. Last he heard, Tom was in Scottsdale, but Nathan hadn’t spoken to him since the day of the funeral after a drunken argument over some silly shit about family loyalty and a shared ex-girlfriend.

As Nathan made a left onto the beach access road, he checked his watch. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, and low tide peaked at 5:30, so he was in good shape, as the water would have receded enough to make his 10-mile drive north pretty smooth. At high tide, it was a more challenging trip: he would have had to literally almost hug the dunes and drive in deep sand. At this time of day, the black 2005 4-Runner would do the trick and drive on the wet, hard sand closer to the ocean with ease. And the sun was still up, so he would see the petrified stumps from forgotten forests that had washed away long ago.

After 20 minutes or so, he saw his house and the gap between the dunes where he could jump on the “street” his house was on. He hit the accelerator, gathered speed, and shot up the dune and through the gap, never taking his foot off the gas, as the SUV pushed its way through the deep sand, past the dune, and onto the much easier to drive road on the other side. As he pulled into the exposed garage, he saw a wild horse looking at him from the neighbor’s yard, though that was 50 or so yards away.

He smiled. He was home.

* * *

Per usual, he threw his duffel bag on the bed in the master bedroom, which had an attached bathroom with Jacuzzi as well as a main kitchen and living room on the same floor. A 40-something-inch flat screen hung over a gas fireplace with a soft, sectional couch strategically placed in front of both. The porch off the living room had the best view of the ocean in the whole house. And since he had picked up a carton’s worth of cigarettes on his drive in, he would be able to smoke, drink, and listen/watch the waves.

In short, he didn’t really need to go anywhere else in the house or the local area. He popped in a Marie Callender’s frozen meal (chicken fried steak, the best one). His girlfriend (ex) said he was a shitty cook, and he didn’t disagree. He had simple needs from a food standpoint. As long as he had wine and other forms of alcohol around, he would happily eat scrambled eggs for dinner if he had to (and he planned to).

He took his frozen meal out to the deck, along with a tall glass of red wine. The night was foggy; it was humid, and a damp mist seemed to cover everything on the deck. He could hear the rumbling of the ocean, deep, loud with a grumble and then a whoosh as the waves broke and pushed the water up the beach and a sizzle as the waves pulled back in.

Nathan took a bite of his corn (undercooked shit, of course) and stared out at the ocean.

The fog was so thick, it was as if it were being puffed out by a low-rent smoke machine in some micro-budgeted Ed Wood movie, but he could still see the water break directly in front of him—one of the benefits of having a house so close to the ocean.

As he chewed passively on his food, staring at the water break, he noticed a figure emerge from the fog to the right and walk slowly in the water. Not across or in front of the water, but in it up to the figure’s knees. The figure was hooded, or at least appeared to be, and was hunched over as if looking for something.

Though it was fairly isolated down on this strand of beach this time of year, there were certainly enough folks staying in Carova to see plenty of people out on the beach. But the figure didn’t seem to be sporting a flashlight, which you would think would allow him or her to find whatever they were looking for in the dark water and mist.

The figure continued across Nathan’s view to his left and eventually disappeared into the other wall of fog.

* * *

Nathan woke up with his requisite hangover. He’d probably put down a six-pack and two bottles of red wine while watching sports highlights and B-movies on HBO, his feet propped on the couch. He rotated throughout the night from couch to his perch looking out onto the ocean, listening to the waves roar while smoking a bit of the bud he had brought with him. Of course, one too many hits off of the bowl, and he was out cold. Smoking weed after drinking all night was his kryptonite. It paralyzed him. He usually got the spins and passed out.

But that didn’t stop him.

He still awoke the next midmorning on the couch, drool stain on the pillow. Neck stiff from the angle he had passed out in.

All the chemicals meant he didn’t dream much, but, when he did, it was about his girlfriend, Cindy. Well, now ex-girlfriend. That chick was going to haunt his dreams for eternity, he figured. Somewhere she was smiling gleefully at the thought.

She was one of the many things he was running from during this trip to the ocean. Though not a medical practitioner, he was a practiced neurotic, and he was quite certain he was close to a nervous breakdown. He’d pushed himself very hard at work at the mobile tech startup he co-founded. Their app, which allowed alcohol to be delivered on demand, was first to market but had since been duplicated by a number of competitors. And the competitors had deeper pockets and better investors. He had focused on the day-to-day operations of the company, while his co-founder worked furiously to raise cash and generate PR.

But Boozi.ly (as the company was named) was in deep shit.

He was convinced that, operationally, things were sound and further certain it was Jim, his co-founder, who was floundering.

Nathan had already personally laid off half his 20-man team. It was a terrible experience that left him shaken. So many of those he had to let go he had worked with before and handpicked from other companies. They had trusted him, and he had failed—or was at least on the long decent into faildom. On top of that, his best friend Finn was going through a terrible divorce, and, as the godfather of his young son and being a big fan of his wife, Nathan was being pulled in too many directions.

Plus, he just turned 37, and the thought of turning 40—especially with everything going to hell—was terrifying. It was a young man’s world, especially in the high-flying tech industry in which he worked. If you were over 30, you were a dinosaur. If you were 40, you were like the microbes that populated the Earth before the dinosaurs. Hard to “crush it” like the 20-year-olds did. He might as well have been 70.

Unfortunately, that would make him a broke retiree, since most of his money was tied up in his booze delivery startup. And with Boozi.ly, he stood to lose all of it very soon.

***

He called his sister June that afternoon, told her he was down at the beach house, and would love her company. They were close emotionally, if not having the type of relationship where they spoke a bunch. She always seemed busy, plus she had her shit together. Of course, she was accommodating to his request and said she would take a half-day off work on Friday and drive down from Dover. That relatively short drive meant she should arrive in the early evening.

It was only Tuesday, which meant he still had a few days to make a mess of himself and work out the demons before she arrived.

***

Sipping a cocktail (Moscow Mule) and putting a frozen pizza in the oven, Nathan then put a towel on the seat on the porch to keep his ass from getting wet from the ocean moisture; then he stared into the water. His mind was still racing but with less urgency. Scenarios and failures came and went. He hoped the slowing pace was a good sign. He at least hadn’t had a paralyzing panic attack since he arrived, and so that in and of itself was an improvement.

The night again was incredibly foggy, peaceful, and quiet. Mist covered the deck. None of his neighbors were around. It was just him, the ocean, and his mind.

But then it wasn’t, and he saw someone walking on the beach. It seemed like the same person as before, wearing the same outfit, but this time they were walking the other direction (left to right) and a number of yards closer. The figure was no longer wading in the water but walking on the wet sand where the waves broke. They were looking for something. Sans flashlight. Nathan could see the figure more clearly and noticed a hoodie, but that was all he could make out.

Whoever it was shuffled slowly into the center of his view.

“Hey!” Nathan called out. “Are you looking for shells? The waves have been pretty rough. Most are probably broken into pieces!”

The waves were loud, and so, unsurprisingly, the figure didn’t reply. He or she kept slowly walking, looking down until, within a few minutes, once again disappearing into the fog layer.

Nathan was puzzled but wasn’t alarmed.

He sat there thinking about it for a while. Then he walked down the stairs to the bottom floor, out his gate, and to the private walkway that led to the top of the dunes in front of his house and then down to the beach.

He walked a bit in the direction he saw the figure, hoping to catch up and talk to put his mind at ease. He didn’t find the person, but he did find a line in the sand where the person had been walking. Footprints. But, as he started to follow them, a larger wave crashed, pushed the water over the footprints and through his own feet, washing the prints away.

***

Alone with his head, Nathan began to wonder what the next step was for him. He was stuck, professionally, emotionally, and geographically. He figured he had a few days to figure it all out before he had to face the music. He tried to breathe. His doctor told him to start meditating; that he wasn’t having a series of heart attacks—they were panic attacks.

“One,” Nathan said under his breath. Closing his eyes and breathing. Uttering his “focus word” again and again.

“One.”

“One.”

The problem had always been his mind. It was never still. His focus word didn’t stop the noise in the background, which made meditation—and hypnotism—mostly a lost cause. No matter how relaxed he thought he was, the doubts, the internal berating, and the struggle overran the garden walls of solitude.

And never far away, the shadows in the corner, were the memories of … what happened.

As each hour passed alone in the house, it seemed his mind was trying to kill his body. It urged him to start drinking, knowing that alcohol lowered his barriers. To not worry about eating food. To think about all that swirled around him. He thought about his parents who he used to blame for every hiccup the world gave him. Their whole generation, the ultimate fucking narcissists, wrapped up in themselves. They didn’t have selfie sticks, but that was the physical embodiment of their parenting-style. But, at a certain point, he had to blame himself. It was on him. All of it was.

What made it difficult was that he screwed up. On all fronts. It made it hard to brush unpleasant thoughts away with a “you’ll get ’em next time tiger.” At some point in the past, he would have been considered a good person. But the rising tide of negative events and emotions were overwhelming him. Turning him into a person he didn’t recognize, but one he couldn’t seem to change.

He burped up some red wine. And tried to break through the dark clouds of his psyche. Maybe he could take a long walk on the beach. A nice shower would help, too. Some exercise.

But he was stuck on the couch. Frozen. He couldn’t stop.

Couldn’t stop his need to suffer.

***

Drunk.

Stumbling out on the porch. Wine in one hand, waffles in the other. Nathan spilled syrup off his paper plate.

It was Thursday, and his third day at the house. He hadn’t left for supplies since he arrived. He still had a ton of booze. The “good food” was gone, but the basics weren’t running out. Plus he didn’t feel hungry. His caloric intake was mostly liquid form and seemed to be sustaining him fine.

He remembered what Cleavon Little said to Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles: “A man drink like that and don’t eat, he is going to die.”

To which Wilder replied, “When?”

“Damn it,” Nathan giggled. “That’s twisted.” He took another bite of waffles.

Again it was foggy. Like his mind. His soul. Fucking figures. Maybe he should file a complaint with the commerce department down here. This weather wasn’t helping.

He giggled again.

He was drunk because it made him feel better. Block out the thought creeping into his mind. Crawling front and center to his consciousness.

Or walked.

Nathan looked out toward the ocean. To his relief, there was a family running around. You could see a flashlight turn on and then screams of delight. Nathan knew the game because he played it, too. The crabs came out at night, crawling out of their holes in the sand. Turning on the light on the beach, you realized they were everywhere. Invisible. Harmless. But there en mass.

Pretty cool. Freaky.

Off the corner of his eye, he saw movement. His heart jumped. He began to sweat. From the right out of the fog came the figure. Closer than before. Almost to the dunes.

He got a better look. The person seemed to still have the hoodie; he could see the head covered and the telltale hoodie strings slowly moving back and forth as the person walked hunched but purposeful. Again it seemed like he or she were looking for something. Nathan sat frozen, drunk, unable to move.

The family continued to scream with delight with every crab discovery and didn’t notice the figure. A dog slipped its leash and ran right by it.

Once the figure moved into the center of his view, Nathan screamed: “Hey! You! What the fuck are you doing?”

The figure stopped and turned slowly toward Nathan. Then the figure turned back to the search in the sand and continued its slow trudge.

Okay, it’s a real person. It was time to act.

Nathan ran down the stairs to the second-floor deck, keeping his eyes on the figure until the dunes blocked his view. He turned to watch where he was running just in time to miss a head-on collision with a piling, but he still clipped it, spun, and fell down the rest of the stairs to the first floor.

“Damn it!”

Something felt wet through his jeans. His knee was bleeding. He struggled to stand, leaned on, and then opened the gate and sprinted down the private walkway toward the beach. Right before the dune, he picked an angle he thought would cut off the figure, jumped off the walkway, and ran up the dune. He dug his feet and hands to help with speed, tripped again, and rolled down the dunes other side to the beach.

He stood, breath labored, looking around. He saw a light flicker on and off from the happy family’s flashlight near the water in front of him. The waves were loud; it sounded like high tide. But no sign of the figure.

Nathan walked to the spot where he or she passed. It was too dark to see anything.

He hobbled over to the family. The daughter, who was holding the flashlight, shone it in his face, apparently didn’t like what she saw, and yelped. Her father took the light from her and did the same thing, asking: “Who are you, now?”

“Sorry, excuse me,” Nathan said. “I dropped my watch back there.” He pointed behind him. “I was wondering if I could borrow that flashlight for just a few minutes?”

The man shone the light on Nathan’s wrist; there was a reflection from the watch already on his wrist.

“I wear another one!” Nathan stammered. “I wear two. It’s cool. A new fad. One on each wrist.”

Suspiciously, the man handed the flashlight to Nathan who immediately turned and sprinted back to the general vicinity where the figure had passed. Using the flashlight, he saw footprints, but, in the deeper sand where it was harder for the water to reach, there were many, many pairs from who knew how many days past. Frantic, he shone the flashlight everywhere around him, until a shiny reflection caught his eye.

He half jogged, half stumbled, reached down and picked up a necklace.

He stopped breathing briefly. Got a hold of himself.

He knew who the necklace belonged to.

***

Many hours later, and Nathan was still sitting on his porch staring off into the ocean, repeatedly turning the necklace  in his hands. He had a half-empty glass of wine, not having touched it for a few hours. His head was the clearest it had been since he arrived here.

It was in his nature to overthink. He didn’t really believe in a higher power. Only simpletons rejected science and nature and accepted the unexplainable.

Yet …

The necklace.

***

He’d come home a day early from the conference for this shit?

Cindy was doing that thing again. That “thing” being giving him massive quantities of never-ending shit about anything and everything. This time, it was his drinking and his ignoring Jim’s phone calls.

“Nathan. Jim keeps calling. Answer it. You are a coward. Put down that drink and talk to him.”

“I’m not a coward!” Nathan screamed. “I just looked a dozen people in the eye and took away their livelihood. Goddamn it! Janie has a newborn and fucking balled her eyes out. I sat there and took it! I’m no coward.”

“Still,” Cindy said, slightly readjusting her crossed arms. Her midlength dark hair reached almost to her shoulders. She was in yoga pants and a t-shirt; iPhone earbuds dangled from her right hand. She’d just finished running (again), as she did every morning and most evenings. Miss Consistency. Madame Selfless. Calm and Collected. Working 60 hours a week but always finding time to exercise. And to give Nathan fucking grief.

“Look, Jim is an asshole. He’s purposely working behind my back to tank the company while still saving enough cash in the bank to get me tossed out by the board and come swoop in and save the day.” Nathan was shaking again. It wasn’t from the withdrawal, as he hadn’t gone more than a few hours without a drink for the past month. He found himself drinking early and earlier.

He remembered that line from a Luna song: Lately it’s been happy hour, all day long…

He tried to focus … and remember where he had left his smokes.

“Nathan, you are both an asshole and a mess. So if Jim is screwing you over, you are still up one personality flaw. Plus, not everyone is out to get you.” She laughed. “But I don’t have any more tolerance for this shit. I tried to be supportive, but look, we’ve been together a year and it seems … well, it seems you aren’t quite the man I thought.”

Nathan took a breath. Really? This on top of everything? “Cindy, it’s easy to be a couple when things are moving along on smooth waters. I just need you to hang in there with me a bit longer. I’ve got some ideas to turn the company around—and us.” He sounded unconvincing.

Cindy huffed, turned her back, and went to take a shower. Nathan sat at the kitchen table, placed his beer down, and tried to stop shaking. Things were going to shit, but he had to get a hold of himself. He’d crossed the threshold a bit with drinking that night (and, frankly, most nights these past few months). He could feel his emotions deaden but flaring in rash directions.

When he was on the edge, he felt a jolt to his heart; his body went stiff, and he got lightheaded. His blood pumped and his heart beat quickly. Fight or flight …  

He tried breathing exercises …

“One.”

“One.”

“One.”

A phone rang. Unfortunately, both he and Cindy had that shitty default ring tone and the exact same model iPhone, so he didn’t know whose phone was ringing. Usually, the smartphone was connected consistently to both of their persons in various capacities, but in this case both phones were lying on the counter.

Nathan thought it was her phone. The caller ID simply said “F.”

It stopped ringing. He walked back to the table but heard the phone ringing again. It was his own phone and his buddy Finn and decided this wasn’t a good time to hear about his latest exploits and bullshit. Nathan let it go to voicemail and headed back to the table.

Almost immediately, Cindy’s phone began to ring. Again it said “F.” Nathan stopped cold in his tracks. Briefly thought “no” and then answered her phone.

“Hey sexy,” said Finn. “We still good for later?”

“Hi,” Nathan replied.

Finn was many things—mostly a joker and a bit of an asshole who is loose with what exits his mouth. It was well within his already stretched moral boundaries to call Cindy (and Nathan) “sexy” and not mean anything by it. Trying to be funny. But the pause, followed by a stumbling, “Um, hey, Nathan,” plus some excuse about getting phone numbers confused put him on shaky ground.

But the kicker, of course, was Nathan, and Finn didn’t have plans later.

Nathan hung up. Walked toward the bathroom door. Opened it, and the steam came pouring out into the bedroom. The walls were wet, the mirror fogged over. Cindy always liked her showers hot; she made it like a sauna at the health club after a workout.

He walked up to the shower door. “Cindy, want to grab dinner later?” He could barely keep his voice even. His hands shook. The steam, the fog, all of it was cloudy. His mind.

“I am going to have drinks with the girls and, actually, probably won’t be sleeping here. So don’t wait up.”

“Ah. So it’s true.” Nathan said quietly.

“What? What’s true?” Cindy called over the noise of the shower.

Nathan whipped open the bathroom door. Cindy, startled, turned to face him. “Get out!”

“You are fucking Finn,” Nathan said simply.

“You’re an idiot and a paranoid,” Cindy said, with a sad head shake. She turned back, put her head under the showerhead, the water hitting her perfect head, shoulders.

She had everything; he had nothing. Not even her.

She was naked except for the omnipresent necklace, the one he’d gotten her for their anniversary.

Finn had picked it out, actually, because Nathan had been too busy to do it himself.

Nathan’s eyes narrowed. His vision slowed. Water drops hit her shoulders slowly; they bounced and splattered one by one. He was watching, but he wasn’t there.

He saw the necklace tighten around her throat. Saw the skin pull tight. Her noises. Felt punches. A blow to the gut. Felt nothing. Nothing at all.

***

That was a week ago, and Nathan had driven directly to the beach house. Cindy was dead, that he knew for sure. He’d seen her legs sticking out of the shower as he backed away from the scene. The awkward angle of her neck. Her … face.

He tried his best to make it look like a fall in the shower. He even twisted her head a bit to offset the red marks from the necklace. It wouldn’t fool anyone, but he thought it might buy him time.

But …

He’d thrown the necklace in a dumpster a few hours away in a gas station off a back road. Not even on the main highway.

He brought himself back mentally to the present and looked at the necklace in his hand. And made himself another drink.

It was afternoon already. He hadn’t slept in at least two days. He kept slugging down drinks (Bloody Marys, beer, vodka, wine) and staring at that necklace.

He ran the whole thing through his mind as best he could on the drive down. What had happened? What he remembered. The betrayal, the taking away of the last things close to him—his best friend, girlfriend—in the time of need. No excuse for what he did.

But …

No. No buts.

He was beat physically, but, more than that, his mind was exhausted. Thinking. Processing. Justifying. All of it. Angles to get out of what he’d done coupled with its normal humming. The guilt over not rising to the occasion when his parents died. Of allowing Tom and his relationship to fall apart. Oh and to be a fuck up that never met the expectations he had on him from those around him (STOP!)—family, the few friends who could fucking stand him (STOP), not to mention his tanking company …

…STOP! he screamed in his mind … oh, and you murdered your girlfriend.

Sigh.

Tired. Stuck. Tired.

There wasn’t much else to do but drink. Well, that and one other thing.

He took his seat on the porch and waited for the sun to go down.

***

Pop! went the cork from the best bottle of red wine he’d ever bought. It was a beauty. Hall Winery. Jack’s Masterpiece. Cost $150 smackers but worth more. Saved the best for last, but truth be told he had plenty of alcohol left, even with the massive quantities he had already consumed.

His vice strategies, at least, were always well planned out.

Strangely, as night fell and his surroundings darkened, there wasn’t any fog. There wasn’t the expected mist falling onto the deck, chairs, and his arms. It was in the 60s. He would bracket the weather into the “really nice out” category, if he was asked or cared enough to do so.

Lots of people on the beach at this point, the combination of nice weather and Friday. Someone a few hundred yards away looked to be putting together a bonfire.

Nathan Anders took a deep breath and stared at the ocean. Took a long pull off of his red wine. Missed his parents. His company. His friends. His brother. He was exhausted. He was lost. He had burned his whole life to the ground. Nothing left but to pick through the coals and see if there was anything worth salvaging. It wouldn’t matter.

He remembered that his sister would be arriving at some point in the evening. What would he tell her? What could she do?

He wondered whether just being in the same home with him would put her at risk.

He looked for a cigarette, mumbled under his breath, and pulled one out of the pack. Lit it and warily stared out again knowing what he’d see before he did.

Standing on top of the dunes was the figure. They had come.

Slowly the figure walked down the dunes toward the house. Never stumbling. The same hoodie pulled up over the head. No longer looking down. Though Nathan couldn’t see any eyes, the figure’s head angled toward his. As the figure walked to the bottom of the dunes, it kept remarkable balance and an even pace on the relatively steep, sandy decline. As the figure walked toward his house, the head tilted up, and up, and up.

Looking at him.

The figure disappeared from view. Nathan heard the gate swing open and shut on the bottom floor. Even over the waves, Nathan heard a slow steady thud, as the figure slowly walked up the wooden stairs.

Now the figure was on the second floor deck, directly below him. Nathan peered through the small divides in the wood deck and saw the top of the figure’s head. The figure looked up.

Nathan stood.

Hands shaking, he grabbed the wine bottle.

The figure never hesitated and walked up the shorter flight of stairs to the top wrap-around deck. Nathan charged the figure as it head poked up from the stairs and its unassailable march continued.

Nathan shattered the bottle over its head.

It didn’t cry out. Its arms stayed at its side.

It didn’t stop.

The hoodie was still covering the face but dripped red from the wine, not blood, its face still hidden the figure again walked toward Nathan who stumbled backward and fell over a deck chair. Nathan scurried over and into the house through the sliding door with the figure steadily behind him.

Nathan ran shin first into the glass coffee table, screamed, and almost fell through it. Tears streamed down his face.

He turned and stumbled toward the bedroom; out of the corner of his eye he saw the figure enter the patio door and into the living room.

Nathan ran into the small hallway connecting the master bedroom. Slammed and locked the door. He quickly closed the master bedroom door as well and searched the room. There was the closet where he could hide, but there was no escape if the figure found him there. The bathroom was a dead end as well.

Gasping for air, mind racing, body in pain, Nathan remembered the door to the opposite outside front patio in the bedroom.

Duh! What a shithead!

Just then, he heard a crash, which he could only assume was the first hallway door being breached.

Triumphantly, Nathan ran to the door to the outside, to his freedom and salvation. He undid the lock and pulled. Nothing. He pulled again. Nothing. It was stuck. He screamed and pulled, screamed and pulled.

He turned and with a shout saw the bedroom door slowly glide open. In walked the figure.

Medium height. Black pants. Grey hoodie.

Nathan fumbled for his phone. The figure was only a few yards away. Nathan dialed 911, as the figure kept moving toward him. Nathan slid down on his butt, his back resting against the locked door to the outside.

Closer, closer … someone was asking him something from his phone, but it seemed far away.

Mindlessly, Nathan reached into his pocket and took out the necklace. He shakily held it up toward the approaching figure who was nearly on top of him.

The figure stopped.

“Take this, please,” Nathan sobbed. “It’s your necklace, I found it on the beach. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Please. I’m sorry.”

He closed his eyes and waited for the attack. Whimpering.

The expected blow never came. But he felt something, like breath, on his face. Very faint. Could have been his imagination.

He waited. And waited. Minutes passed.

Don’t open your eyes!

He felt the presence of something close.

Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look!

Slowly he opened his eyes, squinting.

A mere inch from his own face was Cindy’s, smiling broadly, the hoodie now pulled back.

“Why be sorry, Nathan? You bought it for me.”

She slowly took the phone out of his hands, hung it up, and dropped it to the floor.

And then reached out her hands and put them around his neck.

And Nathan’s mind broke.

***

June sat on the back hood of her car, wiping away tears. The police were already at the family beach house when she arrived a few hours ago. In fact, they raced past her on the highway when she was about an hour out from arriving.

There had been a disturbing 911 call from the house, which activated the small police force on the barrier islands and converged them on her vacation home.

When they burst through the door, they found a house mostly trashed: furniture turned over, garbage overflowing, empty bottles of alcohol everywhere. After sweeping the house, they found Nathan, sitting with his back against the door in the master bedroom that led outside to the front porch. His dead phone lying beside him.

Nathan’s hands were still wrapped around his own throat. He had choked himself with such ferocity that he had snapped his own neck.

***

It was ruled a suicide. But two unanswered items had stuck with June.

The first was the door to the outside in the master bedroom, which Nathan was found leaning against, had had its lock tampered with it, making it unusable. It was determined that the tampering had occurred from the outside.

The other and most dramatic was the 911 call, where Nathan was clearly heard pleading to someone and saying, “I’m sorry” over and over while mentioning a necklace.

Though the house and surrounding area were searched, no one found a necklace.

Even Cindy, when questioned by police, couldn’t figure out what necklace Nathan could have been speaking of.

***

-Aaron Dodez