It started on a Tuesday. I know my recollection is accurate because Gram made pancakes. She concocts those lopsided circles every Tuesday. And every week I refuse to eat them. Something about consuming a food that fails miserably at being round makes me gag. The bumps and lumps and uneven texture . . . disgusting. Just thinking about pancakes raises my gorge.
Regardless of the inedible fare served that day, something odd was going on. My neighbor had run off.
Ms. Dawsey rarely left her house. I knew because I kept an eye on her front door. Each time she emerged, cotton skirts swirling around stick-thin ankles, I’d rush over to claim my prize. And that prize came in the form of a cookie. Chocolate chip, sugar, peanut butter—all were possible options. Where my grandmother failed at preparing a perfect circle, Ms. Dawsey did not.
I’m not quite sure of the magic she conjured during her baking endeavors. I only knew that each cookie tasted as divine as it was symmetrical. If only the secret of roundness could be shared with Gram.
That strange Tuesday, the peculiar Tuesday that started it all, my lovely neighbor exited her home in an unusual rush. I ran across our adjoining lawn and called out as she was climbing into her car.
“Ms. Dawsey! Ms. Dawsey, wait!”
“Oh, Simon. I didn’t see you. What do you need dear? I’m in a bit of a hurry, and need to head out.”
“A prize, Ms. Dawsey. I came over to get one.”
“My sweet boy, I’m sorry. I haven’t had time to bake. I know how you like your cookies just so, which takes a lot of patience. But things have been keeping me busy lately. I’m afraid there’s no prize today.”
I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Couldn’t fathom the wrongness of the situation. Couldn’t articulate the perplexity bouncing around the corridors of my mind.
My silence was interpreted as a cue to leave. Ms. Dawsey smiled in a distracted way as she pulled down her driveway, heading toward a town which held hundreds of destinations. Numerous places where my befuddled neighbor could turn up.
The most logical answer was to investigate. Rationality was the conqueror of perplexity. It wouldn’t do to have this issue unresolved.
I was careful not to dirty my jeans as I removed a rusty key from a dying potted plant. There was only slight resistance as I unlocked the back door. Entrance sounds echoed up and down a meticulously clean hallway.
Despite the lustrous floors and the dust-free surfaces, a rancid odor assaulted my nose. The scent led me to a closed door, behind which I knew was Ms. Dawsey’s bedroom.
While I had been invited inside on numerous occasions, the bedrooms hadn’t been an area of exploration. The dining room was where the majority of my time had been spent, eating sweets and sipping on chocolate milk. To trespass beyond that realm of familiarity sent waves of trepidation down my spine. But I continued on. For Ms. Dawsey.
I pushed open the door and uncovered the source of the smell. Dirty plates littered the bed and dresser. Curdled milk filled neglected glasses. Sheets of paper crinkled under my shoes.
Judging by my neighbor’s distractedness and the state of her bedroom, I guessed something was amiss. The reasoning behind this something was unknown at the moment but Tuesdays were unfilled by appointments, and there was ample time to investigate. I sure could use a cookie right now.
In addition to the paper cluttering the floor, several pieces were taped to the walls. Most were computer paper with rows of typing, but a few were clipped newspaper sections. As I approached the rectangles of text, the contents became visible.
Gemini (May 21-June 21)
Saturday: Today will be a day of self-realization. Open your eyes to the possibility of a new relationship, which may come in an unexpected form. Embrace the new and harness your energy into a productive manner.
Gemini (May 21-June 21)
Wednesday: A recent development will continue to blossom. Seek wisdom from new sources and open your eyes to the possibility of greatness.
Horoscopes. Ms. Dawsey had been clipping and preserving astrological interpretations. This contrasted sharply with the neatly pressed, apron wearing, bespectacled matron I knew. Maybe she was seeking some sort of excitement in her life.
Prior to this moment, I thought she had found stimulation in the mystical properties of proportional confections. Undoubtedly I was wrong. It seemed my dearest neighbor sought inspiration in the stars.
I turned my attention to the typed pages hanging on the wall. As I read the first, and the second, and the twentieth letter, a pattern emerged. Ms. Dawsey had been exchanging messages with an individual named Bert for a period of months.
My dearest Bert,
I lovingly count the hours since I stumbled upon your musings. How they have pointed me in the right direction. I used to spend my days tending house and baking, but now life has more meaning. You’ve seen to that.
The day we meet, will be the day my purpose has been realized.
All of the letters spoke of a higher purpose. All of the letters spoke of the day Ms. Dawsey would meet this Bert.
This information wasn’t particularly alarming by itself. Although my neighbor was elderly, I knew that even she needed companionship beyond that of a teenage boy. But taken together with her odd behavior and untidy room, these communications hinted at something far more nefarious than a burgeoning friendship.
Bert’s replies were not displayed on the bedroom walls. Judging be the level of devotion evidenced in her words, I knew Ms. Dawsey hadn’t thrown them out. They must be tucked away.
The nightstand held a bundle of paper held together with a yellow ribbon. I untied the bow and removed the first letter.
THE DAY GROWS CLOSE. TOGETHER WE WILL MEET OUR DESTINY. CONTINUE TO READ THE PROPECY AND I WILL CONTINUE TO SPEAK THE WORD.
What an intriguing letter. I hadn’t expected mention of destiny and a prophecy. And Bert’s attention was slightly different than Ms. Dawsey’s. His appeared to be a bit more . . . selfish. No that’s not right. His words were mission oriented. He had something to accomplish. The rest of his notes contained the same types of messages.
I had to find out more about this person. Had to investigate deeper. Had to figure out if Bert was a dangerous sort.
With the letters tucked into my pocket, I locked Ms. Dawsey’s back door and sprinted a block north. Every week, my grandmother and several other ladies met at Mrs. Updike’s home for cards and coffee. They fancied themselves a gang of grandmas, and referred to their gathering as the “Gaggle of Gorgeous Gals”. Too much alliteration for me, but if it made them feel nice, I could ignore obvious bad taste.
My knocks were answered with haste.
“Simon! Is everything okay? You were banging so hard on the door, I thought it was going to break.”
“I need to come in. I need to come in now!”
“My heavens, I’ve never seen you act like this before. Should I call Maude?”
“No! Please, Mrs. Updike. It’s important. And I don’t think I have a lot of time.”
“All right. Come in. Tell me what’s so important.”
In a room full of doilies and decorative plates and stuffed cows I brought Mrs. Updike up to date on my recent discoveries. She let me unleash the information without interruption, all the while nodding in the right places. When I was finished she finally spoke.
“Do you feel better, son? Talking it through has always helped me. I have some pecan pie and vanilla ice cream in the kitchen. Would you like some?”
“What? No! I mean, no thank you. I just want to make sure Ms. Dawsey is okay.”
“Dearie, Ms. Dawsey is in love. Now, I’m not 100% sure this Bert is the right type of fellow for her, but she sure does seem taken by him. It’s all she’s talked about during our gaggles. Well, she hasn’t made it to the last few, because she’s so awestruck. But when she was coming, it was ‘Bert this’ and ‘Bert that’. I liked hearing it. Made me feel young again.”
“But she never forgets to give me a prize! And her bedroom was filthy! Do you have any idea where I can find Bert? Maybe if I talk to him everything will make sense.”
“He works at the newspaper. Writes obituaries and sports and horoscopes, I think. I’m sure you can find him at work on a Tuesday afternoon.”
Without saying a good bye or thank you, I exited Mrs. Updike’s home. The newspaper office was a mile away which would give me time to think of a plan. The horoscopes on the wall now made more sense—Ms. Dawsey had been following Bert’s writings in the paper! I was still unsure of what the prophecy was, but if I was going to find out, Mr. Reporter would be the person to ask.
I couldn’t just burst in on someone. Even my mixed up brain knew that. I had to convince Bert I was a friend. An individual he could confide in.
The walk to the press allowed my heartbeat to slow to a normal pace. My breaths no longer came in gasps and the fog deadening my thoughts dissipated as I formulated a plan. I forced myself to smile as I walked through heavy glass doors.
A receptionist was kind enough to point me in the direction of the nearest restroom. I washed my hands three times for luck and looked sternly at my reflection in the mirror. Ms. Dawsey is depending on you.
My hometown is quaint and friendly and has a low crime rate. Or at least that’s how it’s marketed to potential residents. Those characteristics worked to my benefit, because the newspaper building was compact with only a few offices.
Bert’s door bore his name. I knocked primly, professionally.
“Yes, who is it?”
“Just a fan, looking for Mr. Abrams. Was hoping to speak with him, maybe share some ideas.”
The door swung open to a grinning face.
“I always have time for my fans. Come on in.”
The first portion of the plan had gone surprisingly easy. It was time for the complicated part.
“Mr. Abrams, thank you for letting me barge in without notice. I had to come over as quickly as possible because I noticed a message in your writing. And I wanted to run it by you.”
“You can call me Bert, son. And what is your name?”
“Um, my name is Chris. Chris Smith.”
“Well, Chris Smith, tell me what message you think you saw. You’ve definitely piqued my interest.”
“It’s in the horoscope section, which I’ve been reading for a while now, but today was finally the day that everything came together. I’m a Gemini, and the messages seem catered to me. Like I’m meant to follow some guidance or something. That I’m supposed to listen to you.”
“I hope this doesn’t sound crazy. I just admire you so much, and when I felt like you were talking directly to me, I knew I had to come pay you a visit.”
“You know what? You’re not crazy at all. In fact, I think you’re the sanest person I’ve spoken to in a while. Would you like to come to my house to continue this conversation? I can help you understand the message. Because there definitely is one.”
The problem with acting like a grownup was that you had to make decisions like a grownup. Gram would be worried if she knew I was heading to a stranger’s house. Her worry would be compounded if she became aware of the unusual circumstances surrounding this particular stranger.
But it was for Ms. Dawsey. So it had to be done.
“Mr. Abrams . . . I mean, Bert, I would enjoy that.”
“Wonderful. I’m finished here, so we can leave right away. Let’s get going, Chris.”
Thoughts raced during our walk to the car.
My speech teacher would be so proud. He really believed my story. I’m going to find out what’s happening to Ms. Dawsey!
When the doors locked, and the engine started, my thoughts began again. But in a different direction.
This is all wrong! That went way too easily. He suspects something.
Zero conversation occurred during our drive. No words were exchanged as we pulled into Bert’s driveway. Silence marked our steps, as we crossed the palatial threshold.
Ms. Dawsey was standing at the foot of the staircase, wearing a dress that covered her from neck to foot. She approached Bert and lifted the coat he was holding without comment. After an adoring gaze, she departed on soundless soles.
“Simon, I knew you might show up eventually. Camille told me she had a retarded neighbor who was unnecessarily nosy. And now, your curiosity has gotten the better of you.”
I joined in on the hush that seemed to permeate my surroundings.
“Ah, nothing to say. Well, it seems as though you read the notes I wrote to your neighbor, that simpering cow. Thus far, she’s been the easiest to convince of my power. All I have to do is push a little mumbo jumbo out to the loneliest birds in their daily horoscope and they eat it up like stale bread.
“I watch the birds, Simon. I watch the birds all day long. And it’s gotten me to the place I am today. Look around you. I have fifteen fowl tending to my every whim because they think I’ll take them to the promise land. The fucking promise land!”
I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. Ms. Dawsey was standing ramrod straight, glaring at Bert. The confusion from this afternoon had been replaced with malice.
“It’s amazing how stupid some can be, Simon. Youself included. You know I’ll have to dispose of you. Or should I say, my flock will have to dispose of you. Can’t have you tarnishing my reputation with fantastical tales, now can I?”
The scream that burst from Ms. Dawsey’s throat was filled with a rage that shattered the artificial serenity.
“No! No! No! Nooooooo!”
Each syllable that emerged was punctuated by a stab with a serrated kitchen knife, until the no’s were drained from her being and translated into blood on the foyer floor. Bert’s life pooled on the terrazzo tile, blazing a trail my way.
I looked down at newly red shoes. Now Gram would know I had visited a stranger’s house.
Bio: Summer writes in her spare time. When she’s not spinning yarns, she is hanging out with her two children or teaching criminal justice—generally not simultaneously. Her debut novel, clay-Stained Memories, was self-published in November 2015.