It Happens at Eight in the Evening
Originally published at The Cryptic Compendium on March 9, 2023.
It was honestly the second week when Jason Hughes noticed the strange man and the house at the end of the street. The house itself had been known for quite some time among the teenagers of the neighborhood and anyone who bothered to look in the historical files at the library could see the dilapidated old house had been there as far as the records go back. The poor excuse of a home sat at the edge of town, the last street moving on past Jason’s own home, another 500 feet and ended right at its rotted picket fence.
It was in the week of summer break from college that Jason found himself sitting on his step dad’s porch staring out at the failed construction project, the trees that seemed to lean in to protect it (even though their branches never seen to grow anything but patches of ugly old brown leaves) and anyone walking by it always picked up their pace.
“You know anything about that dump?” Jason asked his dad as he stepped on the porch to grab the morning newspaper he never got in the morning.
“The Alden house?” the potbellied man with graying hair asked freezing as if broken from a trance. The sports commercials blaring through the screen door. “Nope. In my day we’d avoid that place. A few kids tried to do challenges there, but no one ever stayed.”
“Dunno,” the man said, tossing the newspaper in the trashcan by the door and letting the screen slam loudly.
It was only an hour later when the first weird thing happened. Jason had started his second beer (after flipping off the tired cop who really had no interest in getting involved in underage drinking) and had downed half of it when he saw him.
An old man was walking briskly down the sidewalk, his cane with a silver knob clicking against the cracked cement, brown suit tailored perfectly, and a mustache the same gray as his head. He did not look in either direction nor seemed to pay attention to the random stranger hurrying by. Jason was about to ignore him and finish the last of his beer when the man slowed down in front of the Alden House.
Jason raised an eyebrow as the man, instead of continuing forward, turned into the sidewalk, through the rotting gate, up the unkempt path, between the long grass, up to the door knob, inserted the key, and went in. The college kid glanced at his watch and saw it was eight pm.
“Dad. Someone just went into the Alden house.”
“So what?” came the half distracted response followed by a bellow of cheer as the sports team his step dad was rooting for won a point.
The clock ticked away. Jason kept glancing down at his watch until eight thirty when the door opened again, the man stepped out, locked up, and retraced his steps back out. Then continued on his merry way as if he did not stop by what was probably a haunted house.
Over the next week, Jason saw the strange man enter the weird abode every day at the exact same time and leave at the exact same time. Asking questions throughout the day did not elicit anything interesting than the librarian stating the house was owned by the town, the police officer said it was a vandal that they’d patrol for, and his friends thinking it was some dumb loser looking for a place to do drugs. None of these fit the look of the man or the precision that he showed.
It was the thirteenth day that Jason had finally had enough. Waiting until the man had gone into the house, the college kid sauntered across the street, dived into the yard when nosy Rebecca Morsley wasn’t looking out her window, and ducked behind the left side of the house through the tall grass.
The seeds of the thistles and grass stuck to his clothes as he made his way to the window hoping that the swishing and gripping of the grass around his feet was not so loud that the weirdo had heard him. Jason knelt down and tried to find a clear enough spot to peer through the grimy window. A cricket somewhere near his feet began to sing out mistaking his red sneakers for a mate looking to get busy. The little guy sang his heart out while Jason gently scrubbed at a pane. Though it was not much, he could make out the man in the far corner of the house setting out utensils on a gingham tablecloth which he must have brought with him. They showed near the rot or decay that surrounded him. The stranger moved out of view and Jason focused, hoping to get a better look at what was on the table near the plates.
Was it instinct? Heightened alertness because of the brazen act or spying? Whatever it was, the college student felt the urge to hide even though he did not see anything in his view. It got so overwhelming, his heart pumping hard and he immediately ducked. It was none too soon as the light from inside was blocked by a form that appeared in the window. Jason kept crouched and pressed up against the outer part of the house ignoring the rotten smell of the wood and a bug wiggling here and there. Even the damned cricket that had been screeching nonstop near his knee since he had knelt had gone silent.
What felt like forever was only about ten minutes. The soft green glow of Jason’s sports watch he won from his coach for an intramural running contest showed that it was eight twenty-nine. As soon as it turned that minute, he heard the door open, the lock click and the footsteps of the stranger walking away.
As soon as it was silent and the cricket starting singing to his shoe again, The Hughes boy made a run for it not caring if Mrs. Morsley saw him. Only when he was in the safety of the yellow light of his own porch did he finally let out the breath that he was holding.
What was on the table? Was it a doctor’s bag? Why was it bulging? Was there something in there? It was only after three more beers did Jason decide that tomorrow, with cellphone in hand, he was going to solve this mystery of the stranger at Alden House.
Jason did not sleep, nor did he hang out with friends as he had planned. That was especially irritating as Tiffany seemed to be interested in coming back to his place, especially since his dad was going to be doing an overnight delivery for the trucking company he worked for.
This time though, he took his time and made sure to be early. It was only seven in the evening when he sidled up to the door and found it unlocked. That was the first weirdness. Didn’t he lock it? Examining the lock, Jason found that the lock wouldn’t have worked if the stranger wanted it to. The latch had rusted off completely so nothing could lock it in place.
The door creaked way too loud as he pushed it open and began to make his way in. The smell of rot was stifling and he gasped and pulled up his tee shirt in hopes to filter out the pollution that was shredding his nose.
The table cloth was still laid out when he got to the kitchen and the object in the center was still there. It was a doctor’s medical bag and there was something bulging inside. Anxiety gripped Jason as he slowly moved forward. A glance at his watch only showed it was seven ten so he still had a lot of time to do his investigation and leave. Creeping up slowly, the idiot who had done a year in college reached out his hand and clicked the hasp. It opened and he let out a sigh of relief. It was a blue bowling ball.
“You’re an idiot, Jason,” the kid muttered to himself.
It was the click of the door that made him spin around in panic. The stranger stood there with a grin on his face, a grin that was way too wide to possibly be normal. It seemed that his jaw opened all the way back to the edges of his ears, his eyes a list like the snakes from the Discovery channel.
Jason was frozen in place as the thing closed the door. He tried to move, to run but he found his feet would not obey. Nothing would obey him. It was not just fear. The kid had found himself paralyzed.
“I was wondering how long before your curiosity got you in here,” the stranger said in a weird strangled sound. “I had almost given up.”
The smile grew wider showing not only hundreds of small, little teeth, but at least two rows of them.
“Oh,” he said with a shrug as the stranger gently sat the kid down in front of the table. “A paralyzing toxin on the clasp that you touched. You won’t be able to move for a few hours.”
It had been a trap. The entire time. Jason realized only too late that there was no one who would know where he was and that he had played right into this creature’s game.
“It doesn’t matter though,” the stranger said, picking up a razor sharp knife. “I am so hungry.”
Damn the kids who won’t stay out of anyone’s yards. Rebecca Morsley was sure that the stupid neighborhood teenager had gone over to the Alden house to disrespect the property with their graffiti and gang signs. She had watched the door since the strange old man had come. She had not seen him in quite a few years and assumed he had been the caretaker checking on the property.
When the man finally came out, she let out a sigh of relief. Looks like the kids didn’t upset the poor dear. He was carrying his bulging doctor’s bag and absently dropped a bowling ball into the grass. More trash to be cleaned up later.
Now, to just wait for that stupid kid to come out so she could call the police.
— © Jonathan J. Snyder, All rights Reserved Like what you read and want to buy me a cup of coffee?