©Steven Russell Black, and the artwork is being used with the artist’s permission.
THE WRONG HOUSE
As Michael O’Reilly started to come around, he could have sworn he heard a high-pitched growl. He wondered if that was one of the symptoms of the closed head injury he’d obviously suffered when he fell off the ladder while trying to enter the second story window of the house he planned to burglarize. He knew his head hurt like holy hell, and he couldn’t move his arms or legs. My God, he panicked, I’m paralyzed, and pretty soon my brain’s going to turn to mush. I promise, if I can ever use my legs and hands again, even for two minutes, I’m going to find Timothy Hanrahan, and squeeze the last fucking breath out of his…
“I see you’re almost awake. That’s good. Sorry I had to hit you so hard, but when I saw you getting ready to climb that ladder, I had to take steps to make sure you didn’t enter my home uninvited. Since we are not acquainted and I don’t know your intent, I’ve brought you down to the cellar and tied your hands, legs and feet to the chair. That way, we will be able to converse in a civilized manner. I’ve sound-proofed this entire level, so we won’t be disturbed.
My name is Rodney Ravern. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? I’m an artist and I have quite a number of drawings on display, and for sale, at several of the galleries in the city. What’s your name, and what was the purpose of placing that ladder on the side of my house?”
Wow, Michael thought, an artist. An artist and obviously a true wacko to boot. 385 Birch Lane’s a nice easy score, Mike. The owner’s like 100 and does nothing but sleep. Yeah. Right. Thanks, Tim. Wait until I get my hands on… There was that growl again.
“Listen, Rodney, my man, I wasn’t going to do anything to you. I’ll admit to you, I’m a burglar, although obviously not a very good one. Name’s Michael O’Reilly. See, a friend of mine told me 385’s owner was really old and wouldn’t wake up if Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marched through his living room. I was just going to check the upstairs bedrooms to see if there were any watches or wallets laying around. Just any odds and ends I could hock for some quick cash. If I’d have known you live here now, I would have never…”
“Did you say 385? Oh my. But, this isn’t 385. This is 885. I’m not really handy around the house and the numbers must have worn down in certain spots. 385 is down at the other end, past the water tower. Birch runs the entire length of town, you see. You’ve come to the wrong house.”
No kidding, Michael thought. And what the hell was growling behind that dark curtain.
“Look, Rod, sorry about the mistake and for disturbing you. If you’ll just untie me, I’ll be on my way. Like I said, taking little stuff is all I do. I’m not into doing violence of any kind and I am very against violence of any kind being done to me. That’s why I either wait until the homeowners are out or are so old, they sleep 23 and a half hours a day. I’m in and out in a flash, so if you’ll just get this rope off me, you won’t have to give me another thought. One thing though, do me a favor and tell me something. What have you got behind that curtain that growls? It doesn’t sound like a dog I’ve ever heard.”
“Oh, I’m so glad you’ve asked, Michael. I so rarely get visitors that I can share my story with. Let me explain.”
Great, Michael rolled his eyes. He’s going to share his story with me. Well, if that’s what will get me out of this loony bin, I’m game. Rodney pulled the curtain back and revealed a metal cage that had the appearance of a jail cell designed for one prisoner. Michael was very familiar with that accommodation. What he was not familiar with was the creature inside the cell. Its body was that of a young woman, but the face was feral. Her eyes were dark and constantly looking in all directions. Her teeth were pointed, and she growled, panted, and drooled as she paced back and forth inside the cage. Michael instantly regretted expressing his curiosity. This wasn’t the home of some ordinary wacko. He’d hit the serial killer/mad scientist jackpot for sure.
Rodney turned on a light in the corner to the right of the cell and Michael saw a drawing sitting on an easel--the most frightening, and yet saddest, drawing he had ever seen. It depicted the face of what was a beautiful young woman, obviously in death, complete with coins on her eyes, at rest in crystal clear water with exotic fish as her final companions.
“This is my wife, Rosalynd,” Rodney gestured toward the creature in the cage. He pointed at the drawing and said “and this is the image of her death.”
Michael prayed he wouldn’t pass out. He didn’t want to come to and find himself floating in a large pot surrounded by carrots, potatoes and chopped celery…
“Rosalynd and I got married on a Sunday morning almost five years ago. That day and night were wondrous, but when I awoke the next morning, my bride lay dead beside me. Nature can be a cruel mistress; it was simply her time. But I could not bear it, so I sought remedy from the evil one who resides at the back of the woods behind the lake. She quoted her price and I agreed.”
“Don’t tell me,” Michael considered the likelihood that his closed head injury had developed into a tumor. “Your immortal soul, right?”
“All the cash from my next sale at the gallery,” Rodney replied. “What would she do with my immortal soul?”
Michael now knew the tumor was the safest bet.
“I…don’t…know,” he said quietly. “Sorry. Please go on.”
“Anyway,” Rodney continued. “She gave me a cloth and told me to place it over Rosalynd’s face. Once it took shape, I was to draw its likeness on the special parchment she would provide. On completion, I was to burn the mask. Once the cloth was destroyed, the substance of her death would be captured in the drawing, where it would remain, and my wife would return to me. But I was warned that she would now be dangerous and require confinement, so as not to inflict great harm upon others. No harm would come to me, but any who crossed her path…
I fulfilled the dark deed and she seemed harmless at first. One night, however, she disappeared, and I found her the next morning at a farm at the north end of town, where she had killed the entire family and her appearance had become as she now is. If I burn the drawing, she will die--again--permanently, but I cannot. She is no longer my Rosalynd, but my love for her remains. I cannot destroy her.”
“I feel for you,” Michael didn’t believe a word of what he had just heard, but this fruit loop apparently did, so perhaps humoring him was the way to go. “I’ll help you out, if you’d like. Get me out of these ropes and I’ll burn the drawing. That way, your Rosalynd will rest in peace. That would be best, don’t you think?”
Rodney closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He looked at Michael and said “Thank you for your understanding and for your compassion. I will ponder that option. But in a bit, I’m expecting a dear friend who brings me the money from my gallery sales and who also takes my latest works and sets up the displays. Each Friday, we have a leisurely evening meal, a relaxing game of chess, and enjoyable conversation. I would like very much for you to join us.”
Michael knew he’d done the right thing. Hear the nutcase out, act like he gave a fuck, pretend to need to use the restroom, and then hightail it out of there and go and get a real job. Any reward he got from this sneaking into houses thing was in no way worth the risk. This time, he lucked out, but the next?
* * * * *
“Rodney, old friend, I have quite the tidy sum for you this week. All your drawings sold for what was asked. It is such an honor to have such talent in the family. Speaking of family, dear brother-in-law, how fares my sister, the sweet Rosalynd?”
“Simon, she remains the same, I’m afraid. I’ll take you to see her after dinner, if you’d like. For now, why don’t you fix us a couple of cocktails and I’ll get back to chopping my carrots, potatoes and celery. I’m trying a brand new recipe this evening. A nice hearty Irish stew…”