A Puzzling Neighbor – Part Two

*This was my first story posted and I have yet to give it a thorough edit. Soon to come!

It was hard for anyone to watch. Especially for Glenn. He could only stare in confident disbelief at his wife’s possessed, erratic behavior. Adjacent walls shuttered subtle aftershock from the repeated impacts from Susan flinging herself back-first into the padded calming room door of the padded calming room in Saint Katherine’s Hospital mental health ward. She sang a hellish tune that started a month prior as nonsensical rantings, then, gaining solidity and consistency to an eerie rhyme, to now.

In the oubliette you go, oh-oh-oohhh-whoaa-woee. Easy to get in, and easy to get out, oh-oh-oohhh-whoaa-woee. All you gotta do is for-get now, so, oh-oh-oohhh-whoaa-woee, in the oubliette you gooo.”

Only her back was visible through the square, plastic window. Even this was difficult for Glenn to witness. He had to turn away.

“If we could, Mr. Hebert, I would like to implement chemical restraints in the event that we cannot manage her physical aggression.”

The stern European accent was that of Dr. Stifka, chief psychologist for Saint Katherine’s Hospital. He was a broad man, with thick gray hair and a thick gray beard. Dr. Stifka was frigid, which Glenn learned just recently was an indication of his sincerity. A curious medical anomaly that I will uncover, was a phrase Dr. Stifka used over and over, something Glenn first received as genuine, but now, disregarded along with the abundance of probable theories her medical team provided. Glenn was rather certain that his own growing theory of Susan’s madness stemmed from Three Elizabeth Street, and from the man who vanished without leaving a piece of evidence behind. This time, the crash of her body heightened in intensity, startling Glenn to his senses. Dr. Stifka waited for a response.

“Is that really necessary?” asked Glenn.

Dr. Stifka’s expression was an unwelcoming expanse of landless, midnight ocean during a building storm.

“It’s for her safety. For unknown reasons, her sanity is degrading at an alarming rate and she is becoming hyper-aggressive. Just last week she –

“Please just help her, Dr. Stifka.”

Glenn knew why a male nurse is out for six-to-eight weeks, and didn’t need a reminder. He also thought that the rugged, comely female staff standing next to Dr. Stifka was a laughable attempt of reassurance.

“Is that consent?”

“Yes,” said Glenn.

Dr. Stifka placed a consoling hand on Glenn’s shoulder, firmly squeezing before he walked away, leaving Glenn and the female staff behind. He was relieved that she remained silent, as he grew less interested in conversing with new faces. His wife had been a patient at Saint Katherine’s for nearly a month, and during this time, Glenn could guess that he was introduced to the entire hospital employee roster, or as he now felt: the professionals with only good intentions.

One woman, though, was ever helpful, and approached now. It was Michelle Dunkirk, Susan’s appointed case manager. Michelle was rail thin with minimal womanly physical features, which she over-compensated with red lipstick that conflicted with her bronze skin. High heels announced her arrival down the hall, and today she wore a pressed beige pant-suit.

“Glenn, I just wanted to stop by before you left and introduce you to Jennifer. She has been working with Susan since this weekend.”

The now named staff relaxed her position, turning to Glenn with a polite, outstretched hand. Her smile was deceptively cute in comparison to her flat jawline and coarse handshake.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Hebert. If there is anything that you think I could know about your wife, her interests, what she likes to listen to for music – anything that could help me build a relationship with her,” he again appreciated the effort form the eager, welcoming staff, but gave no interest to her, which she promptly noticed, and shortened her introduction. “I assure you that I will keep your wife safe and healthy.”

This came across quite the opposite, as Glenn felt that nothing, or anyone for that matter, could offer him reassurance. It was something terrible that stole the woman he loved away, something unnatural to this world, and Glenn didn’t want to waste his time with pleasantries or cozy sit-downs to explain his Susan’s hopes and dreams. It was Three Elizabeth Street, and the man inside that he wanted to talk about.

“Does she talk about the window or the house still? Or the man with the puzzles?”

Michelle stayed silent, while Jennifer spoke right up.

“The only thing I have heard her talk about since I started was about an oubliette – the song, rather – and something about date walk, which usually ends with her screaming something like ‘bloody soil below‘. That is usually the extent of it.”

A thunderous slam erupted from the calming room, and Glenn turned to see a version of Susan that nauseated him with sorrow. Blood trickled down her bruised forehead, cascading down the scabbed bridge of her nose to low cheekbones that shied-away from hollow, menacing eyes. What hair that wasn’t torn-out clustered together in pathetic, split bunches atop her sore scalp.

“So are we, Glean? Are you going to cut me loose so we can go-oh-oh-oohh-whoaa-woee to that sweet oubliette below? The blood will dry up once you dig deep enough. Gotta get-going-gone now, so hurry the fuck up, you small-dicked teenie-weenie man. Spring me outta-here!”

As always, the intentions of the staff were honest, and from a glancing perspective, agreeable. Jennifer had unlocked and yanked the calming room door open in impressive speed and swiftness, but with little foresight to timing. Glenn could see that she was hoping to catch Susan, or to at least stop her from slamming her forehead into the hard, square plastic window again. Jennifer, however, was a little to fast, and Susan fell face first through the suddenly clear doorway, and couldn’t stop the forceful motion of her face plummeting down to the tiled floor with a crunch that nearly caused Glenn to vomit.

“I need help – bring the nurse,” hollered Jennifer down the hall to the nurses station.

Glenn could think of nothing more than aiding his wife, who was now flailing both her arms and legs from a wild supine position. As he stepped towards her, a hand tugged from the back of his thin jacket.

“Mr. Hebert, please, this way,” said Michelle.

“What are you doing?”

A stampede of hospital staff flooded from both directions of the hallway, swarming around Susan, who was on her back with two fistfuls of Jennifer’s short hair. Michelle said nothing, and only pulled him from the now crowded hallway and down to the nurses station. Screams – ones that Glenn could guess were a combination of Jennifer and Susan’s, faded behind them as Michelle led him down a short well lit corridor and around to the nurses station. A male nurse looked up from his work station, and immediately rose from his feet as his eye’s witnessed that his ear’s were correct in guessing that the ominous click-clack indeed belonged to Michelle Dunkirk.

“What are you doing sitting there? GO help them,” she demanded.

“Sorry Mrs. Dunkirk.”

The nurse went out of his way to jog around the opposite end of the poorly configured wooden desks that served as the nurses station. Michelle firmly guided Glenn around to set of rolling office chairs.

“I don’t want you to think… I don’t know, that this is crazy or anything, but something that I just heard reminded me of a story from my childhood,” said Michelle.

Since Glenn was introduced to Michelle, he only knew the look on her face as compassion and care, not of frightful melancholy. She looked around, making sure that they were alone, and then awkwardly pulled herself and the chair by the pointed fronts of her heels, closer to Glenn until their knees touched.

“Something awful happened in Brentwood Falls over forty years ago. I have always lived in the area – by the hospital actually – and I didn’t think of it until Jennifer and your wife talked about the… blood in the soil below,” she started to rush her words, and Glenn strained to understand. “There was an elderly woman who vanished from her home, last seen on a summer night wearing a yellow sun dress with opened-toe shoes. You think that would be easy to find, but no one could, or the husband, for that matter, who was not seen for days until a neighbor went over to check in, and he saw the husband from an outside window of the house. The husband was sitting at a table, covered in blood and doing a jigsaw puzzle. Police went in and the man kept on about blood not drying in the soil and that he was sure she was down there, but forgot where to dig. He died that night in the police station from unknown causes, and the police dug up his dirt basement until they hit solid stone. Even the yard – everything was dug up. Nothing was found. It is probably just a stupid kids story, but I’ve never seen a patient act like this in all my years of working here. I know I am not a doctor, but I work with these patients almost as much as the direct care staff, and I have an understanding of your run-of-the-mill sociopath or schizophrenic, and your wife… your wife is something different. I don’t know… please, say something. Anything. I feel so stupid having said this.”

Michelle felt foolish as Glenn simply stood and walked out of the mental health unit. He wanted to tell her that he believed her, but he needed to get to Three Elizabeth Street. He had never broken into a house before, and thought it would be much easier to accomplish in the daylight.

© Copyright John Potts Jr 2016 – 2017


A Puzzling Neighbor – Part One

*This was my first story posted and I have yet to give it a thorough edit. Soon to come!

Glenn Hebert always thought that he was rather clever for stumbling upon the idea of a date walk. It came to him by accident at a English Literature workshop during his senior year of pubic school. His then high school crush, Susan Parks, had just agreed to go on a date, something that Glenn wasn’t ready to believe as his self-confidence already deemed it a fools errand to even bother asking. He found himself rather terrified, then, when she tossed the ball back to his side of the court with a playful demand of his idea of their first date.

“So what are we going to do?”

“I thought it would be nice to go for a walk. Maybe we could get to know each other better.”

“And being in the same class since fourth-grade hasn’t given us enough time?”

“Uhh… no.”

The couple ventured that night for hours, traveling down the same neighborhoods over and over until they ended at Susan’s door step for curfew. The two were more exhausted from constant laughter than their sore legs or throbbing feet combined. Glenn had been surprised that he was able to hold her hand for the last few blocks, and even more so that he never shied away when she kissed him for the first time that night.

“Was that your plan?”

“Not at all. I was just stalling until I thought of something better,” he had said.

“You didn’t have to. Spontaneity opened the door to who you really are. You are confident, funny, and really nice, and I like that person a lot. So let’s do this again sometime – this date walk of ours. If anyone asks, I’ll tell them it was your idea.”

What started as a quaint ice-breaker evolved into a sweetly anticipated outing that followed them as they moved to a single floor ranch in Brentwood Falls. Married, and happy. It didn’t take them long to explore every nook-and-cranny of the town, and they acquired an impressive log with all of the best routes. Most of the time, however, they just enjoyed the simplicity of walking together hand-in-hand, as they have now every week to now, where Glenn and Susan make their way home

“I think I am going right to bed when we get home. Big test tomorrow for my sophomores in the morning,” said Susan.

The corner of Brentwood Falls they called home was a quiet suburban cluster of modest colonials, split level duplexes, or starter homes for a single-family. Most who lived in this area of town were calm, responsible types who relished the quality of the local school system. It was a place that Glenn and Susan could feel comfortable staying in, and one day, maybe raise a family.

“How do you think they will do?”

“I honestly don’t know,” she paused “We will see.”

“You’re a great teacher. I know the grades will be fine,” Glenn said with soothing reassurance.

Susan hugged into his right arm, and sighed. The beginning of the school year was always a stressful time for the two as they both taught in the local district. Glenn had it easier as he was Brentwood Elementary’s third grade History teacher, and didn’t need to worry about the common complaints of raging hormones and mouthy know-it-alls that frightened him more than it did his wife.

“Do you want to swap for the day? History has to be so fun at that age.”

Susan often fantasied of traveling back in time, specifically to College where she wanted to force her younger self to look upon her current, premature grays that streaked through her thin, charcoal colored hair. She had just cut it shoulder length, and Glenn thought that it complimented her naturally young face nicely despite her insecurities.

“It’s really amazing. Columbus Day is always a great time with the kids in class.”

Glenn had a hard time looking away from the beauty of the emerging stars that squeezed through the fleeting dusk sky. He grew into a natural romantic over time, and always struck upon an opportunity to hold Susan close. A sensation of warmth surged through Glenn, and he wanted to wrap his love into him with a never ending embrace from the inspiration above. It startled him that Susan didn’t feel the same way as the pulled back.

“Why is that light on in that window?” She pointed to the vacant house across the road.

They stood on the corner of Elizabeth and Helena Street, silent with trepidation from the unknown light that sickly emitted from the rear window of Three Elizabeth Street – a house that has been on the market since Glenn and Susan moved to the block.

“I have no idea,” Glenn really didn’t know what to say and tried to dismiss the issue “Maybe someone was doing work on the inside and didn’t turn off the light.”

Susan stood with a look that concerned Glenn more than the potential threat of home invaders or filthy squatters.

“Let’s go check it out.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Glenn knew as soon as he finished speaking that he had left an opening for Susan to feed her adventurous appetite.

“What if it is more than a light? I’d hate to think of a break-in so close to home, Glenn.”

“So what: Call the cops if we see someone? What if there was a new owner and they just forgot to take down the for-sale-sign?”

Susan only stared at Glenn with a furrowed brow and a look of disbelief that was easily noticeable from the street lamp above. It was inevitable that she would get her way when she really wanted it, and he had learned that it futile to fight her head-on. He gave in.

“Alright, alright. Let’s go check it out then.”

Three Elizabeth Street was a modest colonial, painted in traditional white with forest-green shutters and trim. A screen porch covered the front of the house and a single-bay garage was attached on the opposite side. Twin dormers protruded from the middle of the roof while a brick chimney capped-off the peak closest to them.

“What’s the plan?” Susan had asked him now as she did when they first met with a nervous tone.

“I… I have no idea. Go walk to the window and look in?”

“That is terrible,” blurted Susan.

He motioned with his hands for her to quiet.

“What’s your plan, then?” he whispered, pushing his back to the wood siding of the home.

Susan couldn’t take her eyes from the sickly column of light that was cast upon the tall grass from behind the glass. She held her breathe, watching, as if waiting for something to happen. Glenn wished that the light would just vanish, so they could go home and forget about this idea. For the first time ever, Glenn wanted date walk to end. Then suddenly, Susan shook her head, breaking free from her strained concentration on the ghostly light that saturated the earth.

“Screw it.”

She ripped her interlaced fingers away from Glenn’s hand and marched towards the window. It was Glenn’s turn to hold his breathe as he watched Susan waste no time with a safe peek inside. She simply pivoted, and looked head no through the mirror with brazen fervor that faded instantly to confused shock as she dipped under the outside sill.

“I’ll call the cops right now. Was it a robber?”

His hands shook as he pulled out his cellphone.

“Come here,” her whisper was sharp and commanding, but filled with perplexity.

“What is it then?”

“It’s an old man doing a jigsaw puzzle.”

“This is a bad time for a joke. Do I tell the dispatcher that he is armed?”

Glenn had nearly thumbed the send button on his 9-1-1 call when Susan stopped him.

“There is an old man sitting at a table doing a jigsaw puzzle. Must be the new owner, look,” she pointed to the window.

Glenn forced himself to push forward to the window. He saw that It was, indeed, an old man, sitting at a table with thousands of tiny, scattered jigsaw pieces before him. His bony, outstretched fingers touched each piece with a downward stroke that reminded Glenn of someone practicing braille. Glenn had done a few puzzles in his time, and knew that the man had just begun as he was in the early stages of sorting the pieces. The man never moved his gaze to notice that anyone was watching him.

“Is he still sitting there?” asked Susan as she stood next to the window.

The man’s head was tilted down, but Glenn was able to still examine a disturbing glimpse of his facial features. Paper thin skin pulled back from the man’s high cheekbones and around his jawline, giving his toothless mouth the resemblance of a sharks predatory maw. Glenn swore that he had never seen anyone that old be able to smile so wide. He wore a button-up shirt that was shockingly whiter than his tendrils of vanishing hair that stuck from his age-spotted head. Before Glenn turned to walk away from the window, he noticed several paintings that hung from the visible walls of the room. It was hard to make out, but one of the paintings was of a woman who had a striking resemblance to Susan. As Glenn squinted his eyes in hopes to investigate this further, he saw the man slowly turn his head towards him. He stopped his eerie sight just before the window. On the other side of that spot was Susan. Glenn couldn’t explain to himself why, but he felt that the man knew they were there.

“Time to go, Susan.”

Glenn wanted to leave and never look back, but Susan’s lingering curiosity held their escape hostage. She moved from her spot on Glenn’s left, spinning over his body and standing tall, face-first to the window.

“Let’s not bother him anymore, please. Can we just go home now?”

“He must did walk to another room. He’s a going-gone-goner, Glean.”

The heavy blanket of fear that smothered Glenn’s senses delayed the obvious realization that something was off with Susan’s speech. He stepped behind her and placed his hands softly on her shoulders. He was able to see over her head, and noticed the once disorganized mess was now segregated into two sections: the border, and the inside puzzle pieces. Glenn tried to turn her away from the window and to him, but she resisted.

“Can we go now, please?” Glenn begged to Susan.

“G’whur? Can we go to the woobliette?”

Her words were slurred together in a harsh, intoxicated garble that made no sense to him. She then turned on her own, swinging her arms around her sides while looking to a spot on Glenn’s face that was below his eyes.

“What are we doing on our walk-a-date this afternoon, Glean? Hopefully going to the oubliette. In you go – hop on in. I hear it will be all better when you forget. It will feel like you just got out!

Immediately Glenn remembered the acronym for spotting a stroke from the First Aid course the school nurse taught last year to the district’s faculty. Her face was void of drooping features and her arms were moving back and forth in a light swinging motion that was close to her torso, so he jumped to the next identifier with his cellphone at the ready.

“Susan. Can you look up and tell me how pretty the moon is tonight?”

It was a crescent sliver above them, but Susan never looked to see that it was indeed beautiful. She only smiled at Glenn.

“Fucking moon? The sun will barely reach down. Easy to hop in, easy to get out. Now how about that walk-a-whatever. Days-a-wasting.

The emergency dispatcher was on the phone before she finished answering.

“Yes my name is Glenn Hebert and I think my wife is having a stroke.”

© Copyright John Potts Jr 2016 – 2017