This is the beginning of something I started last year. As so often happens, the story dried up and I moved on. I was nearly thirty-thousand words into it. I’m going to take another stab at it and see what bleeds…
Neville shuffled back down the entry hall after locking the door. He didn’t bother with the light; there was nothing to see in the shadows. The long hallway inside the apartment had an aroma of decaying lathe and horsehair plaster that only the most attuned would notice.
The darkened hallway gave way to daylight streaming in through the two tall windows of his living room. He put the mail on his desk and pulled the chair out. He recognized one of the envelopes when he pulled it from the box. Two left, seven right, seven left, five right; that was his mailbox mantra. He knew it appeared he was muttering to himself these days as he made his way to the front hall for his mail, but he didn’t care as long as he remembered the combination to his mailbox long enough to use it. He could write it down, but that wouldn’t help with his memory. And if the kids roughed him up, found it written down, he’d spend a month of Sundays trying to get a new combination. It was hard enough remembering this one.
He pushed on the pile of mail to get it to fan out some. There it was. He picked it out, held it up.
Retour à l’expéditeur was stamped in bold red.
He turned it over, and over again. It was in good shape for having gone to France and back. He remembered the plea for any kind of help or direction it contained. The Bouvier family had washed their hands of Neville Clark. They had a history together and he wouldn’t give them what they wanted.
“All because I wouldn’t return that damned mirror with Mikey in it. Heirloom my ass.”
That’s it then, that was the promise to himself three months ago when the letter went out. Over sixty years he’d spent trying. Surely nothing more could be expected of him. Mikey would understand.
Neville still didn’t understand how the mirror worked. All the Bouviers had told him was that no one ever returned.
He studied the postmarks for a moment, inattentive mis-stamps. He opened the middle desk drawer all the way. In the back were banded stacks of letters and he withdrew the top stack. He pulled on the elastic, stuffed the new envelope under and released. It snapped against the pile with finality and he put the pile away, closed the drawer.
He wondered if Mikey would have stuck it out so long, and his mind went back to the beginning. They met at PS 9 when Mikey was brought in as the new kid at school. He and Neville hit it off right away.
They discovered that they lived on adjacent city blocks and became nearly inseparable. They played on the same baseball teams, read the same comics, and later, looked at the same girls. They even joined the army and dropped into Normandy together. That’s where they were separated; where Mikey was lost forever.
Neville stood, pushed the chair back in, kept hold of the chair-back until the shake in his hands subsided. “This getting old stuff isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.” Even after all this time alone, he still talked to Mikey once in a while. Buddies forever – chums – two peas in a pod.
In the kitchen, he took two glasses out. In the larger one he poured out some Coca Cola. He splashed some whiskey in the bottom of the smaller glass and admired the amber liquid as he swirled it around and let it breathe.
“I’m all done Mikey.” Neville tossed back the small amount of whiskey and put the glass down. “Sorry buddy.” His eyes welled up as he looked beyond the room.
He picked up the other glass and went back out to the living room; this time to his recliner. The vinyl sqawked when he sat. He took a sip of the Coke now that the warmth of the whiskey had run its course, set the glass on the small end table. Remote control in hand, he pressed the power button. The number on the cable box above the television glowed an eerie green.
He caught a fleeting glimpse of something in periphery. He was sure he locked the door so he shifted the chair into recline.
News on the television: California brush fires.
Something darted behind the book shelf.
The Governor of California has visited the fires.
A shadow shape moved from the bookshelf to the television cart. Neville was distracted.
He pressed the channel up button to channel surf. Something was under the television stand and the channel up button stuck. Something peered over the cable box – out of view – then back up again.
What the heck is behind the television?
Neville shifted in his chair.
Slowly a shadow was revealed; stealthy and furtive.
“I’ve seen you before.”
It looked like someone had stuffed a softball into a black sock; it didn’t ducked away this time.
Proportionally small hands held it up.
The channel up button was still stuck but Neville no longer noticed.
Grayscale eyes blinked.
The shadow bobbed in place as a test of movement.
A sense of awe, wonder, and ease washed over Neville.
Suddenly, the shadow tripled in size as it bared grayscale rows of teeth and lunged forward.
Neville’s bladder released and his heart skipped a beat. The valves in his heart seemed to refuse the missed beat and operated out of sync, further mucking up the works by pushing blood the wrong way for a single pulse before stopping altogether.
The shadow resumed its normal size, and with a needle-toothed Cheshire cat grin, uncoiled its tail from the cord of the cable box. It slinked down to the floor and moved on.
The television was still scrolling through channels and the Coke eventually went flat. Neville was found in his chair the next day by a hospice worker on her weekly visit.