Thursday, July 25, 2019
By Randy Romero
It was a balmy and breezy afternoon in mid-April when Andy Goodman landed on Mrs. Landau’s front porch. Door-to-door salesmen are virtually obsolete. But that didn’t stop Andy’s employers from trying every sales technique. They advertised on TV and radio, placed ads in local papers, and they were one of the few companies left that employed door-to-door salesmen.
They used to call them drummers, an archaic term. Salesmen were sent from home to home to drum up interest in whatever new product their company was pushing on potential customers. Nowadays, they’re called consultants. Andy preferred the term to salesman.
Andy was in the neighborhood to push the company’s new wireless alarm system. He rang the doorbell twice before Mrs. Landau answered. She invited him in without hesitation. He barely had the opportunity to introduce himself. She led him to the living room and invited him to take a seat.
“Want some lemonade, dear? I also have iced tea.” She smiled; a sweet, innocuous smile.
“Iced tea sounds lovely, ma’am. Thank you.”
“I also have some chocolate biscotti, if you’re interested.”
“Sounds great,” Andy said with a forced smile. “I normally don’t eat chocolate. But I can make an exception for some biscotti.”
“You don’t eat chocolate? Who doesn’t eat chocolate?”
“No, I’m vegan. I normally don’t eat anything with dairy, including chocolate.”
“Vegan? So you don’t eat meat either?”
“Not in years. But like I said, I’ll make the occasional exception when it comes to chocolate.”
Mrs. Landau excused herself from the living room and went to the kitchen. She appeared old and frail, but she moved with quite the spring in her step.
Andy took a gander around the living room. Plastic covered furniture. Old, frayed brown carpets. An unsightly mustard yellow wallpaper that looked to be about fifty years old.
Andy had encountered her type before. Lonely old ladies who were desperate for company. She’d probably talk his ear off for hours and he still wouldn’t make the sale. But unfortunately this was part of the job.
She returned with a pitcher of iced tea and biscotti on a silver tray and placed it on the coffee table. She poured him a glass of iced tea and poured one for herself but left it sitting at her side of the coffee table.
“So, Mrs. Landau–”
“I guess you can call me Ms. Landau now. My husband’s deceased.”
“I’m terribly sorry for your loss,” Andy said, feigning sympathy. His tone was somber, but it was all an act. He still had his eyes on the objective. If listening to old stories or mourning over dead husbands and lost relatives helped make the sale, so be it.
He didn’t think of himself as a bad guy. He was just doing his job. He worked on commission. No sale meant no paycheck.
“Don’t be sorry. He was a brutish oaf. A heavy drinker. Rotten attitude. Truth be told, I’m a little relieved he’s gone. I know how awful that sounds, but it’s just how I feel.”
Andy didn’t know how to react to that. He sipped his tea quietly, helped himself to some biscotti. It tasted a little stale but he didn’t want to appear rude in front of his host.
“I don’t think we were properly introduced. My name is Andy Goodman. Thank you for letting me into your home. Are you concerned at all about security?”
“I suppose I should be at my age. This house could definitely be more secure. The neighborhood has really gone downhill. I caught a man trying to break in through my backdoor. Chased him off with a broom. Ha! You should’ve seen his face!”
“Well, I work for a large security company and we’re currently running a special promotion. A free wireless home security system, with free installation. Of course, I’ll be perfectly honest with you, the offer does come with a two year monitoring agreement. But that’s two years of 24/7 protection. Motion sensors, door and window contacts, smoke alarms. We even have cameras available. As long as your system is armed, someone will be monitoring your home every minute of the day for signals. Do you have a cell phone?”
“Of course. I’m old, but I’m not that out of touch.” She chuckled and Andy forced a chuckle in return.
“If you’re interested in cameras, we have an app that allows you to remotely view the footage. That way you can keep an eye on your house even on the go.”
He finished his tea. She offered him a refill but he declined. He was a little nauseous and dizzy. The whole room started to spin. The mustard yellow wallpaper seemed to be swaying.
He tried to stand, but sunk right back down on the plastic coated couch, and his whole world went black.
Andy woke up on his back, condensation from a pipe dripping onto his face. The room was dark. He retched at the thick, pungent, unidentified scent that permeated the air.
He sat up, his vision still blurry. Flies buzzed around his head and landed on his face. He swatted them away and rubbed his eyes.
“What’s your name?” A voice asked.
“Andy,” he replied. “Where am I?”
“Cellar?” His eyes slowly adjusted and he gasped at the grisly skeletal remains.
“Mr. Landau,” the voice said. “He’s been down here a long time. I used to know the Landau’s. I grew up around here. They lived in this neighborhood forever and everybody knew they had money. I was desperate, and in my moment of weakness, I came back here to rob them. I’ve been here ever since. I’m pretty sure she killed her husband first, let his body down here to rot. But she didn’t stop there.”
"How long have you been here?”
“A few months. Apparently I picked the wrong house to break into.”
“Why are you still here?”
“Nowhere to go. No windows, and the door is metal. She locks it from the outside. She must have about ten locks on that goddamn door. I’m pretty sure the cellar is soundproof too. I screamed my lungs out the first day I was here. Nobody outside seemed to hear.”
As his eyes continued to adjust, Andy noticed the rotting corpses and collection of bones that plagued the dusty cellar floor. He covered his mouth and nose with one hand briefly, but there was no way to stifle the overpowering stench of decay.
The man stepped out of the dark, bite marks all over his arms, small chunks of flesh absent. The wounds were clearly infected from lack of medical treatment.
“Did somebody do that to you?”
“I did it to myself. You’d be surprised what a man will do when he’s hungry.”
“I’m a vegan. I don’t even eat meat, so I doubt I’d be able to eat myself.”
“Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about you eating me then,” the man quipped.
“You never told me your name.”
“Trevor. Not like it matters. We’re both good as dead. There’s no telling how many people this old bag has killed or left down here to starve.”
As soon as he said that, a horrible thought began to dawn on Andy. “How did you survive for so long down here?”
“I did what I had to do. Like I said, you’d be surprised what a man will do when he’s hungry. I’m glad you’re here, Andy. I thought this was the week I’d surely starve to death. Looks like I caught a break. Don’t worry, I’ll put you out of your misery before I eat you.”
He lunged towards Andy, licking his chaffed lips. Andy put his hands up to block himself. Trevor’s overgrown nails scratched at Andy’s arms and tried to claw at his face. Andy, who’d never even raised his fists in a real fight, felt a sudden rage boil up inside of him. He tackled Trevor to the ground and bashed his head repeatedly into the cellar floor. He didn’t stop until blood leaked from his mouth and sprayed from his ears. He didn’t stop until he heard the crunch of his skull.
“Impressive,” Ms. Landau said from the top of the stairs. “Now let’s see how long it takes for the vegan to eat raw meat. Let’s see how long it takes for your instincts to survive to kick in.”
She slammed the metal door and bolted it shut. A thick red pool had formed around Trevor’s head as he stared lifelessly up at the ceiling. Andy was left alone in the darkness, forced to make a terrifying, sickening choice. How long would he actually starve before he did what was necessary to survive?
Thursday, July 18, 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
By Randy Romero
Dried, decomposing leaves rustled in the breeze. Branches snapped under the passing innumerable feet. They traveled in large packs, traversing the boundless territory in search of inhabitable land, a place to settle down and call home.
A strong wind swept in from the east, whistling through the decaying trees. Some trees were still healthy and standing tall. Others had rotted away and died slowly. Most plants did not survive the fallout. But the group was unaffected by any lingering radiation.
The boy kept close to his father. He knew the others, but he was not at all familiar with the region. Everything was foreign to him. Strange and wondrous. Even the trees were a sensational sight to behold.
The group continued on their path, but the father stopped to examine something in the dead grass.
The boy clung to his father, both frightened and intrigued by the skeletal remains.
“Daddy, what’s that?”
“These are the remains of a human.”
“Human,” the green skinned child repeated with curiosity.
“Earth was their home. The humans existed not too long before you were born. Wiped out by their own weapons of mass destruction. Much like our home planet was wiped out. Now Earth is ours to colonize and start a new life. This is our home now.”
“Tell me more about the humans, daddy,” the alien child begged.
“Come along,” he said and took the boy’s hand, their long symmetrical fingers interlocking. “Let’s catch up with the others and I will tell you all about the humans and their way of life, and the war that ended it all.”
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
By Randy Romero
The neon “Open” sign blinked in the window of Nickel’s Tavern, but Ted would come around the bar in a few minutes to turn it off and lock the door.
He wiped down the counter as the last remaining barfly guzzled down his beer and walked out without saying a word. He left a few bucks. Just enough to pay for his last beer, with a dollar leftover for a tip.
“Cheapskate,” Ted muttered as he finished wiping down the bar. He scooped up the dollar and dropped it in the glass tip jar.
Ted was pushing forty. His brown hair was thinning and his skin had taken on a pinkish hue from years of alcohol abuse. He was a man of average height and average weight, but his gut extended a bit farther than he preferred. The price of being an alcoholic who works in a bar.
Once a teacher at a prominent ivy league school, tending bar was the best job Ted could get. No school would hire him after the scandal. Too much of a liability. He couldn’t even get a job as a substitute.
As Ted was sweeping the floor behind the bar, the door swung open. Crap, Ted thought, checking his watch. Forget to unplug the sign and lock the door.
“Last call,” Ted said without even looking up. “If you want something to drink, order it now.”
He raised his head and his eyes met with a beautiful young woman in a black hoodie. She had pale skin, scarlet red hair, and looked to be in her mid-twenties.
“Sorry, I’ll go,” she said.
“No, it’s fine. Stay. What can I get you?”
“Scotch on the rocks,” she said and pulled up a stool. “Make it a double. I’ll be quick.”
“No rush,” he assured her. His attitude changed. He never could refuse a pretty young thing like herself. He filled a glass and grabbed her a coaster.
“I’m Ted, by the way. Most of the regulars call me Teddy.”
“Well hello, Teddy. I’m Jade.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’ve never seen you around before.”
“I’m new in town,” she said with a polite tone. She was careful not to be flirtatious. She saw that glimmer in Ted’s eyes and wanted to make it clear she wasn’t interested.
“And what do you do for a living, Jade?”
“I handle business acquisitions. It’s boring stuff.”
“I bet it pays well, though.”
“Well enough, I guess,” she shrugged.
Ted checked his watch again. Almost 3:30 and she hadn’t even touched her drink. Her eyes wandered as she surveyed the bar to see if anyone else was around. The coast was clear. But Ted already knew that, and he was grateful for it. He could tell that Jade clearly wasn’t interested, but that had never stopped a man like Ted before.
Ted came around the bar, unplugged the neon “Open” sign, drew the shades, and quietly locked the door.
“Why’d you lock the door?” she asked.
He turned, recoiled at the sight, and bit down on his tongue, hard enough to draw blood. Her black hoodie was now a dark cloak. Her skin had been stripped away. She was nothing more than a skeleton with burning embers for eyes. One bony, skinless hand clutched at a razor-sharp scythe.
“Hello, Teddy,” it croaked. “You know, when I told you I was in acquisitions, I wasn’t joking. But it’s not businesses I procure. I acquire souls.”
“Dear God,” Ted whispered.
“God has nothing to do with this. Thought you were going to have your way with young Jade, did you? Tell me Ted, how many women have you hurt over the years? How many have you drugged and abused and taken advantage of? How many flowering young girls have you robbed of their youth and innocence? There’s always a price to pay for your sins. And now you’ll have to answer to the man downstairs. Hell was tailor made for the dregs of society such as yourself. I promise, you’ll feel right at home.”
The reaper touched one ragged, bony finger to his chest and Ted’s heart burst like an over-inflated balloon. The owner found him the next morning, crumpled up on the floor, a look of sheer terror etched on his frozen face.
Cause of death was determined as a fatal heart attack, attributed to Ted’s poor diet and health, and his excessive alcohol consumption. If only they knew the truth. If only they knew what was lying in wait for them when their internal clocks ran out.