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?