The figure lies at the corner, twisted and spread out, as though a matchstick figure has been trashed out with the junk. The inside of the garage is smoggy and dark. A musty smell floats in the air. Cobwebs hang from edges of the gray wall. It is, after all the second garage, the one that sits waiting for the special day. Beside the car are stacks of discarded and unneeded broken pieces of a dynamic life – three legged chairs, smashed mirrors in decent frames that could be salvaged someday, the rag dolls with missing teeth or eyes that did not find a place in the almost full attic upstairs.
Jane looks back at that figure. She or her younger sister Sarah never possessed a doll the size of the object sprawling in the distant left by the wall. It is the size of a real human, perhaps taller than herself. She cannot see the clothes or the hair even as darkness settles as the norm and the rods begin to get busy in the eyes. What lies is more a shadow than a man or stacked old clothing. She squeezes her eyes as she reaches out for the light switch. The white small board is hard to locate within the shelves and the haphazardly placed canisters. The wall is rough. Little bugs scurry as she feels the cracks on the wall. Jane shivers. She was not afraid of a spider or a lizard. But did that large doll suddenly move? Did it twitch? Did she hear it moan? A handful of dusty air swirls up, making it hard to conclude.
“Don’t,” somebody shouts. The word is clear and the voice is deep. There is authority in that tone. Jane stops. Something potent holds her back. That something is pinned inside her mind and tells her to listen, obey.
“Please don’t turn on the light,” the person now is pleading. From the depth of the voice, she can place him between manhood and boyhood. But he is confident. He is certain even when he begs.
“Come here. Help me.”
Jane knows the boy is not a local. He is not even from the country. The accent is pointed, clear – from another era or from a story book. Did a little green frog that had made that corner its abode suddenly become a prince? Jane laughs. She and her three mates were partying the night before. Jane had put on a tiara and a large cape. It was a fake tiara, cheap. They had broken into this garage. Diane had taken the car out. They were playing hard rock from another age: “We built this city in rock and roll,” “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” The drums were loud. Mother and father were not expected before midnight. But the police came. The doleful, decrepit neighbor was not happy.
That’s why she is in the garage again. It is her punishment.
She would have to take the car out, wash it. Then she would have to stack the books. After all those chores are done, she would have to read her own books, write a report and read it aloud. On top of it all, she was grounded for three days.
“I need you,” the voice states again. She is unsure if it is a command or a pleading this time. If it indeed is a command, she does not mind becoming a temporary order bearer. She feels compelled, attracted. The crumpled figure is surely helpless, alone. He would not grab her from the back, assault. She knows that much even in the darkness. Pity though does not drive her. That charm that compelled is stronger. It forces rather than empowers. She is the one that’s weak here.
Jane now moves away from the wall, pushes back on the car, making herself believe that she can get in and dash out if she wishes. Her legs though feel heavy.
“How did you get here?” she was the one who sounded guilty inside her own house.
“The door was open.” There was indeed definitive reason for that guilt. She had allowed him in – the sham princess in her drunken moments was the perpetrator.
“I am wounded.”
Jane feels a little numb, slightly squeamish. Was there a shootout, or a fist fight? Was he hiding from the police?
“Don’t worry. I am not a criminal.” He seems to read her mind. Jane feels unprepared, embarrassed.
“Water,” he whispers.
“Of course,” she obliges.
As Jane puts the glass of cold water on the floor closer to the boy, she glimpses a partial view of the face. It is pale, as though he has bled profusely. His hair is dark and tidy. His lips are thin and his nose is sharp. She cannot see his eyes but she knows that they sparkle. His body is lean and solidly built. He is wearing a long coat. The cut is different from what is sold in shopping malls. Jane almost wants to touch him.
As though he can sense that feeling, the boy moves away. Does she disgust him? She almost wants to take away that glass and call the police, but then she does not.
The boy now looks at her. His eyes are the blues of the ocean and they indeed shine. He can see right into her soul. She slides back close to the car and he drinks quickly, relishes, and then falls back on the floor, lies flat.
She picks up the glass and stumbles. Would he know that the act was intentional? As her hand touches his finger, she feels scared though. She looks at him and asks almost immediately: “Should I call a doctor?”
He is as cold as a corpse.
“I am fine.” He sounds strong, in command again. “If you can, come back tomorrow.”
Jane goes back into the house, reads her books, writes a report as though she is an android. All the words are there, but the lines make little sense. Luckily, her parents are busy. They don’t have time for inspection. The report is five pages long. Punishment has been served.
In the morning, before she leaves for school, Jane walks back into the garage. She does not look for the light switch but walks up to that boy.
“I have a blanket for you,” she states.
“Thank you,” he is curt.
When Jane opens the door, a slice of the sun peeps in. She scans the garage and then fixes on the figure that is partly lit. The boy is almost a man. He is pale still, but he looks gorgeous in his silky dark coat and with his immaculate look. Everything about him is expensive. But now he has shut his eyes, and he has brought his arms to the front to shield him from the world perhaps. He looks strong yet scared.
“Shut it, please,” he blurts, as though he almost would have grabbed her, thrown her out if she misbehaved. Jane does not feel threatened. He looks strong, manly. Jane wants to feel secure within that strength.
She leaves, but she thinks of him all throughout the day. When she goes back in the evening, she carries with her two boxes: takeout from the diner across the street. She has brought soup for him, made of fresh thyme and mussels and she has gotten a large pork chop.
“For me?” he whispers.
She knows that he is smiling, but he does not touch the food.
“Were you afraid that I would die?” he asks, as though Jane should have been concerned, as if she knew him so intimately that she ought to have cared.
Jane nods. She does not why.
“Would you like to live forever?” he questions. The voice is raspy, tired. Living forever must be boring.
Jane wants to laugh but does not. She feels that same shiver again as she leaves the garage. She now locks the door and puts the key inside her bag. Mother should not be let in. The stranger was not yet ready to walk out on his own. His legs were spread like lifeless logs and his head was leaning against the wall. Perhaps he is like the little bird that had fallen from the nest years back. It was pale and weak as well, and could not stand up on its own. Mother wanted her to throw it out.
“You will get a disease. Plague! Rabies!” Mother was paranoid. Birds did not transmit the plague. Mice did. This boy too would not kill. He was sweet and strange. It was unclear how he was wounded though. Jane would have to get that story out by herself when she would come back in the evening.
When Jane returns in the evening, she brings in a piece of apple pie and a chicken roast leg, some mashed potatoes and a bottle of whiskey.
“I feel better today,” the visitor announces. “I will perhaps leave in a day or two. You will not be bothered again.”
Jane does not want him to leave somehow. She wants to know more, learn more. Most of all, she wants to touch him – that expensive fabric and that pale chiseled face – the lean arms and the straight silky hair.
“I got you some food,” she declares, hoping to be appreciated. That’s when she notices that the soup bowl is still full.
“If you want to live, forever or not, you’ve got to eat, you know.”
The faint smile could have been a smirk, a ridicule. Jane feels sorry and annoyed.
“Do you like mashed potatoes? I got you chicken.”
The figure nods and waits. Jane does not leave. She wants to hear the story.
“Have you ever seen how beautiful the world looks when you are flying above the alps? It is all white, snowy. No man. Sometimes you see a small house here and there.”
The Alps are far away. Jane does not see the connection. Yet she feels transported to a zone of tranquil beauty, like the space contained within the creature in front of her. She wants to ask if he was a pilot, if he owned a small plane. But then the man speaks on his own:
“The disease. Oh that was horrible. How they all died like flies. The blood. Oh.”
Jane is unsure what disease he was speaking of. If something happened near the Alps, she would not have known. News was never her penchant.
“They let them all die,” he whispers, and she feels the shiver again. However, she quickly gains her footing, and finally musters her courage:
“Your injury. How did you get hurt?”
The silhouette of the boy gets quiet. He looks stiff, as though Jane had pulled him out from his reverie.
“I fell.” The answer is curt and definitive. He would not be saying more.
“I feel better now,” he then adds in a softer tone. “I shall be leaving by Thursday. You will not be bothered further”
Jane feels insulted and annoyed at once. She wants to know more. She wants him to get closer. She wants to touch that silky coat that has been cut and sewn by a master craftsman. But she does not speak either. She picks up the discarded food container and reaches out for the soup bowl. She wants to touch his cheek, his forehead. But just as she reaches for the bowl, the shadow retreats, crawls right into the darkness, further away from his host.
At night mother father, Jane and Sarah are at the dinner table together. This is the first time in the week that they have made time to cherish the existence of each other. Mother had several board meetings to attend. Father had to see clients out of town. Sarah had been busy with celeb gossip with her friends. The friends and she had been to a club, Jane knows. The parents had not been told.
A large bowl of pasta soaked in white sauce sits in the middle of the table. Mother has baked the garlic bread sticks herself. Then there is the apple pie. That though has come from the supermarket.
Mother pours some cocktail into her tumbler and looks straight at Jane, as though time had shrunk to three days back.
“So, the garage is clean?” she sounds eloquent, chatty.
“yes, almost done.”
”Well, I had to write the report. You saw it. I will finish it up tomorrow.”
Mother did not read that report, but pretends that she indeed did. Stating otherwise would be bringing down her own self together with the daughter.
“I tried to get in today, but it is locked!” mother sounds surprised.
“Yes, I left the key somewhere. Was extra careful after we kept it open that other night.”
They all finish their pasta. Sarah declares she would retire to her room to attend to important calls. Jane knows she will listen to music, play video games.
Father gets up for coffee.
Jane makes it to her bed and thinks of snowy white mountains and of circling the sky in a small plane with a handsome millionaire.
In the morning, father drives both to school. Mother does not use her car any more. The office sends off her own sedan with a chauffeur.
On her way to class, Jane thinks briefly about her dreamy romantic escapade. She is consumed by her new hero until the chatter of the students and the loud unkind voice of the teacher bring her back to reality. She will HAVE to clean up the garage in the evening. If that boy is still wounded, she should call up his family or take him to a clinic. She thinks of discussing the issues with Lara, her best friend gawking perpetually from within her large black spectacles, but she does not. Her secret bird was too pretty for the time being. The girls were mean, even if some were best friends.
In the afternoon, when class is over, Jane googles the list of local hospitals and jots down some numbers. She also gets a torchlight and a pair of new batteries. If the visitor were to be shifted to the medical center, she could not use their family car. So, she checks numbers for the local taxi. She would also need an excuse. So, she sends a text to Lara, asks her to meet at the mall at eight pm sharp.
When she opens the garage door, she feels a cheerful vibe. Nothing has changed, but perhaps someone did shift, evolve.
“I feel much better,” he says. “I will leave tomorrow.”
In the shadows, Jane sees the empty boxes lying around. “Good you ate,” she says.
“So tomorrow, I won’t be here. Thank you.” The man is authoritative. He has taken his decision. Jane just did her job.
She feels a deluge of rage all of a sudden. Maybe she does not know what this unseemly feeling is about. Did she want him to hug her, kiss her, take her to the alps? Perhaps, he could have offered a number, an address, or an invitation?
“I will have to see your wound,” Jane is equally commanding now. “I cannot just let you leave my house, injured and in this manner. I will have to see. I will have to take you to a doctor.”
“No,” the man demands. “I say stop there. Go back. I am thankful for all you did.”
Jane’s anger does not recede. Somehow, she feels used.
“Come on, let me see that,” she commands as she turns on the torch, aims it at the vulnerable stranger as though she’s pointing a gun, the door still half open behind her.
The light bounces off of that figure and hits her eyes, and almost automatically, Jane shrieks. The boy at the doorstep of manhood is standing now. He is very tall, about six feet six, and he is paler than she had assumed. He almost looks like a corpse dressed up for the final journey. But the nose is sharp, ambitious still, and the eyes are lucid. The bloodless lips are thin, proud, as though a simple smile could lash her. Every piece of his attire from the shoe to the bow tie and the white shirt, stained here and there, is exquisite. But the man, now standing in a defensive pose, trying to fend her off, casts no shadow. The light helps her see the figure but does not create a pool of darkness behind, as though the man is opaque and transparent at once.
Jane freezes wants to fly away, but cannot. Her shock throttles her urges. But the man now moves forward, grabs her from behind, puts his hands atop her mouth to ensure she would not shriek, perhaps ever again.
She feels cold – very cold. He feels like a corpse that occupies the moving speaking body. Her charming prince is not earthly. Perhaps, he is from another world. Jane does not desire that world, but wants to live in her own. He pushes her next to his body and it gets colder. There is no heartbeat beneath that ribcage.
“I am sorry my love,” he whispers. His breath too is cold as though he has brought the Alps into the small garage.
Jane feels frozen. Her own heart races. She wants to move, but her legs feel stuck. She just stands and waits as he brings his face closer to hers. His hair brushes her cheek. He is not kissing. His eyes sparkle in lust – the lust for life. She feels a sharp pain in her neck. Her skin burns. Then her blood burns. Something has bitten her, or a pair of needles have pushed into her vein. The pain soon propagates into her shoulder and then to her arms. She wants to scream but she cannot. As she feels suffocated, she also feels she is flying.
The man from the mountains holds her tight, and the duo glide up to the sky. From the top, she watches the lights flicker and then she hears a humming sound. Something strange is inside her body. It is painful and it is all-devouring. It might be a potion that would transform her into an immortal being like her mate. Alternately, the bugs are marching in, in packs of thousands, through her open would, to claim what is left of the body.
The author has degrees in science, but enjoys writing and art. She has published prose and petry in decomP, Blaze Vox, Illumen etc.