Autumn (Halloween) 2019
There is a lovely restaurant that lies on the corner of Tacy Street. The fire-engine red walls with golden, swooping letters draws the attention of all hungry folk in the city, beckoning toward the striped diner chairs and bow ties within. Plopped on top of this restaurant, much like a tier of a well-iced cake, sits a pine-brick apartment lined in oil-black eaves. The restaurant buzzed with eager guests and savory aromas. The apartment told a much different story.
The glow of morning sun drowned, struggling to breach the fingerprint-crusted windows. The sill was strewn with corpse- less insect wings and disjointed spider legs from critters who snuck across the fly screen and promptly dropped dead. Particles of dust skimmed in the dim shaft of murky light, drifting like a film of mildew on gutter-side rainwater.
Thick woven rugs scattered the apartment floor, muffling the distant city bustle that wafted through the cracks in the chocolate-painted floorboards and bled with the clatter of silver kitchen tools below. Inside the apartment, however, silence hung its ancient tapestry.
A patchwork of Frankenstein wallpapers lathered the drywall, showcasing a collection of strange frames featuring parchments of scrawled notes and sketches from various yard-sales and flea markets. A ramshackle bookcase held an assortment of pamphlets and brochures, stolen from seminars or tour guides.
Bric-a-brac scrambled over any available surface, cascading onto the floor. Mason jars caked in dried substances, spools of untouched thread, melted candles whose twisted wicks could barely recall the last time they were graced with a flame, crispy remains of once-green leaves, palm-sized pewter figurines, bowls of wooden, paint-chipped beads—
Despite these tokens of traveling in the outside world, one would never consider Nickolas Plutt anything but a hermit. One would never consider anything of Nickolas Plutt at all.
* * *
"Nick?" Eloise called, her voice an octave higher than normal. Perhaps out of instinct or concern, she sang in the taming voice parents save for children. Her keys chimed as she pushed her way through the curios and into the apartment. She plopped her sagging purse and a brown bag of groceries onto a dry portion of the kitchen island directly adjacent to the door. "I got more pamphlets for ya, bud."
A dark shadow flickered in the bedroom doorway. Eloise noticed it immediately. "Yeah, buddy, here. I know you like them," she coaxed, waving the bright papers at an arm’s length as if she were offering treats to a bashful forest animal.
The shadow did not move.
Eloise exhaled. "Fine. I'll leave them here." She dropped the pamphlets on the counter, then proceeded to fish her hand into her purse, fumbling through it blindly like a child and a bag of Halloween candies.
"Is he gone?" a corn-husk voice rasped.
Eloise jerked her head up to the bedroom doorway.
A half-moon face colored like curdling milk lay partially covered by the doorway. An ash-gray iris, sewn into a yellow- tinted eye by strands of spindly blood-ink veins, bore into her.
"There you are," Eloise said, returning to her purse. "Is who gone?"
Nickolas parted his thin lips, his tongue a slab of sandpaper. "Caleb Hart."
Eloise grinned as she pulled her bag inside-out, spilling her items onto the counter. She flicked her ring finger at him as she searched through her contents, showing her wedding ring. "No, honey. We're still together."
Nick receded into the bedroom, overcome by the shadow.
"Aha, found it." Eloise looked up at the shadow and sighed.
"Look, Nick, we had one fight months ago, but we're over it. Husbands and wives stay together. We're not leaving the restaurant any time soon." She pulled an envelope from her purse. "Also, I dropped by to give you these."
The eye returned to peek at her hand.
"We've talked about this, sweetie. You get new bills every month. You need to pay them every time or my hubby will have to kick you out."
Nickolas snapped back behind the door. Eloise cringed.
"Right, I'm sorry, you don't like it when I say that," she said. "Caleb will have to kick you out, is what I meant."
Nickolas grumbled. Begrudgingly, he outstretched his pasty, gray-haired hand.
Eloise leaned against the refrigerator while Nickolas fiddled with the letter. She noticed an old photograph tacked onto the cluttered fridge. She pulled it off and held it up to the light, gasping in excitement. A younger Eloise beamed to the camera in nursing scrubs, leaning over the wheelchair of an elderly gentleman.
"Wow, I completely forgot about this picture!" she exclaimed, bubbling over like a boiling pot. "You still have this from your . . . visit?"
Nickolas said nothing.
"Well, alright. I think I'm done here." Eloise kept her voice at the sing-song, joyful pitch as she scooped her belongings into her purse. "I have to go back down to work. See you next week, alright?"
Nickolas occupied himself with the envelope, running his cracked fingernails along the edges. Eloise slung her bag onto her shoulder, preparing to leave. Quite suddenly, a fat blur of mahogany brown launched itself onto the kitchen counter. Startled, Eloise yelped.
"Oh, Nick, what is that?"
His attention remained on the envelope. "Cat."
"How long have you been here, little fella?" Eloise cooed, tentatively stroking the mangled hair of the tabby. "You are just the cutest thing!"
Nickolas now shifted his gaze. He peered from his cloudy haze as Eloise stroked the cat.
"You know what," Eloise reasoned with the tabby, "I could just eat you right up."
Nickolas stared, his eyes in an unfiltered focus.
Reluctantly, Eloise pulled herself away. "Alright. For real now, I have to go. See you soon, Nick." With a brighter smile, she twiddled her fingers at the cat. "Bye, now, kitty!"
As Eloise shut the door behind her, Nickolas stood in his gargoyle state at the doorway. For the first time in months, he had decided to open his cutlery drawer.
* * *
Nickolas could recognize Eloise's footprints out in the corridor.
"Ni-ick," she sang, her fingers drumming the door, "can I come in?"
He remained silent. Eloise took it as a confirmation. Her keys rattled in the doorknob and she entered, the door opening more easily since her last trinket-clearing visit.
"Jeez, why is it so dark?" Her hand slapped at the wall until it connected with a light switch. The lightbulb danced between on and off before deciding to fulfill its purpose.
Nickolas' spirit-like presence hung directly in front of Eloise. She jolted, alarmed.
"Do you usually stand in the dark, right in the doorway?" Predictably, he didn't answer.
"I think I dropped my wallet in here earlier today. Mind if I look?"
Nickolas shuffled to the side, allowing her to pass. She approached the kitchen island but stopped in her tracks. "What's this?" she asked.
The bag of groceries and the pamphlets had been pushed to the corner of the island. A bowl of steaming meat stew lay on the counter, a stool drawn up to it. A dust-covered emerald bottle held a withered daisy, the petals disintegrating.
"Oh, did you cook this for me?" Eloise exclaimed, giggling as she sat down. "That's very sweet of you, Nick."
"Is Caleb gone?" he asked. He didn't sit. He stood across from her, watching as she began her meal.
"No, honey. Like I said before, we're staying together." She ate quickly while she spoke, cramming stew between her words. "We're at a good spot right now; the restaurant is doing great, we're finally decorating our apartment, we're planning a vacation for the break . . . yeah, sweetie, I don't think Caleb is leaving any time soon."
Eloise was about halfway done with her stew before her chewing slowed. Her grin faltered. She let the meat settle on her tongue, her thin eyebrows scrunching. Nickolas leaned in closer, observing.
"What—what is this? Is it pork? It's... strange."
Nick stared at Eloise as she prodded her food, noticing that several chunks of meat were not entirely cooked.
"Y-You know what? I should probably get my wallet and leave. Oh, let me see that little cat of yours!" Eloise slid off her stool and wandered the cramped apartment. "Where is he?"
Nickolas met her look. His pale-moon face remained stoic marble. "There."
"What do you mean, Nick?" Unsettling fingers whispered over Eloise's back. Her voice wavered, her eyes buzzing around the room. "Where's the cat?"
Nickolas pointedly turned to the bowl of stew, and Eloise's gaze followed.
"Oh God," she wailed, her hands springing to her throat.
Her stomach growled, unsettled. Eloise tried to rush to the kitchen sink, but Nick stood in her way. Too agitated to sidestep the tall figure, she spun around to the mess of a lounge room, but books and shoes and teacups and coat hangers swallowed her path and she buckled over, retching.
"Is Caleb gone?" Nickolas asked, his composure that of a marble statue.
Eloise moaned, hands and knees on the floor. "Nickolas!" Her chest heaving in cycles, she poured out her insides, her voice strangling.
Nickolas blinked. He took a tentative step backward.
Eloise howled again, her throat raw from vomiting and screaming. "Oh my God!"
Nickolas drew a shaky breath. "Hush. Hush now."
"You're insane!" Panting, her eyes caught the mess on the floor and she gagged once more.
"Hush!" Nickolas whispered. He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, his hands wavering uncertainly.
Footsteps from a stranger echoed in the hallway, drawn to Eloise's noise. Nickolas hesitated, hovering over Eloise, his silhouette blocking the single lightbulb. Eloise sobbed, clutching at her neck on the ground.
She did not.
Nickolas grasped a random object from the nearest table: a hammer.
With one swing, Eloise stopped shrieking.
* * *
Caleb Hart kept himself awake all night, waiting for his wife. He figured she probably fell asleep in the restaurant at Tacy Street, as she was inclined to do when she waited for the restaurant to pack up.
When Caleb opened the kitchen for the day, he did not find his wife poured over some table, dozing.
He did, however, discover an assortment of freshly cut meat in the freezer.
Lita Gi is an upcoming junior in Pennsylvania who enjoys reading classical literature. She prefers to write stories that allow her characters to thrive, and she listens to artists such as Roo Panes and Gotye for inspiration. She has received the Certificate of Achievement of Excellence in English in both seventh and ninth grade, along with smaller class-wide awards for writing. When she’s procrastinating on her work, you can find her drawing, spending quality time/bickering with her siblings, and talking to her potted plants. She loves Brazilian food, old libraries, collecting vinyl, and obsessively fawning over fictional characters.