By Sam Haine
Tonight the stranger has been walking for well over a few hours. He stops to catch his breath and sit under a lamppost. He looks left then right but only sees darkness under the stars. Pulling a cigarette from the crumbled hard pack in his pocket, he briefly forgets where his lighter is before sighing with relief upon finding it. The smoke is barely tasted when it mixes with oxygen and fills his lungs with smoke, giving him a nicotine rush of stillness.
He can’t quite remember where he started, or when, only the faint memory of a life without movement. How the tall buildings were made of glass; the way they resembled cathedrals across the skyline. How the Hudson River at night mirrored the Christmas like lights of a city that never sleeps. He could only remember these images in his mind and how all of those things were a front. Because once you arrived you were immediately inside the meat grinder. Another few miles and another state border, it’s getting harder to keep track of invisible lines in the dirt after a few weeks removed from all that congestion of smog and gross concrete.
“Where you gonna go? What are you going to do out there? What’s out there anyhow?” they all asked him years ago.
“Into the open” is the last thing he remembers saying before taking off. “There a perfect silence waiting for me out there”.
He knows it’s not going to be long before he reaches some place where he can rest for the night. Slinging one of the straps of his backpack over his shoulder he continues forward on the highway; bookended by trees with the song of cicadas. The approaching signpost says he’s entering the Volunteer State. Crossing the bridge into a small riverfront community, he stops at an open sprinkler to wash his hands and splash water on his face and through his hair.
“It’s about to come down soon” he said to himself. The sky had begun to roll with storm clouds and hidden within were the first flashes of lightning. The stranger started to walk further into the small rural community. He saw the typical suburban homes and their immaculate lawns. Each abode having little to no differences from one another despite the occasional detail of personal taste and preference, or lack thereof. Some had toys still scattered around their yards and others were quiet and cold with no lights on and vacant driveways.
The stranger follows his instincts down the avenue; he innocuously cases each dwelling as he passes by. He remains mindful to make no disturbance, as well avoid any home where he might believe someone is still awake with the eyes to spot him. He stops at a large but moderate sized timber home at the end of the street and on the waterfront. There were no signs of any of the occupants, no sign of any motion sensor flood lighting and no dogs were on the property. There was just enough shrubbery and foliage between this and the property next door to make things easier for him. Carefully moving to the rear of the home, he uses his tools on the rear entrance. It was a simple pick, just a few rakes of the pins and the door was open with no damage to the lock.
His intuitions were correct, the house was empty. The first thing he does is pull down the shades of all the windows. He drops his bag on the ground and rummages through the mail for any sign of the current residence’s whereabouts. He finds a calendar on the wall with a straight line cutting across this week, titled ‘family trip’, stretching into the weekend. With no urgency and no worry he was confident to relax his worries.
He showered for an hour and he changed his clothes. He never moved anything out of its place. He didn’t steal anything from them. In his mind he was just passing through. However, he did take the liberty of fixing himself something to eat and enjoy some of what was in the liquor cabinet: Jameson in a rocks glass with only two cubes of ice accompanied by the patient cigarette.
The stranger moves barefoot through the house. Each sip of hooch makes him feel warm and his feet tingle where the carpeting had not. The place had the feel of something from another time and another place that only existed in his dreams. As he continues to drink he visits each room individually.
Feeling tipsy, he makes his way back downstairs into the family room and sits at the rocking chair facing a view of the water through one large window. He imagines for the moment a fantasy life in a house just like this. He imagined hearing the small voices of children coming from the kids’ room. How he would spend most of his time working with tools on some project or fixer ups. The kitchen would be shared by him and his spouse and the den reserved for her photography. Nothing expected because it was all there in his grasp and wanted like any square could have it. All those lovely things that could have been but were just out of reach; just foolish sentiments like pennies in a wishing well.
Feeling a bit misty, he drinks the remaining portions of whiskey; swallowing his maudlin feelings safely and fades into them for a brief moment while watching the sun rise. He’ll fall asleep before the warm sunlight touches his face. He will rest for a moment peacefully before he has to move again to wherever the moonlight takes him. But for now it’s here.
A week later, the homeowners return from their trip. Both parents carry a sleeping child in arm and tuck them both into bed. They find the house as they left it except for the $30 dollars and a thank you note left on the dresser signed, Jackie was here.
Sam Haine is the creator and writer of Hainesville (facebook.com/allhailming). This piece of Cult Fiction is an excerpt from his work in progress collection of Hainesville stories. He is also the contributing writer for NewRetroWave.com.