One night, the doorbell rang at nine.
Rainy Sinclair wasn’t in the habit of receiving company so late, but she had an apartment upstairs for rent and she needed a new tenant, so she opened the door. Sure enough, in the shadowy entrance stood a skinny man with the For Rent sign in his hand. Everything about him was Tom Petty, except he had a row of stitches the size of Las Vegas that ran across his face and his name was Roy, but she liked him anyway. He handed her six months’ rent in cash; she handed him the small gold key she kept hanging on the wall.
The next morning she stuffed the money into her purse. There were two things she had to get, blonde hair and a string of pearls, the kind her late husband never gave her. So she sat in the beauty parlor thumbing through old copies of Cosmopolitan waiting for the bleach to make her hair just the right color yellow; when it finally did, she tipped the hairdresser twenty dollars. Then she stopped at Walmart to pick up the pearl necklace she’d been eyeing for months.
Later at home she could hear Roy’s creaking and cracking upstairs as he settled in. Rainy counted the money she had left, and then stuffed it under her mattress.
That night, the doorbell rang at nine.
Through the peep hole Rainy saw Roy. She adjusted her blonde hair a little then opened the door. They stood there awkwardly for a moment before she asked him to come in. They sat on a couch in the hall and he talked about the war, and although she wasn’t sure which war, she listened anyway. Then she put on a song, her favorite, Light My Fire, and they danced for hours stopping only long enough for Rainy to restart it over and over.
From then on Roy always rang her bell at nine. And Rainy got very used to Roy.
One day, however, the doorbell rang at noon. The gas company wanted to check the pipes for leaks, so she let them. They said they had knocked on the door upstairs but got no answer.
For safety sake Rainy climbed the stairs, turned the key in the lock and pushed Roy’s door open. The squeaking hinges echoed into a cold white empty apartment. Her eyes grew wide as her high heels clicked across the deserted wooden floors. Why would Roy leave? His six months weren’t up. Then as perplexed as Rainy was, she suddenly remembered she had a hair appointment.
By the time she got home that night she had forgotten all about Roy. She was digging out her For Rent sign again when she heard the familiar creaking and cracking upstairs.
That night, the doorbell rang at nine.
Into the Woods
Charlotte hadn’t expected to work late on Halloween; in the darkness her hands shook as she locked the office door. She tried calling Henry again but he didn’t answer, and as she ran across the empty parking lot to her car a light fog crept up off of the pavement.
She settled down a little as she drove north through town looking at the lights and decorations, and almost stopped to have dinner somewhere, but decided it would just make it that much later when she got home. It seemed like such a good idea to buy a house in the woods two summers ago when they needed a place to get away from their hectic lives. But they had both lost their jobs and things were different now. She should be happy really, she found something new right away, but it was Henry she worried about. It took him much longer, and when he finally did he took a large pay cut. Lately the bills were piling up and it seemed he was always out of town on business.
It was a 45 minute drive up the two lane highway before Charlotte turned onto a dirt road winding past acres of trees and marshes. The houses faded away. She could see a full moon emerging from the clouds that was orange and heavy as her car sputtered across the bridge. When she got to the other side it died completely and she realized she was out of gas. She was irritated – why was Henry always out of town when she needed him? She dug into her purse for her cell phone but became infuriated when she saw that it was dead.
She wasn’t more than a half mile from her house when she left her car at the bridge. She clutched her purse tightly as she ran down the dark road and was relieved when she finally unlocked her front door and turned on the lights.
Henry stood outside in the dark watching his wife through the kitchen window. Within minutes his cell phone rang, but he didn’t answer. He stood there not knowing if he had the courage to go through with his plan when he saw a man talking to his wife. He didn’t recognize him at first, he looked so pale and drawn, but then something about him was familiar. He saw the expression on his wife’s face change as their conversation became enraged. Who was this man now arguing with his wife? He watched in horror as he put his hands around her neck, her face pushed toward the window as she struggled to get away. Should he save her he asked himself in those moments. But too much time ticked by and the struggle was over.
Henry walked outside into the dark and dropped his gloves behind the bushes. His phone rang and he answered it.
“Is it done?” the voice asked.
Jan Darrow is a graduate of the University of Michigan and currently lives in Michigan with her husband and daughter. She has always been interested in the paranormal and finds abandoned places utterly beautiful. She has been published online and in print.