Denver, Colorado; USA. Present Day...
“There she is,” Tracy called out to her husband as he was putting the finishing touch to his business attire. Both were in their early-thirties and were already financially successful. Tracy was dressed for her job as a financial analyst, and she was just now finishing up laying out the drinking glasses and supplements that her mother was going to take for the day. She wanted the new caregiver’s first day with her mother, Cynthia, to go as smooth as possible.
The gray SUV circled the cul de sac and came to a slow stop near the curb, by a small tree in the suburban-like residential neighborhood. Tracy and Phillip watched as the middle-aged woman climbed out of the vehicle, shut the door with her remote-key, and then quickly walked her way to the extensive grounds of the Barnetts’ property.
“Prompt...I like her already,” Phillip said with a contrived proper demeanor; straightening his tie as he did so.
Tracy was nodding in agreement. “Frankly, I like the fact that she’s a little on the older side.” The doorbell rang and Tracy went over to open the door for her; Tracy yet speaking. “The last two I think were a little too young for...”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”
The Barnetts shared an apprehensive look, then put on a smile as Tracy opened the door.
Behind the door was a pleasant-looking woman in her late-forties, though she clearly toned down her appearance for business purposes, the Barnetts reasoned. Her hair was medium in length, but pulled back in a lose-bun, while her clothes were sensibly an open-collar shirt and a pair of woman’s khakis and tennis shoes.
“Well, come on in, Tate,” Tracy warmly invited her. Tate strode into the cavernous vestibule, just as Phillip was on his way out the front door. But he made sure to introduce himself before he left for his job at The Piers Group real estate agency at downtown Denver.
Tracy began the brief tour of their house before she, too, had to go to work.
“Wow,” Tate said after finally reaching the expansive basement. It was the last place in the house that Tracy had taken her. It was finished and had a myriad of vintage furniture, rugs, and other miscellaneous furnishings. “This basement is bigger than my last two apartments—combined!”
Tracy shared a proper laugh as they kept walking in the partially-lit basement. Some corners were swathed in darkness and gave the basement a more dungeon feel to it!
“Tracy,” Tate was now saying, “you and Phillip certainly have done well for yourselves.”
“Yeah, well, all of this,” she indicated the furnishings all around them with one of her hands, “is pretty much my dad’s. We’re just lucky to have the space to store all of this down here after he died and mom moved in with us.”
Tate’s face turned almost apologetic, and, innately, the two women slowed down their pace. “I’m sorry for your loss, Tracy...I’m a few years older than both of you. So I’ve already lost both of my parents. I can certainly relate to your sorrows and adjusting during this very hard time in both of your lives. Especially you, since it was your father.”
Tracy’s head cocked inquisitively. “Thanks, Tate. But you’re not so old yourself. You’ve already lost both of your parents?”
“Yeah...they were both killed while on vacation in Mexico...the chartered bus from their church they were riding in slammed into an on-coming semi, just outside of Mexico City.”
“Oh, my god!”
“Yeah...that was about, hmm, five years ago,now?” Tate was lost in memory for a few seconds.
Tracy had a hand on one of Tate’s shoulders, her eyes almost tearing up.
“Hey,” Tate said, her voice more animated now, “enough about me. You are the one who lost a father recently and who needs her mother looked after!”
They shared a social laugh.
“Yeah, I suppose I should take you to see her...” There was a bit of hesitation in Tracy, Tate noted. She waited until her new employer felt comfortable to say more. Indeed, Tracy lowered her voice, even though her sleeping mother was on the third floor and they were in the basement.
“Look, Tate...if you happen to notice my mom—converse with herself while she’s sleeping, please don’t let it bother you. And we ask that you don’t try to wake her up, when you see her do this. Phillip and I took her to a psychologist and the center did a scan on my mom’s brain. You know; just to make sure that all her talking wasn’t some form of dementia setting in.”
“Oh, I understand...better safe than sorry,” Tate interjected.
“Exactly! But it turns out, according to Dr. Davis and from his office’s scan, mom’s brain is totally fine! Dr. Davis thinks when she does her talking-spell that it’s just her way of dealing with my dad’s death.”
Tate was nodding. “Well, that would make sense, and I can’t say I blame her.”
“Thanks for that open-mindedness, Tate! You’d be surprised how very few people are about it.”
Hmm?, Tate wondered to herself...
“Ok, let’s go peep in on mom and see if she’s asleep!”
Cynthia was sleeping when Tracy and Tate got to the mid-sized bedroom on the third floor. She was tucked under layers of a blanket and covers. Only her small, lean head poked out from the bedding; her eyes tranquilly closed as no sound came from her.
Tracy had already showed Tate the medicine regiment and the list of food and drinks for her mother. So Tracy silently mouthed to Tate that she would head off to work. In similar fashion, Tate mouthed back the acknowledgment and waved the mistress of the house goodbye as she stayed at Cynthia’s doorway.
Tate waited until she heard the front door to the house shut before she started to leisurely, and quietly, stroll around Cynthia’s room, looking at all the old photographs. Most of them where in black and white, and most of the photos were of family members. Some were standard-sized while others were mere inches in dimension. A few of the photos showed Cynthia when she was young; decades before her stroke that would rob the use of her legs. Young-Cynthia, standing on her own two youthful legs with a car; or another of young-Cynthia with a young, handsome man—undoubtedly, the same man that one day would become Tracy’s father, Tate guessed by the facial features of the young man, when she compared it to pictures of an elderly man with very similar features—just ripened by several decades! It seemed so alien to Tate that the young woman in those pictures was the same personage before her now; swaddled and quietly sleeping while the rest of the world outside those walls churned out changes.
Three weeks later; Friday night. Date night for the Barnetts...
The mood at the Barnetts’ upper-middle class house was up-beat. One of Phillip’s colleagues was throwing a Fall party for the company and everyone was allowed to bring family and friends. Tracy and Phillip were on their way to that party.
By now, after nearly a month, Tate was comfortable with the Barnetts, but she was still not at the same level with Cynthia. Given that Tracy’s mother mostly slept, and when she was awake, she said very little to Tate. It was to be expected by Tate.
The young Barnetts were decked out in their party formals. Phillip opened the door for Tate as she showed up for the unusual night shift. Tracy was not far behind.
“Wow, look at you two,” Tate exclaimed; some of the festive atmosphere rubbing onto her.
The young couple had just taken a selfie with both of their respective smartphones. Laughter now filled the vestibule.
“I’m tweeting this,” Phillip said while he was posting the picture onto his social media site and waving ‘bye’ to Tate.
“Anything I should know about your mom tonight,” Tate asked Tracy, with a bit more of a business-tone.
Tracy stopped and thought for a couple of seconds. “Not really...we made dinner for her, took her to the bathroom, showered...”
Both women shrugged with a playful face.
“I guess you don’t have a chance but to go have fun,” Tate said in a kind of ‘girlfriend’ mode as the two clasped hands and chuckled.
Tate watched the Barnetts drive off, then closed the front door behind her after locking it.
Since Tracy had done a good job of caring for her mother, that Friday night was pretty much laid back. So Tate found herself some micro-wave popcorn and popped it in the microwave and sat in front of the living room’s big, flat screen tv.
After an hour or so, and after checking on Cynthia a couple of times, Tate went down into the basement to gather toiletries for all three bathrooms of the house. As she was gathering the sundries from the stock area of the basement, Tate heard the slightest of a squeak...
She automatically froze on the spot. Tate was making an awful lot of rustling noises with the plastic packaging that those toiletries were wrapped in, so she shrugged to herself and finished filling up the basket with supplies. She then headed for the stairs to the basement. When she reached about two-thirds of the top of the basement’s stairs, Tate’s eyes caught what looked to be a still shadow on the floor; right in front of the door that led to the basement! Tate knew that the Barnetts did not own any pets, so...
Tate felt a flush of fear tsunami over her! Paralysis took over her body for a second, until she forced herself to drop the basket of supplies and rushed up the rest of the stairs and threw the basement door wide open...
Tate then silently sprinted up the stairs that led to the second and third floors. She went straight to Cynthia’s room and swung her door open—only to find the elderly woman virtually unmoved since Tate last checked on her.
It then occurred to her to do a security sweep of the entire house. Given that it was Denver and the Frontier culture ran deep there, Tate went to her purse and pulled out her handgun and checked each and every room in the house, including the garage and the basement.
After about ten minutes or so of looking around the interior of the house, she made sure all the doors were locked, then, finally, went outside; making sure the front door was also locked. Tate always kept an extra copy of the house key in one of her pants-pockets, so she was secured there. But after a few more minutes of inspecting the three acre-property of the Barnetts, Tate found nothing out of the ordinary. She had to make sure to carry her gun with her so the neighbors would not see it. And since she was not a hundred percent sure she had seen or heard someone in the house, Tate wanted to keep her security sweep to herself...in the meantime.
Tate quickly went back into the house and secured the front door. As she leaned against the door to catch her breath and to calm herself down, she debated whether or not to text either of the Barnetts. She decided against it, as she walked over to her purse and replaced her handgun. Again, she wanted to make sure her mind was not playing tricks on her, so no need to alert the bosses, yet. Hopefully, never.
She looked around the first floor of the large house from where she stood as the comedy show she was watching on tv continued its broadcast. Tate paid close attention to the shadows being cast all about the living room, the dining room, the sun room, and the kitchen...and there, she saw it! Ever since she was a child, growing up in the countryside of Colorado, she had heard of the Shadow People. How, supposedly, that strange feeling that one gets when one thought you saw something—or someone—move at the corner of your eye. Or right when you look away from one part of a room and focus your eyes on another part of the room, there seemed to be some kind of dark patch that flashes in one’s field of vision...
Only, this vision was not flashing away!
If she did not move her head, Tate could actually see the eyes! Blue, hazel...? But she played it off, for it seemed this Shadow being was holding still; trying to camouflage into the shadows of the kitchen, which was the very opposite location where Tate was in the house currently.
“I think I’m seeing things,” she said aloud, just enough for Shadow to hear her over the tv set. Her voice had a bit quiver to it, but Tate knew she had to be strong for Cynthia! “I think I better lay off those energy drinks!”
Then she remembered her gun! She had just put it back in her purse, but had walked away several feet from it. If she went for it now, it would alert Shadow! And she had no idea if this intruder was armed or not! To play for time, she act as if she were watching the tv for a minute.
Just rush him!, she thought to herself. But, again, was Shadow armed? Were there more than one of Shadow? She also thought about rushing upstairs to the third floor and get Cynthia out of harms way! But as small and frail as she was, what would she do with a seventy-something year old woman over her shoulder as this Shadow rushes upstairs, unimpeded like she would be with Cynthia?
She was beginning to panic, because she knew that if she sat for too long while she tried to figure things out, Shadow would either try to take advantage of the silence and get to her, or it would try for Cynthia!
Then her phone rang! Her phone... Before Tate answered it, she looked at the caller id. It was a Colorado number, but it was not assigned in her phone, so she did not know who it was. But if she could use it to her advantage over the Shadow...?
“Ms. Morgan, this is the FBI. Do not respond! I’m agent Turner. I called from a local phone because I figured you would answer a call with a local area code. Now, my team have been monitoring Phillip and Tracy Barnett every since we’ve gotten some complaints about them from some former caregivers that used to work for them, before you came on the scene...act like you remember me from a party!”
Without missing a beat, Tate caught on to what the agent was doing. “Oh! Yeah...I remember you from that house party...”
“Good job...alright, now listen to me very carefully, but say something every few seconds, ok? We have snipers that have you and the intruder in our gun-scopes...truth was, Ms. Morgan, we didn’t know if you were the one that Cynthia was talking to. Something about trying to find out where Tracy’s father had hid some money that he did not leave in the will! Apparently, it was this guy in the kitchen playing poor ol’ Cynthia like he were some kind of ghost, or something!”
“No, I don’t like those kinds of movies,” Tate blurted out. Her nerves were still a wreck!
“Now, what I’m going to need you to do,” the agent continued, “is drop your cell phone and crouch way down for it...ok? But on my mark!”
Tate was about to improvise something else, when she saw a streak of blackness shoot from the kitchen! Something must have tipped the Shadow off to what she was doing, and now he was on his way to kill her! With her gun in her purse, yet, being too far away, Tate was left out of ideas to defend herself and the FBI agents might shoot her along with the Intruder as he rushed her!
But one shot took him down to the floor; writhing in pain! It was surreal...the comedy show on the tv had been playing all this time, with a laugh track and applause. All while the FBI sting was just about to go horribly wrong! But it wasn’t the FBI’s snipers that brought this Shadow down...
With her entire body shaking, Tate looked up from her crouching position. It was Cynthia, slowly walking down the flight of stairs with a shot gun in her hand! And now the whole house was being flooded by Federal agents and local police officers; all with their guns drawn. Some had them trained right on Cynthia! But she continued her slow stepping down the stairs.
“Alright, easy boys and girls,” a burly Federal agent, clothed in a dark business suit that was accented with a bullet-proof vest, directed everyone. “Cynthia’s working with us on this!” That must be Agent Turner, Tate figured.
Cynthia quietly handed her shot gun to the closest Federal agent as she kept her slow walking pace to Tate. She could see the amazement in the younger woman’s eyes, and began to laugh.
“Oh, Tate, honey, I’m so sorry you had to go through that...” Cynthia sighed and took a seat on one of the couches in the living room while the Feds and local cops escorted the criminal out of the house. Finally, one of the officers turned off the tv. Tate joined her on the couch, but said nothing and let Cynthia explain.
“Originally, my daughter and her crooked husband had hired some young CNAs to care for me. Somehow, they got wind of Tracy and Phillip’s plan to find out where my late-husband had put some money he deliberately kept out of the will...huh! That explained why we couldn’t keep good help around here! Anyway, before you were hired, I found out about it myself and played up the old-woman-can’t-get-around-theme.” She shook her head. “Well, it worked...that idiot was hired by my daughter and my son-in-law! They thought that I would get so spooked by him that I would spill my husband’s secret about his money...ha! Look around you, Tate. Did you really think some kids, barely into their thirties, could actually afford all this? They’ve been stealing from my family for years, darling. And I’m sorry we got you caught in the middle of all this.”
“So,” Tate finally came in, looking at the circus all around her, “you were wired, all that time?”
“Yep,” Cynthia nodded, a resilient smile gracing her lined face. "Except for when you took me to the bath, of course...I always had time to hide that tiny mic somewhere before you walked me over to the bathroom!"
This time, Tate shook her head; partially out of being impressed with the operation, partially because she could not believe she was in the middle of it all!
“So,” Cynthia called out to Tate, as the younger woman gathered her personal belongings, trying to get out of the way of the agents and officers, “now that you don’t have me as a client, Tate, what do you plan to do?”
She blew out a cynical tsk. “I’m just a caregiver, Cynthia...have been for years.”
Cynthia was watching the action all around them as she spoke. “Ever thought about being an agent? You held up pretty well in here with your life at risk!”
“Sorry, Cynthia, I don’t do well in the shadows...”
And with that, Tate took her things, was given permission to leave by Agent Turner, and she was gone.