If these were the last moments of my life, I hope I have not lived them in vain. Death was everyone’s neighbor. However, I always thought of him as living across the street, instead of right next door. I hope this is still true. I would hate to think that he moved into the vacant house next door. I don’t have any sugar to borrow or butter to share. I don’t speak with my neighbors. These are some of the random thoughts I have when I am facing a difficult problem. My mind seems to run wild and I feel that I am just along for the ride.
My name is Charlie Noble. My namesake is not a description of my own endearing qualities, although I do have a few. I am not special or noble in any sense of the word. I am twenty-four. I still live with my mom and do not have a steady job. I know how that sounds and it probably wouldn’t look any better to anyone observing my life. But that is all discussion for another time.
Some people say I should have been in movies because I remind them of the actor Chris Pine. He is the one from those Star Trek movie remakes. I don’t see it, though. My hair is a little longer than his, wild and unkempt at times. My brownish-blond hair and green eyes are what movie directors search for, so I’m told. But, I am horrible at acting. I can thank my high school drama teacher, Mrs. Spinner, for that assessment.
I am returning to the place of my birth. The town I was born but forced to leave behind over ten years ago. When I was fourteen, my mother and father separated. I left with my mom while my sister, Becky, stayed behind with my dad. Becky is three years older. I don’t know why she stayed behind. My father had a lot of issues. He drank too much and had a lot of anger issues. He and my mother fought all the time until one day, she couldn’t take it anymore. I think Becky may have felt sorry for him. She was seventeen at the time, independent, and was looking to be out on her own. I also feel that she felt a sense of responsibility, that being the oldest child, someone had to take care of my father despite how horrible he treated all of us. I, on the other hand, have rarely spoken to him since I left.
Becky and I have remained close over the years through phone calls and emails. Every couple of months she would come down to visit me. My father is still an alcoholic and has nearly drank himself to death. But from what I hear, he is still sucking up air.
The reason for my return and the difficult problem I am facing is that I haven’t heard from Becky in over a week. It wasn’t like her to avoid calls or texts. Furthermore, she had been acting weird lately, scared almost, although, she would never admit it. Now she was unreachable.
My job as a freelance writer allows me the freedom to travel and still earn a paycheck. The work isn’t steady in the traditional sense but it is enough to pay the bills.
I grew up in Pine Brook Falls, in Northern California. It’s located just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Oregon border. When I last checked, only about 1,700 people lived there. Spending the past 10 years of my life in Los Angeles had really opened my eyes to a lot of things that I had never seen before.
It’s ironic that while I lived only a few hours away from my hometown, I thought of it as being in another part of the world.
The drive up the coast was nice. The traffic Gods blessed this trip with only a few log jams, but for the most part, it was easy sailing. I can’t help but to wonder where Becky was. What happened to her? I was determined to find out.
I stopped for gas and a pee. When I got back to the car, I looked at my phone. Still no call or text. I scanned through my texts. Not to say there were many because there weren’t. I didn’t have a lot of friends. Just a couple close ones who were more like family. I stopped at the last text Becky sent me. I must have read it a hundred times. I read it once more:
Hey, things are getting weirder here by the minute. Can’t explain now but something really strange is going on. You’ll never believe it. Listen, call me. We gotta talk. Don’t worry about your big sis, I’m fine but things here are not. Your writer’s mind will go crazy when I tell you. Love ya.
I called her the next morning when I saw the text, but she didn’t answer. That was a week ago. My sister may be in trouble. I couldn’t just sit by and hope she would call. I made the decision to go back, to the one place I have avoided like the plague. I just hoped that when I got there that Becky was safe at home. Maybe she broke her phone. My mind wasn’t as good at coming up with good scenarios as it was the bad ones. I wondered what that said about my subconscious.
I was back on the road and after another hour I finally reached my destination. As I drove through town, I was amazed at how much had changed. There seemed to be more shops and businesses along the street. The warm August air was waiting to greet me as I basked in the air-conditioned interior of my Ford Explorer. I noticed one peculiar thing as I passed a row of businesses. The streets were all vacant. No traffic. No people. No life. It was Thursday afternoon and yet the town appeared void of any living thing.
I navigated the streets as best I could with the help of my GPS. Some roads I passed by didn’t appear on my GPS. I thought the internet knew all, updated immediately, and could be trusted to direct you when you didn’t have any idea where you were going. Well, I don’t think the internet knew about Pine Brook Falls.
Thankfully, the town was small enough that getting lost was impossible. After a couple wrong turns, I finally found Becky’s house and parked outside. It wasn’t the same house I had grown up in. Becky had moved into this house a couple of years ago. My father still occupied the house from my childhood a couple of blocks away. One thing about small towns was that everything was too close.
I let the Explorer idle as I gazed at her house. It was a tiny, Tudor style, single-story structure. The exterior was a cream-like stucco facade, with two picture windows that faced the street and a single car garage. A stone walkway lay on the right of the driveway, which led to the front door. I tried her by phone once more. It went straight to voicemail. I turned off the engine and ventured out into the thick summer heat.
As I walked up the pathway, something unnerved me right away. It was quiet. Not a dog barked or a bird chirped. No sound of a car passing by or even a wisp of wind through the trees. The town and everything in it, seemed dead.
I am guilty of watching too many horror movies and in my mind was a horror movie waiting to be written. But this was not my imagination. As I stood on the front porch, I had the feeling of being watched. I looked around. There were a row of houses across the street. Every window was closed and blinds drawn, yet I felt peering eyes upon me.
I shrugged it off and used the key Becky had given me on one of her visits. It was her way of telling me -- come by anytime. The interior was dark. Only the faintest trace of light poked through the drawn blinds from the windows.
I closed the door and flipped on the nearest light. The flash of light from the overhead ceiling fixture chased away most of the shadows. The house opened up to a small cozy living room. A brown leather couch and a small matching recliner sat opposite a black TV stand. A small, flat-screen TV sat atop the stand with a DVD player on the shelf below.
Everything seemed neat and tidy. I walked farther into the house when something caught my attention. It wasn’t something I saw but heard from another part of the house. The kitchen was to the right of the living room. A doorway on the left led to what was probably the bathroom and bedroom.
I could see into the kitchen but that wasn’t where my ears led me. I turned to the left and neared the doorway toward the hallway. I heard it again. It was a squeak. It reminded me of how my bedroom door creaked every time I opened it. I took another step. A flash of movement came straight at me. I glimpsed a shape moving at me fast. Before I had time to react, I was knocked off my feet as the fast moving form crashed into me. I fell backward. My head bounced off the carpeted floor. I sucked in a breath. Couldn’t breathe. I gasped. The dark shape rushed out the front door before I had a chance to move.
I rolled over to my side. Coughing and spitting, I couldn’t catch my breath. I managed to move to my knees. With my elbows on the ground, forehead to the carpet, I gradually started to regain my breath.
A few minutes had passed before I trusted my legs to move. I got to my feet. The intruder was gone. The front door stood open. One thought crossed my mind as I headed toward the bedroom -- this was the first sign of life I had seen in town since I arrived. That didn’t make me feel any better. The only thing I knew for sure was that my sister was in serious trouble.