The rest of the night was quiet, and so was Sandie's morning. If the alarm went off, she never heard it, and she slept hard until nearly ten, when her phone rang.
"I think it's gone," she told Connie. "I mean, I don't want to jinx anything with optimism, but at least it's gone on vacation."
She drank her coffee black and supervised the installation of a new door. She picked up the phone to call Mike, but remembered belatedly that he had a noon Mass, and set it down again to wait until later.
Local news entertained her until the thump came from the new door.
A person's silhouette was visible through the frosted glass, standing still and dark beneath the shade of the back porch.
The thump came again not a knock, but a meaty thwack as though the visitor was trying to come straight through. Then there was the horrible squeak of skin sliding down the glass.
Sandie's lip curled. She added Windex to her mental grocery list and stood up, grabbing a heavy wooden candle stick from the end table as she went to answer the door. Tomorrow, she thought, I'm going gun shopping.
The silhouette ran itself against the door again, like a drunk who had lost the concept of solid matter. No one ever came to the back door any more, not since Doña Elvira from the house across the creek had died. Delivery men never came to the back door. Cable men never came to the back door. Since Doña Elvira, only dead bodies came to the back door.
Sandie turned the knob and peered outside.
A most peculiar individual peered back. It was naked and bizarrely generic, archetypal, the sort of thing that one might envision if one's only knowledge of humanity came from the first paragraph of an encyclopedia entry. It cocked its bald head and studied the mud mat on the ground with flat, black eyes, its slender, hairless arms encircling its slender, hairless chest. Though Sandie stared in consternation, there was nothing of interest between its slender, hairless legs. And though its eyes were fixed on the cement, somehow she knew that the thing itself was watching her closely. Waiting.
Slowly, as though uncertain of its own body, the creature reached out one pallid hand
Sandie slammed the door. It failed to catch. She grabbed hold of the wriggling fingers, shoved them back outside, and slammed the door again, threw the bolt, fastened the chain, and raced upstairs to hide in the closet.
"I'm not messing with this," she muttered to her knees in the mothball-scented darkness. "I am so not messing with this right now. Nope. No frigging way. Can't make me. I refuse to let this be real."
From the bottom of the closet, surrounded by wool and denim, there was no way a thumping creature could reach her. She listened hard, but if it was still there, she could not hear it. The pipes creaked, and the air conditioner rumbled, and her breath stirred the fringe on an old poncho, but downstairs was as far away as another planet. She leaned back against the wall and watched the slash of light that filtered beneath the door. Nothing came for her.
Five minutes passed, then fifteen, and Sandie took a deep breath and admitted that she was being stupid. She crawled out of the closet and sat very still in the afternoon sunlight that pooled on the carpet, listening. Still, there was nothing. It was probably gone.
She was not even scared, Sandie realized, just overwhelmed and pissed off and very much unamused at the persistent stupidity of life in general. She picked up her candlestick and took it back downstairs.
The silhouette was still there, standing inhumanly still just beyond the frosted glass. Still waiting.
"I - DON'T - NEED THIS," Sandie shrieked at the door. Then she went about ignoring it.
She did three loads of laundry, including the coffee-stained shirts she had been soaking in detergent. She cooked a box of macaroni and ate it with a sliced hotdog wiener. She turned up the air conditioner and checked local news for a weather report. It was over a hundred degrees outside. A twinge of guilt made her glance at the door, but she told herself that the thing could use the garden hose if it really needed to. Or it could just go away and hang out wherever it belonged. She ran the dishwasher and sat in front of her laptop for half an hour, trying and failing to produce a good poem.
It never moved once.
She showed up unexpectedly at the Joe Haus and worked a four hour shift under Brandon's skeptical eye, logging inventory because business was slow.
"I need some no-thinking time," she said when he asked her what the hell she thought she was doing. "I didn't punch in, don't worry."
He told her to go ahead and punch in anyway. "Just
call ahead or something," he said with a bewildered frown.
When she got home, it was too dark to see anything on the back porch. She turned on the outside light and sighed at the shadow that fell across the floor.
"God, you must be some kind of idiot," she said softly, not really knowing whether she was talking to it or to herself. She opened the door half an inch, using her foot to keep it from opening any further.
The thing was still there, still naked, still weird. It had gone from staring at the mud mat to standing with its eyes unfocused, as though it was listening. The eyes were all pupil, veinless white and inky black with no trace of color in between. A tiny pink gecko had stuck itself to the creature's cheek. There was nothing frightening about a gecko.
Sandie opened the door a little bit wider. The gecko fled, more scared of her than it was of the oddity it had chosen for its perch.
I can do this, Sandie thought. It's not doing anything, anyway.
"Do you need something?" she asked aloud.
The eyes did not move, but Sandie could feel Its attention gathering on her, and a barely perceptible vibration shivered in her bones for a fraction of a second.
"Shit," she said. "It's you, isn't it?" She was torn between being pissed that It was back and being relieved that she would not have to deal with something new.
The thought was faint and weak.
repaired. attempt. too costly. lost source.
It was so tired, so empty that Sandie wanted to cry, but It sucked that out of her and left her with only the dregs of compassion.
more? There was no hope in the question.
"I'll see what I can do." She took It by the arm Its flesh was cold and stiff and brought It inside.