Meg Curtis

Horror by Phone

A gravely voice answers: “Is that you, Sally?”

“Don’t you recognize me?”

“No. Who is this?”

“Your daughter.” I might add: your only daughter—you know, the one you spawned with your only husband, just fifty years ago. This kind of information, though, seems excessive, don’t you think?

“Oh, Becca! I haven’t had breakfast yet. Why are you calling me?”

“Well, I found all this information, Mom. I thought you’d want it ASAP.”

“I didn’t sleep at all last night. Are you sure this can’t wait?”

“Sleep disturbances commonly occur after a death, Mom. That’s perfectly normal.”

“No, it isn’t. That child has been in here again.”

“What do you mean, Mother?” I don’t really want to hear about juvenile delinquents in my ancestor’s neighborhood, but I’ve got to ask. She’s got a right to complain if this kid’s half as bad as she’s led me to believe.

“My jewelry turned up—all that stuff he took.”

“Your sterling silver collection? Your charm bracelet? You got them back!” Delight ripples over me. Just the suspicion of neighbors exploiting my mother while she tends to a funeral, a memorial service, and the details of cremation have kept me on the phone for three weeks now—twice a day, sometime three times. The Cranky Mom, The Grieving Sister, and The Outraged Senior Citizen have been keeping me up nights, too.

“He put it back in a drawer where I’d never look. It was right there when I opened it last night. This is gonna turn out all right. I’ve got somebody working on it—somebody they’d least suspect. He can get in through that window in the garage. It’s just one step above the heater. They think they can get the better of me, but they don’t know me.”

“Mom, who are ‘they’?”

“Just you never mind. They think I’m alone down here, but I’m not. Just remember that.”

“Mom, you got a lead on the thief?”

“It’s a child. I know that much. They can’t find his footsteps, but they’re everywhere. I scrub them off everyday. He’s not fooling me.”

“Mom, when you find them, just leave them there, and call the Sheriff. He wants evidence, Mother. If you got it, don’t let him get away.”

“Now, you listen to me. I don’t need your two cents, and I don’t need his, either. I keep this place clean, and that sonofagun isn’t gonna turn it into a sewer. Ever since Susan died, I’ve had to wash and spray from one end of the house to the other. That smell the other night almost did me in. There was a man outside, and he sprayed his smell—you know, the way men do—right in here.”

“Did you find his footprints outside the house? Was there a pool of liquid on the ground or a little neat package—a gift, so to speak?”

“I’m not making this up. He was right there!”

“I know that can happen, Mom. When we lived in the city, the whore next door attracted men to her place, and they competed with one another by squirting her fence. It’s disgusting, but it happened. If it happened in my neighborhood, it can happen in yours. In fact, it’s all the more likely to happen in your county because the Internet statistics on sexual predators for your town are off the charts. I gave Susan that information, but I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to scare you. You need to protect yourself, though.”

“You don’t need to worry. It’s real quiet. The sheriff makes his rounds every hour. We don’t have any perverts around here.”

“Have you seen the stats, Mom?”

“No, I haven’t! You ask the damnedest questions! What do I want to see them for? They won’t let me sleep, either!”

“If you report that smell to the sheriff, Mom, he will look for that pool on the ground. He wants concrete evidence, and you can help him by checking outside the house. Is it possible that your brother left that smell—or the cat you said his wife brought with her for the funeral?”

“No! I’ve cleaned every nook and corner. No smell’s coming from in here. It was outside, outside the window, when I went in there.”

“This business of outside and inside is very important, Mom. If a man did this, there must be evidence. Otherwise, the sheriff won’t believe you. If you need assistance, I’ve found other places that you can get it. Do you have a pencil?”

“Yes. There are people here, though, who will help me. The yardman stopped just yesterday and asked if I wanted to go shopping. I took him up on it, and now I’ve got my chicken and everything else I need. Don’t you worry about me.”

“Okay. Here are two addresses to write down. 1: The VA. You may even qualify for legal aid, so you may not have to pay a lawyer. You’re a pensioner of a veteran who died in the line of service, so they offer all kinds of free assistance. You just need to find out what they offer. Okay?”

“I’m not calling them. Leave your father out of this. He did enough for me—and for you, too. There are soldiers coming back here without legs, without arms. They need the help more than I do. I’m not taking anything away from them.”

“It’s not taking things away from them if you need help, too. The government’s got enough to go around.”

“You just mind your own business. That’s what your father would say, and now I’m saying it.”

“Okay. Here’s number 2: The Agency for the Aging. I’ve checked on the Internet, and they provide all kinds of services—transportation, shopping, and yard work, too. There’s only one catch, Mother, and you should be aware of it. They will monitor all your behavior for physical and mental health issues. They will be evaluating you every time you speak with them.”

“You know something? You’re just like my brother. All you want is my money. Now, I’m telling you something, and don’t you forget it. I’m eighty-eight years old, and I’ve been taking care of somebody all my life. I’ve lived alone before, and I can do it again. I WANT you to let me alone. Do you understand? Good by now.”

“I’m just thinking about the hurricane season, Mom. It’s coming.”

“If I die, I die. That’s it!”

If the sheriff calls me again to investigate thefts, what do I say? He told me himself that, in all his experience, robbers have never brought things into the house. They only take them out of a house. If I tell him the culprit is a child who leaves no footprints, we won’t need to say another word. If she wouldn’t destroy the evidence, of course, there might be a case for the courts.


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