Hallowe’en Serial, 5th Night

Continued from #4.

Like any sane woman with a few self-defense classes under her belt, Carol panicked. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” she screamed and flailed around helplessly. Fortunately for her, her left elbow bumped the Door Lock button mid-flail.

She heard the lock engage in the driver’s door just as the owner of the glowing eyes suddenly threw itself at her window. “Eeeeeeeeeeaaaaaahg!” she screamed again, and fell over the middle console to get away. Teeth, tongue, dark fur, manic red eyes, and long, long claws scrabbled at the window. The claws were the worst; each *Screeeee!* leaving a line behind and surely weakening the surface.

Carol looked around her small car, wishing for anything that might help her. The most lethal object she saw was a pen. She didn’t keep so much as a snow scraper handy in the front seat, believing all tools belonged in the trunk.

*Critch* went the window-glass, just as she spotted the garage door opener. A hasty getaway was her only chance, storm or no. She stretched up and pressed it, a brief relief touching her panic as the door to outside lifted.

Her attacker paused, distracted. She was surprised to notice he appeared to have remains of clothing on his …person. Carol squinted and could make out a few torn, striped strips, buttons, a cuff; maybe what once was a pair of khakis. The feral animal turned back to look at her; its brow lowered into a scowl. Carol could hear it growling as she saw its lip curl up in a malicious grin.

The creature squatted, then leapt. She heard a *thump* above her and watched its back legs and bushy tail thrashing through the driver’s side window a half-second before she realized what it was doing. “Eeek!” she squeaked out as the horrific face appeared in the passenger side, upside-down. She watched the whole of its body fall across the window, then was treated to the same desperate scrabbling on the starboard side. The attacks were more forced, more rapid this time. The car rocked on its suspensions; the glass creaked and cracked.

Before she had time to talk herself out of it, Carol slid back into the driver’s seat and started the engine. ♪ *…they don’t know -When / its coming,  / oh when / but its coming* ♫… crooned the radio. She put the car into Reverse and gunned it as she never had in her entire life.

♫ *Keep the car running* ♫

The poor sedan lurched and whined, hopping down the driveway in short, lame bursts. She smelt burning. The car was old, but hadn’t shown any signs of failure recently. She looked up and saw the hairy creature rising from where it had fallen in her hasty escape. Why couldn’t she go?! And then she saw the parking brake.

Without hesitation, she released it with a *Clunk*. The car shot backwards and collided into and up the opposite curb before she eased off the accelerator. Switching to Drive, she tore away down the street. She dared not look back, even to see if the garage door was still open.

♪ *And they don’t know / When it’s coming, oh when is it coming? / Keep the car running / Keep the car running / Keep the car running* ♫

The storm was closer; lightning illuminated the houses just a block away from her street and rain and wind buffeted her battered car. Just as she thought to slow down for the approaching stop sign, she heard a long, loud, Owooooooooooo!

Her eyes found the rearview mirror against her will. A flash of lightning showed a dark shape running down the street after her; hunger glinting in its red eyes and white fangs.

Traffic laws would have to wait. Quickly checking for oncoming cars as she drove, she ignored the stop and squealed a turn out onto the main road. Her sole thought was to get as far away from the man-creature as possible. She hoped no police were out, and not because she worried for her spotless driving record.

Continued at #6.

Hallowe’en Serial, 4th Night

Continued from #3.

Memories of uneasy feelings, eerie desk décor, and an empty car were amplified in the yawning, open, Carl-less garage. Carol put her car into Park and pushed the Door Lock button, too worried to even enter.

Any other day, she would have gone into the house alone. She would have eaten leftovers, watched some television, taken a shower, cleaned her teeth, climbed into her twin-sized bed in her own bedroom, and slept with the contentment of an overworked, underhappy 50-year-old woman.

Today was not any other day. Tonight had not been another other night. The radio station began playing Thriller.

At the opening wolf howl -Owooooooooo! ♪-, the moon released itself from graying cloud cover and shone a beam or two within Carol’s car. One reflected a glowing outline round a small, plastic-cased device resting on the passenger seat: her cell phone. She picked it up and checked for updates. Surely Carl had texted her, or left a voice mail; perhaps something was scheduled and he’d not put it on her calendar.

But, like with the orderly garage, there was nothing. “Carl C. Carter,” she said, “Of all the times to be gone….”

The night once again shrouded itself in dark mystery as the glowing moon moved aside for rapidly-approaching storm clouds. One minute Carol was sitting in her driveway contemplating her husband’s absence; and the next, bright lightning streaks and thunderous sky shouts seemed to come from just half a mile away. Surely her immature fears were not worth driving somewhere else in torrential rain, nor walking in it if she refused to park inside the garage.

What was so bad about her house, anyway? She and Carl had lived there for fifteen of the twenty-two years they’d been married. She knew the rooms, the light switches, the location of her mace. She’d be fine.

Where was Carl, though? She’d text him first, and see how late he expected to be.

*Hi, Honey. Just checking when you’ll be home. Let me know.

She stared at the cheerful message and thought to add a smiling face from her Extras menu. Thinking on Carl’s usual preferences of succinctness, she refrained. If she included one, he was also liable to suspect her phone had been hacked. She sent it off as-was, adding a silent wish for a quick response.

After ten minutes of nothing but Halloween songs to interrupt the silence, she conceded defeat. Though not a religious woman, she bowed her head and uttered a quick and direct prayer: “Whoever might be listening, tell Carl to call me; and keep me safe tonight.”

Finally, she pulled forward. Automatic lights warmed the empty space. She turned off the engine and pushed the remote to close the garage door.

Just before opening the driver’s door to exit, however, she caught an image in her rearview mirror. For the fourth time that day, her heart leapt and her breath grew rapid. No excuse like ‘too short a driver, surely,’ or ‘must have been seeing things’ could explain what she saw this time.

From just inside the recently-closed garage door, a pair of glowing, hungry eyes stared right into her own.

Continued at #5.

The Garage Between Worlds, Part II

Continued from yesterday

Sean stepped away, running his hands down her goose-pimpled arms. He held each of her hands and looked intently into her large hazel eyes. He hadn’t seen Rose clearly without glasses for many years; but still had not recalled her eyes ever shining with such radiance, such depth of emotion.

“I will never leave you alone,” he told her sincerely. Rose smiled, and looked away shyly. A lovely, long, brownish sheet of hair coyly obscured part of her face. He brushed it to the side and secured it behind her left ear. He ran a finger gently down her cheekbone till she returned his gaze again.

Rose nodded; said, “Okay, Sean.” He nodded as well. They smiled.

Together, they turned and started across the sliding sand toward the music. A drum now faintly accompanied the lively guitar chords. Rose thought she could make out a rustling maraca or two.

“A path,” Sean suddenly said. Rose started at the interruption, and so did a tiny bird that had been resting near them in a small pineapple bush. It flapped in consternation, then took offended flight into a plant a little farther along.

Rose looked down at where Sean indicated and saw that, yes, a few round stones poked through the sand of the beach. Looking up, they saw the foliage carefully curved around the open space above the stones. A veil of swishing flowers hung from a tree on the left a few feet ahead. Beyond it, an unlit tiki torch sat where the trail seemed to end.

Cautiously, they walked forward into the arched jungle tunnel. Rose’s feet tickled in the sand and cooled on the wave-rounded stones. She ran a timid hand across a hanging leaf as they passed.

Sean stopped at the torch, so Rose paused just behind him. “What is it?” She whispered.

“It’s the end of the trail,” Sean told her, also in a whisper. Where they had assumed the rock-path ended, it had instead curved. He looked ahead at something, his face showing uncertainty.

On tiptoe over his shoulder, Rose saw the real trail’s end. A few yards ahead, the stones continued to a bamboo enclosure of sorts. She could see a small fence of braided palm leaves, strings of lights, flowers; and could hear the music more clearly. She heard laughter.

Sean turned his head. Rose saw concern in his ocean blue eyes, concern for her. She thought of the old shed door and its safety.

Then, Rose remembered what was beyond the door into their poky garage: A dirty kitchen. A cluttered front room. Her own bedroom, barely traversable. Then, there were the children’s rooms. The children themselves. She loved the children, but always felt so tired when they came to mind. She bit her lip again, and swallowed.

“Let’s get a little closer,” she decided. Surprised, Sean nodded. He reached down with his left hand to protectively hold her right. They started forward again.

Their bare feet barely shuffled across the sandy walkway. Rose’s long hair barely swished against her back. The upbeat instruments continued, with punctuations of talking and more laughing. The sounds of both grew louder as Sean and Rose slowly drew closer.

“A sign,” Sean quietly announced. He stopped; Rose looked where he pointed. A windworn sign hung casually from the end of the palm-leaf fence, just under a bright wreath of tropical flowers and multi-colored lights. Black, friendly paint spelled the words: Annual Parents’ Getaway.

Sean looked at Rose. He rubbed his bottom lip with his right hand in consideration. Rose looked at Sean. Her left hand found a few loose strands of hair to twist as she deliberated.

“Ah, I see you finally arrived,” A new voice said.

Sean and Rose jumped. Rose pulled at Sean’s hand in an effort to run back down the trail. Sean pulled at Rose, in an effort to free his hand in case he would need it to defend them both.

A tall, smiling, Polynesian man stood next to the sign. He managed to make his dazzlingly white grin even larger. It was he who had spoken, they realized. A deep, affable chortle sounded from his faux animal print-clad midsection. “No need for that, you two,” he assured them.

Rose stopped pulling; Sean retained his defensive stance. “Oh?” He asked. “Why not?”

Impossibly, the man smiled wider. “I am Stephan,” he said with a small bow. “You are late. If you’ll calm down, I will be happy to explain about this place.”

Sean barely relaxed. He pulled Rose close to his side. “Okay.” He said, trying to sound calm.

Stephan laughed again. “This is a magic place,” he began. He swept a hand around to indicate the trees, path, birds, sand, and ocean. “We are here for you. We are not a TV show, timeshare gimmick, or even a dream.” He allowed this information to sink in, then continued. “You have earned an evening here.”

A throat cleared behind the divider, behind Stephan. They could barely hear it over all the party noise beyond. A hand thrust a clipboard near Stephan’s muscular arm, which he hurriedly read as he frowned slightly. He raised his left hand, using his right to count each finger. He did so two or three times, then shrugged and cheerfully gave up. The other hand and clipboard retreated.

“Well,” Stephan smiled, “You really are late. It would appear you’ve been needing to come here since about five years ago.” He chuckled.

Rose looked at Sean, confused. “What do you mean?” Sean demanded. “What are you talking about?” Rose squeezed his hand, gratefully.

Stephan sighed, still managing to look unbelievably happy and helpful. “This place is a magic place,” he repeated. “Besides existing just for parents, we enjoy certain time benefits here.” He met each of their gazes to be sure they were paying attention. “When you are done, you will come back to the same time you left.”

“That’s impossible,” Rose automatically responded. She was surprised, however, at how hopeful her accusatory tone sounded. Stephan chuckled again, reassuring.

“It’s true,” he simply told her. “Plus,” he added, straightening, “You earn your time based on the number of children who are waiting for you at home.” Here, Stephan laughed outright. “And,” he said, wiping a happy tear from his eye, “that means you two get to stay at least all night if you wish.”

Rose blushed slightly. Sean looked unconvinced.

Their host was unaffected. “Come in and see for yourself!” He invited, stepping back and gesturing to his right, to the music and the laughter.

Hesitantly, Sean walked forward. Rose was still holding his hand, or his hers. They paused at Stephan’s side, and saw he spoke the truth. On the other side of the papery wall was a veritable mob of couples talking, joking, smiling, drinking, eating, embracing, lounging, or even swimming.

Yes, Rose saw, there was a gorgeous pool just beyond a stage of tireless musicians and dancing couples. Waterfalls ran down lava rocks amidst rain forest foliage, terminating in a huge swimming area of varying depths. It was the sort she had seen people post online, saying how they’d go somewhere like that someday. She had known better when she saw them; known she would never see a paradisaical setup like that in person.

Yet, here it all lay before her. “Wow,” she breathed. She looked to Sean, to gauge his response, and saw the affable Stephan just behind him.

“Go right ahead,” Stephan supplied. “Everything is open to you: the swimming pools, the bar, any food…” He coughed a discretionary sound, then added, “Even some private rooms, once you get more comfortable.” Sean turned quickly to look suspiciously at Stephan, who shrugged a pleasant shoulder in innocence.

“Sean,” Rose said, “I see Tiffany and Michael!”

Now Sean turned quickly to Rose. “What?! Where? Did they follow us here?!”

“Oh, not our Tiffany and Michael,” she quickly explained. “Tiffany and Michael JONES, our neighbors.” She pointed, near a vivaciously-red flower topiary near the closest waterfall.

Sean looked, squinting, then his face cleared. Still, he hesitated.

“Look,” Stephan said, startling them, “No one is actually an alien in human suits or something. I promise it’s all exactly as it appears.” He smiled ever wider. “Go on, and ask your friends you just saw.” He gave Sean a friendly push, laughed uproariously, and walked off toward the private buildings he’d mentioned earlier.

“Well, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to at least go ask,” Sean told Rose, reassuring himself. She nodded. They stepped forward together, Rose timidly keeping very close to his side. Everywhere they looked they only saw happiness, relaxation, love. They skirted the dancing group near the music. They walked past candlelit tables of men feeding women tidbits on forks, or women spooning bites past their husband’s waiting lips.

Soon enough, they reached their lounging neighbors. Tiffany noticed them first. “Rose!” She exclaimed, overjoyed. She and Michael stood to meet them; Rose and Tiffany hugging while Sean and Michael shook hands and patted arms.

“We’re so glad you two made it!” Tiffany exclaimed. She looked over at Michael, who nodded and smiled. She treated the encounter like an accidental run-in at the grocery store.

“So, this is real?” Rose asked, shyly. It seemed an odd question to pose with the physical evidence of their friends nearby. Tiffany and Michael, however, only laughed.

“Don’t worry,” Michael said to Sean. “We didn’t believe it when we got here two years ago.” He shoved Sean playfully on his arm. “Too good to be true, huh?” Sean smiled weakly.

“He nearly punched Stephan when we first found it,” Tiffany added solemnly.

“Oh. Yeah,” her husband remembered. He looked down. “That was embarrassing.”

“Anyway, it’s real. It’s true.” Tiffany reassured Rose. She turned to Sean. “Some couple set it up years ago, according to what we can find out. Stephan says it’s not like a TV show, but there’s gotta be something sci-fi about how it all works!” She laughed.

“Yeah,” Michael agreed. He looked thoughtful. “Honestly, we don’t really care anymore. It’s just nice to have a break.” He reached back to pick up his drink. Condensation ran invitingly down the sides, and a small umbrella rested on its very top. He raised it in mock toast, and added, “Go on, and enjoy yourselves. If you remember us, we’ll head back together when you’re done.”

“But, Michael,” Tiffany reminded him, “We only have three children. We can’t stay as long as they can.”

Rose blushed again. Sean looked indecisive.

Michael chuckled a bit, and drank a sip from his fluted cup. “Well, if you want to head back in a few hours, let us know and we’ll go together.” He winked at Sean.

Dismissed and convinced, Rose waved a friendly goodbye. “Thank you,” she told them.

“Enjoy!” Tiffany and Michael chorused, then smiled at each other, sat, and continued their private conversation.

“Sean,” Rose said, as they meandered toward the inviting pool. “Hmm?” He asked.

“I’ve been thinking that we could spend an hour or two here, then go back.” He paused, and his eyes met hers as his left hand found her right. A million questions flitted between them. “That way, we could have fun, and be sure we get back to the kids in case there is no time thingie,” she explained.

Sean thought it over, then said, “I say we try to make a run for it and see if anyone stops us now.” He looked around furtively, as if the swaying trees and happy couples were set to pounce at any moment. “Ready? Let’s go!” He took off toward the fence with the sign, pulling Rose and her flying hair behind him.

They reached their goal unmolested. In fact, except for a few entertained glances their way, no one had seemed to even notice. Rose shrugged, but then Sean was off running back toward the beach.

She followed, caught in some of the flying sand of his barefoot sprint. He reached the cave with Rose puffing somewhat just behind. The door to the garage was still ajar. Rose could see their battered minivan skulking in the shadow of boxes beyond. Sean reached out to the door.

“Sean?” She ventured. He turned, and paused at her flushed face, disheveled hair, and pleading eyes. Automatically, he stepped closer and put his arms around her again. Rose reddened, but caught her breath to continue.

“What if it’s all real, and it disappears if we go through the door again?” She searched his face, practically begging for assurance.

He considered. “If it all goes away, I will take you somewhere like this as soon as we possibly can,” he promised. She smiled and looked shyly away, curtaining her face. He once again gently brushed her flowing hair aside; gently kissed her lovely cheek.

“Okay?” He asked. Rose nodded.

Taking a deep breath, she pulled out of his arms and walked toward the dilapidated brown door. Sean hurried to walk beside her. They entered the musty garage, then immediately turned to look back. The beach was still there, the palms were still swaying, the ocean still shushing against the shore.

“Quick, go check the time!” She told Sean. Realization entered his eyes beneath mirrored lenses, and he sprung to the door of the house. His movements were impeded slightly at the return of his former bulk. Peeking through the garage side of the kitchen door, he announced, “Eleven o’clock. Is that what time it was when we left?”

Rose considered, then remembered the beeping clock as they crossed the kitchen. “Now it’s Eleven-oh-one,” Sean amended.

“Then it works!” Rose called. “Unless it’s been twelve hours or something,” she added, thoughtfully. Sean looked back at her, then ran to join her again.

“Let’s try it, then,” he said, nodding toward the waiting beach. “It’s worth it to me to make you happy.” She looked up at his face, so familiar and so loving.

“I’m happy just to be with you,” she said. He smiled a half-smile in response. “But, I do like how I look on that side of the door,” she added playfully. Sean’s smile spread.

“Me, too,” he laughed. “I mean, about me, too.” He took her hand. “Maybe we should check out one of those rooms before running back this time,” he teased. Ignoring her scandalized look; he walked through the door once again, pulling Rose happily along.

The Garage Between Worlds, Part I

“Mahm! Maaahhhmm!” A bump jarred the pictures against the wall, and a boy squealed.

Rose sighed, and tried to keep reading. She was unable to actually see the words on the page, however, as the noises next door escalated.

“Gimme back Staceeeeey!” A girl screamed. Rose heard audible scrambling, and thudding. Crying. Footsteps.

Her door burst open, hitting a well-formed groove on its splintered surface against her dresser. The baby in the nearby crib hiccuped in his sleep at the sound.

Rose lowered her book to see Johanna’s wet, red face and frustrated body standing in the doorway. Sighing, Rose set the open pages onto her crumpled bedspread. She nudged her long, brownish hair off a shoulder.

Jackson came up quickly behind his sister, also angry and crying. “Mom, Johanna wouldn’t get off my -” he immediately began.

“That’s not true! You had my Stacey! -” Johanna defended loudly, as Jackson cut her off with,”I wouldn’t’ve had your doll if -” Their accusations mingled rapidly, shrilly.

Shoving toys, clothes, and the comforter aside, Rose sat up and pushed herself off the bed. Two steps across the crowded floor brought her within reach of the caterwauling children. She gently pushed them apart, whisper-yelling, “Jack, Jo! Quiet! The baby’s sleeping!”

Jackson and Johanna stopped yelling, contenting themselves with making faces when they thought they could get away with it. Rose sighed, and pulled them into her room somewhat. “Where is your dad?” She asked them.

Jackson shrugged and looked at the TV, mutedly flashing a commercial from the worn dresser-top. “He went downstairs,” Johanna supplied, also turning like a moth to the screen. She pulled a raggedy plastic doll from her brother’s limp grip. Rose sighed again.

“Jackson,” she began. He grunted. “Jack, why were you even in the girls’ room?” He didn’t respond. Tugging at his arm, Rose repeated her question.
“I dunno,” he supplied.

She tried Johanna. “Johanna?” Her daughter turned, questioningly. “Jo, why was Jack in your room?”

Johanna paused, seeming to search inside her brain for an answer. She also shrugged. “‘Cause he’s a jerk,” she concluded.

“Am not,” Jackson countered, distractedly.

“Are, too,” Johanna responded.

“Am not. You are,” Jackson said, never taking his eyes from the screen.

Rose walked over and switched the television off, breaking the spell. The two children looked up at her in surprise. “It’s way past bedtime,” she announced, “And you have school tomorrow. And, your brothers and sisters are sleeping.”

Her son made a disgusted face and cast around for something else to look at. He flopped on the bed, on top of her book. “Okay, Mommy,” her daughter said sweetly. She skipped around a shoe pile and out of the room, Stacey Doll swinging from her side.

Rose looked down at Jackson for a minute, hands on tired hips. He didn’t shift.

“All right, all right,” she said. She sat next to his pretendedly-prone body. She saw his face automatically grin, though he squinted his eyes closed. Rose ran a hand tiredly through her locks, loosening a few knots and positioning it out of her face. Leaning down, she reached around his middle and added, “Let’s go to bed, Jack.”

Grunting, sighing, and heaving, she managed to slide him off and onto his feet. He teetered, threatening to fall back down. “Jack, stop,” Rose chastened, in her best Mom Voice. He opened innocent eyes to check how serious she might be.

Some seriousness, tiredness, or hopelessness got through to him. With the air of an always-obedient child, he smiled, wriggled from her grip, said, “’Night, Mom,” and ran from the room.

Rose blinked, then realized something. She walked to the doorway. “Your room, Jack,” she yelled as quietly as she could. Giggling, Jackson retreated from the end of the hallway and into his own room. Hopefully, Rose thought, he’d actually make it to bed.

She paused, lingering. She looked back at her bed where One Man’s Desire lay closed and crumpled on the blankets, thanks to Jackson’s intentional resistance. She suddenly didn’t want to continue reading about people with no responsibilities, who somehow managed to travel to the Caribbean, and had endless spending money. The book couldn’t yell louder than children, smell better than the dirty clothes piles, or paint a picture of spaciousness amidst her bedroom clutter.

She scanned the clutter. Shoes rested in unmarried clumps near dropped pants, clumped socks, and old toys. Clean shirts and underwear hugged dirty friends between and beneath the shoes. A recent attempt by three-year-old Missy to feed herself had left everything with a light sheen of Cheerios.

Rose considered cleaning, again. Her eyes moved past the floor to the bed, the crowded dressers, to Luke’s sleeping form in the old crib. She distractedly combed at her head with her fingers again. Luke was such a good sleeper, and so peaceful to watch. Exhaustion won out for Rose.

She decided to go find Sean. He was supposed to have been to bed an hour ago, and she missed him.

Rose turned her bedside light off and headed out toward the stairs. It wasn’t an easy journey in the dark, but she didn’t want Johanna, Jackson, Luke, or the other sleeping children to suddenly wake. “Ouch,” she whispered; then, “Ooh;” then, “Uh,” as various invisible floor litter poked her feet through their fraying socks.

She felt along the wall of the hall, listening for any non-sleeping sounds from the two kids’ rooms on this level. They seemed silent.

A sudden gap beneath her outstretched foot told Rose she’d reached the stairs. Her groping hands found the wall just inside. She flicked the dim, bare bulb on. There was no use putting her life at risk for sleeping children when it came to the stairs.

She carefully navigated the maze of puzzles, dolls, socks, dress-up heels, and forgotten food crumbs that led downward. Her long hair fell from one side to the other as she peered ’round her midsection to see where each foot would land.

Her slow descent brought her to the crowded, dark family room. Squinting, she realized she’d left her glasses upstairs by the lamp. She peered around the old bookshelf, cringing as she stepped solidly on a Lego piece.

There, at the end of the room: a small light; a phone screen backlight reflecting from eyeglasses. Sean.

Her heart fluttered at the sight and her stomach flipped. Though they both looked a bit different now, Rose still felt those fleeting feelings she first had when she was sixteen.

He had been seventeen, studiously watching some game on television -just as he was studying a different sort of game now. When she’d walked in with his younger sister, he’d turned immediately. Their eyes had met. He’d smiled.

Sean continued staring at his phone.

Rose picked her way over a carpet of toys toward him. He sat slouched, his body curved and sunk against the couch. His phone was propped atop his bulging stomach. His face frowned at what it was watching.

Rose waited. Sean watched his game.

“Sean?” She finally ventured. His shrouded blue eyes blinked and looked up in surprise. A thousand potential phrases crossed Rose’s mind as she saw the tired lines of Sean’s face, the strained state of his gaze. She smiled, to comfort him, and decided on, “I just wondered if you were outside because the light’s on in the garage shed.”

Startled, Sean frowned. “No, I’m here,” he said. “I didn’t even go out there after work.” He glanced back at his screen for a few seconds, then lifted a strong, heavy hand to the side of his phone. The family room dimmed to near-darkness in the sudden absence of backlight.

“Maybe it was Daniel,” Rose suggested. Despite wishing for undivided attention, she felt sorry for interrupting Sean’s down time.

Sean hefted his large frame from its cushioned groove. He pushed his glasses back up onto the bridge of his nose. Pocketing the phone, he then took Rose’s hand. He smiled at her in the half-light sneaking down from the stairwell. “Don’t worry, Rosebud. I’ll go turn it off and lock up.”

“Thanks, Dear,” she responded, relieved. She really did think Daniel had left the light on, or maybe Sharon. Since it was the tool shed in question, she suspected Daniel more. He’d been talking about building a pinewood derby car already.

Down the basement hallway leading away from the family room, however, the lights were dark. Daniel, the other boys, and the other girls’ bedroom lay in that direction. If Daniel had been outside, it hadn’t been recently.

Sean and Rose navigated the staircase upwards, the tiny great room, and then the kitchen. Sean’s steel-toed work boots creaked and clicked as the sticky laminate flooring complained of people crossing it at such a late hour. Rose’s socks stuck softly, without accompanying groans.

All was silent in the sleeping house besides the floor they’d just crossed. Rose sighed in relief.

Sean peered out the flimsy curtains that separated the kitchen door from its neighboring garage. A door with a window should not lay between a garage and house; it was just another quirk of the old place.

Sure enough, a sliver of light ran beneath the shed door in the corner. Sean could see it between boxes and the minivan, just barely. Rose peered over Sean’s broad shoulder. She smelled his Old Spice; she shivered at teenage summertime memories.

“I was going to go turn it off, then I got busy with dinner and the kids…” her voice trailed off.

The tiny digital clock on the counter beeped as the hour changed to 11:00 p.m.
“Don’t worry, Rose. I said I’d be happy to lock up.” Sean unlocked the deadbolt and carefully pulled the door open. The loose handle threatened to come out in his hand. “Gotta fix that,” he mumbled, as he had for the last month.

He clumped down the cement stairs, his mind on loose doorknobs. Rose tread quietly just behind, looking furtively left and right in the crowded garage space. She pulled the door closed carefully, to avoid fumes getting into the house. They squeezed between the van and wall, ending just in front of the shed door.

It was shut. “Sean,” Rose began. She hadn’t remembered the light inside being orange. Had one of the kids changed out the bulb? Douglas, perhaps?

“Hm?” Sean answered absently, as he turned the knob and pushed inward.

Whatever Rose had intended to ask him flew completely out of her mind as she stepped closely behind him again, and stopped. They both stared.

Where a narrow, gas-fumed space had before housed paint cans, tools, and dead spiders; Sean and Rose now saw -the mouth of a cave? They stood in their garage, yet also stood at the entrance of a small, round, rocky cavern.

Sean stepped forward in shock, Rose gripping his elbow. The cave opened onto a wide, shaded swath of sand. Palm fronds swept above and around their startled figures. A brightly-colored bird soared across the sunshine in surprise. Gently moving air brushed across their skin in a lightly warm embrace. The endless, engaging song of forever-lapping ocean played just a few hundred yards down the beach from their toes.

Their toes? Unconsciously, Sean had continued into what had been the shed. Rose had followed, not wanting to let go of Sean for anything. Simultaneously, they looked down at their feet -and could clearly see them.

Not only were Rose’s feet bare, but she was wearing her swimsuit with a wrap. Not only was she wearing her swimsuit and wrap, they appeared brand-new. She appeared brand-new. “I’m skinny!” She exclaimed in excitement.

“Well,” she amended, as she turned this way and that, sweeping each shoulder with her hair in process, “I’m skinnier.” She smiled at Sean, and realized she could see him clearly although she was still not wearing her glasses. He, too, was thinner, and not wearing glasses or day clothes. But what struck her first was how much more awake he appeared. The tired lines were gone, the slumping manner, the hopelessness he’d often seemed to walk around with -all gone.

“Sean, you look …handsome,” Rose said, and blushed. Sean smiled, and took her hand. He brushed some of her hair away, and tucked it gently behind her ear. “You look beautiful,” he told her sincerely, and made the blush run more deeply. Rose was certain even her neck was red.

She turned and looked back at the door they’d come through, biting her lip in indecision. Sean followed her gaze. The door was still ajar, and still the shed door. Its peeling brown paint was comforting, though this derelict condition had reminded them of necessary repairs in the past.

Just then, they heard the faint sound of actual music. A guitar, perhaps? Rose now looked at Sean, a question written in her trusting eyes and worried eyebrows. Sean shrugged, then said, “I’ll go check it out.”

He pulled away from Rose, but she tugged at his arm. He turned back. “Don’t leave me here alone,” she pleaded.

Sean stepped near, closing the space between them. Drawing his arm from her light grip; he put it around her back, around her soft, flowing hair. He could feel her body; smell her fresh, young scent he knew so well. Rose felt the tension of passion in his strong arms as Sean pulled her abruptly into his embrace and kissed her deeply.

Rose relaxed in the tropical breeze. The sand warmly cushioned her tired feet and the birds, waves, and rustling leaves sang only of paradise. She drank his love.

To Be Continued Tomorrow…