Paige had just settled in for an evening alone when the knock on the door turned her head from the television. She thought about not answering it. The Beast of Yucca Flats was playing on SyFy, and her ramen noodles were still warm. Yet it was a rare day she got any visitors at all, and certainly not after dark. It might be old Mrs. Ferguson, locked out of her house again. Surely, something important.
Admit it, her inner voice chastised as she got up from the couch, you’re desperate to feel more social. Thirty-four, working from home, living alone with two cats and you haven’t even thought about a man in a year. You’re afraid you’re becoming the disconnected shut in your mother said you’d turn into one day.
I am not, she replied, stretching her neck to the peephole. Just being neighborly. It’s almost ten. Someone might really need my help.
It was only Rob, her peering eye discovered. The cute but unavailable man next door. They’d met at the block party last summer, right after Paige had moved onto the cul-de-sac. He lived in the tasteful pistachio Ranch house to her left, occasionally cohabited by a brunette woman Paige took to be the girlfriend (they’d never been introduced.) She thought he worked somewhere south of them, in Portland. Software engineer? He drove a blue Subaru.
“Hi,” Paige said nervously, after she’d managed to wrench the door open. Rob grinned at her with a sheepish look. He was dressed in khakis and a soil stained white t-shirt, clutching a shovel in one hand.
“Hey,” he said. “Sorry to bother you, but I wanted to apologize for the racket I’ve been making for the last hour.”
“I didn’t even notice,” said Paige, because she hadn’t.
“Are you kidding?” Rob was incredulous. “I’ve been hurling dirt clods this way and that, banging my shovel into rocks—”
“Didn’t hear a thing.”
“Ah,” said Rob. He looked relieved. Then he asked, “So, I hate to do this, but my phone died. Do you have one I can use?”
That’s what this is about?
“Uh, sure,” said Paige, “there’s one in my kitchen.” Opening the door the rest of the way, she pointed him toward the cordless she kept in the kitchen next to the cat chow. He left the shovel on the porch and stepped inside.
“Thanks,” Rob said, his sheepish expression lingering. “I got rid of my land line last year. Kinda leaves you in the lurch if your cell goes out.” He glanced at his hands. “Do you mind if I use your sink? I wouldn’t want to touch anything in this condition.”
“Of course not,” she told him. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Bundy, her large, male tabby, eyeing Paige’s ramen bowl with glee. Deciding Rob could live without her eavesdropping anyway, she went back into the living room.
In the process of swatting the cat to the floor, she sent one of her coffee table books with him, which jostled the ramen enough to splatter it. As Paige bent over the table, mopping up the mess with a Kleenex, she noticed Rob’s boots were suddenly in front of her.
“Oh!” she yelped, jerking upright.
“Didn’t mean to startle you,” he said.
“No, I was just distracted,” said Paige. “Kinda had a cat-meets-soup incident here.”
“Well, I’ll let you get back to it,” said Rob, “and again, I’m sorry for the noise.”
“No trouble,” she said, easing back down on the couch.
“What are you watching?” Rob asked casually. He’s kind of an odd duck, Paige thought absently.
“The Beast of Yucca—” she looked back at the television. “No, I guess that’s over. Now we’re on to…” she waited until a title came on screen. “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.”
Rob paused. “What?”
“You don’t know it?” Paige was surprised. He seemed old enough to have watched this particular classic back in high school. I guess we can’t all be horror geeks.
“No,” he admitted. “Sounds like a great film for a Friday night alone, though.”
“Yeah, really,” Paige agreed. “It’s, well, pretty grim. It’s done as a fake documentary about this guy who admits to being a serial killer. In the end, he kills the woman interviewing him.”
“Woah,” said Rob, who clearly hadn’t heard of the film after all. “And she…didn’t know? What he was, I mean?”
“No, that’s the whole thing. He basically toys with her the entire movie. And it never really sinks in for her, I guess, the whole time, that’s he’s actually…”
Paige trailed off. She realized then that it hadn’t occurred to her to ask why exactly her neighbor had been digging in his backyard for two hours at night, or whom he’d needed to call on her phone, or even whether he’d made the call or not. It did occur to her then, however, that he had an awful lot of red on his boots.
“He’s actually what?” Rob asked her. Daring her to spell it out. It wasn’t possible, was it? thought Paige, the high, keening wail beginning to rise up in her, not in her life, not in front of a t.v. playing a film about a damn monster, that she’d managed to let one in, right into her house, it wasn’t possible, it wasn’t—