This Killing Winter: Part Four

What followed next was a series of shocks.

Towards the end of March, I found three messages on my phone one night, just before going to bed – one from my nephew, one from my sister, and one from my mother. They all said the same thing: my house had been broken into and ransacked. Thieves had smashed through the glass of the back door and stolen everything they thought worth carrying away. My nephew, who’d discovered the break-in, even had video of the wreckage. Superstitious as it may have been, I thought of the fae – or whoever these elemental critters were I’d been trying to talk to. Hadn’t they been guarding the house? (This was what the psychic had specifically told me, unbidden.) Hadn’t they, or someone, been sending me these significant “dreams” – messages which, albeit, had only seemed to bode of invasion, in one form or another. Had I somehow pissed them off? Because they did seem, after all, a bit touchy… After more than twenty years without a burglary in my very safe neighborhood, it was as if they’d painted a big target on the place, out of spite. 

Were they angry that I’d not come home to them when they’d called? Was that it? 

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in Pete’s apartment where I now was living was as thick as ever. His ex-wife was often over, and I was thankful for that. When she came, the two of them made their own world together and I felt that I could get on with my own. I kept to my books, I put my headphones on, I wrote in my journal, I went to the gym. In short, I dug in and tried to wait this whole thing out. Whatever may happen, the season would not last for much longer. About a week after the news of the break-in, I was in a wreck on my way to work. It all happened so very fast, but with utter clarity. I saw brake lights flash on the cars and trucks ahead of me as they all started fishtailing wildly. I tried to slow also and started drifting out of control. I saw I was heading for the concrete siding of the bridge and there was nothing I could do to stop or avoid it. When I hit, my Jeep spun violently around on the shoulder until it eventually stopped. I was giddy with the shock. My hands shook as I fumbled for my phone, not at all clear on who I was supposed to call. So many times I’d driven this mountain grade, oftentimes in white-out conditions, often with a white-knuckle grip on the wheel but never with any real problem, and now in the clear and relative warmth of early spring… The same thing had happened to a forest ranger ahead of me, and though she’d spun out up the hill a bit, beyond the bridge’s railings, she’d almost gone down an embankment and into a river, stopping just at the edge of the precipice. We got out and looked across the distance at each other as the rest of the gathering traffic rushed past. Neither of us was hurt, but my car would need repairs to be drivable again, and I was starting to feel like I might be cursed. Paying heed to my dreams, and following the indicated, significant paths as had opened – at least so far as I could see – everything was going entirely wrong. 

Tensions at home were only getting worse. Pete wasn’t talking to me, and frankly, I didn’t want him to. I just wanted to find some space to myself. His wife complained to me that he’d become so needy, she couldn’t take any more of him. She’d wanted to remain his friend, but this sort of smothering need was what had driven her off in the first place. Since we all three worked in the same place, there was a sense of community, but also a lot of talk and few secrets. My colleagues often asked me what was going on, and I felt like the worst sort of gossip if I told them any of it, but damned to a personal hell if I couldn’t say anything. I tried to be judicious in what I did say, but I couldn’t keep my anxiety to myself.

I came home to Pete – always there, as ever, the blaring television as well, always on – arguing over the telephone with someone. I knew it could only be her, his wife. I felt badly for her, but I’d stopped feeling sorry for Pete. If he could simply let go of all this, he’d be fine and so would everyone else. Desperate and depressed as he may be, he was making his problems for himself. After hanging up, he curled up on the couch and fell fast asleep, though it was barely seven in the evening yet. His telephone rang and rang, but he would not respond. 

At work the next day his wife told me she’d been asking around the kitchen for my phone number that evening before; she’d wanted me to check on Pete and see if he was okay. I gave it to her then, a little late to do much good, but told her to call me any time. And when I got home again, Pete, wired on energy drinks, started grilling me the moment I walked through the door: “Did my wife ask for your number? Why would she do that? Did she say she was worried about me? I don’t want her to talk to other people about me. It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating…” I was starting to feel genuinely frightened, both for his wife and myself. I resented his intrusive questions, and he’d crossed a line. Pete could go to hell for all I cared – I needed to take care of myself.

With less than a week left on the schedule, I had a day off. This was a Tuesday. Out running errands in the morning, I thought to go back home for a rest, but as I drove up to the turn-off, I saw an image of the apartment in my mind’s eye – of my room, of those four walls and the furniture inside them – and neutral as it may have been in itself, the feeling-tone was so oppressive and intolerable, this was the last place I wanted to be. It was vivid and intense. A shudder went through me like some kind of allergic reaction, and I knew I had to avoid home at all costs. I ran more errands, I went to a movie, I walked around the grounds of a shopping mall just to kill the time. In the evening I went to a company party at my boss’s house. He, aware of my situation, offered me a spare room to stay in, if I needed it. He also told me that my last two days on the schedule they could manage without me, if I had to get out of town. I told him I would take him up on both accounts. Pete’s wife had left me a frantic message, which I’d gotten only after the movie. Something was wrong, she said, the police had gone to the apartment and couldn’t find him. The details were murky, but clearly things had escalated again. She’d left no number – my phone had been turned off at the time – and I couldn’t return her call. But I would need to go back that place, if only to pack my things and get out again.

And I had to admit I felt a detached, maybe sick, curiosity – I needed to find out what had happened.

[To be continued.]

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