A Proposal, Part 1

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This is the first installment of a seven part series. Parts 1–3 are available for free on my blog, while parts 4–7 are available exclusively on Patreon.

It was the day the axis of Jill’s life forever shifted, the day she was swept away by the gravity of sinister forces and compelled to walk a dark, inexorable path. If only she hadn’t answered the door, she thought later. If only she’d stayed in the kitchen and watched TV. If only, she would think forever after, looking over her shoulder for the man hiding in the shadows. If only…

There were three things nobody told you about getting old as far as Jill was concerned.

The first were the frequent bouts of insomnia, as if the mind, terrified of death looming over the horizon, decided to stay awake to make up for lost time.

The second was that many of your family and friends were dead, with more dying each year. Live long enough, and you might discover you’re the only one left, the unlucky winner of life’s wicked lottery.

The third (and arguably the worst), was the lack of mobility. Everyone always said they couldn’t wait to retire, that they’d travel the world, build a workshop, or sit down to write that memoir. The trouble was the body refused to cooperate. It gave a sad new meaning to the expression, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Jill herself had had enough, and she’d be happy to go when the Good Lord called her home.

That last thought had just occurred to her when someone knocked on the door.

Jill started. She wasn’t expecting company. Maybe it was the electricity man come to chase after another unpaid bill. It had happened last month, and her caretaker Rosalyn had warned her to be more careful (that was the fourth thing they didn’t tell you about getting old: Your head had more holes in it than a pasta strainer.) She prayed even now that her daughter in Chicago wouldn’t find out. She’d already threatened to put Jill in a home, and only hours of pleading for her independence had allowed her the alternative of a part-time caretaker.

But as it happened, her visitor turned out to be someone else entirely.

Jill pushed herself up by her arms, body quivering. She grabbed the walker beside her bed, then shuffled toward the door.

She was greeted by a portly man in a black suit and fedora hat. Odd, thought Jill, with the summer being so hot.

“May I help you?”

“Actually,” said the man, removing his hat and inclining his head, “I was hoping I could help you.”

An atavistic shiver spasmed through her body. Something about his eyes, she thought, and the way he talked. In some way she didn’t understand, the man represented all that was wrong with the world, a shining avatar of evil so bright, she wanted to slam the door and spend the next hour and a half in prayer.

“May I come in?” he asked. “It’s hot and I haven’t had anything to drink.”

Jill was always hospitable, even to strangers. She hadn’t been a part of the generation that was taught to fear the vagrant on the doorstep, and turning someone away without a very good reason was rude. But this man was dangerous, she could feel it in her bones, and instinct trumped manners every day of the week.

“I’m sorry. My daughter’s sleeping on the couch and I don’t want to wake her.” She felt her face flush with the lie, but she didn’t want him to know she was alone.

The man smiled wide, revealing bone white teeth, and a strange thing occurred to her.

He knows I’m lying.

“I understand,” he said. “I don’t want to be a bother.”

If you don’t want to be a bother, why are you still here?

“I’ll come back at a more convenient time.”

“Thank you, Mr…”

“Jacobs, Miss. Mr. Jacobs. Good day.”

Jill shut the door behind him and shivered once more. Why had he triggered such a visceral reaction? Anyway, he was gone now, and she could return to her makeshift bed in the kitchen.

“Hello again, Miss,” said Mr. Jacobs when she’d turned back to the living room. He was lounging on a cloth covered couch, looking as if he’d been relaxing there the entire afternoon.

Jill shrieked.

“Curious. I came back around for a second try and discovered your daughter wasn’t in.”

“She’s in the bathroom,” babbled Jill. “How did you—”

“A minor technicality. But I’m afraid I really must speak with you.”

“I’ll call the police.”

“There’s no need for that, Miss.” Mr. Jacobs was no longer on the couch, but standing right in front of her, obstructing her path to the kitchen. “I only want to talk.”

Jill’s pulse quickened and her heart began to tap out Morse code. She tried to turn again, only she was lightheaded. Like a ghost, she thought as the world blurred, as she tried to reach for the stairs beside her with insubstantial hands and lost her balance.

The world tilted. Slowed. Stopped.

Jill remained alert long enough to feel the man’s hand press into the small of her back. Then her vision faded to white and she saw no more.

Read part 2 by clicking here.

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Author: Jeff Coleman

Jeff Coleman is a writer who finds himself drawn to the dark and the mysterious, and to all the extraordinary things that regularly hide in the shadow of ordinary life.

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