Read Migrators Online

Authors: Ike Hamill

Migrators (4 page)

Liz let out a little yip as the thing turned her direction. She dropped to a crouch and crawled towards the dish towel that hung from the oven handle. Alan took a swipe in the air. He didn’t want to hurt the bat, but he needed to get it on the floor.

The bat went down.
 

Liz landed on it with the towel.

“Be careful. I’ll put it back out,” Alan said. He took a step towards Liz.

It was too late. With throaty grunts, Liz stomped her heel on the towel again and again.

“Wait!” Alan said.

He pulled Liz back, away from the bunched towel on the floor. Alan pulled back one corner of the towel and quickly laid it back over the mess.

“Did I get it?”

He looked up at his wife. Her face was a mixture of hope and fear.

“Did you get it? Sugar bear, if you’d gotten it any more, we’d have to replace the floor. I was going to put it outside. Bats are beneficial—they eat mosquitoes,” Alan said.

“Bats live outside. If they come inside, then they’re subject to same treatment as any other rodent.”

“Okay,” Alan said. “Okay. Go back to bed. Crisis averted.”

Liz turned and did her little victory dance as she walked away. Alan picked up the corpse of the invading bat and headed back for the shed. He was careful not to lock himself out and walked through the dooryard. No sense in leaving another smelly mess in the garbage. The trees were alive with wind. As he crossed the driveway, the light in their upstairs bedroom clicked on and then back off.

Alan took the bat through the yard and tossed it into the woods past the little stone wall. He shook the towel. It had a dark splotch of bat blood. Back in the kitchen, with the door locked again, Alan rinsed the dish towel under cold water in the sink. He dropped it into the washing machine before he headed back upstairs.
 

Liz was already asleep again. Alan kicked off his damp slippers and slid under the covers to nestle against her. She stirred.

“I hate bats,” she murmured.

“Apparently,” he said.

“I shouldn’t have killed it though.”

“Okay.”

He took a deep breath and let his exhale tickle her neck. She snuggled back into his grasp.

“When it first dive-bombed me, I thought it was a person,” Alan said. “Probably because you said there was someone in the house.”

“I didn’t mean the bat,” Liz said.

She turned a little in his arms.

“The Colonel was up here,” Liz said.

“Huh?”

“His spirit or whatever,” she said. “It was up here. I came down to tell you and that’s when the bat came out. He’s gone now.”

“What are you talking about?” Alan asked. The hair on the back of his neck was standing at attention.
 

“Never mind,” she mumbled. Her breathing grew deeper and he felt her body relax as she drifted off to sleep. Alan watched the silver clouds blowing by for a long time before he could find sleep again.

CHAPTER TWO
Neighbor

S
EPTEMBER
2

“Y
OU
BETTER
get going, Joe. You’re going to miss your bus. Remember the new schedule?” Alan asked.

“Okay,” Joe said. He got up fast and banged the table.
 

Alan looked up from the dishes. His eye caught a shape moving on the road. With a flash of recognition, Alan pushed away from the sink. He dodged around Joe and ran down the hall towards the front of the house. He peeked through the windows next to the front door as the jogger ran by.

It was the carpenter. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, but the hair and chin were the same—Alan was sure of it. The man jogged easily down the road. He didn’t even look like he was sweating. As Alan watched, the man disappeared on the other side of the trees.

“What are you doing, Dad?” Joe asked.

Alan jumped.

“Jeez, Joe. Get going. You’ll be late. I’m not driving you if you miss the bus.”

“You mean I get to stay home?” Joe asked. He had a big smile on his face.

“No,” Alan said. He grabbed Joe by the shoulders and marched him back down the hall. “If you miss the bus then you have to walk to school. I’ll follow behind you in the car to make sure you don’t dawdle.”

“What’s dawdle?”

“Put it on your vocabulary list,” Alan said. “Come on, I’ll walk you to the end of the driveway.”

Alan grabbed his paperback book from the top of the dryer on the way out. He stopped at the end of the drive and watched Joe walk down the road. He heard the bus rumbling in the distance and hoped that Joe made it in time. As far as Alan could see, there was no reason the bus shouldn’t come the extra hundred yards and just turn around in their driveway after picking Joe up, but the driver had been adamant.

Alan sat down on the asphalt and flipped through his book, looking for the right page. He wanted to be there when the jogger came back—he was long overdue in apologizing to the carpenter for sneaking up on him. It had been almost a week since he’d photographed the man working on his deck.

He sat and read in the driveway for an hour before he gave up. His neck was stiff from hunching over the book. He dusted himself off and went back inside. His list for the day looked remarkably like the one from the previous day. It had two items—cleaning, and laundry. Neither captivated him. Alan sat down at the kitchen table and listened to the clock tick.
 

A headache was rumbling in the back of his skull and starting to gather steam. Alan went to the sink, downed a pill with a glass of water, and then turned for the door. He stopped while slinging his camera bag over his shoulder. It could give the wrong impression, he decided. He took off the bag and stopped in the shop. He grabbed a paintbrush—brand new and still in the package—from the shelf and banged through the screen door. His stride was light as he walked through the shed.

X • X • X • X • X

Alan hurried up the hill beside the house. He felt silly holding his paintbrush as he rounded the building. It occurred to him that he didn’t even know if this house belonged to the carpenter. He’d just assumed that the guy was working on the deck of his own house. He might be a contractor who lived down the road.
 

Alan walked up to the door. There was no porch. The entry was only a couple of feet above the ground, but Alan felt ridiculous reaching up to knock on the door from the ground. He put the paintbrush in his back pocket and looked around nervously while he waited. The house had a two-car garage with no doors. Alan could see the taillights of a tall vehicle parked in one of the bays. The other housed a riding mower that was so clean it might have never been used. Glancing at the yard, Alan wasn’t surprised. There was only one small patch of grass—the rest was scrubby dirt littered with oak leaves and acorns. Two bushes were planted at the corners of the house. One was dead. The other was cut back so much that it looked like someone was trying to kill it.

Alan knocked again.

The door was in good shape. It was one of those metal-clad doors that was hard to paint but would last pretty much forever.

“Can I help you?” a voice asked.

Alan grabbed his chest and sucked in a breath. He turned around. The carpenter, still wearing his jogging clothes, was standing behind him.

“Wow. You scared me,” Alan said. “I came to apologize for the other day.”

“Pardon?” the man asked. He wiped his arm across his forehead. He was sweating.

“I was taking photos of a bird out in the marsh and I heard your nail gun. I’m a photographer, so it’s just instinct. I came up the hill a little and I was taking photos. I saw you,” Alan said. He heard how he was prattling and wished he could stop. The words just spilled from his mouth. Now that he’d started the story, he felt he needed to finish. “Anyway, I think you saw me taking photos and I wanted to apologize for invading your privacy.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the man said. “Is that all?”

“Yes. Sorry. Didn’t mean to waste your time again. I’ll be on my way,” Alan said. He turned and realized that he didn’t have an exit strategy. He wasn’t even sure what road this house was on. There were a couple of likely candidates that he’d seen on the map, but if he were to walk home on the roads the trip would turn from one mile into about five.
 

Oh well,
Alan thought,
I guess I’m hoofing it.

He headed for the driveway. Alan looked back over his shoulder. The carpenter was standing with his arms crossed.

“I should at least introduce myself,” Alan said. He came back a couple of steps. “Oh wait!”

Alan reached behind him for the paintbrush. The carpenter took a step back and turned slightly.

This is going well
, Alan thought.

“Sorry,” Alan said. “Just this.” He pulled out the brush and handed it towards the man. The carpenter reached forward and took it carefully. “I saw you working on your deck and I figured you might plan on staining it when you’re done. That’s my favorite brush for stain. It’s got great action and it cleans up easily.”

The carpenter opened the paper sleeve and ran the bristles over his palm. He nodded.

“Thanks,” the carpenter said. “That will come in handy.”

“I’m Alan… Harper. I live over on Durham Road—big white house with the giant red barn.”

The man nodded.
 

“Good to meet you.”

The man didn’t offer his hand or his name, so Alan simply backed away with a wave.

“Have a good one,” Alan said.
 

The carpenter waved back.

Down a short drive, Alan found himself on a dirt road that quickly switched to cracked asphalt. The houses on either side were spaced out enough so that most didn’t have direct views of the neighbors. They ranged from fancy two story prefabs to little shit boxes. The road ended at what Alan recognized as the Mill Road. He looked up at the green sign blade. It told him that the carpenter lived on “Location Rd.”

“Never heard of it,” Alan said. He set off down the Mill Road. Where Alan grew up, you just said “Pershing Drive,” or “Hudson Ave.” Around here, people always seemed to throw a “the” in front of road names unless the road was named after a specific person or place. He’d heard his own road done both ways—“Durham Road,” and “The Durham Road.” He wondered if the denizens of Location Road used a “the” or not.

Liz had a story for each of the houses along the Mill Road. Alan was approaching the Gault compound. Mrs. Gault lived alone now. Her husband died years before. Their house was light blue on three sides and white on the fourth. Mr. Gault had found a deal on vinyl siding, but only enough to do seventy-five percent of the house. Strangely, he’d chosen to cover two sides that could be seen from the road and the one side you couldn’t. That left the fourth side uncovered. Eventually, he’d found another deal and done the fourth side in white. According to the story, “you can believe that Normal got an earful about that.”

To his face, everyone called him Norman, but his name on his birth certificate had been “Normal.” Some suspected it was an old family name, others considered it a typo. Behind his back when they were discussing his odd behavior, the neighbors had all called him Normal.

Once, after Normal died, the Colonel received a call from Mrs. Gault in the middle of the night. She wouldn’t say what the problem was, but asked him to come over right away. He arrived in an overcoat, nightgown, and boots. It was November. The Colonel’s story told that when he came in she was sitting on a kitchen chair with her knees pulled up to her chest like a little girl. He saw her eighty-five-year-old baby maker and wondered exactly what had compelled her to call at two in the morning. She
 
pointed through the bedroom door towards the bed and whispered—“under.”

The Colonel approached slowly and was careful to keep his own touchhole under wraps as he found his way to hands and knees. Throwing up the bed skirt, he nearly had a heart attack on her wide-pine floors. He was looking at the biggest snake he’d ever seen outside the movies. It was sluggish in the cold house, and the Colonel managed to wrangle the beast with a broom into a tall trash can. He slapped a serving tray on top of it and hauled it out into the woods.

Liz had told Alan the story twice. The first time, she told him a clean version because Joe was in the car. Another day, she gave him the full deal. Alan sneaked another glance at the house as he passed. Mrs. Gault was still alive. Alan wondered who was taking care of her snakes these days. When the Colonel returned to the house to give back the trash can and tray, he said it was like Mrs. Gault had forgotten he was there. She was sitting at her little kitchen table, flipping through a magazine. The Colonel glanced at it and then looked away, but not in time. The images from the magazine were burned into his vision. Only on special occasions when the Colonel had “gotten ahead of himself,” which meant that he’d dabbled in some extracurricular schnapps, would the Colonel reveal the contents of the images he’d seen. Somehow the widow Gault possessed a magazine that showed muscular men and enormous male dogs. All were naked, and all were engaged in various forms of deviant sexual congress. That was the most the Colonel would say about the matter. The Colonel said that Mrs. Gault made no effort to cover the magazine when he returned—perhaps she hadn’t forgotten his presence after all.

Alan picked up his pace. He had miles to cover still. He cursed himself for not going back through the carpenter’s back yard to the trail.

X • X • X • X • X

“You look stiff tonight,” Liz said.

“I had a long walk today,” Alan said. “Too long, I guess.”

“Maybe you should get back into running.”

“Is that your subtle way of saying I’m getting fat?” Alan asked. He tried on a smile. He sat on the edge of the bed. He’d actually sat down to take off his socks—that’s how sore he was.
 

“Never,” she said. “You know I like my men with a little bit of a belly.”

Alan pulled on his pajama bottoms and slapped both hands to his stomach. He wasn’t fat, but he was carrying at least ten pounds more than he liked. Liz, in comparison, was tiny.

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