Roger was aging.  Blonde hair turned white, blue eyes greyed, and his upper back began curving forward as if his skeleton was leaning into a coffin that he hadn’t yet paid for.  Common signs of old age; things the youth know nothing about.

          Sitting across a droning old television, Roger opened his newspaper and began to read when there was a knock at the door.  He looked up in inconvenience; he didn’t like neighbors. After all that’s why he lived a mile south of the small town, away from the hullabaloo as he called it. A moment of silence passed and he brought his eyes back to the comics in the paper. It’s a wonder why he read the comics at all, he always wore a grimace on his sagging face.  Knock, knock. This time it was louder, more obtrusive. “Nnn…” he groaned. He wanted to stay seated. Knock knock knock. Faster, louder.

          “Alright already!” Roger began rising; ankles, knees, back, the whole shebang. Can’t an old man get some peace and quiet, he thought. He approached the door and began to feel weak. Dizzy from standing up too fast, he reasoned. The lights nearest the door were flickering. There was another knock before he could grab the doorknob and open it, though it was more of an aggressive swing that Roger employed.

          His eyes met a cloaked man, as far as Roger could tell.  The darkness under the figure’s hood was emphasized as the sun set on the horizon directly behind him. “Can’t you bother someone who’s got more time to spare?” Roger asserted.

          “I’ve been wandering for days,” the stranger replied, ignoring Rogers question. “It’s getting dark very quickly… I would like to stay here for the night.”

          Roger couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, no no no no no… I’m hip to your game. You and your friends dress like poor dirty beggars and come to steal from dumb elderly people such as myself. Well I’ll tell you what, tough guy, if you don’t get your ass out of my doorway before I count to three, I’m going to get my rifle and blow your brains out, then you won’t have to worry about finding a place to stay. How’s that sound?”

          The stranger had no reply, and didn’t really seem to hear what Roger was saying; Roger noticed at a turn of the stranger’s head that the skin on his face seemed to reflect light like some flesh-toned rubber. “Didn’t you hear me, boy?”

          “Yes,” the figure said. “I promise that isn’t who I am. I’m on my way to town but I cannot make it further in the dark.”

          “Well there’s no food for you here,” Roger retorted.

          “I don’t need food,” the stranger said, “just a place to lay.”

          Roger looked him up and down. It is getting dark, he thought, sympathy kicking in. “Listen kid. There’s a room upstairs for you. You get no food, you get no clothes, you go straight to that room and go to sleep. If you make any noises during the night – and trust me I won’t get any sleep with a creep like you in the house – you’re going to be begging at the Pearly Gates.”

          The stranger smiled at Roger’s last words, “You’re a man of God, hmm?” he asked Roger.

          “Yes, I am,” Roger replied. “Don’t tell me you don’t go to church… that’s why yer a wanderer!”

          “I’m not a huge fan of God, but I wouldn’t say I don’t believe in…Something,” the stranger said.

          “Yeah,” Roger chuckled, “something.” Roger moved backward and motioned for the stranger to come in. He glided over the threshold and stopped to look around, the lights near the door flickered on, but the one on the table near the man began failing. “What are you, some kind of magnet?” The question was rhetorical. Roger continued, “Don’t you get any big ideas, kid. I may be old but I’ve got my strength. Twenty years in the armed forces will last you a lifetime, in fact I remember whe-” he stopped talking, why was he sharing memories with a strange still-hooded figure? “Take your damn hood off! Don’t you have any manners? Or are you really a beggar?”

          The stranger took down his hood and Roger’s eyebrows turned inward. “What’s up with your head?” he asked. The stranger turned towards him in such a smooth fashion you’d think he was levitating; Roger glanced downwards but the cloak was covering the stranger’s feet, he looked up to meet glassy eyes shadowed under a jutting, square forehead; thin lips placed over a sharp chin. It was silent. “You’re an ugly kid,” Roger said, and chocked it up to bad genes, maybe he’s got problems he thought. Then he thought he might’ve hurt the kid. “I’ve seen worse. Anyway like I said, go upstairs, first door on your right. You can have a glass of water if you’d like, but if I… ”

          “I’ll be fine,” the stranger said.

          “Now listen here you ingrate, when an old man is talking…” The stranger was already moving up the stairs, gliding; no up-and-down motion of his body, just a gradual ascension toward the bedroom. “What is wrong with kids these days” Roger mumbled. He sat back down at his table with his paper, the lamp on the table was back on; now the lights below Roger’s extra-bedroom were flickering. Damn kids and their technology he thought, probably got a whole refrigerator in his pocket, he laughed to himself. Roger sat down and opened up his newspaper which helped him forget his anger, and eventually he dozed off into soft sleep.

          He awoke to a blood-curdling scream and he fell from his chair; then there followed a series of knocks against the wall. “What in blazes?” he said as he scrambled up. He ran to the chest against the back of his couch and opened it to reveal an old trusty rifle. He grabbed it with both hands and moved with it to the bottom of the staircase.

          “Alright you son-of-a-bitch!” he yelled. “I told you what would happen! Prepare to meet your Maker!” Roger meant to scare the stranger but he was smart enough not to get too excited. He stepped up the staircase cautiously, listening closely to the sounds of deep, primitive chants, sounds that might come from an ancient tribe in the jungle. As he ascended he found it harder and harder to breathe until the air got so thick that he wondered if he was going into choke on nothing. The guttural voices coming from behind the door were accented by the same scream Roger woke to, now more urgent than before.  “I’m coming in there!” he yelled through the stiffness. As he looked down in the dark to grab the knob, he noticed a deep red hue pulsing under the door. He braced for God-knows-what and threw the door open.

          All hell broke loose as his body was thrown against the wall behind him. He felt an energy he’d never felt before; he couldn’t move, he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t think. Darkness itself exploded from the room, sounds of suffering filled the air and Roger couldn’t release his jaw to scream. None of his muscles could release, he was frozen.  He sat in gut-grinding awe as the face of death took flight towards him and the corporeal evil began swimming into his eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. He lost the final bit of body-awareness that he had.

          Then he woke up. Lost Dog Returned to Owner he read in the paper that laid before him on the table. “A nightmare,” he said aloud. As his fear slowly faded he realized he was covered in sweat so he got up to get a change of clothes. He noticed it was morning while he was dragging his feet to the foot of his stairs, using the little energy he gained from a restless night. He reached for the bannister for help when he heard the turn of a knob from above, followed by the slight creaking that aged hinges make. Suddenly Roger was alert again, and he remembered the night before, the stranger at sunset. He looked up to see a cloaked figure emerging from the extra bedroom and begin down the stairs in a gliding fashion. He met the stranger face to face at the bottom step.

          “Excuse me,” the stranger said.

          Roger hadn’t realized he was blocking the way, he was on high-alert but he regained composure. “Well I thought you’d be able to float through me, the way you move around.”

          He managed a chuckle, to which the stranger replied with a smirk. The stranger made his way to the door from whence he came. “Thank you,” he said as he glided back over the threshold, never to be seen again, or so Roger hoped.

          “Damn thieves,” Roger said. “Probably took some of my knick-knacks from that extra room.”

 

Edited by Benjamin Marcher

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