Welcome to the second part of the current long story cycle (Cracked Windows). The links will be laid out in sections to cut down the total number we see on each post. You will be able to follow from week to week as needed when new sections appear.
Jerome had come home from work early. He beat Arial home, parked his car in the garage and then closed it. No one could see it there, no one would know he was home. He could move about without arousing suspicion, at least, he hoped that was the case.
He wanted to have a look into the neighbor’s house, see if anyone was really living in the old place. He couldn’t tell Arial. She’d just chastise him again. But dammit, something wasn’t right and he’d be the one to figure it out.
Of course, he felt a bit foolish as he looked up and down his deserted street. No one had come home from work or school yet, not in the middle of the day, not in suburbia for Christ’s sake. Of all the places to expect strange people moving into abandoned houses. This wasn’t an after school special; it was his life. His thoughts, as he ducked and covered his way across the street and crept up on the house’s back fence.
Jerome scanned up and down the road again as he slinked up to the kitchen window. He had been in the house a couple times when old lady Marebelle was still alive. His parents had been invited over for a few parties when they had first moved into the neighborhood. How long ago had that been? His parents and old lady Marebelle had passed on since then.
He had become an orphan. Parentless at a time when he still expected them to show up for graduation, or his wedding, or maybe college. But they had been taken, killed by a drunk who should never have been allowed on the road. The memories reflected back at him through the dark window. He brought Ariel into his parent’s house before they had married. The only home he had known and what he wanted to share with her.
Dirt and grime had settled on the kitchen window in a thick layer. Even when he wiped at it with the sleeve of his shirt, he did little more than spread it around and make it worse. At the same time a chill had shot from his hand and up his arm as he wiped at the glass. He had cleared enough to get a limited view into the room beyond. What he could see through it though, was darkness. Little light escaped through the grime covered window.
He slipped away from the window to the back gate. With a twist of the latch, he pulled the gate open on rusted hinges. He cringed at a squeak that never came. The rust had taken the fight from the metal.
Sweat had beaded along his forehead and the skin on his arms puckered to gooseflesh. Jerome glanced behind himself as he stepped into the backyard, but no one had followed him, and he didn’t see anyone out on the street. He closed the gate behind him, though he couldn’t reach the latch.
This house had an unattached garage, recessed behind the house. At one point there had been an apartment built over the garage but much like the house it hadn’t been in use in years. The garage door’s wooden framework had begun to rot away at the bottom and the paint on the trim had bubbled and peeled over the past year or so.
The one window he could see through was cleaner than the kitchen window he had attempted to look through. Inside the garage it was pretty dark, almost as dark as the window into the kitchen. But he could make out a few shapes inside the building.
“Can I help you?”
He hadn’t heard him come up and jumped at the words. His heart beat hard and fast against his chest as he turned around. The man that approached Jerome didn’t match the voice. The guy was short, gruff, his face had been swallowed by a long, bushy-brown beard. “I… I … I knocked at your door, but no one answered.”
“I must have missed it…” The man crossed his arms as he looked Jerome up and down. His eyebrows crinkled together tightly.
“Jerome, Jerome Peters. I live across the street,” he said as he extended his hand. It took everything he had to control his nerves and convince his heart to return to a normal state.
“Well, Jerome Peters from across the street, maybe you should go back?”
“I never saw the sign that the house was on the market again,” Jerome said. “Are you a member of the Ankon family? Maybe a friend? What did you say your name was?”
He looked over Jerome’s shoulder at the garage. “I have matters to attend to. Now if you don’t mind, please go.”
He could hear Arial’s voice in his head, chastising him about his rudeness. He had crossed over to the neighbor’s yard; she wouldn’t let him hear the end of that. But he couldn’t just let it go. “What’re you doing in the garage?”
“Good day sir.”
It was his eyes. They had gone from a murky blue to a bright shade of green. It couldn’t have been a trick of the sun. Jerome was sure of it, as sure that he had seen them change. The man’s expression hadn’t changed but the eyes spoke of an anger that sent chills up and down Jerome’s spine. Without another word he left.
He slammed his front door closed and leaned against it when he made it back to his house. In that moment, Jerome slid to the floor gasping for breath.
“Jer? You home now?” Arial called from the kitchen. She stepped into the archway separating the living room from the dining room to see him sitting on the floor, his back against the front door. “What happened to you?”
He wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve but didn’t look at her.
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