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Authors: John Everson

The Pumpkin Man (8 page)

BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
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Jenn plodded barefoot across the room and opened the closet. It had been emptied. Good. She'd started to wonder last night, given the number of things still left in the front room, if her dad really had gotten rid of any of Meredith's belongings when he'd come out. She knew he'd wanted the place to have a furnished feel for rental, but she'd been surprised he left all the candles and books.

Looking at her suitcase, she considered emptying it and then closed the closet. She'd unpack after breakfast.

There was a second door on the same wall as the closet, and she got excited. That'd be nice if she had a master bath! She unzipped the top pouch of her luggage and pulled out her bathroom things, and then walked over to try the door. Locked!

Question: who locks their bathroom?

Answer: Jenn's crazy aunt.

She set her toiletries on the rumpled bed and looked atop the dresser, but no keys were in sight; there were only a couple of old lamps on either end and a couple of small velvet drawstring
sacks that she assumed were potpourri holders. She opened all the drawers and confirmed that her dad had emptied the dresser completely.

At a noise from the other end of the house, Jenn walked out to find Kirstin in the kitchen, already dressed and rooting around in the pots-and-pans cabinet. “Hey, sleepyhead! Been making a list for our run to town. We've got all the plates, bowls, pots and stuff we need, but we didn't think to stop yesterday and pick up any actual food. No breakfast until we get in the car.”

“Do we have a coffeemaker?”

Kirstin nodded. “Not very useful without coffee, though. Already on the list.”

Jenn scanned the listed items, which already included all the basics: eggs, bread, coffee, milk, cereal, hamburger, vegetables.

“Huh,” she said. “I thought I was the practical one.”

“Yeah, well . . . I figured you needed me right now to help get your feet back on the ground. Then I can be my old flighty self again.” She tousled Jenn's knotted hair. “Now, go. Get your shower so we can go to the store. I'm starving!”

The road to town was a lot more enjoyable in the daytime. They could actually see the blue of the ocean from the gravel path that led away from the house, and when they passed the gate and started on the steep one-lane road down the hill to the center of town, Kirstin gasped.

“Holy shit, that's gorgeous.”

The picturesque town was nestled along the last bend in the Russian River, and on the far side, a thin strip of land ascended in another tree-lined rocky hill. To the north, the river suddenly opened up into the endless blue of the ocean.

“I can see why she didn't come to Chicago much,” Jenn said. “Wow.”

There was one main road through the center of town: Route 1, which ran along the coast down to San Francisco. Aside from a few houses ascending the western hill, the other visible buildings were a couple bed-and-breakfasts along the waterfront, a gas station with its windows plastered with signs for bait and beer, and a small general store that boasted the very original name General Store.

Jennica and Kirstin pulled into the five-space parking lot and went inside. Bells jangled on the heavy wooden screen door. They saw makeshift shelves lining the north wall, piled with everything from bags of charcoal to dog food. A handful of freestanding shelves divided the store center, and a refrigerated dairy section was visible in back. The front of the store served as the deli and meat display, the dominant theme of which seemed to be fish.

An older couple sat at what appeared to be a repurposed patio table. The man was reading a newspaper as the woman drank coffee.

“Can I help you?” a voice asked before the door bells stilled. A short, middle-aged man in glasses and a white apron stepped into the main room from an open doorway in back. He took his place behind the deli near what appeared to be the store's only cash register.

“We're just picking up supplies,” Jenn said, and turned away from him into one of the aisles. She hated it when salespeople watched her shop. It was like they were just waiting for her to stick something in her purse.

“We got plenty of those,” the man replied. “We get a lot of hikers and campers out this way.”

“Oh, we're not camping,” Kirstin volunteered. “We just moved here from Chicago.”

“Really,” the proprietor said, suddenly looking more interested. “Well, my name's Travis.” He held out a hand. “Travis Lupe. I'd be happy to give you the lay of the land if you've got any questions.”

Kirstin walked up and shook his hand. Then she leaned an elbow on the white Formica countertop, affording Travis an easy glimpse down her loose, low-cut T-shirt. Cleavage bought Kirstin a lot, and she never hesitated to use it.

“Is there anything to do around here at night?” she asked, raising an eyebrow hopefully.

“Well, um . . .” Travis stammered, clearly caught between his desire to look down her shirt and trying to focus on Kirstin's question. “There's a fish fry over at the Bowery House on Friday nights. And once in a while a band comes up and plays Casey's, the bar on Fourth Street. If you want music, though, you really need to drive over to Santa Rosa or down to Point Reyes Station. The Saloon there has a lot of bands that come up from San Francisco. Or you can just hop on the 101 and go down to San Francisco. Kind of a hike for just a night out, but people do it.”

“So, what do you do for fun?” Kirstin asked.

“I like to read,” he replied. His face flushed a little, and Kirstin stifled a smile. It was so easy sometimes to rile men up. “A lot. And I watch a lot of movies. We rent them here at the store.” He pointed to a wall of DVDs behind the seated couple. “I've seen most of those, I suppose, but we get new ones in all the time if you want to rent them. There's one called
Land of the Dead
that has some great zombies in it. I really like those
movies, too,” he volunteered. “Makes you kind of afraid to turn the lights out at night. Have you seen them?”

“Nah,” Kirstin said. “I don't stay in much. Figured you'd have a couple bars and some beaches to check out at least.”

“Bars? Well, I don't know if Casey's is going to be your speed,” Travis admitted, risking an obvious glance at her breasts, “but
they'll be glad to see you. And there are more rocks than beach here, but plenty of water. Where are you staying?”

Kirstin pointed at Jenn. “We're at her aunt Meredith's place up at the top of the hill. She inherited it a couple weeks ago, so we thought we'd spend some time here, see if we liked it.”

Travis flinched. Across the room, the old man set his newspaper down.

“Meredith Perenais?” Travis asked.

Jenn walked up behind Kirstin with a roll of paper towels and a box of corn flakes. She'd been following the conversation, amused that Kirstin couldn't enter a room without stalking anything male that happened to be there. “Yeah,” she said. “Did you know her?”

When she extended her hand and gave her name, the clerk shrugged and gave a feeble shake. “Everyone knows everyone here—at least a little bit,” he said.

A deeper voice came from across the room. “You planning on staying here long?”

It was the man at the table, and Jenn realized the old couple was staring intently at her. “We don't know yet,” she said.

“Well, don't,” the old man advised. The pale blue of his eyes flashed like ice. “You go back to where you came from and live a happy life.”

Jenn opened her mouth to answer, then stopped. She wasn't really sure what to say. Travis didn't help either; his eyes roved from her to Kirstin and back, as if trying to memorize every bit of them while he had the opportunity.

She nudged her friend. “C'mon. Let's get what we came for.”

She and Kirstin gathered their supplies, cans of beans and corned beef hash, returning every few minutes to stack things on the counter as the store wasn't large enough to have shopping carts. Travis didn't say anything more, and the atmosphere in
the store seemed to have grown patently unfriendly. Jenn could feel eyes on her back as she moved through the aisles.

As they checked out, Travis nodded, one curl of his wavy black hair jittering nervously over his ear. Jennica had to stifle a grin.

“You take care,” he said. “Let me know if you need anything at all.”

They put the groceries in the back of the car and climbed in themselves, and Jenn looked at Kirstin with raised eyes. “What was
all about?”

“Oh, I'd say Travis likes me.”

“Not that.
likes you. I meant the old guy!”

“He probably likes me, too!” Kirstin laughed. Then she looked nervous. “I'd say your aunt wasn't very popular around here. Probably because she was a witch.”

“Not exactly the welcome wagon,” Jenn agreed.

“Yeah, and Casey's isn't sounding like it's going to be a great hangout, either.”

Jennica eyed her moping friend. “I warned you that Meredith didn't exactly live in the center of civilization. But I'm sure Travis will watch George Romero movies with you and hold your hand when you get scared.”

“Lovely,” Kirstin answered. “I can feel a trip to San Francisco coming on.”

“Well, we have to return the rental this week anyway. You can follow me down in Aunt Meredith's car and we'll check it out.”

The girls spent the rest of the day unpacking and settling in, stocking the fridge and putting their clothes away. Jenn felt a little strange filling her aunt's drawers with her own socks and panties and bras. She had to keep telling herself, “This is my
place now.” But it didn't feel like it. There was too much of her aunt still here. And too many snakes! She picked up a silver serpent from the top of the dresser and shoved it in a drawer. There'd been a ceramic statue on the kitchen counter, too. Meredith had apparently been into collecting them.

Jenn unwrapped a silver frame with a photo of her dad and propped him on the dresser. At least that made it look a little more like her room. Of course, it also made her taste the draught of sadness again. As much as she'd been independent, every time she thought of him being gone a pain spread across her chest. He'd been her anchor. Distant, but solid. Whenever she'd had a problem, she knew she could count on him to help her solve it. Now there was nobody.

“Jenn, do you know how to work this can opener?”

She grinned to herself. Okay, maybe there was
but the help was usually going in the opposite direction. She walked to the kitchen and helped her friend position the can correctly, then pressed the handle of the mechanical opener to make the can chug around until the lid popped off.

“Sometimes you're really blonde,” she observed. She pulled open the kitchen utensil drawer and in a moment held up a manual can opener. “Why didn't you just use this?”

Kirstin just shrugged.

Jenn laughed and put the opener back. Something else in the drawer caught her eye, though, so she opened it farther.

“Huh,” she said, reaching in. A key hung from a tiny nail three-quarters of the way back. “I wonder what this goes to.”

Kirstin took it from her and walked to the kitchen door, which she opened. Trying the key in the outer lock, it wouldn't go in. “Not the back door,” she observed. “Maybe the front?”

They walked to the front room, but the key didn't work there either.

“I bet I know,” Jenn said, and led Kirstin down the hall. “Try
it on that.” She pointed to the locked door she'd discovered in her bedroom. “I thought it might be a bathroom this morning, but it's locked.”

“Who locks a bathroom from the outside?” Kirstin laughed and tried the key. It slipped in easily. “Ha!” she exclaimed. She twisted the knob and pulled the door open.

Jennica screamed, and both girls jumped back three feet.

“What the hell is that?” Kirstin whispered, staring at the dark shape beyond. Its eyes stared straight at them. The teeth were bared, ready to bite.

BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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