by Albert Johnson
Steven was caught out in a dreary night in upstate Washington, again. The job promotion was slowly but steadily becoming less worth the relocation. He knew it as well as his kids knew it, but no one said a thing. They just kept life’s privileges in mind. This was life for the Motley family, nothing new and nothing special.
The “girl” – as Steven usually referred to his daughter – was seventeen, had a boyfriend, and was growing up too fast for her “old man.” She smiled when she called Steven that. The look on his face gave her satisfaction. She was in the final year of high school and was looking for schools on the other side of the country. NYU, Columbia, even Ithaca all the way up the east coast. She was a bit of a hidden wild child. She would give her brother a lift home from school and head elsewhere to meet Tommy. This was her routine. Her given name was Chiles, and there wasn’t a person who could tell her right from wrong. She was a sight to be seen, because of her distinct features dark hair and cat-like eyes. Her beauty drew a lot of attention in their small, upstate-California town of Cocomo Hills.
Things were different for Charlie, Steven’s only boy, who had received a lot less sorrow from his father, at least not the way he’d seen his sister have. His ideas about fun had changed recently. He’d been maturing in his own way. He would commit most of his time to boozing with buddies. He would occasionally make attempts at the ladies of the night. He was a young firecracker with nothing to lose in his mind. In his mind everything was already gone.
After the tedious drive, Steven arrived at his cul-de-sac home, hidden and eerie behind an abundance of vines and limbs. He pulled into the driveway and into the garage. A stale silence greeted him as he proceeded from the car into his home. They lived in the largest estate in Cocomo Hills. They never received visits from neighbors because the Motley family kept to themselves and only worried about themselves. Plus, everyone was aware of their notoriety and what they had been through to sustain their lifestyle.
A few years back there had been a lady of the house, Steven’s first wife and the children’s mother. She cared for them when they were sick, fed them when they were hungry, and stepped in at the perfect times of their needs. Mary Ann was her name. She always gave off an appearance of happiness. One day, she was heading home from errands around town when she came home to the most unpleasant surprise.
Brightness faded and smiles drooped. No longer were life’s simple pleasures enough anymore. They waited for her in the house. Stepping into the once-bright home, she could see the look in their eyes. “I don’t believe that my family would do anything to hurt me,” Mary Ann said over and over in her head. Their faces were not those of her family. She stepped back, repeating those words as she began to tremble.
In the Motley house, things were changing dramatically. The father’s promotion came only after the long trial, which was heavily televised and photographed. The children seemed to show little sorrow for the death of their mother.
The nation watched as Chiles and Charlie gave their versions of their mother’s death. The children looked at the cameras through callous, cold eyes.
And then it was just the three of them.
Now, Steven made his way up to his room, which contained a bed; an LCD screen, 50 inches from corner to corner; and a large wooden desk. On the desk, at his computer, facing the giant screen, he was in his lair. He spent all of his time up here and never bothered to come and check on his children. He saw them as adults and didn’t think parental supervision was necessary anymore. Few people came by the house. Perhaps activists or door-to-door salesman from time to time. As he was settling into his routine the doorbell rang, startling him.
The rumors about the family scared the neighbors so much they didn’t dare come close. Not until tonight. Chiles rushed to the door, thinking it was her boyfriend, but to her surprise it was a visitor from next door, a lady she had seen gazing at her before.
“Good evening,” the neighbor said to Chiles. Standing next to her husband, the lady said, “We are the Ellises from next door. We keep pretty busy with work and our daughter, but we realized we haven’t met our neighbors who live right next door to us. This is my husband Rich and I am Judy. We’d love to get to know your family a little better.” Showing her irritation, the girl invited the group in.
“Who is it?” the father yelled. When he heard the reply he dropped everything he was doing and came down.
“These are our neighbors from next door. Isn’t it nice of them to stop by?” said the girl with a smile on her face.
“Yes, of course. Won’t you folks come in?” Steven said in automatic response. “Can I get you folks anything to drink?” he asked.
“Yes, I’ll take scotch on the rocks,” replied Rich emphatically as if his newly introduced neighbor should have already known his preference. Steven came back with the drinks, four scotches on the rocks, and handed one to each person.
“A bit young for her to be drinking?” Rich asked.
“No, she’s a young adult, despite what most may think. You’d be surprised by their maturity level at this age,” replied Steven with a wink.
The group sat and drank and tested their wits against each other. Eventually, they felt well acquainted enough to bid each other goodbye. Steven and his daughter walked the couple to the door. The girl, under her father’s arm, said. “Come back any time.”
After they closed the door, a sigh of relief escaped father and daughter as they started back to their spots in the house. But, before they could get too far from the door, Chiles heard a light knock at the door. She was the first to reach the knob. Her father was half-way up the stairs and wasn’t coming back down. She opened it and saw the young girl from next door.
“I need a place to stay my parents are drunk and in a stupor do you think I could stay here for a few hours until they fall asleep I just saw them leave your house,” the young girl sputtered, gasping for air.
Staring down at the new visitor, Chiles invited her in. Chiles began small talk with the young girl as she led her around the corners of the dark house. She could see the amazement in the little girl’s eyes.
Hours passed and the quiet of the house was vast, not a peep to be heard. Then a knock came at the door. It was Judy Ellis. Answering the door, Steven asked, “How can I help you? I hope you haven’t come for more drinks without your husband here,” he said as an attempt at humor.
“No, no. It’s my daughter Sarah she’s wandered off,” Judy said. Hearing the urgency in her voice, Steven began to explain that he’d seen no sign of anyone coming into his home.
Not knowing what her next move should be, Judy stood in the doorway of the last house on her list.
“Why don’t you come in and I’ll fix you some coffee and we will figure out your next move,” said Steven as he led her into the family room close to the kitchen.
As Steven went into the kitchen, Judy Ellis sat alone whimpering at all the possibilities. Her only child was missing and she was drunk. Her husband was passed out and incoherent. “What kind of parents are we,” she thought to herself. Hearing the coffee-maker beep, she ventured into the kitchen to see why her host wasn’t attending to the noise. As she turned off the coffee-maker, she wondered what she was doing in such a strange house with such strange people.
She fixed a cup of coffee and lifted it to her lips to take the edge off the liquor. She didn’t remember being such a lightweight. But, before the cup could touch her lips, a hand clasped over her mouth and an arm wrapped around her body. Kicking and attempting to scream, she was dragged across the house. Struggling to get away from the grip that had a hold of her life, she began to panic. She felt like she was being dragged into a hole. She could feel the light disappearing and the ground lowering. Like looking at the sun fall away.
The dark dampness of the room she was now in made her feel like there was no way out. She was going to end her life here. Suddenly, that didn’t bother her much. The calm was a side effect of what Steven had put in her and her husband’s drinks. She knew she would no longer be able to help her daughter, probably held in a room over her head.
Again, the peace had been restored to the Motley house. There was a stir of giddiness in the air, a sweet, dewy quality after the events that were going on under this roof. Deep into the night, there was complete silence. Nothing to be said and nothing heard. This was just another night in the neighborhood with five houses to the left and five to the right. The Motley house stood in the middle of another mishap.