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Who's Afraid?

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Lexie finally wasn’t scared about being followed home by the Night Butcher, even during the solitary walk from the Woodlands Centre on campus after her evening class.  She had all but forgotten about waking up at 3a.m. to check the deadbolt, until she reached the door of her apartment and found that it was open.

The black line between the frame and the green door threatened of an intruder just beyond the threshold.  News blurbs flooded back into her imagination: Random victims, predatory behavior, multiple stab wounds, dismemberment, cannibalism.  Lexie whipped her little pack from behind her back, unzipped and fumbled for her cell phone.  She was about to dial Mom but hesitated.

Stupid, stupid baby, ran the thought.  You always cry to Mommy at every bump in the night.  The fantasy of her big city life vanishing the second she made the call, Mother would empty the bank account and leave only enough for a bus ticket back to tiny Coquille, where Alexandra belonged and wouldn’t worry about any criminal mischief!

Lexie made that expression of defiance developed since childhood.  She scrunched up her lips and nose so her freckles blobbed together.  “You rushed out and left the door open,” she admonished.  “And it wasn’t the first time, neither.”  Braced with enough courage to put the phone away, she swallowed to drown the hummingbird thrumming in her chest, pushed the door and stepped into the darkness of her living room.  “I’m home!” she barked then went dead silent.  The street lamp outside created menacing, bulky shapes out of the furniture.  The stillness revealed nothing.

Lexie slid her pale, slender hand along the wallpaper until she found the light switch and flicked on the overhead lamp.  Lexie’s gaze took in every lurking shadow; shadows cast by the 24” television and squat bookshelf.  There was the familiar green recliner and the ugly beige couch with a coffee stain and that guilty cigarette burn.

The kitchen tucked itself anxiously into the left corner.  The floor tiles glowed amber.  The countertops were spotless but crowded with the toaster oven, electric burner and knickknack bowl cluttered with receipts and junk mail.  Lexie slinked against the wall.  Her fingers twisted the chords of her red hoodie as she peeked around the blind corner.  She balked, stepping backwards.  Her elbow jostled the round wooden bowl nearly sending it crashing to the floor.  There was a gleam of metal, the sharp reflection from the swan neck faucet.

Lexie turned, took off her pack and tossed it on the sofa.  The closet leered from the left corner, taunting with what it might conceal.  She pulled her hoodie up and over her head and crept forward.  Her breath rose to a near panic as she gripped and twisted the doorknob, flinging the door open.  Her hands jerked and she lost hold of her hoodie.  The thick arms of an eiderdown coat reached out as the garment sprung from its hanger and fell limply to the floor.  An umbrella with a pointed tip clattered across it.

There was one place left in this small apartment unclaimed.  Lexie turned her attention to the hallway, a black diagonal slash lined where the strength of the living room lamp failed and the darkness ruled.  It reminded her of the gaping mouth of a crocodile, as if it might snap down and swallow her up.  The bedroom door was partly open and the gloom within was sinister.  She began to shiver.  She reached out her small hand into the shadows to feel along the wall for the switch.  She groped, fearing the sudden strike of a knife blade.

Something grazed her hand, it was cool and smooth.  Lexie swore in a gasp.  She gripped the object and pulled.  A pair of tinkling bells broke the silence.  The porcelain carnival mask clattered to the ground, chipping at the rounded corner.  It took a few breaths before she could muster enough strength to slip her tender fingers into the darkness.

Lexie met the light and flicked it on.  In that instant the room was bare of secrets.  There was her bed with the floral pattern, her vanity mirror with the ballerina music box and Grandma’s antique wardrobe.  She blushed in embarrassment.  “My, what a big imagination you have!” she chortled, flopping down in front of her vanity mirror to take the braids out of her red hair.

The music box jingled a tune from Swan Lake.  Lexie hummed as her fine-toothed brush loosened tangles.  She didn’t notice the wardrobe open ever so slightly and two big eyes peering at her from behind a rubber wolf mask.  She didn’t even flinch as a large hand slipped from the gap, until the butcher knife flashed in the light.

 

Joshua is an artist and writer teaching English in Jakarta. He has had an article published in Jakarta Java Kini and artwork in Jalan Jalanmagazine. Originally from the United States, he has been living in Indonesia for eight years.

 

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