Not one of us expected to find the house. The sand stretched on in miles under that great, glaring sun. The road vanished into a heat haze. Nothing stirred.
"It is a house, a real fuckin’ house," said Skid. "We are saved. Saved by the Lord."
"We sure are lucky," Tommy agreed. "I could kill for a drink."
We staggered up into the shade of the house. Skid went up and rang the bell. It was a nice house, tiles on the roof, a freshly-painted door. Around back was a bit of a yard with a lemon tree and a blue swimming pool.
Skid rang the bell again.
"Let’s just go in," Tommy said. "I’m dying for a drink."
"You don’t just go in," I said. "You don’t do that."
"This is an emergency," Tommy said. He turned the knob and shoved open the door.
"Not even locked," Skid said. "They’re asking for visitors if they don’t lock their door."
It was wonderfully cool inside. The front room was spacious with brightly coloured walls and nice furniture. Some of the pieces might have been antiques.
"Very nice," Skid said appreciatively.
"Hello," I called. "Is there anybody home?"
Tommy had gone into the kitchen. I went in after him and saw him with his head in the sink, letting the water from the tap gush over it.
In a cupboard I found glasses. I got three down and told Tommy to move his head. He did and got water every where. I ran water into each glass.
WE all took long drinks. That’s when the little girl came in.
She was about eight or ten, in a yellow sun dress, bare feet. She had long blond hair and striking green eyes. She watched us all there in what must be her kitchen. She didn’t seem afraid or upset. Her expression was blank.
Tommy said, "Hey there, good looking. What’s your name?”
"Amy," she said.
"Nice House, Amy,” Skid said.
“Where are your parents?” I asked.
"Not here," Amy said.
"Well. We need to use a phone," I said. "Is that okay if we use your phone?" I felt stupid for asking. Here we’d already barged in, taken out their glasses and helped ourselves to water. It seemed a little late to be asking for anything.
Amy said, "The phone isn’t working."
"Are you sure,?" Skid said. "Our van broke down about three miles back and we need a tow truck like bad."
Amy said nothing. She disappeared back through the door.
"She doesn’t care about our van," Tommy said.
"Creepy, but hot,”," Skid said.
"I wonder where her parents are," I said.
Amy came back into the kitchen holding a cordless phone. She handed it to Skid without saying a thing. Skid hit the buttons and listened. "It sounds like it needs to be charged," he said. "You got a wall phone?"
"Maybe we should wait for your parents to get back," I suggested. "We could go sit outside. We really shouldn’t have come in here uninvited."
"Yeah sorry about that," Tommy said.
"I’m not waiting," Skid said. "By the time a truck gets here we’ll have missed the concert."
"We’re going to miss it anyway," Tommy pointed out.
"Fuck," Skid said.
I flinched and looked at Amy. She didn’t seem phased by the bad language. She didn’t look worried or afraid or anything. She said, "There’s a phone with a cord up in my parents’ room, if that’s what you need."
""Now we’re talking," Skid said. "Show me the way." He gave Amy the grin he used on women he was hoping to score with.
I should go with him, I thought. Skid could be a real ass. Not that he’d do anything to Amy.
Before I could make up my mind Amy and Skid had left the kitchen. Tommy and I listened to their footsteps ascend the stairs. Tommy opened up the fridge.
"What are you doing?"
"You can’t just eat their food.”
"You’re right,” he said. “Cause they ain’t got any food. Check it out.”
I glanced into the fridge. It was empty. And it was clean. Like new clean. Like hadn’t been used clean.
Tommy said, "I bet they have another fridge in the basement."
"I don’t know," I said. "Anyway, we had breakfast."
"That was like yesterday," Tommy said.
I said, "Well. I’ve got some cash. We can ask if there’s any food in another fridge and pay for it."
"If you want to waste your money," he said.
We waited for Skid to return. There was a digital clock over the stove and we watched it.
"We could charge our phones in here," Tommy said.
"We could if we hadn’t forgotten our chargers at the hotel," I said.
"I bet she has a charger that will work. If she ever gets back. Skid’s probably getting a blow job off her right now. She must be terrible if it takes this long.”
I knew Tommy was joking around but I couldn’t help saying, "Man, shut up. She’s like eleven.”
"What the fuck are you talking about? She’s at least twenty-two."
"You’re sunstroked, man," Tommy said.
At that moment Amy came back into the kitchen alone. She was quiet as a cat. I thought that if I were her parents I’d have to put a bell on her or something. I wondered where Skid was.
"Skid still on the phone?" Tommy asked.
"Yes," Amy said. Her face didn’t change. She looked a little bit like Pat. Pat was my sister and a really great person. Pat would hate that I was hanging out with Skid and Tommy. I was supposed to have gone home for Mom and Dad’s anniversary. Pat had planned a thing for them. Instead I decided to do this shit concert with these shit friends of mine. I felt bad.
"You have another fridge?" Tommy asked. "Like one with food?"
"Downstairs," she said.
"Thank God. I need to eat. I get really bad hunger headaches."
"Sure," she said. "I’ll show you."
"No," I said. "We don’t need to eat your food. We’ve already totally crossed some lines coming in here. We should go wait outside."
"It’s not a problem," she said.
"It’s not a problem," Tommy repeated, glaring at me.
I said, "Did Skid have trouble getting through to the towing company? I don’t think he should be on his own. I should grab him and we should go sit outside. That looks like a very nice pool. Do you swim, Amy?"
"I’ll show you the pool," she said.
I shook my head. I didn’t want to swim. I was trying to be polite. Trying to make her feel less scared. If I were in her shoes with three strange men in my kitchen I’d be jumping out of my skin.
"I’ll show you where the fridge is," she said to Tommy. "And I’ll show you the pool," she said to me.
"I can see the pool," I said. I pointed at it through the window.
"Yes," she said.
"Let’s go," Tommy said. "I can feel a headache coming on." He gave me a glare that meant I was the headache.
Amy turned and walked out of the kitchen.
"Stay," I told Tommy. But he followed her. He had a grin on, too, as if he meant to score more than food.
I debated with myself whether to follow them or stay in the kitchen or go see what was taking Skid so long. But neither Skid or Tommy would dick around with a kid. No way. But Tommy had said she didn’t look like a kid to him. That didn’t make any sense. Maybe he was right and I had gotten too much sun.
I decided I’d go upstairs and tell Skid to hurry up. If they weren’t in the kitchen when I came back down, I’d find Tommy and tell him to stop snooping for food.
So I left the kitchen, walked down the hall, and climbed the stairs. There was a lot of dust. The banisters were covered in it and there were piles on each step, except where Skid had left footprints. This bothered me. An empty fridge? Dusty stairs?
Well if she didn’t go upstairs often…And kids never cleaned. I sure as hell never did. I always made Pat do it.
I was at the top of the stairs when I realized I hadn’t seen Amy’s footprints in the dust. Only Skid’s.
I went down the hall, this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, and pushed open the door to a bedroom. There was a queen sized bed, stripped of all bedding. A phone sat on the nightstand. The nightstand was covered in dust. So was the phone. I didn’t see Skid anywhere.
I went back into the hall and saw the footprints hadn’t gone into the master bedroom, but had turned left at the top of the stairs and stopped in front of another door. A sign written in pink crayon on the door said: Trespasser’s will be eaten.
Pat had always had a great sense of humor too. I really wished I hadn’t blown her off.
I opened the door, wondering why in hell Skid would want to go into the little girl’s room. I flipped on the light and gave the room what I thought would be a quick look. Maybe Skid was in there having a nap on the bed.
He was lying on the bed. Or somebody was. Under the sheet. But no, it was too small to be Skid.
I went in and pulled back the sheet.
Thirty seconds later I was back in the kitchen. Electricity seemed to pulse inside me. "Tommy," I shouted. "Tommy get your ass up here now."
There was no answer. I stared out the window at the pool. A voice inside my head told me I had to get out of there. Forget trying to find Tommy. Just leave.
Under the sheet in the little girl’s room had been a skeleton. A real fucking skeleton.
I had to get out. I should get Amy out too.
The skeleton hadn’t been the only thing in the room. I hadn’t seen it from the door because it was on the left. But when I’d gone in to pull back the sheets I’d seen it out of the corner of my eye. I’d gotten a better look when I’d jumped about three feet after seeing the skeleton in the bed.
It was Skid. He was in the closet. A telephone cord was wound around his neck. He was dead. I could see that from his eyes.
I hadn’t realized I’d thrown up in the kitchen sink. I’d been thinking about what I’d seen. Thinking that in here, somewhere, was a killer. Thinking that I had to get out of there. I think I may have fainted. Can you faint like just a bit?
I ran some water over my face. I didn’t want to shout for Amy or Tommy and draw attention to myself. But I couldn’t walk out of there without them.
It would be like me leaving Pat on her own. I couldn’t do that. Not again.
But someone was in here. In this strange empty house.
I looked out the window. That pool looked so inviting.
"Let’s go swimming." I spun around. There she was.
She shook her head. “My name’s Patricia, moron.”
"We need to get out of here," I said. "There’s somebody really bad in here. We need to go."
"There’s no car," she said. "We can’t walk away. It’s thirty miles to the nearest neighbour. We’re totally cut off."
"I know," I said. Because I did no. It had taken forever for the ambulance to arrive.
"Come on," she said. "Let’s go."
So we went out to the pool. It was pristine.
"Want to see a flip?” Pat asked.
"No," I said, laughing. "No way."
She started to run toward the pool, ready to jump in, ready to impress me with her amazing gymnastics.
"No," I shouted. “Don’t.”
I made a leap for her. I had to catch her and stop her from jumping in. I knew she wouldn’t make the flip. She’d dive head first. Her head would strike the bottom . She’d lose consciousness and float face down and I would run around the edge of the pool like a chicken with its head cut off. Screaming for Pat to wake up and get out. Screaming and screaming instead of jumping in and getting her out myself.
When our parents got home and called emergency services, it would already be too late. Pat would already be gone forever.
"No," I said again.
"Okay," she said. Stopping right at the edge. "You first then, Moron. You first.”
"Okay," I said. "Okay, I’ll go first."
"I didn’t even care that I was fully-clothed. I didn’t think about Skid or Tommy. I didn’t think about the skeleton in the little girl’s bed. I just ran, and at the last minute jumped.
I struck the water headfirst, and tunneled down, down to the bottom. I saw a thousand different colours. Everything glowed. I was a rainbow. I was flying. I could hear my heart loud as gun shots in my ears.
"Somebody grabbed me, wrestled me out of the water. I blinked. Tommy?
"Hey," Tommy said. "You must be really hot."
"Where’s Pat?" I gasped, spitting out water.
"Amy," I said. Because it had been Amy. Not pat.
"I don’t know who you’re talking about," he said. "There’s nobody here except you me and Skid."
"Yeah," I said. "Right. I’ve had way too much sun today.”
"you can dry off while we wait for the tow truck," he said. "I found some ground beef in the fridge downstairs. I’m going to grill up some burgers. We’ll leave a couple of twenties on the table for whoever lives here. Sound good?"
"yeah," I said. “Sounds good.”
The grilling meat smelled fantastic. My folks had planned a barbecue for this weekend and I had said I was coming, right until I blew them off. I said I was studying. I’m a real shit sometimes.
I noticed that Skid had something around his neck. But he flipped the burgers and didn’t seem to mind the telephone cord.
Tommy came over and sat down across from me. He had a red hole in the middle of his forehead like a third eye. He said, "Weird huh? This place."
"Yeah," I said.
"There’s a bunch of bones," in the basement," he said casually. "Two people, looks like. Probably the parents."
My mouth went dry. "Bones?"
"yeah," he said. "Bones. And I mean, if it is the parents. We don’t need to leave those twenties."
"Tow truck will be expensive," I agreed.
"True that," Skid said.
“yeah,” I said. I was looking at the pool. A body floated in it face-down. I recognized my shirt.
“Too bad about the concert,” I said, but really, I meant my parents’ barbecue.