ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT DREARY - ROBERT MEADE
When I started seeing the old lady’s face in the window, I figured it was the booze. I finished all twelve steps of the program, but I still saw a thing or two that wasn’t there.
The old lady died last year and the house was empty. Supposedly. But the married daughter kept calling the precinct to say that someone was stripping the place at night.
A burglary stakeout isn’t very sexy. But you take what you get. I checked it out. It smelled like cat urine and mildew. Apparently in her golden years the old lady wasn’t much of a housekeeper. Why anybody would steal anything from this dump was beyond me.
But sure enough the radiators had been disconnected and lined up by the windows. Someone had ripped copper wire out of the walls and coiled it on the floor next to the radiators. So I sat in my unmarked for a few nights. Nothing.
On the third night a face appeared in the window. Wire-rimmed spectacles. Pinched mouth. Silver hair tied back in a bun. She looked a hell of a lot like Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies. I figured it was a reflection from someone else’s TV, so I didn’t pay it much mind. Besides, like I said, sometimes my brain made things up.
But later in the week the face moved around and appeared in different windows. Then it started waving to me. The front door had this little half-moon window. Sure enough, Granny was there, waving me in.
No way in hell was I going in there. I called for some backup and locked the doors to my Crown Victoria. It was midnight, the witching hour.
But then I saw a light moving around the house. I didn’t know any ghost that could pick up a flashlight. So I slipped around the side of the house and peered in. My perp was this college-looking kid with red hair and a hare-lip. He was getting ready to head out the back with a coil of wire. This rusted pick-up was parked on the back street. I figured that’s where he was headed.
I pushed open the window and pulled myself up and in. I stepped around the corner and shined my Maglite in his face.
“Police!” I identified myself. He gave me a funny look, like a first grader who just pooped his pants. He dropped the wire and threw his hands up. Apparently he already knew the drill.
I cuffed him and sat him by the cellar door.
“It’s not nice to rip off old ladies,” I told him. “Even dead ones.” He wouldn’t engage, just stared straight ahead. He was pissing me off with that smug little smirk. He’d probably get out the next morning, just in time to start planning his next caper.
I flipped open my phone to find out where the hell my backup was. The reception was terrible, so I moved over to the window.
This god-awful scream came from the vicinity of Mr. Hare-lip. I whipped around, reaching for my gun, and I saw his feet disappearing through the now open cellar door. I ran over to the top of the stairs. What I saw stopped me dead in the doorway.
This sounds impossible. I’m not sure if even I believe it. It can’t be true, but I swear it has to be. I saw it.
Granny was dragging my perp down the stairs. Only Granny didn’t resemble any cookie-baking, gingerbread lady I could remember. Granny had unhinged her jaw and put my perp’s entire head in her mouth. She was chewing him up, sucking the life out of him, as he kicked and flailed all the way down to the cellar floor. His muffled screams stopped only when Granny released him, blue and cold.
She looked up at me and smiled. Her eyes were ruby red. She started up the stairs. I pulled my gun and started firing.
The door slammed and I must have been knocked out. The next thing I knew, my backup was there, slapping me in the face, loading me into the ambulance along with a body bag that had to be my perp. After I told them my story, I had to go see the police shrink, who put me on leave. They took away my gun.
You ask me why I like this place? Why I stay? I’m not crazy. I didn’t shoot that kid like they said I did. It was Granny who took him. And Granny’s still out there somewhere, waiting for me. Sure, I could stay away from that house. Never go back.
But that don’t much matter. Granny can go anywhere she wants. I saw her in my cell window last night. The only thing that kept her outside was the bars. And my crucifix. So this little room is the one place Granny can’t get me. Why would I want to leave?
Now give me my meds. It’s going to be midnight soon. I don’t want to be awake when Granny comes gently rapping at my prison door.
BIO: Robert Meade is a transplanted Bostonian now firmly rooted in Mohegan Lake, in Westchester County, NY, with his wife and three children. He teaches at Loyola School in Manhattan. A published author of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, his work has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, The New Flesh, Microhorror, Angels on Earth, Guideposts and Apollo’s Lyre.