Knock. Knock. Eyeholes reveal eyes. A mass of black in the centre, the iris circles the cosmos. Tap. Tap. The thud of cracked wood. Gravitational waves are created by two black holes swallowing each other. I’m pale. A spill on the walls. Blood? Water? The summer brings its heat in with stillness. A vacuum is created whenever I stand on the threshold of someone else’s house. The dark matter of conversations.
I took my pills. My therapist has changed my meds again. When I look in the mirror my eye pulsates with energy; it expands, it contracts…if I’m a trail of light, I’m fading into brightness. I’m pale. My name tag has only one entities name on it. There should be more! It makes an insect-like noise. A clicking. Joe Weber. My thumb is a little singed from the experiment I did last night. I knock at the door and an eye is produced. The eye on the other side looks at my beetle black and I his.
I see the eye in that moment. It was a curious eye, nothingness in the pupil, and the magnified patterns of the universe. Then it disappeared into oblivion but I could hear the multitude of door chains, locks, and springs coming loose. This is a 2,000 sq. foot house. If this guy is as paranoid as I think he is, he might even take the dryer-vent cleaning too (do you know most house fires start because the dryer vent is clogged?) or maybe the special hypo allergic© cleansing pneumatic tube. (we’ll spray 99.99% of allergens away, so you don’t have an allergic reaction to dust, pollen, fungus spores, etc. and that’s a guarantee!). Yes! That should make my quota. Maybe an extra commission? It always helps to prey on people’s fears. People buy things if they are scared. The door opens slightly and a corner of a face appears shrouded by darkness.
“Hello sir, do you have a moment?” I said in that cool and confident way. The new meds kick in and provide a special kind of upper effect that helps me pretend. Pretend that I don’t have a hundred voices in my head bursting to come out. It wasn’t always easy to pretend; but the product isn’t me anymore, the product is Duct-cleaning. The pretense is there, and it is all around us and I choose to pretend to be a salesman, for now, and I knock on this door to sell something.
“What do you want?” the man whispers.
“Sir, we are actually around the area and talking to your neighbors about something very important,” I said, I always create an aura of suspense about what I’m doing at someone else’s doorstep. The house had piqued my interest. It looked run down from afar. The roofing was a bit off, the windows looked bleak, driveway unpaved and wooden planks on the front entrance felt unstable at best. This house needs renovations…badly. In this business, it’s best to sell duct-cleaning options to houses that might need renovations because they are spending the extra bit of cash to make their houses look good, might as well make the house cleaner on the inside as well, they think. Human behavior, however, irrational can still be predictable at least on the superficial level.
“What are you selling?” He said, eying me with suspicion.
“Well, sir, we’re talking to people about the importance of Duct-cleaning. Oh! By the way, you see that house over there.” I usually point to the house farthest from the eye-line. “That house has already chosen our services.” This is a bold-faced lie but it helps with gaining credibility. The reason is simple; people rarely talk to their neighbors, let alone keep up with their affairs, but still, for some reason— they trust their neighbor’s judgment on important life matters. This by extension leads to them trusting me. The salesman.
“By the way my name is Joe, Joe Weber and I’m from the Aeolus Core, and we take care of houses for duct-cleaning and ensuring our clients are living free from dust, pollution, and allergen and ensuring that your house is as easy to breathe as the wind outside.” What a load of bullshit but the tagline had some potential.
The guy was looking at me up and down and finally pulled the door open to reveal himself. To call him an archetype of a recluse would be a gross generalization but he was very close. Wife beater brown stains, moppy hair balding in the middle and bifocal square rimmed glasses (that’s why his eyes looked gigantic!); khaki shorts, with white stains, which I was hoping was due to him dry walling, but not likely. I could also see his toes sticking out of pink flip-flops.
“I don’t think I need duct-cleaning,” he said, scratching his belly.
“Sir, I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name?” I said, with a polite smile.
“Syzlak, Tom Syzlak,” he said.
“Nice to meet you, Tom” I motioned for a handshake. His hand levitated towards mine and gripped very loosely and holding it for only a moment or two, but in that time, I felt a strange familiarity to him.
“So, Tom, typically we recommend houses do an overall cleaning at least once every three years. Let me ask you something when you are trying to cool your house right now, does it take long for your house to reach that perfect polar temperature?” I paused, letting it sink in.
“Well, yeah it does,” he said, in a thoughtful manner.
“To be honest, Tom, in this heat you need a whole lotta cooling,” I said flapping my collar; exaggerating the sweat stains on my red uniform. “And, in the same breath, is it harder for you to stay warmer on those cold nights?” I said with an expressive face mimicking the weather effects as I went on.
“Well, the wife does complain about the thermostat a lot…” He said. I was surprised that a woman would even let this shriveled man touch her. “You know women, never happy with anything.” He chuckled.
I did a small chuckle too. However, I being a staunch feminist objected to this loose generalization of women, I didn’t appreciate this comment and I was going to make him pay for it. Pay for it through his wallet, and if necessary, by other means as well. I did my best fake laugh. I usually count backwards to distract the voices that have a violent tendency.
“And sir looking at your house, without any disrespect to your upkeep abilities, might you also be considering doing some fixtures, repairs?”
“Well, the wife does complain about nothing being fixed around here and there’s this strange tap, tap that just doesn’t stop.”
“Well, sir sounds to me like I came to your house for a reason then. eh?” I chuckled; take the crumbs out of my hand you dirty, diseased inbred cunt. Stop it. The voice was so loud in my head I felt like he had heard it. “Aeolus Core does also provide other maintenance services as well,” I said, thanking the universe to have delivered a commission in my hand. “So I can definitely refer you to our plumbing department, but first, I need to take a look at your furnace and write-up an estimate.” This is too easy.
“Hmmm…” He thought about it for a couple of seconds. If he had a wife, she probably makes all the decision for him so he could sit back and not do anything. The real trick to selling or salesmanship is timing. You have to leave a space for silence when they are on the line between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and then when they are at the absolute edge… you offer a pillow so they can sleep with their decisions. “It will only take a couple of minutes and I’ll throw in an extra discount just for you.”
“Pfft, sure might as well. Come in” he said, finally, pulling the door open.
“Thank you,” I said, pulling up my tool belt a little in a dramatic way. I entered the dark space of the house and I was welcomed with a smell of turtle wax. The room was decorated as expected, with shabbiness and a certain disorganization that felt preordained. The staircase was littered with debris of cartons, and little statuettes, which made for a unique obstacle course. The sofa was embalmed in a plastic wrap of sorts but still had stains of greasy food and cat fur. Déjà Vu, I saw this place before, I feel like I have been here already. There was garbage everywhere. Newspaper clippings. Coffee cup holders. Emptied beer cans. Stacks of paper, receipts, and weird books just lying on the floor. Perhaps he needed more than duct cleaning.
“So how come you guys are going door to door, in these days especially. Must be tough?”
“Yeah, it can be,” I said looking around for any wild creatures that might emerge from the husks of pizza boxes in the corner. “And to be honest with you nobody looks at flyers, and we do actually have a presence on social media too but it’s just that no one really updates their status about duct-cleaning you know?
“He-he-He, you’re a funny guy” he laughed in a very high pitched manner.
“Thank you, Tom. Yeah, so we do reach out to people like this and I tell you with sincere honesty. I just like helping people”. I said, and all the voices simultaneously got caught in a fit of laughter. “So where’s the basement?” I cleared my throat.
“Yes, it’s behind there” he pointed to a rusted door as if it had water damage. “Please, enter” he turned the knob and pointed to the dark underbelly that led to his basement.
I made the first step on the stairs and I was hit with a pungent smell of bleach. I hope he does the laundry down there because it looks a little unlikely he does laundry at all and you know what they use bleach for right? Shhh! I whisper to the distant voice in my head. My voices have their own imagination now. Disposing Dead bodies. Not now. My footsteps make a sound that rats make when you burn their tails off. The stairs are thin wedged between hollow spaces, usually in utility rooms. The reality tunnel keeps going deeper. I hate these kind of steps because they can allow someone from beneath to pull you under. It was also disconcerting that he was walking behind me. I could hear the drone of the furnace, murmuring in the background.
“So how long have you and the wife been here in this house?” I change the subject, hoping to distract myself of the dread I was feeling.
“Oh, we’ve always been here”
“Oh, which reminds me she’s probably downstairs. Let me get her out of the way for you. Margaret! Margaret!” he ran past me to fetch her. I was a little relieved, that he was not breathing down on my neck. He runs ahead and turns underneath the base of the stairs.
“Oh, there you are, great, we have someone who’s going to check the furnace, remember how you were saying that it wasn’t cold enough.” He says, I was curious to see what this little man’s wife looked like. You’ll be surprised, let’s just put it that way. I turned around to see in the corner the man was holding a little doll. The doll was as big as a 6-year-old child; it had twin black pigtails, with an expression of perpetual wonder. It was wearing a blue sky skirt, with a frilly collar.
“She says that you better give us a good estimate.” He said.
I didn’t know what to say, what to do. You are such a hypocrite, you hear voices in your head and you’re judging him? Flight or fight.
“Sure, where’s the furnace?” I said. I couldn’t take my eyes of that doll, or his wife. I was completely frozen.
“It’s over there, anyway, Margaret said that I should make some tea or coffee for you, so I’ll just leave Margaret over here. Bye, Sweetie”
“No, it’s ok…I’m good. Sir, it shouldn’t take me that long.”
“Nonsense, it’s so warm outside do you want a cold one?”
“Sorry, sir, I’m working… if you insist I’ll just have some coffee.”
“Ok, I’ll be right back.”
I quickly set down my tools. The objective here is to open the furnace and show the filter. If the filter hasn’t been changed, it usually gets very dusty. All I have to do is convince him that the dusty filter is representative of the entire ductwork system in the house. It’s clogged with dust, debris, spores, bacteria and fungus …and all I want to do is leave as soon as possible. He had seated the doll on the chair right behind me. My hands shaking, uncontrollably. This was perhaps the strangest person I have ever met. The strangest situation I’ve ever been in. I was using the screwdriver as quickly as possible to loosen it faster; while, my periphery was on the staircase and the doll on the seat. My forehead was sweaty, I also didn’t wear my protective glove and sure enough…
“Ahh!” I accidently pierced my finger. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” I took out a handkerchief but the blood was dripping, I quickly started wrapping it and as soon as I turned around. The doll was missing. On the quantum level, anything is possible! This is too weird, I’m getting out of here, I rushed up the stairs and then something pulled my feet and I fell with a heavy thud. The doll was back in its chair. I looked at it closely. There was a spotting of blood from on its collar. What are you trying to tell me, Margaret?
“What was that? You ok in there, Joe?”
“Yeah Tom, just putting everything together”
“Ok will be there in a minute, hope Margaret is keeping you entertained?”
“Yes, Tom. She is,” I replied. I looked at the doll closely. Then it whispered to me. The truth. I listened to it.
“Hey, Joe, I didn’t ask you how much sugar you wanted. I assumed you’d like to have two.” His steps were precise, even if he was wearing flip flops. I had returned to the furnace, stooping down in fake observance. I could hear the jangle of his footsteps.
“Two is fine. Can you come over here, sir?” I said motioning to him with my right hand.
“Sure, is there anything wrong?” he said putting the coffee on my right hand.
“If you can bend down here sir you can look at the amount of dust, debris and general rottenness in the system,” I said making way for him to look at.
“Let’s see here…” He bends down to look at the filter. I stand up to look down at him and he looks pathetic. “It’s all messed up down there.”
It was very easy to do what I did. I slammed the hot coffee on his head and it made a horrible crash. The angry voices had taken over. A strange ringing sound made it impossible to hear his cries. I jammed the screwdriver repeatedly in his throat. Blood spread like a repressed soda can, bursting and bursting. The flesh, the red eventually it was just gooey mush and I stopped till it was all puddle. Throw it in the vent! Throw it in the vent! I retreated. The voices told me to do it. The screwdriver is in the central unit. The doll told me to do it! The doll told me to do it! Oh, god. In the corner, in the darkness. I see the walls. Blood? Or water? I hear the Tap. Tap. Tap. It is overbearing. I saw Margaret in the corner her face she was still in awe and she said thank you. After an hour or so in the darkness, I collected my thoughts. I went up those dingy stairs and went outside. I had changed m medication recently; I went to the doorstep and dialed the cops.
“911,What is your emergency?”
“I murdered a pedophile in self-defense,”
“I murdered a pedophile, he was hiding the bodies in the duct work, is that good enough for you? Call your buddies here, NOW!”
After the police came they questioned me for a couple of hours. They asked me, how I knew that man was a pedophile. I told them it was in the ductwork. The remains. The body parts. The children. The blood, the blood. Tap. Tap. Knock. Knock. I was there in the questioning room. I knew I had gone too far with the stabbing. There was no way I could plead self-defense. After the mess, I left. It was too messed up. I was waiting in the room with mirrors where I could see myself. My eyes sunken, black as an uncaring universe. Did the people behind the class perceive who I was? I wondered. Then a woman with a badge appeared in the room. Her features were square like, her hair in a bun, a black pant suit which was stripped, and a blouse with black dots on it. She could’ve been a Rorschach test.
“Hello, Mr. Weber,” The woman said without any expression as she reads the folder and places it between his armpits. “I’m Sergeant Sauvé, Elise Sauvé”.
“So what are you charging me with?” I asked, not wanting to create suspense.
“We aren’t charging you with anything”
“You aren’t charging me with anything? Didn’t you see the mess…?”
“You helped us catch him.”
“Catch… him?” I replied, confused.
“Yes, Mr. Syzlak is in our custody. He was a registered sex offender; it was easy enough to get a warrant when we got the tip from you. We excavated his house. He had body parts in the ductwork. He was a person of interest in the recent strings of missing children” she said. “And because of you, Mr. Weber, we got to him in time. We just had to question you because you claimed you killed him; there was no blood residue on your nails, shirt or body. It’s just police protocol to hold you up till we know for certain that you hadn’t murdered anyone. You saved a lot of lives by giving this information, which is why we’re not pressing charges on you– consider it a courtesy– but this will not be extended to you in the future…” She said in a blunt manner. “Having said all that, how did you come to know about the bodies?”
“I looked inside the basement,” I said in a casual manner.
“Well, sir, we have reason to believe you were never inside the premises, in fact, your story of the basement never happened. The basement had been sealed shut, it was flooded, and we did a background check with your psychiatrist, you had a change of meds, recently, so we’ll chalk it up to that for now… side effect of clairvoyance” She offers me a sarcastic wink. “However, Mr. Weber, I might have a few questions for you later down the road but for now, you’re free to go.” She says with a smile.
I sat there motionless, unable to comprehend.
“Is there anything else, you’d like to say?
“No, officer, I’m good. I’ll go now. Call me if you need anything.” I said in haste.
“Good, here’s my card if you remember what actually happened.” She passes it to me with an all-knowing smile and I shoot out of there as fast as I can. I think I heard her laugh as I exited that place.
My mind was hazy afterward. I think I took a cab ride. I popped one of my pills. Feeling a little bit more upbeat. The apartment was colder than usual and the voices had attained a higher volume. I went to the washroom looking at the mirror above the sink. My eyes were bright, the distance of the light between the individuals that inhabited my head had increased. The cockroach came out of the drain, trying to climb out of the wash basin. Its reality was there. Trapped in a space filled with dread, chaos, and absurdity. It was making that clicking noise. It’s whispering my name again. Picking it up, I clicked my lighter. I could hear it scream, and another voice died.
© A.R. Minhas 2016
love the story, and the writing…. thanks
Thank you, Tony. 😃