As usual, all the windows of the house were open, catching the evening breeze.
As usual, all the lights were on, drawing swarms of bugs and casting
a warm glow on the man sitting on the plastic chair in the garden. Mosquitoes
didn't bother him.
The owner of the house, silhouetted by the kitchen light,
was checking the refrigerator for something cold to drink.
He called across the window to the man outside. "Do you want anything, Doc? A Bloody Mary, perhaps?" He picked up a can of beer for himself.
"Not with this heat, Harry, thank you. It would go straight to my head."
He leaned more comfortably on his chair, the head thrown back, looking at the
full moon. A plane passed low overhead, on its final approach to the nearby airport.
Doc checked his watch. "Shall we walk to the beach? The air is still quite warm."
Harry watched thoughtfully out of the window. "Maybe another time, Doc. You are
not the only one enjoying the moonlight. The beach will be too crowded."
He eyed the shadows gathered under the elm tree on the other side of the road -
teenagers, judging by the occasional laughter.
He swatted a mosquito on his forearm. "Besides, I'd get bitten to death."
Their evening conversations always started like this - politely refusing each other's offers.
"You spend all the evenings holed up in your house. And you would complain
about overcrowding even if you were the last man left alive on Earth."
Harry groaned. "This looks like one of your usual mind games, the kind that
lasts till dawn." He opened his beer and took a sip to hide his annoyance.
"Come on, humor me, I'm curious. What would you do if you realized that you are the last living soul left?"
"I don't know. I'd probably take my car and head west, starting
early in the morning, looking for signs of life, just to be sure. I don't think that
traffic jams or speeding tickets will be a problem in this case, so I'll
probably cover a lot of ground in twelve hours.
If I don't meet anyone before sunset, I'll blow my brains out. Walking on a graveyard world is worse than being dead. I'd feel like a ghost."
Doc raised his head, frowning. Harry was still in the kitchen, his back to the bright
light, so his expression was hidden. "I thought you wouldn't give up like - like a child frightened of the dark. You shouldn't even consider suicide as long as there are alternatives. As your psychiatrist -"
"You aren't my psychiatrist."
A pause. "True, but you are my patient, no matter what you think."
Doc relaxed back on the chair. "If you want some advice, I would suggest driving east
and then follow the coast. It's easier to find survivors on small islands, and they would
try smoke signals during the day. Why, you'll probably do best to ditch your sport car
and get a boat, hopping from one island to the next, sailing towards the sunrise. This
way you'll get far more than a day to look for other people."
A line of ice ants crawled on Harry's spine.
He can't possibly know. He just wants to see how I react.
"I get seasick on a wet pavement, Doc" he said. Was it a little too loud?
Doc checked his watch again, feigning disinterest.
"Oh, but in this hypotetical situation, you'll have plenty of time to practice. You'll
have whole days to plan your search mission - learning to swim, to sail a boat, to
read a nautical chart..."
Harry's mind was racing. Why was Doc telling him these things? Had he been careless?
He cannot follow me on my trips. Even he must sleep.
The plans are on my desk. He cannot get to my desk.
A police car rolled silently in the background, on patrol. After a while Doc spoke.
"Of course, if you managed to find other people, maybe a woman, this could open
some interesting Adam-and-Eve scenarios. It was telling that you talked about
suicide instead of some nice happy ending, two people safe on an island, with
a hut they could call home..."
He cannot possibly know about Helene. He knows where she lives, it's within driving
distance after all, but he can't know that we keep in touch. Unless somebody monitored
the CB radio. No, everyone is asleep when we talk.
The police car stopped near the elm tree, and two agents approached the teenagers.
One of the girls yelled obscenities, then the whole group started chanting Harry's name,
over and over, giving him a much-needed excuse to change topic.
"My loyal fans. Can you believe that they still try to enter uninvited?"
"The fireworks must be a sight." The teenagers disbanded, the police car rolled away. Doc checked his watch for the third time.
"Are you worried about staying up too late, Doc?" snapped Harry.
"No, they sound an alarm at 5 AM now, nobody can miss it. I was actually waiting
for a person - I've invited a woman, I hope you don't mind. You must be tired of talking only to me."
"Who's the surprise guest this time? My ex-wife again? I told you that I don't want
to see that damned bloodsucker."
"You were very rude to her" said Doc, with an irritating look of disapproval. "You didn't even invite her inside. Can't you understand what she needs?"
"Besides a stake through her heart, you mean?"
"That was tasteless. Anyway, you've never met the person that I've invited. In fact - ah, here she is."
Harry noticed a shadow behind Doc, walking uncertainly towards the house.
He leaned on the windowsill, trying to make sense of patterns of darkness,
until the lights from his house revealed a young woman. He had never seen her
face, but he recognized her voice at once when she called his name, softly.
He stood perfectly still while she run to him and tried to hug him across
the open window. Flashes of acid light threw her backward, burning her hands and etching
nightmare images on Harry's retinas.
Puzzled, hurt, Helene turned to Doc, who was shaking his head sadly.
"You, of all people, should remember the injunction that keeps us from entering a house without being invited.
But there is no need to worry - this is the last place on Earth where we are not welcome."
Harry's shock was giving way to desperation. "This is not true! Helene - you were
in touch with other people, you told me about them - Father Mateo, the Sergeant -
there is still somebody alive!"
Helene's chuckles were cut short by Doc's sharp glance. "Mateo was a fool," she
said. "He set fire to his own church, by accident. He had the choice to
burn alive, or to go outside. His faith didn't help him."
She smiled like a
schoolgirl. "The Sergeant went mad a couple of days ago, and attacked the agents
outside. Please forgive me if I kept the bad news to myself." The voice was Helene's, the tone belonged to some soulless creature who noticed
with delight that Harry's leg were becoming too weak to hold him.
Doc slowly unfolded from the chair, and came close to the window frame, careful not to touch it. "The Pakistani family fell last night. The psychiatrist assigned
to Deva whispered dreams of immortality in that silly little girl's brain, until
she invited him inside. The father was tough - he managed to destroy three agents
before they bit him. After that..." Doc put an arm around Helene's shoulder and
she turned her head slightly, still smiling, showing the fresh marks.
Harry turned his back to the kitchen wall and slid to the floor. They couldn't
see him there; neither dared to cross the line that separated the inside of the house from
the outside, so at first they thought that the noises were Harry's sobs.
He was actually laughing, in a final, desperate act of self defense: as long as he was
gasping for breath, he wouldn't be able to voice the thought that had appeared in his
mind, fully formed, unbidden. He must not be rude to guests, after all.
Come inside. Have a drink on me.
Submitted for They Hunger For Nodes: An e2 Halloween Scary Story Quest. Feedback is welcome.