|Versión en español
My mother-in-law's voice grated into my brain. Her screeching tone was the human equivalent to fingernails across a chalkboard. Nevertheless, I nodded and smiled at her every word. My wife had threatened to leave me two days ago, so I had been kissing her ass ever since. Plus, I really didn't have anything else to do. The mill I had worked at for seven years had shut down months ago.
We were broke. I spent most of my time, thinking about moving away to find work.
My wife and I sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and listening to all the gossip and advice my mother-in-law could spew out. I was trying to ignore the noise coming from the old bag's mouth and thinking about the disconnect notice we had received for our electricity.
Was it for the 8th or 18th?
I couldn't remember. Then the words: "....right full of cash and jewels, you know....." came from the wrinkled, overly-lipsticketed lips of my mother-in-law.
"What?" I said without thinking. My wife, Karen, looked at me like I had just tracked mud across a clean floor that she was on her hands and knees cleaning. Janice (my mother-in-law) stopped yapping and gave me similar look.
"The Hobners." Janice said bluntly, "I was talking about the Hobners."
"Haven't you been listening to mother?" My wife had to add, demanding an answer.
"Oh, yeah, " I needed to reroute this conversation fast, "Didn't you used to work for them?"
"Yes. I did. I just said, I don't know how they are getting along these days. Especially on Tuesdays when Irwin has to go for his treatments, I used to bathe and take care of his wife, Elaine. She was bad off, had a real bad stroke and couldn't move. Poor dear. I don't know how he dares to leave his wife there alone."
"What kind of treatments does he have?"
"You know I'm not sure, some kind of kidney thing. But I am really concerned. I feel like contacting someone, he's leaves her by herself every Tuesday for several hours."
"How come you don't take care of them anymore?"
"Irwin told me I thought he could handle it himself. I haven't been there for months. What do you think, dear? Do you think I should call someone?"
"No." My wife gave her standard answer that she had for everything: "I think you should just stay out of it."
"Poor old thing, she was deaf and completely blind when I left."
"What was you saying about cash?" I scratched the very top of my head.
"Oh, that's the other thing, you know old Irwin quite a collector, and he leaves cash, and jewels and valuables lying all over that house."
"Really?" I said.
The Hobner House was really a mansion. At least it was for our area; most people live in trailers and falling down shacks of houses. I had had my own experiences with the Hobners and their creepy house. Mister Hobner had a huge garden every year. He grew way more food then he and his sickly wife could ever eat. So he would snatch any neighbor kid walking through his field and make them lug home armfuls of food. The old fucker made me do it several times. Two things, I remembered the most about the house was the clocks and the cats. Mr. Hobner repaired and collected clocks. Over his eighty-plus years on the planet, he had fixed hundreds, maybe thousands of clocks. Grandfather clocks, alarm clocks and his personal favorites, coo-coo clocks. His wife would not allow them throughout the house, so every clock was all kept in the kitchen. The colors of the kitchen walls were not visible, for clocks of every shape and size littered all four walls.
Mrs.Hobner loved cats. The rest of the house was filled with cats of all shapes and sizes. There was an old rumor that Mr.Hobner hated the cats as bad as she hated the clocks. When one of the cats would die, he would just stuff it and not tell his wife of the loss. The house was supposedly filled with hundreds of stuffed cats. When his wife would call for one, Mr. Hobner would stick one in the oven for a few minutes, take it out, and put it in his wife's lap.
She would pat the kitty and Mr. Hobner would stand behind her and purr. I contributed that little story to my mother-in-law's storytime hour and she cried out, "That is ridiculous!" I laughed out loud until she said just right words to take my joy out of the moment:
"When are you going to get a job?"
That night, I didn't sleep at all. I was thinking of all the cash and valuables lying around in that house with nothing but a crippled, blind woman to guard them.
Especially when Irwin goes for his treatments on Tuesday.
The Hobner House sat several miles out of town. No neighbors. In theory, I could walk in that house, in the middle of the day, and walk out with all kinds on money and jewels. No one would ever know I was there. The house was cluttered with junk and newspapers. I doubt the old man would even notice anything was missing. I laid in bed, wide-awake. My wife snoring next to me. She was going leave, I could tell. She was so cold towards me, the looks she gave were filled with disgust. We hadn't had sex in months.
I could not find work anywhere. We had to leave this town. All my friends and co-workers had already left, gone on to bigger and better things. I felt like 35-year-old loser. Even my best friend, Denny Norris, had moved away. He just left one day out of the blue. Never even came by to say good-bye. He must doing well, because he's been too busy to call me.
We were flat broke. It was only matter of time, before the wolves at our door would knaw their way through. We needed some cash. Just enough money to start a new life someplace else. Seed money. But I had never committed a crime. Well, nothing serious. When I was twelve years old, I used to steal comic books and a couple of bottles of coke at the general store. My criminal career ended when one of the coke bottles slipped out of my jacket and broke on the store's floor.
My wife's snoring and visions of piles of cash collecting dust in that old firetrap kept me awake until dawn.
I watched old Mister Hobner briskly walk from his porch to his Jeep. He still got around good for an eighty-year-old. He did not see me as he drove by the bushes. My heart thumped as I walked across the driveway towards the porch. I scanned all the windows for someone moving or even a cat. But there was nothing visible but frilly red curtains. I opened the porch door and smell of cat piss nearly made me puke. The front door was unlocked. No one but the extremely paranoid locked his or her doors around here. The first room I walked into was the kitchen, the ticking from all the clocks was maddening. Ticking and clicking and snapping. My god, no wonder the old girl made him keep them all in the kitchen. I went through the dining room, or what used to be the dining room. It was filled with boxes and bags of magazines, newspapers, books, and old mail. Did theses people ever throw anything away? As I walked through each room, I kept looking out the window expecting the old bastard to drive back in, after his spare clustomy bag or something. The last thing I need is for that old geezer to come back for any reason. As I moved on through the place I kept thinking about that poor old lady,sick and all alone. But where is she? Which room is she in? The place was creeping me out. The walls were littered with picture of relatives with empty looks in their eyes. But I was more interested in any big piles of cash that were lying around.
Not one cat was in sight, stuffed or alive. So much for the town rumor. The place was huge, much bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside. The stairs creaked as I went up them, the dust from the handrailing stuck to my sweaty hand. The hallway I ascended into looked like an old hotel hallway. It was long and had one doorway after another. The first two rooms were empty, well, they were stacked with old boxes and stacks of newspapers and magazines. Much like the downstairs. I opened each door slowly and tried not make any noise, in this place it proved to be impossible. Every board I stepped on creaked and every hinge squeaked. I looked at my watch: 11:40. I had to move this thing along. I started to open the next door and I thought I heard a car drive up outside. My heart pounding, sweat permeated on my forehead. Could I run? Could I get out the back door? Yeah, right, like I could find the back door in this maze of a house.
I had to check first. I looked out the hallway window. It was large double picture window; I could see the entire front yard and driveway. No sign of anyone or any vehicle. I wondered about the garage door. Was it open before? Because it was closed now. Damn! why didn't I pay more attention? Was it open or not? No. The door was closed. I had to calm down. Get the cash and get to hell out. I moved quickly to door and threw it open. The room was dark, for the shades were pulled. The light from the hallway showed a bed in the corner. It was the old lady's room. I went in, not taking my eyes of the tiny figure in the bed. She didn't move, as my hands fumbled in the dark at the cases on her bureau. They were empty. There was a nightstand, by her bed. I got on my hand and knees and crawled toward the stand and the bed. My hand was shaking as I pulled the tiny draw open. Up and down the inside, my hand found nothing. I was so scared. OK, just stand up and walk out of here. As I rose, another possibility came to mind.
Many of these old timers, hid fortunes under the place they slept. I thrust both hands under as I was crouched down. I couldn't even hear her breathing, so I felt around. There was virtually no weight pushing down, I had to see what this poor old broad looked like. I looked up as my hands poked with grace of sixteen year old groping his girlfriend breasts in the backseat of his father's Oldsmobile. The mattress moved slightly and the woman's face fell into the light from the hall. I screamed, pulled my hands out and fell backwards. Empty eye sockets stared at me accusingly. Her skeletal smile beamed through the darkness.
For a second I thought she had moved but then I realized, she probably hadn't moved in years. No wonder my mother-in-law's services were no longer required. I crawled crab-style toward the door and jumped to my feet in the hall. I closed the door and looked down the stairwell. What now? The old man was obviously off his rocker. Should I leave and make an unanimous call? Yeah, the cops will end up pocketing the cash hidden in here. No. I move on, find the cash and buy a new life.
I threw open the next door and flicked the light on. At first I thought I had accidentally walked back in the same room. Which was Identical in every way: a couple of bureaus and stands, a brass bed in the corner, and a skeletal body in the nightgown. But this nightgown was pink! I went back across the hall and threw the door open. The first nightgown was blue. I wave of realization washed over me:
This guy is collecting wives!
I ran to the other door and threw it open. Another duplicate room. Another bed. Another nightgown. Except this one was on a flesh covered body. I didn't recognize her. But she was dead. I went to next room and the next and the next. Each was same. A body in a nightgown in a bed. The money be damned. I started towards the stairs and I heard a thud. It came from the one of the rooms I hadn't opened. I swallowed and threw open the door. The sight was ridiculously chilling. I almost laughed until realized how horrible it was. Denny was tied to the bed with leather straps, his mouth duct-taped shut. He was wearing a black wig and a purple nightgown. He looked at me with big, fear-filled eyes. There was a large, dried bloodstain above his crotch.
"Hmmm. Hmmm." He tried to talk in desperation.
"I...I" I walked up to him and I almost cracked up laughing, he looked so ridiculous. After I took it all in, I started backing away.
"HMMMM. HMMMM." He said louder.
"I'm gonna get help. I'll be back." I turned, ran into the hall and stopped up quickly. Irwin was standing at the top of the stairs. He was holding baseball bat and striking lightly it in the palm of his hand.
"Dear, what are you doing out of bed? You know what the doctor said. You need your rest. " He walked closer towards striking the bat harder with each step.
"Mr.-Mr.Hobner...You need help. This is wrong." I pleaded.
"Now, dear," He was shaking his head like he was disappointed, " why are you even bothering, you know I haven't been able to hear since 1989." He leaped forward and swung the bat. I ducked and pushed him squarely in the chest. He fell to the floor. I kicked the bat down the hall and slid down the stairs. I dashed through the cluttered rooms and into the kitchen. I grabbed the door handle and it would not move. At first, I thought it was stuck, but then I saw the deadbolt, with the keyhole on the inside. I went back to the center of the kitchen, I twirled around looking for a window. I'd jump out if I had too. Then I noticed the clocks. It was 11:59. I watched as the second hands went towards the top of the hour.
Noise and movement came at me from all direction. Little plastic birds tweeted and chirped as they shot out of their little homes. I covered my ears as the noises got louder and seamed to pierce my brain.
BONG. BONG. BONG.
They seemed merged into one deafening blow. I fell to my knees and closed my eyes in an attempt to close out the noise. When I re-opened my eyes, I saw a baseball bat coming at my face. It struck me once and then again on top of my head. I did not hear the noise after that.
I awoke with a large throb in the head. I was strapped to a brass bed, my mouth was duct-taped shut. I was wearing a yellow nightgown. Irwin came hobbling into room. He sat a large serving tray on the nightstand next to the bed.
"Good evening dear," He put his hand on my forehead. " I am afraid that nasty little growth had returned in your private area." He picked up a large pair of grass cutters off the tray. He squeezed the handle and the razor edges of them scraped together.
"mmm..." He said as he lifted the nightgown up.
"Don't worry, I'll take of it , you just hold still."
Lucas Knight is a filmmaker/producer in the very cold (at Winter), but beautiful state of Maine. He produced and continue to produce low budget TV and films in the horror/suspense genre. He is looking to expand his writing experience into short stories and novels.
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Axxón 124 - march 2003