Dead as a Doornail
by Killion Slade
part 1 of 2
“Ouch! That hurts!” I sucked on my finger to keep the blood off the pages. My index finger had slid along a sharp paper edge. The paper cut sliced it clean and deep as I pulled out the closing paperwork from the will. It stung like hell. Pinching the edges of the cut together didn’t help. Crimson continued to seep out the sides.
Still sucking on my finger, I read to my husband. “It says right here, that this addition was built in 1953. It’s been well over sixty years. No wonder the doorframe needs to be replaced. Mom lived here alone for years; I have no idea if she ever fixed it.”
Rick pointed to why the back door wasn’t closing. “Liz, see this tag right here? This doorframe was replaced just two years ago. It came from Home and Garden Warehouse. But after we replace it today, it shouldn’t make that gawdawful creaking sound when we open it.”
“Oooh I know, it makes my skin crawl every time we open this back door. How do you think it became so old and battered in such a short time?” I asked him.
Rick removed the last hinge pin holding the door in the frame and sent the door crashing to the ground with a huge BANG! I jumped at the violence of the impact. The sheetrock hanging around the doorframe virtually disintegrated into dust as it fell from the interior wall.
“You’re saying this door was replaced two years ago?” I scrunched my face and wondered what kind of weather we should expect over the winter to cause this kind of damage. “It’s hard to believe it’s in this bad a shape already.”
I was astonished at his nod. “No wonder our heating bill was so freaking high. I knew it wasn’t just the doggy door. Do we have any of that expanding, insulating foamy stuff to fill in cracks?”
“Yeah, I bought several cans of it when I got the new door. Hey check this out. How weird is this?” He pointed to black lines painted on the plaster and lathe below where the sheetrock had crumbled and fallen away.
Five triangles adorned the door. One triangle on top and four on either side of the door, at the top and bottom. My attention was dislodged from the mysterious door caper to the sudden pungent odor of dragon’s blood incense.
I loved dragon’s blood incense. It always reminded me of my Grandma Gertie. She would burn it constantly in her home. The memory of the smell crept along into my brain and whispered long-lost secrets. I sniffed at the air and smiled a quiet, happy memory of a smile. But it did make me wonder: why did I smell it now and so strongly?
Pinching my nose, I asked Rick, “Do you smell incense burning?”
“Yeah, I lit some up after I got done in the bathroom.”
Rolling my eyes at him, I stood there cradling my head while I contemplated the triangles. “Hmmm... that is weird. Maybe a star had been painted here. Perhaps, before the door was put in? See how you can connect the lines?” I traced the five-pointed star with my finger.
Rick commenced with the creepy, heebie-geebie dance and shivered off the wooly bullies. “Gah! There you go again with your creepy old superstitions! Stop freaking me out and tell me what you think of these.” He pointed to four colored nails on all sides of the frame. “I’ve never seen anything like this before in all my years of remodeling.”
I touched the yellow nail. “Maybe it keeps out the bad juju or something. Lots of older folks around here are real superstitious. I met this lady the other day, at the grocery store, who told me to be sure and have a broom and a mirror in the front hallway to keep out unwanted guests. I thanked her, and told her we already did. She smiled at me and was on her way.”
“Yeah, this old geezer at the hardware store handed me a couple of horseshoes. He said to hang one above the doors to keep good luck in the house. I’ll hang those after I get done hanging this new door. We don’t want to have any bad luck running around loose in the house, now do we?”
I shook my head no. Touching the brown nail to my still-tender finger, I thought out loud. “Brown to the north, yellow to the east, red to the south and blue to the west. Yes, there’s definitely a pattern here. I wonder if it has something to do with the old religion folk tales?”
An evil mask possessed Rick’s face as he hissed, “Or maybe... they were demon worshippers and they sacrificed lambs right here in the backyard.”
I pulled my face back from the devil incarnate himself, and he laughed at me. “Good Grief! Bad juju, demon sacrifices... if we don’t hush, our neighbors will have the locals show up with pitchforks and torches!”
He kissed me on the cheek and gave a quick squeeze to my bum. I shot him a wicked smile. He arched his eyebrows in mock seduction. We stood there hand in hand, looking at the strange little nails. Wondering, who could have put them there and most of all, why?
“Ya know, Rick, this kinda looks familiar. I don’t think we should remove these nails. Not just yet. Can this project wait until I can check this out?”
“No can do, cutie patoots. We have a storm coming in tonight.”
I wasn’t real comfortable with the decision, but practicality and the rising costs of our heating bill changed my mind. It wasn’t long until we had a perfectly plumbed and level back-entry door, which actually closed when you shut it without the creepy sound effects. Just a plain old door.
Rick handed me the nails he had pulled out of the frame. “Look here, this is totally bizarro. There’s no rust on the nails. The wood was practically falling off rusted hinges. The screws were rust dust. It just doesn’t make any sense why the nails weren’t affected the same way.”
A strange niggling pulled at the pit of my tummy. “Hmmm, makes you wonder,” I said. The last time I felt this kind of nervous tension, my dog got run over. Trying to brush off the painful memory, I thought a shower might help the feeling go away. I headed upstairs, only to find myself digging to the bottom of my hope chest instead.
Not quite sure what drew me to my old cedar hope chest, but under the quilts and china, at the very bottom, was my Gamma’s special book. That’s what she called it, anyways. I hadn’t looked at it since I was a teenager.
I unwrapped the lacy gauze from around the leather-bound book and opened it. The pages smelled of a time long ago and my Gamma’s lavender, spiced perfume. Each page wafted a childhood memory. I missed her so much. I remembered watching her for hours while she wrote inside this book, when I was little.
Opening the book to the table of contents she had written, I remembered where I had seen the colors before. It was under a page called The Quarters. It wasn’t long until I realized what exactly this kind of book was. My grandmother was a Wiccan, and this was her grimoire. Her very own Book of Shadows. I had no clue as to the power I held in my hands at that very moment.
In her book was a cute story of the four quarters. She would to read it to me before I went to sleep. We also had a little song... How did it go? Here, in a picture I drew, were the sweet caricature depictions of the four elementals. A windblown waif-like figure, I use to call her Slyphie.
There was a little gnome, with a red hat. He held the cutest little watering can. There was this slithering eel of sorts, Gamma called him a salamader, and my favorite was a little mermaid I called Undine. I wonder why I had forgotten them? They were my friends for so many years, when I came to play over at Grandma’s. Now, it seemed to be quite a motley crew.
I was tired from all the craziness of the day and wanted nothing more than a hot shower and some time with my pillow. I closed up the chest and grabbed my book. Perhaps I’d paint a picture of them tomorrow and use the nails in the picture frame to tell a good story about the house. Not only did Gamma inspire my imagination, but she also taught me how to express myself through painting as well.
The next morning, I awoke feeling as if I had run with the hounds of hell, all night long. Exhaustion could hardly begin to describe my mental and physical presence. Rick was still snoring as I stumbled into the bathroom. Something sharp and cold pierced the tender flesh on the bottom of my foot. “OUCH! Dammit! Ow! Ow! Oweee!” I hopped around on one foot until landing on the toilet.
Foot dripping with blood, I hollered, “Rick! Help me please!” Snorts continued to come from the bed. “RICK!” I yelled with more volume. His footsteps were fast and loud to my rescue.
Rick still seemed to be trying to call his etheric self to back into his physical body. He clamored into the bathroom with hair straight up, morning wood straight out and eyes wide open.
“What’s wrong?” he shouted. If I he hadn’t been in so much pain, I would have laughed my ass off at the scene in front of me. He clicked on the glaring overhead light. The bathroom rug was soaked in water, the blue nail was embedded in my foot and bloody droplets plinked down to stain the stark, white travertine floor. The only wet place was the blue rug.
“How the hell did that happen? Are you okay? Where did the water come from? Is a pipe busted?” he stammered, as he knelt in front of me to pull out the nail.
“I don’t know. Did you put these nails in here last night?”
“Yeah, I put ‘em up here on the counter, thought they were kinda nifty. Ya know, I thought you might do some kind of crafty thing with them or something. I’m really sorry, babe, I don’t know how it could have fallen out of the incense dish.” Rick’s face was riddled with bewilderment and guilt.
The hole in my foot must have been the size of the Grand Canyon and it felt like Lake Erie was pouring out with each step. After we compressed the bleeding, we peroxided, bandaged and cleaned up the mess.
“Between the blood and the water, I think we’re gonna need a new bathroom rug.” Rick said. We both got down on hands and knees to search for the leak. The cabinet and floor was bone dry, not a drop of water anywhere but on the blue rug.
I kissed him on the nose. “C’mon, let’s get some coffee.”
I limped to the kitchen. We saw the gas stove had a lit burner on max heat. We looked at one another without turning our faces, just shifting our eyes from the stove, then to one another, and then back to the stove again. The red nail was sitting in the middle of the flaming burner. It glowed so hot, I was sure it was melting. It looked as if someone or something was using our gas stove as a blacksmith’s forge furnace.
Figuring out I had been a victim of a really rotten prank, I said, “Okay funny joke, ha ha — a laugh a minute. Did you plant the blue one too?”
He looked at me with an incredulous expression. “Huh? Me? When did you get down here to turn on the stove?” He turned off the flame.
“I didn’t turn it on. You just helped me down the stairs, remember?” I yammered back at him.
He scratched his backside and opened the freezer door to get the coffee beans. “I just can’t think straight yet, I need caffeine. None of this makes any sense.” He foraged for the brown roasted goodness with promises of fresh, caffeinated synapsis running through our neural net. He opened the other freezer door. “I feel as though a railroad car ran over me last night. I had the weirdest damn dream!” He stood there staring into the frozen oblivion. “Hon, where are the coffee beans?”
Removing coffee cups from the cupboard, I set them down on the counter. “Right where we always have them. Just opened a new bag yesterday. Left door. Second shelf.”
I decided food was in order. “You wanna bagel?” I asked.
“Yeah, I want a blueberry one.” he said.
I grabbed the bagels and popped them into the wide-slotted toaster. “Yeah, I feel awful too. At what time of the night did you decide to use me as your personal punching bag?”
He looked at me if I had lost my mind. I winked at him. Rick would never lay a hand on me like that. “I had weird dreams too. I kept waking up to howling dogs. Did you hear those dogs baying like idiots?”
Rick kept dancing from one foot to the other in front of the freezer, still searching for the elusive bag of beans. “Dogs, no. I didn’t hear any dogs. The house is really cold, what does the thermostat say?”
I shuffled on my hurt foot into the dining room, my pink bunny slippers must have created static electricity. When I checked the radiator thermostat, it jolted me hard. “Ouch! Dammit!” I said to myself, sucking on my papercut. “Hey Sweetie? I think somethin’s going on with the boiler. Thermostat is set at 70, but it says it’s 59 degrees in here. Why do you think it is so cold?”
“Hellifiknow, I’m still trying to find the damn coffee beans!” he said.
“Can you go check the boiler? Maybe the pilot went out.” I heard a heavy sigh, the freezer door slam and the cellar door creak open. Then the stomp, stomp, stomp of angry footsteps down the stairs.
Checking the freezer myself for the coffee revealed nothing. That’s odd: I know I opened a new bag yesterday. At this point, I didn’t care, we needed caffeine and settled for hot tea. Backup caffeine alternative. I looked at the red nail cooling on the stove. It sent a chill down my nerves and a flutter of butterflies to my tummy again.
Rick stomped up the stairs louder than going down. When he emerged from the bowels of the house, his face was red and angry. His hands clenched up in tight fists. He looked like a teakettle ready to blow. “I don’t know what the hell you are doing Liz, but I sure don’t appreciate it! It’s seven o’clock in the GD morning and it’s freakin’ Saturday! All I wanted to do was sleep in!” He stuck his hand out to reveal the yellow nail.
“But... what...where?” Barely audible words escaped my lips.
“I found this on the return air vent. You were right. The pilot light was out on the boiler and the house is moving cold air. None of the radiators have hot water in them. I don’t know if the igniter went out, but I can’t get the pilot to light. We need to call a repair man.” He stood there looking at me. ”How did you get this stupid nail all the way down into the basement?”
“Me? What? Wait? I don’t get it. Then why do we have gas up here in the kitchen, if the pilot is out?”
“The kitchen is totally on a separate gas line. The stove has nothing to do with the radiator boiler.” He rolled his eyes at me for being such a natural gas noob.
I put my two hands together and made the shape of the ‘W’ with my fingers, “Whatever!” I said. “Do you seriously believe I put this down there? You know I hate going down there, it creeps me out! There’s no way in hell I was down there!”
He thought about this for a second. He knew this to be true. I did not go down in the basement, ever. I was a firm believer in horror-movie victims, and refused to perform the stupid acts which get people killed. Creepy old stairs, into a dirt floor basement, was not a place for me. “And after they found that poor ole grandma in a basement freezer a couple of towns over... Nope, not me!” The basement was the one place in the house I refused to go, especially alone.
The teakettle screamed, jolting us out of our reverie.
Hot water poured into our mugs of Market Spice tea, while Rick stomped off to retrieve the newspaper off the front step. The aroma settled into my bones, relaxing me to my toes. Next to my favorite coffee, the sweet n’sour tang of spicy, orange cinnamon always tickled my tonsils. It was great comfort food.
We tried to drink our tea and to forget about this morning’s madness. With an unexpected clank and scatter, coffee beans and the brown nail spilt out across the glass table when he opened the paper. We immediately stood up, just looking at one another, while blood shot out the bottom of my foot.
“I think it’s time we called that repairman.” he said.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Killion Slade