The Home of Gifts

by Ian Anderson

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

conclusion


The station was all but deserted. A few officers in uniform were standing at a table in the back, and when Mark passed with his man in front of them, he heard them joking about his great catch.

“A big fish, huh Sands?”

Mark waved them off and showed the old man a chair at a large wooden desk. A green lamp that sat over a typewriter was on; it cast a soft glow on the bare oak of the desk. The forest green shade of the lamp was lined with hooks and lures, two rows stitched with great detail. The old man was looking at it, Mark could feel it, and the memory of the sky-blue box seeped back into Mark’s head. He popped four aspirins, threw the bottle back into a top drawer and slammed it shut.

“Let’s go over your story.” Mark sat, letting his back rest against the back of his chair. “From the beginning.”

It was simple: Patrick came of his own free will. He was still there, and was well. He had contacted his family, several times. He would go home soon.

“When?”

The old man watched as Mark clenched his teeth from the new shoots of pain crawling up and down his back.

“Soon, Detective, soon.”

“One question,” Mark paused and leaned forward, his left hand reaching for his lower back, his right hand holding his head. “Why did he come in the first place?”

“Some are called, and some are” — the old man sitting comfortably in his metal chair smiled and sighed — “some are lured.”

Mark’s brain lurched at the word, but he had to shift himself again, trying to find relief for his back. He began to open his mouth to speak, then closed his eyes, the pain was so intense.

“Detective,” the old man leaned forward and handed Mark the folder he’d brought. “This should be useful.”

The folder contained a single sheet of paper with a signature at the bottom: Patrick’s signature. The contents of the letter stated that Patrick agreed to go to the home at 401 South Glenmerle, and that he would be gone for a period of time.

“And you can see it’s been witnessed.”

“I’ll have to verify that.”

“Of course.” A silence that seemed to stretch longer than possible, then: “You believe me, don’t you, Mark?” And even though the old man had been sent home hours before, the words still played freshly back and back again.

* * *

The day’s events spread themselves out like a movie in slow motion; Mark was still torn between the statements of the old man — the confusing statements — and the reality of the missing person. And that question: “You believe me, don’t you, Mark?” It wouldn’t quit.

He waited there at his desk, his lamp the only remaining light in the station. And yet he hoped this old man was telling the truth, this patient old man who seemed to know him and all his neighbors.

The phone call from the notary will answer a lot, Mark thought. He’d had to leave a message for the witness to this odd document, and he waited even though the night was late. Mark held his head in his hands as he tried to think through the growing pain, which was now focused on ruining his spine. The phone rang and he jumped at it.

“Yes, I’m sure it was a bit strange. Thank you for getting back to me so late.”

Patrick’s mother wouldn’t be satisfied. Neither was Mark. Even with this evidence, the fact was that Patrick was still gone.

Mrs. Hall was not at home. He left a message with her daughter instead. “Please inform your mother that she can call me with any questions. I’ll also send her a copy of the document. Thank you.”

* * *

And so it was, days later, that Mark’s report still had to be filed, and the Captain was sure to raise a question as to why he wasn’t making an arrest. He couldn’t stand the thought of that old man in a cell. Yet he could see, when one looked at the facts...

Mark pulled out another form, a document stating his intention to watch the house before making an arrest. There were still so many questions that he wanted to clear up, and holding the old man wasn’t going to help.

Long days passed in front of the massive house with nothing to watch. His suspect wandered to and from the store, waved a greeting from the bay window, offered him drinks to help keep Mark awake at night.

It was the evening of the fourth day that Mark’s back pain seeped all over his body. The knuckles of both hands seemed to be on fire. In agony, he sat with his head bowed on the steering wheel. The fall evening had given way to night quickly, and the figure tapping on the car window was veiled in darkness. Mark rolled down the window with a grunt.

“Mark? I saw from the window that you are in pain. Are you okay?” The voice was familiar. The old man, thought Mark. But what was different about it?

“I...” Mark began but couldn’t finish because of the flames igniting his nerves.

The car door opened, and a strong arm slid under Mark’s shoulder and lifted him out.

“Hot water is boiling on the stove. Tea is wonderful for the joints. And a little something added to help you sleep.”

Mark’s head swam. The porch steps creaked with the weight of the two men, and each groan shot Mark with new pins and needles.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Mark, don’t talk now. Relax.” It was a strong voice. Yes, thought Mark, a strong voice. He had no choice but to sit and obey his host.

A soft glow in the living room welcomed Mark. The fire burned and popped in the corner.

“There. Sit still and I’ll have your tea shortly.”

Mark’s blurred eyes fought to see his caretaker, but to no avail.

The mug steamed in Mark’s aching hands. A warmth from the tea flowed down Mark’s throat, coating and soothing it; Mark could feel relaxation creeping over his body, first in his back and hands, then into his legs and feet. He sat back in his chair, and rest was upon him.

* * *

The morning light woke Mark from a deep sleep. He snapped awake, the memory of the night before rushing down on him.

“Don’t worry, you’ve missed nothing.” From a dark corner of the room the words came like a shot, and Mark was startled. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump. You need to lie back. Rest is essential.”

The voice had a familiar tone that Mark couldn’t place. The figure from the corner began to move around the room, but the face remained in the shadows. Then Mark saw the shoes, the Converse that the old man had been wearing.

“So,” Mark laid his head back down on his pillow. “Will Patrick grace us with his presence today?”

“It seems that maybe he will. I’ll check and return in a while.”

Mark’s body throbbed. The pain came and went, flowing over him and receding to a sensation that he could only describe as shrinking.

A crack in the curtains let in a stream of daylight, and Mark wanted to look out the window. He tried to raise himself, but the pain was too much, and he cried out.

“Mark, you must call me when you need something.” Through the shadows of the room Mark heard a clink. “Use this bell. I’m near.”

Questions flooded Mark’s head, and the thought of relying on a bell — it repulsed him. He rolled away from it.

“Soon, Mark. Soon we’ll be able to speak frankly.”

The door creaked shut.

Mark woke from dreams that chilled him; sweat covered his body.

“How do you feel?” The sound of agile footsteps around his bed agitated Mark. He thought of the bell.

“Like I’ve been bathing in turpentine.”

The laugh that followed his remark set his teeth on edge.

“All right. I’m calling—”

“Who, Mark?” The calm reply stopped Mark mid sentence. “Who is close to you? Who cares for you? Who will miss you?”

The smiling face of the old man came before Mark’s mind as he remembered the strange words the man had spoken so many days before: “I make it a point to know my neighbors.”

Mark’s thoughts jumbled, and he spat: “The Captain.”

“You’re on a stakeout.”

Mark laid back, his eyes searching the darkness for the face of the speaker in front of him. “Who are you? Where is the old man?”

The sudden beam of light from the corner made Mark shield his face. And when his eyes adjusted, what he saw was blurred.

“Here, you’ll want these.”

Mark took a pair of glasses and a mirror, both offered to him by a man he instantly recognized as Patrick Hall once the glasses focused his vision.

“Yes, Mark. Patrick Hall. It’s nice to meet you.” A smile spread over Patrick’s face as he pulled up a chair. “Before you look in the mirror, just know... Well, I’ll be here.”

Mark had forgotten the mirror at the shock of seeing Patrick. He was fixed on the statements of the old man, all of which he’d wanted to believe but couldn’t.

It was the hands first. Mark lifted the mirror with hands that were not his own. Besides the agony, the wrinkles and gnarled knuckles shot his heart into his throat.

Then it was the face.

“No, it can’t be — ” Mark stared at an ancient face, his eyes staring back. The mirror fell from Mark’s hands, and Patrick lifted it from the bed.

“Mark, the first thing you should know is that I really wanted you to have those lures.”

“No—”

“Yes, I did.” Patrick’s kind smile returned. “I still do. But, as we both know, you’re in no condition to receive them.” Patrick laughed. “Or use them.”

Mark’s heart raced and tears pushed their way past his eyes.

“Please, Mark. Your body won’t do well with panic. Did you ever think you would keep your youth?” Patrick took Mark’s hand. “This house is odd. Samuel told me about it several months ago. He’s a friend of mine whom I trust. He invited me because I needed to spend some time here. And it’s changed me.”

“I can see that.”

“Yes, the physical change. That’s not what I mean. I mean I can now care for you. I can give.”

Mark wanted to hide, to run, to lock himself in his cabin in the woods, to—

“You need to learn, Mark. You need to learn how to receive. Now, you don’t have a choice.” Patrick paused and looked deep into Mark. “From the ability to receive comes the joy of giving. I want you to have that, too.”

Mark fought the urge to sleep, but his eyes closed anyway, his world spiraling into uncontrollable chaos.

“I’ll be here when you wake, Mark.”


Copyright © 2015 by Ian Anderson

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