by Jeff Dosser
Alan’s Gucci leather shoes tapped out a staccato on the concrete sidewalk as he strode towards the guard house straddling the roadway into Flowering Springs Retirement Community. He paused to light a cigarette and studied the tall, stone walls surrounding the small neighborhood. The morning sun had just poked a rim above the run-down apartments across the street, and its bright rays sparkled on the razor wire crowning the stone wall.
He blew out a cloud of smoke and noticed three young men leaning against the graffiti-covered walls of the complex, eyeing him greedily. He laughed at the irony of waltzing through the front door of the castle while minor hunters circled outside.
Alan stepped up to the wooden shelf below the open window of the guard shack and picked up the battered clipboard resting on top.
“How’s that girl of yours, Dan?” Alan asked as he signed the security log.
Inside the shack sat a youngish man, dressed in a dark green uniformed shirt and khaki slacks. He stood and walked over, tucking the shirt in around his large belly before thrusting out his hand.
“She’s doing great, Mr. Smiley,” he said, grasping Alan’s hand. “And you don’t have to sign that. We all know you round here.”
“Now, Dan,” Alan chided, flashing a brilliant smile and handing him the clipboard, “you’re the professional here, and I remember you saying to sign in every time.”
“Aw, Mr. Smiley” — Dan blushed — “that was before we all got to know you. Everyone round here is so fond of you. Why, you’re practically family.”
“Why, thank you, Dan,” Alan said, white teeth gleaming. “I’ll see you in a bit, and you tell Martha that I enjoyed that plate of tamales she sent.”
“Oh, I will,” Dan said, waving him in.
Alan Smiley — although Smiley wasn’t his real name — was a con man. Thirty-three years old, six feet tall, he had the perfect combination of broad shoulders, slim hips, and dashing smile, all packed inside a stylish Italian suit. But his good looks ran a poor second to his charming nature.
Alan was one of those guys who could sell the proverbial bull to a politician, and since the beautiful May weather had set in, he’d been selling it to the retirees of Flowering Springs. Alan suckered his marks in with cheap duct cleaning service but, by the time he was through, he had them hooked for a $5,000 heat and air system as well. Come summer, they would all find out that the systems weren’t worth their weight in dirt. So far he’d sold to almost every condominium in Flowering Springs, and it was time to move on.
Alan rounded the corner, on his way to his last victim, Grace Davis. He waved at three Mexicans looking busy on one of the new systems being installed at the side of a house. They had little idea of what they were doing but were competent enough to at least get the fans going so that the system had the appearance of functionality. At $80 a day, they did a fine job of installing worthless equipment.
Alan paused in front of the brick mailbox labeled, “Mrs. J.P. Davis, 101 Brook Ln.,” and ground out his cigarette before sauntering up the sidewalk. The front door was open, so Alan knocked at the glass of the closed storm door. Soon, he saw Grace rounding the corner. She threw him a wave and a smile as she toddled down the hall, exchanging her focus between her slow-moving feet and the door.
For Alan, the old women were the easiest targets. Like Grace, most were widows, and the strong presence of a charming, good-looking man always seemed to wake in them feelings of romance, motherhood, or both. Either way, Alan didn’t care, as long as the old biddies signed the checks. Alan’s teeth sparkled as Grace fiddled with the latch and swung the glass door open.
“It’s so nice to see you again, Mr. Smiley,” Grace’s voice quavered. Grace Davis was a tiny woman, just shy of five feet tall and quite thin with blue veins tracing a web beneath her pale skin.
“Thank you, Grace, I wouldn’t miss this visit for the world. And might I add that you look quite fetching today.”
“Why, Mr. Smiley” — she laughed as he glided in — “you are quite the charmer.” She turned and locked the glass door and swung the heavy outer door closed, then slid across a large, bronze bolt with a thunk.
Alan held out his elbow as Grace grasped it and led her down the hall and into the living room.
“I fixed some muffins and tea,” she said, continuing into the kitchen. “I do hope you like tea.”
“Tea would be wonderful. Thank you, Grace,” Alan dropped onto the couch and gazed around the room. The place was remarkably well decorated for an old coot, Alan decided as he leaned back in the settee. Of course, it had that same smell as the rest: old people and death.
Most of the furniture in the room was French country, the thin legs elaborately carved. And if he wasn’t mistaken, the prints on the walls were the works of French artists Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec.
Alan crossed the room and examined the Cezanne. He squinted at the piece and reached up to verify the brush strokes when Grace returned, tray in hand.
“Oh, please don’t touch that, dear.” Alan’s hand jerked back in surprise. “I wouldn’t want you to damage the piece.”
“I’m sorry, Grace,” he apologized. He dropped onto the settee and took his cup. “That must be an expensive print. The brush stroke reproduction and all. It’s really quite beautiful.”
“Print? Oh my, no, no, dear,” She giggled. “That’s an original. Why, I bought that from Paul fifteen years before he passed. We were good friends, you know. We had quite a correspondence.”
Alan’s left eyebrow arched as he sipped the tea. “I thought he died, like at the turn of the century.”
“Oh, he did,” she said, shaking her head. “In 1906, if I remember correctly. Quite sudden it was. Such a loss.” She took a sip, her eyes sparkling above the rim as she watched him.
This old broad is crazy as a loon, Alan thought, giving her his most winning smile. Better get this over with fast. He set down his cup and produced a set of papers from his coat pocket and laid them on the table.
“Well, Grace, I hate to rush, but I’ve got to see to the boys over at Mr. Johnson’s. Seems they’re having problems with a compressor hose that just won’t fit.”
Alan unfolded the documents and tapped at the bottom. “As you see, we’ve got your system all fixed up. It should keep you cool all summer and cut your electric bill in half. All for the bargain price of $5,000. You have to admit, it’s quite a deal. So all I need from you is a check.”
“Oh yes, dear, quite a deal,” she smiled, setting down her cup and licking her lips. “Let me get a pen.”
Alan felt a sudden, unexplained chill dance down his spine and the hair on his arms sprang up.
Not taking her black eyes from his, Grace rose from her chair, then in a swift, fluid motion she dropped into a crouch and leapt across the table, landing on Alan’s lap. With fingers that clamped like vises, she lowered her face towards his neck, the putrid odor of her breath sending a primal surge of adrenaline and fear coursing through his body.
Alan sprang to his feet and stumbled across the room, battling her crushing embrace. He slammed against the wall, sending a picture shattering to the floor but managed to break her grip and hold her at arm’s length. She hissed and flailed like a fish, her lips drawn back into a savage snarl, the rows of jagged teeth revealed.
He heaved her above his head and flung her against a curio case filled with vases and figurines, then turned and dashed down the hall, the double crash of her body smashing the cabinet and the cabinet shattering to the floor ringing in his ears.
Alan paused and looked back. Did I just throw an old woman against the wall? In horror, he saw Grace roll from the debris and come up like a sprinter at the line. Her mouth was drawn into a rictus grin, her tongue, long and red, flicked across her lips before she sped towards him.
Alan spun and grabbed the door handle and yanked, almost pulling his shoulders from their sockets. He had forgotten the bronze bolt. Hands shaking, he slid the bolt back, hazarding a look over his shoulder. There she was, flying towards him, arms and legs splayed like a spider’s as she landed on his back. With lightning speed, her legs snaked around his chest, and his neck flashed in burning pain as her fangs sank in.
He lost his grip on the door and stumbled into the hall under the shock of the attack and the sudden weight on his back. He groped over his shoulder trying to grab an arm or her head, but his grasp slid uselessly across her flaky, dry skin.
Alan felt his own hot blood streaming down his back as he slammed himself backward into the wall trying to dislodge the monster, but he lost his footing and toppled to the ground.
Outside! There’s help outside! his instincts screamed. He clawed his way up, the creature’s legs and arms constricting like a snake, the sucking mouth a fire against his flesh.
He waded towards the door through a tightening tunnel of darkness, dragged open the door and the tunnel snapped shut.
* * *
Alan sat up slowly, the fog of confusion clearing as a dull aching pain in his back competed with the burning agony at his neck. He shook his head recognizing that he was on the floor of Grace’s living room.
Everything seemed to be in place, except the curio cabinet which was noticeably absent. Sitting across from him was a beautiful woman in her early 40’s. Flowing black hair cascaded down one shoulder as she sipped from a teacup she held in small, pale hands. She studied him with familiar, sparkling eyes as he stumbled to his feet.
“Well, Alan, I think you’d best be on your way, don’t you think? After all, most predators come out after dark.” She carefully emphasized the word “most.”
Alan stumbled into the hallway, catching himself on a table. For some reason, he was having trouble walking. His legs weren’t moving as they should. And his clothes, his suit, felt loose and baggy.
He glanced up and saw an old man stare back at him from the hall mirror. Alan reached a hand to his face, a gasp of shock escaping him as the image did the same.
“Yes, it’s quite terrible, getting old,” The woman said, now standing beside him. Eyes wide, Alan backed towards the door. “But I expect you have some experience dealing with the pains of the elderly, don’t you dear?”
She glided past, her hand brushed seductively across his back and arm, a smile curling the edge of her red lips. She unbolted the door and swung it open before moving aside. Outside, late afternoon shadows slanted across the lawn.
“As I said, dear, you had better hurry; the predators come out at night.”
Alan shuffled past and out the door, his heart pounding in his chest as he shambled toward the guard shack. “Dan, you gotta help me,” he begged, looking in at the guard who sat reading a magazine.
Peering over the top, Dan tossed the magazine to his desk and leapt to his feet. He squinted up and down the road, his brows knit in confusion.
“How’d you get in here, old timer?”
“Dan, it’s me, Alan Smiley.”
“I don’t know who you are mister, but you sure ain’t Mr. Smiley,” he said, stepping out of the shack.
He grabbed Alan’s elbow and escorted him to the gate then shoved him out.
“Now, get on back to where you come from and don’t be botherin’ the nice folks of Flowerin’ Springs.”
Alan turned a circle, looking about in confusion. Across the street, he noticed four men who had been hidden in the shadows suddenly step out and stare in his direction.
Alan tried to run, but only managed a stumbling gait along the sidewalk. He heard coarse laughing behind him then a voice called out. “Hey, gramps, can I borrow some money?”
Copyright © 2016 by Jeff Dosser