I checked in on Grandma’s house last night
Ah, the Jersey Shore.
As I opened the car door, the stench of rotting fish and turbid water hit my nostrils. Hungry greenhead flies buzzed around us, and a dark haze had settled overhead. A storm was coming.
We ran to the porch. “Your Grandma just wants us to check for water damage, right?” Dan asked, swatting at his neck. “From the storm last night?”
“Yup. That’s what she said in her text.” With a jingle, I pulled out the keys. “Should just take a minute. Then we can get back on the road.”
I swung the door open.
Inside it smelled like dust and mold. The furniture was covered in white sheets – as Grandma always did when the house was off-season. This house her “vacation home.” I put that in quotes because, well… it’s more like a vacation shack. It’s an old salt box with a kitchen the size of my closet, an outside shower, and a rickety dock in the lagoon out back.
I flipped the light switch.
The lights didn’t turn on. “Ah, she cut the power, too,” I said. Grandma was always very thorough about that. I pulled out a flashlight, and we continued through the rooms.
“I don’t see any water damage,” Dan said, scanning the seams where the walls met the floor. I crouched down and began opening the cabinets.
Inside was an unopened jar of peanut butter.
Which wouldn’t be weird – except, Grandma’s allergic to peanut butter. So much so, when we were kids, we had to eat our PB&J sandwiches outside because she wouldn’t allow it in her house.
“Dan? Look at this.” I picked up the jar and rolled it over in my hands. EXP DATE: 11/2018. Somewhat new. “I bet my asshole cousin Steve left this here.”
I put it back and looked up. Through the glass door, the sun set over the lagoon. It reflected off the black water like a candle’s flame, flickering with every ripple. It was beautiful, even if the lagoon smelled like dead fish all the time.
“Why does she leave the blinds open?”
I looked at Dan. Then back at the door. He was right – Grandma usually closed the blinds. Even when she was staying here.
I walked across the parquet floor, tugged on the string to pull the blinds shut. “She must’ve forgotten,” I said.
But then my eyes fell to the floor.
Grandma always jimmied a stick in the track, to prevent people from opening the door from the outside. It was a nervous tick – a paranoid old-lady habit. But ever since Grandpa died, she was very conscientious about those things.
The stick was gone.
“There’s something wrong,” I said. “She never closes the door without the stick.” I pulled out my phone and dialed her number. The line rung a few times. If she isn’t home… then where is she?
But then I heard it.
The noise echoed through the house, tinny and shrill. I pulled the phone away from my ear. “Is that your phone, Dan?”
But I knew it wasn’t. His ringtone is some futuristic space theme.
I glanced around. There. On the armchair – from under the sheet – came a white glow. I ran over to it, wrenched at the sheet.
Incoming call flashed on the screen. With my name underneath.
“This is her phone,” I said, holding it up. “Why is her phone here?”
“Did your Grandma come up here recently?”
“No. She hasn’t been here in over a month…” I trailed off, glancing around the house. But had I actually seen her since then?
I started up the stairs.
Light rain pattered on the roof. Thunder growled in the distance. “Where are you going?” Dan called. I didn’t reply.
The two bedroom doors were closed. With a deep breath, I opened the first one.
It was empty.
Nothing looked out of place. The armchair by the window was draped in a white sheet, like the furniture downstairs. The bed was stripped of its sheets, pillows, and comforter. Just a twin mattress wrapped in plastic.
My heart slowed. I shut the door. Dan had followed me up, now, and was waiting in the hall. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. I just want to check this room.”
I pushed the door open. But it was empty like the others. Sheets drawn over the furniture; clothing, knick-knacks, décor all put away. After a quick look around, we started down the stairs.
All the sheets had been taken off the furniture.
They lay on the ground in crumpled, tangled heaps. The sofa, the rocking chair, the piano – they were all bare.
Except for one.
The sheet across the dining table was still there, draping to the floor. As we stood there, paralyzed… it fluttered with movement.
“Run,” Dan whispered.
We swung the door open, ran out of the house. Thundered down the porch steps until we reached the car. “Go!” I screamed. Dan fumbled with the keys.
Finally, the engine roared to life. We reeled out of the driveway, sped down the road. My heart began to slow; calm washed over me. We’re safe.
“Melissa,” Dan said.
I looked up. His eyes were glued to the rearview mirror.
“Did you leave a white blanket in the back seat?”