Timothy Malcolm came home early. Earlier than the night before. Than the night before that. Ten minutes earlier at a time, each night. For the last three nights.
Sandy was asleep in bed and the house was dark. There wasn’t anyone in bed with her. He made rounds of both floors, looking for anything. A gum wrapper. A stain. A hair. Anything. But there was nothing.
He sighed. He was in the living room with the lights of the chandelier on the lowest setting. It made the ivory furniture and carpet a dull coppery orange.
Two weeks ago he had buried his combat knife up to the hilt in that reptile’s neck. The reptile that he saw pulling out of his driveway when he got off work early. The reptile that cast a shadow in the window of the upstairs bedroom. Its shadow would meld with Sandy’s, sway for some time, and then the lights would go out. The reptile Timothy would see whenever he dropped off lunch for Sandy at her office.
Two weeks ago. Two weeks ago that… that kid choked on a serrated blade. He should have seen it coming. It’s one thing to make a move on another man’s wife. It’s another to think the husband is too dense to never catch on. The thrust was under the chin, the blade entering the brain, a soft thump suggesting that the tip found the top of the skull.
Not only had Timothy seen the subtle changes in his wife’s demeanour, that little rat smoked like a chimney. The dull stank hung behind wherever the reptile had been more than a few minutes.
“So I’ve needed to spend time with an old habit,” Sandy would say. But the odor was never in the places she’d have coffee or read her books. Just the bedroom. The bathroom.
So the reptile was dead, the body in the stomachs of a few hogs in a nearby farm. Hey. Throw it to pigs and there will be nothing left.
Sandy moped for several days, but she never bawled. Not in front of him. Kid was probably just a v******r with a face.
She was back to her ‘Old Self’ so soon, that he suspected there was more than one reptile. Where there’s a heat source, there are snakes.
Just a few nights ago he snuck into bed with his wife, noting the two empty wine bottles on the carpet. He looked out the sliding glass balcony door just in time to see an orange light wink in and out of the dark of the backyard.
That smoking snake got smoked. Ain’t no way.
Tim combed the yard by moonlight and found nothing.
He’d heard stories of people surviving the impossible. Plane crashes. Botched skydives. Train wrecks. So maybe, just maybe, there was still a chance this reptile survived a knife through the brain and could still maintain an erection that could get Sandy’s attention.
But the earlier he came home, the more he found of the same thing.
He sighed and removed his suspenders. He didn’t need them five years ago. Back then he had just a bit of pudge. Sandy said it was cute. But the pudge grew and the cuteness comments didn’t.
He was still a man. He could still do, y’know, man things, and his face wasn’t getting wrinkles. There was a picture of him and Sandy on the kitchen table. Their wedding day. Before the pudge. Before a few gray hairs. Before a certain… relaxing..?… of the smoothness of his features. He was no old man. But he wasn’t as amazing as the Timothy in that photo.
With a two-story house in an exclusive subdivision, two cars no more than two years old, it was a safe bet that Sandy had an eye for the amazing. Even if she wasn’t so amazing anymore herself. Dealing with her would be another project. For now? The reptiles.
He was ready for bed. His paunch just barely tried to sag over his boxers. You know, the ‘dad bod’ that some girls are supposedly into. Sandy must not have been one of those girls.
He sat on the bed as gingerly as possible when he saw it. The orange light in the backyard. Like a cig lighter winking in and out. It couldn’t be, and yet it had to be. He darted outside in his boxers, ready to take on the reptile with just what God gave him.
But there was nothing.
The next night, the light was… brighter? Or was it bigger? It was in the same spot of the yard and again, Tim went out to war armoured with nothing but boxers. And again there was nothing.
Sandy started showing him more attention. More ‘interest,’ and he played along. But every other night there was that light.
Okay, there was definitely a fire in the backyard this time. No flame that bright and that tall can be mistaken for anything else. But what did Tim find when he went outside? Nothing.
Kid’s name was Ralph. Ha. Ralph Bender. Yeah, he probably bent Sandy over a few times in their nightly monkeyshines. Bend-Her. Or Bedder. Look out dudes, there’s a snake out to Bed your wife. He’s so sneaky about it, it’s part of his last name.
One more night. Home early. House dark. Wife asleep.
There was a raging bonfire in the backyard. He tore open the balcony door to take pictures for evidence. Just like that, it was gone.
Sandy’s old demon was cigarettes. Tim’s was alcohol. He bought one of those small bottles of a cheap whiskey. Just enough to keep him from hearing his heartbeat in his head.
So what was it? The burden of murder? Knowing that his wife broke her vows? Knowing that he just wasn’t ‘amazing’ enough for her anymore? There had to be some logical explanation for the phantom fires that not only appeared in the balcony door every night, but also grew. And grew. And grew. It had to be some sort of psychological snap. Trauma. Something. And yet his rational mind kept coming back to the same thing. Somehow, he survived. He’s rubbing it in your face and between your wife’s legs.
Tim had a gun license. Perfectly clean background check. He laid down the money for an AR-15. It wasn’t as clean and quiet as a knife, but this friggin’ kid taunting him on his own property was becoming intolerable. So he was slick enough to make some sort of fire in Tim’s backyard and have it out before Tim got outside. He surely couldn’t race a volley of bullets.
Tim came home early again. The house was dark again. Sandy was out cold. Again.
The fire? Bigger than ever. Except…
It was above the horizon in the backyard. It was closer to the moon. It didn’t touch the ground. Tim reached out with a shivering hand to slide the door open. Once opened, the fire disappeared. Closed? The fire was there.
It was a reflection.
The fire picked out the details of the handle of a torch. clutched by a hand arrayed with awfully bony fingers that drew the torch near the face. The face of Ralph Bender with a dark, oozing slash across his neck. The mouth opened wide as if the jaw had unhinged.
Like a snake.