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The Halloween Project 2018 Story 9: Home Meals

Matt should have just cancelled the damn paper. Why he never thought of that simply escaped him. Or maybe got a dog. A big dog. A pit bull. Or a gun. He liked to read the daily paper, it was as simple as that. Now in his late 30's, chef at the New Haven restaurant, RARE, a steak house, well attended and well liked, he enjoyed his simple life. Chef at a joint that specialized in well done, medium or rare, he didn't have to kill himself, although the restaurant hours were demanding. Weekends were long. Very long. But he still savored getting up, walking out the long length of driveway, and grabbing the plastic-bagged New Haven Register off the ground. He'd return, grind some coffee beans and read the entire paper; sports first, entertainment next, then the news and editorials. He had girlfriends over the last couple years, but he was presently single. The hours he kept were death to any long term relationships. The first newspaper message was a simple 81/2 by 11 inch white piece of computer printer paper. It slipped from the centerfold of the paper onto the kitchen floor which smelled warmly of rich, dark coffee. Scrawled in blue ink with large letters, blocky and square, was written: "WE'RE COMING." Matt just stared at the sheet, took a sip of the steaming hot coffee, crumpled the paper and tossed it in the trash. It was early October. "Someone's getting a jump on Halloween," he said aloud to his cup. Two days later, he opened the newspaper to the sports section, the headline read: "Red Sox Annihilate Yankees 16-1". Taped below was another white sheet stating: "ANNIHILATE - 16 DAYS." "Jeez," Matt hissed through his teeth. He stepped to the front window and looked out down the drive snaking through the forest. He walked to his bedroom and peered out the back sliding door. Nothing but slowly changing leaves. The rental apartment in the basement of the house was perfect. No one lived upstairs, the owners having re-located to Florida. The small living quarters suited him just fine. Kitchen, bedroom, actual over-sized living room. Not a beneath ground level apartment but an airy open floor design, equipped with windows and a front and back door. Well back in the woods, the distance of a football field off Route 188. Three days later the sheet was folded into a smaller square and stapled to the Editorial page. "NO DOOR BARS US." was all it said. "Shit," was all Matt responded. Another three days, Matt returned to the apartment after a very late Saturday at RARE. After hours, Matt, a couple of the wait staff and some kitchen staff hung at the bar until midnight, then went to Cafe Nine to listen to music and knock back a few more drinks. It was a good way to relax and wind down from a 250 plate night. Alexa, a dark-haired, mid 20's waitress had accompanied him home. He drove very slowly, lucky not to be stopped by a late night cop cruising for a DUI collar. The next morning he got up while Alexa slept, made the rich coffee and walked out for the paper, apprehension rising. The transparent blue bag kept the paper dry in a slight drizzle. He pulled it open on the way back to the apartment. Flipped through the pages. Nothing. No white sheet. No sick message. Returning, Alexa was seated at the kitchen table, clad in a long sweatshirt. She had prepared a cup of coffee for herself. "Matt, this was under the back door," she handed him a clean, white sheet with the word: "CLOSER." "What's that all about?" she asked. "Kids," he made up an explanation, "Stupid kids at Halloween." But he thought otherwise. Alexa didn't ask for any more information, but at her next shift at RARE on Tuesday night she didn't show. Nor Wednesday, or Thursday. Matt found her address in her application file, called the number, she picked up immediately. "Hello?" her voice sounded murky, underwater. "Alexa? What's up? You missed your last three nights. Are you O.K.?" his concern was real. "Matt? Oh, Matt. I'm so sorry. I went to visit my parents on Sunday. Driving up the Taconic Parkway I was hit by another car. It sideswiped me and my car went off the road. It was a hit and run, never even stopped. I went to the hospital but I'm O.K., just a lot of bruises and aches and pains. I'm staying at my parents, and, I'm so sorry, I never called the restaurant." "That's O.K. I'm glad you're alright," they chatted and Matt promised to call the next day. But the next day another sheet was waiting, slipped under the front door this time. Block letters, formed bluntly, blue ink, square and stocky. "ALEXA IS RARE." He called the Register, made an official complaint to a manager. He said if this continued he would be calling the police. They were apologetic, as well as surprised. They vowed to immediately call the route deliverer. The next day Matt got up at 4:00 A.M. and waited for the delivery. He stood silent in a small section of the tree lined driveway 20 feet from the road. A late model sedan pulled up, no damage to the car. Matt jumped out as the window rolled down and the driver prepared to throw a paper from the car. "Hey!" Matt yelled loudly, the car which had slowed, braked quickly and came to a sharp halt. The paper, on reflex, was flung out, landing on the gravel driveway. Matt grabbed it. "Dude! You scared the shit out of me!" the man exclaimed. "Holy crap! Everything alright?!" Matt tried to explain what had been going on. The driver replied, "That is crazy. Just insane." "Let's look at the paper," Matt said. By the light of his phone app flashlight, while the driver peered out intently, Matt pulled the paper from the bag. He opened it, meticulously turning each page, there was nothing. No white sheets. No block letter message. "Nothing there?" the driver asked. Almost disappointed, Matt replied simply, "No." He walked back slowly down the long drive attempting to solve the terrifying puzzle. Newspaper, house, Alexa, messages, it all garbled into a nonsensical threat. None of it was logical. He knew it was no prank, but whatever and whoever was doing it, he had no idea. As he approached the apartment, even from a distance, he could see the white sheet attached to the door. This is impossible, he thought. I only left the house a half hour ago. The closer he drew he could see it was stuck on the windowpane with tape, the font very large. It now announced boldly: "DONE." He grabbed it, tore it into pieces and slammed the door open. Two men were sitting in the two large, cushioned easy chairs, now aimed directly at him. Behind him all was quiet. He thought to run, but in the dim light of the table lamp he recognized them. He turned to the large man to his left, "Marcel?", he questioned. Silence. Then to his right, "Lucas?" He had fired them both from RARE last year. Marcel was a dishwasher and general employee taking out garbage and performing other odd jobs. He was also stealing food and items from the restaurant. He'd stay extra late and things would go missing. Lucas was the worst line cook Matt had ever encountered. Undercooked, over cooked, slow, sloppy. Matt was almost happy to let them both go. They protested and pleaded at the time. But they were gone. Spread on the coffee table between the two chairs was an unfolded leather pouch that he recognized immediately. They were chef's knives. A complete set of chef's knives. He knew them by heart. He could feel each one, the heft they would play in his practiced hand. The chef's knife, utility knife, paring knife, Santoku, boning knife, bread knife, the cleaver, the shears. Marcel remained silent, his hulking presence felt but not heard. Lucas spoke softly, his question aimed with purpose, direction and invective at Matt. "Do you prefer a little pink in the center? Or just rare?" #