A lonely road through the lightless plains brought us to a row of houses on the dividing line between the city and the flatlands, the backs that face the plains all lightless, and in the dark seeming to form a low abstract wall hiding something suspicious. You can see this something when you drive down the lane that passes through this neighborhood, where everything is a bit too perfect. The same color Prius sits in every driveway, the trashcans at the end of each walkway are all perfectly aligned and without a stray piece of trash anywhere in sight, and the houses are all filled with the same uniform darkness. Not even the glare of a living room TV or the shine of a small lamp can be seen through the windows, as if each dwelling contains its own depthless void. Each front yard is lit by a single street lamp near the sidewalk, all casting a sterile glow on the impeccably white front porches and perfectly filed lawns. If it weren’t for the green of the grass, the whole street would look like a life-size photo negative.
You can tell Brett’s house is clearly Brett’s house. It’s the only one that doesn’t give you the impression of some always sterile pair of forceps. The lamppost on his front lawn is broken and shines no light, but an orange and yellow lamp buzzes above his garage, casting the cracked cement of the drive way and garage door in sickening sepia. Brett steers his truck into the driveway, and in the light I can see he’s white knuckling the steering wheel. When he opens the door and steps out I see his hands shaking. I get out and follow him to the front door where his fingers brush his pocket a few times before he gets his hand in to withdraw his keys.
“Geez,” he says, “I can’t wait for you to meet everyone. They’re a great bunch, you’ll see.”
I tell him I know, I’d heard about them a dozen times from him on the drive over, and that what I’m thinking about now is the hot drink he promised me. Brett ignores me, continuing.
“There’s Betsy, she’s pretty much the opposite of a vegetarian,” Brett says with a strained chuckle, “she’s all about meat. Then there’s Lyle, he’s just crazy about fabric.”
After his unsteady hands fumble around with his keys, he fits one in the lock and opens it. Frigid air blows out. Riding on this cold air is the dusty smell of old fabric combined with the pungent stink of something rotting. Brett steps across the threshold, beckoning me inside with eager waves of his hand.
Brett holds the door open and waits for me to get all the way inside before he follows and closes the door. As I’m waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark room, multiple locks clink and clack and slide shut, and the rattling ends with a heavy padlock clicking closed and thumping against the door. The sound of all those strong locks and the shapes of limp humanoids on a nearby couch seem wrong. I start to make an excuse to get out of the house, that I have to work early tomorrow, but he grabs me by the throat, his fingers pinching off my trachea so I can’t breathe or speak. He takes a small kitchen knife out of his pocket and presses the tip just below my left eye, telling me not to speak or scream or he’ll put the knife all the way through and out the back of my skull.
“Now that I know you won’t scream,” Brett says with a voice trembling like he’s on the verge of tears, “Now you’ll meet Lyle and Betsy. They’re very nice. Then you’ll all sit and listen to how my day went.”