[Editor’s Note: If you’ve not yet read the first part of David’s vacation in Maine, you’ll want to do so before proceeding to this creepy continuation.]
The door creaked open a bit.
The intruder inside our vacation rental house turned his head to get a better look at us, just enough so all we could see through the crack was one of his eyes. In the moonless sky it looked black and beady.
“Who are you?” The One hooted threateningly. Great, I thought. We’re in the middle of the woods in Stephen King territory, and the usually reasonable love of my life decides to do a bit of chest pounding.
“Who are you?” came the answer.
“We’ve rented this place through the 24th of the month,” The One answered, still sounding a little too alpha dog for my tastes.
The man opened the door a bit more, and we could see his head silhouetted by the hall light. He kept his left hand and arm hidden behind. I thought of the Louisville Slugger my father used to lean inside the kitchen door—and winced as I remembered that the most athletic thing I ever did with it was use it as a cane when I was pretending I could dance like Fred Astaire.
What the hell was behind that door that he could use as a murder weapon? A small table to the right, I recalled. Nah, too awkward. Behind him, a large decorative wooden rabbit with tall, pointy ears. Too big…although then again, there was that huge white ceramic penis that Alex wielded in Clockwork Orange.
What else, what else? Think!
Then I remembered. There was a fireplace just inside the living room and a set of tools standing quietly sentinel. We’re going to die, beaten with a sooty cast-iron poker, and our mutilated bodies will be dragged into the woods only to be discovered several weeks later by a group of conservationists wearing uninspired L.L. Bean knockoffs.
“You f–ker!” I hissed. The words flew out of my mouth before I had time to weigh the potential consequences. My expletive had nothing to do with our intruder. I was being bitten alive by bugs. See, I’m crack for mosquitos. No matter where I go, no matter what I try, I’m the before guy in those Off! insect-repellent commercials from the ’60s, where the bastards feast on the manly arm of a researcher. The One, of course, is the after guy.
Our murderer’s eyes flicked from The One to me. I was about to say, Oh, no, you’re not the f–ker, sir, when he said, “We’re renting this place until the 17th.”
That’s when I became truly frightened. So frightened I felt as if I were listing to the left and that my bladder was about to buckle. There goes our vacation, I thought. We’ll have to gather up our belongings and stranger-smudged bedclothes, spend the night at Christine’s, and head back to Connecticut tomorrow.
“Come on in,” said The Vacation Ruiner, waving us into our own house, “and get away from those bugs. They’re awful, aren’t they?”
I was so mortified I’d forgotten all about them.
He jutted out his hand. “I’m Steven.”
“We have a lease!” The One barked, still the alpha dog. “It’s in writing.”
In the full light, I could see that Steven turned out to have a kind face, the kind of face you’d like your sister to marry. “We do, too. Gosh, I hope I didn’t screw up.”
I peeked around the living room corner. No missing tools. I looked back at Steven. Nothing in his hand. The guy was definitely harmless. I put my arm out in front of The One, like a driver instinctively holding his wife back when he slams on the car brakes, as if to say, I’m taking over, honey.
“Well, that’s just perfect, ain’t it?” I said, my voice tinged with as much malevolence as I could rally. Steven cringed. I pressed on. “Just perfect. There goes our vacation.”
“Maybe I made a mistake,” he said. “Let me get the lease.” His bare feet shushed up the carpeted stairs.
Yeah, you do that, buddy. And while you’re at it, you better get your wife’s ass off of our sheets that are on our bed in our rental house. I hitched up my cargo shorts. If I could’ve mustered it, I would’ve spit on the floor.
The One yanked me by my wrist into the kitchen and fished out our lease. “I’m going to call up the landlady and tell her we want a discount. We’re not paying full price. This is unacceptable.” Suddenly The One I know and love was back.
Steven trotted down the stairs, no bed-tousled wife in tow. He flipped though a pile of papers stapled together. “Here it is.” He pointed to his contract. “Three-bedroom house, bay view, outdoor deck.” That described the house to a T.
“Let me call the owner,” The One said. I slipped in front of him and grabbed the phone. The last thing we needed was for the hair on his un-Naired alpha-dog back to bristle while he talked to her. We may want another Maine vacation someday.
“’Lo,” came the froggy voice on the other end of the line. I looked at the clock above the fridge. It was after midnight. I explained to our landlady the situation.
“Oh, jeepers,” she said, sounding more awake. “He’s in the wrong house.”
I felt triumphant. I covered the phone with my hand. “You’re in—“
“Wait, wait, maybe you are,” she cut me off. I described the place. “Nope, you’re in the right house.” While I had her on the line, I asked where the front-door key was. We didn’t need to fight off any more midnight visitors.
“Oh, gosh. I’m so, so sorry, guys,” Steven said when I told him. “It makes sense now, because I thought it was kind of weird. The place was a mess. Clothes in the closet. Toothbrushes and cologne in the bathroom. Pots on the kitchen counter.”
The One did a double take. That “mess,” I could hear him thinking, was our carefully unpacked and meticulously arranged life for the next two weeks.
“No problem. It could happen to anyone,” The One said, all happy, yappy lapdog. I half expected him to roll over for a belly rub. How fickle.
“Plus it was pitch black when we drove in. I thought this was the place.”
“We?” I asked Steven, cocking my head to the side. Here it comes. Some sordid tale about a smutty-romantic getaway without kids or interruptions so they could “reconnect.”
“Yeah, my two girls and me.” He explained he’s a single dad and this is their once-a-year time to spend a few weeks together. “I’ll just wake them up, and we’ll move out.”
Great. He’s going to parade both his girls by us on their way out into the mosquito-infested night to make us feel like wretched innkeepers in a Dickens novel. I looked at The One. He knew what I was thinking and shook his head behind Steven’s back.
“Well…” I said. More head shaking ensued. The One was not about to pack up our clothes and sheets and towels, and food, and pots and pans so we could take the small cottage and they could stay here.
“You don’t have to do all that now,” The One interrupted, cauterizing the flow of my bleeding heart. “You can leave your stuff here and pick it up tomorrow.” Steven said they hadn’t even unpacked, they’d been so tired when they had arrived. More guilt.
From the top of the stairs came his girls, about 10 and 12, both in pajamas, one of them clutching a stuffed animal. The other had her arms wrapped around a comforter. They squinted against the light, sleep in the corners of their eyes.
I waited until they all had their luggage ready and were fully awake. “Okay, let’s go everyone!” I chirped, not unlike a cruise director, shooing everyone out the door and slamming it abruptly behind them. There was no way in hell I was going to let a single winged intruder into the house.
After we waved our goodbyes, The One and I trudged upstairs. I contemplated asking him about his Taxi Driver impersonation, but thought better of it.
We looked at our bed, which we’d spent far too long making up not four hours earlier so that it looked, smelled, and felt like our own back home.
The One saw me approach it. “Oh, no, you don’t.”
“But he was in it for what, maybe 15 minutes?” I pleaded.
“Well, there’s no way in hell I’m sleeping on the house sheets. They’re damp and smell like Bengay. And we’re not going to wait for these to be washed and dried.”
“We can make up the bed with Ellen’s linens for the night,” he said referring to the sheets we’d brought up for our friend Ellen, who was joining us for a few nights.
“What’s the thread count?” [Editor’s Note: Oh brother.]
“North of fifteen hundred.”
I dropped onto the bed after we made it and tumbled into a dreamless black sleep. Nothing, not even the nudging of the morning sun, could rouse me from bed the next morning.
Well, until the thought of crab Benedict, lobster mac and cheese, crab Stroganoff, and vanilla-poached lobster began knocking at my stomach.