Despite his distaste for hospitals, Chalmers admitted to himself that his brief stint in Cardington Memorial did him good. He felt rested and a bit more at ease than when he first got there.
According to the news, the valley flooding was the worst in recorded history. As the water ebbed away, it left a trail of destruction and fallout behind it. Roads and buildings were missing. Mudslides were creating havoc. Bridges were now dangerous until proven otherwise.
In a world that never offered him much in the way of luck or success, Chalmers found a bit a relief in knowing his house sat in one of the few areas that suffered little damage. The water got close, but other than a little wetness in the basement, he was going to be fine.
The authorities opened the road to his part of town two days after the storm ended, conveniently set to his release from the hospital. He had a clean bill of health. No heart attack, no stroke, no ghosts or goblins. When he pulled into his driveway and stepped out of the car, the only thing there to greet him was some glops of mud, quite a few downed limbs and branches and a lightly wet basement.
The doctors told him to take it easy for a few days, but he was eager to get things cleaned up and reset his notion of normal. The mill was still under deep water, so it was like an extra vacation. He always felt motivated to do more when he was on vacation.
Resisting the urge to go inside, he attacked the yard work first. It was hard and heavy work in spots and his knee gave him a constant reminder of how it hated this much activity. Once the bulk of the debris was moved and stacked, he headed inside.
His pause at the front door was brief, but noticeable to him. Silly he thought. Anxiety is what caused his trouble not some child’s …
He brushed the thought away for imagined or not, the memory of the night of the storm materialized faster and with greater detail than he cared for.
Swinging the door wide open, he stood there peering in, half expecting something to jump out at him, but there was nothing. Everything was pretty much as it was. He tied to enter with confidence, but found himself moving slowly. And while we would not admit out loud what he was looking for, he absolutely confirmed that there was no doll lying about the entryway.
The power was back and he made himself a strong cup of coffee, perfect for a cool, calm Fall day. He had a small pump he intended to set up in the basement to get rid of the water, but there was hardly enough for that. He figured a mop, some rags and a bucket would take care of most of it. He started in and eventually lost himself in the work.
Thump, thump, thump, thump.
The noise made him freeze immediately. His breath caught in his chest and he could feel an uncomfortable heat cover his forehead. His grip tightened on the mop handle.
Thump, thump, thump.
Taking a deep breath to keep his anxiety at bay, he released his death grip on the mop and leaned it up against the wall. He turned and headed slowly upstairs. A tiny voice deep in the back of his head reminded him that a good hard drink is the perfect antidote to fearful knocking. The thought made his mouth seem to go extra dry, extra fast.
He stepped timidly down the hallway to the front door. Deciding to take the direct approach to the situation, he decided against a peek out the window. He took in a very deep breath and swore to himself and to God in heaven that if there was a package on the stoop …
Unable to hold back another moment, he grabbed the doorknob and jerked the door open. Looking down to face his expectation, his fear, directly he saw not a package, but a pair of boots. He traced the boots up to the overcoat and then to the face of its owner. He squinted at the sign of recognition.
“You sick son-of-a-bitch,” the woman said. “How dare you?”