The Book of Hope 4: Headless in Chicago
Maybe I've sort of made it sound like we were totally passive about the fleas in the house. Well, we weren't--I guess you could say we were passive-aggressive, technically. Because we tried really hard to get rid of them, we just couldn't. First we bought a bunch of those Black Flag bomb canister thingies and set them all off. This meant packing up all the kitchen and bathroom stuff, all the food in the house, etc etc, and sitting outside on the sidewalk with piles of our junk for a couple of hours while the neighborhood kids went through it like at a yard sale. Then, because it totally had no effect, we tried it again a week later with some more professional stuff that Jo's boyfriend bought at Home Depot for us. You're supposed to wear a mask while you set these off, one in each room, and after he finished the second floor, he suddenly came tumbling down the stairs with the mask wrapped around his head like a dork. "Somebody pushed me!" he said, writhing around on the front landing clutching his leg and moaning. Luckily it was carpeted.
So we were all like, "But there's nobody else in the house."
And he was like, "I don't care--I felt it. somebody pushed me in the back right at the top of the stairs!"
"Oh, stop moaning and acting like a baby," Jo told him (you're gonna make a great doctor, girl!) But of course, that didn't get rid of the fleas either. Next, about a week before Thanksgiving the doorbell rings, and it's the Orkin man. The rental agency had actually paid some attention to our complaints and sent him round at last. I couldn't believe it. I just stood there staring at him like he was the Second Coming or whatever. Finally I got it together to invite him in. But he wouldn't come inside very far--he just stood in the hall and looked around nervously. Chris came down to see what what was going on (by then we sort of monitored everything that happened there together. OK, we were scared out of our minds half the time.)
"You need to get rid of your dogs," was the first thing he said. I told him we didn't have any dogs. "People always tell me that. They all claim they don't have pets in the house. Then it turns out they really do."
"Yeah but we really don't!" I said.
"You don't get fleas like this without some kind of animal, sweetheart," he said, looking around nervously. "And you got them bad. Sh-t, I can actually see them in the air." At first I thought it was my imagination, but then I realized he was sweating because his face was all pink and shiny. And it was cold in there (as per usual). He was a big, heavy-set guy in his late thirties, but I could see he was literally trembling with fear.
"Don't you want to come in and check out the rest of the house?" Chris asked him.
He swallowed hard, so hard he started hacking and coughing. "Don't need to. I can tell you're in big trouble here. Here's what we're gonna do--you two ever seen the movie E.T.? Well we're gonna have to encase the whole house in plastic and inject chemicals into each wall, one at a time. You gals will have to pack up and vacate the premises for a few months. Excuse me for just a minute, willya?" Suddenly he bolted out the front door and down the steps. I followed him out and watched him run down the sidewalk. He jumped into his truck and drove off in a big screeching hurry--and that was the last we ever heard from him. All I can say on the subject is maybe Terminix is more reliable, but I wouldn't want to bet on it. Maybe the Orkin man was totally useless for dealing with the fleas, but he did do one good thing. He put it into our heads that we might be able to just pack up and vacate the premises. Honestly, it somehow hadn't quite occurred to us yet.
Later that afternoon, the first of the really weird things happened to me and Christina. We were sitting on the living room couch researching a paper on medieval pig trials (if you're really interested in what those were, I think there's a French flick, called L'Avocat, that refers to this practice), and we had several huge stacks of library books crowded under the coffee table on the floor in front of us. Suddenly there was a strange dry rustling noise from the floor, kind of like a bird rustling its wings. Then all the books under the table started to tremble and shake. My first thought was that a huge truck was passing by outside, my second was that we were having some kind of earthquake. But only the stacks of books were moving--and one by one, the top ones began to topple off.
"Fafan!" Chris screamed (that's some kind of Swedish curse-word, so I don't think I need to hyphenate it), "Do you see that, Hope?" I sure did. The thought had entered my mind that now we had some kind of terrible new bug infestation under the floorboards, and that millions of flies or cockroaches or something were suddenly about to hatch under the coffee table and run out everywhere, just like in a nightmare or whatever. But what actually happened instead was sort of a gigantic anti-climax, though when I think about it objectively, I guess it was even weirder than more bugs would have been. I know you totally aren't going to believe this, but even so, you'll have to admit it was way too bizarro for anyone to just, you know, make it up. So here goes: after the library books all toppled over in different directions, we could clearly see that one of them, one on the very bottom of the stack, was rocking from side to side and knocking off the others that were on top of it. As soon as the last one slid off, this book started moving in one direction, just like the floor was tilted or something, and as it did this, it sort of expanded and contracted like a beating heart. Then it suddenly opened and rolled over, with its spine on top, and with both covers functioning a little like a pair of legs, and started crudely walking across the carpet. After about two feet, it came to a sudden stop--just like it had had a heart attack--and toppled over. Obviously, Chris and I were totally freaked. We stared at each other. Then we stared at the book or whatever it now was, like we were waiting for it to start moving again. But it didn't. So next, and this is the sad way the human mind works, we both started wondering what was really up. Had we actually really seen anything happen? Was it a hallucination? A mass hallucination, like seeing the Holy Virgin in a window or something? After a few minutes, somebody's cell rang, we started cleaning up the books, life returned to normal. What you can you say after something like that happens? If you're an average person like us, you just pretend it didn't really happen at all. So that's what we did.
But we both waited till last to go anywhere near the 'walking book'. Finally Chris got her courage together and picked it up. It was Henri Cornelius Agrippa's Philosophy of Magic, and it was opened to a page describing an incubus...
At that point, all we wanted was to move out. But we were still dumb enough to want to leave legally and maybe even get our security deposit back. What happened next was that Kerry came home unexpectedly to "hang with her peeps", as she put it, and went to use the bathroom on the ground floor. Chris and I heard a loud yelp (I'd have screamed the place down), and Kerry came out a moment later with a strange look on her face and looking white as a sheet. "Did you guys know the bathroom ceiling is dripping blood?" she said.
OK, i guess you've read enough of this story by now to realize that Kerry's pretty dramatic. I mean, there was no way to prove it was blood--or human blood, anyway--a big rat or something could have just died in the ceiling, and we never would have smelled it, because we basically couldn't smell anything any more with all that pesticide spray in the air. Or it could have just been a big rust stain. Maybe there were leaky pipes up there above the bathroom. And technically it wasn't dripping either, just sort of oozing out of the plaster. But still, not good. About an hour later, Jo showed up, too, dragging her backpacks behind her. Her boyfriend had dumped her. She was like totally incredulous.
"Nobody's ever dumped me before! How dare he?"
Kerry gave her a big hug and was like, "Never mind, honey. There will be another along any minute--men are like--"
"Trains?" Chris said.
"Buses?" I said. Kerry giggled. Those were her usual cliches.
"I was gonna say 'fleas'. OK, you bitches, this has gone far enough. I don't mind losing my sleep or even my sanity in this stinking hell-hole, but when it starts costing us our men, then I've had it. Tomorrow I'll call CRI [that was the name of the rental agency], and tear them a new a--hole. But tonight I'm calling a house meeting!"
Now, you gotta understand that in all the months the four of us had lived together, we had never actually had an official 'house meeting'. It just seemed totally lame. Christina made endless lists of everything that needed to be done anyway, chores, shopping, bill-paying, etc etc, and the rest of us followed them, more or less, according to our school schedules and level of actually caring at any given moment. But nobody ever complained about anyone else or stole anyone else's yoghurt or borrowed their laptops or anything. I guess our previous housemates had given us way too much perspective. But tonight, a meeting seemed really called for, so we were all like, yes. We held it up in Kerry's bedroom, on her bed, which was the only queen-sized one in the house. First she made us switch off all our cellphones and toss them in a little pile in the middle, which felt really weird, like I was suddenly naked or something.
"OK, I'll go first," she said. "The real reason I moved out of here and started sleeping at Chaz's wasn't because of the fleas or the furnace. It's because a couple of weeks ago I was sitting at the dining table when I heard a weird kind of thumping noise coming down the stairs, it was way early and the rest of you were still asleep. I just naturally assumed it was one of you, but when I looked up--it wasn't. It was a man. Sort of all dressed in buckskins, like an Indian or whatever. So I'm thinking 'OK, Hope finally got lucky with a hippy, great, now I'll have to give him breakfast'...only as he came down the stairs, I saw he didn't have a head. Instead, he was dragging a sort of sack down the stairs behind him, and that was what was going 'Thump! Thump! Thump!' And I just knew his head was in it."
Then Jo and I were all like, "So what did you do then?"
And she said, "Well, at first I started to scream--then I decided to try to run out the front door. But the moment I glanced toward it and then back at the...guy or whatever, he was gone. One moment he was there, the next moment he wasn't. And you know how it is, as soon as it was all over, I started thinking well maybe I'd fallen asleep or something, or maybe I'd had some kind of weird stroke. I didn't want to tell anyone, but by the same token I didn't want to sleep here any more either. Then tonight I pluck up my courage to come back--and there's blood on the ceiling."
"I've seen him, too," I said (very, very reluctantly). "Well, not exactly 'seen' him. But I keep dreaming that he's standing next to me holding his head up next to mine, kind of like it's a mask. And, yeah, he's wearing buckskins in my dreams, too--only more like a cowboy than an Indian, I guess."
"What does he look like?" said Jo.
"I would say he is handsome. In fact, he is really quite attractive," Chris said, and we all turned to stare at her like "WTF?!" And at just that same instant, the brass knob to Kerry's closed bedroom door began to turn. I swear to god, THAT was the scariest few seconds of my life. We all four watched like we were literally hypnotized while it turned and turned seemingly forever, making a tiny little creaking noise, and then, very very slowly, the door started to swing open.