She looked at him and then at me, not quite sure what had just transpired. John went back to her and leaned down, whispering harshly but out of my hearing. Almost like he was scolding her. She said something back, casting nervous glances at me. They continued this covert argument for a few minutes, with me already inside and watching from my kitchen. I wasn’t completely sure what it was about and I still don’t know. Finally John stomped away from her, toward the house. He turned back to her one last time and said, just loud enough for me to hear, “You know fucking well what I mean. I mean you literally never knew him. When we showed up at your house that was Monster Dave and it was Monster Dave thereafter. And I’ll tell you what, whatever you think, he’s a lot nicer now than he was before. But you wouldn’t know.”
He stormed away from her, looking pissed, and brushed past me as he entered the kitchen. I said to his back, “John, we gotta move that body.”
“It can wait. You’ll still be dead tomorrow.”
I took one last look at Amy outside, snow gathering on her like a lawn ornament. I said, “You coming?”
She made no move and I waited at the door for a bit before finally turning and heading inside. I went to the living room and sat in my leather recliner. I stared into the cold, dead fireplace on the far wall. It was one of those gas fireplaces that would burn real logs so that it looked authentic, a modern heating source dressed up to look like an old-fashioned one. It was an idea I had always found ridiculous, wondering if in the future they wouldn’t have some kind of laser fireplace dressed up to look like a mere gas fireplace, with fake gas lines running from it.
I heard the kitchen door click open and I knew Amy had decided to come in. That shouldn’t have surprised me. Where else could she have gone? I thought for a moment and glanced at the notepad next to my phone, the one I used to leave myself messages (“GET MILK” it said in my hurried scrawl); I wondered if I drew up a quick Last Will and Testament would it be legally binding. John is a notary. I could write it up in a few sentences, leaving the house to Amy so she would have somewhere to live, sign it and then shoot myself in the temple. But then I felt my pockets and once more remembered I had lost the Smith hours ago. I ditched the plan for the time being.
John popped out of the bathroom, fully clothed now, and turned to intercept Amy in the kitchen. They talked some more in those same low, rough tones before both of them entered the living room. Amy sat stiffly on the couch, her arms wrapped around her midsection as I had seen her do so often before. It suddenly occurred to me that when she sat that way the stump of her left wrist was hidden behind her right upper arm. To a passerby, it wouldn’t immediately be apparent she was missing a hand so there would be no reason to do the double take that Amy had grown to dread. Seeing her like that, they’d just think she was cold. John took a spot on the floor between us, sitting cross-legged. “Okay,” he said, as if he were the moderator of this panel. “How much do you remember, Monster Dave? What memories did they give you?”
I shrugged and said, “Everything, I guess. There’s that missing bit from when I first showed up here—”
“When you came here and shot the real Dave?”
“Yeah. It happened out in the yard, I guess. There were tracks all over. But otherwise it’s the same as before. Or, you know. As far as I know.”
“But you don’t know anything of the real stuff? Like where you came from or why you’re here?”
I said, “Did you remember those things at the time of your birth?”
“But you remember your—I mean Dave’s—childhood and all that. School and your parents and friends?”
I waved a dismissive hand. “Yeah, yeah. You and I met in computer class. Mr. Gertz. You did the ASCII vagina, got kicked out, and so on.”
“And you know you got to be at work tomorrow? And you know where?”
“Video store. Wally’s. Sucks. Coworkers are retarded. Yeah, yeah.”
“And the five hundred dollars you borrowed from me last month.”
John nodded in satisfaction. “Okay, then. I’m goin’ home. I gotta sleep in my own bed tonight because I got work tomorrow. And if I don’t leave right now, I’m gonna get snowed in here. Amy is going to stay here tonight.”
He raised a hand to silence my objection.
“I don’t wanna hear it,” he said. “She’s gonna stay here and watch you. Now we don’t know what exactly you morph into, but if it’s like those things we saw before, we know one weakness is fire. Amy, if you see Dave turn into any kind of monster, set him on fire. Dave, show Amy where the flammables are in this house. Get her a lighter and one of those huge cans of hairspray that old ladies use, if you have any. Got it?”
John climbed to his feet, Amy looking at him with an incredulous, squinted look, like he had broken some new bounds of human idiocy that she previously had not thought possible. John said to her, “Remember what we talked about.” And with that, he pulled open the front door and vanished into the white swirl of the storm.
On the David Wong Social Awkwardness Scale, with “1” being going to the “Pickup” instead of “Order” counter at a restaurant and “10” being a guy getting caught on national TV having sex with a dead baboon, I’d have to say that the following minutes alone with Amy rated about a 9.6. A while into this wordless meeting, ten minutes or an hour, I don’t know, the phone rang. We both jumped out of our skin. I picked up, glancing out of my window to see sheets of ice bits raining down in the night.
“It’s me. I made it home. Slick as hell, did a three-sixty going around a corner at Lex and Main. Have you turned into a monster yet?”
“Get this. Molly is here.”
“At your place? John, how does she even know where you live?”
“It’s even better than that. She wasn’t standing outside the building when I got here. She was in my apartment.”
“She broke in?”
“Don’t know. She’s eating a package of hot dogs right now.”
I sensed Amy walking past behind me and a moment later my bathroom door closed. I said, “You gave her the whole pack?”
“Yeah, they’re expired. She’ll stop eating when she gets full, won’t she? Hey, is your power out?”
“No, lights are still on.”
And with that, the lights went out.
“Fuck. They’re out now, John.”
“Yeah, mine were off when I got in. I thought it was the bad guys maybe, making their move. But I turned on the radio and it’s down in several parts of town. I guess they’re working on it. They got the storm on every station, talking like it’s a natural disaster. The ice is knocking down trees and power lines and they said at the state prison the snow drifted up against the fences so high that inmates were able to just walk over it. The guards couldn’t shoot ’em because they were afraid of the ACLU.”
It hadn’t occurred to me that the winter storm had been a huge event for practically every person in town except for the three of us, who had bigger fish to fry. I got off the phone with John, blinked as my eyes adjusted to the darkness and then dug around my cabinets for candles. Amy emerged from the bathroom, her purse slung over her shoulder, and she pawed around the wall to find her way. She put her glasses on, as if they would help her see in the dark. She asked, “Will your heat go off with the power out?”
“Oh, I’m sure it won’t.”
I wasn’t sure, though. Can people really just freeze to death in their homes in times like this? I hunted around for a book of matches, found none in the kitchen and tried the bathroom as the only other likely place. I pulled open the drawer on the vanity and found my matches. I opened the medicine cabinet—
Someone had been here. I normally have three prescription bottles of medication and all of it was gone. Hell, even the aspirin was gone. All of it had been here after we came home to find the house ransacked. I had checked.
I shuffled around in the drawers to see if anything else was missing and I saw my scissors were gone, too. I could have just misplaced them, though. I suddenly flashed on Amy leaving the bathroom, her purse with her, and figured out what a smarter person would have figured out the minute John told Amy to stay with me.
It turned out I was wrong about the furnace. The house started losing heat rapidly the moment the lights went down. I guess the gas stays on but the electric fans that blow the heat around don’t operate without electricity. An hour later, Amy and I were huddled in front of my fake fireplace, sitting on the floor and wrapped in blankets like Bugs Bunny Indians. I got the fireplace lit and turned up as high as it would go. There were no logs in it but they were just for visual effect anyway, the blue flames licking the air and putting out their own heat. We sat there like that, a flickering pool of amber light around us, with no sound but the hiss of the gas and the creak of the wind leaning on exterior walls. The silence was driving me nuts.
“You have my medication in your purse?” I finally asked.
She didn’t answer.
I said, “So I’m on suicide watch? Do you have my scissors, too?”
She said, “I’m sorry that I freaked out before, in the yard. That wasn’t fair. You have to accept people for what they are—”
“No, no. Amy, you were right. You were right then, when you freaked out. You’re wrong now, that you’re calmed down and telling yourself everything’s gonna be okay. It’s not.”
“You did fine today. Yesterday, too.”
“That’s not the point. Whatever happens, whenever it happens, we know one thing—that I won’t be able to control it. Amy, you have to get out of town. Away from this place.”
“We all do. Let’s all move away. Bring John if you want.”
Bring John, she says. Like he’s my pet . . .