Chapter 9: Halloween Visit
He could hear them through the front door.
“Press the doorbell, Maddy.”
“Press it harder.”
“Maybe it’s a haunted house.”
“It’s not a haunted house, Dumbo. Somebody lives in it.”
“Don’t call me that, Evan. It’s not nice.”
He folded back the page of his book, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, a throw-in from Fran for dropping three hundred dollars at her yard sale, and climbed out of the sleeping bag.
“Shhh I hear footsteps.”
“What if it’s a ghost?”
He glanced through the peephole. Two kids were standing on his porch. He opened the door.
The little girl screamed and bolted down the steps.
“Trick or treat,” said the boy.
“Thanks,” said Mason.
An awkward silence followed.
“Happy Halloween,” the boy tried again.
Mason noted his military fatigues and dog tags. “Who are you supposed to be?”
“A soldier,” said the boy. “These are real dog tags.”
The little girl peeked around the corner, a stethoscope hung from her neck.
“What are you?”
“I’m a nurse, but I work part time at Hooters.”
Seconds passed. Crickets chirped.
“Do you have any candy?” the little girl asked.
“Gimme a minute,” he said, shutting the door.
He went to the kitchen and turned on the light. A half-loaf of bread was on the counter along with the jar of peanut butter. The licorice was long gone. Finally he grabbed two packages of ramen noodles from the cabinet and walked back to the door.
“Here you go,” he said, handing one to each.
“Thank you,” they replied in unison.
He nodded at the little girl, saluted the boy, and shut the door.
“What is it, Evan?”
“I think it’s soup.”
Chapter 10: Acclimation
He staggered wide-eyed down the aisles of Super Walmart, mesmerized by the excess. It made the old Delchamps where his mother used to shop look more like the Magic Mart.
He came looking for Dickies, boxers, and t-shirts, but after hours of exploration his shopping cart was loaded with boots, socks, beef jerky, a boom box, motor oil, a car battery, a fuel pump, and replacement belts for an ’84 Silverado.
He did the math in his head as he went. He guesstimated he’d have about seventy-five dollars to his name, minus a dollar for the city bus home.
The electronics section was a fortress of flat screens silently displaying sitcoms, sporting events, and video game graphics. One even showed Mason pushing his cart. He paused and stared at his digital reflection in the plasma.
“Careful, big guy. Those things break easily.”
A plump teenage girl with a Flock of Seagulls hair style and braces appeared on the screen.
He turned. “Do you work here?”
“That’s what the blue shirt and nametag usually means.”
He fumbled in his pocket for the cell phone. “Can you show me… I can’t figure out how this works.”
She frowned, glancing over her shoulder. “What is this? A practical joke?”
He shook his head. “It’s just my first one.”
“Um… Dude, no offense, but what are you, like, fifty? This is your first phone?”
He shrugged. “I’ve been away.”
“Where? Like in a cave? On a deserted island?”
“Something like that.”
She was still skeptical as she took the phone. “Well, first it would help if you turned it on. You just touch here, then here and look, twelve missed calls. This thing is so basic. Do you wanna upgrade? I can show you some of our—”
“No thanks,” said Mason, plucking it from her hand and looking down at the number. There was a green button on the bottom left of the screen. He pressed it and the phone began to ring.
“You’re welcome,” the girl called behind him as he pushed the cart toward the front of the store.
Click. “Where have you been?” a strong female voice leaped from the phone.
He held it to his mouth. “Mrs. Caldwell?”
“Too formal,” she said. “Sam works fine. I’ve got some paperwork we need to go over. Where are you right now?”
“The Walmart on Aurora and Conway.”
“Wait out front. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
He changed in the restroom, replacing the prison welfare clothes with cotton boxers, Dickies, and a plain white tee. He had already worn holes in the state-issued espadrilles on the ten-mile hike to the nursing home. It felt liberating to chuck them in the trash and slide on the work boots. The man who exited the bathroom looked nothing like the ragged figure who’d entered. Slowly, he was acclimating.
The parking lot was an ant bed of activity. He stacked both box and bag by the entrance and leaned against the wall, watching the carousel of passing cars. Soon he spotted the gleaming grill of a black Mercedes.
“Here, I’ll pop the trunk,” she said as he approached.
After securing his purchases, he jogged around to the passenger side.
“What was all that?”
“A radio, clothes, parts for the truck.”
She nosed the car out into the afternoon traffic of Conway Boulevard and headed in the direction of his neighborhood.
“So why haven’t you been answering the phone?”
“It was off,” he said, too embarrassed to admit he didn’t know how to turn it on.
“Well everything has been finalized. After taxes and our fee, the balance is $327,000. I gave you the friends and family discount.”
“Thanks,” he said, wishing the money could somehow buy his family back.
“You don’t sound too excited.”
“I visited my mom the other day.”
She didn’t say anything, just reached over and touched his hand. Despite the eons that had passed since his last touch, there were no sparks, at least not of the romantic variety. Still, the human contact was almost overwhelming.
The Magic Mart appeared on the horizon.
“That’s the paperwork on the console.” She turned into the cul de sac. “I opened the account at Peoples Union. There’s a debit card and an ATM card inside—”
She slammed on the brakes. A silver SUV was backing out of a driveway. Inches from a collision, both vehicles froze. Time stopped.
Sam looked over at him with wide eyes. His own heart was pounding. Through the window he could see the blonde from the yard sale and the kids from Halloween. They all stared for a moment, then the little girl waved and time unclenched its fist.
The attorney exhaled. “Do you know them?”