Alice set out to rake the dense, wet leaves from the forest floor behind her and her girlfriends' Connecticut coast summer rental. What a euphemism, Alice thought as she pulled the heavy rake through the top layer of matted leaves, dragging the metal teeth around trunks of pines and skinny oaks. The blanketing canopy chilled her, despite the heat wave on the sunny side of the rental. It was a euphemism to call this pile of rotting wood a "summer rental," for the joint was really an unkempt two-car garage. The landlords, a wealthy couple from New York, a psychiatrist wife and a plastic surgeon husband with two black-haired sons, lived in the granite McMansion, one with a crisp paintjob around the windows and excellent front lawns, up further from the garage. The garage was all but abandoned, being tucked away on the property and nearly in the forest behind the McMansion, offset and hidden as though a dirty secret. A seashell driveway dry-rivered from the road to behind the house, stopping between a backdoor and about fifteen feet from the front side of the garage. The driveway appeared to have once extended to the garage's giant roller doors, painted Nantucket blue many summers ago, but crab grass and Devil's Paintbrush overtook older crushed shells, embedded and forgotten in the dirt underneath, in the last patch that would have made a logical connection to the garage.
The landlords parked their luxury cars on the street and only used their windowed front door, despite the inconvenience of having to carry their groceries across the tourist traffic on this lane to the ocean, and despite the convenience of the backdoor, if they chose to park where home cars should park. The girls never saw their landlords behind the house. At first, they assumed Dr. and Dr. Landlords wished to leave their tenants to peace, but Alice began to wonder why the wife would shy from walking any further beyond the corner of her own home. If, for example, the girls beckoned the woman for help with the leaky kitchen sink or the temperamental hot water heater that was jerry-rigged to the slap-dash shower in the garage, she always promised to send a handy man, "later." She'd then hurry a retreat to her home, through the front door. No one ever came to fix the shower or sink in the rented garage.
Anyway, didn't matter to Alice to think further on the landlords' oddities on this day, as Alice had a mission. She wanted to clear a 10' x 10' square behind the garage before her roommate girlfriends got off their waitressing shifts. She planned to rake until she hit dirt on the forest floor, having staked out a space with the least amount of trees in-between. Next, she would drive to the hardware store and buy four fifty-pound bags of pebbles, lay down a layer, and set up the four plastic lawn chairs and twinkle lights she purchased at the Mystic Flea Market that very morning. Alice and her roommates needed more space. The two bunk beds they slept in took up almost the whole downstairs of the garage. The upper loft—the upper loft was another story, a space the girls, all nineteen or twenty years old, agreed to take turns in using for one purpose, and one purpose only. Alice wanted to surprise her roommates with a cooler of beer and a sitting area this night: a secluded forested patio, away from the prying eyes of their landlords, who they'd caught squint-eyeing them from behind their McMansion's second-floor curtains.
Alice bought the rake at the flea market too, the old kind with the wooden handle and one row of heavy metal teeth. The kind murderers swing high overhead and slam down into the skull of a victim, like the psycho in the awful horror movie, Seven Roads, Alice and her roommates and Alice's "date" watched last night in the garage. Seven Roads started late, after Alice clocked an exhausted end to an eternal double-shift. Her date was the Keene State junior who shouted "ORDER UP" as the line chef at Alice's restaurant, The Lobster Shuffle, in Mystic; she bladed the hot plates he flung under the heat lamp as a Shuffle waitress. They'd spent the last two weeks flirting their horny lobster claws off, and so Alice brought him back after the Shuffle's grills and tables were wiped down and the floors mopped. They watched Seven Roads with the roommates until 3:00 a.m., when Alice took dibs on the "Sex Shop," the upper loft, where she dragged her line chef, her purse, and a six-pack. The upper loft hosted a mattress on the floor, something the girls had all struggled to fold into a taco to carry like pallbearers up the rickety wooden ladder and shove up through the open well. The sole intention for the mattress was for hook-ups, as plain and simple and as steamy and meaningless as any youthful summer lovin'.
The ceiling of the loft pitched low and angled, making the space a literal triangle. Anyone entering crawled after climbing the wooden ladder. Truly, the loft could only be used for horizontal purposes. One small window, a 3' x 3' square, looked out over the straggling tail-end of the seashell driveway, the one used only by the girls. As Alice raked the forest floor behind the garage, she worried she'd failed to tack the big pillowcase over the loft window last night to block her landlords' creepy peeping on her "activities" with the line chef. She valued the line chef on the spectrum of one-night-stand to husband, somewhere on the lower end: a summer fling. Last night they'd been loud and rough and deep into each other, sloppy and equally forceful. She figured she'd have fun with him this summer and maybe, sometimes, once in a while, call him from her college way away in New York City. Not a big deal, she thought.
The raking was as hard as shoveling out a grave in packed clay. The compacted carpet of decaying leaves measured half her arm's length, the leaves having accumulated and remained untouched, probably since whenever Fall started falling on this planet.
After an hour of sweat, mosquitoes demanded attention, but Alice anticipated this. Also at the Flea Market, she'd found an electric mosquito zapper and repeller, an appliance that would pulse annoying signals only flying bugs could hear, the box said, and fry within lighted coils of zapping wires any winged insect too stupid to buzz anywhere close. She leaned the rake against a thick Bull Pine, metal teeth on the ground, and ran to the line chef's pickup, which she'd borrowed for the Flea Market. She grabbed the zapper, jammed the plug into the garage's outside outlet on the side, and hung the swinging contraption from a corner hook off an eave. First a boom, a coming to life, which settled into a steady electrical hum. Alice wondered what unhearable noise the zapper emanated to flying parasites, what noise would so rattle their miniscule insect ears.
In hanging the zapper on the corner of the garage, Alice hadn't looked upon her morning's work. But once the machine steadied its humming, she entered behind the garage once again to find her rake clear across the patch, leaning metal teeth topside, not on the ground, and against a new birch sapling, a wholly different tree. Alice shook, frightened that either someone had moved it, or frightened she didn't remember leaning the rake against that tree, over there, in that way, upside down. Since she'd only been gone one minute or less and no person crunched leaves or cast shadows anywhere near, she went with the latter fear. She chalked her confusion up to having a hangover and feeling groggy from her late night in the sheets. She went back to work.
Alice pushed herself to keep going another full hour, the zapper humming and zapping away, her iPhone playlist jamming in her ears. When she couldn't resist a break any longer, she again leaned her rake against the same Bull Pine she thought she did the last time, taking care to study and remember and burn to an irrefutable visual memory its placement: metal teeth on the ground. On the ground, against the pine, she said to herself three times, staring at the rake as she did. Once settled and secure, she turned the corner on the garage, went to the refrigerator inside, and poured herself a cold Coke with ice-chips from the freezer in a blown-glass tumbler. Her favorite. The bubbles and coolness and caffeine soothed her sedate. She sat for ten minutes on a two-person beige loveseat, the only size small enough to wedge between the two bunks.
As she returned to the back of the garage, Alice studied the rotted boards of wood siding, the peeling blue paint, so unlike the crispness of the perfect white windows on the house upfront. Why is this garage so neglected? She wondered. It would be a perfectly fine place for them to park their BMW and Jag, out from the summer sun, which is fading their paint jobs and must be heating the leather seats to burn their asses. They don't need the money from renting to us. They charged us only $500, total, for the summer. Whatever. Weirdos. Good for us.
A long day remain ahead. The whole morning's work and all Alice removed so far from the 10' x 10' square was a top layer of two inches of leaves. She considered how she should be taking her rare day off to sit at the beach down the street, sunning herself, napping, reading. The double shifts at the Shuffle assaulted her physical and mental well-being. She often lay awake, her mind unable to stop running in circles, over and over and over she replayed her tables' constant orders. Water on two. Bread on four. Kid needs a new fork on five. Kid needs a new fork on five. Lady on eight says her lobster is cold. Basically, Alice should have slept, reclined, slapped suntan lotion on her ghost white body, not raked the forest. But Alice wanted to create the space she envisioned in her mind and make her roommates smile, make them happy, and everyone would be happy and light tonight, so again she pushed her tired body back to work. When she rounded the corner to her forming space, she saw it.
Right in the middle of her scraped-away top layer was her flea-market rake, snapped in half at the handle, laid in two pieces like a demented equal sign, one side with metal teeth.
"I warned you when you moved in not to be loud. You were too loud last night. This zapper, the noise, annoys him. You're in his designated area," said a man's voice behind her.
In looking into the eyes of her landlord, plastic surgeon Dr. Roger Panzola, she realized this was the first time she'd seen him behind the house and away from the second floor, looking down upon her. She glued her trembling body to the backside of the garage, pressing her back into the rotting wood. Paint chips stuck to her sweaty thighs.
Dr. Panzola walked over to the cracked rake, and when he bent to the broken pieces, Alice slid her body along the garage to the corner, planning to turn and run.
"Hey listen," he said, standing quick, the metal teeth end of the broken rake in his hands. "I didn't mean to scare you. You know you shouldn't be back here. I'll pick this up for you. It will be ok. I'll set everything back to how it was. We'll have to take down that zapper now. He hates," and here he paused to growl, grinding a visceral loathing to restate the sentence, emphasizing each word in unmitigated hatred. "He. Hates. This. Noise."
Crouching into a racer's starting position, ready to dart and run, but seeing the doctor a good ten feet from her, Alice shouted, perhaps stupidly, "What the fuck, why did you break my rake?!" She kicked herself for not running away. She felt like a cliche bimbo in any horror movie.
Dr. Panzola didn't change his deadened demeanor nor raise his monotone in answering. "I didn't break it. He did. I told you that. I told you you were too loud, you shouldn't be behind here, and he doesn't like the sound of that machine."
Alice pegged the man batshitcrazy, so too his co-dependent wife, for the wife must be crazy to live with his crazy. No he existed, he was him, and ain't no reasoning with crazy, Alice thought. So she asked no more, slapping herself to her senses, turned, and ran to the tiny green Toyota pickup truck her line chef lent her to use at the Flea Market. She'd parked on the overgrown seashell patch, right in front of the garage. Quickly she plotted the course of her actions: squeal out of here, go to her roommates working at The Lobster Shuffle, then go to the cops to ask for an escort to get their things from the garage and leave for good. But when she got to the pickup, she found it locked. She visualized the keys hanging on a wall nail over the toaster in the garage and her purse up in the loft, where she'd earned her use of the pickup with the line chef last night. She glanced up at the loft's window and confirmed her fear that indeed, she hadn't tacked the pillowcase on the window as a shade. Her landlords could have spied everything, hell, even videotaped. Did they let their two weird black-haired sons watch too? Vile, she thought.
As Alice planned a quick route into the garage to extract the truck keys and her purse, Dr. Panzola came around the back of the garage, still holding the metal part of the rake and also now the unplugged zapper. Apparently he intended to confiscate both. His trajectory led him out of her path, passing between the grill of the chef's green truck and the blue garage doors, and on to his backdoor.
He said nothing to her as he slinked by, just sliced a look at her, like cutting her with his eyes, then he did the same to the ground, then the forest. The fact that he said nothing to Alice, who cowered in fear of him against a truck in his yard, spoke volumes as to the danger he presented. Alice froze at this thought. She chastised herself for not running away down the road, but her legs wouldn't move. She ignored her instincts because her mind kept trying to rationalize everything, kept trying to convince herself she was crazy to perceive her landlord as dangerous. Those things don't happen in the real world, rationalization warred with her heightened adrenaline and clenched muscles and the hairs turned to pins off the back of her neck, on her arms and legs. Why do we humans delude ourselves to believe we're not really animals? Why do we deny the infinite wisdom of physical instincts? We are no better than bears, than dogs. We are animals. Alice should have run as if flames engulfed her face, and she knew this, but ignored this.
When he passed the garage doors, he rose on tiptoes, poking his head into the row of glass windows; he seemed to nod to the interior, as if advising the air inside he finished his part.
After Dr. Panzola disappeared into his house, Alice walked quick to the garage's side door and stepped inside. She grabbed the truck's keys off the wall nail and hurried to the wooden ladder to climb to the "Sex Shop" to get her purse. In crossing past the bunk beds and loveseat, she passed the makeshift bathroom to her right, not looking inside. The thick air reeked of hot garbage; Alice couldn't recall the place smelling so horrible when she, only minutes ago, enjoyed a Coke and ice break. The stench was like old meat roasting on a desert road, left exposed to the sun to melt and maggot. Wafts of coddled-milk and the gag-inducing scent of dog shit mixed in almost visible layers with the meat smell, leading Alice to think she and her friends forgot to take out the trash. Rushing to collect her essentials, she failed to investigate further and climbed the wooden ladder.
At the top, she crawled in leaping knee to hand hops across the love mattress to grab hold of her black leather purse, which was tucked between the top of the mattress and the loft's far wall, the one with the 3' x 3' curtainless window. Her purse weighed ten extra pounds since this is where she stored the six-pack last night in order to bring them up here. In her and her line chef's fury to get into each other's pants, they drank nothing.
When she reached the farthest end away from the ladder to the loft, Alice heard a stirring behind her. Something pulled and groaned its way to the top. She turned, frozen with fear, vomit rising in her throat from the thicker stench of rotting meat rolling like tangible waves into the loft. She tried screaming, but like in a bad nightmare, only a back-throat hiss came out of her.
Two animal hooves, but with stubby human fingers and dagger fingernails full of dirt, clawed the wood floor of the loft out of the well with the wooden ladder. Next came two twisted horns, asymmetrical and cockeyed to each other, like rogue sprays of fireworks betraying the design. The chalk-white horns seemed constructed of bleached bone chunks, like malformed spinal vertebrae, each section separated by black marrow. Next came a horrific head. A rust-colored, bulging forehead, the most extreme version of a prehistoric Neanderthal, with deep creases of wrinkle in the brow, so deep they were filled with black mud, as if putty to cracks in a wall. Scruffs of gray fur surrounded his small red watch battery eyes, one bigger than the other. Fur extended to his dented cheekbones. Both sides of his mouth hosted six-inch, bloody cuts, likely etched by his own hoof-claw-hands. One side cut down to this chin, the other up to the center of his face, forming a demon-clown frown-smile of red wounds with freakish stitch marks, which the man-beast apparently tried to stitch himself with fishing line and a straightened fishing hook. Alice surmised as much, given the hook and line hanging from his left jaw. Frankenstein stitching never looked so bad. Sprouting from his chin was the distinctive mop of fur often seen on the Billy Goat, one of wiry black hairs. His twitching ears were curled brown triangles, like wilting lilies.
Alice, still unable to scream, plastered her body against the glass of the window, turning and prying to open it, only to find the frame painted shut under about ten layers of old paint. Finally, she screamed a death cry, at which point, the beast, now almost fully in the loft, began to howl. His torso was clear of fur and that of a large man, and yet, at his waist, began fur. As his entire legs were not in the loft, his feet still on the ladder below, Alice saw only from his pelvic line to his bulbous thighs, which bulged under tufts of more fur. When at last he kneed his way into the loft, setting himself on all fours and staring his mis-matched devil eyes on Alice, she confirmed he was indeed, half-goat, half-man, his legs entirely animal and hoofed.
He howled again at her screaming. Then, as if trying to communicate to her, he made a zapping noise, holding his half-hoofed hands to his ears and shaking his awful bulging head in a no no no. The motion conveyed he didn't like the zap zap zap noise, just as Dr. Landlord said. His bone horns scraped the sides of the low peaked ceiling. His teeth were yellow and broken and widely spaced; bits of debris, perhaps raw meat, poked through the wide cracks. Several fragments of some gray meat lay on his jagged tongue, which lopped in and out of his mouth as he continued howling in Alice's face. Arching his chest like a gymnast cuing the crowd for applause, he revealed more of his lower self and thus his animal arousal below the belt line.
Alice knew what would be next if she stayed another second. With the flight end of the fight or flight spectrum being her only option, she swung her heavy purse fast at the window, crashing the glass. Not waiting one second to consider how she fell, she jumped. But as haste does not mix well with fear, she snagged a sneakered foot on a stubborn wedge of glass, leaving her to fall headfirst. She landed on her head, breaking her neck from the fifteen-foot fall. The hood of the truck, had she hit it, might have saved her life by absorbing her fall, the metal giving better than the compact earth full of sharp seashells, which poked into Alice's exposed skin.
Her exit didn't stop the Goat Man. Too big to fit through the window, he jumped down the well of the ladder, landing loud on his hooves, landing so hard he shook the bunk beds enough that one crashed on top of the beige loveseat. Outside, Alice lay on the ground, falling fast into her coming death. In and out of consciousness, she blinked her eyes to the second floor of the white house to see Dr. Panzola watching, not moving to help her. Next came the beast, who scooped her into his hairy arms and carried her behind the garage and beyond into the deep, deep forest. Somewhere past a creek she'd never seen, she passed out and died, thankfully before he did his bidding on her carcass in his lair.
That evening, when the roommates returned and found their bunk beds just where they left them, and the air scented with a lilac fragrance, Dr. Panzola entered behind them.
"We had to come in here and clean your place today. You left the trash again. I warned you it attracts bears. We had to spray a lot of room freshener. And you're going to have to pay for that window your roommate broke. I don't know what her problem is. She left here screaming on her phone, walking down the street, something about a break up, I think. My wife, she's a psychiatrist you know, she thinks she needs some help. Anyway, we don't need this trouble, okay. This was a mistake. You're going to have to move out. We'd like you out by the end of the week."
The roommates, of course, were stunned. They didn't know who Alice would have screamed at, or why she broke a window, and then disappear. No one could reach her. Not that night. Not a week later. Not a year later. Cops never suspected the prominent couple of anything, and no real investigation ever happened of them. No answers came.
On the night of Alice's disappearance, after he demanded the roommates move out, Dr. Panzola went to his psychiatrist wife on the second floor of their granite home. As she trailed her fingers on the gold and white bedspread of their marital bed, she said to her husband, "It's done now. We'll have to find a different way to make next summer's offering to him—live up to our end of the deal. Can't do the same thing two years in a row. I won't let him take my boys. And I won't give up this prime real estate."
By: Quarsi Deluca*
*©2015 Shannon Kirk, All Rights Reserved**
**Copyright is really held by author Shannon Kirk, Quarsi Deluca being a fictional character in Ms. Kirk's novel GOAT. www.theGoatmanCometh.com is a website that character Deluca maintains; it holds stories she writes about the mythical Goat Man. Unfortunately for her, one of her stories, Alice and the Rake becomes a real-life haunting, as set forth in GOAT.