I stumbled to the front door as my dog, Jinny, a large white pit and boxer mix, nearly knocked me down. I rolled my eyes and stepped over her and then I saw the large mess.
“Jinny girl why?” I asked frustrated as I picked up pieces of garbage throughout the kitchen and living room of my two-bedroom apartment. She was bored again while I was away at work. I looked at her face which had coffee grounds stuck to her forehead and as she wagged her tail she remained completely oblivious. She was just happy I was home and could take her for a quick walk before I made dinner and lounged on the couch to watch Netflix.
I leashed her up and I grabbed my keys. I figured I would get the mail while I was out and that would save me a trip as well. Besides, it was getting dark, just after eight o’clock now.
Jinny did her business right next to our mailboxes and I just stood shaking my head. Unlike most dogs with an affinity for tall green grass, my Jinny would go anywhere. I cleaned up the mess and with the mail, under my armpit, we went back to the apartment. I washed up and began to prepare dinner.
I grabbed something out of the fridge just then some steak and shrimp. Surf and turf was just the thing after a long day working as a nurse. I put the broiler on and while that heated up I grabbed my mail and noticed there was a card at the bottom.
I saw the address and immediately smiled. It was the mother of a boy I had taken care of for five years while I saved every penny for school.
Benjamin Grayson, whom everyone called Benny, wasn’t your typical teenage boy. He stood 6ft 5 inches and weighed nearly 300 pounds and had autism. He was non-verbal and after a slew of caretakers quit because they feared one of his temper tantrums would send them straight to the ER or worse, his mom was prepared to pay for some private caretaker 5 days a week, and she paid very well.
It just so happened that Benny and I hit it off right away. I didn’t talk down to him or about him but rather to him. One thing I had that they didn’t was time to spare as I was a student part-time at the local college for nursing and I had a lot of patience and Benny seemed to know I understood his needs, unlike the previous few caretakers. One caretaker had quit after he had an outburst which sent her to the hospital. It wasn’t on purpose he waved her away from him when she was bathing him and knocked her down causing her to hit her head on the sink in the bathroom.
Benny’s mom was a professor of African American studies at one of the Universities and she was also a single mother. Her husband had passed on to cancer when Benny was just 3 years old. She rarely dated and spent most of her time at work or with Benny.
Mrs. Grayson was also one of the nicest women I had ever met. She would often send me home with care packages of food after my shifts because of my being a student I never had food in my apartment back in those days.
That brings me back to my card, which was a lovely birthday card. It was so thoughtful she still remembered even though I didn’t see them much anymore. I had moved an hour or so south of them when I got my nursing degree. I looked down at the card and began to read it.
BENNY AND I WERE THINKING OF YOU THE OTHER DAY. HE IS DOING VERY WELL IN HIS GROUP HOME FOR YOUNG MEN WITH AUTISM. HE MADE THIS PICTURE FOR YOU AND WE HOPE THAT PERHAPS ONE DAY WE CAN MEET FOR LUNCH BEFORE WINTER COMES. BENNY IS GAINING MORE USE OF HIS LEFT ARM NOW AND WE CAN’T WAIT FOR YOU TO SEE HIS PROGRESS!
BEST WISHES TESSA ON YOUR 28TH BIRTHDAY;
LOVE BENNY AND NIA GRAYSON
I smiled thinking about them and I genuinely missed them. I made it a mental note that I would call Mrs. Grayson the next day. There was a drawing of some sort that I could only make out as a yellow sun and a face with yellow hair. I recalled how everything was colored using his favorite yellow crayon. It was a color that made him happy and very rarely did he deter from it. I oversaw taking care of him on the weekends mostly when Mrs. Grayson had to run errands or in the Summer months while she taught a summer class at the university. We had always been very close and bonded easily, however, I think a deeper bond was made after our last summer weekend we had spent together.
You see my final year was coming to an end in just a couple of weeks and I had agreed to stay with Benny for a long weekend which would be 4 days and nights of care. It would be one of the last as I was going to be starting work soon. Mrs. Grayson was going to be going away for a conference in Los Angeles, which was basically 2400 miles away from Hudson, Ohio where they lived.
I arrived late Thursday afternoon and helped Mrs. Grayson prepare for her trip by feeding Benny and assisting him with his first night away from his mother. It was roughly 3 o’clock when the cab driver came to take Mrs. Grayson to the airport. As she stepped out and waved to the cab driver she asked me if I would run and let him know she would be a few minutes while she quickly grabbed the mail.
Because Mrs. Grayson paid me handsomely I never minded the little extras she had me do for her. I had become a trusted member of the Grayson household. She had even written a recommendation letter for me to get into a great position at one of the hospitals after I graduated.
After I had given the cab driver the message, I walked back up the sidewalk toward Mrs. Grayson who bore a very concerned expression on her face.
“Is everything okay?” I had asked her.
She was looking down at a letter she held tightly in her hand. She hesitated for a moment, then she looked at me and smiled. “Yes, everything is fine. Make sure the doors are locked and that Benny is in bed by 8:45. It is important he stays in his routine.”
“Of course, no problem,” I said helping her with her suitcase to the cab.
She bid me goodbye and waved to Benny as he had come out of the house now and was standing next to me nodding his head up and down. He seemed to understand his mom was leaving and at first, I was concerned he would take to reacting negatively, I was even prepared for an outburst due to the sudden change. However, Benny smiled and then went back into the house and sat down at the kitchen table. He took out his favorite crayon, a large yellow one, and began coloring a picture of a bear in a sailboat.
He had a slight grin on his face and I knew then he would be okay. I started to prepare his dinner which was canned ravioli and happened to be a favorite of Benny’s since he was a toddler. He smiled and moaned happily nodding when he saw what I had taken out of the cabinet and began cooking in a small pan. He didn’t look directly at me, instead, he looked up toward the ceiling and began happily moaning. I knew then he was telling me he was glad I was making it. He had his ways of telling me what he liked or disliked. If he strongly disliked something, he would throw a tantrum or throw whatever he had in his hand down or even at me. That was a rare occasion though. Benny remained a happy boy by all accounts. In some ways, he was a typical teenager and then in others he was a lot like a small child because his desires were simple. When people say autistic individuals are mentally disabled I disagree to all of that. There are some autistic individuals, like Benny, that always understood what was going on in the world around them and he was highly alert. People like Benny, just absorb everything all at once and the stimulation is too much. So, they hum, or they moan or do odd things to drown out all the stimulation as their brains in some cases, process thousands of things all at once.
I put the can in the recycle and then I got him out a glass of chocolate milk. I poured it into the plastic cup in front of him and placed a straw in it for him. I closed the lid on it and then continued to cook his dinner.
Almost instinctively he picked up the cup and began sipping it while he colored his photo. He held the straw between his teeth and as he chewed and slurped he colored with his other hand. I think the chewing of the straw relaxed him. He moaned and rubbed the crayon in between his fingers and began to rock back and forth. He would stop periodically and color the page to the best of his ability. He would sometimes look up in my relative direction as though he were trying to get my approval. He would hold up his picture and moan with a smile on his face to which effect I would tell him it was very nice. I think if he had had the ability to make his body focus he would have been a great artist. Like so many individuals with autism, I imagine it must be hard feeling trapped in one’s own body.
When his dinner was done I gave him a large spoon and let him eat. He could grasp the spoon with no issue and eat it like any normal kid. He did have his quirks which involved sometimes spitting the food out and then eating it again. His mom figured the food was too hot and so lowering the temperature on it she believed helped. I never heated it too long though, just long enough that it wasn’t scalding but warmer than just room temperature. Even then he would sometimes not eat it.
I read in my own book while he ate minding to keep my attention on him to make sure he didn’t choke or eat the straw. He did that once by accident nearly choking to death. He liked to hide things to chew on for later. I had found straws, popsicle sticks and other things like plastic spoons that he would sometimes hide under his pillow to chew on. His mother and I kept constant watch over him because of this.
I was reading when I heard it. There was something moving upstairs in the room above the kitchen. Benny kept coloring and eating, and I didn’t want to leave him to investigate so I listened again. I figured it was their family cat, Angel. She was a white Persian cat they had adopted to help calm Benny down because he used to have way more outbursts before they adopted her. He would pet her for hours and she would sleep at the foot of his bed. When I didn’t hear anything else I figured I would investigate after Benny was done eating to see if Angel had knocked something over. She had a tendency of climbing on objects like tables and then knock whatever she felt like off for her own sport. I looked down at the kitchen floor and quickly realized it was not Angel. She was fast asleep in her little basket they had made into a bed. I felt a chill go up my back and when Benny had finished the last of his food I took the bowl from him and told him I would be right back.
For whatever reason, I became immediately creeped out by the sound of my own footsteps as they carried me up the wooden stairs to the second floor. The sound had appeared directly over the kitchen which meant it was coming from Mrs. Grayson’s bedroom. I slowly approached the bedroom and then opened the closed door as quietly as I could. I was not exactly sure what I expected to find seeing as how Mrs. Grayson was long gone at this point. Still, I felt as though I were invading her privacy as I crept through the door. I stood in the doorway and I looked around. Her bed was made with a nice new mint colored quilt and the chair by her large bay window had a table with flowers adorning it. She had a huge closet and the only thing I noticed was that a vase had been knocked over and water had spilled out onto the floor, so I bent over to pick it up.
As I did I couldn’t help but swear I could hear breathing in the room I was in. I looked up and the closet door was cracked just enough, that in my wildest imagination of thoughts, gave me the feeling there were eyes staring back at me. I looked at the darkness peering out from that closet and afraid to go any closer I stood up and bravely walked to the closet door and shut it. I took a deep breath and when I turned around I dropped the vase and it shattered into hundreds of pieces.
Benny was standing behind me holding up his colored picture. I took a deep breath then and he looked down at the glass then stared up at the ceiling as his head began to bob up and down. I composed myself as quickly as I could and smiled at Benny.
“Oh Benny, what a lovely picture. Why don’t we go hang that on the blackboard in the kitchen?”
I led Benny out of the room and then I grabbed a dustpan and brush and swept the broken glass into a bin. I cleaned up the water and flowers. I felt bad that the vase had gotten broken and I made a mental note to tell Mrs. Grayson about it.
Benny and I hung up the picture on the blackboard in the kitchen and then we went and sat on the back porch for a bit. The Ohio breeze was blowing against the humidity. It kept us from sticking to the seats under the wrap around porch which had been recently painted. It was all white and looked very nice against the light blue house. The yard was at least a good acre and had a few large old oak trees that lined the driveway. The plants in the garden smelled delicious and the bees buzzed around the tall lavender that was planted along the house and driveway. I watched Benny as he colored some more with his yellow crayon. Every now and then he would stop and laugh as the wind blew against his skin. We lounged in a sort of bliss that afternoon just sitting around for a bit and I suddenly noticed the Grayson’s neighbor, Mr. Douglas, staring at us. He was an older man nearing roughly 80 years old and was sort of gruff and unfriendly. He seemed to always obsess over any animal or person that came into his yard that may mess up his perfect lawn. He seemed to be outside constantly attending to his lawn with no awareness of anything besides it and those that may creep near it.
I kept looking up from the book I was reading and every time I did I was met with the strangest gaze. Eventually, he went into his house and I thought no more of it. Benny was beginning to look tired and so he and I went inside. When we did I was met with the strangest mess. There were papers that were previously on the kitchen table all over the floor. I figured Angel had gotten on the table somehow and strung them about in a cat game of hers. I sighed and then picked up the mess preparing a snack for Benny. I cut up some apples and some pears and placed them in a bowl. He began to gobble them up and I turned to clean the kitchen up. It was getting later, and I could sense the night air getting cooler. An open window near the kitchen sink told me I should close it for the night. I locked the top of the window and then checked all the doors. It was nearing 8 o’clock and I knew Benny would need to clean up and head to bed. I too was ready for a break and just needed to be alone for a bit.
I helped Benny wash up and change into his bedclothes. I gave him his favorite pillow and he seemed to calm down once Angel was in his room. I left the door cracked, per instructions from Mrs. Grayson and then I made one last round to ensure that everything in the house was locked and turned off. I then went up to bed and started to get myself ready for bed as well. I was staying in the spare room at the very end of the hall. It was quiet, but I had a monitor where I could listen to Benny in case he woke up and needed me.
I curled up and turned on the little television that was in the room. Some old movie was on about two lovers that finally found each other after years of missing each other. I watched it and laughed at the funny parts and after about a half hour I began to doze off and shut off the television. I woke up in the middle of the night because I felt a tap on my shoulder. I had my eyes closed for a moment longer trying to reason there was nothing there. Then I heard my name whispered. My eyes shot wide open and I looked around the room. What was so unnerving was Benny couldn’t talk so I knew it wasn’t him. I figured maybe I was dreaming and thought no more of it and then began to doze off again.
I awoke again to the sound of the wooden hall floors creaking. I could hear the door of my bedroom slowly opening as though something very small had opened it. I could see a slight shadow in the doorway and it appeared someone was standing there not moving. I instantly thought of Benny and I turned on my lamp on the side of the bed. The clock said it was 1:57 am and I sat up rubbing my eyes. I slipped on my robe and opened the door expecting to see Benny standing there. Only when I opened the door there was no one there. I walked toward Benny’s room and opened the door to his bedroom. He was snoring and completely unaware of anything around him. He was lost in the land of dreams. I smiled but then, with a strange gut-wrenching feeling, I thought to myself who was in the hallway standing outside my door watching me while I slept?
It was near 7 am when I awoke finally and took a quick shower, dressed and then began to make breakfast. I knew Benny woke late on most days, so I didn’t try to change his routine. I stood at the kitchen sink preparing eggs and some bacon, another favorite of Benny’s, and as I stood looking out of the kitchen window watching Mr. Douglas mow his lawn for what was probably the third time that week and feeling the cool morning breeze blow through the screen. I suddenly realized with a sinking feeling I recalled closing the window and locking it the night before. I tried to think to myself if I had in fact closed and locked it. I shook off the feeling and then I heard Benny coming down the stairs and slowly walking into the kitchen. Angel was right behind him and I greeted Benny and then opened a can of nine lives for Angel.
As I am standing there, I hear the phone ring and I don’t recognize the number. I go ahead and answer it and it is Mrs. Grayson calling from her hotel room.
“Hello, there how is everything going?”
“Very well. I’m making Benny breakfast as we speak.”
“Oh, do you mind if I tell him hello?”
I put the phone up to Benny’s ear. “Benny it’s mom. She wants to say hi.”
He moans and gets a little grin on his face. His head bobs up and down and he slams his hand down on the kitchen table in excitement. His eyes are nearly rolling back in his head listening to his mom and then he grins and starts playing with his pajama buttons. I tell Benny that mom has to go, and I pull the phone away.
“He was really excited to hear from you.”
“I miss that boy right now. This place is crazy there are so many people from all over the world. I was also calling to let you know when the mail runs, it should be about that time now, just put it on my dresser and I’ll read it when I get back.”
“Oh okay, no problem,” I told her not thinking anything of it.
I said my goodbyes and hung up returning to Benny and his breakfast. His clothes were covered in eggs and grease. I smiled shaking my head and then poured him some water in his cup. I put in a straw and then let him look at his books. He had several that were his favorite and the one he was looking at now was one of the National Parks. I went to the front of the house and got the mail out of the box. The mail must have run, so I yelled to Benny I was going upstairs to put the mail in his mother’s room then I would be back downstairs. I went into Mrs. Grayson’s bedroom and noticed the closet door was open. I knew I had shut it the day before, so I shut it again and placed the mail on top of her dresser. When I went to the dresser I noticed there were at least 5 pink envelopes with her name on them that weren’t postmarked. They appeared to be from the same person and I didn’t necessarily think it was weird till I put the mail on the dresser and noticed at least maybe 20 or more of similarly opened envelopes on the dresser. I wasn’t a naturally nosey person, so I just placed the mail on the dresser as I had been instructed and then went back down to tend to Benny for the day.
Most of that day went uneventfully until we once again went outside to the porch to relax and enjoy the weather. As we were sitting there I noticed Mr. Douglas coming out of his house and then he stood and glared at Benny and myself for a few moments before I realized he was walking toward us as though he were on a mission.
I saw the wild-eyed look in his eyes as he approached, his mannerisms taking me off guard. He walked up the sidewalk to the veranda and then stopped pointing a finger at me.
“You’re that nurse that takes care of that boy ain’t ya?” he asked nearly spitting his words.
“Um, yes I am.”
“Well keep the idiot off my lawn! I saw him yesterday walking around near my new pumpkin patch. Those will sell like hotcakes in a few weeks and I don’t need that big gimp stomping all over my pumpkins and getting his big feet all in my garden! You keep him over here where he belongs.”
I had no idea what this crazy man was referring to because Benny had not left my side in two days.
“I can assure you it wasn’t Benny. He has been with only me the last two days.”
“You must not keep a good eye on him then. He was out there I tell you last night walking all over my yard and eating the cherry tomatoes I done grown all summer long! I saw him myself and my eyes aren’t good, but I got the size right. You can’t miss that fella.”
I was shocked at the fact this old man was so rude and callous about it and I didn’t appreciate the things he was saying about Benny.
“I can assure you it wasn’t Benny. You said it yourself your eyesight isn’t good. I think you should go back to your home now, Mr. Douglas. I’ll make sure Benny stays in his yard.”
He looked at me and said no more throwing his hands down to his sides then stomping off across the street from where he came. I saw him go into his house and slam the door.
I looked at Benny and decided that we should spend the rest of the evening indoors. I didn’t want there to be any reason for Mr. Douglas to get any ideas. Benny seemed content with that idea as he sat watching the large television and listening to the colorful music of the Disney movie. I read from my book and watched him rock back and forth in his area of the couch and moan in happy bliss.
I noticed there seemed to be a storm brewing outside and so I took care to move toward the kitchen shutting the windows and earlier than I normally might have. Before I locked all the doors for the evening inside, I could smell rain in the air as I went to the porch to grab Benny’s books he had left so they didn’t get wet. As I was walking back to the back door the door slammed in my face. I figured it was the wind as it had begun to pick up and a dark blue cloud seemed to move faster and faster over the Grayson residence as I stood trying to open the door. I put my hand on the door handle and then tried to turn the knob, but it wouldn’t move.
“Shit!” I muttered to myself
I couldn’t be locked out of the house. I didn’t understand how it could have happened because I had not locked the door before I went out. In fact, I had not even shut the damn thing. The rain began to pour down on me and so I ran toward the front door. Unfortunately, I had locked it when I got the mail earlier. This was turning out to be a lot more of an eventful day than I had anticipated. I heard lightning hit something and I nearly jumped out of my shoes. All the lights were out in the house now, which meant the power was out. I looked around quickly and noticed all the lights on our street were still on, except for ours. Such luck!
I walked toward the back-side entrance from the wrap around veranda and went stopped again in front of the kitchen door and I was walking past the kitchen window when I noticed Benny standing near the kitchen window. I knew he was looking for me and I knew he wouldn’t have the coordination to unlock and open the door on command. As I was walking closer, lightning struck and lit up the area on the veranda and inside the kitchen for a split second. In that second, I was rejoicing, then the rejoice I felt turned to blood-curdling fear. For as I approached the door I saw a figure standing behind Benny in the kitchen. It was only for a split second, but my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I dropped the coloring books onto the water-soaked porch and stood there in fear. I snapped out of my trance quickly however and moved toward the door struggling to open it only it would not budge an inch.
“Benny, can you open the door? Just twist the handle honey!” I tried to sound calm and like I wasn’t panicking. I looked at the window and wondered if I should break it to get inside. As I was debating that scenario, the door just slowly opened on its own. There was no one holding the door and Benny was nowhere in sight. The door was still moving on its own as though an unseen force was pulling it. The sound of the creaking door kept going on what seemed like hours. I kept waiting for Benny to step out in front of me, but there was no sound in the house. I was afraid that whoever I saw in the house with him may try to harm both of us. I slowly walked into the kitchen and grabbed a knife on my way in.
“Benny?” I yelled
I wasn’t sure what else to do at this point. The deafening sound of my heart rang in my ears as every step I mad seemed to cause such a loud cry from the wooden floors in both the kitchen and the living room. The sound of the thunder and lightning outside paled in comparison to my heartbeat and my shallow breathing that was only intensified by my urge to run. Yet, slowly I walked and then I heard a loud thud coming from upstairs. I thought it had to be Benny and so I ran to the stairs and just as I reached them I saw him at the top of the stairs. I sighed in relief as his tall awkward body stood there just sort of helpless. Tears were streaming down his cheeks and I went up the stairs and then when I reached him I just held him. He started to wail in fear rocking back and forth and I rocked with him. I could feel how scared he was, and I had forgotten about the figure I had seen standing with him in the kitchen.
“It’s okay honey, it’s okay.” I just held onto him and the power burst back on with a glow of light that seemed to fill the entire house. I was relieved and then I walked him slowly down to the living room.
I sighed as he sat on to the couch with Angel who didn’t seem to care about anything going on around her. She was still sleeping with her little white paws covering her head as she slept. I went into the kitchen and made sure that the door was shut and locked. Then I searched the entire house while I let Benny watch television. There was no one and nothing there. Granted it had only been for a split second perhaps it was just Benny’s shadow. Perhaps at that moment, my imagination had run wild because I was already fearing what could happen if I couldn’t get in that house.
An hour passed before I realized it was nearing 9 o’clock which was past Benny’s scheduled bedtime. I figured I would let this one time slip and I helped Benny get ready for bed. He seemed to fall asleep faster than he had in a long time. It was no wonder after the day we both had. So, I curled up in bed with my book and then about an hour later I was out as well.
I awoke to a loud bang sometime after 8 o’clock in the morning. I sat up on the bed, put my robe on then opened the bedroom door to the long hallway. I walked just past Benny’s room and he was still fast asleep with Angel at the foot of his bed.
I could hear a weed wacker running and I rubbed my eyes as I descended the stairs to the front of the house. I approached the front door and noticed it looked like there was a box on the front porch. I wondered if Mrs. Grayson had ordered something and forgot to tell me that she was having something shipped. I opened the door and I saw Mr. Douglas stop and look at me as I approached the package. He was watching me, and I looked back at him and I stood still just watching and waiting for him to say something to me. He instead turned and went back to trimming the weeds near his driveway.
I moved to pick up the package and something wet was under the small white package it was leaking and when I grabbed it a glass globe fell out from it and shattered into hundreds of pieces on the wooden porch. I sighed as I picked up the pieces that I could then went to grab a broom.
I swept up the pieces and then noticed what looked to be a replica of the Grayson House was lying amongst the hundreds of pieces of glass that now lay on the white veranda and had been inside the snow globe. I examined the strange object and was awed by how detailed the house was. It was painted in the same gray-blue color as the Grayson home and had a white wraparound veranda as well as tiny white curtains in the window. The detail was clearly made by someone that had taken a lot of time on it. I sighed again because now I was feeling horrible for the fact it had broken. I picked up the small box and inside it was what looked like the bottom half of a snow globe. From underneath it was a pink piece of paper. It too was wet, and I laid it out flat on the table when I got back to the kitchen.
I had cleaned up the remaining glass and then looked inside the box to find if there was anything else left inside of it. It was empty and so I turned my attention to the letter. I wasn’t trying to read it, but I grabbed a paper towel and began to pat it down. I figured Mrs. Grayson would want to know who had sent her the snow globe even if it had broken. I assumed it must have had a leak and that is why the box broke open. So not entirely my fault, but I still couldn’t help feeling rather bad.
I looked at the letter not trying to read it, but just trying to ensure I could salvage what little of it I could as the ink had not begun to run a bit.
I felt my blood run cold, however, when I looked down at the words that were coming together.
WHY WON’T YOU LET ME LOVE YOU? YOU SEE HOW MUCH I STILL CARE? HOW MUCH I WANT TO LOOK AFTER YOU AND YOUR SON. HE COULD USE A FATHER FIGURE AND YOU COULD USE A BREAK INSTEAD OF HIRING CARETAKERS. ESPECIALLY THAT LITTLE YOUNG ONE. HOW MUCH ARE YOU PAYING HER MY LOVE?
LOOK AT HOW MUCH TIME AND CARE I HAVE SPENT ON THIS GIFT FOR YOU. PLEASE DON’T SHUT ME OUT.
I WILL BE WATCHING YOU AS I HAVE LOOKED AFTER YOUR HOUSE WHILE YOU WERE AWAY.
YOU KNOW WHO
I put the letter down on the table and I picked up my cellular phone. I tried unsuccessfully to reach Mrs. Grayson. I wanted her to know what had been going on. My thoughts went back to the afternoon she left. She had been holding on to a letter with a very dismayed look on her face. I wondered if it were the person that had sent her this. I ensured all the windows and doors were locked. I tried to maintain my calm and thought of who “You know who” could be referring to. I knew that Mrs. Grayson didn’t even date and hadn’t for a long time. She tended to be candid with me on those matters as she trusted me in nearly everything, so why not tell me she had a stalker. It was clear to me now that he had been spying on her for a while and seemed to pay special attention to her every move and more unnerving mine. I waited for Benny to rise and I hoped to hear from Mrs. Grayson. When I thought better of it I thought maybe I shouldn’t have called her at all to make her worry while she was gone.
I put the objects out of sight and waited as Benny came downstairs with Angel just like he did every single morning. I had my back turned away from them as I washed out a coffee cup from the prior morning to use.
“Morning Benny, go ahead and sit at the table I’ll have your toast and fruit ready in a second.”
Usually, Benny yawned, moaned, laughed made some sort of audible sound with his body as he would take out a chair from the table. I heard the chair and thought nothing of it till I turned to look at him. Benny was nowhere in sight. But I heard him come down the stairs and Angel stood at my feet waiting for her meal. Even the chair was moved back about 3 feet from the table. I took a deep breath and called out to Benny, but he did not reply in his usual way. I didn’t hear him moving in the next room as I had expected him to.
I felt the morning breeze coming in from outside and it felt slightly chilly. I hugged my arms to my chest and then proceeded to slowly climb the stairs to Benny’s room. I did not see Benny, and he was not in his bed. I began to panic wondering if somehow, he had left. That just wasn’t like him. I heard the floors creek at the far end of the hallway near my room. I walked down the hall and then I saw Benny at the end of the hallway. He was standing looking the large window at the end of the hallway. I slowly approached him as he seemed to be deep in a trance of some sort.
“Benny? Hey, honey, I made your favorite for breakfast.” I said as quietly as I could, slowly approaching him. This was not like him to just stare like that so pointedly. He usually had trouble focusing because of his Autism. Yet, here he stood still as a dear in a forest listening for danger.
I could see he was focused on our infamous angry neighbor Mr. Douglas, who was carefully picking up fallen branches from around his yard and putting them in bags for the garbage men to collect. I stood next to Benny watching him not sure what was going on with him.
Suddenly he seemed to snap out of it and looked at me smiling his normal morning smile. He rubbed his ear and looked around for something on the ground. Angel came running past us and into my bedroom. She ran toward my closet and then I heard her hiss and then run back out nearly sliding under a table that was up against a wall in the long hallway.
Benny laughed, and I took him back to breakfast trying to forget the morning events. While Benny ate his breakfast and looked at his books I calmly sat drinking my coffee playing on my phone. I was reading some article about how to make your eyes stand out with certain types of eyeliner when my phone rang.
It was Mrs. Grayson and I quickly picked up. I was unsure as to what I was going to say, but I managed to take a deep breath and began relaying the story of the package and what the letter said.
“Mrs. Grayson, I was debating on calling you or waiting till you got back, but to be honest I’m a little concerned about it.”
I heard her sigh on the other end of the phone. “I guess my dirty little secret is out. I didn’t say anything to you before because I didn’t want to concern you. You see, I dated a man over ten years ago and it was right after Benny’s dad had been gone for a few years. I had some encouragement from friends to date and so I finally went out with a mutual friend’s neighbor, John, after meeting him at a party. I was so busy working on my Ph.D. at the time that I didn’t want to neglect any potential partner. Not to mention the chemistry was just not there with John. He did not take it well. He would leave me packages, letters, flowers you name it! What he didn’t know is my brother is a detective. I have been told by my brother to save everything as evidence. He has never been violent, nor has he tried to harm me. Because of that, I can’t really do anything, so I save all the things he sends as evidence in case he does. I didn’t want to concern you while I was away, and I don’t have any reason to believe he would bother you.”
“Mrs. Grayson, I’m so sorry. I don’t even know what to say.” I took a deep breath and sat down on the couch. I peeked into the kitchen to check on Benny and he seemed to be wrapped up in his favorite yellow crayon.
“If you have any concerns my brother’s telephone number is on the fridge. I truly don’t think you have anything to worry about. I will be home day after tomorrow. I’m so sorry I didn’t say anything before. If you could do me one favor though.”
“Yes, anything you need.”
“There is a small key on my house keys that go to a locked cabinet in the basement. Could you please put the package in that cabinet? It is where I keep the things he sends me.”
“Sure, no problem,” I said perplexed.
“Thank you so much, Tess. Please hug Benny for me too.”
“I will make a note of your brother’s number and I’ll plug it in my cell phone, so I will have it ready just in case.”
“Yes, Robert will know who you are. I will let him know what happened that way should something else happen he will be expecting your call. But don’t worry John has never done anything to hurt me. It has been 10 years of this and I figure if he was going to do anything to harm me he would have. Well, I’ll check in on you soon.”
We hung up from one another and that was that. I was almost wishing I had not seen that package. It was unnerving thinking that Mrs. Grayson had a stalker for the last 10 years.
I checked in on Benny one last time and then grabbed the keys from the key holder on the kitchen wall just near the entrance from the living room and made my way down to the basement. As I crept down the basement stairs I reached the bottom and looked around trying to identify the cabinet. The basement was partially finished and on one side there were boxes of storage items and on the other side was a couch and an old television that sat in an outdated entertainment center. There were some movie posters on the wall. It looked like this area must have once been used as a mancave perhaps when Benny’s dad had been alive. The area had remained untouched for the most part. There was some dust on the posters and on the top of the entertainment center I saw an old photo of Mrs. Grayson with what looked like Benny’s father. His name was Benjamin as well. This was the photo of better times before pancreatic cancer had taken Benny’s father. I noticed it then a subtle breeze that made my hair stand up on the back of my neck. I rubbed the back of my neck assuming it was the central air kicking on, although I didn’t recall turning it on.
I found a tall metal cabinet in the corner and pulled out the keys and looked for the small one among twenty others she had. Finally, I found one with a little blue sticker on it. I opened the cabinet and my breath was taken away by how many items there were inside it. There had to be over a hundred items in this cabinet. There were photos of Mrs. Grayson doing things around her yard, sitting on her porch and the most disconcerting were the ones where she was clearly at University teaching her class. They all had little love notes attached or dried up flowers. There were boxes of chocolates, even jewelry inside this cabinet. There was one that caught my eye and it was of a man who had taken a selfie in a mirror and underneath the photo he wrote: “these are the eyes that have sincere love for only you.”
I shivered and put in the globe then closed the cabinet. I took a deep breath and then slowly walked back toward the photo of Mrs. Grayson with her husband. I sat it back down and then I noticed in the reflection of the photo was a shadow behind me. I quickly turned around in a panic only to feel unsettled further by the fact there was nothing there. I didn’t wait to find out if I was crazy I quickly ran back up the basement stairs and shut the door. I looked at Benny who was just sitting at the table and unbeknownst to him the world was beginning to look grimmer.
As the day wore on, I found myself forgetting about John, the stalker. Instead, I busied myself with Benny and trying to tidy up the place. Benny was constantly making messes even though I knew it wasn’t on purpose.
Soon it was again time for bed again and we were both in our beds. As usual, I read in bed and trying not to think too much about the packages or “John” Mrs. Grayson’s stalker. Before I knew it, I was fast asleep.
Early Morning Day 4
It must have been around 3 o’clock am or so when it happened. I felt a nudge on my shoulder as though someone had tried to stir me awake. I woke up immediately only I didn’t see anyone. I sat up and turned on my lamp. From my bed, I could see into the hallway and view what looked like a figure standing facing away from the entrance to my door. I recalled I had closed it before I went to bed, yet here it was open at least a foot or so.
I froze in place trying to figure out if it were Benny, but I knew instinctively it wasn’t. This figure was shorter and smaller in the frame. I was only thinking of the infamous “John.” Then as suddenly as the man had appeared he seemed to fade. I thought I was beginning to lose my mind because as soon as he had appeared, he had faded into thin air. He literally faded like a mist of air. I felt a strange breeze blow my hair and move it as though an icy pair of hands were caressing it from my shoulders. My teeth began to chatter like one of those wind-up toys you would see in gag shops. I heard the creaking of the front door and I could bear it no longer.
I jumped out of my bed as quickly as I could and rushed into the hallway. I slowly approached Benny’s bedroom door and I peeked in. He was sound asleep and so I closed his door all the way shut and went back to my room to look for my cell phone. As I walked back toward my room, I realized there was someone coming up the hallway stairs. I stood in fear watching for the person that would soon come up them and appear within my eyesight.
It never came, however, the sound changed to whoever walking back down the stairs. I heard the front door creak slowly open, then slam shut. I ran to the top of the stairs and turned on the hallway lights. I ran down to the front door and it was locked. I looked around the room frantically and then I saw it on the coffee table. My stupid cellular phone was still there from the night before. I felt so stupid because I could have ended up alone, no way to call for help.
I don’t know if I was beginning to believe in ghosts or I was losing my mind, but there was nothing physically there. I checked every hallway, every closet every room and there was no sign of any person or thing there. Who on earth or what on earth woke me up and touched me?
I sat on the sofa till daylight unable to move. I waited in a daze for Benny to rise and when he finally did I was relieved that there was some sort of normalcy in the fact that I now had a job to do. I stood up still in my t-shirt and pajama pants and went into the kitchen.
“Morning Benny,” I said as cheerfully as I could.
He made his way to the table and sat down. I returned to the coffee and took out some strawberries. I began to cut them up and added some half-cut grapes and when I went to sit them in front of him I noticed something about him that was unusual. He was staring at me intensely in a way he never had. Benny never had any focus he was always moving, or his eyes were everywhere but focused on you. He was never still unless he was asleep and even then, he would often wake up crying or suffering. I was lucky to have experienced an easy few days and nights with him. His mother often told me stories of how poor Benny suffered in the night. He would sometimes throw off his blankets and scream at the top of his lungs. I looked away from him and then got out the bread to make toast.
“Benny I will make some toast with butter how does that sound?”
“No.,” he said flatly.
I turned my head sharply in his direction because Benny couldn’t talk. He had never spoken a word in his life except to moan, cry or laugh. I looked at him and again his eyes appeared darker brown than usual and he had stopped moving he just sat intensely glaring at me. My hands began to shake, and I stood unable to move. Something was completely off, and I was now growing terrified. What or whoever was looking at me wasn’t Benny.
The toaster popped the bread up and I jumped out of my skin dropping the plate and butter knife I had in my hands. The plate split into two pieces and I slowly picked them up. When I stood up I tossed them into the sink behind me. I took a labored breath and when I looked back at him he was now looking toward the basement door focused completely on only it. It slowly began to open, and my mind and my eyes were doing a thousand things all at once. I was backing up as I watched the door open and saw him standing there.
There were a dirty looking man and the smell coming from him was the first thing I noticed. He had a sick way about him and I can’t explain it. He opened the door and walked into the kitchen completely ignoring Benny and focused on only me.
“You have to go girl.” He said and pulled out a large knife.
“Run Benny!” I said trying to go on the other side of the table to protect the giant teenager that sat at it.
Benny stood intently focused on the man now and he looked at him. The man ran toward me before I could even reach the side of the table where Benny sat. The man went to stab at me and Benny caught him by the throat holding him so tightly the man struggled to breathe. As Benny held him I watched in terror as the man sliced right through Benny’s left arm and elbow. Benny was so far gone in his trance it was as though he didn’t feel any of it. The man clawed at Benny while the knife still stuck out of his arm. The blood was dripping everywhere, and I was frozen in fear and shock just trying to figure out what to do next. My mind wasn’t thinking that quickly, and then Benny seemed to begin to snap out of it and I heard him scream in agonizing pain and dropped the man from a foot off the ground.
The man looked at Benny then looked at me. “This is all your fault girl! Why did she choose you and not me?”
I saw the man rush toward me and as he did the windows of the kitchen door blew open with a loud explosion. It turned out to be a gunshot of a bullet. The man was now laying on the kitchen floor with a bullet in his shoulder. I looked toward the door and saw it was crazy Mr. Douglas from across the way. He shot the man again as he rose to come toward me.
The man, who I now realized was “John” Mrs. Grayson’s stalker was crying on the floor.
“You two okay?” he asked cocking his gun again.
“Benny needs help!” I said crawling toward Benny as he slouched against the wall of the kitchen.
I looked down at poor Benny who seemed more confused than anything. I grabbed a large kitchen towel and wrapped it around his wound and then called an ambulance.
“I saw that fucker in my garden again this morning and so I was making my over to give you all a piece of my mind. That is when I saw him with a knife coming up those basement stairs, so I went and grabbed my hunting rifle.”
I looked at crazy old Mr. Douglas and was happy that he was there when he was.
The police came, Benny was rushed to emergency and when Mrs. Grayson came home she was beside herself with guilt.
When they took in John Harris it was found that he had been missing for years. None of his family members knew what had happened to him. He had broken into the Grayson residence and started to live in the attic. He would leave and find food and often steal from Mr. Douglas’ garden to survive.
Mrs. Grayson did not use her attic it was just an old storage area and didn’t even have a floor. However, John Harris had created his own space where most of the craft projects that he made for Mrs. Grayson and would leave them on her front doorstep and her mailbox before he returned to his space in the attic. He even had his attic room set up exactly like Mrs. Grayson’s bedroom. The bed was directly over her bed as though he imagined himself in bed with her. Mrs. Grayson often laid in her bed at night and would sometimes hear sounds directly over her. It was always assumed it was animals like squirrels or the occasional bird.
He had made a rope ladder that when he wanted to leave he would do so through Mrs. Grayson’s walk-in closet in her bedroom that had the opening to the attic. The officers found buckets of feces and bottles full of urine as well. The smell was so bad they had to vacate the premises until a professional cleaning company could get rid of the smell and unsanitary conditions. John Harris went to prison after that for attempted murder and assault. He would be dead by the time he was eligible for parole. He was forbidden to write to Mrs. Grayson too. If he did it would extend his time as well given recent stalking laws.
Benny didn’t recall a thing from that day and eventually recovered. His arm injury caused him to have to endure therapy which was hard on him because of his constant movements. I never knew what or who possessed Benny that day, yes, I say possessed. I have one idea though and it came to me as I was leaving the Grayson residence one afternoon after all these events.
I was getting into my car and I felt a sharp breeze blow against my skin and I looked up at the window of Benny’s room. There in the glass was a man’s reflection, only faintly there, but you could see it very clearly was Benny’s father, Benjamin Grayson. He stood there looking back at me with a smile on his face. Even though he may have had some help that day, I still feel I owed Benny my life. He and Mr. Douglas to be fair, but Benny was the one who held him back long enough for help to arrive.
So here I am, present day, just sitting eating my dinner with Jinny, I think I will call Mrs. Grayson tomorrow and go for a visit.