by PAIGE KUPER - November 8, 2020
The second installment in the Fox Hollow Chronicles
Johannes Brown prided himself on being a composed person. He got up every morning at the same time, shaved the stubble off his chin, put on an orange shirt and his tweed suit-jacket with patches on the elbows, and went off to work. He spent every day helping his students, hosted the environmental club at 3:46 p.m. on Thursdays, and spent the evening with his roommate, an iced coffee, and papers to be graded. And so it went, every day.
People who knew Johannes Brown from college would agree with his personal analysis. He was punctual, kind, endearing, persuasive. People who had been in Johannes Brown’s classroom from previous years would agree with his personal analysis. He was kind, understanding, intelligent, encouraging. People who walked past Johannes Brown on the street would not agree with his personal analysis.
They would agree even less if they knew about the knife in his pocket.
Though Johannes’s conscious mind believed nothing had truly changed, he had gone from a dapper and fresh man to a squirrely, jerky, unsettling resident of Fox Hollow. He knew it. On the inside, he could feel the darkness squirming around in his chest like a distended earthworm, digging through his organs, his stomach, his lungs. The bronze skin under his eyes had turned a concerning shade of sleep-deprived bruise purple, and his fingers twitched when he stopped in front of the class, lost somewhere he shouldn’t have been. Instead of sitting stick-straight behind his desk, leaning over it to help with students, he perched with a hunched frame on the edge of his podium, as if he were trying to prevent an earthworm from digging its way out. And he fingered the pocketknife hiding in his jacket constantly, his ragged nails tick-tick-ticking over the metal tang.
He no longer hosted the environmental club. He went home and locked the doors and checked to make sure his roommate, Piers, was still breathing as he slept. And then he got his iced coffee and graded papers, dully, without the smileys or stickers he was so well-known for. And so it went, every day.
Johannes missed the days when he had first known Piers. They had met in college and became fast friends. Johannes was fascinated by the way Piers lived--messy, with clothes strewn around and a sense of carelessness. Perhaps it had excited him, attracted him. Whatever it was, the two stayed together after college, moving back to Piers’s childhood home of Fox Hollow. Piers got a job as a janitor at the middle school, and Johannes had become a biology teacher. Johannes found it funny that Piers, the messiest person he knew, filled an office meant for cleanliness. But that was the attraction of Piers, always changing, never predictable.
Yes, maybe Johannes had quite a soft spot for that man, though he wouldn’t admit it. A shame, he thought, to be too forward. He was a composed and content man, and he liked the way things were. And so Johannes spent his weekends looking for his red pens that Piers had used to make a teepee, and Piers spent his weekends struggling to comprehend how Johannes knew how to fold towels.
As most of Piers’s job occurred after the students had taken their muck-covered shoes out of the building, he was often out late, far later than Johannes. But the night where the chicken scampi had gone cold and the summer sky was dark, Johannes got concerned.
He rarely called Piers, but he fumbled with his Motorola phone and dialed his friend’s number. It rang, rang, rang, and then told Johannes in a monotone voice that Piers hadn’t set up a voicemail box. The phone clicked as he threw it on the rug.
Pacing around their lease, Johannes tried to calm himself. He’s probably just caught up in traffic. Perhaps some poor kid puked on the carpet, and he had to deep-clean the place. He’s a perfectionist about his job, you know that. No reason to be concerned.
He gently placed the pasta in the fridge and started tidying up for the night, in preparation for the weekend, when Piers would undoubtedly have destroyed the place by midmorning. He sorted through the day’s mail: an ad for grass clipping, three bills, and a little white envelope from a previous student. Johannes smiled as he held the letter, thumbing at the close on the back. It was quite well secured, and as he flipped the envelope over to open the flap, he noticed a strange little smudge on the side. It was a disturbing, rusty brown, about the size of a grape. The stain sent that little worm curling for the first time in his stomach.
Johannes curled a finger under the flap--
A thud ricocheted through the house and Johannes skitted back, his heart in his throat. Dark shadows flickered across the streetlight from the front door window, and the door thumped again, weaker this time.
Stocking feet creeping along the hardwood floor, Johannes approached the door. The thing was still out there, fumbling at the handle. He steeled himself and flung open the door, but before he could step back he was smothered by a limp shape.
“JOHANNES! Hans! It was the mailman, the mailman tried to kill me, Johannes!” the figure sobbed, clinging to his suitjacket.
“Piers?” Johannes asked, incredulous, propping up the dead weight of his roommate. His eyes flickered in their sockets, blood dripping from his temple. He breathed heavily, like a caged animal, his fingers digging with dying intensity into Johannes’s arms.
Sobbing, Piers sank to the ground, still burying his head in Johannes’s arms. His lips were slightly blue. “It was the mailman, Johannes,” he repeated, over and over, coughing out the words.
But in the following days, there really was no evidence it was the mailman. No, the doctors said, there was no armed assault on Piers. This looked like delusions from head trauma from a car accident, and, indeed, they found the mangled pieces of Piers’s car just a block away. Besides, what would the mundane Bryan Davies be doing attacking random people?
As Piers progressed, however, there seemed to be no convincing him otherwise. He would cry himself to sleep in his room, which he had begged Johannes to move into, muttering about the mailman, and wake up with a scream only minutes later. He spent his days in quiet, in darkness, and often in hysterics. And Johannes?
Well, Johannes had the problem with that worm.
Had Johannes gone out and bought bars for their windows? Had he purchased a baby monitor to serve as a security system? Had he installed deadbolts on every door?
Perhaps. But Johannes Brown prided himself on being a composed person, and a good person. He would protect his Piers at all costs. If that meant buying a knife, and never meeting eyes with the mailman, so be it. He got up every morning, shaved the stubble off his face, put on an orange shirt and the bloodstained tweed jacket with patches on the elbows, and put the knife in his pocket. And so it went, every day.
Cover photo by Wu Yi on Unsplash.