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George and Martha

A Spooky Halloween Tale...

By Kerry WilliamsPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 36 min read
4
The Wentworth House

George and Martha Wentworth were a hard-working dedicated couple who made a living working very respectable jobs. George sold business insurance while Martha supervised her local code enforcement office. Due to their particular fields, they were always wary of people trying to take advantage of the system.

"I had a man come in today. Said he wanted to file a claim for damage to his business because he left his son in the office unattended, and the little bugger trashed the place," George said in an aggravated tone from his triple wide recliner.

"Ugh. Just another reason why we never had children," Martha sternly agreed. "I mean... they're just horrible. Disgusting, dirty, germ infested..." Martha continued on along this line of thought for a short while, until it was clear she'd driven her point home and there was absolutely no room for negotiation. "How much damage did they claim?"

"Five thousand pounds," George sputtered. He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slow. "I'm not covering most of it."

"You shouldn't cover a dime!"

"Bah. This new generation... Nobody wants to take personal responsibility anymore. Back in the day, it was frowned upon. Using insurance. Insurance was for acts of god! Now... they use it to protect themselves from their own ignorance."

"Will they complain? I mean... won't they?" Martha asked quickly, her mind racing with the possibilities. The internet was now so advanced and unregulated, a single instance could crush a company. "Will they leave a negative review?"

"Nah. I'm gonna get creative with this one. We have a painter... I'll have him stop by and paint over the marks on the walls. I'll replace the copy machine with one we have in storage. The coffee maker too. It was a good idea to buy those when they went on sale."

"I always say, you're an idiot if you pass up a good sale," Martha declared, reciting one of her favorite mantras.

"Yes, well it will certainly work to our advantage this time. I'm also putting a stipulation in his clause, effective immediately. No underage people are allowed in the building, under any circumstances. If they wanna say he's not responsible for his own actions, and neither are his parents, then I'll make them responsible."

"How would his parents not be responsible?" Martha gasped.

"Eh? Oh, I don't know. They were watching the boy or some hub-bub. Being good Samaritans? A bunch of rubbish if you ask me. They took him in, they should be responsible."

"Con artists," Martha stated, lifting her nose up in the air. "All of them. Right down to the very last one."

George nodded, but kept his gaze affixed on the TV in front of them. The news was on, George's favorite channel and program. The reporter, who was more of a talk show host than an actual conveyor of facts and current events, sat with a grim determined look on his face.

"In today's news. The new Zeta variant of the highly infectious Durio Virus has caused a spike in infection rates. The general public is being told by the CDC to wash your hands as often as you can, and avoid bodily contact at all costs. Right now, they suspect that virus is transmitted through touch, although it's too early to rule out other methods of transmission.

"Another virus," George grumbled.

"When will people ever learn?" Martha added.

George gave a good "harumph" in response. Neither George, nor Martha, "associated" with anyone else outside their home. They were quiet, comfortable, and content with each other's company and they rarely ever strayed outside their conservative norms.

"You know, if they would just stop using those websites, they would eliminate ninety-nine percent of the virus transmission."

"Disgusting," Martha commented, getting up from her sturdy wooden chair and spinning it around to place its back against the nearest wall. She walked into the kitchen to check on the dinner she had prepared. Those websites... the ones the younger crowd used to meet and... "hook up". Martha cringed at the word. "Nasty, filthy, disgusting," she muttered as she opened the over and inhaled deeply. If only the younger generation put more value into finding someone who was truly worthwhile instead of just looking for a warm body to- Martha stopped herself from finishing the thought.

Dinner

Martha closed the oven and there was a shriek the likes of which she had rarely ever heard before. It was so loud; it made her jump and she turned around in shock. Her hand, still on the oven door, opened and slammed it shut again. Martha blinked and brushed her hands down her apron, fidgeting, wondering what had gotten into herself.

"George?" Martha called out.

"What is it?" George asked from the front room.

"Did... did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" George asked.

Martha continued staring into the far end of the kitchen, to where the laundry room was and beyond to the back door. After another long moment, she sniffed and turned around. It was nothing. Maybe it was a stray cat in the back alley, or... maybe the neighbors were fighting again. She looked out the window over the kitchen sink and far off in the distance she could make out the neighbors living room window... She hurried back to the front room, grabbed her chair and spun it around, sliding it in next to George's recliner. She sat down in it heavily.

"Dinner?" George asked.

"Not ready yet," Martha replied. She leaned over and put her head on George's shoulder. His shirt smelled a bit musty, and she thought he might need to take a proper bath soon, but she'd let him figure that out on his own. She wouldn't have hesitated to embarrass anyone else about their body odor, especially at work, or in public, but Georgie was the exception. They never insulted each other. They always had each other's back.

The news "caster", a peculiar title for someone of his respect and talent, rattled off another long list of startling information. "Extensive flooding in the south. The historic rains don't look like they're going to be letting up any time soon either. The prime minister has declared a state of emergency and has called on residents to make sure they've taken appropriate safety precautions." He continued to speak, quickly going through a list of precautions and preparations homeowners in particular, should follow.

"I'm not doing any of that," Martha said right after. The news continued on. "Take your photographs and important documents and triple bag them in water tight plastic bags", "fill clean tubs or pots of water and keep them on your counters with the lids on, so you have drinking water if the utilities go out", "If you have sand bags, make sure to bring them inside your home and prepare to place them at the base of each door and entryway."

"What do we look like? The Army core of engineers?" George grumbled. "Doesn't matter anyway. The riff raff will just do what they always do. Nothing. They'll file an insurance claim afterward and expect someone else to pay for it. As far as I'm concerned, they can go ahead and die. Serves them right, living in the valley."

The Valley which George was referring to, was a hot topic of discussion for the Wentworth's as of late. Way back when George and Martha had bought their home, houses were only built in the elevated areas of the land, out of the flood zone. George and Martha had picked a prime spot for their "forever home". Deep in the heart of a dense forest and surrounded by geographical wind breaks that helped prevent and mitigate wind damage. Of course George, being who he was and his profession being what it was, had picked the perfect place, out of the valley, and out of harm's way.

"Reproducing like rodents," he said. "No place to go. They're eating up all the land, getting in where they shouldn't... serves them right," George continued. "They'll get what they have coming to them."

"They have no self-control," Martha added. "That's a big part of it. No common sense. Always thinking with their-" Martha didn't finish the sentence, but George gave a hearty "harumph" and nodded emphatically.

George thought of how the area had changed since they'd first bought their home. For a good twenty years they'd enjoyed the peace and solitude of their out of the way home. Then, developers had come in, buying up all the land. A logging company spent half a year clearing most of the trees that had provided peace of mind and comfort against the elements. An entire community of "affordable" single family homes had sprung up, wrapping around the backside of their property, and then one to each side...

"Thieves," George added. "Liars, cheats and thieves. They don't work for anything if they can possibly avoid it. Steal whatever they can. Even from their own friends. Their own family. Disgusting sorts. I wouldn't help a single one of them."

Crime, something neither one of them had encountered in a very long time, suddenly became a reoccurring issue. Teenagers from the neighboring communities took a particular interest in their home, a two-story structure with strong walls, steep roof, and actual working window shutters. After the second time someone threw a baseball through one of their windows, they had closed all the shutters and had decided to only open them if they absolutely had to.

"Well, neither would I," Martha added.

The Storm

Just then, the entire room was illuminated by a flash of lightning through the shutters just outside the window, casting long thin shadows of flickering darkness into the furthest corners. Martha jumped in her seat at the resounding "BOOM!" that followed a split second later. Something thudded heavily against the ceiling above them.

"What was that?" She gasped and George sat up, struggled to grab the recliner lever to put his feet down, but in his haste he couldn't. He fought with the mechanism and then gave up, and just sat there, staring upwards, trying to understand what he had just heard. He looked back at the T.V. and gasped.

Lightning flashed again. Another "boom" followed and proceeded to morph into a long drawn-out rumble and crackle in the air. George tried to calm himself. In the moment of the lightning's flash, when the light and darkness were at their peak, warring with one another, a sudden eruption of color had taken place. For a singular moment, George thought he had seen an entirely different house... but... it wasn't. Not different. But not the same. It was the same house, the same window, the same banister, the same room with the same fireplace in the far corner. The room was the same, the mantle over the fireplace was the same, everything was the same, but the contents... the tables and chairs, the lamps and pictures on the wall... all different. The toys on the floor... it was the only thing George could think they had been, were definitely out of place.

"Did you see it?" Martha gasped.

"I don't know what I saw," George said, reaching down and grabbing the lever now, pulling it upwards forcefully. The foot rest swung down, but got jammed at the last moment.

"Owwww!"

"Oh, sorry," George said, letting go and a moment later the footrest finished tucking itself into the bottom of the chair. He stood up and turned, holding his hand out to Martha as any respectable, honorable man would do for his wife. "Are you okay?"

"Perfectly," Martha said, smiling. "Why do you ask?" Her eyes asked a question which George answered with a look down to the chair. Martha followed his gaze, but didn't understand what he was getting at.

Lightning crashed outside the T.V. abruptly blinked off. The lights dimmed, brightened, flickered, and then went out.

"I think it's about time we retire, wouldn't you say?" George asked.

"What about dinner?" Martha asked, clutching his hand in the darkness.

"Eh... I'm not really that hungry to be perfectly honest," George said hesitantly. He was never anything but perfectly honest, with Martha that is, and in the flickering light of the continued lightning outside, he saw Martha nod her head.

George smiled at her and together, they made their way out of the room and around to the base of the stairs leading upstairs to their room. As they went up, the feeble light from outside became less and less prominent, and the hall grew darker and darker. It didn't matter. George knew this old house like the back of his hand. He could see by moonlight alone, if there ever was any. And if there wasn't any light, that wasn't an issue either.

As he got half way up the flight of stairs, he felt Martha suddenly grip his hand tightly.

"What's wrong?" George whispered.

"A ghost?" George heard her whisper.

"Ghosts. No such thing," George scoffed. He turned and looked at her.

Martha pressed her cheek against his shoulder. "What are you waiting for?" she asked.

"Uh, nothing I suppose," George replied.

Martha gave him a kiss on the cheek, happy she had married such a gentleman. Together, they climbed the winding stairwell, taking each step one at a time. At their age, not nearly feeble mind you, but old enough that they did know they needed to take precautions against falling, they made sure they were careful in most situations. They were especially attentive when climbing or descending the spiral staircase.

The moment George and Martha reached the top of the stair, another stroke of lightning flashed outside and thunder roared in their ears. The light illuminated the entire hallway from one end to the other, and in that moment, George thought he saw something on the floor in front of them. It looked to be... a teddy bear.

"Is that? I... I don't know... what is that?" George asked, looking at Martha for an explanation. The flash of the lightning disappeared, but a moment later, a gap in the cloud cover gave a moment of moonlight through the window at the far end of the hall, and both George and Martha took the moment to stare at the strange object, only to find, ...it was gone.

George stepped forward and pushed his foot into the space where the teddy had been. Slowly, he got down on one knee, something he was doing less and less these days, and searched around with his hands. His fingers brushed the old hardwood floor, floors he-himself had helped construct, many years ago. There was no teddy, no hole, no defect or crevasse it could have fallen into. He looked up at Martha and for a moment, he forgot about the teddy, mesmerized by his wife's beauty, even after all these years.

Martha smiled and held her hand out for George to take. He did, and she helped him back up to his feet. It was clear that, whatever the item had been, or what it had looked like, it was nothing more than a fabrication of the flashing light produced by the storm. An illusion. Martha hugged her husband's arm and pressed her face against his shoulder. "Come on. Time for bed."

The Next Day

George awoke early and silently slid out of bed, putting his bare feet on the floor and then, as quietly as he could, he walked over to his dresser and closet. He took a moment to slowly slide each drawer open and closed, taking care to not "thunk" anything as he did so. He got dressed in the dark, as usual, so he wouldn't wake Martha from her beauty sleep. Once he was confident he had everything he needed, his suit was on, his cufflinks and tie tac in place, his hat in his hand, never on his head while inside his home, he quietly moved around the bed and headed for the door.

"Georgie?" Martha called out at the last moment, as his hand landed on the bedroom door knob.

"Sorry. I was trying not to wake you," George said.

"Be safe out there."

George paused a moment, letting the statement soak in. He knew about the virus and all the precautions the news was talking about. He assumed that was what Martha was talking about. "Be safe". It was a pretty vague statement. For the most part, neither he nor his wife really needed to concern themselves with such things... they never hung out with anyone outside their home.

"I'm heading into the office to do paperwork. I'll be fine."

Martha didn't reply and after a moment, George assumed she'd fallen back asleep. Grasping the door handle in the palm of his hand, he slowly turned it until it clicked, and opened the door.

He was barely into the hall before, he jerked to the side and... he must have tripped because he ended up pulling the door closed, hard, slamming it shut. He winced, standing there with deathly silence, swearing at himself inside his head. He was a hundred percent sure his clumsiness had woken Martha up, but when she didn't come to the door to find out what the issue was, he assumed she'd stayed in bed. He stood there another moment, wondering if he should explain himself. He didn't want her thinking he was mad at her for something. A moment later he said in a soft tone of voice, "I'm sorry sweetie." He thought he heard some sort of reply and so he assumed she'd heard him and grumbled something. She would now he wasn't mad at her, and he could now go to work in peace. He nodded and headed down the hall, down the stairs, and into the kitchen.

George wasn't a fussy eater. He was entirely capable of getting food on his own, especially in the mornings before work, and he often just opted for a cup of coffee and a banana. Today however, he was feeling adventurous. He checked the oven to see if Martha had left dinner from the night before within, only to find the oven was empty. Shrugging, he assumed she must have gotten up in the middle of the night to put it away and tidy up. The dishes were done, the sink was empty. It was a tip top kitchen, and Martha always kept it spic and span.

George took a look in the fridge, searching for last night's dinner, but found nothing he could immediately identify as such. He did find a four pack of dark brown lager though, which he thought was peculiar. He didn't make it a habit of drinking, and he never drank in front of Martha except for at family social events, but he guessed Martha must have had something special in mind. Either that or, the relatives were coming and she was preparing for their ill-welcomed arrival.

Sighing, George closed the refrigerator, and grabbed a banana off the counter, peeling it and stuffing half of it into his mouth in one bite. He grabbed the coffee pot off the maker and poured himself a cup, black, no need for sugar or cream, a real man's cup. He blew on it twice before sipping from the edge, and noted it was ice cold. He looked at the machine and pressed the buttons a few times in an effort to reset the timer, but failed to make any such improvements. Sighing again, he took a bigger drink ignoring the temperature, and ate the remainder of the banana. He threw the peel in the trash underneath the sink, drained his cup and set it in the sink as well. A moment later, as an after-thought, he rinsed the cup and set it in the drying rack next to the sink. There was no sense in letting it sit for Martha to handle.

With a proud smile and another hearty sigh, George headed off to work, stepping through the door and down the front steps, noting how beautiful this autumn day was. It was still dark, the sky was still thick with clouds and an occasional flash of lightning in the distance, but George didn't mind. This was his kind of weather. He patted his large wide brimmed hat and held his briefcase close to his side as he walked. A light drizzle fell from the sky, coating his suit in a thin mist of microscopic water beads, but they rolled off of him as quickly as they collected. There was no substitution for a good quality suit and hat, not to mention his shoes and briefcase which were just as sturdy, if not more.

George crested the hill in front of his property, and then headed across the grass to the sidewalk. He walked to work every day and enjoyed doing so immensely. His own father, quite large and stout, had died of a heart attack in his early sixties and George had no plans to follow suit. He exercised when it was prudent, ate sensibly, and didn't fiddle with anything that might get him into trouble, which included the puddle just up ahead. When he was a good five feet from it, he turned off the path, walking across the grass, and going around the large obstruction. George knew the ground beneath that slab was starting to wash away. One end had slowly dipped over the years, mud and dirt accumulating on top of the cement. One day, someone might get hurt walking or riding their boke over that spot. One day, and someone else. Not George.

As he continued on, he thought about all the things that needed fixing, that people refused to take care of. The sidewalk for instance. He'd told Martha about it. Martha had brought it up at the city planners meeting. She'd gone as far as to insinuate that it was a code violation and the city itself was responsible for having that section dug up and replaced, but... alas, there was no "code" governing such things. Most of the code was written to put restrictions on the riff-raff who would live in a trash heap if they could. They had no qualms about living in squalor, yards barren of order, sparsely dotted with overgrown weeds and holes filled with vermin. If it meant that they could ignore their responsibilities and indulge in their own self-centered gratifications, then they would. They would let the entire world burn, if not doing so meant pulling them away from their cell phone or their tablet, or whatever they called them these days.

Work

George tried to put such things out of his mind as he rounded the bend and started up the other side of the street. He smiled. He was almost there. "Wentworth and Wentworth" the sign read above the front door. A smaller line of text was beneath the title. "Insurance for all ages". George smiled. It was insurance, but maybe not for all ages. It had been, at one time or another. Insurance had been a big thing back in the day. You could insure almost anything and everything. Your hands for instance. If you were a factory worker and you got paid a premium for your skill, you could, for a premium, insure your hands against damage or disability. Of course, the policy would have loop holes and clauses. If the insured died... there would be no pay out. The insurance was to prevent a loss of income, not a loss of life and with a loss of life, there was no need of a payout. George was a master at writing such policies... just as his father and his grandfather and his great-great grandfather before him.

George Grabbed hold of the door handle and tugged, but frowned finding it was locked. He pressed his face against the glass, peering inside. Frost quickly covered the window from his breath and he pulled away. Where was everyone at? He checked his watch. It was nearly seven a.m. Someone should have been here already. Pam? Was her name Pam? The new hire? George knocked on the window and waited, wondering. He looked around and then down the street. None of the other businesses were open. George scoffed again. Lazy, good for nothing, jack-o-bites. He headed around the side, and immediately saw a car in the parking lot. A moment later, he heard the jingle of the bell above the door as it opened and he hurried back around the building. A young woman was peering out, looking around with a curious expression on her face. She always looked baffled.

"Oh! hold the door!" George announced hurrying back. The woman didn't wait for him and turned around quickly, letting go of the door. George slipped in right before the door shut with a loud jingle. "Thank you," George commented, but the woman turned around and walked straight for him. He dodged out of the way at the last moment. She pulled the door shut and spun the locking mechanism which responded with a loud clank as the bolt slid back into place.

"Damn pranksters," Pam said and she turned around and walked away.

George, knew her frustration and nodded. They were always messing around, knocking on doors and then running off. He wondered how many times she'd gotten up and come to the door before he'd arrived. Quite a few from the sound of it.

George took his hat off and shrugged out of his jacket before turning to hang both on a coat and hat stand, just inside the door... and then paused. The stand was gone.

"Pam? Pam is it?" George asked as she came back into the room holding a walking cane in her hand like a sword. "Oh, what... what's going on?"

Pam ignored him, went straight to the door and unlocked it quickly. She whipped the door open and screamed at the top of her lungs, shouting some sort of obscenity while waving the cane around as if she were fighting off an imaginary dragon. George opened his mouth to ask where the coat stand had gone, and then closed it, thinking maybe this wasn't the best time.

Pam looked back and forth and then came back inside, locked the door and leaned the cane up against the glass. George glanced at her and saw she was in a rage, frustrated beyond anything else. He wondered, for a split second, if she was ill. That virus was still going around. Raging is what the news had said. Pam might have looked young and healthy and vibrant, but... you really couldn't tell who was or wasn't infected.

"Do you know where they put the coat rack?" George asked, unable to control himself. When Pam didn't respond, he cleared his throat, and then covered his mouth, thinking this may have not been the thing to do, given the current state of things. Pam backed up, and then hesitated. She stepped forward quickly and then grabbed the door sign and flipped it around. The "We're open!" side slowly swaying back and forth, facing inside.

"I... I guess that's fine," George commented, realizing, with the pandemic in full swing, they were on a strictly "appointment only" basis. It was still early in the day as well. Barely a quarter after seven. Maybe... maybe they had nobody scheduled for the day, or... well... they really didn't officially open until noon so...

"Bloody virus is killing me nerves!" Pam said, spinning around and stomping her way down the hall. George watched as she slapped a hand sanitizer dispenser and rubbed her hands together as she headed back to her office, all the way in the back of the building.

"Mine too," George sighed, walking to the dispenser and slapped it himself. Nothing happened. No sanitizer squirted into his hand. He slapped the top of the station again, and then a third time. Sanitizer shot out and he jerked his legs back to keep from getting splattered. He rubbed his hands together, not knowing how much he'd actually dispensed, but the smell of lemon permeated the air. He inhaled deeply. There was something else there... a musty smell he couldn't quite place. He waved his hands in the air and found then dry already.

Satisfied his hands were now thoroughly disinfected and thought what a stupid word that was. "Disinfected". His hands didn't get infected. If anything, they may have had some virus on them from touching the door but they weren't infected... He headed into his office, sat his hat and briefcase on his desk and then sat down in his chair. What to do first? The phone rang. He picked it up and was about to say something when he heard a young woman's voice on the line. It was Pam in the back office. She'd gotten it already.

"Wentworth and Wentworth," Pam announced, and the gentleman on the other end of the line started to speak. George, thinking this would be as good a time as ever to make sure things were being handled correctly and efficiently at his place of business, listened in without making a sound.

"I'm looking to get an insurance policy on some equipment I'm going to be using next week," the man said, and he went on to explain that his business revolved around making short films that would be posted online, and his main source of income came from people watching these videos over and over again. The more views, the more her got paid. He was very thorough in his explanation of it all, but most of it was unimportant to the task at hand, and that was, finding a rate.

"What is the value of the equipment?" Pam asked. George nodded. That was the most basic question. Now to see if she followed up. "And what model camera are you using? Do you have purchase receipts with warranty information? Have you taken out any third-party insurance policies?" George listened and continued nodding, approving of almost everything Pam was asking the man, although, her tone did seem a little flirtatious.

"How much money do you expect to make from this?" Pam asked. George swallowed. It wasn't a proper thing to ask. In fact, it bordered on inappropriate. Premiums were not dependent on income, unless the insurance was specifically to protect against a loss of income...

"Oh, uh... a couple hundred... maybe a thousand... per video," the man replied hesitantly. He sounded like he wanted to brag to her, but at the same time, didn't want to make it sound like he was going to make a killing, especially if it affected the premium.

"So, are we insuring against accidental damage, theft, defect or disfunction? Are we adding a better policy to take place of a manufacturer's warranty? Are we insuring against loss of income if the equipment breaks and you miss your opportunity to make these videos and publish them? Are you wanting to insure your videos against theft, reproduction or plagiarism?"

George was floored. Pam was amazing. She'd thought of everything he could have, and more! He wanted to sit and listen, and continue to be amazed, but he suddenly felt guilty. The customer was in good hands. He felt confident Pam knew what she was doing and the customer echoed his thoughts verbally, and Pam accepted his praise professionally, and then... she said something quite odd.

"Well, I should hope so. I am, after all, a Wentworth."

George froze. His brow furrowed and he sat there, thinking, brainstorming... was Pam just joking? Was she playing with this man? Or... did she consider herself part of the family, because she now worked here? He pressed the phone up against his ear tighter, listening for some clue.

"And if you have a policy with us, you'll be part of the Wentworth family as well. We treat you like family, because you are family."

George smiled and set the receiver down as quietly as he could. So that was it. She'd come up with a better pitch line than anything he could have thought of. Eh, it wasn't exactly a fib, but it wasn't exactly the truth either. It was that gray area... The gray area was where George worked his best and he took a certain measure of pride, even though he hadn't trained Pam himself, someone he had trained, had trained her, and that was good enough for him.

Satisfied, George sat back in his seat and then grabbed a stack of policies and started going through them, checking them for any loopholes he may have missed. It wasn't until many hours later that he realized he might have needed to take a break. He looked up at the clock on the wall, saw the time was close to seven at night, and decided it was time to head home. with any luck, Martha would be waiting for him, and maybe she would have dinner waiting.

Quickly, George got up, assembled his briefcase, grabbed his hat, and headed for the front door. Soon he was halfway down the sidewalk, but with a start, he realized he hadn't locked the door behind himself. Swearing lightly, he headed back to do so, fumbling through his pockets as he made his way back. Where were his keys? Grumbling, he realized he must have left them on his desk, so he grabbed the door and stepped forward, banging his head right into the door jamb. "What the heck?" George asked himself, rubbing his forehead and looking at the door strangely.

The door was locked. Thankfully, he hadn't hit his head too hard, so it didn't really hurt that much. He pressed his face against the glass, peered past the "We're Closed!" sign and then knocked vigorously. He waited a moment and then knocked again. He counted to one hundred, and then knocked again. When Pam still didn't come to the door, he headed around the side of the building, only to find her car was gone.

"Huh," George said, contemplating the situation. Had Pam been waiting on him? Waiting with baited breath for the moment he got up and left? There was no other explanation. As soon as he was out the door, she'd ran, locked the door behind him, and headed out the back. He peered down the street but he didn't see any sign of her vehicle, not even tail lights. Obviously, she'd been in quite a hurry, and she had a right to be. It was getting late. She'd been there when he'd gotten there and hadn't left until he'd gotten up to leave. That was a work day of more than 12 hours.

George shook his head guiltily. While he might have been a workaholic, he didn't expect Pam, or even Martha his own wife, to be the same way. Life was about living, not working every second of every day. He felt a bit guilty depriving Pam of her much deserved off time, but as he looked up to consult God almighty, he spat in George's eye.

George blinked and wiped the moisture out of his eye and then tucked his hat down over his forehead. It was about to start raining again. The sky was growing dark, not just the usual shade of gray, but black on the edges and black in the background. He'd get his keys off his desk tomorrow, he thought, and he hurried on his way.

As George crossed Main Street, he felt the first heavy drops of rain pelt his back and he lowered his chin down and thrust his head into the wind. With any luck, he'd make it home before the rain really started coming down, but he wasn't particularly worried about it. He was a man's man, and a little rain and wind never hurt anybody, besides, he was used to it raining. He was used to it being dark and dreary. This was the climate here. Small stints of sunlight, flowers and color, surrounded by cool breezes, blowing leaves and swaying tree branches. He enjoyed it like this.

George heard the vehicle's horn before he ever saw the lights, and by then, it was too late. A cold breeze blew against his face, and his hair rustled above his brow, making him reflexively slap a hand to the top of his head to keep his hat from blowing off. The truck skidded to a stop sideways in the street, the brake lights an angry red on the back of the truck. George watched as the driver's side door opened and the man got out.

"I'm fine," George said, giving himself a quick once over. If the man had been driving in the middle of the lane, as any sane driver should have been, he would have hit George. Thankfully, as his driving attested, the driver wasn't that good, and hadn't been driving in the lane correctly, obviously.

George made his way to the opposite side of the street and then looked at the truck driver who was still just standing there, staring at the side of the road. What was he doing? What was he looking at? Was he high? George took a few cautious steps toward the driver and his truck, just so he could get a better look at what the driver was staring at, but then thought better of being so nosy. He had to get home. The storm was picking up and the darkness of night was forming quick.

Head down, chin up, he took up his pace and headed home, ignoring the harsh sound of tires spinning against wet pavement as the truck driver took off in the opposite direction he'd been going.

Home Again

George sat in his recliner, watching the evening news, and turned his head to regard Martha as she came over and sat down next to him. He sniffed and thought something smelled a bit musty. Was that, him?

"Anything interesting happen at work today?" Martha asked. George grumbled. It was part of their daily ritual, asking each other about work and recounting their experiences with each other. George nodded his head.

"The new hire, Pam... I think her name is Pam... she took a call today and I listened in on the line."

"You didn't!" Martha gasped, as if this was tantamount to fraud.

"I did. I had to make sure things are being done on the up and up!"

"Well, you are the boss," Martha replied, the tone of her voice telling him she didn't think poorly of him for doing so. "So, what did she say?"

"Well, she did a really good job," George reflected and then he recounted the conversation Pam had with the customer, word for word, as best as he could remember it. When he got to the end, he paused, wondering if it was prudent to tell Martha the part about Pam insinuating that she was part of their family. It would be shocking for sure. It would be... too much. George smiled, contemplating.

"You're not telling me everything," Martha said, watching him.

"Well, you have to promise to not get mad," George said. "It's... it's not as bad as it sounds."

"What?" Martha asked, curiously.

"So, at the end of the call, Pam said... ummm, I have to remember this exactly or else it doesn't make sense. Alright. She told him... whoever it was on the phone, she told him, "Well, I am a Wentworth after all."

"No, she did not!" Martha gasped, standing up and looking down at George, her face a picture of shock and disgust, just as George had predicted.

"She did," George said with a smile.

"Did you fire her?" Martha asked, the look of confusion on her face a direct question as to why George was still smiling.

"Because, when you get a policy with Wentworth and Wentworth, we treat you like family," George finished.

Martha's look of confusion disappeared, and a moment later she smiled, just a little bit. "Clever," she said, sitting back down.

"I thought so too," George said, turning back to the TV. "Oh, I forgot my keys at the office."

"Honey, you keep your key under the mat at the back door," Martha said, reminding him. "Honestly. it's the one thing you can't remember?"

George waved a hand, realizing she was right. He'd forgotten that particular fact, yet again. It was a small town, nobody ever broke into places or committed much crime, other than... He looked up at the broken pane of glass in the living room window where a baseball had been thrown through it. He still hadn't gotten that fixed.

"Did you call the handyman?" Martha asked him.

"No. I'll do it tomorrow, I promise," George said absently, but he wasn't thinking about that just now. He was focused on his thoughts about crime in the area. There was a significant uptick in underage drinking, due to there being a lot more underage people in their area. Vandalism was now a significant issue, and theft... mostly shop lifting and other "petty" crimes, but crime none-the-less. He tried to think of all the things that had recently, mysteriously, gone missing.

At work, nothing seemed amiss, but some things had been missing recently. The coat rack for one. A couple office chairs and desks had been replaced, a couple of fans too. A new coffee bar and refrigerator had been installed in the back office. Pam's doing most likely. As long as she wasn't spending company money on such frivolous things, he didn't mind. People had to eat if they were going to work twelve-hour days.

Besides the office desks and cabinets, there wasn't much else of value at Wentworth and Wentworth's. Paper and policies were the most valuable items there and, recently Pam had finished the process of digitally uploading all of their documents into something called "the web". He'd heard her complaining about all the paper, and the fact that one fire would ruin them if it ever happened, and so she'd bought a computer, scanner and more high-tech items George didn't necessarily think were essential, but... he didn't argue. Pam wasn't much of a talker anyway.

Of all the people George could have hired, Pam seemed to be the least likely, but the longer she worked there, and the more George saw of her, the more he realized, she was perfect for the job. She wasn't a jibber jabber, she always had her nose to the grindstone, and when George complained about something, or griped, she knew to simply ignore him. She always got the job done, and if she missed something, she appropriately chided herself for doing so. George never felt the need to reprimand her or to point it out when she failed to notice something. She learned on her own, and she learned fast. Most of all, she was trustworthy.

It wasn't that the Wentworth's weren't exactly the most trusting couple around. Well, they weren't. If George was being honest with himself, and he was at most times, then he had to admit, they didn't trust many other people. Trust was something to be proven and earned, not arbitrarily given and only to be broken at the very first moment possible.

The Wentworth's despised most other people, but you wouldn't exactly know it if you spoke to them. They made it a point to go out of their way to seem cheerful, happy, and kind, so as to eliminate a lot of the "social mess" when it came to casual acquaintances, and at work, they always kept things professional. George still hadn't had "the" talk with Pam. Come to think of it, he hadn't really talked to her much at all. No "welcome to the company" interview. No conversation about the dress code...

Now that George thought about it, he didn't know if he was going to do that, if he was going to have that conversation with Pam. She seemed to carry herself with an appropriate level of professionalism and class. Her skirts were a bit too short and her blouses often unbuttoned too far, almost too far in fact, but with the pandemic in full swing and the walk-in traffic kept to a minimum, he figured she was just keeping herself comfortable. He'd say something if it ever became an issue, but he didn't think it would.

"The Stamford's grass is getting a little long," Martha said after another long moment.

"Oh?" George asked. The Stamford's... "who are they again?"

"That couple on the corner. The one's with the dog. I swear he never shut's up when I'm doing my rounds. It's as if he hates me."

"It's a dog," George replied humored. "He probably just likes your perfume."

Martha moved on and told George all about the community meeting they'd had today, and how the association was considering turning the small patch of wooded area at the front of the neighborhood, into a playground for the younger kids. George was about to voice his objection when Martha continued, telling him that she'd objected immediately, but everyone, absolutely everyone, had ignored her. It wasn't until one of the middle-aged women, a mother of four including two teenagers, brought up the exact same point that she had. She yelled loudly, something Martha wasn't willing to do for the sake of being proper, and instantly got the attention of the gathering. She said that it was a great idea, but her kids would just use the playground as a spot to hang out and get into trouble, and smoke weed.

"That seemed to clinch it for them. The little patch of forest gets to stay... for now."

"They're always trying to change things. I just don't-" George stopped grumbling, realizing that Martha had heard it all before.

"I... Georgie," Martha said in a tone that made George look over at her, concerned. "Something else happened today."

"What?" George asked, and then added in a concerned tone, letting her know he knew she had something important to tell him. "What happened?"

"I was walking home... I... I felt like... oh my gosh I sound like a nutter!"

"No! No, go on. I'm listening."

"I felt like something happened to you. Something bad. I... I don't know what, but... I felt it in my chest. It hurt, right here." George watched as she put her hand on her chest, and her heart inside. "I called out for help but... you know all those self-centered self-absorbed idiots. Not a single one of them listened. I must have laid there on the sidewalk for... well... I don't know how long."

"Are you alright?" George asked, genuinely concerned.

"Yeah," Martha replied, as if anything else would be absurd. "I... just came back here, I guess. The weird part is... I don't... I don't remember coming home."

"You're here," George said.

"Well obviously," Martha snorted. "But... there's more."

"What more?" George asked.

"I didn't want to ask but... And you know I would never accuse you of something unless I was-"

George's face screwed up and he gave her a look. "Accuse me? What are you talking about Martha?"

"Have you been drinking?"

George shut his mouth and turned back to the T.V. "No. I thought you bought that for some special occasion coming up. Maybe my brother's grand kids or something or other."

Martha shook her head to indicate she hadn't and as George turned back to her, she looked worried. He raised an eyebrow.

"What... year... is it?"

George laughed. "What year? Oh Jesus Martha... did you hit your head when you fell? Are you sure you're feeling alright?"

"George. I'm being serious. I... I feel out of place."

George looked at the T.V. and sighed. He picked up the T.V. remote and pressed the buttons but the T.V. stayed on the same channel. "Damn T.V. Everything's going to mustard. Just another thing I have to do. I'll call the repairman in the morning."

"George," Martha said then... worry in her voice. "George. The T.V. Did you notice it says twenty-twenty?"

"That's the name of the program," George replied.

"No. That's the year," Martha said. "That's the year. Twenty-twenty."

"Can't be," George said. "I was born in 1899. If it's really twenty-twenty, then I'm what? Hunnerd and twenty-one? I'd be the oldest man alive, right?"

"George..." Martha looked extremely upset now. "George. Did... we never had children, did we?"

"No!" George said, standing up from his seat, now worried that something was seriously wrong with Martha. "What's gotten into you?"

"I keep seeing toys! Children's toys, things scattered about, untidy... but... when I take a second look, they're gone... as if they never were."

"Haunted? Are you saying our house is haunted?" Martha gave him another worried look. "I'll go ask Pastor Michael to... to come take a look... just for peace of mind."

"Pastor Michael's dead," Martha said quietly. "Died... forty years ago."

"When?" George asked, confused. "How? From what?"

"Old age," Martha said. "His son took over the congregation... he died last year."

"Jesus Martha. You could have told me sooner."

"I did," Martha replied. "Look! Look there on the television. Twenty-twenty. And look there! The book shelf is gone! Remember the book shelf with your encyclopedia collection?"

"I thought you sold it."

"No. I would never sell your things. Not even those. George..."

George was deep in thought, trying to figure things out. What was going on? How... if the year was indeed twenty-twenty, wouldn't someone have come to see him? Or Martha even? Nosy journalists wanting to tell others how old they were, or give them a celebratory jar of jelly from that company... Smuckers? Yes. That was the name.

"What's our daughter's name?" Martha asked.

George scoffed. Was she testing his memory now? "Madaline."

"Maddy," Martha whispered. She grabbed her face and wailed.

"Martha! What is it? What's wrong!?" As Martha's hands fell away from her face, George saw the anguish in her eyes. The hurt. The emotion. "What?"

"Pam. Pam is our grand-daughter."

"No... No she's not," George replied with a smirk. "Can't be. We're not even..." George stopped speaking. He had almost said he and Martha weren't even married. Why would he say such a thing? Why on earth?" His mind raced, and then everything fell into place, like a puzzle that could not be viewed as a whole, until the last piece was put into place. "Oh my god Martha."

Martha gave George a sympathetic look, and then her eyes softened, pulled tight, and she began to cry. "Don't... don't cry," George said, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her tight against himself. "Everything will be alright."

"How?" Martha asked between sobs. "How will it be alright?"

George didn't have an answer for her. All he knew was, as long as they had each other, they could weather any storm, overcome any obstacle... even death.

grandparents
4

About the Creator

Kerry Williams

It's been ten days

The longest days. Dry, stinking, greasy days

I've been trying something new

The angels in white linens keep checking in

Is there anything you need?

No

Anything?

No

Thank you sir.

I sit

waiting

Tyler? Is that you?

No

I am... Cornelius.

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