Fear Equity

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“You keeping an eye on the dog?” Julie asked as she opened the front door.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Ryan answered. “He’s too busy staring at the ghosts in the kitchen. Have fun at work. Love you,” he said, as he leaned forward to kiss his wife goodbye.

“You too,” Julie said. “Bye, Buster,” she called over her shoulder as she left.

Ryan locked the door behind her and turned off the hall light. When he walked back through the living room, he saw Buster was still staring into the dark kitchen. “Everything okay in there, Buddy?” he asked before he entered the kitchen to get a second mug of coffee. He grabbed the coffee and his laptop and walked to the sunroom. Buster trotted at Ryan’s heels through the apartment.

While Buster busied himself with watching the morning rush hour traffic seven stories below, Ryan opened his laptop and pulled up the outline of a short story he had written yesterday. He read it over and bit the inside of his lower lip, unsatisfied with the outline.

He began writing the opening paragraph, but before he was halfway through, he deleted it and rewrote another beginning. An hour later, Ryan was still staring at his opening paragraph and chewing on the inside of his lip. Ryan’s coffee had gone cold, and Buster had fallen asleep on the sun-warmed tile of the sunroom floor. Shower time, thought Ryan.

The water was hot, and the radio was loud. Just the thing to clear my head, thought Ryan. As he hummed along with the radio, Ryan closed his eyes and ducked under the water to shampoo his hair when the bathroom became darker, as if something had cast a shadow over his eyelids.

Ryan grunted in surprise. He stared through the fogged-over frosted glass of the shower door. He watched steam vent through the open bathroom door, and he waited to see if anyone was there, but after a few moments, he resumed his shower.

As he washed the last of the soap from his body, he turned to face the showerhead and stuck his head under the stream of water. As he pulled his head back, another shadow seemed to pass through the bathroom. Before the shadow disappeared, Ryan heard a whisper, but it was too soft and too quick to comprehend.

His eyes opened shot open. “Who’s there?” Ryan asked, a little louder than his ego would have liked. The bathroom was empty. The fog grew thicker, and Ryan noticed the bathroom door had closed.

He shut off the water, grabbed a towel, and wrapped it around himself. He yanked the bathroom door open and darted into the bedroom. He looked left and right. No one was there, other than Buster, who was staring up at Ryan.

Ryan stalked from room to room, peeking around corners, flipping lights on, and leaving a trail of water droplets. He was alone, and Buster returned to the sunroom. Ryan returned to the bedroom and got dressed, trying to chuckle his fear away.

Ryan found Buster sleeping again. He knelt to pet the Cocker Spaniel behind his long ears. “Some guard dog you are.” Buster rolled onto his back, begging for a belly rub. Ryan rubbed Buster’s curly hair, smiling as Buster yawned and groaned in pleasure. As Buster grew quiet, Ryan thought he heard the whispering again, though faint like before. Ryan sat behind his laptop. He repeatedly peeked over his laptop, glancing back into the apartment.

The speed of Ryan’s typing increased. Ryan wrote the first paragraph, then the first page. Ryan smiled, and he kept writing, entering a zone where the story flowed from his mind, down to his fingers. It wasn’t long before he finished the first draft. Ryan printed a copy and began editing. Buster came and went, and the sun fell below the horizon. Ryan kept working.

Julie came home from work while Ryan was still working. She dropped her bags and greeted Buster who was bouncing and scooting, eager to go outside. “Okay, okay, let me say ‘hi’ to your Dad.”

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