Harbor Road

David felt like a drop of water as he rolled around his hometown. The growls of his car echoed first off the buildings of downtown, then off the hillsides beyond, and finally against the canopy of oak and cedar trees that lined his own street. There were times when David felt like his car was lamenting to the night itself; speaking just to spite the silence. The world felt dead, as it was wont this late on a weeknight. But now, as he made his way down Harbor Road, David felt like the rest of the world had not so much vanished as never existed in the first place.

That was why, when he came around the blind curve by Frank Dunmire’s farm, he almost cried out in both anger and surprise at a car in the middle of the road.

David stopped and waited, looking at the car like it was an actor getting ready to begin his monologue. But it just sat, alone and dead in the lane. He heard a noise to his left and looked to see a man walking quickly from the darkness. The man had on a hat and a brown jacket, and David never wondered if he needed help. He felt like he was watching his own body react as he released the clutch and swerved off into the darkness. Looking in the rear-view, he saw the man slowing down from a trot, headed for the corpse of a car. His scene vanished behind the curve.

David kept checking the mirror for lights. He was sure the car would come speeding up behind him at any moment. But only trees disintegrated past the red of his taillights.

“What the fuck,” he whispered to himself, his heart slamming against his chest like it was trying to escape.

He got to his driveway and checked the mirror once more as he pulled in, slowly, trying instinctively not to stir up too much dust. He went down the long gravel drive to his house, finally feeling relieved as he killed the engine and turned off his headlights. Now he was silent and invisible. “Jesus,” he said under his breath, and got out of the car. The home looked startlingly dark. His girlfriend Julia was visiting her family back east and he wasn’t used to getting home at night without the light left on. The feeling once again struck him that everyone he’d ever known had vaporized. This was not a new feeling to him and he nurtured the assurance that it would pass.

Once inside, he switched on the TV, and the sound of people’s voices made the house feel less empty. There was an old clock on the mantle that his girlfriend had gotten when her grandfather died. It rang disturbingly loud on the hour and gave a single chime at half-past. He went and got a beer out of the refrigerator; the clock dinged as he shut the fridge door. A part of him felt that the door itself had made the sound and his mind stared at this thought the way one studies a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. He carried his beer to the recliner.

He didn’t watch the TV so much as stare at it. He kept picturing that man coming at him from the bushes. And the ghost of a car. There was a huge window next to the television that looked out on the sloping front yard, which was bordered by the driveway. He kept glancing outside just to confirm that the night was still alone. If it weren’t for the stars that sat above the tree line, the window would look like it was painted solid black. The foliage that ensnared their property was so dense you could only see the headlights of passing cars up on the road by their reflection off the trees.

He finally settled enough to register the idiotic comedy that was unfolding on the television when he noticed a light out of the corner of his eye. He looked out the window and could see what he assumed was the light of a car out on the road. He leaned forward, trying to discern information from the light’s reflection on the trees. The light wasn’t moving and he imagined a car moving so slowly that he couldn’t even sense the progression. Then his stomach swam as he pictured someone creeping down Harbor Road, looking down each driveway to see if they could spot his weathered Maxima. There didn’t seem to be any movement and he wondered if he’d just failed to notice that the light had been there all along. Then he imagined that man, sitting in the Honda at the top of his driveway and staring down into David’s front room window.

His house—which was old and prone to speak when it was settling, or when someone walked through it—suddenly let loose a chorus of barks. It was similar to when Julia was walking in from the bathroom, or when the wind blew hard. “What the fuck.” David jerked up and looked through his kitchen doorway, into the darkness of the hall. Then his eyes moved to the front door, which was loose in its frame and tended to shift, but now it had seemingly punctuated the home’s lament. It sounded almost like a single knock from outside. He slowly set his beer down and stood. It seemed funny to actually get up and look, but for all he knew it was the man from before and he needed help. He opened the door and a green handkerchief fell to the doorstep. It was like someone had wedged it into the doorframe.  He looked at the foliage that formed a crescent around his front yard. Nothing moved, not even the air. He shut the door, leaving the handkerchief where it had fallen.

He turned the deadbolt and sat back down; his chest felt like it was alive and swimming. The clock’s ticking seemed loud enough to be heard from the road. He looked out the window. The light he had been sure was a car’s headlights was no longer apparent and he couldn’t tell if that was just because of the angle. He sat back down and stared at the TV. He felt watched, almost like he was being narrated to someone. It made him feel naked and ugly. He finished his beer and went to bed.

David never had trouble sleeping and tonight was thankfully no exception. He slept through until morning and was awoken by the telephone that sat on their nightstand.

“Uh-hm, hello?” He assumed it was his mother, as she was the only person who still called their landline.

“Hi David. Are you just getting up?” He was right.

“Hey Mom. What time is it?”

“I don’t know. Hey, I called to make sure you guys are okay—oh wait. Julia’s still back east, isn’t she?”


“Well, I just wanted to see—“

“What’s going on, Mom?”

“You didn’t hear? Some woman was raped and killed last night.” She said this with a neutrality that had been her life’s motif.

“Oh. That’s sad. But what—“  He thought of that car in the middle of the road the night before and he felt himself sink.

“It was on your street.”

“The blue Honda,” he said.

“I’m not sure what kind of car it was, but yeah, the woman was found in her car on your road. I read about it online this morning. So sad. Do you know a girl named… hold on. Chelsea Martins?”

“That’s surprising that they’d release her name so soon,” he said.

“Is it? Yeah, I guess so. Well, the family must know. Right? Isn’t that why they wait?”

“I think. But yeah, no. Chelsea you said? No. I’ve never known anyone named Chelsea. Except Curtis’s daughter.” Curtis was his mom’s boyfriend when David was in high school.

“Well, it’s obviously not…Anyway, yeah. That was the girl’s name. But it looks like she was a bit younger than you. She was only twenty. So sad.”

“How’d it happen?” he asked. He thought about last night. About his house coming alive and that handkerchief. He suddenly wondered if it was still there on his front doorstep.

“It just says suffocation. They haven’t said all the details. Not yet. So sad, can you imagine?”

He almost laughed at how well he felt he could imagine. For all he knew it had been happening when he stopped in the road. It made him feel too tired to even think. He got off the phone.

When he went into the living room it was like returning to a dream. He could almost touch the mood that had been circulating last night. He thought of the handkerchief that had fallen when he’d opened the door. He couldn’t decide if it was worse picturing that as the product of a ghost or a person. He opened his front door and there was nothing there on the ground. It was a strange kind of relief as he figured he’d imagined it, ignoring the fact that hallucinating a handkerchief seemed next to impossible. At least in his experience.

David had the day off work and it passed like a sleepwalk. Suddenly it was approaching evening and he didn’t even know what had happened to the hours.

He went to Manzanita Market to get some turkey bacon. Mill, the woman who had always worked there, told him what she’d pieced together from the rumor mill. Frank Dunmire, the cow farmer, had seen a car slow down by his yard and stop in the curve. He’d assumed that someone was looking for a map or something like that. Frank went back to watching the TV and forgot about it. He dozed off in his chair and was awoken at some point when he heard someone honking outside. This was also nothing worth remembering until someone else honked about five minutes later. He got up to see what was going on and noticed the car again. He glanced at his watch and saw that it the car had been sitting there for about an hour so he decided to go outside and see if everything was okay.

As soon as he started putting on his boots he heard a woman scream. He ran out onto his front porch. The first thing he saw was the glow of two eyes up on the hill, which he assumed were those of a coyote. Then he reflected on how not only was it rare to see a lone coyote, but they remained scarce when they could hear people making noise, especially a woman screaming. He got to the road and as the figure on the hill stood up and slipped into the woods, Frank saw that it was a man. He went to the car that sat idling in the road with its headlights shining on that Honda. A woman was sitting with her door open, calling the police on her cell phone. She had stopped to see if everything was okay and saw a woman’s dead body in the back seat. The girl had been strangled and they had no idea who had done it. They thought it must have been whoever Frank had seen up on the hill.

David imagined that she had been choked to death with a green handkerchief and a story seemed to grow from thin air: she had worn it in her hair and a man had taken it and wrapped it around her throat. That had been the message last night from the girl’s ghost. Or from the man who had killed her.

As the evening wore on and last night stretched into the past, it felt more and more like the memory of a dream. Eventually he found the whole idea ridiculous. He mainly felt this way because the horror of what had happened to that girl shadowed any kind of ghost story he was trying to invent.

As he rounded the corner on his way home, dusk settling onto the trees, he felt a tremor gust through his whole body. It was like seeing the corpse of the girl standing before him and he didn’t want to go home. He knew he couldn’t bear a repeat of last night, which was now so clear it was as though it was happening this very moment. But, like last night, he didn’t know what to do except continue to drive.

When he got home, he kept noticing tiny displacements. The milk’s handle faced the inside of the fridge, and he hadn’t even eaten cereal this morning. The toilet seat was down even though Julia was gone.  When he turned on the TV it was on a channel that he never watched. There were also small scuffs of dirt throughout the house, which wasn’t rare, but they were in areas that he didn’t remember going the night before, like in front of the stove. He finally decided his mind had been elsewhere today, and now it was running away with him. It would be fine. He would just drink a lot of beer and watch a comedy and try to forget everything. But whenever he thought about forgetting it, he naturally went straight to that which he wanted to forget; and each image gained progressive clarity. Still, as the night wore on, the beer and the mindless TV helped dull it all and it had almost drifted off into a memory, until he glanced out the window and saw the same lighting he had noticed the night before. Like last night, it was glancing off the trees, sitting completely still. He could feel his scalp crawling as he leaned forward to look out the window.         He heard a noise—it sounded like a tiny thump but it came from his bedroom. He looked up at the bedroom door, more intrigued than frightened at that point. His room seemed less mysterious than the world outside. He could see the trees out the window moving with the wind and the house cracked its knuckles; he waited for the pounding to come from the front door but it never did.

He stood up and walked over to the bedroom. The door was closed, which he sometimes did in the morning, but he couldn’t specifically remember doing it today. He chalked that up to his mind being elsewhere since the moment he’d gotten up. Standing with grace was a challenge under the weight of the beers, but he tried to look natural, as he felt watched. He walked up to his bedroom and opened the door. The darkness seemed more complete in there than he’d ever seen it. He imagined looking at the bed and seeing the girl’s corpse. Chelsea.

Just as this thought occurred to him, the clock began to chime the hour and he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. The front door was opening.

David turned his top-heavy body back to the living room in time to see a man rushing not through the front door, but from the shadows of the kitchen. He moved to the rhythm of the clock’s chimes. David’s first thought was ‘ghost’, but as the man moved closer, he recognized not only the way he moved, but the man’s hat, his brown jacket.

This was the man who had materialized out of the shadows last night. And he was inside the house, coming toward David.

He was running, but it seemed like slow motion. David thought of the handkerchief last night—it must have been the man who put it there. It was the man all along who’d been haunting him. He had probably been here all day. In David and Julia’s bedroom. David felt the man had been there his whole life—somewhere. Hiding. Then it finally took form. He could detect every detail about the man. His mesh hat was askew and stained with sweat, his jacket had a stain on the left pocket and a tiny tear in the elbow. The man’s jeans had dirt, not mud, at the knees. Looking at the man’s boots, they were like a pair that his grandpa used to wear whenever they would go out to the woodpile. And now these boots were coming toward him—quickly. Quicker than he knew a person could move.

Before his foggy brain could start to register it, David saw a flash reflecting off the living room light. The knife was pressed into him. He looked down at the handle. It was one of his own kitchen knives. The man had been in his kitchen, going through his drawers. This was a knife David and Julia had bought together, because they saw it in a thrift store and it reminded her of one her family used to have when she was a girl. Now he held onto it.

For some reason, he felt that it would be bad to pull it out. His legs were too weak to control and so he sat, he looked at the wall in front of him. He again heard the front door open; and just as it shut the clock stopped chiming. He wondered what time it was as he leaned there, he wondered about the dead girl Chelsea, had she worn the handkerchief in her hair? Had she known the man? Was she here last night? Was she here now?

He drifted into a fog, never learning the answers.