To celebrate Halloween, I am sharing my short story "The Fence" in a two-part series. This was originally a Halloween contest entry. It was not selected, but I had such a blast writing and editing that I can't even bring myself to be disappointed. And best of all, I get to share it with you! Enjoy Part 1 now and look for Part 2 on October 30th.
The dark-haired woman leaned in the doorframe, phone to her ear.
“No, no, we don’t want that. I’ll be right over. - - Yep, see you in a few.”
Chantal set her cell phone on the kitchen counter and turned around to find her husband looking at her with a raised eyebrow, magazine forgotten in his lap.
“What’s that about?” Michael asked.
She sighed and searched the living room for her sweatshirt. “That was Helen’s ex, Clive Dunmar. Remember?” She crossed the room to the piano, where her hoodie had been tossed and began to pull it over her head.
“Yeah,” he replied. “What’s he want?”
“There’s a loose dog in his neighborhood, barking at trick-or-treaters, freaking everyone out,” she replied, feeling around in the front pocket for her keys. “I’m gonna head over and check it out.” At the jingling of the keys, two dogs popped up from opposite ends of the room, stretched, and began to circle Chantal, wagging.
Michael’s frown deepened. “No one trick-or-treats in that part of town. Shit, no one goes into that part of town after dark unless they have to.”
Chantal shook her head at him. “Michael.” She set her jaw.
“Seriously, that’s a bad area,” he sat up straighter and looked her in the eye.
She pulled out her messy pony tail and began to redo it with impatience. “Helen used to live there. I spent lots of time out there with her and the kids. Don’t be so judgmental.”
Michael slapped the magazine onto the coffee table and stood. “I’m going with you.” He headed through the kitchen without waiting for a response. She hurried after him.
“You don’t have to come, I’ll be fine,” she said, exasperated.
Michael slid his arms into his coat without reply. She watched him for a moment and then shrugged. She reached into the corner for her catch pole and pulled a canvas bag from a hook on the wall, peering inside to make sure she had a spare collar, a leash, treats and a squeaky toy.
Satisfied, she slid the straps of the bag over her shoulder and looked down at the hopeful faces of her mutts. One nudged her hand and the other pushed into him, vying for attention.
“Not this time,” she said in a calm voice. “We’ll be right back.” She rubbed the tops of both heads as she passed through the door. She hurried down the path to her truck, tossed her gear in the back, and climbed behind the wheel. The passenger door slammed and she paused before turning the key in the ignition.
“I like to help,” she said without looking at Michael. “By the time the sheriff’s department sends a car out here, the dogs are usually long gone or dead. And they don’t know how to handle a scared dog anyway.” She glanced at her husband and shrugged.
“I worry about you,” he said, tilting his head to the side. “You’re not animal control, babe. I just…” He broke off and looked out the window. “I know you’re good, but I worry.” His tone softened with his expression and Chantal offered him a half-smile.
As they drove, they tried to chat, but the tension wouldn’t dissipate. Chantal braked to allow a young woman in a sexy nurse costume to dart, shivering across the street, arms crossed over her chest.
“See?” Michael said. “Have you seen any trick-or-treaters? Anywhere in town? We’ve never had any. Everyone takes their kids to the school’s Trunk-or-Treat deal. Or they head over to Richfield.”
Chantal frowned, but didn’t say anything. She thought about it as they crossed the tracks and the houses became shabbier. Yards were overgrown and cars were parked haphazardly, jutting out into the street. Michael was right; about this neighborhood and the trick-or-treating. She scanned the area for any movement that might be a lost dog and noticed that Michael was doing the same in the seat beside her. His presence had become a comfort.
She pulled up into the driveway of the large, ill-kept house where her good friend had lived with her boyfriend for almost two years. There were no lights on and a large, unmarked van had been backed up to a tall, wooden fence that she didn’t remember.
“That’s new,” she said nodding toward it.
“The fence?” Michael asked. “Odd color choice.” The black paint looked fresh.
“Well, we’ll have better luck on foot,” she said, opening her door.
“Where is he, anyway?” Michael followed suit and climbed out. He grabbed the catch pole, which had rolled across to his side of the truck bed during the drive. “Doesn’t he plan to help?”
She rolled her eyes but reached for her cell phone in the back pocket of her jeans. Crap, she thought. I left it at home.
“Chantal!” Clive appeared from his backyard, slipping past the truck. He jogged toward them, raising a hand in greeting. Seeing Michael, he slowed. “Hey there. Michael, right?”
“How ya been, Clive?” Michael asked.
“Hanging in, hanging in.” Clive came to a stop near the front of the pickup, catching his breath. “Anyway, I’ve got the dog back there.” He gestured over his shoulder with his thumb and gave a laugh. “Got ‘im penned up in the old chicken coop of all things. Lured him with some leftover rump roast. Seems pretty tame now, but I don’t know how to handle ‘im.”
“No, that’s great, Clive,” Chantal said, already walking toward the yard. “Got a light back there?”
“I was just heading in to turn it on for ya.” Clive gave a nod and starting jogging to his porch. Chantal glanced at Michael who was hanging back by the truck, one hand gripping the catch pole, the other in his jacket pocket.
“What?” she asked.
Michael shook his head and started forward. “Nothing. Let’s go get it.” He cleared his throat.
Chantal squeezed between the back of the truck and the fence, noting how tall it was. It was nine or ten feet high and the cross rails were to the outside. It would make a great enclosure for a fence-jumping dog, she thought. Turning, she let out a quiet chuckle as she waited for Michael to push his larger frame past the truck’s bumper.
“Yeah, shut up,” he said, laughing with her. As he stepped away, the truck seemed to rock. Her smile disappeared as she focused on the vehicle.
Catching her expression, Michael looked at the truck and then back at her. “What?” She shivered and found herself wishing for home.
“I dunno,” she said, turning on her heel and heading into the increasing darkness. “Where was that chicken coop?” she muttered.
She headed to the right where she thought the chicken coop had been, but didn’t see it. In fact, everything looked different. A warning tug in her gut pulled her to a stop. The tall, wooden fence encompassed not only what she remembered to be Clive’s property, but also a good deal of the woods behind it. In the darkness, the dark colored fence seemed to go on for miles into the trees. Why so big? she wondered.
To Be Continued...