Beth was in the middle of intently staring at the blank computer screen when the doorbell rang. The sound jolted her from the stupor she usually entered when inspiration failed to appear. She went to the door and peered from the eyehole. A young and fresh male face beamed hopefully from the other side. His face was unfamiliar but somehow compelling, with a pert nose exaggerated by the eyehole lens, and ears that flared out. Curiosity won out and she opened the door.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Hello,” the male said. “I am your upstairs neighbor, John Cline Jr.”
Beth revised his age in her head to hit somewhere in the 20ies. Hopefully he was single as well. She wished she had combed her hair and worn something less stained than her yellow sweatshirt and light green tights. But she liked to be comfortable when writing and never expected visits from handsome neighbors.
“I am Beth. Nice to meet you.” she said, thawing out a little and managing a smile of sorts. Guys with cute eyes did not knock at her door very often. “What can I do for you?”
“I locked myself out by mistake.” He said. “May I come in to use your fire entrance to get to my apartment?”
She scrunched her face, thinking. John Cline Jr. seemed like an upstanding member of the community. And Beth was the kind of person who’d always hold the elevator until her neighbors could get on. Or loan them a cup of sugar if they ran out. She was about to say yes when John Cline Jr. started moving his feet forward, presumably to get in. Beth caught herself in time. She knew that being nice to one’s neighbors also meant being vigilant. She did not know this guy. He might be her neighbor, and then again he might be not. He might be a burglar, or a spurned lover.
“I am sorry but I can’t let you in.” she said. “Do you want me to call the super instead?”
“I tried but he won’t answer.” John Cline Jr. replied and looked at her with his cute eyes. John Cline Jr. had really gorgeous eyes, framed by long curly lashes and balanced by distinctive dark eyebrows. She did not know why his whole name appeared in her head like that. It was weird. However he was telling the truth. The super never answered his phone after hours.
“Should I call you a locksmith?” She offered almost without thinking. “Or a family member? Your wife or your girlfriend perhaps?”
“My sister is at work.” He said. “She works nights and has no cell phone. Do you know a locksmith that can help?”
“I can check online.” Beth said gallantly. “Wait here.”
She closed the door to her apartment and then went to her computer. She searched for afterhours locksmiths in the area, and finally found four that listed as such. She called all four but she got only voice mail. She wanted to leave messages but she did not have John Cline Jr.’s number for the call back. She got up and opened the door. John Cline Jr. was still there, and he gave her half a hopeful smile.
“I just got voice mail. “ Beth told him. “And I did not know your phone number. Do you mind giving it to me?”
He rattled off his number and she wrote it on her palm. Beth always wrote things on her palm since she was sure not to misplace them and ink was harder to wash. Besides, she hoped John Cline Jr. found it cute. Not that he and she…He was much younger anyway. And she probably looked like a scary hag, what with her frustration over lack of inspiration. She felt dry, lonely and unattractive, and all of a sudden wanted to disappear. Flustered, she closed the door on him again and went to pick up her phone. Beth was determined to help John Cline Jr. because he was a neighbor in need, nothing else. She was a good soul, everyone said so. She called all four locksmiths once again, leaving messages with John Cline Jr.’s number. There, her good deed of the day was done and she could get back to staring at her blank computer screen. She went and opened the door once more. John Cline Jr. gave her his hopeful smile again. He was really cute.
“I left messages for them all. “ Beth said. “They should be calling you soon.”
“Thank you.” He said. “I will go downstairs and wait in the hallway.”
The hallway was cold and there was no place to sit. Beth felt guilty again.
“You know something,” she said. “Why don’t you wait inside with me? It should not take very long.”
“I would not want to put you out.” He said.
“Look,” Beth said. “It is not that I don’t believe you. I just can’t let you in another apartment. But you can hang around until the locksmiths call back. I am not very good company right now because I am trying to finish an assignment. However, you don’t have to wait in the cold. Just sit and read trashy mags for a while.”
“Alright.” He finally said, and she ushered him into her living room. Which looked like it had been bombed in the past 5 minutes. Beth’s dry spells were not easy on her surroundings. Magazines, books, a crochet hook and yarn and three pillows were still tangled with the blanket on the sofa from her afternoon nap.
“Sit please.” Beth said. “Pardon the mess but I am in the middle of something…”
She hastily gathered everything in her arms and jetted to her bedroom depositing her load on top of the bed. She’d deal with things later. John Cline Jr. probably thought she was the slob of the century.
When she returned, she found him sitting on the couch, leafing through a trash mag. Well, at least she delivered on her promises.
“Would you like some tea or water?” Beth asked, proud of her hostess skills. “Feel free to grab a cookie or two from the plate in front of you. I was up all night baking.”
John Cline Jr. smiled at that and took a cookie.
“Kind hearted, vigilant and a baker! I feel lucky today. A warm cup of tea would make my evening complete.”
Beth felt her cheeks going red and went to the kitchen to make that tea, hoping he had not noticed how flustered she felt. She’d be mortified if he thought she was hitting on him. A younger man! Beth needed a date as soon as possible, hopefully with someone closer to her age instead of this young 20 something with big gorgeous eyes. The tea took another five minutes to make and she brought it on a tray, together with her porcelain sugar and milk holder set. She found John Cline Jr. engrossed in one of her books, the trashy mag forgotten in a corner. He was a reader! The universe was definitely conspiring against her.
Beth put the tray in the coffee table besides him and was awarded with a bright smile and a warm “Thank you!” for her troubles. She felt herself smiling back.
“I am glad you are comfortable.” She said. “I will get back to my work if you don’t mind.”
Beth sat at her workstation and put up the blank document again. Now what? Conscious of her guest’s presence, she started typing in the first sentences that come to her mind, desperate for the keyboard noise to fill the quiet room and possibly push her mind into action. It was useless.
“What type of work do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?” John Cline Jr. asked and she was grateful for the interaction. The emptiness inside her was overwhelming.
“I am a writer.” Beth told him.
“Well, not quite there yet. Still trying to get published. But I have to live meanwhile so I maintain a column at the regional newspaper. I have a new entry due tomorrow.”
“You must be really good if you can survive on your writing alone.”
“Well, not really. I cook for a caterer on the side too. He is very specific about the ingredients and preparation and I have a lot of time in my hands so it works both ways.”
“That is nice! So you really are a baker. And how is your writing going?”
“Not well. I can’t write a thing.” Beth blurted out.
“Why not?” John Cline Jr. wanted to know.
“The newspaper wants this stupid column about dating. I thought I had so much material, but now I feel like everything else has been said, you know. It is not like I hold all the answers, anyway.”
“Would you like me to tell you some of my war stories?” He joked and she found herself saying yess yess yess.
“A young and handsome guy like you? What kind of war stories can you possibly have? Cynicism does not start until the 30ies you know.” Beth answered.
“You’d be surprised. Love is not easy, no matter at what age you are looking for it.”
Beth was positively hyperventilating at this point. She really wished she had taken a comb to the cuckoo’s nest on her head and had changed out of her stained pajamas.
“Can I see what you have written so far?” John Cline Jr. wanted to know and got up without waiting for her answer. Suddenly Beth panicked and tried to close her document. It was all rubbish. She felt him approaching as she tried to find the little mouse arrow and close the page, when she felt something hit her on the back of her head and fell into darkness.
When Beth came to, she found out that she was tied up and could not move at all. She opened her eyes and saw John Cline Jr. looking at her face with that cute smile of his. It seemed so cruel and mocking now. She wanted to speak but her mouth was taped shut.
“You are awake.” John Cline Jr. e said. “Lina, she is awake!”
A female John Cline Jr. came into her vision, and smiled prettily.
“Hello!” She said. “Thank you for letting John in your home. Mighty good hearted of you, even if a bit stupid.”
“She is not good hearted, otherwise she would have let me in the first time I asked.” John Cline Jr. pouted. “She’s just a randy old spinster, aren’t you darling?”
Beth could only look at him. She felt furious, pathetic and disgusted at the same time.
“Don’t be upset, Johnny usually has that effect on people.” Lina said, dragging her tote bag. “Tell you what, you had plenty of cash and other goodies stashed at your home and I am feeling kind of generous today. I will let him have a go at you before we leave, how is that? I can see he wants to.”
“Lina, you know I only love you my bunny.” John Cline Jr. said but Beth felt the eagerness in his voice.
“I know hon. She is your reward for being a good boy. Beats me why you’d want to stick it into an old thing like her, but I can’t deny my baby anything when he loves me so much, can I?” Lina said and kissed her psycho boyfriend.
“Men! We’ll never understand them, right?” She said. Beth just looked at her and wished she had a hammer to smash her crazy teeth in a million pieces.
“Hon, did you check in the bathroom? People hide good stuff in the laundry hamper sometimes.”
“Can’t you look instead, love bun? I thought I could get started on our hostess here.” John Cline Jr. said. He walked to Beth, touched her hair and caressed her cheek with a finger. She recoiled at his touch.
“Really Johnny? I waited one whole hour for you to let me in, I found her money, her jewelry and her pot and you want me to look in the bathroom while you get your joyride stick polished?” Lina screeched at him. “You jerk!”
“No love, I just thought that the longer we stay the more dangerous it gets. I promise you, next time you can sit down and I’ll do all the work. I know how much you do for us my princess. Besides, you can join in too if you like.”
Lina huffed but she scampered to the bathroom. Beth thought they must have been together for a long time. Then she felt the hands of John Cline Jr. caressing her lips over the tape and fury flared again.
“I will take off the tape if you promise not to yell.” He told Beth. “You look like you haven’t been kissed in a while.” Beth nodded quietly and he took the tape off. She did not scream so he came closer and gave her a kiss on the mouth. As his hands went lower on her body, pawing and loosening her buttons, Beth caught Lina’s hateful stare from the hallway, and knew the psycho girlfriend wanted to kill her. But his mouth moved away and she could finally breathe. John Cline Jr. maneuvered Beth on her stomach and started loosening her feet from the tape keeping them closed. He was surprisingly gentle but still terrifying. Beth blocked the repulsive feeling of his roaming hands on her legs and started whispering her binding spell. She concentrated hard on the words repeating them over and over and over, each time louder than the rest. She stopped once her throat was hoarse and turned around. were frozen, their large gorgeous eyes the only outlet for the terror, frustration and helplessness they felt. Just like her a few moments earlier. Surprised that her spell had worked so well, Beth took a steak knife from her kitchen and started shredding the clothes of the psycho couple. Next, she cut their hair as close to the scalp as she could, their terrified eyes following her hands around. She did not display any other sign of triumph otherwise. She could not kick people when they were powerless no matter how beastly they had been to her.
Once she finished her preparations, she dragged John Cline Jr. and Lina Whatshername to her kitchen and left them by the door of her very large oven, which took up half of the space. She put them inside standing up and set the heat to a slow roast. The side panels would do a great job of roasting them evenly.
Then she went to call her catering friend to let him know that he did not need to bring any ingredients. The dish that she had in mind would far surpass whatever he had managed to dreg up and would feed her coven with much needed magic. Who knew, it might also give her enough inspiration to finish the stupid column before the deadline.