Monday, October 22, 2007

Discovering Georgia

By Justin Sherman

Curiosity killed a hell of a lot of cats, or so the saying goes. But it was a Greyhound that brought me to Memphis, not curiosity. Don’t get my droll humor? That’s all right. Neither do the guys I meet in JoJo’s Bar on Beale Street every Friday night, but I am starting to reconcile myself to that fact. If my humor isn’t exactly funny, though, why do the guys laugh? Maybe they think that laughing will unlock the “easy” part of my brain – the part where I’ll automatically lie down and throw my legs in the air. That strong false notion only disappears after I walk out the front door alone and never look back.

Am I attractive? I know you didn’t ask, but sooner or later all the Internet guys I meet want to know. On Friday nights I go home with whomever I want, but I am not the prototypical blonde bombshell. I am five-foot-three, twenty-two years old, and fluctuate between one-hundred thirty and one-hundred fifty pounds, depending on whether I am pushing myself through another painful, desperate diet that ultimately lets me down. And for your information, I have no intention of dieting – at least for now. I’m still great in bed, though. Listen to me, will you? I sound like I am trying to hook you into an Internet date.

I’m not, though. Only looking for someone to talk to, not for someone to do me. I savor the potential shock value of this phrase and tap it into the computer. However, I immediately recoil in fear that I have been too offensive for my new friend; Faulkner94 pauses a little too long.

Faulkner94 finally responds after my next trek to the open living room window and back again. The sticky, hot August air seems to suck the life out of me, even at night, and I poke my body out the window in search of relief. My main reason for the trip to the window, though, is to gaze upon the unfinished house across the street. The frame is still up, the roof is still on, and the silver Expedition is still parked out front.

The recently abandoned one with the Texas license plates.

When I return to the terminal, my buddy writes that he is not interested in making it, either. His striking words form on the screen: In fact, right now I would be happy just to find an apartment complex without every crack addict in Memphis.

I am stunned since my chat rooms friends are usually from nowhere near where I actually live, but this guy lives in the city – a mere ten-mile drive. The temptation to tell him this is intense, but I refrain. It is the correct call for now.

The Expedition parked across the street continues to ensnare my thoughts. That older couple, in their early thirties, parked and entered the half-finished house exactly seven hours ago. After growing weary of trying to focus on the conversation with Faulkner94, I politely decline an invitation to carry over in the morning. He asks me what my real name is prior to disconnecting, never guessing that formergeorgian101 contains my actual name.

Who could blame him, anyway? My unimaginative parents could have named me anything else besides Georgia, and I would have been happy. Stardust, maybe, or even Rosechilde. Hell, they had been hippies back in the day, hadn’t they? But no, dear old dad in his ultimate wisdom gave me the same name as one-tenth of the menstruating inhabitants from my small Georgian hometown of Everston. Got to keep with tradition, he’d said. It’s the Southern way.

Anonymity is what I strive for – it’s my way, Southern or not – so a large, four-year college allowed my escape from Everston. Then, I wandered a bit after graduating from Tech, moving throughout the Southeast and now to a suburb of Memphis. Mom tells her friends – the ones in her bridge club, anyway – that I am “discovering myself”. That’s a crock; I know myself well enough to dislike what I see, so I relocate when the noose closes in too tightly. If anything, I would call my nomadic penchant “reinventing myself”. And I do get that chance, too, with each new move. The only downside to this is the obvious: no stable, close relationships. Although my current closest relationship is with Faulkner94, I am happy here because of the job. I can finally use my degree in fine arts, even though the pay only allows me a miniscule, one-bedroom house.

When I signed the mortgage papers, my agent had assured there were no plans to improve the other lots on the street. I had dubbed this my private Nirvana until workers showed up several months ago and began clearing off another lot. Wouldn’t you know that with all the available lots, they began building right across from my house?

A large crew poured the foundation and built the frame. After a few weeks, however, the number of builders had dwindled until only one guy remained. He was in his late twenties, a real Adonis, all tight jeans and rippling muscles. Arriving well before daybreak each day, he would methodically unload his tools from his old Ford pickup and start working. No one ever came with him or even checked on his progress, but he managed to finish covering the roof – tile by tile, in his own deliberate manner – and is presently working on a project within the house.

Staring into the dark recess of what probably will be an attic window for the new house, I suddenly – actually it is something that you’ve been struggling with all night, isn’t it, Georgia? – feel a real compulsion to cross the road through the night’s hot breeze and see for myself what happened to the couple. If I stare intently at the void in the attic, I can almost trick myself into believing that two red, glowing eyes are glaring back, but I know it is only a distant light emanating from a local cell tower.


What is it about a half-built house that compels the curious to investigate, anyway?

An hour before daylight, I awake from a dream-laden sleep to the crunch of tires on gravel and sit bolt upright on the couch. Wiping sweat from my forehead, I realize that I have been having that dream again, the one where powerful arms carry me away. In the dream I am beautiful – a thin, lightly-tanned maiden with curves in all the right places. I am in trouble, though, because the thing carrying me has a hideously deformed face, and I realize that he may not be the Southern Gentleman for which I’ve longed.

As I peek through the blinds and shake off the last vestiges of the dream, my pulse quickens. Adonis has dismounted from his pickup and entered the house. Jingling some metal keys in his hand, he returns to the Expedition, his step cool and mechanical. His poker-face reveals no sign of having discovered a dead couple moments ago. The engine turns immediately, and soon Adonis is out of sight.

As rays of light start their dance over the horizon, I wonder where Adonis is going with the SUV. As soon as this thought germinates, I push it back. I do not really want to know where he has taken any of the vehicles, and I probably never will.

More sweat seeps from my pores, only this time not just from the heat. My heart thumps in my chest, and I urge myself into action now lest I explode.

Thrusting the front door open, I rush across the street and make a final mental note before the human part completely disappears and the beast takes over: instruct Adonis to arrive earlier in the mornings. Although I most relish the taste after the bodies are assuredly cold, Adonis is cutting it too close to daybreak to finish his duties.

Way too close.

Justin Sherman is married to a direct descendant of the family that was haunted by the Bell Witch. Because of this, he has been naturally inclined to cast aside his pharmacist cloak at night and read pretty much any kind of horror or science fiction he can get his hands on. His recent stories are included in the publications: Hadrosaur Tales, Seasons in the Night, Lost in the Dark, Nova SF, Down in the Cellar, Southern Fried Weirdness 2007: An Annual Anthology of Southern Speculative Fiction, and Aphelion.

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