The string twitched. Again.
Outside on the back deck, fingering his extinguished cigarette, Jake stared through the kitchen window at the bright blue piece of string his daughter had tied to the refrigerator doorhandle. And watched it move.
It didn’t move more than an inch; it just moved wrong — jerking and twitching yet somehow stiff. It looked to Jake as if it were in its death-throes.
And every time it twitched, another wave of adrenaline washed over him.
Two days ago his seven-year-old daughter Katie had come home from a birthday party with a balloon floating from the end of this blue piece of string, and even though the balloon had long since deflated, Katie had been determined to save the string. It was a special string, she insisted; magical. The clown who gave it to her told her so.
Only now did it occur to Jake how odd it was that someone would give a balloon to a child and tell her that the string was special.
The rest of the family had long-since gone to bed tonight when Jake stepped outside to have one last cigarette. He had been turning from the deck rail, done with his cigarette and ready to come inside, when he noticed the string. Twitching.
At first it was a novelty. What an odd way for that thing to move: all herky jerky-like. He stood there, watching it, mesmerized.
But the longer he watched, the more he realized he didn’t care for the way it moved. Like a man had been hung from it by the neck, only the man wasn’t dead yet; he was alive and kicking his feet — kicking and jerking and trying desperately not to die.
Despite the humidity of the August air, a chill crawled up Jake’s arms. It skittered across his shoulders, ran up his neck, and began fingering the base of his skull.
And no matter what Jake did or thought, he couldn’t take his eyes off of the spectacle in his kitchen.
He stood there, wishing, waiting, praying for the string to do something overt, instead of these little twitchings.
If it would just do something obvious — like bend in the middle, or turn up and rise toward the ceiling — then he would have irrefutable proof that something was wrong, instead of this stupid feeling of dread, which, in truth, was based on next to nothing. Nothing at all…
“What took you so long to come to bed?” he imagined his wife, Alexa, saying the next morning.
“I was watching that piece of blue string Katie tied to the refrigerator the other day. It was moving funny.”
Only that was the problem. There was nothing he could describe as overtly wrong. Truth be told, it was barely moving at all. A little here, a little there, back and forth. A thin blue line bouncing around on the refrigerator.
Unless Alexa saw it with her own eyes, she would never understand.
So Jake stood there, waiting and watching.
His eye caught sight of the shadow the string made on the refrigerator, a thin black line right behind the blue one, and he watched that, too, suddenly expecting — no, fearing, that he would also see the shadow of fingers playing with the string. Fingers that couldn’t possibly be there.
Oh for crying out loud, he thought, chastising himself. It’s a piece of string, dammit. Just a piece of string.
He thought that, over and over, standing on the deck, growing afraid.
Chills ran up and down his body. It was still eighty-five degrees out here, even this late, and the humidity was unbearable. Yet the longer he watched the string do its death dance, the harder it became for him to stop shivering.
It’s a just piece of string, he thought for the thousandth time. It’s barely moving. It was probably the air-conditioner doing it.
Jake could hear the unit now, around the corner, nestled up against his house. Humming.
I should turn that down, he thought, give the unit a rest…
Only he couldn’t move.
It’s time to go in, he prodded himself.
Come on, time to go inside.
But now his fear, his greatest fear, his unrelenting fear, was that the instant he turned the doorknob to enter the house — the moment that latch clicked — the string would stop moving. That whatever it was that was moving the string… would hear him. As much as the unnatural movements of the string bothered Jake, the mental image of it suddenly stopping? That was worse.
And he knew it would. It would stop the second he opened the door. He knew it. He’d have his precious proof that something supernatural was at work here.
He didn’t want proof anymore. He —
Would you please, he thought, please, please, please, stop acting like a big baby because of a piece of string? Could you do that for me?
That sounded good; except his feet weren’t convinced. In fact, they refused to cooperate. His body leaned forward, but his feet weren’t buying the bravado.
Look at it, his feet told the rest of his body. Are you not paying attention? A string doesn’t move forward half an inch, pause, move forward again, only to abruptly jump back in the other direction.
That may be, Jake’s brain replied, but it’s still just a piece of string. A foot and a half long; maybe a sixteenth of an inch wide. What’s the problem here?
It’s not the string, you idiot. It’s… whatever’s moving the string.
You mean the air-conditioning?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, the air-conditioning. You really believe that?
That was the fundamental question here, wasn’t it? What did he believe? Did he believe in supernatural forces, possibly from beyond the grave? Or did he believe the air-conditioning was making the kitchen drafty?
You want to know what I believe, his brain answered, asserting itself. I’ll show you what I believe. We’re going inside. Right now.
And with that Jake threw his cigarette over the rail. He wiped his sweaty palms on his shorts and took four heavy, purposeful strides across the wooden deck, his workboots thumping with every step.
He hadn’t even touched the knob yet when, inside the kitchen, the string stopped moving. Two seconds later the back door threw itself wide open, welcoming him inside.
Happy Halloween, everybody!