The night seemed to crash down around the small truck once Roger passed the main gate and began the long assentation to the main house. The trees pushed in around the road on both sides and their leaves blocked out what little light the moon provided. He flicked the high beams into play and pressed on in the little Toyota. A shiver ran down his spine. He dreaded this run.
The trees stopped about a block away from the house. The area around the building was devoid of plant life save a few low shrubs and dead grass. Roger was sure that if the house was within the town limits, there would have been some sort of letter writing campaign to have the hulking things torn down. But, it wasn’t the house that gave him the chills. No, it was the house occupants that sent shivers up his spine when he delivered pizzas to them.
The Toyota slowed as it rounded the gravel road entry and pulled in front of the main door. Roger glared at the front door and sighed. “Tips,” he whispered as he tried to shake the chill. They had always been amazing tippers, the Shelltons. Never stingy, but always demanding, it was full service at all times. Roger had to deliver the pizzas like they were the special guests at some friggin’ White House dinner. Placed, arranged and checked. Every time. Roger was the only one who managed to get out of the Shellton home without being chastised or corrected because he remembered the routine and followed it after the first few deliveries to the Shellton residence. . He was the only one that managed to get the generous tips from the Shelltons as well.
Roger swung the door open and stepped out of the truck. He dropped his keys into his pocket and slammed the door. He started to walk around to the passenger side door and the lights around the outside of the run down, three-story burst into brightness as he rounded the back of the truck. Again, business as usual- they listened for the slam. He moved around to the passenger door all the while keeping one eye trained on the house. His eyes narrowed when he reached the door and had to look away. There was more than one occasion when one of the damned Shellton children appeared behind him without a sound made on the gravel roadway. It was more than a little unnerving.
Four pizza boxes in hand, Roger kicked the door shut and made his way up the stairs to the front porch. The door opened before his foot touched the welcome mat.
Correl? Coral? Roger tried to remember the oldest girl’s name. He smiled and went with, “Hi – Roger from Pizza Towne.”
“Roger.” She sighed the name and smiled a wide smile. Roger wasn’t sure why, but it seemed more sinister than friendly. “Thank you for driving all the way out here yet again. We just can’t seem to get enough of your delicious creations. Please, come in. The air is chilly. We don’t want to let it out.” She corrected herself. “The heat out.” She stepped back and held the door against her pale cheek.
Oh, come the on, man. It?! Roger tried to ignore the foolishness. It was merely another way these rich, wackos entertained themselves. Eccentric, rich and bored – a horrid combination.
Roger stepped inside and heard the door click shut behind him.
“Coral, remember?” She walked by him and her bare arm brushed his. A small shock ran up his arm and over his shoulder. “Oh…static,” she whispered.
Chills or not, Roger took the liberty of watching her sway as she made her way to through the entry way and towards the hall. She was curvy, dark haired and an impressive five foot nine or so. She never wore revealing outfits that showed much, but they always accentuated her womanly curves. If roger had not been scared of her, he would have asked her out long ago.
Roger followed as he had been instructed to do many times before and wondered which room they would have set up this time. Would it be the black and white tile kitchen was it’s many thousands of dollars worth of cooking equipment that seemed to remain unused? Or perhaps the grand dining room area with it’s wall of old, wavy floor to ceiling mirrors that he was sure had either seen many secrets or were hiding voyeuristic occupants.
When Coral moved up the stairs, Roger stopped short.
“Um, should I follow? Or, should I just—“
“Yes, please. We’ll take those upstairs, if you don’t mind. Grandmother isn’t feeling well.” She didn’t look back when she spoke, but continued to move slowly up the stairs.
Roger followed and stole a glance up at Coral from time to time. The stairs curved up and to the right toward the second floor. Roger got caught up in Coral’s hips a bit longer than he had planned. A booming voice jolted him from the hypnotic sway and a rush of heat flooded his face.
“The PIZZA man! Fan-fucking-tastic!”
Roger mustered a smile as he looked over toward the voice and raised the cardboard boxes up a few inches. “That’s me.”
The man at the top of the stairs was a brother or uncle, Roger thought. The man had close-cropped hair and dark eyebrows. He was built like a super hero. The genes in the family must have been fantastic. Roger thought the aforementioned grandmother looked like she was over one hundred years old if it was the same woman he saw during his last visit t the house.
He still wasn’t sure how many people lived in the old place. Sometimes there were two pizzas ordered and sometimes there were ten.
“I thought we were going to have to eat the damn dog. We waited to long to order. I told you, Coral. Friday nights are busy right, um…pizza man?”
“Roger.” Roger smiled awkwardly.
“You’re part owner, right?” Coral turned abruptly to face Roger and Roger stopped just short of bumping her.
“That’s right. Peter and I own Pizza Towne.”
“Niiiiice.” The man waved roger forward, then pointed towards a dark doorway. “In there, por favor.” Another creepy smile assaulted Roger. Maybe that ran in the family as well.
Coral didn’t move when Roger moved toward her. He whispered, “Pardon me,” and brushed past her.
“Sorry.” She giggled softly and Roger’s amorous feelings turned towards disdain.
“Kind Sir,” the man said as he bowed and raised his hand towards the dark room.
The man glanced at the room.
Roger stared into the room’s blackness. The absence of light seemed like a black hole creation. The light from the hall was swallowed up by the room inches into it. Roger deemed it a trick of the lights position, but it still made him think twice before stumbling into it.
“Let me turn it on for you,” Coral said in a low tone. Roger jumped at her voice’s nearness. “We’re used to this old house.” She disappeared into the dark and the room sprang into brightness moments later. Roger thought he heard her whisper something. She reappeared and beamed. “There we go.”
Roger grinned to the tall man and moved into the room.
Coral whispered, “The funny thing is, people treat dark rooms they are scared of differently when the light’s are on…” She smiled, “…as if whatever they were scared of in the dark isn’t there when the room is filled with light. I find that humorous.”
“But, you’re dark like that, Coral sweet. Creepy little thing you.”
“Your one to talk, Stephen.” Coral smirked at the man in the hall and motioned for Roger to place the pizzas down on a small table in the corner.
Roger nodded and moved deeper into the room. It smelled of musk. Like a bad cologne. Roger followed the routine as always. Pizzas down, boxes moved off each other and spread out, contents checked against what was ordered and the receipt slipped off whatever box it was taped to and presented total side up. Roger had checked to make sure the register carbons were still easy to read before leaving the shop. He smiled.
“And, here you go.” Sweat beaded across his brow.
Coral stared into Roger’s eyes and the smile on her face lingered in a hovering, sort of faded way. A strand of her dark, silky hair fell over her eye. “Are you nervous, Roger?” Her voice was soft and coy.
“He seems a bit…jittery.” Stephen leaned against the door jam.
“Friday night madness at the shop. I’ve just been going and going tonight. I really have to hurry back and…before things pile up.” He felt his throat grow dry.
“I see,” Coral purred.
“FOR CHRIST SAKE, pay the man and let him go already. I’m hungry.”
Roger nearly jumped out of his skin. He had not noticed the older woman in the chair towards the back of the room. Her voice rattled as if her throat was full of phlegm. She coughed and fanned the back of her hand at the man Stephen. “This migraine is finally starting to calm down. Don’t get it going again.” She closed her eyes and rubbed at them.
Stephen laughed and strode over to Roger pulling his wallet from his back pocket. “What’s the damage, Roger-san?” He stared at the receipt, then flipped through the bills in his wallet. He yanked a few free and swapped the receipt for the bills. “Keep the change, Sport.”
Roger didn’t bother to count the money. He let his relief shine through in his smile. “Thanks. Well…goodnight.”
“Good eve, Sweet Roger. Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Coral let her face fall into a mask of sorrow. “We’ll remember you as we eat of your Pizza Towne. We’ll hold your memory within out heart….our souls….and our full bellies.” She smiled wide.
“Great.” Roger wanted to run.
The older woman sighed, “Jesus.” She stood and moved to the pizza table. “Thank you, Pizza Man. Goodnight.” It was dismissive, but Roger didn’t mind in the slightest.
Stephen saluted as Roger passed him, then joined the older woman at the pizza table.
Coral lead Roger down the stairs to the foyer and held the door open for him. Upstairs, the older woman called out in both English and some Slavic sounding language. “Pizza is here!” Footsteps thumped above as people moved from wherever they had been. Again, Roger had no concept of just how many people were up there.
“Goodnight, Roger.” Coral held his gaze with her dark eyes. They seemed to sparkle in the half-light of the foyer. Her full lips pulled back into a smile. This time it was a sweet smile. Delicate.
“Goodnight.” Something stirred in him and the chill slipped away and was slowly replaced by desire. Roger stepped into the warm summer air.
The door closed.
Roger turned and studied the door. He saw Coral staring back through the lacy curtains for a moment before turning and moving out of the foyer. She stopped at the hall and her hand slipped out to the side and rested on the wall switch. She didn’t flip it, however. Her head turned slightly.
Roger turned, jogged down the front steps and crunched across the gravel to the truck. He opened the door and climbed inside. He waited a moment, then pulled the truck door closed. The hollow slam filled Roger’s head with echoes for an instant.
The front lights darkened.