“Before you freak out, the door was open,” she said as Andres walks in the apartment. Behind him, Ana tugs him back and takes out her cellphone like a weapon.
“Who the fuck are you? We’re calling the police right now,” Ana said to the mystery woman in their apartment.
“You know who I am, Andy,” she approached them without any inhibitions. Her nearly see-through green dress revealed a noticeable lack of underwear.
Andy stiffened so much Ana’s nudge went undetected. A short man with a NOLA baseball cap grabbed the woman’s hand and tried to reason with Ana. She once again waved her phone as a threat, but Andy grabbed her forearm.
“I don’t know who any of you are or why you’re in our apartment, but I’m calling the cops right now,” said Ana trying to get free from Andy’s grip so she could use her phone.
“Maria? Juan Carlos?” Andy’s voice cracked with every word.
“You see, mira, nene, you remember,” the woman hugged Andy, but he didn’t quite hug her back.
“Andy, do you know them?” He just nodded. Ana pushed them inside but kept her phone out, and with 911 dialed already.
“He’s a friend from college. Remember from Tulane, well, his one year in Tulane,” Maria’s voice carried around the room as if she was using a speaker. The man, Juan Carlos, made a polite gesture of hello and sat in the only Lazyboy chair in the apartment.
“Wait a minute. You’re the, the, Puerto Rican couple, right? I remember you talking about them,” Ana dropped her keys and purse in the kitchen counter. Andy reached out to grab Maria’s shoulder when she walked away from them towards the living room. She turned, and he poked her face and gripped her shoulder tighter.
“Oh yeah, this game,” and she poked him back in the cheek while backing away from him.
“Ok,” Ana’s gaze remained on Juan Carlos, his chiseled face and pale green eyes seemed familiar to her. “Look, I don’t know why the door was open but isn’t a bit creepy to just let yourself in. Even if you know the person. How did you even know this particular unit was ours? Even if you had the address, this building is a maze.”
“I get it, but we knocked on the door, and it opened. We felt it would have been rude to just leave it open unattended, so we let ourselves in, and here we are,” her translucent green dress flowed with unnatural grace as she sprinted and dove into the center of the plushy couch. She took her sandals off and placed her feet on the edge of the sofa.
“Andy, is everything ok?” hushed Ana after the guest were both in the living room. “Do you guys want anything?” she yelled to them from the kitchen. They both asked for a beer.
“I don’t know them,” Andy said exasperated, and loud enough for the guest to hear. “Look, I don’t know them, because they shouldn’t exist.”
“What the hell do you mean?”
“I mean, I made them up.”
“You’ve told me the story of the Puerto Rican couple before, you said they were loaded, took you to Miami, and you guys had a bit too much fun with shrooms, LSD, and all that,” Ana whispered, still trying to conceal the situation from the guests.
“I know I’ve said a lot, but I’ve only done LSD once, and mushrooms only a few times, but NEVER with these people. Most of the time, I did that stuff alone and watched TV,” he said loud enough to lure Maria out of the living room.
“Hey love, I can’t help but overhear that you don’t quite remember us. We were so wasted, I’m surprised I remember too,” she said, wrapping her arms around Andy. Ana handed her a beer with a sneer. “But take a look at this, old champ. A picture of us in the Saint Louis Cemetery. We were so fucked up, I even had a tit out.”
“Oh, lovely,” Ana walked towards the living room, grabbing Andy along the way. She handed a beer to Juan Carlos, and he nodded.
Maria placed the picture in the coffee table, and Juan Carlos briefly looked at it with a smile. She lifted her long and wavy dark-brown hair so that it laid behind the couch. They were restless, never still, not even for a second. They stared at each other in silence, with only the mild arrhythmic purr of their black cat. Ana broke the quiet standoff with a laugh, but Andy excused himself and ran to the bathroom.
“Oh no, I’m sorry, we should go, right?” said Maria as she tried to get up to leave.
“Don’t worry, sit here, and I’ll check on him. Maybe he had some bad shrimp at work or something,” Ana tried to hide her worry, but they could read it in her expressions.
Ana hurried to check on Andy, but she didn’t find him in the bathroom. Instead, he was rummaging through the closet. He dragged a big chest out of the closet and pried open its rusty lock.
“This thing, never really closed, but now it decides to jam. You’ll see what I mean Ana, I made them up, they are not real, and they shouldn’t be in our living room right now,” he said just before unlocking the chest. He searched all the notebooks piled together in the trunk until he found a multicolor sketchbook.
“I’m not judging you, if you were too fucked up to remember them, I don’t care. If you fucked her, or him, I don’t care. I’m more worried about you. I remember the story, that YOU told me, about doing a ton of mushrooms and seeing shit in that cemetery,” while she talked, she wrapped her right index finger with her blue lanyard from work. She wrapped it so tight, the tip of her finger was starting to turn purple.
“For one second, trust me. I know, I’m an unreliable source of my own memories, but look a this,” he handed her the notebook and gently unravel the lanyard around her finger.
“You were good. Sorry, I mean, you are good. These are beautiful, if you just make a few adjustments here and there, a nudge here, a bit of shadow here,” but after scanning the first few pages, she recognized them, Maria and Juan Carlos. “This doesn’t mean anything you met them in college, you were still,” – he interrupted by showing her a picture that was tucked in at the end.
“Look at the date,” he points at the date in a faded picture of him in a mall food-court scribbling on that sketchbook.
“So what, you kept this notebook throughout college,” she kept reading the backstory of each sketch that he wrote around the subject. “Beautiful, carefree, magnanimous, but manipulative and vindictive,” she read around Maria. “What did Maria do to you?”
“No, I made them up. These were characters I created when I was in high school. This notebook, I left it back home with my parents. You know this. We picked up this chest from my parent’s house a year ago, dusty as hell, but with all this stuff from when I was in high school. Very far away from New Orleans,” he said, rummaging through the chest, throwing notebooks, pictures, and magazines all over the bedroom.
“Look, so spooky, because you wrote ‘dangerous’ in both sketches,” she said with a snarky tone that made him snatch the notebook from her in one quick swipe.
“Fine,” he stormed out of the bedroom. The notebook on his left hand and a zippo lighter on his right; he had an idea.
“Andy, what are you doing? Come back.”
“Come on, just let me test a theory,” his voice echoing a bit while he fast-walked down the long hallway leading up to the living room.
Maria greeted him right away with a hug. He didn’t fight it, but he still didn’t reciprocate. She held tight around his waist, and she gave him a kiss on the cheek. Juan Carlos wrapped his arm around his shoulder from the other side, startling Andy. He pushed them both away from him in the most polite way he could muster. Then tried to get their attention with hand gestures.
“Ana, look,” He emptied a metal waste bin that was near the big bookcase and placed it right in front of him. After a few flicks, the lighter came to light, and he positioned the long skinny flame underneath the sketchbook. The cover was very flammable, in seconds it was already engulfed in orange flames. He dropped the book in the bin and stared at the couple.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Ana emptied the water from a flower vase to extinguish the small fire.
“JC, maybe we should take the blunt out, to mellow the fuck out,” Maria bobbed her head, acting like she just came out of a Bob Marley cover band concert in Ohio. “Before, you set any more fires. Hold your horses. I’m about to blow your fucking mind. I have half a million dollars for you, I guess now for both of you.”
Andy didn’t pay attention, he dug his hand on the charred remains of his sketchbook in disbelief. He ignored everything, and just let a brief moment of awkward silence go on for way too long.
“Why? I don’t get it. What did he do for you two?” asked Ana with her hands around her own neck.
“What he did for us, is worth a lot more than half a million,” said Juan Carlos, with a surprisingly melodic voice.
Still, Andy didn’t pay attention. He tore page, after page, after page, until he found a blank one. He used the ash to draw the figure of a man with a blurred face and a machete. They were talking in the background, but Andy was concentrated. They spoke about transferring money to Andy’s bank account, about a house they purchased in Salem for them, and about the brand new Jeep Wrangler, parked outside the building.
“Hey! Andy. What the fuck?” Ana urged the guest to sit down, and she grabbed the sketchbook from Andy.
The shadowy sketch disturbed her. She ran her fingers through each word, and she couldn’t believe the detail he managed to get by just using his fingers. “Slayer of imagined people. Dangerous only to the made-up,” she read too low for anyone to hear.
Ana felt it first. The cold breeze that came from the long hallway, and the shadowy man placing his hand on her shoulder. Startled, she jumped back, and the killer lifted his machete, striking Maria first. She fought back, kicking and scratching, but he raised the machete again, and it pierced right through her skull.
“See, there’s no blood!” yelled Andy, sinking in the nearby recliner and catching the shadowy figure’s attention. After the killer lifted the machete, Maria’s body disintegrated into a fine multicolor powder. The focus of the apparition quickly turned to Andy. “No. What? That’s not how I wrote it.”
Ana struggled to cope with what she just witnessed. She grabbed her work lanyard, from Animation A Studios, and tightly wrapped her right index finger again. Juan Carlos jumped into action, confronting the killer before he got close to Andy. The fight happened right in front of Ana, but she was paralyzed.
“Don’t,” said Ana, in a low and sheepish tone.
Juan Carlos collapsed on the floor shortly after the machete went through his chest. Juan Carlos turned into the same multicolor dust in seconds. The machete that was rammed in his ribcage fell to the ground making a clanking noise. Andy took advantage of the opportunity, grabbed the machete, and swung it until he hit the shadowy man’s neck. Ana, was still in shock, but now sitting in the office chair near their vintage letter desk.
“I didn’t write him that way. I don’t understand,” said Andy, crying, letting the charcoal dust left behind by the shadowy creature slip through his fingers like sand. Ana grabbed a book awl from the desk and approached him sobbing. He slouched forward, bewildered, with tears running down his face.
“I know, I know. I don’t know what happened. I’m sorry,” as she said the last words, she stabbed Andy repeatedly in the back of his skull with the awl. She didn’t even see his face, his body fell forward, and as it hit the floor, it shattered into small pieces of glass with a multicolor tint.
A few days later.
Ana wiped her tears as she looked at the photorealistic drawing of Andy on her iPad. Around him, the words “creative, sweet, kind, but naive, stubborn and lazy” floated around the sketch. She acted startled as a man opened the door to her apartment.
“I’m sorry it was open. Ana, love, I’m here for you,” the man said in a noticeably foreign accent. He had a chiseled face with blueish-gray eyes.
“Boni, I’m so happy to see you,” she ran to him, and he noticed blood coming out of her right hand. She had a small circular cut in her index finger, dripping blood. He grabbed her finger and used a handkerchief to stop the bleeding. She unrolled the handkerchief and placed her index finger in his cheek, smudging a bit of blood that was quickly absorbed by his skin. “Now. Perfect. Welcome home, my beautiful friend from NOLA.”