Below the Surface (Continued, Third Installment)


“You okay?,” Oscar said, grabbing hold of Steven as he fell over.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Steven told him, getting ready to stand back up. Steven hesitated for a moment before he stood. Looking closer at the ground around the scorch marks, he noticed some small, black ants. Some of the ants were carting off a moth carcass outside the blackened ground, but a group of others tried to go towards a grasshopper in the charred soil, but they wouldn’t cross into it. None of them would cross into the darker earth, almost as if they feared it.

“I can clear it, till the ground and re-plant for you,” Oscar said to him, standing above him. “I can come back tomorrow with the gear I need and new plants if that works for you.”

Steven just nodded blindly to Oscar, still staring at the ants. “That’s fine,” he finally said as he stood up. Steven’s mind was suddenly racing through his dream last night. He turned and looked down the path past Oscar to where the cellar doors were on the house. He slowly brushed past Oscar and made his way towards the doors, taking longer and more determined strides the further down the path he got.

“You okay Steven?” Oscar yelled as Steven went down the path. Steven didn’t reply. He made his way over to the cellar doors and stared at them, scanning them with his eyes. The olive-green paint on the doors had chipped and faded away from the sun over the years and there was rust surrounding the hinges from years of disuse. Steven leaned forward to examine the doors more closely. he gave a light tug on the door handle. Of course, it didn’t move at all.

“What are you doing?” oscar said to him, finally catching up and placing his hands on his knees as he caught his breath, sweat dripping off his forehead. “You know these are all sealed up. Did it myself 5 years ago. I think you were here then.”

“I was here,” Steven replied sullenly, sorry that he was present on that occasion. Steven examined the seam between the doors where Oscar had carefully poured cement to close up the access to the doors, almost like he was sealing a tomb. Steven remembered standing in the yard, watching Oscar from a distance as he smoothed the wet cement, neatly framing the doors with it, while his parents sat with Uncle Louis and Aunt Linda in the kitchen having coffee.

Steven shook his head as he stepped back, trying to shake loose the memories as much as the confusion he felt right now. Then his thoughts turned to Amber. He needed to talk to her. He knew it was an irrational fear, but he had to know for sure that she was okay and he had to know now. he started walking quickly towards the house. Oscar didn’t even bother chasing him this time. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he yelled to Steven, who simply raised his left hand in acknowledgement and kept walking towards the house and up the steps to the kitchen door. The door slammed loudly as he walked in, bouncing in its frame.

H immediately went to his desk and grabbed his cellphone. He quickly paged down to Amber’s number and pressed the Call button. it rang four times and went to voicemail. Steven tried to sound calm and sincere in his message. “It’s… it’s me. I know you said not to call, but I was just… well I just wanted to check on you. Call me back. Please.” He hung up and stared at his cell. He scrolled through and found the number to his Amber’s apartment. She wasn’t likely to be there, he thought. She was rarely there anyway and since she was leaving for Seattle in a few days she might have left the apartment altogether and be staying with her parents, or friends. Steven had to try it anyway. Finding the number in his phone and pressing it to call, he started to get a nervous feeling in his stomach, the same feeling he used to get whenever he was sitting at dinner with his parents when he was a kid. They would sit there in silence and eat their meal, the quiet only broken by the occasional sound of silverware scratching on the plate or his father clearing his throat. Steven was always to nervous to try to start a conversation, afraid of the outcome. That’s how he felt now,but now he couldn’t tell if he was more afraid that she would answer or that she wouldn’t, or couldn’t. Three rings, then four. “This can’t be,” he thought frantically, his stomach twisting tighter. Six rings, then seven. No machine was picking up. Steven was trying to remember if he had her parents’ number at their home in Syracuse. They might remember me, he thought, thinking back that he had met them once when they visited Amber at school.

“Hello? Hellooooo?” Steven snapped back. “Amber? It’s Steven, I know you didn’t want me to call but…”

“Steven,” the voice answered with no emotion. “Amber’s not here. This is Megan, her roommate. We met a few times. I thought she told you not to call.” Megan. He remembered her now. A psych major who shared Amber’s apartment. Steven always thought Megan was kind of a pain (he often thought bitchy but Amber always told him to be nice). She always rolled her eyes whenever Steven showed up and locked herself in her room when he was there. he had to try to be nice to her right now though. “I know,” he said to her, trying to sound calm and not anxious. “I just… will she be back soon? I just… I just need to talk to her, only for a minute.” Steven hoped Megan might take some pity on him if he seemed desperate enough. “I don’t think she’s going to be back Steven,” she said coolly. “She left last night with most of her stuff, but if I see her I’ll tell her,” she said curtly and hung up. She is a bitch, Steven thought, staring at the phone trying to decide his next move.

It had to be just a weird coincidence, Steven thought to himself. He could sense he was pacing around the room, even sweating more than usual. He kept thinking this to himself all throughout the morning and all through the sandwich he had for lunch. He would keep checking his phone or his e-mail, but there was never anything from Amber. He even went back out to the garden and checked over the bare spot again. It was too perfect of a circle to have been someone messing around or lighting a fire. He surely would have heard kids or anyone lighting fireworks or anything out in the yard. The nights out here were so quiet you could hear a dog barking 1/2 a mile away, never mind something in your own backyard. Then again, maybe not, he questioned. That Ambien he took had knocked him for a pretty good loop last night; anything could have happened, and apparently anything did.

Steven tried not to obsess over it, but the longer the day went on, the more he kept thinking about it, going over every detail of his dream in his head. Afer lunch he tried to do some job searching and sent out his resume to half a dozen job opportunities, but when he was done, he couldn’t even remember what the jobs were that he had applied for. He did remember that a couple were close by, even close enough where he could keep living in the house, if he actually wanted to stay here. By mid-afternoon, the heat and humidity and become so oppressive that Steven’s shirt was soaked through and he had done little more than sit around. He knew he couldn’t last another night without the air conditioner. He knew where he had to go to get it too.


One Response to “Below the Surface (Continued, Third Installment)”

  1. 1 Read it Again Dad…You Should Read This Dad « The Office of Iguana Flats

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