It never ends well in movies, but Solanda’s knuckles lightly rap on the door and nudge it open. She pokes her head inside.
No answer. There’s something deathly quiet about this neighborhood. Gated community, grandiose homes that can fit six of her studio apartments inside, but not a sound. As a writer of horror, she notices such things.
The guard wasn’t at the entrance when she pulled up and keyed the code her boss had given her into the pad. The wrought iron gate swung back, beckoning her inside, and when it closed behind her, there was a hollow metal echo that made it seem permanent, as if she’d been sealed inside, cut off from the rest of the world forever. An idea for a new book, perhaps? She hasn’t gotten many lately.
She drove down the street, gawking at the size of the houses—most of them at least three stories high—the spacious, immaculate lawns a color green she’d never seen before in her life, not even in photoshopped images. At every house the grass was cut in the same diagonal pattern. She wondered if the neighbors all used the same landscaper.
Stepford mowers, she brainstormed, would that even sell?
Only one thing was missing: trees. Not even a stump in sight. And with the absence of trees, there was no steady swish of leaves rustling in the breeze. In fact, there was no breeze at all. Everything was still, as if time itself were frozen.
A stranger wonders into a quiet neighborhood. Too quiet. No sign of human life. The solitude drivers her to the brink of insanity. No. Unoriginal. She remembers a Twilight Zone episode with a similar premise.
She steps one foot inside the house. Her stomach twists into knots. She swallows hard; the back of her throat sticks together like Velcro, and she can hear the saliva travel down her esophagus. She should turn back. How important is this job to her, anyway? She can think of better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than sip imaginary tea with a clan of spoiled brats in a princess gown made of cheap, itchy fabric with ruffles that balloon out whenever she sits in a chair made for a five-year-old. She’d rather not beg overly rich, yuppy parents for a tip they don’t think she deserves because “anyone can put on a blond wig and a blue dress and call themselves an ice princess.”
If it was so easy, why didn’t they do it themselves instead of calling Princess-2-Princess Tea Party?
The door slams behind her, and it’s the same noise as the front gate—the hollow echoing sound that rattles her to her bones. She surprises herself at being so bold as to enter without being invited in, and now she fears she can’t leave. She’s become a character in one of her stories.
But she was invited, or at least, the company she works for was. Temporarily, she assures herself, until the book deal, until she can get over this writing fog she’s had since finishing her debut novel, a thriller about three teenagers who accidently kill a girl in the woods when they assume she’s a ghost.
It’s been two months since she’s sent the final draft to her agent. She’s emailed him only twice just to see how things were going, if he approved the changes. Neither received a response. She knows these things take time, but she’s starting to grow impatient, and the extended wait has hindered her ability to write anything new. No-talent-having reality TV stars can publish a crap book that sells millions quicker than the most prolific authors; surely he can take a few minutes out of his day to tell her if her shit is good or not.
But she won’t stress herself about it. She’s here to pick up a new dress for the job. She took this gig for a reason, even though she hates kids. To distract herself from the fear of rejection, of worrying over when her next meal will be if she isn’t signed with a publisher by fall. She quit her corporate America job five years ago to be a full-time writer, and her depleted savings account shows it. Last night her dinner was beef-flavored Ramen noodles and a peanut butter sandwich, no jelly. She’s the definition of a starving artist.
She hugs herself as she cautiously walks into the living room. It’s freezing. That’s the problem with these big houses, she thinks, people want to show off all their wealth, but they have nothing to occupy the empty space, to make it feel like a warming, welcoming home, or to, at the very least, block the draft blowing down from the vents in the ceiling.
She hears something crunch underneath her foot. She squeezes her eyes closed, praying she didn’t just step on and break a $500 crystal vase or a gold-plated picture frame. She lifts her foot and looks down. A piece of ceramic, it looks like, broken off from an overturned clay pot holding an elephant-ear plant. Dammit. She must have knocked it over when she slammed the door. She rights the pot, but half of the soil has already fallen out. She tries to wipe it up, but instead it seeps deeper into the fibers of the plush white rug, which looks expensive, probably an animal in a previous life. Will the owner be expecting her to pay for it? That would be it for her. She can’t risk it.
She rushes for the front door and nearly dislocates her shoulder trying to yank it open. It doesn’t budge. Instead of the deadbolt, she finds a keyhole. She’s locked inside. Behind her, padded footsteps hit the carpet, and she knows she’s caught.
In that moment a new title comes to her: “Blood Princess.” One of Disney’s most beloved—maybe the gullible Belle, or naïve Cinderella, or perhaps the meek and docile Snow White—goes rouge after finding her charming loyal prince in bed with the hag from a neighboring kingdom. She massacres everyone in the castle in a fit of rage and disappears to become one with the enchanted dark forest.
Shit. Total shit. She has to find a new side job before she starts rewriting all the Grimm fairytales.
“Excuse me, miss?”
She turns around to face the owner of the home. He’s shorter than she expected. His mohawk making up for at least two inches. He wears thick rimmed glasses and a silk floral shirt. A measuring tape is draped over his shoulders and a sewing needle bobs in his mouth as he speaks.
“You’re here for the Princess Tiana dress?”
She hesitates. Has he noticed the stain on the carpet yet? He doesn’t seem to care that she’s broken in, but maybe he left the door ajar for her. It’s best to just roll with it. She nods her head.
“Well, come on! I don’t have all day. I’m in the back.” He spins around and waves for her to follow him. He sways his hips as he walks throw the living room. “You will die once you see this dress.”
She wonders how true his statement could be.
It is Short Story A Day May, and today’s prompt from Bea of The Busy Muse, “A Mysterious Situation,” may or may not have a typo. I went the typo, because who wants to visit a boring customer when a costumer makes for a much more mysterious tale…