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Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat-lady and creative writer who reads and writes in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn's Disease. She grew up on a small farm in Texas alongside many furry friends, two sisters, and a brother. Her favorite soda is Zevia Ginger Root Beer (if that counts), and her work can be viewed at: https://kaciskileslawswriter.wordpress.com/

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KACI SKILES LAWS

EUGENE

          Something wasn’t right about Eugene. His eyes were too black. His gums were too red where his teeth should’ve been. His hair was thin and disheveled, matted to his forehead.

          The day I met him was on the back porch. He was standing there in dingy brown coveralls watching me through the screen door. I noticed a smell like stink bait, and then I saw Eugene; he grunted like a pig. I ran from the kitchen, yelling for my mother as my father emerged from the bathroom half-shaved, and I buried my face in the ruffles of my mother’s dress trying to get the awful smell out of my nose.

          “What’s all this about now?” My father asked.

          “There’s a strange man at the door!” I pointed. My mother cupped her hand over my mouth as my father wiped at his chin with the towel laying around his neck, and my mother and I hung back. I tip-toed to listen from the living room and watched the man shake my father’s hand and sit at our kitchen table. He gnawed on a piece of toast, and though he was staring straight, somehow, he was watching me.

*

          The man’s name was Eugene; my father told us after he’d sent Eugene off to fetch some gas for the mower. “He’s just passing through, needs a little work. I told him we could sure use the help, asked when he could start; he said right away.”

          I thought it was strange that while Eugene sat at the table with my father, I never heard him say anything. I ran to the front room of the house where the road runs through at a ninety-degree angle to look for Eugene. Somehow, he’d already walked so far ahead I couldn’t see him. I laid on the bed waiting to watch Eugene as he returned but awoke to the sound of the mower. I ran to my sister, Sylvia’s room, thinking he might be visible from her window and just lost sight of him as he rounded the house, his black stringy hair blowing behind him.

          “You got a crush on Eugene?” Sylvia teased.

          I snapped back, “Have you seen him?”

          Sylvia smiled and shook her head. “If you saw him, you wouldn’t be laughing. Something isn’t right about Eugene.”

*

         Eugene spent hours mowing and doing odd jobs for my father that day, yet every time I tried to spy on him from the house, he was one step ahead of me, disappearing into the barn, ducking behind our well, eyes down at the ground as he busied himself. That night once I knew Eugene had gone, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was still there.

*

          I woke up shivering and saw my window wide open; the curtains were blowing in the early morning air. It was still dark out, but when I went to close my window, I noticed something stumbling around outside, could hear it grunting as I sank low and watched, knowing it had to be Eugene. As I squinted and my eyes adjusted, I could see him dragging something to the well.

          I ran from my room, threw open my parents’ door, and was horrified to find my father’s side of the bed empty. I shook my mother frantic.

          “Mom, Mom! I can’t find Dad. Eugene’s outside, and he’s dragging something to the well.” She sat up dazed. My father entered the room and turned on the light, 

          “What’s going on in here; it’s three in the morning!”

          “Dad! It’s Eugene; he’s outside.” His anger turned to confusion, 

          “What? Can’t be. I sent him back to town for the day.” 

          He flipped the porch light on and walked out calling Eugene’s name. I stayed back. 

“Where?” My father asked.

           “Over by the well,” I whispered so only my father could hear. I watched him as he walked out to the well with his flashlight and shined it into the well.

          “There’s nobody out here.” He said when he returned. “Back to bed.”

*

          I couldn’t sleep as I sat wondering where Eugene had hidden the thing he was dragging. I sat staring out at the spot I’d seen him and then back towards the well, ready to sound the alarm again. It was starting to feel as though I’d imagined the whole thing when I saw something rise up from the well and stop right at the rim. It was Eugene’s head peeking over, but his hands weren’t hanging on to the edge of the well.

          This time I ran to Sylvia’s room as quiet as I could and told her I needed to show her something. After a couple of minutes of me pleading and convincing her it was important and hushing her, she came into my room half-awake, half-annoyed. I went ahead of her and looked out, happy to see Eugene’s head still there.

          “Look at the well.” I pushed her forward. She squinted towards it.

          “What is it you’re trying to show me?”

          “Eugene.” I whispered, “Out in the well.” She drew back with a sigh,

          “Really? That’s why you woke me up?” I looked out the window again, and Eugene was gone.

           “He was there!” I shouted. “My window was open.” Sylvia sighed.

           “I’m tired. I’m going back to bed, and you should too.”

*

          I slept late the next day, and no one in the family dared to wake me as they discussed my odd behaviors. When I finally did wake up it was because a ladder had hit against the side of my room. The weight of someone creaked up the rungs; there were no voices just labored breathing, grunting, and a wet sound as something was drug across the house. I could see Eugene through my sheer curtains, all but his head, so I got down low wanting a better look and regretted it as Eugene slid a wet paintbrush across his tongue and began licking at the side of the house like he was hungry. Afraid he’d see me, I retreated to the living room.

          My mother was rocking in her chair. She greeted me with apprehension. “How did you sleep, hun?”

          “Eugene woke me up. He’s licking the house; he has paint all over his tongue.”

          “Oh, honey, this has to stop.” My mother got up and walked into the kitchen, humming.

          I agree. I said under my breath.

*

          I sat on the bed with my Polaroid camera on my lap. This time I’d have evidence to present, proof that there was something not right about Eugene.

          He had moved away from my window and was working on the opposite side of the house. I went to the front room and laid myself flat against the wall by the window to see if Eugene was there; he wasn’t. Next, I went to Sylvia’s room still in search of him and did the same thing. This time Eugene was there. I sat beneath the window, and without hesitation, I snapped the first picture.

          I didn’t wait for it to develop before I snapped another and another and another, hoping I’d catch something sinister. He must’ve heard the clicking and saw me because he started to grunt and sway on the ladder. He grabbed for something, but nothing was there. I watched him fall backwards as his expression remained fixed, his black eyes stared into mine. I backed away from the window, leaving my camera and pictures scattered across Sylvia’s floor, and was about to slip out from the room when I heard something hit the window. I jerked my head to the side to look. Eugene had his nose pressed into the window with his nostrils drawn up like a pig. He licked the glass, chaotically gnawing at it with his toothless gums. I screamed as I ran from the room.

          My mother greeted me on the stairs. “What is it?! Are you okay?”

          “It’s Eugene! In Sylvia’s room!”

          My father and sister had joined us now. I stayed back as they entered her room. My father poked his head out at me, “What is it? Eugene isn’t here. He’s been painting the house all morning.” My father waved to Eugene from the window, and Eugene waved back.

          “Not in here…” I said. “He was at the window…and he was…”

          “Was what?” My mother asked. “Eating paint again?”

          “What’s this about Eugene eating paint? Is this a joke?” My father asked looking at me then at my mother and back at me again. I said,

          “No…not eating paint…he was licking the window, pressing his nose against it.”

          “So, being silly?” Sylvia concluded.

          “No, it wasn’t silly.” My eyes searched for the pictures on the floor not sure of what I’d find, but they weren’t there. I lifted up the comforter and looked under the bed as Sylvia picked up my camera, 

          “Were you taking pictures of Eugene?” My parents both sighed past us to the doorway. My father scolded me with his eyes and said, “This stops right now. I’ve had enough. You leave Eugene alone. Poor man’s been working since six this morning while you were sleeping ‘til noon. I should have you out there helping him. In fact, I think it’s time you take Eugene some iced tea.”

          I gasped.

          My mother wouldn’t say another word about it.

          Sylvia carried on, “You wanted a picture of your boyfriend?”

          I shot her an evil glance as I followed my father downstairs to make Eugene a glass of iced tea.

*

         

          Walking to the back of the house with the iced tea sloshing around in my hands, I glanced over my shoulder expecting for my father to be there, but he wasn’t. I started to turn around, but changed my mind once I saw the tall ladder leaning against the house all alone. Eugene was nowhere to be seen. I left the tea on the bottom rung, and as I made long strides back to the porch, I noticed Eugene standing far out in our pasture watching me, his stringy black hair blowing around his face.

          My father asked me if I gave him the tea. I nodded as I took the stairs up to my room two at a time.

*

          I was determined to see Eugene walk off of the property before nightfall, and I poised myself at the front room window waiting for him to leave, but he never did.

*

          I walked downstairs for dinner and was shocked to see Eugene sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of steak and mashed potatoes before him.

          “There she is!” My father announced.

          I sat down diagonal from Eugene with my eyes lowered, not feeling hungry. I ate a few bites, and saw Eugene didn’t even take one; no one seemed to notice. I excused myself, and that went unnoticed too.

          I waited in the front room again for Eugene to leave and was startled when my mother opened the door with him right behind her. “Eugene’s sleeping here tonight, so he will need this room.”

          I stared at her in disbelief and walked past them quickly.

*

          Once the house got quiet, I peeked under the crack of my door towards the front room. It was dark inside.

           Around midnight I heard Eugene’s door creak open. I went to the crack and watched. His feet stopped in front of Sylvia’s door; he turned the knob and disappeared inside her room. I ran out and downstairs to my parent's room, flipped the light on and said, “Eugene’s in Sylvia’s room! You have to do something!”

          Neither of them was there. Instead, I heard laughter coming from upstairs in Sylvia’s room like a party had commenced. I ran back up the stairs, and the house fell quiet again. The whole house was dark except for my parent’s room.

          Back downstairs I saw someone was in my parent’s bed.

          “Mom?! Dad?!”

          Eugene sat up and started grunting louder and more vicious than ever, shrieking and drooling. I grabbed my father’s shotgun from behind the door, knowing it was loaded and pulled the trigger at the same moment someone jerked it towards the ceiling.

          I heard shouting and screaming, “What are you doing?!” My father was on the bed, stunned; my mother was holding the gun in shock; her curlers hung limp around her face.

          Sylvia was coming down the stairs. Eugene was right behind her. I collapsed to my knees in a daze and said,

          “It was Eugene.”

Header image by chainatp, Getty Images

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