As a large vehicle with heavy crates tied to its roof parked in front of 37 Muriel Greenwood Street in the picturesque town of Strona, several passers-by could catch sight of the young man who stepped out from the passenger’s seat. He looked to be in his early to mid-thirties, dressed casually but tastefully, conventionally handsome.
Those same passers-by would probably never imagine that they were looking at a retired police investigator. His name was Isaiah Hargraves, and Strona was to be his new home after eight years of dedicated work in the capital.
There’s an old saying in these parts that goes “they’d help an ant cross a boulevard”, no doubt referring to someone kindhearted enough to even entertain the idea of doing such a thing. Isaiah would probably build a special path just for the ants. He was one of those invaluable people who are driven solely by their motivation to change the world for the better, one small step at a time. Unsurprisingly, his immense efforts went beyond what was required by his calling, for better or worse. The “worse” came into play a lot sooner than it should have: after suffering serious consequences in the aftermath of a particularly difficult case, he was sent to retirement by his commanding officers. It was meant to be a reward, a lifetime of guaranteed leisure at the government’s expense as a way of paying him back for his services. But for Isaiah, it almost felt like a punishment. More than anything else in the world, he longed to be useful.
A plump man wiggled out from the driver’s seat. Whistling a jolly tune, he began to unfasten the binds holding the crates in place. Isaiah picked one up and entered the building, followed by his husband Nigel. The two of them slowly climbed up flights of old marble stairs until they reached the third floor. Panting, Nigel put down the crate and began to search his pockets for the keys of their new apartment.
After an all too long rummage through every pocket on his person, he found them and began to unlock the door. Sure enough, the doors of both other apartments on the same floor opened, their tenants peeking into the hallway, curious as to who was moving in. Isaiah and Nigel turned towards them. One was an ancient looking woman whose big bob of chestnut hair was obviously a very poorly placed wig. The other, their next-door neighbor, was a slightly younger but still wrinkled man. They both stared, the former inquisitively, the latter with a barely concealed annoyance.
“Don’t do it,” Nigel whispered to Isaiah, hardly moving his lips. He knew full well what was coming up.
“Good day! Pleased to meet you!” Isaiah greeted the oldies cheerfully. “I’m Isaiah and this is my husband Nigel, we’re your new neighbors.”
The woman just gasped and shut her door at lightning speed, as if startled. The man just mumbled something incomprehensible with disgust clearly written on his face, and slowly closed his door.
“I told you not to do it,” Nigel said with a sigh as he picked the crate back up and walked into the apartment.
They were used to situations like this, unfortunately. It didn’t happen too often in the capital, but there were people who reacted to their presence with disapproval or distaste. For Isaiah, this always led to a kind of joyless guessing game: what was it that was putting them off? Was it his dark skin, or the fact that he was married to a man?
“Come on, darlin’,” Nigel called him from inside. “Bring that box in so we can go get the rest of the stuff.”
Isaiah walked into a small hallway that led to the living area. Putting down the crate, he took in the surroundings. It was a spacious room with huge windows and a gorgeous chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There were still things lying around that needed to be cleared out, but overall, it felt like a good place to call home.
After several trips downstairs and back again, most of their luggage was in their new flat. But just as they were about to go pick up the last of the crates, Isaiah felt a sudden sharp pain in his left calf. It made him audibly wince, and though he tried to downplay it, Nigel noticed.
“Is it hurting again?” he asked, concerned.
“It’s nothing,” Isaiah answered. “Let’s go.”
Nigel walked up to him, placing his hands on his husband’s shoulders.
“It’s ok,” he said gently. “Stay here and take it easy, I’ll get the landlord to help me with the last crate.”
Normally, Isaiah would try to resist, but the pain was so strong that he didn’t have it in him to try to play hero.
As Nigel’s footsteps echoed down the stairs, Isaiah started limping over to the sofa. But just as he was about to sit down, an intense feeling took hold of him. This time it wasn’t pain, but a sense of unease, similar to what one might feel when they can’t see anything in the dark but are aware that there’s something there. A heavy presence was in the room with him, clinging stubbornly to an object. In his head, he heard a faint echo of a voice.
“I miss you,” it said. Then again, slightly clearer: “I miss you.”
It seemed to come from one of the drawers in the lavish dresser standing against the wall behind him. Isaiah approached and opened it. Inside was a bottle of ink, some blank stationary and a cache of old photos. He immediately recognized that one of the photographs was the source of the strange energy.
He flicked through them, searching for the culprit. Sure enough, he found it. The moment his fingers touched its surface, the unease intensified to the point he could swear that someone was standing right behind him. And in his mind, a voice now spoke clear as day.
“I miss you.”
“…the pipes in the kitchen have been fixed, as you asked,” the landlord’s voice faded into Isaiah’s consciousness from the hallway.
“Thank you so much,” Nigel replied. Both men walked into the living room to drop off their crates. Isaiah was still standing and observing the photo in his hands, a class picture of two dozen or so teenage boys posing in their uniforms in front of a serious looking building.
“Oh, looks like I’ve left some of my memorabilia behind!” the landlord exclaimed, noticing Isaiah. “I see you have my class photo from high school. See here, I was quite the looker back in the day.”
“So, this is yours?” Isaiah asked, his amiable tone replaced by the cold inquisitiveness of an interrogator.
“Funny you should ask that!” the landlord replied jauntily, seemingly unfazed. “I’d actually lost mine, but someone else left this on a desk so I picked it up. Finders-keepers, I guess. May I?”
Nigel raised an eyebrow as Isaiah handed the photo back, and the landlord took it along with the rest of the ones from the drawer.
“Guess I’ll take these with me then,” he said, collecting them into a neat bunch. “So, how do you fellas like it so far?”
“The flat seems wonderful,” Nigel said. “The neighborhood could be better,” he followed up with the driest voice imaginable.
"Oh?” the landlord turned towards him, putting the photos down on a table and resting his hands on his hips.
“Yes, we’re already getting some choice reactions from the dinosaurs living next door.”
“Ah, well, sorry about that,” the landlord said, rubbing his nose and looking to the side as if he was embarrassed. “Strona is a bit conventional, you see. But it’s also very peaceful. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of things to enjoy here.”
While Nigel and the landlord were talking, Isaiah seized the opportunity to swipe the class photo and hide it under his shirt while no one was watching him. He managed it just before the landlord put his right hand over the stack of photos and checked his wristwatch.
“Oh, look at the time!” he gasped. “Will leave you boys to get settled in. If you need anything just call!”
One energetic slam of the door later and he was gone, leaving the couple alone.
Nigel looked at Isaiah directly with his impossibly clear blue eyes. “Are you alright?” he asked.
“Of course,” Isaiah said, reverting to his usual cheerful self. “Why do you ask?”
“You just seemed off for a bit there,” Nigel said, smiling, and the two of them started to unpack.
Comments (4)See all