The Friday when rent was due, Katelyn moved out. It took one trip with her Geo. She took pride in her entire life residing in a duffel bag, safe, and gray tote for everything else. Even Billy’s meager infantile possessions somehow all fit within the tiny trunk. Everything else was the landlord’s problem. She evolved from bridge troll to basement goblin. When she got to Todd and Georgia’s basement, it was furnished for a home theater, with surround sound speakers, large flatscreen TV, and plenty of DVDs. Some candles and a lighter sat on the slate-topped coffee table. Billy’s rickety plastic crib went next to the black futon with wooden armrests. Some ambiguous stains marked the left-hand side. When she was all settled, Todd gave her a key.
“Anything else you may need?” Todd said, standing with one foot on the bottom step. A recessed light illuminated his buzzed head.
Katelyn browsed the massive shelf. She fingered a few films she recognized. “Got a lot of movies for me, too.”
“Yep, most are mine. The bottom right corner is Georgia’s, if you want something more, uh, girly.”
Only a dozen or so resided in the dusty corner. Romcoms and a few titles Katelyn was unfamiliar with. Shooter was the only one that stood out.
“Thanks,” Katelyn said. Her phone blipped. The data plan was almost up.
“Oh, I’ll need your WiFi password, too.”
Todd plodded up the stairs as he spoke. “PINKY6597*, all uppercase.”
A few passed with general privacy for her and Billy. Katelyn took note of Todd’s lethargy when he working at home. She timed it right where Todd would leave to do errands. 3:45 when he’d log off. Then she had a half-hour to get Billy’s formula ready before Georgia’s return for dinner then her second job. They were routine folks. Todd had outpatient procedures on Friday. A little note on the fridge door reminded her. They were routine folks with a little extra on their plate. Katelyn felt it lovely to avoid them. She was convinced Billy hadn’t interacted with them at all. To see a couple who seemed to have it all together. She imagined it would be hard to remember anything that far back. Katelyn thought about if innate imagery would be beneficial in some psychological way for a baby. Unless she ended up a permanent resident, growing older and plumper in the basement in exchange for a customer support gig and a third of the mortgage every month. It was all a pipe dream, at least for the time.
The following Friday, things were different. Katelyn noted that Todd never left for his appointment. Georgia didn’t come home, either. She snuck upstairs to microwave chicken nuggets and some formula. The whole time, she could hear Todd gaming in the living room. Some gunfire rang out as he communicated tactical positions to his teammates. Cursed when he died yet laughed it off upon respawning. Even as a programmer, Katelyn never got into video games. She’d rather scroll around Pinterest with a documentary as background noise. The only good type of distraction was a mild-mannered naturalist and animal noises while she looked at art-deco and clothes she couldn’t afford. As the sun plummeted into the horizon, and the warm nuggets filled her stomach, she popped in The Ring. A complete deviation from the norm, but that night felt anything from normal. The opening scene with the schoolgirls was slow enough to rock Billy back and forth and feed him enough.
Billy was nestled in his off-white cradle in no time. Then, there was a knock at the top of the stairs.
“Hey, Kate. Would you want a beer?” Todd’s muffled voice said.
She paused the movie at one of the drawings with the thick circles. “Uh, yeah sure,” she said. The door opened and Todd shuffled down. He put a pounder can of PBR down on the table. He had a glass of water in his hand and a vape pen between his fingers.
“Ah, this movie. Did you know this is all adapted from a Koji Suzuki novel?”
Katelyn grabbed the chilled can, feeling the moisture on her fingers. “I didn’t. May have seen bits and pieces in high school.” She hit the play button. “It’s pretty good, though.”
Out the corner of her eye, Todd was still standing, wavering on his feet a bit. “I was, uh, just wrapped on some CoD. Mind if I join in?”
Katelyn cracked open the beer, took a sip. It was mildly skunked, but drinkable. “Sure, I guess.”
Todd didn’t respond, just sat down with his head still turned toward the TV like an owl. His ass sitting on the futon didn’t ripple over to Katelyn’s ass. He turned on the pen and let the oil heat up. A blue-to-red blinking was in Katelyn’s periphery. A small, distracting thing. He blew out some light, wispy smoke. Todd coughed.
“Should you be doing that with him here?” Katelyn said. Billy’s cradle had since moved to the back corner. Where the sun refused to shine. He was sound asleep. Todd sipped some water.
“It’s vapor, all good.” He knocked his knees together a few times and scratched his head. All loud, distracting things. “Want another?”
“I took, like, a sip,” Katelyn said. She took another. “Alright, that’s two.”
“I’ll bring some pounders down,” Todd said. He winked at her. “Just in case.”
Todd was gone for a while. Katelyn lost track of time. Fully engrossed with the film, a ring of condensation formed around the warm beer. He plopped down the stairs muttering some lyrics to himself. Katelyn was startled when he leaped into the futon. It pushed the left side back with the force. She flinched and looked over. His eyes were red like Mars, despite the blue hue of the TV. He plopped two more beers on the table.
“Please tell me you’re not still working on that one?” Todd said.
Katelyn didn’t answer, taking the fresh can without hesitation.
Onscreen, the horse went mad on the ferry and the neighing woke Billy up. A banshee wail followed by soft hiccups. Katelyn picked him up and rubbed his back. She could feel the eyes of Todd upon her. Squinted eyes with a mixture of mirth and intent. It was strange, she thought. Especially in his own home. “It’s alright, the scary horsey won’t hurt you,” Katelyn mumbled. Billy babbled a bit more before his little body became limp and sleepy. She placed him back down in the cradle, waited a few seconds, and left. Asleep before the worst scenes.
Todd was glued to the screen and started giggling. “Oh, you missed that horse turning into filets.”
Katelyn flumped into the futon. “Oh, dang, I’ll just rewind it,” she said.
She lied. She was shielding Billy from the morbid blood in the water. She glugged some beer, nearly half this time. She did, however, feel Todd inch closer to her. He moved at two intervals, one while feigning a couch, then the next after a burp. It wasn’t long before she felt his radiant heat, his prickly arm hair. He gestured at stuff irrelevant to his pursuit. Pointing to the TV, the DVDs, and dropping his arm closer to Katelyn’s thigh.
“Georgia out for the night?” Katelyn said.
Todd nodded slowly like he was falling asleep. “Yeah, we argued yesterday. Needed a girls’ night or whatever.”
“Ah, that sucks,” Katelyn said. She drank even more.
“I’m stoned to the bone.”
“Weed fucks me up anymore. Makes me feel like I’m losing control.”
Todd sniffles. “Oh, that sucks. I was going to offer you some.”
“Nah, beer is fine.”
“Fine,” Todd says. It’s that stern, disappointed ‘fine’. Like when a child doesn’t get the candy at the checkout line. A small distraction from the mac and cheese he will receive later and enjoy anyway.
Todd lit an orange candle as the final act began. Katlyn watched on, with the scent of mango and eucalyptus pervading her nostrils. Todd’s fingers caressed against her thigh as he put the lighter down. They were cool like frost. She recoiled away by shifting her legs up to her chest.
“I really enjoy watching a movie with someone. Georgia doesn’t watch movies with me. Hasn’t since our dating years,” Todd said.
Katelyn’s head was tilted sideways like an owl. Deep into the movie, or consciously avoiding him, it was impossible to tell.
“This may be the weed talking, but I still remember that night. At the Poconos.”
“Oh. Yeah,” Katelyn said, dejected. “Back when we both had a steady job at Differentily.”
Todd shuffled closer, his arm around the metal tube of the futon.
“I was pretty wasted, but I still remember, well, what we did.” Todd’s smile formed a fine grin, with nearly all the teeth separated by millimeters of warm, moist darkness. A single, yellowed incisor on the bottom was the only crooked one. It looked to be half-rotten, just waiting for a single, swift punch to free it from its misery.
“You always wear crew socks?
Katelyn chuckled at the question. “Yeah, especially when I dig holes and direct traffic.”
“That’s funny, for a programmer like yourself.”
A few minutes drag on. Tension in the film and reality was high, for all the wrong reasons. Todd nurses his beer, while Katelyn chugs the rest of hers. The empty tin crackles down onto the table.
“Georgia isn’t about a lot of things I like,” Todd said.
“She’s your wife, though,” Katelyn said.
“Yeah, but, she’s peculiar. Doesn’t game, doesn’t watch movies, as I said before. Do you wonder why she was moody when you first met? That’s her, like, 80% of the time.”
She let Todd go on as he did at the coffee shop, but this time, she knew his tactic. The Poconos trip was a year ago, and old ways don’t change with older men.
Onscreen, Samara emerged from the well. Katelyn flinched again when she felt Todd’s armrest on her shoulders. His arm hair felt like a microchip being jutted into her neck. A cyberpunk alternative reality in which androids of the future study the early 21st century and see just how primal and uncouth their ancestors were.
“Todd, what do you want, dude?” Katelyn blurted. A half-hearted chuckle trailed her words.
Todd lifted his arm, reclaimed his composure, and slumped forward. He shrunk into himself, again.
“I’m sorry, Kate. I just, Georgia never lets me, well, do things, and I feel like I can trust you and—”
“I’m still unsure what you mean,” Katelyn said. She lied. It was critical mass. Todd blinked fast and made steady eye contact. His irises were amber despite his mental state. Briefly, Katelyn thought she was looking at the planet, Saturn.
“Can I show you?”
Katelyn sighed. She snatched Todd’s beer off the table and downed it. Tossed the can onto the floor. She was already familiar with his taste. The suspension of disbelief was lost on her as Todd’s fingers burrowed beneath the ridge of her crew sock. She extended her shin out so Todd could take the sock completely off. He slithered off the futon. Like he was truly morphing into his final form before her. Samara was outside the TV realm, dripping water on the floor toward the aghast Noah Clay. Both men, fictional and real, were hyperventilating. The water on the screen mimicked the wet feeling she felt on her toes. The pinky getting the most attention.
A shiver went up to her thigh and she winced. Todd apologized once, twice. When Katelyn didn’t respond, he dug his razor-thin teeth into the fine flesh of her foot. Katelyn closed her eyes to all the loud, distracting things. Timed the number of rings on the fictional phone. Heard the gasps and shrieks. Imagined Todd, erect, tinted blue from the TV. Imagined the cold steel of the pistol deep inside her safe, begging to pop off. She hoped Billy was asleep, adrift in newborn bliss.
She wouldn’t have wanted him to see any of this.