The candle flickered in the wind as the slight breeze whisked through the window. The night had a severe chill to it and it was uncomfortable for Renard as he sat sipping his hot chocolate. It wasn’t his first drink of choice for the weather, but it had gotten cold quickly and it was the only things that he had in the house at the time, so he just made it. He was actually enjoying it a little too. He wasn’t sure how long it had sat at the top of the cupboard, but it had the little marshmallows in it, that made him smile when he first saw it. Now he was just sitting there.
Normally it wouldn’t have been a problem for him, but the power had gone out as well, thus the candle. Now he was just waiting for them to fix it and to get the furnace started. He was using an electric one. The gas lines didn’t run to where he lived. He had to open the window because the only candle he could find to provide light as the sun set let off some smoke, he wasn’t sure why, but it did. His old camping stove provided a place to make his beverage and to make some dinner, which was just a can of soup he found in the same place as the hot chocolate.
There was food in the fridge and freezer, but nothing that he wanted to try and cook on the little stove. Plus, he didn’t want to open the fridge and risk is thawing out. He had no idea about when the power would be back on, so he decided to play it safe. The one thing he had to be able to do though was to read, and the smoky candle provided him with the light he needed to do so. He thought that he had hit pay dirt when he dug out the old stove, but the flashlight that was with it was dead and he had no extra “D” batteries handy to replace the old ones with. SO here he was wrapped in a blanket by a slightly open window with a smoky candle sipping hot chocolate and reading a book.
It was still an hour or two before he went to bed and he kept checking the website of the power company on his cell phone to see the updates of the power line repair. There was a small storm earlier, but nothing that would have knocked out the power. When he finally got to the site he read that it was an accident caused by the storm. A car had hit the post. That was all it said. He wanted to check the news for more information, but he didn’t want to waste his battery. Right now though he was only concerned with reading the book that he had started a few days ago and getting through the night.
As Renard turned the page to start the next chapter, there was a knock at the door. It took a moment for him to realize that it was his door. He was that absorbed in the story he was reading. Another rap at the entry made it clear it was his. He carefully put the bookmark in the page he was on and set the paperback down. Then he got up and tossed the blanket on the chair he was in. He slowly made his way to the front entrance. It was dark everywhere else in the house and he didn’t want to stub a toe of anything.
The knocking kept coming at regular intervals as he worked towards it. He finally got there and peeked into the small lens that allowed him to see who was on the other side. It was dark outside too and the streetlights were not on, so at best he could only make out a shadow. It was probably just a neighbor who needed something. Renard wasn’t that familiar with many of his neighbors, but he thought himself friendly enough when he did engage with them. He opened the door to expect to see Mrs. Landon from next door, who might have lost one of her small poodles. They were yippy whenever he walked by, but they were small and cute.
It could have been Mr. Kowalchek from across the street, a retired Navy man who always made sure to raise and lower his American flag at sunrise and sunset every day. He was a stickler for that and for as long as Renard had lived here he believed the old man never missed a day doing it. He went on vacation once for a week and had asked Renard to do it. Getting a reputation of being unreliable was a bad thing in the area, besides Mrs. Kowalchek made the best cupcakes. Ever since he had helped with the flag for their vacation she had made him a batch every major holiday. That was a privilege he didn’t want to lose.
He fumbled with the deadbolt, then the lock on the door. He slowly opened it. When he was finally able to see the person on the other side it was an unfamiliar face. “Excuse me,” the still unknown face said, “my car broke down and my phone is dead.”
Renard immediately felt for the person as he recalled a similar situation from a couple of years prior. His eyes started to adapt to the low light and he was able to make out the form of a man. He must have been in his mid-twenties, with long hair. Renard finally broke from his observing and replied to the man on his porch, “I wish I could offer you help, but as I’m sure you have noticed, we have no power in the area.” A sudden wave of apprehension swept over Renard, almost like dread, but not as dark. He ignored it though. “I can offer you some hot chocolate and a dry place to sit for a while. Maybe even a phone call.”
“It sounds like a start, and to be honest a bright turn for what, so far, has been a pretty shitty day.”
Renard stepped aside and motioned for the stranger to come in. He did so. “My name is Renard, what’s yours?”
“Michael is what my mom calls me, but you can call me Mike.”
“Well then Mike, come in and let’s have something to drink.”
The pair made their way, slowly, back to where Renard had been reading. He still had the small camping stove on his table along with the box of what remained of the hot chocolate packets. The water in his kettle was probably lukewarm by now so he turned the burner back on before he sat down. He motioned to a chair across from him for Mike to sit in. “You’re wet, let me get you a towel to sit on. I think I have an old blanket you could use as well to stay warm.”
Mike stopped before sitting, realizing the towel was more to keep the seat dry. “Thank you.”
Renard disappeared for a moment and returned with the previously mentioned items. Mike wiped himself off a bit then tossed the blanket around him before he sat. The kettle made that unique sound that kettles do when the water in them started to boil. Renard had also brought another mug and made the drink for his guest. “Here you go,” he uttered as he handed him the container.
Mike took a sip, “This is good, and I like the marshmallows.”
Renard took his seat. “So, one of those days?”
“Let me tell you.” Mike started between sips, “I was at work and my girlfriend broke up with me via text, that was the start of it.”
“Man that sucks.”
“I know. Anyway, I didn’t get that message until lunch. I leave my phone in my car while I’m working. I was so upset that I forgot to turn it back off. After work I was going to call her, but the battery was dead. So instead I decided to go see her. That’s when my car died up the road. Just not winning today I guess.”
“We all get days like that.” Renard picked up his phone to check it, he still had about 30% battery left. “If you need to call her though you can use mine. I would just ask that you don’t take too long. Not knowing when the power will be back on and all.”
“It’s all good man,” Mike said as he finished his cocoa and set the mug down, “I actually did see her. I think I have it all worked out.”
“So, not a totally bad day then?”
“No, we’re still through, but I have closure. I guess if that’s as good as I can have it though then yeah, maybe it wasn’t such a bad day.”
“Would you like another cup?” Renard asked as he hit his web browser to check the status of repairs.
“I’m good man. Thanks anyway.”
Renard had in fact just asked a woman out the previous day. They had been flirting at the local coffee shop for a while now and he finally got the courage to ask her out. He was still kind of excited but didn’t want to make his guest feel worse about his situation. “So, your girl lives around here then?”
“Yeah, she works at the coffee shop up on 10th street. Her name was Amy.”
Renard paused a moment he was describing the woman he had asked out. What a small world it was indeed. Had she broken up with Mike just, so she could see Renard? She had mentioned that her ex had anger issues but hadn’t really been a problem until recently. She never went into too much detail because their conversations were limited to his ordering time at the counter. He didn’t want to risk that this could be that guy though, so he tried to change the subject. “What do you think went wrong with your car?”
“I don’t know, it just went dead. I’m not a car guy. I mean I know enough to keep one running, but sometimes they just quit on you.”
“That feeling is universal I think. Everybody I know has had it happen to them at least once,” Renard paused as he glanced at his phone again, the site was taking forever to load, “Hell, I just had it happen not more than two summers ago. I was out by the Lake heading home and POOF, it died. Similar to you I had no signal.”
“That sucks man, hey not to bother you more, but could I use your bathroom?”
“Sure, it’s down the hall there,” Renard pointed to a darker area, “second door on the right, watch yourself though I have some things stacked by it, there’s no windows so it’s pretty dark.”
“No problem man, and thanks again. When I get back I’ll try to call a wrecker to come get me and my car and get out of your hair.”
“It’s not a big deal man.”
Mike got up and made his way to the hall. Renard looked at his phone again and saw that the repairs were almost done. He scrolled down, now there was a link to an article about the accident. He clicked it. If the power was coming back soon why not kill some time?
The accident wasn’t an accident. A car had forced another off the road and the second one had hit a power line. The driver of the second car was killed, but not by the accident. The article didn’t go into detail. It went on. The driver of the first vehicle had fled on foot. When police arrived they searched the local homes and found nothing. That was what delayed the power company from getting it fixed.
As he read on the name of the second driver was listed, Amy Hutchinson. Renard paused. His heart began racing and his thought started to jumble together. Amy was dead? What happened? He slowly started to try and make sense of things. Had Mike lied to him? Was he even involved? Renard was tempted to just call the police and leave his home. It was the safest thing to do. He decided against it though, he was livid at the thought of having the killer of someone he cared for in his home.
Instead he walked over to where Mike had been sitting and reached into the box that had all his camping items in it and pulled out an old survival knife. Its old purpose had been to clean fish, carve wood, or any other task one would need it for on a trip to the woods. Now though, it would be his tool of defense and possibly vengeance. No one would challenge him if he had to stab Mike. He would just say that an alleged murderer had come into his home and tried to kill him too. So, worrying about the legal repercussions was covered in his mind.
All he had to do now was wait. For all he knew it was just a coincidence. He didn’t know for sure if Mike had anything to do with it. So far, he had been nothing but pleasant, just a guy down on his luck. His inner voice was still screaming to just get up and leave. He ignored it, this was his house, no one was going to make him leave it. His next thought was to go upstairs and get the gun that was once his father’s, but he decided against that too. It was dark, and he wasn’t even sure exactly where it was. By the time he found it and the ammo it would be morning and he wasn’t sure if it would fire.
Mike had been gone a while now, or at least it seemed that way. Renard was half tempted to get up and go see what he was doing, but if he was a killer he wanted to wait so he could dictate the setting. While he waited he kept reloading the article to see if they would name who they suspected. He wasn’t 100% sure it was Mike, but the more he thought about it the more it made sense. Or was he just being paranoid? His battery was now at 15%. It was one of those phones that seemed to drain faster the lower it got. It might have also been just his constant refreshing, he didn’t care at this point.
Finally, he heard a noise come from the hall. Renard was worked up enough to just decide to act. He stood up. He saw nothing. Then he heard the front door open. He dropped his blanket and headed to it. Before he got there it closed. It seemed as though he was right, and Mike was guilty, why else would he be leaving?. He got to the door and swung it open. He went outside, there was still a light drizzle but nothing serious. His cell phone in one hand, his knife in the other.
He saw Mike casually strolling down his driveway.
Mike paused and turned around. “What exactly do you want me to stop for?”
“You killed Amy, you Bastard.”
“Did I?” The smile on his face as he said made Renard seethe with anger.
“I know you did.”
“I think you have the wrong guy there Renardo. I mean she was run off the road and then stabbed.”
“How would you even know that if you didn’t do it?” Renard asked as he made his way down the steps.
“I don’t know that, but I know two other things. You don’t have a car in the driveway and you’re holding a bloody knife.”
Renard was confused by the statement. He looked over and say that in fact his car was gone. It was there earlier, but now it was gone. But who would have? Then it dawned on him. He looked down at his phone, the description of the car in the accident fit his. He looked at Mike, “You stole my car?”
“Not really, you leave the front door to your house open, so I just helped myself to certain things.”
Renard looked down at the knife he was holding at the same time the power came back on and his outside lights lit up the yard. The knife was covered in blood. Not the old blood of filleted fish, but fresh, some of it still coagulating. When he grabbed it from the box it was by the handle. His thoughts were on Mike not the knife, he didn’t notice much of anything after he decided to act.
He dropped it from the sheer horror of the implications. By the time he looked back up Mike had disappeared down the street. Did he come here just to plant evidence? It didn’t matter, Renard knew he was neck deep in shit now. He ran back into his house.
He was going to make the son of a bitch pay. Up the stairs he went, and he started tossing things aside in the spare room. He finally found the gun. A box or two later he found the ammo. He quickly checked the handgun. It seemed okay, he loaded a magazine and then put some oil in it just to get it smooth. Then he rushed downstairs, he wasn’t sure how long it had been since he went to get the firearm, but he was sure he could catch up to Mike and make him pay.
The thing was he was so obsessed with it that he didn’t hear the sirens as they approached his house. When he ran out of his front door holding the gun and the cell phone everything took him by surprise. The cops were shouting for him to drop the weapon. It was all overwhelming. He went to look at his cell phone, he had to call someone for help. As soon as he raised a hand though the shots started.
Renard fell to the ground as he was hit. His cell phone bounced down the three steps that led from his yard to the porch. It landed perfectly so when he finished falling he could see the little screen that was just slightly tilted as it landed on a rock. The article he had been looking on had just updated. His picture was displayed at the top. As Renard’s eyes closed for the last time, he saw his phone go blank as the battery died.
He was always bad about charging it.