On Holiday with Devin and Saya

 On Holiday with Devin and Saya

by Thomas Stone


It was creepy. The whole crazy thing was like something out of a horror movie. A half-moon threw ghostly shadows over the turnabout at the end of the lane where I squatted behind an unmanicured hedge. An open expanse of lawn led up to a darkened house. I wanted to move to the porch and tap on the door to see if anyone was home, anyone who might be able to help, but I was wary of straying from concealment.

Not in a hundred years would I have imagined my trip to visit an old friend to turn out to be so grotesque, so nightmarish. I strained to see through the half-light. Clouds drifted in front of the moon and every time it was like shutting a partially opened door to a lit room -- everything receded into darkened lumps.

The air was chill and I held my breath to better listen. I wished I had never accepted Devin's invitation.

*

My trip was a carefully planned affair. After a lengthy illness, death-defying surgery, and a two-year recovery, I was on my first vacation in over ten years. While recuperating, I looked up people on the internet, people I had known from my past, friends from school, long lost relatives, and even a few of those from past jobs. I wanted to reach out, to tell them I was still alive and oh, by the way, how are you doing? That's how I caught up with Devin.

We graduated from high school together and back in those long gone days, I considered him my closest ally. We attended the same college as pre-med freshmen but life always had a way of distracting me and I wandered off eventually enlisting in military service and going to war while Devin stayed the course and became a medical doctor. Over the years, we corresponded and even chatted some over the phone; but essentially, we lost touch.

When I succeeded in contacting him again, he sounded much the same and expressed an interest in renewing the old friendship. He had re-married and currently lived on a forested mountain summit -- semi-secluded in a rural setting. We talked a few more times and emailed back and forth before Devin suggested I come to visit.

Last Wednesday, I boarded a plane to Los Angeles where I transferred to a flight bound for Eugene. Devin and his wife, Saya, picked me up at the airport.

In the olden days, Devin sported a long mane of hair, but now he was bald with whitish-gray surrounding his pate like snow around a windswept peak. His slightly stooped, six-two frame gave him an Ichabod Crane profile. He introduced his wife and she gave me a sidelong glance as she offered a slurred how do you do? "Fine, thanks," I responded as we piled into the car and pulled away.

Devin drove and I sat in the passenger seat as he grasped a plastic pint bottle. He deftly unscrewed the cap with experienced fingers and took a quick pull as he merged into traffic. He offered the bottle to me which I refused. "It's a little early," I explained. Devin returned the bottle to its cradle between his seat and the console.

The doctor's homestead was an hour's drive into the mountains via a scenic highway that often led us along a wide, flowing river. The mountain sides were covered with trees. I had never been to Oregon before and so I tried my best to pay attention to everything. We passed through several small towns before Devin announced we were getting close to home as we turned onto a paved lane with sparse houses on either side among pastures occupied with livestock. A tall, metal fence on the left concealed the property behind until we reached the end of the lane where a short driveway with a sturdy gate blocked our access. "We're here," Saya announced from the backseat. Devin clicked a remote and the gate slowly swung open in a large arc. We drove inside the compound and pulled under a large carport beside a late model hatchback.

The house perched on the mountainside with views of the thick pine forest all around. It was a beautiful day and Devin said the weather usually was not as pleasant as it was that day. "You're lucky to arrive with the sunshine," he said.

"Maybe it's a portent," said Saya as she stepped to a small metal table sitting beside a walkway to a porch and veranda with a promising view. She set her handbag on the table and lit a cigarette.

"Maybe," I retorted, "I brought the sunshine with me."

Saya stared at me without smiling. Devin directed me to the door and we walked inside. The house was large but not ostentatious as there were only two bedrooms. I was shown the second which had been Devin's son's room. I did not ask where he had gone and no explanation was extended.

The rear windows of the house overlooked the veranda as well as a verdant lawn and garden beyond that. Trees guarded the view in the back. In addition to the house, there was a barn and another small building which I later discovered housed a dry steam bath. Devin retrieved a new bottle of whiskey and poured himself a shot; he drank it without expression and motioned for me to help myself. I declined.

Before I could get my bearings, Devin insisted he and I climb back in the car and go for a ride. When we exited the house, Saya was nowhere to be seen. I asked where she had gone and Devin replied, "Probably to feed the horse." He motioned toward the barn as we got back in the car. I looked but did not see her.

It was early afternoon and I had been traveling since six-thirty am with a two-hour time adjustment, but Devin seemed anxious to show me his domain so off we went. The view was great and we wound up cruising through the same little town we had passed through earlier, eventually pulling up to a two-story building with a colorful sign in front proclaiming itself to be a store and grill, all in one. I was scouting for tourist t-shirts and so followed Devin inside.

Like the sign said, the establishment held a small store mostly selling gear for river fisherman. It also had a large seating area filled with tables and chairs where a few patrons finished up a late lunch. Devin stopped inside the door and chatted up a woman behind the counter as he glanced at an open door that led to a designated drinking area; beer and wine only. "Come on," Devin signaled and I followed him inside.

We stood at the bar and Devin asked what I wanted. "It's on me," he prompted. A rough-looking, spark plug of a woman stood behind the polished wood bar-top, waiting for me to order. The pressure was on and although it was still early afternoon, I ordered a beer in an effort to fit in with whatever mood Devin was trying to create. Budweiser, I think.

Devin spoke to another patron as I looked over the establishment. Lots of polished wood amid an assortment of neon beer signs stuck on the wall. All the exposed wood served to remind me I was in logger country; tough men and large women who seemed to be angry they weren't living somewhere else. As if on cue, my attention was drawn by the raised voice of the woman who conversed with Devin. "You're an asshole," she said, "and everyone knows it!"

What had brought on the comment was anybody's guess. My personal divination was that she was probably correct: Devin had never been what you'd call socially astute. The truth was, he could be an asshole. It was not a stretch to consider he had always been one, so it was a good bet he still was. Anyway, that was the extent of the part of the conversation I had overheard. The lady behind the bar pushed a couple of beers across the urethane-glazed surface and I snagged mine. Devin tore himself away from his accuser and took his beer, motioning me to a table where we sat on benches facing one another. Devin sat in silence, his anger palpable at the public shaming.

It was not a big deal to me. Not only had I been married a couple of times, but I had also been a journalist. Being called an asshole was part of the social landscape I inhabited. I had been called an asshole so many times that the moniker rolled off me like the silicone beads they use in windshield-wiper fluid.

I got a chance to take a couple of sips of my blond lager before Devin suggested we leave. "Let's get out of here," he said, draining his bottle. I looked at my half-empty glass. "Finish it," Devin commanded. I obeyed, choked it down, and we rose from the table. On the way out, Devin told me to wait and he crossed the open floor of the cafe and engaged a stout, red-faced fellow. Devin shook his hand and bent to speak with him in hushed tones.

They were across the room and I could not hear what was said in any case and so I checked out the tourist t-shirts. There were one or two I liked and I was happy to find a souvenir on my first day. I could check it off my things-to-do-while-on-vacation checklist As I completed my transaction, Devin came sweeping by and said "Let's go," as he pushed open the glass door and exited. I took my Oregon souvenir t-shirt as the lady behind the counter handed me a receipt and I followed Devin.

He smoked a cigarette as he postured on the sidewalk outside. "I fixed her ass," he said.

"Who?"

"Who? That bitch who called me an asshole, that's who. That was her boss I talked to in there."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. He runs a fishing guide business on the side. He's going to cut her hours because of what she said. Talking to me like that. Who does she think she is?"

"I don't know, Dev, I really didn't catch any of it. Everything's out of context, you know?"

Devin stared at me a beat before he took another pull on his cigarette. "Well, welcome to Oregon."

I said "Thanks," but realized he was being sarcastic.

Afterwards, Devin fell into a funk as he gave me a brief tour of the town and the "back way" up the mountain where he and Saya lived. Once home again, Devin had a double shot and announced he had a special dinner planned for the evening, then looked out the window toward the barn. "That is," added Devin, "if Saya ever starts to cook." Devin turned to me and asked if I would care for a drink. I shook my head.

"Suit yourself," he said as he poured another shot into a short tumbler. At that point, Saya entered through the garage door.

"Where have you been?"

"I told you. I took the horse out for a ride."

"You didn't tell me."

"Yes, I did." 

"Well, never mind that. What about dinner?"

"I thought you were going to cook steaks."

"I was, but they have to be prepared. What sort of side dishes do we have?"

"I don't know. I'll find something." Saya poured two fingers of vodka into a shot glass and downed the drink. "But first I'm going to take a shower." Saya walked out as Devin stared at her back.

"She knew we were cooking tonight," he said in a low voice. An idea occurred to Devin and he announced it was time to prepare the fire. I followed him out to the carport and watched as he lifted the lid from the portable barbecue. Before he got busy, Devin took a cigarette from a pack lying atop the little metal table and lit it. For a moment, I was surrounded by a cloud of smoke.

Devin shook his head. "I don't know why she has to be like that." "She's a woman," I suggested.

Devin drew in a breath of smoke and stared at me again through wire-rimmed glasses. His eyes drooped a little like a basset hound and I knew he was considering what I said: Saya was a woman and so operated outside the boundaries of male logic. He finally shrugged as he began scraping the carbon buildup from the barbecue. "You're going to love these steaks."

*

I slept well and the next morning I awoke early. No one was around but I found hot coffee in the coffee maker and poured myself a cup as I stared out the kitchen window at the forest of pines. Dragging a garden hoe, Devin walked past my field of view and I heard the basement door opening somewhere beneath me.

Saya appeared, black hair a mass of tangles. "I see you found the coffee."

"Yes, thanks."

"Do you take anything with it? Sugar, cream?"

"No."

"I'll put some breakfast together if you like." She unscrewed the cap from a liter bottle of vodka and poured a portion into a tall shot glass up to the rim. Without looking at me, she raised the glass to her lips.

The back door opened and Devin walked in. He looked at me. "Finally got up, huh?"

"What time is it?" I looked back to Saya. The shot glass was empty and she gripped the edge of the countertop as if to steady herself.

"I don't know," she said.

"It's after eight."

"What do you have planned for the day?"

"I want to take Tommy for a drive to the coast, show him the dunes." Devin faced me. Even with a slight stoop, he was a few inches taller than me. "You said you liked seafood, right? We'll get some fresh fish. I know how to cook it just right."

I nodded and said okay, then remembered I had forgotten my camera. Saya suggested I use hers, but said I had to be very careful with it. I replied I would and I took it, planning on taking lots of pictures. Of course, I always planned on taking lots of pictures, but the truth was, I had traveled extensively yet nearly always failed to take photos.

Inside thirty minutes, Devin and I were in the car and waiting for the big gate to swing open as he chose a compact music disc and slid it into the player. We passed through the gate as sixties surf music filled the car.

It was another hour's drive through wooded valleys and along the Umpqua River as Devin and I talked about inconsequential things such as the lay of the land and the natural beauty of southern Oregon. Devin was economical with words. He had always been that way, but it seemed there was something else inside him now and I wondered if he chose his words so carefully because he wanted to be understood in the most succinct manner possible or if perhaps the sparsity of details worked to conceal secrets.

Devin was a successful professional and bragged on himself a little. I figured he had a right to brag after all those years in medical school. He called himself the best doctor in town. I asked if he got a chance at another life, would he do something else? Without hesitation, he said he would be a medical doctor. "Going to work," he said, "is like I'm channeling God." 

We stopped in one of the small towns, pulling into the parking lot of a strip mall in front of a liquor store. "This is where I like to stop," Devin explained. "Usually, Saya does the shopping, but just get whatever you want." Distracted by all the bottles, Devin walked to aisle two as I lingered near the cash register. There was an East Indian fellow behind the counter, staring at me. I looked at him and we smiled at each other. His smile said to buy something while mine said I'm just a visitor here and I really don't know what I'm doing.

I sauntered up an aisle until Devin completed his purchase. Not being much of a drinker, I didn't buy anything. I already had water in the car.

Once in the confined space of the car again, Devin drew out small bottles of whiskey from the paper bag, like the kind you get on the airlines, and handed me one as we got back on the road. Figuring we were drinking to the spirit of our friendship, I went along. We watched the traffic and timed our raised elbows so no one would see us tip the miniature bottles while driving. The whiskey smelled strong, husky, and burned all the way down. It took three gulps for me to empty the contents of the little bottle but Devin's was gone in a practiced second.

I wanted to ask if a dose of his personal medication would set me free, but he directed my attention to glimpses of the Pacific Ocean. Descending from a winding mountain highway, Devin guided the car along a shoreline that held the famous dunes. He didn't want to pay to park, so I took photos with Saya's camera from the vehicle window. We made a loop and took a switchback up a mountainside until we arrived at a Coast Guard installation with a lighthouse. It was a scenic spot and a couple of empty cars were parked in a public parking lot (no fee). The assumed occupants of those cars loitered under a shaded lookout spot where they could stare at the ocean and the sandy dunes below. Like I always do, I wondered who people were and where they were from. None looked interesting enough to follow home. I said so to Devin and he asked me why I would want to do that.

"What?"

"Follow some stranger home."

"I don't really, uh, want to do that."

"You sure?"

"Uh-huh."

"Have you ever done anything like that before?"

"Like what?"

"Like follow someone home?"

"No. No way. Have you?"

"That's how I met Saya."

"You're kidding!"

Devin stared deadpan before finally smiling. "Actually, she was a nurse."

He was pulling my leg. "So you met her at work?"

Devin shrugged as if giving up the information reluctantly. "Yeah."

We were off the mountain and returning the way we'd come when Devin pulled onto a long driveway made of crushed seashells that took us to a tall storefront standing alone on what looked like a wide, man-made jetty. The sign, dark blue on light blue, identified the place as The Fish Market.

"What's fresh?" asked Devin as he entered. A middle-aged woman looked up and smiled.

"How are you?" she replied.

"Not bad, not bad," bandied Devin.

"What'll you have today?"

Devin studied the menu board posted on the wall behind the counter. "Maybe some steelhead."

"Aw, we all out of that. How 'bout a little salmon? I'll give you a good deal since we ain't got no steelhead."

"Okay. How much is it?"

Instead of telling him, she wrote it down on a scrap of paper. Devin looked at it and nodded. "All right," he said.

She turned away and attended to wrapping up the fish.

Devin stepped over to where I gazed at a collection of various local pickled foods aligned in glass jars with colorful labels and fancy lettering. Ray's Pickled Rutabaga. Crystal Coast Pearl Onions. Evergreen Dove Eggs. "Anything else?" he asked.

I shook my head and felt a little awkward. A moment later, Devin paid the lady and after looking at the oyster beds at the rear of the building we returned to the car It was 10:30 am and we were headed back to the house with Devin promising to "...cook some of that fish when we get back. How about that?"

"Sounds good."

When there was a break in the traffic, Devin lifted a pint bottle to his lips and took a three-second pull before replacing it to its cradle beside the seat. We followed the same roads back and Devin drove as if he'd been over the same course thousands of times, which he had. At the house again after what turned out to be a three-hour tour, we trooped back inside to find Saya in the small kitchen.

"So," she said, "You're back. Did you see the dunes?"

"Yes, quite impressive."

"Did you get some pictures?"

I felt in my zippered right pocket for the compact digital camera. The zipper was open and the camera was missing. Devin answered her question. "Yeah, we went to the dunes and we drove up to the lighthouse. He got out and took some pictures, but I stayed in the car and read." Devin looked at me with those deadpan eyes, expecting me to make a comment.

I said, "I can't find the camera."

Saya stopped doing whatever she was doing in the kitchen and stared.

"What?" said Devin.

"You'd better be joking," said Saya.

I kept feeling at the open pocket hoping I was wrong and somehow the camera was still there and I had simply missed it. "I'm serious," I said. I could feel the color drain from my face as they both looked at me. Something important must have been on that camera or maybe it was the camera used to kill JFK, I don't know, but for a moment I felt trapped and threatened. The ambiance had turned cold and was similar to the inevitable scene in a lycanthropic movie where the transformation takes place.

Saya braced her mouth and looked at the floor as she shook her head. "If there was just one thing you could have done, just one thing..." she repeated before Devin cut her off by stepping in front as if separating her from me. I took a step back.

"Maybe I set it down somewhere on the way inside." I turned and began to retrace my steps, eyes searching exposed surfaces for the small digital camera. I could see both Devin and Saya were very angry with me.

"You better hope so," Saya responded. Devin went to the back door and exited. I didn't want to be alone in the house with Saya, so I followed him out, pausing in the garage to take a look around. I remembered I had it in the car, so where did it go? And why were Devin and Saya so angry? If it was so valuable or had valuable pictures and/or information stored on it, why had they loaned it to me in the first place?

I searched in vain. It wasn't in the garage and I started out to the carport where Devin had gone. Before I could get to the door, however, it opened and Devin came through. Unsmiling, he held up the camera. "You need to learn to be more careful."

"Where was it?"

"Between the seat and the door." He said nothing else but continued inside to inform Saya of the good news. I was a little unsettled by their reaction and began to feel justified about my rising indignation.

"Well, I'm off the hook," I said as I followed Devin into the house. He made no reply as he showed the camera to Saya.

"I am washed clean," I added. "Clean as the driven snow."

Devin mumbled something about Saya's pictures as she took the camera and marched from the kitchen to her bedroom. She seemed disappointed she no longer had a reason to be angry.

From the television, a commentator from Fox News explained why people no longer trusted the government while I considered why people no longer trusted one another.

Devin poured himself a stiff drink and turned it bottoms-up as he swallowed the liquid in one gulp. Steadying himself, he took a breath and suggested he cook some of the fish for lunch. I had lost any appetite but agreed to eat so as to get along. Devin and Saya were so angry about the camera I was afraid they might ask me to go home. Devin began the prep work as he sat on a stool at the kitchen counter.

"Can I help with anything?"

Devin shook his head. "No," he said, "I have a special way of cooking fish. You're going to love it."

I watched as he heated a little olive oil in the bottom of a frying pan and then placed a cut of the fish into the pan where it sizzled. What I would have loved was an apology from Devin and Saya about the camera incident. Sure, I was sorry I had misplaced it, but it was, after all, found and no harm was done. Their reaction was over the top. Maybe Saya had trophy pictures of dead bodies. Incriminating stuff. Maybe there were pics of her and Devin in flagrant sexual positions with friends and neighbors sprawled over the living room furniture like so many orgy specialists. I didn't know and by then, I didn't want to find out.

Using a spatula, Devin scooped the fish from the pan, plopped it onto a plate and set it in front of me.

"Tartar sauce?"

"In the fridge."

"Aren't you having any?"

Devin shook his head. "We don't eat fish."

I stared at him but he turned away and started washing dishes.

Devin and Saya took the rest of the day off from playing host. Saya disappeared and Devin stretched his lengthy frame out on one of the living room couches before the perpetual Fox News broadcast where he pulled a blanket up to his chin and went to sleep within two minutes. I retired to my room and read The Great Gatsby.

Later that evening, I sat with my two hosts in front of the television until I had enough and retreated to my room for the evening. Neither wished me a good night. Still angry about the camera, I suppose.

*

The following day, Saya made marijuana cookies prior to another road trip. I had at least three before we all piled into the car, along with a female friend of Saya's whose presence was intended to balance out a couples' seating arrangement, or so I was told by Devin. I suspected the truth was Saya wanted a friend to come along so she would have a female with which to chat and maybe even sort of a blind date for myself. I didn't care; I had eaten three marijuana-laced cookies and they tasted so good, I craved another with a glass of milk.

I sat in the front with Devin while Saya sat in the back with Carolyn. Music was selected from prepared CDs and off we went. Much of the trip was over the same roads we had traveled the day before, but this time we went further north to eventually arrive at a restaurant destination in yet another quaint little town on the Oregon coast.

Devin and Saya were friends with the couple who owned the place and so we were given cold beers and shepherded to a table where we ate pizza and talked about river fishing. I had eaten two more cookies in the car and was wolfing down slices of the thin pizza as fast as they could pull it from the oven.

The truth is, I was hungry. I ate the cookies not to become stoned -- which certainly did happen -- but because the meals prepared so far in Devin's household were sparse, ill-prepared; under-cooked, and generally tasteless. In any case, as I had observed, Devin and Saya often drank their sustenance. I did not and so the pizza was delicious.

Devin had a couple of shots at the bar and a couple of beers while the rest of us dined and it was a merry one hour drive back to the house in the late afternoon.

Carolyn made her goodbyes and left in her own car for a home in some other Oregonian district. I felt cramped from being confined for so long and there was yet waning light, so I suggested a walk. Both Devin and Saya declined. Saya said I could walk down to the lower pasture, "If you're really set on doing something." Devin grunted and lay on the couch.

*

The path was steep but it was all grass and sod so it was easy. Halfway to the lower pasture, I realized it would be dark by the time I started back up the mountainside. No flashlight. Well, the route was wide and clearly marked. At the bottom, the path opened into an acre-sized field surrounded by towering pines. I completed one circuit of the pasture before deciding to begin climbing up again. It was dusk already and by the time I made it to the gate at the lower backyard of the house, it was completely dark.

Breathing hard, I paused a moment to glance up at the house. The sliding door on the deck offered the nearest entry and so I started in that direction. So far, I had only gained entrance to the house through the garage. I took a look at the basement door as I passed and saw a sturdy padlock securing access.

Climbing a set of wide stairs at the end of the veranda, I headed for the sliding glass door. The drapes were drawn back and I could see candles burning inside; otherwise, it was conspicuously dark, but not dark enough to conceal Saya as she sat on a chair facing the door.

An open, purple silk dressing gown barely hung from her shoulders, revealing large, dangling breasts with dark areolas the size of silver dollars. Her eyes met mine with no surprise. Her left leg was splayed to the side and she pushed it wider still with pressure from her left hand while hitching her right leg high enough to allow her foot to rest on a hassock or some kind of footrest. Her right hand fidgeted between her legs, splayed fingers revealing even more of herself. She did not change expression, nor did she look away.

My eyes rolled over the sight and I kept walking to the end of the porch. A right turn took me to the covered garage. I wondered if Devin had given his wife permission to expose herself to me or if she had come up with the idea on her own. I lingered outside and sat at the smoking table beside the parked cars.

Maybe traveling across the US to visit an old friend was not such a brilliant idea after all. In reality, there wasn't much I knew about either of them. Devin had been a friend long ago and Saya was his second wife. Other than that, all I was sure of now was that both were alcoholics and co-dependent. After considering things for fifteen minutes, I got up and went inside. Saya had disappeared and Devin was on the couch staring at the television. He didn't look at me as I took a seat.

Devin was a strange guy. Apparently, the missing years had been brutal. The person I had known was still there but the overlay of years had created a veneer of bitterness and paranoia born from bad decisions and false belief. He watched a television news commentator with such rapt attention I wondered if war had been declared.

As if reading my thoughts, he looked at me. "They're going to kill us all." Devin's speech was slurred.

"Who?" I asked.

He pointed at the flat screen. "Them. Aren't you listening?" His attention wandered back to the display.

"Not really. I think I'll go to bed. Good night."

"Good night."

I retired to the guest room and closed the door before turning out the light, taking off my clothes, and getting into bed. I lay there for half a minute before I got up again and tiptoed back to the door and locked it.

*

I awoke in darkness, raising up to see if the gray light of dawn had come yet. It had not. I peered at the little digital clock on the desk in the corner but, without my glasses, it was blurred and difficult to read. I think it said two-twenty-something AM. A bump came from below followed by another dull thud as if someone were moving things around in the basement directly beneath where I lay. Then I caught the muffled sound of voices.

It was Devin speaking to Saya. He was angry and drunk and when I held my breath and listened, I could make out enough words to cause me alarm.

"Where is it?" he asked.

"I don't know. It's here somewhere. Do we really need it?"

"Better safe than sorry."

Their voices faded as I realized I was alone in the house while they searched for something in the basement. My interest was piqued and I threw on my clothes and squirmed into my shoes before tiptoeing to the bedroom door and carefully opening it. I could hear the television and see the pulsating blue glow even before I entered the main room. The couches were empty and so I crossed to the sliding glass door -- the same I had passed as Saya performed her erotic yoga for me -- and slid it open on silent runners.

I stepped out onto the veranda and looked over the railing at the basement door below, standing open with a rectangle of light emanating forth, illuminating some kind of leafy Oregonian ground cover. The stairs at the end of the porch were to my left and I crept to them and descended.

In the shadow of the open basement door, I paused and listened. Saya's voice came from somewhere under the house, muffled and whiny. Devin's deeper retort came back just as muffled. They argued about something. Shifting position, I looked inside and found an entry room with a small dusty table and two doors. The one to the left stood open. The faint voices of Devin and Saya came from the opening and I stepped into the little entry room to hear better. The open padlock lay atop the table with a key sticking out of it but I stepped past to the door that was ajar. A darkened room lay beyond but light at another open door showed that Devin and Saya were deeper still under the house. As I stepped into the darkened room, their voices grew more distinct.

"I just don't know why somebody you haven't seen for years would suddenly show up and want to be friends again? What's up with that anyway? You know what I think?"

Saya did not wait for her husband to answer. "I think he's gay. A man his age without a wife, without a girlfriend? He's gay."

"He's not gay."

"How do you know? And tell me this: if he's not gay, what in the hell is he doing here?"

There was a pause in the conservation and I shifted so I could peek around the corner. Devin and Saya were in the next basement room. Open boxes were all around.

"I'll tell you what he's doing here," Saya continued, her voice slurring, "he's a gold-digger looking to rip us off. He even admits he doesn't have two nickels to rub together. You made a big mistake inviting him here. We don't need anyone poking around."

"Would you please shut up?"

"Well, it's true. Did you tell him why we're considering bugging out to Costa?"

"It's none of his business."

"That's what I've been telling you, but you had to go and invite him to spend an entire week with us. He's going to find out if he hasn't already."

"He won't find out unless I tell him." Devin moved another box and announced that he'd found "it" and pulled a long plastic case from an even larger cardboard box. He set the plastic case atop the cardboard box and flipped open several fasteners before raising the lid. He and Saya stared at the contents a moment before Devin lifted a military-looking rifle from the plastic box.

"I hate guns," said Saya. As an afterthought, she asked, "Do you have any bullets?"

"Of course I have bullets."

I couldn't believe what I was seeing or hearing. Were they talking about me? What did they have to hide? "If he finds out and tells someone... anyone..."

"Maybe he already knows."

Knows what, I wondered? How my hosts could be such egocentric assholes? From what I had gathered, Devin's acquaintances seemed to know that much already.

"We can't have him telling anyone about the place in Costa Rica." Saya shook her head. "I just don't like him."

"You said that."

"Yes, well I meant it as well. How could you pick such a loser as a friend?"

Devin shrugged and inserted a clip into the rifle. The sound of the magazine clicking into place made goose bumps march up my spine and I began backing out of the darkened room where I hid. At one point I had to crouch in the shadows as Saya moved a box into the same room. Had she not been so intoxicated, she likely would have seen me, but she did not and she staggered back into the room with Devin. I crept to the entrance with the intention of taking the lock and securing the outside door. I would have done it too but I bumped into the little table, upsetting it, and the lock fell to the floor with a rattle and a solid thud.

Saya asked, "What was that?"

"Go look and see."

"You're the one with the gun. You go look and see."

I heard the sound of Devin pulling on the charging handle -- click, click-- and I waited no longer; I ran out the open door only to immediately trip and fall outside as I imagined Devin pressing forward, weapon in hand. Flailing around in the flowerbed, I rolled to my feet and ran to the corner of the house.

What had I done to deserve such treatment? They were crazy, I decided, driven insane by years of sustained alcohol abuse perhaps, but crazy and dangerous nonetheless. I had to get out of there, off the property and off that mountain.

In semi-darkness, I stepped down a couple of wooden steps and re-entered the garage. Once again I stood at the most popular place in Devin's household: the little metal table that marked the spot for tobacco consumption. Neither Devin nor Saya could walk past without lighting up. Two cars were parked next to one another and I stepped around to the far side to lurk in the shadows as I plotted my route out of there.

A quick dash to the vehicle gate? The barrier was tall and presented a formidable obstacle. I couldn't go under or around, plus I did not know how to open it -- Devin always used a remote he kept in his car. I tried the door handle and found the vehicle locked.

At that moment, carrying the rifle in front, Devin suddenly emerged from the darkness and stepped up under the carport. Hidden by the shadows, I squatted as soon as I saw him. He spent a long moment peering to my right and left before walking past the smoking table out onto the driveway where he looked around a moment before lowering the weapon and returning to the table. I watched his silhouette pull out a smoke and light up. The flame from the lighter illuminated Devin's face; his brow was furrowed and his lips pursed; his eyes almost crossed as he watched the flame and sucked. The overhead light came on and I dropped lower behind the second car.

The door to the house opened and out staggered Saya, holding a flashlight. "Ish he out here?"

"Do you see him?"

Saya looked about before answering. "No. But did you even look around?"

"Yes."

"Down to the barn?"

"I was going to. The horse would tell us if he was there."

"Not necessarily. You've been watching too many westerns."

"Well, where did he go then?"

Saya waved the flashlight to my right. The beam jerked and danced over the hood of the car. "To the barn." She turned about and shined the flash onto the strip of lawn dividing the house from the forest. "Or down that way," she added.

"All right," said Devin, "you check the barn and I'll walk the fence."

"What if he's in the barn?" She slurred the words.

Devin took a draw on his cigarette before putting it out in the ashtray sitting atop the smoking table. "You know what to do," he said. Without another word, he flicked on his flashlight and walked away.

"Sure I know what to do," she said to his back. She moved to the walkway in front of the cars where the portable barbecue pit was stored. The walk led to an opening in the carport and had she looked to her left as she passed, she would have seen me hiding behind the car. To my relief, she did not. Instead, she continued to the barn mumbling to herself.

I figured it was time to move and so took a deep breath before darting to the gate. Any second I expected to be caught as I scaled the fence. It sagged under my weight but I finally dropped to the other side. From there I could see the herky-jerky motion of Saya's flashlight as she walked to the darkened barn. I looked for Devin but there was no sign of him and so I ran to the shadowed property next door where I hid behind low hedges at the end of the lane.

No more than a few seconds passed before Devin's light came piercing out of the dark again and I watched as he stepped out of the darkness at the end of the drive. He shut off his flashlight and walked stealthily across his neighbor's lawn. He looked at the darkened windows and front porch and walked clear to the far side to see if I was hidden around the corner. At one point, he paused and looked at the end of the lane where I hid in the shadows cast by the hedge. I thought he looked directly at me but a beat later he moved back down the drive again and vanished under the trees; much like Sasquatch, I imagined.

This is where I started the story and to my great relief, I can say once Devin was out of my sight, I managed to harness my fear and I rose from my spot and ran up the lane until I was winded and had to walk. There were lights in houses set far back from the road and I could have tried any one of them but I elected to get as far away on my own as I could. Maybe Devin's neighbors were crazy too. I avoided being seen by passing traffic until I was off the mountain and headed towards the highway that would return me to Eugene where I could catch my flight home in two days. And that is exactly what happened. I hitched several rides and arrived in Eugene that morning. I had my wallet and a credit card; that's all it took. I left my phone, a few articles of clothing, and a book behind. No great loss. By then, I felt lucky to have gotten away with my life.

I spent the night in an airport motel and was early for my flight the following day. As I waited for my flight, I saw a news report about Oregon black bear attacks and a missing tourist in a river valley to the south. Names were withheld but I couldn't help but wonder whether Devin and Saya had reported me missing.

After flying back across the country and changing flights in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I was safely delivered thousands of miles. My first vacation in years was concluding. I left the narrow airline seat behind and exited the plane. Outside the terminal, a purple-tagged shuttle picked me up and delivered me to long-term parking and I drove home in my old beat-up pick-up truck.

*

I did think about reporting the whole affair to the authorities, but what would I say? I could tell them an old friend wanted to kill me because he didn't want anyone to know he was planning on bugging out for Costa Rica, leaving creditors, business partners, and an ex-wife in a paranoid spasm. Or maybe he was just drunk and had been prompted to kill by the urging of his scorned wife, Saya. To which the police would likely reply that no crime had been committed. Oh, and by the way, how do you know your friend Devin wasn't getting his gun to chase a bear off the property?

Hmm, I considered. I hadn't thought of that.

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