SEVENTY-SIX, 2.0

Jax spent his time wondering about Isabella. Where she was from, why she constantly sat on her front porch staring at him and the rest of the neighborhood. Why had she come here? What did she know about them that seemed to draw her attention?

He’d met her once, at the March neighborhood watch meeting. She was shy, shaking hands limply, like she was afraid to touch everyone. And though she seemed like a grandmother, she looked no older than fifty. “Hello, nice to meet you.” That was all she said, to everyone individually.

Sixteen people in the room, and she said the same thing to each of them. And remembered all of their names, despite the lack of name tags or reminders. For that, Jax had to give her credit. Most of his neighbors were plain and boring, and he couldn’t recall who some of them were most of the time.

At that meeting, Isabella had spoken up only once, said something about rumored kidnappings three streets over. This got everyone in a panic, most of the parents, and Jax had to calm down Mrs. Henderson by walking her home.

Isabella was not at the next meeting, yet seemed to keep her own kind of watch. She’d sit on the porch in the morning, seemingly seeing everyone off to work. Jax never waved back to her as he drove by. When he arrived in the evenings, Isabella was still on her porch, but she’d be standing, sipping out of a mug. Again, Jax would ignore her wave, and he’d glance out his front windows every hour to see how long she’d stay out there.

One night was ten PM, the next eleven, but never past midnight. He had a record of her porch presence for two months now, in a notebook he kept by the front window.  Jax’s mother never questioned his hobbies, and he’d have an explanation ready just in case she did. “I’m studying human nature, for my night classes, mama.” Jax wasn’t attending night school, but his mother couldn’t tell the difference. She still sometimes called him Carl, and his father was long dead and buried. His mother was crazy, but that’s par for the course in Jax’s family.

One night, Isabella was not on the porch when Jax arrived home. He stared out his window for the next hour, and she was still gone. He decided to go knock on her door, to figure out why this night was so special. He’d use the excuse that there was a Watch Meeting, even though that wasn’t true. Isabella wouldn’t remember when the last meeting was, and there was no harm that could come to it.

Jax crossed the street carrying his flashlight. There was still daylight, but he didn’t know how long he’d be at Isabella’s, didn’t want to risk a long visit. She’d seemed like the type to offer tea and cookies and make you want to sit and stay and talk, like a grandmother might. Jax’s grandmother had been an awful person who smelled and never bathed, but he had friends, when he was younger, and knew the type.

When he knocked on Isabella’s door, it opened of its own volition. The lights were off and the TV was on at low volume. “Hello? Isabella? This is Jax from across the street I’m here to invite you to the, um, the meeting. The Watch meeting.”

There was no answer, and Jax sniffed the air. He didn’t smell that grandmotherly welcoming ‘something’s always baking’ smell, but he didn’t smell any kind of food, either. Instead, there was a rancid odor, though, like rusty water that’d been left out for days.

He checked the kitchen, and the dining room, but no one was there. He opened the fridge, to find some sort of source for the smell, but there was an old box of baking soda and two bottle of water, labels peeled off.  Jax then moved to the phone, noted that the receiver was off the hook but there was no dial tone whatsoever.

“Isabella?”  Still no answer.

He felt the sweat on his neck seep among his neck hair and pores, and wiped his brow, surprised by the amount of moisture there.

When Jax entered the bedroom, he felt at once a thrill at being in a female’s room, but also a chill, an internal warning that he wasn’t supposed to be here, to get out now and runrunrun away! But he ignored that internal alarm, and went along with the thrill instead.

He found Isabella, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. She was laying on top of the covers, one hand draped across her belly, the other stretched away from the bed and hiding behind the end table. Jax waved his hand in front of Isabella’s face. She gave no response. “Isabella? Can you hear me? I’ll get you help, don’t move!”

He ran out to the kitchen, hung up the phone, then picked up again and dialed 9-1-1…but the phone still didn’t work. He looked at the cord behind it, and it was frayed and cut. He ran back to Isabella’s bedroom and looked for a phone in there, but it was too dark. So he reached for the lamp on the end table and flicked the switch — but it did not turn on. What’s going on?

Jax remembered his flashlight, which was out in the dining room. He snatched it, returned to the bedroom, and shined the light around the room. He pulled the end table from the wall, in order to find the outlet and plug in the lamp.

But instead he found Isabella’s hand reaching into the outlet, and several orange-yellow flickers of light pulsing from the wall into her hand. Without thinking, Jax pulled Isabella’s hand from the wall.

Sparks flew in all directions, washing over them, and Jax collapsed to the floor. When he opened his eyes, Isabella was standing over him with a smile frozen on her face, eyes stuck open and glowing yellow. “I was not fully charged, Jax. Please stand by while I complete charging.”

Jax kicked his feet and tried to back out of the room, but Isabella’s other hand extended out and shut the door, then quickly took the lamp’s cord and wrapped it tight around Jax’s arms.

The last thing he felt was a sudden jerking motion, and slamming nto the door face first, breaking his neck.

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