The sky turned dark as they arrived. The three men, their moving company truck parked behind them, looked up at the old brick house on Hawthorn Road – their last job of the day. Wind-blown leaves skittered around their feet as they talked.
Bill, the youngest and least experienced of the three, whistled and said, “Wow! This is quite a joint!”
Tim, who had been with Casey & Sons Movers for a little over a year, agreed. “You ain’t lying.” He looked at Johnny, their older, big-muscled boss, and continued, “I bet it costs more than my studio apartment, huh?”
Johnny chuckled and replied, “I think we can be sure of that, Tim.”
“What are we doin’ here?” Bill asked.
“We’re cleaning the place out.”
“Why are we doin’ that?” Tim wondered.
“All I know,” Johnny explained, “is what Mr. Casey told me: Some rich guy bought this house in a foreclosure sale. Real hoi-polloi, ya know? The guy’s realtor hired Casey and Sons to make sure the house is clean when he and his family move in next week.”
Tim protested. “I don’t dust and mop. That’s woman’s work.” Bill seconded the motion.
Johnny sighed and went on, “I said clean out, not up. Mr. Casey wants us to get everything we can on the truck. If it’s not bolted down, put it on the truck. The maids will come in later. Richie Rich wants the place all nice and clean so he can bring in his antiques.”
“Is there a lot of stuff to move?” Tim asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Who’s the stuff belong to?” Bill inquired.
“Casey mentioned something about a Larkin family that lived here – a mom, a dad, and two kids,” Johnny told his workers.
Tim was confused. “They left without their stuff?”
“Where’d they go?” Bill asked.
“How am I supposed to know? Maybe they ran off and joined the circus.” Johnny sighed a heavy sigh and summed things up: “Look, guys,” he said, “let’s make short work of this, huh? The realtor is paying a nice chunk of change to get this done quickly. The sooner we’re finished, the sooner we can go down to O’Sullivan’s and bend a few.”
Their footsteps echoed as they walked along the dusty, cobweb-strewn upstairs hall looking in all the rooms to see what needed to be moved. “I don’t envy the cleaning ladies,” Johnny said, running a finger in the dust.
“Better them than us,” Tim put in.
There was a closed door at the end of the hall. Johnny grabbed the doorknob, but it spun in his hand. “The wood’s swelled.” He threw his body against the door a couple of times. It held firm. Finally, he backed up a few feet, crouched down, and said, “Look out, guys!” As Tim and Bill stepped aside, Johnny ran and smashed his shoulder into the door. It shook a bit and then creaked open slowly.
“Good one, boss!” Tim complimented him.
“Old football training. Nobody got past me when I was in a tackling mood.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t break the door off the hinges,” Bill added.
“We had to get in, didn’t we?” He walked into the room, followed by his co-workers, and looked at the door. “There’s barely a scratch. No one will notice.” He sniffed the air and added, “Phew! This room stinks.”
“That door must have been stuck for a while,” Bill guessed.
“Let’s get some air in here!” Johnny said, walking to the solitary window. He pulled and pulled on it. Nothing. “Will ya look at that?” he said. “It’s painted shut.”
“So much for fresh air,” Tim lamented.
The three of them glanced at the only object in the room: A large double bed, neatly made, and covered with a white comforter. “This will be a cinch,” Johnny said. He walked to it and started pushing on the rectangular wooden headboard. He grunted loudly, putting all his might into it. “Holy cow! This sucker’s heavy.” He turned to his friends. “Help me out, guys.”
The three of them tried with all their strength, but the bed wouldn’t budge. Tim said, “It must be made of bricks!”
“It looks pretty old,” Bill added. “They made things to last back then.”
“Bill,” Johnny said, catching his breath, “go down to the truck and bring up the toolbox.”
“We’re gonna take this thing out of here in pieces.”
“Won’t the guy who bought the joint be upset about that?” Bill asked.
“Richie Rich doesn’t care about the junk that’s in here,” Johnny explained. “He just wants it gone so he can bring in his pricey knickknacks. He won’t mind if this monster’s in pieces so long as it’s out of his sight.”
“What if those Larkins you mentioned come lookin’ for it?”
“Yeah,” Bill agreed. “What then?”
“Then they can have all the pieces and the screws. They ain’t gonna come back. Casey said that no one’s seen ’em for months.” Johnny turned to Bill. “Go get the tools,” he ordered. “While you pull this thing apart, Tim and I will start getting the other stuff on the truck.”
Bill grabbed the tool he needed from the box and muttered, “Mr. Bed, meet Mr. Wrench.” He took a couple of steps toward the bed and heard giggling. “What the. . .” he said, alarmed and looking about. “Come out – wherever you are.”
To his ears, the giggling sounded like it was coming from adults and kids. “This. . . This ain’t funny,” he went on. “Somebody bought this house. You. . . You gotta go.” There was more giggling. “OK. If that’s the way you want to play it,” Bill warned the gigglers. “I’m going to get the boss. He’ll make you come out.”
The door slammed shut and locked behind him. Bill had seen the thing painted in red on the back of the door somewhere: A star in a circle. Was it in a movie? He couldn’t remember, but he didn’t think it was good.
A strong sucking wind began pulling him backwards – towards the bed. He fell to the floor on his belly, struggling to find a handhold on the dusty hardwood. As he got closer to it, the mattress bent into a sort of a mouth. Screaming, he was sucked into the orifice, crying out in pain as he was munched on by the thing.
The job done, the bed moved back into place and spat out the wrench its meal was holding. The pentagram-decorated door unlocked and slowly opened with a creak.
“Where’d he go?” Tim asked.
“I’ll bet you he’s somewhere havin’ a smoke and goofin’ off.” Johnny knocked on the bed’s headboard. “He didn’t even start dismantling it.”
“You want me to take over?”
“Good idea. We’ve already got most of the heavy stuff on the truck. I can get the rest of it myself. If I finish first, I’ll come up and help ya.”
Johnny angrily entered the empty room. “Geez,” he said, “what a couple of bums I’m working with.” He grabbed a wrench from the toolbox. “I’ll have to do it myself!” he muttered. “I should leave them here,” he continued, chuckling. “That would show ’em! It’s a long walk back to town.”
The sucking wind began again. The door slammed shut and locked. At the sound, Johnny looked and saw the pentagram. Before him, the creaking bed rose on its back legs, as though standing. Lying on the two pillows, side by side, were Tim and Bill. “You idiots!” Johnny said, holding his chest. “You almost gave me a heart attack!”
Creaking loudly, the bed began “walking” toward him. On its second “step,” the covers fell away. Only his friends’ heads were on the pillows. The bedclothes were drenched in bright blood.
Johnny heard the giggling. He ran to the door, but the knob spun uselessly in his hand. The wind increased, compensating for this victim’s size. The bed dropped to the floor with a thud, and the mattress again bent into a hungry mouth. Johnny fought the wind. “You’re not getting me!” he cried out.
The window! But he was on the third floor. It was better than ending up like Tim and Bill! He charged at it, breaking through. Screaming, he fell to the yard below.
The door creaked slowly open. The mattress bent into a frown.
Liam Wilson, the prissy realtor, waited for his call to be answered. “Mr. Casey,” he began. “Yes, I’m at the house. The truck’s here, and it seems pretty full, but I don’t see. . . Oh, dear God! Hold on!”
Wilson spotted something near the front hedges. He ran to it.
The man was definitely dead, his neck twisted in a way no living neck could twist.
Wilson looked up and saw the broken window. He put the phone back to his mouth. “There’s been a terrible accident. One of your men is lying here – dead. He seems to have fallen out a window. . . No, I don’t see any sign of the other two. Perhaps they’re in the house. . . Yes, you call the police and I’ll have a look inside.”
Liam ended the call and added, “They’d better be in there.”
Wilson found no signs of the other two movers. He looked at the broken window. Now he’d have to get that fixed for his client as well! He redialed Mr. Casey.
“I don’t see the other men anywhere. . . Everything’s out of the house, except for one old bed. . . Well, I’ll have to hire another company, won’t I? My client was very particular that nothing should remain. . . No, I won’t be hiring another one of your crews. With all due respect to your dead man, I now have to get someone else to finish the job and repair this broken window. . . Yes, send someone over to retrieve your truck. After I see what the rest of this will cost me, we’ll work out an equitable arrangement for the work your men did complete. . . Goodbye.”
He ended the call. “What a waste of time!” he grumbled.
He dialed the office. While he waited for someone to answer, he admired the old bed. The bedspread and sheets were a glimmering white. They felt like damask to him. It was so tempting to pull the covers back, lie down, and take a nap.
“Jean, it’s me,” he began after the receptionist picked up. “I’m at the property, and I’m going to be here longer than I expected. Can you please find me another moving company and a guy to replace a broken window? … I’ll explain later. … Thank you.” He ended his call and sighed. “A realtor’s work is never done,” he said. He heard giggling and looked through the broken window. Schoolchildren likely, he thought, though he didn’t see any. It was that time of day.
He had only a few seconds after the door slammed shut and locked and the sucking wind began to realize how wrong he had been.