Eldrich Ainsworth wasn’t who he appeared to be. I was as sure of that as I was my name, which is Julie Koblowski, by the way.
He lived next door to me and my mother. Every morning I watched as he left his house at 7:30 am dressed in a black suit and dark sunglasses. He walked down to the bus stop on the corner of Clover and Pine, where he’d get on the number 5 bus. Then he’d return each evening at precisely 6 pm.
“I don’t trust him,” Mom said.
Which was a riot, because she had terrible judgment in men. From my father to the man who now lived in our house.
Since they became a thing, the man started trying to fill the void my father left. Ha! Joke’s on him; dad was never much of a presence even when he and my mother were married. Besides, the man was far more attentive than any grown man should be, if ya know what I mean.
He watched me as I made my lunch for school. He was always watching me.
“Do you want me to take you to school?”
“No, I’ll catch the bus,” I said, trying to leave as quickly as possible.
“Well, if you ever need a ride, just ask,” he said, putting his hand on mine and leaving it there for way too long.
I pulled it away and rushed off to school.
First off, eww! The man was like a hundred years old, and I was just twelve; which wasn’t just creepy but illegal. Aaaand this wasn’t the first time he touched me that way.
There he was, my neighbor Eldrich Ainsworth, sitting at the bus stop in his black suit, wearing sunglasses with lenses so dark, it looked as if he had two tiny bottomless pits for eyes.
“Hello, Mr. Ainsworth,” I said, sitting down.
“Well, hello, Miss Koblowski,” he said, still reading his paper.
He always called me by my last name. At first I thought it was weird, but now I liked it. Made me feel grown up.
“You don’t usually take the bus.” He smiled.
“It’s just for today. Mom isn’t feeling well.”
“Seems she isn’t feeling well quite a lot these days,” he said.
And he was right; Mom loved her box of wine more than she cared about me making it to school on time.
“Mr. Ainsworth?” I said. “It occurred to me . . .” I was trying to sound as dignified as he did. I never talked like that to my friends.
Anyway, I said to him, “It occurred to me that I don’t know what it is you do for a living.”
He paused, folded the paper and placed it in his lap. Then Ainsworth looked at me, and with a faint smile on his lips said, “I make bad people go away.”
I had no idea what he meant by that and asked, “So you’re a police officer?”
“Oh no,” he laughed, “I’m a private contractor. I specialize in making people’s problems disappear.”
And then a thought began to form in my mind, and I tried to push it away, but it was determined to come to life. What if he could make the man disappear?
And as if reading my mind Ainsworth said, “Yes, Julie, I can make that man go away, if you’d like.”
Just then the number 5 pulled into the stop. “There’s my bus,” he said. Then he was gone.
I was left there to wonder: first, how did he know what I was thinking; and second, what did he know about the man that he thought I would want him gone?
Mr. Ainsworth was definitely not who he appeared to be.
They had gone to bed early, and I stayed up to watch some television. I had fallen asleep on the couch and was awoken by the man, and—this is so gross I can hardly say it—he was sitting there with one hand on my you know what, and the other on his.
“Stop it!” I yelled.
“Quiet or your mother will hear,” he said through clenched teeth.
“I don’t care!” I yelled back. I got up to go my room, and there she was, standing in the doorway watching us.
“Mama,” I said.
She was calm. “Go to bed, Julie. I’ll handle this,” she said.
I was relieved. I thought she had finally saw the man for who he truly was. But the next morning he was there at breakfast, Mom making him eggs and bacon, something she had been too drunk to do for me as of late.
That’s when I decided to speak with Mr. Ainsworth.
He was there as I had hoped, sitting on the bus bench, reading his paper.
I sat down staring at him, but I had no idea how to bring up the subject.
Finally he said, “Do you have something you’d like to say to me, Miss Koblowski?”
“I, uh . . . well . . . well,” I said. “What do I need to do to get you to, uh . . . help my problem go away?”
He had an amused look on his face. “Well, Miss Koblowski, I just need you to give me your permission.”
“That’s all? I don’t have to pay you?”
“Oh no. This is a service I provide, free of charge.
I was skeptical but desperate. “You have my permission,” I said, shaking his hand.
The man was in my room, standing over my bed, but I pretended to be asleep, just like Mr. Ainsworth told me to.
He reached for me, but Ainsworth came out of nowhere and grabbed the man, holding his hand over the man’s mouth. “Close your eyes, Julie,” he said.
And I did—at first. But the noises were too much, so I looked.
There was a bright light coming from inside of Mr. Ainsworth. His mouth was open wider than was humanly possible, and he had already consumed half of the man.
I shut my eyes again, and when it was over, Mr. Ainsworth said, “You can open your eyes, Julie. He’s gone.” Ainsworth held my hand. “You should stay here considering what I have to do next.”
I nodded. This time I wouldn’t peek.
The noises coming from my mother’s room were much worse because I heard her call my name before the end.
My father and his new wife reluctantly took me in. It was a Saturday and I was confined to my room because Daddy’s new wife didn’t want me around when her family came to see the new baby.
I’d been watching all morning as a large moving truck took furniture and boxes into the house next door.
I hope they have kids around my age, I said to myself.
After the truck drove away, a long black car pulled into the driveway.
Instead of a family tumbling out, one man stepped from the vehicle wearing a black suit and dark sunglasses.
I was surprised at how happy I was to see him.
“Hello, Miss Koblowski,” he said.
I smiled. “Hello, Mr. Ainsworth.”