Jameel has just moved into a house in an unhappy neighborhood of northern Detroit. Half of the houses are habitable. The rest shelter crackheads.
His wife Marta has recently passed away. Jameel waits, avoiding the sun, going out once a month for groceries, cleaning his pump-action shotgun.
He watches new neighbors move in next door: Mom, Dad, and a boy of about seven with a bowl cut. Jameel begins his preparations. Over the summer, Dad refurbishes the house and makes a few additions. Mom does some landscaping.
When Jameel sees the “for sale” sign go up, he knocks on the front door with an invitation to dinner. The neighbors’ name is Mascarpone. Jameel finds it to be one of the best false surnames he’s ever heard.
This is a creepy, creepy little tale. Its surprise ending makes it not one bit less creepy. At the same time, there is no bait and switch. The story is skillfully written. The author does not deceive the reader but shows them what’s unsaid. This is thoughtful, deliberate storytelling.
From the start, when Jameel is seen as a predator (…and he is), the reader can still have some empathy for him because of the recent loss of his wife, for whom he apparently cared deeply. He discusses his plan with her in a little shrine he keeps for her. He is not above exploiting this loss as a lure for his trap, however.
Having said that, I must admit that the story also contains some classic horror elements, including a few that stretch credulity. Horror buffs should enjoy it. Even if it is not your personal cup of tea, it is a well-crafted tale.
According to his blurb, author Tim Boiteau lives in Michigan with his wife and son. He is a Writers of the Future winner, with short fiction appearing in Deep Magic, Dream of Shadows, and LampLight. His first novel, The Drummer Girl, is out now.
The story can be read here.
Author: Tim Boiteau
First published: Theme of Absence, June 26, 2020