A look at the title story, Mister Bob…
Collected Short Stories
Mister Bob: Collected Short Stories is Copyright © 2015 Dell Sweet
Copyright © 2015 by Dell Sweet All rights reserved
Cover Art © Copyright 2015 Wendell Sweet
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
This novel is Copyright © 2015 Wendell Sweet and his assignees. The Name Dell Sweet is a publishing construct used by Wendell Sweet. Portions of this text are copyright 2010, and 2011, all rights reserved by Wendell Sweet and his assignees. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s or assignees permission.
Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.
The Middle of the night: Lisa
She awoke suddenly in the darkness of the bedroom. Panic rode tightly in her throat, but nothing in the silence told her anything she needed to know.
The clock read 2:38 AM, green numerals lighting the bedroom in eerie, fairy half light. Spooky light, she decided. It was adding to her sense of something wrong. Would red be better, she wondered. She would pick up a new clock… Make sure it had red numerals.
Don slept on beside her, apparently undisturbed, but the sense of panic, touch of fear, would not leave her.
“Mommy…!” Alandra, sobbing, calling her name. She threw the covers aside and nearly leapt up, out, and to her feet in one motion: The cotton night shirt fell to her knees as she ran for Alandra’s bedroom. Behind her, Don grunted in surprise, but she barely heard him: Her mind had kicked into a higher gear; suddenly working overtime.
…Nightmare? … Kidnapping? …Killers? … Burglars? … My baby! …
And why is it, she thought, as her mind threw all the worst possibilities at her, that your mind does exactly that? Why?
She pushed it all away as she pushed the bedroom door open to find Alandra sitting up, staring at the closed window that looked out over the back yard.
She reached the bed and gathered Alandra in her arms… “What, baby? … Bad dream?”
“No,” Alandra sobbed. “Not a dream. You have to stop them, Mommy. They were killing Mister Bob… He told me.”
Lisa let her eyes fly quickly to the window, and then flit around the bedroom, alighting here and there, in case there was some wack-job standing in the shadows… Closed window… Tree limbs outlined outside it in moonlight… Closed closet door… She thrust one foot at the darkness under the bed.
“Baby, there’s no one here.” She pulled Alandra’s head away from her breast which was already wet from her tears.
“Honey, Alandra.” She waited until she turned her tear stained face up to her own. “Baby, there’s no one here… See?” She turned her eyes to the empty room.
“Mommy, Mister Bob,” Alandra said. “Look at the window.”
Lisa looked more closely at the window, but saw nothing more. “Honey, are you saying that Mister Bob was at the window?”
Alandra nodded solemnly.
Dan was supposed to take care of getting the tree outside the window trimmed. Lisa had been concerned of just this thing: Someone climbing that tree and having access to Alandra’s bedroom window. A spike of fear lodged directly in Lisa’s heart. “Stay here, baby, okay?”
Alandra nodded once more. Lisa gathered herself, rose from the bed, and went to the window, wishing she had thought to grab her pepper spray. Better yet, her mind supplied, Don’s 9 mm. The window was closed, but the thumb lock was off. She eased up next to the window, holding herself in the shadows, and scanned the back yard. … Nothing … The bedroom door opened suddenly and she turned quickly, her heart hammering hard against her rib-cage.
“Whatzit?” Dan asked.
“Jesus, Dan,” Lisa said. One hand went to her throat.
“Sorry…” He turned to Alandra. “What’s wrong, honey-pie?”
“She said someone was at the window,” Lisa supplied.
“Christ,” Dan muttered. He walked across to the window: A big man who moved fast. His eyes scanned the yard.
“Well… I don’t see anyone now,” he said.
“I don’t either, but I thought…”
He nodded. “Tomorrow morning, noon at the latest. It’s spring… He’s backed up.” Dan shrugged helplessly. “I’ve been on him, Lissy. I have.”
He held up a hand. “Or I’ll take the day off and do it myself… Promise… I’ll call him in the morning before I leave.” He sighed.
“Honey, you want to sleep with Mommy and Daddy,” Dan asked?
“Uh, uh. What if Mister Bob comes back?” Alandra asked.
“Mister Bob?” Dan asked.
“He told her that was his name,” Lisa said.
“Were you dreaming, honey?” Dan asked.
“She wasn’t dreaming, Dan,” Lisa warned.
“Well… Cops… Should we?”
“There’s nobody… What do you say exactly? No… Just make sure it can’t happen again,” Lisa finished.
“Okay… Okay.” He turned back to Alandra. “Come on, honey. Sleep with Mommy and Daddy tonight. Tomorrow we’ll make sure Mister Bob can’t wake you up in the middle of the night again.”
“Mommy will stay in here with you,” Lisa countered.
Dan looked from Alandra to Lisa. Lisa shrugged.
Dan frowned and then turned and left the bedroom. A few minutes later he was back.
“Here,” he said as he handed Lisa her pillow. His own pillow and a wad of blankets were tucked under his other arm
“We’ll have a camp out,” Dan said. He looked at the floor, yawned deeply and then spread out the blankets and tossed the pillow to the floor.
Alandra giggled as Lisa climbed into the narrow bed and pulled her close.
Dan was already softly snoring and Lisa was sure that Alandra was sleeping too. Her own thoughts were getting farther and farther away from her. Her mind free falling into the spiral of sleep when Alandra whispered.
“Mister Bob is my friend, mommy.”
She came up from the edge of sleep just that fast.
“He talks to me every night.”
Lisa pulled her closer. “When, baby?” she whispered back.
“All kinds of times… Sometimes when I’m awake, sometimes he wakes me up. He’s not mean, mommy. He’s my friend.”
“But, baby, a man shouldn’t be climbing a tree to talk to you,” Lisa told her.
“But he doesn’t, mommy. He’s already there. Mister Bob is a tree. My tree.”
“Oh, baby… A tree? The tree in the back yard?”
Alandra yawned. “Uh huh. My friend, Mister Bob.”
“He talks to me… He said… He said, they’re going to kill me, sissy. Don’t let them kill me.”
Lisa’s heart leapt in her chest. Sissy had been Alandra’s nickname until she had discovered that she liked her real name better in Kindergarten and had solemnly told she and Dan not to call her Sissy anymore. Lisa yawned in spite of herself. She pulled Alandra closer. Maybe it had been a dream after all.
“He calls you Sissy?”
“I told him I’m not a baby.” She yawned again and the rest of what she said was lost as she began to drift into sleep.
The fear that had been rising in Lisa’s heart bled out just that quick. Her own lack of sleep caught up to her. She yawned too, and a few seconds later she drifted down into sleep thinking about talking trees that spoke to little girls and called them by their nicknames.
She heard the alarm from her own bedroom. Dan had turned over, pulled the covers over his head and balled the pillow up under his head. He slept on, oblivious. She recalled a dream of her own. Must have been after all that had happened, she thought. She had dreamed that she had awoken briefly to hear Alandra holding a conversation with Mister Bob. Something like, “I told her… She’ll make sure you’re okay.” And the impression of another voice. Deep, resonant. She couldn’t understand it. A weird dream provoked, no doubt, by what had happened earlier and what Alandra had told her. She looked down into Alandra’s sleep eyes.
“Want to sleep a little longer, honey?” Lisa asked her.
Lisa kissed her forehead, got out of bed and then tucked her back in. She turned to Dan.
“Do you want to sleep in a little longer too, honey,” She asked.
The wad of blankets surrounding his head nodded.
“Well, you don’t get to sleep in. Come one. Get up.”
Dan groaned. He struggled briefly with the wad of tangled blankets that surrounded his head. Alandra looked over the edge of the bed and giggled. Lisa looked at her.
“You’re not going back to sleep are you.”
“Nope,” Alandra agreed.
“Well come on then. We’ll get breakfast and coffee going while Daddy gets his shower.”
Lisa shifted through her email: Nothing too pressing. She closed the browser and popped open her scripting editor. She worked for the next three hours straight after she had gotten Alandra off to school. The website she was writing a script for was nearly done. She had written the site, incorporated the graphic elements, and was finishing up the scripting that would load the cart system for the site and control purchases. She had one small script to write yet, and a few graphics to tweak and that would be it. She reached for her coffee cup, found it was empty, and headed for the kitchen.
She had just poured the coffee when she heard the sudden roar of a chainsaw. She knew the sound. She heard it often enough in the spring and fall, but it was close. Much closer than it should be, and that rattled her. She took a deep sip from her coffee, set it down on the counter, and headed for the back door, glancing through the windows as she went: Two men she didn’t know were in her backyard.
At first it alarmed her and then she realized they must be there to trim the tree. She levered open the rear door and popped her head out anyway. They both looked over and nodded.
The bigger one held the chainsaw in his hand. A bigger saw than the models she had seen used for yard work. Somewhere, probably in the garage, they had one of the small ones tucked away for just-in-case themselves.
She smiled. “Here to trim the branch?” It made her blush. She felt a little foolish asking, but the saw was huge. Maybe they were at the wrong house… Wrong job… Something.
“The tree, miss,” the smaller man answered over the roar of the chainsaw.
The smile left her face. The words Alandra had said the night before surfaced on their own but she couldn’t quite get them. Something like, Mister Bob was her friend… A tree… This tree, in fact, and they were going to kill him… Trying to kill him…
“The branch,” she said.
“Uh, uh,” the small one said. He pulled a notebook from his breast pocket, studied it. “Danny said… Danny said take the whole thing.”
“Well that just can’t be right,” Lisa informed him.
“Well, miss. I got it right here in black and white.” The big one was revving up the chainsaw and looking at the big tree with something like desire on his face.
“Well, see, I give Danny a good price, ’cause we’ll just cut this son-of-a-whore-tree…” He seemed to remember that he was talking to Lisa, met her eyes and blushed deep red. He turned away. He continued after a few seconds of silence.
“This ol’ tree, we’ll cut her up for firewood,” the bigger man continued. He had let the chainsaw fall to a rough, popping idle as they talked. From the kitchen came the ringing of the telephone.
“Excuse me,” Lisa said. She turned to go and then turned back just a quickly. “I’ll have to call Dan… Maybe that’s him. It’s only the limb though, not the tree.” She turned and headed for the back door.
The phone stopped ringing just before she reached it. She cursed under her breath, picked up her coffee, sipped at it, then picked up the handset, punched in Dan’s number.
The house phone was something that their friends considered an oddity and she considered a necessity. She liked it. She had a cellphone she rarely ever used. She had no real reason to. Her cell phone dislike wasn’t part of some strange phobia, it was just a habit she had never developed. She was a stay at home mom, what did she need a cellphone for, she asked her friends when the chided her about it. Secretly she hated it. More truthfully, she knew, she loathed it. It was something akin to being tracked everywhere you went. She had tried one for a year and that was how it made you feel. You didn’t have to slip it in your pocket, but you did. You didn’t have to answer it in the super market, but you did. While driving, while gardening, she had even tentatively answered it once when she had been in the bathroom.
That had been it for her. The cell phone had gone in a drawer, and the next time she had been at the big shopping center she had bought a wall phone with a built in answering machine. She had bugged Dan to get the house phone put in and things had been perfect. Calls went to the machine: If she felt like answering she did. But she didn’t rush to answer. She didn’t buy a portable phone to add to the line. She liked it the way it was.
Smooth silence greeted her on the line, then it clicked and a voice was in her ear.
“Hello? … Hello?”
“Hello?” Lisa answered.
“Miss Stevens?” A voice asked.
“That’s so weird… It never rang… Just sounded as though a number was being punched in,” the voice said.
“You must have been there when I picked up to dial,” Lisa said. “Sorry.”
“No… No, it’s okay… Miss Stevens, this is Ms Edwards… Joan Edwards?” Alandra’s teacher.
“Is something wrong?” Lisa heard the panic as it jumped into her voice, but she couldn’t have stopped it if she had wanted to.
“No… No, but, well, Alandra’s upset… Very upset. I’ve honestly never seen her like this… She wants to talk to you… About Mister Bob? I know her father’s name is Daniel, and the explanation about Mister Bob is hard to understand… She”s upset of course, but whoever this Mister Bob is, she believes…”
“Someone is going to hurt him?” Lisa supplied.
“Well, yes… Her words were stronger.”
“Kill?” Lisa asked. Her words seemed forced, her heart hammered right at the back of her throat, fast, hot, her tongue was dry and hard to move.
“That was it… I know it’s unusual, but I’m here in the principle’s office…, She’s quite upset.”
“Put her on? Put her on,” Lisa told her. “Baby? Alandra?” The sound of Alandra’s sobbing came to her. “Baby, what’s wrong…? What about Mister Bob?” She was getting more than a little freaked out. Two men had come to cut down her imaginary friend the tree. But there was no way she could know that, was there?
“Mommy, they came to kill Mister Bob.” Lisa only understood it because she was listening for it. Otherwise, it was just broken sobs and syllables. In the backyard the chainsaw revved up to a high whine.
“Honey, they won’t cut down Mister Bob.”
“Kill, mommy, kill.”
“Kill… They won’t kill Mister Bob. They won’t kill Mister Bob… I promise.”
“Mommy, I want to come home, mommy. I want to. I want to see Mister Bob!” She sobbed even harder. The phone clattered and the teacher was back on the line.
“Miss Steven’s, I don’t know…”
“Ms Edwards… Ms Edwards I’m coming to pick her up. I’ll explain when I get there, but I’ll come to pick her up.”
“Well if you think…”
“I do… Thank you so much, Ms Edwards.” The phone was back on the hook before the teacher answered, and Lisa was palming the back door open. The big guy was getting ready to cut a notch into the tree. She waved her arms and yelled at the smaller guy who tapped the bigger guy on the shoulder. He seemed to hesitate, then he turned to face Lisa. She motioned impatiently at the saw: Reluctantly he shut it off.
“Did I say you’re not cutting down my goddamn tree?”
“Miss… The mister said…”
“I don’t care what the mister said. The tree stays.”
“Miss,” the big one soothed. “It’ll be quick. I’m insured if that’s what you’re worried about. Let me take this ‘ol bitch down and get it over.”
“It’s a he,” Lisa said.
“A… Never mind. You’re not cutting down my tree… Are you really standing here on my property arguing with me about my own goddamn tree?” She took a few steps toward him and he stepped back, flinching as he did, despite the fact that he was easily twice her size.
“Miss,” he started, but the smaller one patted him on the arm. He turned, paused, and finally seemed to realize he would not be cutting down the tree after all. “We’ll be going,” he said after a long period of silence.
Lisa didn’t wait. She walked back into the house and was backing her Honda out of the driveway before the two men had finished loading up their truck.
Lisa popped her head into Alandra’s room, but she was fast asleep. Dan looked over the top of her head.
“Okay?” He asked.
Lisa nodded, closed the door a little farther and then followed Dan down the darkened hallway to their own room.
“A talking tree,” Dan said, not quite laughing as he changed for bed.
“She believed it… Believes it… I can’t cut down her tree.”
Dan shrugged. “Willy and Timmy were pissed off.”
“So was I.” Lisa said.
“I heard.” He held up his hands. “Not that you didn’t have a right to be… I should have told you. I made a deal to just take down the tree. I figured I’d just end up trimming the thing for years… It’s a bad place… But, if it stays, it stays.”
“I didn’t say the tree talked to me,” Lisa said.
“I know,” Dan agreed.
“I feel a little defensive.”
“Don’t… It’s over.”
“Would you have done the same thing?”
“Are you kidding? Nandie crying on the phone? I would have run them both out of the yard.” He sighed.
Lisa smiled. “Okay, that made me feel better.” She reached for the light, casting the bedroom in half light from the glow of the red numerals on the clock. Dan noticed but said nothing.
“I didn’t like the other clock,” Lisa said.
He pulled her close. “Okay,” he agreed. “Red’s good.”
“Baby,” Lisa pulled back and looked up into his eyes. “Do you think, well, do you think trees can …”
“Talk,” Dan supplied.
“No, I was going to say feel pain… Weird, right?”
“Well, they’re alive, aren’t they? But pain? I don’t know… Are you serious?”
“Well, Alandra was so upset… So hurt and…”
“It was a bad dream. You know how a dream can seem at that age. Like everything… Real. Completely real to a kid.”
“I think,” Dan soothed. He pulled her closer.
Lisa snuggled her head into his chest, meaning only to close her eyes for a few moments, but she drifted off into sleep instead.
“Sissy…” Softly on the wind…
Alandra’s eyes opened in the darkness of her bedroom.
“Mister Bob,” she whispered. She sat up and looked to the window, got out of bed and walked over quietly raising the window a little. She sat down on the floor and looked up at the branches that were only a few feet outside the window. The blue-gray moon floated above the limbs far above the tree. The name came again on the wind. Softly… Barely there.
She smiled. “Mister Bob,” she whispered once more…
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