Crouched in the upscale suburb of Paradise Valley, a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath contemporary ranch-style sits vacant—its foyer littered with MLS flyers and Realtors’ business cards while dust bunnies breed in its corners. At the street, the “For Sale” sign declares it’s “Bank Owned”—a sign of hard times, a global financial crises blighting nearly fifty thousand homes in the Phoenix area alone.
Carla Simon fumbles with the lockbox key to open the empty house. Her hollow cheeks match the hunted look in her soft brown eyes. Nervously waiting in the foyer for her two o’clock showing, she smooths the front of her skirt with her sweaty palms. It’s been a long time since she’s shown property—too long.
Carla waves vigorously, her greeting overly effusive as her prospect trudges up the walk. “Any trouble finding it?” she asks.
Her prospect seems distracted, answering, “No… no problem.”
Carla starts in, leading the way. “You’ll notice the hardwood flooring throughout the main living areas.”
They cross through the foyer.
As they enter the living room, her prospect suddenly grabs Carla from behind and pushes her face-first into the wall.
“OhMyGod! What are you doing!?!” Stunned, Carla struggles to make sense of it. This can’t be happening!
Her prospect spins Carla around, pinning her to the wall with a forearm. She stares at her attacker’s placid features in disbelief, frozen with terror. Her attacker’s wide eyes bore through her like red-hot lasers. Confusion scrambles her thoughts as she watches a hand rise over her head. Too late, Carla sees the gleam of a large hypodermic needle as it thrusts deep into her neck, penetrating the carotid artery. Carla’s eyes roll with panic as the stab of the big-bore needle pierces her throat, burning fluid swelling her neck.
Her dry mouth hangs open uselessly as her last breaths flutter from paralyzed lungs. Maybe she wasn’t meant to be happy. But why now? And why like this? Bladder and bowels let loose as her arms and legs go limp. She slides down the wall to slump into a spreading puddle of her own urine. Slowly tilting over, her torso topples to the floor. Her head, bouncing off the solid wood floor like a ripe melon.
Pale moonlight floods vacant rooms, streaming through bare windows. The consciousness that was Carla Simon watches cold blue-white light creep across the hardwood floor to climb bare walls, exposing a swollen flyblown corpse. She’s lost all track of time. How many nights has it been? She tries to remember… where she is, how she got there.
A fine layer of dust coats the smooth planking, absorbing the lumber’s luster. Dust motes gleam like tiny stars in the glowing blanket of moonlight that hugs the floor. Fragments whirl in Carla’s thoughts, fluttering like wounded birds. A to-do list half-done, the white sheen of a prom dress, a plastic wristband from the hospital—shards of a shattered past, nothing left but scraps.
It’s so still she can almost hear the thrum of the cosmos, its pulse trembling at the edge of perception. The quiet house seems on the verge of telling her something, some deep revelation, a most intimate secret.
It’s all just a bad dream, Carla’s sure she’ll wake up soon. Still, something’s not right.