Julie sighed and shut the door, wondering if the little light inside really turned off, or if the sock-eating gnomes that ran the tumbler mechanism partied in there when she wasn’t looking. Maybe they partied with the gremlin that lived inside the refrigerator. The grizzle-toothed gremlin that always seemed to eat all but the last slice of bologna or the last, lonely slice of cheese. It drank all but the last ounce of milk and reached out in the night to snatch all but the outer crust of bread. The fridge gremlin seemed to think that if it left just that little last bit of everything, Julie wouldn’t notice.
Julie knew that she ought not to notice. That would serve the gnomes and gremlins right. She toyed with the idea of having the kids wear sandals and hand-wash their soccer socks. She considered keeping only healthy snacks and frozen meals in the fridge, since the gremlins eschewed all veggies and clearly couldn’t cook for themselves. Starving them out seemed cruel, though, and Julie quickly dismissed the idea. She opened and shut the refrigerator door, quickly, hoping to catch one of them in the act. They were far too clever, far too fast.
Rushing out the door to work, Julie went to grab her keys – she always kept them on the hall table, next to the door. They weren’t there. Her glasses, too, were missing. “Ugh, seriously? Not again!” Julie looked around frantically. She could not afford to be late; her students strictly followed the 5-10-15 rule, and she was not yet tenured, nor did she have a PhD. She caught sight of herself in the glass pane of the front door and rolled her eyes. “Senile, much, Jules?” she muttered, laughing. Of course her glasses were resting on top of her head, where she’d pushed them to put on her make-up. Her keys, she remembered, were in her purse – she’d grabbed them from the table and then turned back to the kitchen to pour a travel mug of coff–where was the coffee? Julie glanced around the spotless kitchen and wondered where she’d put her coffee. With a growl of exasperation, she turned, coffeeless, to the garage and the car. She hoped the car would be there.
“Doc, I’m so forgetful, lately. I–you don’t think it could be Alzheimer’s, or something, do you?” Julie had been shrugging off these little incidents for years. Her husband and kids had teased her about being the “absent-minded professor,” but they were growing weary of coming up with new and witty taunts. It was simply tiresome. Julie was beginning to worry in earnest.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, Jules. We’ve done full bloodwork, even an MRI last year when you had that car accident. Maybe it’s residual stress, but there’s nothing wrong with your brain or your hormones. You really must stop worrying so much – you know, most likely that’s what’s causing this increased forgetfulness.” Dr. Stemmons tried to be reassuring, but all Julie heard was, “I don’t have a clue. Maybe your brain’s broken in ways medical science can’t detect until you’re dead.”
“Thanks, Dr. Stemmons. I–I guess I should be happy about that, but it’s really disturbing. I keep thinking I’ll misplace one of the kids, one of these days.” Julie let out a nervous chuckle. It sounded like a joke, but was becoming an actual fear.
“You’re a riot, Jules. See you again – same time next year, if you stay away from plague-ridden freshmen.” Each year’s new crop brought new contagion, just like daycare and grade school had, when her own kids were little. Colds, flu, bronchitis – Julie smiled with resignation and figured it was all building a stronger immune system for the day they stuffed her into an overcrowded home for the feeble-minded elderly. By her estimates, she’d be about fifty-seven.
Julie turned the key in the lock and pushed open the front door. She was startled to see gopher-piles of mismatched socks strewn about the house. Old magazines lay open on the couch. She counted seven pairs of sunglasses, three half empty cups of coffee, two mailbox keys, and seventeen teaspoons. “What the hell? Roger? Are you home?” she called out. She could hear him in their bedroom, talking softly on the phone.
“I don’t know, Ellen. She’s not here. Yes–of course, I am going to tell her about us. I–haven’t had a chance. I don’t know where she is.” Roger rubbed his forehead. He looked worried, yet strangely relieved. “I haven’t seen her in days. No, there was no note, nothing. Look, I–don’t think we should meet for a while.” Roger sat down heavily on the bed they’d shared for twenty years. Julie walked over to him, stood in front of him, waved her hands. Slapped him, hard, across the face. She didn’t know who Ellen was, or why he was ignoring her now, but she figured he deserved a slap, at least. He didn’t even flinch. His shoulders hunched, he murmured, “The cops–no, I didn’t do a damned thing to her, Ellen! How could you even ask me that? Of course not. She just…disappeared.”
My first story for the Story a Day in September 2015 Challenge, inspired by the prompt: Sept 1 — The Disappeared. Watch for a prompt from me, later in the month! I’m one of the volunteers this time around.
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