Howard could see the lights in the distance as clear as anything, strange flashings that spread across the pink and orange early-morning clouds. It was that time of the morning between night and dawn, predawn, if you will, or maybe just dawn beginning, but whatever the case, the lights in the sky that he was currently observing did not look natural.
“Now, what could that be?” he asked himself.
He was headed in that direction anyway. He had the top up on his Nash Metropolitan to keep out the chill morning dew, he had the newspaper from yesterday right next to him, he had his brochures in the back, and he had his encyclopedias in the trunk. He was ready to start the day, but those lights in the distance stoked his curiosity, so he decided to head in that direction, though, as previously stated, he had been headed in that direction anyway.
There were no people out this way, but he had wanted to see the construction out here, out here near the desert, out here that was to be a suburb of this out-of-the-way little town he’d come to buzz around. Emerald Cactus was rapidly growing, and that growth was due to a metaphorical goldrush of new factories coming in, the type of growth one could see just about everywhere this day and age.
Emerald Cactus was going to be a whole new area to peruse and/or target. You couldn’t be a salesman without a proper sales range to cover, so this growth was good news. Howard had known for some time that this little town was out here, but this had been the first time he’d ever come to call on it.
Even so, where he was headed was the suburb construction zone, but he was only headed there to get a lay of the land; the weird lights were just a bonus.
Dawn emerged from behind him as he drove west. The early morning light emblazoned everything with its welcomed glow, so it was no surprise when the first of the road signs came into view. It wasn’t the signs that distracted him, however. It was the singular house in the distance that caught his eye, a white two-story of brand-new build, a little gem out in the middle of nowhere.
“Must be their show model,” said Howard to himself.
He pulled up to the place on this freshly laden road and parked his Metropolitan. The lights he had seen were long gone, but they had originated from this area, originating out where this house had just been plopped down in a lonely spoonful of nothing.
He grabbed his newspaper, exited his car, and took a brief moment to study the trio of billboards across the way.
“Now, that is just tacky,” he said with a short grin.
There was a large sign that just said “YES!” along with the profile of a young man, a doughy-faced blond in a grey, three-piece suit. This young man could be seen from the front, from both sides, and from the back, four standing profiles to show himself off, his standing profile splayed across the sign like a jackass, some kind of cockamamie advertising promo that some corporate nitwit had come up with.
There were two other signs besides that one, one on each side of it, one with a picture of the front of a two-story house, the very same house he was in front of, and another one with two shots of the empty interior of that house, an empty living room coupled with an empty kitchen, a barren kitchen countertop in that kitchen, etc. The only thing in common between the signs were the words “Rising Heights” displayed along the bottoms of them, along with a telephone number.
“Huh?” asked Howard to no one in particular. “That is a terrible advertising campaign. Don’t these city boys know how to come up with a pitch?…Shameful.”
He was busy shaking his head when he both heard and saw motion behind him. The front door of this newly constructed house opened, and the doughy young man from the billboard appeared at the entranceway.
“Now, hold right there, son!” said Howard in excitement.
He rushed to the back of his Metropolitan, popped the trunk, and pulled forth a fresh set of encyclopedias. He could smell a sale, even to a younker like this one.
He trotted up to the young man in the doorway and smiled, and this young man smiled back at him.
Howard held his precious encyclopedias in the crook of his left arm, his newspaper tucked in there as well, because he knew his trade; he knew it inside and out.
“You’re that boy from the sign,” said Howard in a matter-of-fact tone. “I take it you are in charge out here?…Well, I can see the new foundations laid out here, but the advertising you people have is a little…well…I’d have done things differently. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Howard peered past the young man and into the home. It was bare inside, of course, but he wanted a peek-in anyway, if only for research. He was going to be selling in this neighborhood; that was a guarantee.
“May I step in for a moment?” he asked.
The dough-faced young man stepped backwards and aside to allow Howard to step in.
“Much appreciated,” said Howard as he tipped his fedora. “I noticed this little show piece on the way up here, but I was originally drawn to some strange lights in the sky…You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, son? I didn’t see your vehicle out there, so I can only assume it’s parked in the back, but surely you noticed the flashing lights…Now that’s curious.”
He had only taken a few steps into the bare living room, but the wood floor beneath him held his attention for a second. His step was a little bouncy, as if the floor were somewhat spongey.
“This floor feels strange,” he said more to himself than to the young man. “It feels a little…spongey…This is new wood, right? Shouldn’t it be firm? Who is in charge of your construction out here?”
He stamped down upon the supposed hardwood of the floor with his right dress shoe, but a quick tap-tap revealed the floor to be as hard and as firm as it was supposed to be.
“Now, that is odd,” he said unhappily. “I could swear this didn’t feel right a second ago…Floor’s made a liar out of me. Oh, well.”
He took a brief look around the empty living room, nodded toward the smiling young man, and took a moment to look outside one of the front windows.
“Well, your interior looks exactly like the sign outside,” said Howard in thoughtful notice. “Can’t says much for the rest of the place yet, but I can say that you don’t even have a For Sale sign outside. I know this house is probably a show model, but you should always have some kind of pitch going on. That’s good advice for any kind of sales. Don’t matter what you’re selling.”
He turned to stare at the doughy young man, but the young blond simply smiled, a creepy affect that mimicked the sign outside. Nevertheless, Howard was undeterred. Even so, this boy seemed a little…slow. Maybe he was someone’s idiot nephew, but whatever the case, Howard knew he could get his point across.
“A For Sale sign?” he asked. “Like, uhhh…Now, wait here. Here’s one on this here newspaper I brought with me…Like this…”
He opened his paper and held up a picture of a Sale sign that was part of a hardware store ad.
“It’s like this,” he said. “Now you tell whomever you work for that they need a sign like this to attract…”
His words drawled off as he stared out the living room window. Out on the dirt patch of dry land that was going to be a lawn was a new sign, a sign that Howard could swear had not been there a mere second ago.
“Now, that is curious,” breathed Howard. “Why, I could have sworn…Now, wait just a minute…”
He looked at the ad in the paper and then studied the sign outside. The two looked identical, a grey background with white lettering, similar to the ad in every way, right down to the curvy lettering, right down to the loop in the “L.”
“Now, that is odd,” said Howard. “I guess…I guess such a small burg as Emerald Cactus just has a surplus of these signs and whatnot, eh? Makes sense…Surprised I didn’t see that sign earlier, though. How odd…”
No matter. He still had encyclopedias to sell, and if there was one thing he understood, he understood that slow people like this boy were easy marks. A little run around of words would get him a quick purchase, maybe even a promise of next year’s set as well.
“What I have here in my hands, other than this newspaper…” started Howard. “What I have here in my hands is the greatest supplement to your educational future that you shall ever possess, my boy.”
He handed the first book in the set to the smiling young man, but their hands touched, and this was cause for alarm, if only because of the young man’s temperature and the moisture clinging to the boy’s hand.
“Whoa, there, son,” said Howard nervously. “You’re burning up. You sure you’re okay? Feels like you’ve got a fever or something. You’re all sweaty…You doing all right?”
The young man simply nodded in reply. His expression was unchanging, almost like a doll with a human face, and it was unnerving, but Howard knew better. This young man was simple, so it was no surprise the boy was off in a number of ways. That was how these people were.
“Okay, then,” nodded Howard. “All right, then. In your hands is an encyclopedia of extraordinary knowledge, one that no upstanding young man such as yourself should be without…You understand what I’m saying, son?”
The simple young man flipped through the encyclopedia and stared down at its contents with wide eyes. He looked back up at Howard and nodded once.
“Yes,” said the young man.
“Ah, well…good,” said Howard. “Glad you can put two words together.”
“Yes,” replied the young man.
“Is ‘yes’ all you can say, son?” asked Howard.
He was joking of course, but it was the first thing that had come to his mind, so he had said it without thinking.
“Yes,” replied the young man.
That reply, of course, was a red flag…This was going nowhere. It was clear to Howard that this boy was a little too simple to be worthy of any sales pitch, no matter how expertly thrown.
“That was a joke, son,” frowned Howard. “I can see, perhaps, that my encyclopedias might be wasted upon you. Nevertheless, you must have a caretaker or a guardian that watches over you, might you now? They would definitely be interested in these here fine instructional manuals…You do have a guardian, don’t you, son?”
“Yes,” replied the young man.
“Good, good,” said Howard in return. “Now, look see, son. I’ll give you my card, and you can give that card to whomever takes care of…Now…Now that is curious…”
He noticed it for the first time since he had stepped into this show home, and he was surprised he hadn’t noticed it before…There was a kitchen counter in the living room.
He walked past the simple young man and into the west side of the living room to inspect the kitchen area, that little kitchen area complete with a white countertop, a sink, and a stove…or at least, half a stove. One half of the stove was complete with burners and a glass window for baking, but the other half was just white metal, just a square block of white, a featureless sham, no cooking implements to show.
“Now, what kind of cockamamie setup is this?” asked Howard. “Why, you’ve got the kitchen in the living room, and what’s the matter with this stove? It looks like you just built the place based off of the sign outside, like you just ripped off the image and pasted it…onto…”
He walked back into the main area of the living room and peered out the window. The sign outside was made of two separate pictures, one of the living room and one of the kitchen, both merged together with an indistinct line. The stove was on the right half, the kitchen half, but only half of said oven was shown on the sign, cut off from the rest of the picture.
“What in the blazes kind of setup is this?” asked Howard. “I’ll have to call that number outside and chew on someone for this kind of sloppy craftsmanship. That there puts an insult on anyone in sales. You got a simple boy as your showman and a halfcocked house that looks like it was designed by a circus clown. I don’t know what kind of jackass setup you’ve got going on out here, boy, but I think I’ll be on my way.”
He reached for his encyclopedia, gripping the edge of it, but the young man would not let go.
“Now, son, I need my book back,” warned Howard. “Let go, now. I told you…I have to be on my way now.”
He yanked hard on the book, but he could not pry it loose from the simple boy’s grip.
“Let go, now!” cried Howard. “Let go, I say!”
The young man’s doughy, smiling face bulged with visible veins, large, thick, dark-blue pulsing veins, and his dark left eye spun in its socket, spinning from right to left, spinning to show nothing but white behind it. A sheen of moisture congealed upon the young man’s rapidly reddening skin, almost a mucus in texture and quality, something more than disturbing enough to rattle Howard’s own previously unshakable nerve.
Howard immediately let go of his encyclopedia and backed away. Something was terribly off with this place, something awful terrible, so it was time to duck out and accept his losses, even if that retreat meant losing one of his precious encyclopedias.
“I see I’ve m…made a slight error,” stammered Howard. “You can keep that book, son. I’ll just be on my way.”
He tipped his fedora out of habit and quickly walked toward the front door, but the door slammed shut in his face, slamming shut on its own as if pushed closed by a giant, invisible hand.
“What in the blazes!” yelled Howard as he gripped the doorknob.
He twisted and pulled hard on the knob, but then he let go of it as realization set in. The knob did not feel like metal, no. The supposed metal felt warm to the touch, hot almost, but sweaty and squishy, fleshy, to be exact.
“What in the name of—!” asked Howard in growing shock.
He turned to address the young man, but he stood stock still in frozen terror as the boy’s form morphed into something truly terrible. The young blond was all pulsing flesh now, like an overgrown tongue lined with blue veins and red arteries, the grey of his suit and the blond of his hair merging in color with the darkening reddish hue of his mucus-coated skin.
“My God!” yelled Howard.
He turned to find some way out of the barred door before him, but the white of the door had glossed over with a clear mucus, the door itself changing, transforming into a reddish color, it too lined with blue veins and the red of arteries.
The floor tilted as it sloped inward, the center of the living room opening in a pit that convulsed and slimed over with that same clear mucus, the floor itself turning into a spongey, fleshy surface that quickly became a slippery hazard for footing of any kind.
Howard dropped the encyclopedia set he held within the crook of his left arm, letting slip free his newspaper as well. The books slid down into the opening maw before him, the newspaper turning wet and ruined as it touched slime, and then he was sliding, sliding down this tilted floor into this pit that had appeared out of nowhere.
He understood too late that the mucus covering everything was not mucus at all…It was saliva, and this house was no house at all. No, this show piece of supposed wood and mortar was something entirely else, something clearly not of this world.
He screamed as he dropped into the pit of a giant esophagus, but he could feel the burn of an acidic cloud melting through his clothes and burning his skin even before he dropped bodily into a great pool of caustic stomach acid.
Diedre exited through the passenger side of her son’s Chevrolet Bel Air. They had spied this lonesome white house out here in the construction area of Emerald Cactus, and there was already a car parked outside, a red and white Nash Metropolitan, so it was clear someone was here.
“I just want to take a looksee, Jimmy,” she said firmly. “This must be a showhouse for the project. I want to know who Mr. Cawson hired to sell our houses. Get an eyeball on our mouthpiece, you know. We won’t be here long.”
“Yes, Mother,” replied her dutiful son.
Her son was a doughy, blond boy of fairly handsome make, not exactly Charlton Heston or James Dean, but he was as good as any to be a spokesmodel for the project.
“Your face is up on that sign, Jimmy,” said Dierdre. “You need to smile. We’re taking a risk here, so I want you to be on your best.”
“Yes, Mother,” replied her son.
“And ‘yes’ is right,” said Dierdre. “That’s our catchphrase. We want that ‘yes’ out of new home buyers, you hear? You just follow my lead from here on out. Understand?”
“Yes, Mother,” sighed her son.
“Don’t you sass me, now,” warned Dierdre. “We’re just here to see if—”
She was cut short as the door to the lonesome house opened wide. A clean-cut man in his mid-thirties, a clean-cut man in a brown suit with a matching brown fedora on his head, stood within the open doorway and waved them forward.
“Well, hello, hello!” he called out. “Visitors are always welcome!”
“I’m Mrs. Danforth!” called back Dierdre. “I own this here property! Did Mr. Cawson just put you on?”
“Yes, yes,” nodded the man as he tipped his hat. “Why don’t you come right on in?”
“I hope you have credentials,” said Dierdre as she walked forward, her son following her right behind. “We want Rising Heights to be the premier suburb of Emerald Cactus, and I need to know if you’ve got the gumption and grit to sell my properties.”
“That I do, that I do,” nodded the man. “I was a little uneducated in the past, a little wet behind the ears, but that has changed recently. I came into some literary works that have vastly improved my knowledge, and I picked up a lot of sales techniques from a…mentor…you could say. Digested all of his knowledge in one go.”
“You don’t say?” asked Dierdre. “Well, why don’t you give me the rundown, Mr…”
“Angler,” nodded the man. “You can call me Mr. Angler.”
“Fitting,” smirked Dierdre.
“Just step on in, and I’ll make a little lunch,” smiled Mr. Angler. “I haven’t entertained a female as of yet. I’m wondering about your tastes.”
“I have standards, Mr. Angler,” warned Dierdre. “Those are my tastes. You had better not disappoint.”
“Oh, one of us won’t be disappointed,” smiled the salesman. “I’m sure your tastes are exquisite. In fact, I’m looking forward to them.”
He stepped aside, waving both hands in an arc as a signal for them to enter.
The Salesman Copyright © 2022 Matthew L. Marlott