by Steve Gergley

My brother Stan sits in front of my bedroom window with a blanket draped over his head. A pair of binoculars poke out from underneath the blanket, and through these he stares out the window. It’s just after seven on Monday morning.

‘The black SUV is back,’ Stan whispers. A triangular wedge of gold light stretches across the blobby mass of his concealed body. ‘Oh Christ. This is the third day in a row it’s been there. It’s got to be Barry. I knew he’d find me. He told me I’d never get away.’

Stan’s an aspiring magician. Last year he signed a billion-year contract with the Church of Scientology to increase his confidence and to build connections in the industry, but he only lasted six months. Two weeks ago he showed up at my apartment at three a.m. with nothing but a small bug-out bag slung over his shoulder. He looked pale and gaunt, and his sharp cheekbones erupted like mountains from the wasteland of his malnourished face. Since then, he hasn’t left my apartment once. Now he spends all his time staring out the window, terrified that his old auditor, Barry, will show up and threaten to reveal his darkest secrets to the world if he doesn’t go back to Gold Base to clean toilets with a toothbrush.

I groan with exhaustion and stare at the white ceiling.

‘Tell me again what I’m supposed to say if they call in on the intercom,’ I say.

‘It doesn’t matter what you say,’ Stan says. ‘They’ve already labeled you as an SP. In their eyes, you’re a mortal enemy of the church. They won’t believe a single word that comes out of your mouth. You just have to ignore them. They’re going to lie and tell you crazy stories about me to try to harass you into telling them where I am, but please, Grant, don’t listen to anything they say. Especially if they try to tell you things that they say I said about you. None of it’s true, I swear. They just lie about everything.’

Now that I’m fully awake, I sit up and stretch my sore neck.

‘Sounds like someone I know.’

Stan sighs.

‘I admit that I may have stretched the truth on occasion in the past, but I’m small-time compared to these people. They’ll say anything to get what they want. They don’t care how many lives they destroy. I, on the other hand, have a sense of loyalty to those I care about.’

‘But aren’t you the one who got me labeled as a suppressive person to begin with? Who else could’ve told them I tried to stop you from signing the billion-year contract? Not even Mom wants anything to do with you anymore. She calls me every week to complain about you.’

Stan’s binoculars thump to the floor.

‘Oh my God,’ Stan says, his voice quivering in panic. ‘It’s Barry. He’s here. He’s walking up to the front of the building.’

Stan grabs the ends of his blanket and runs into the kitchen.

A loud electronic buzz tears through the apartment.

I climb out of bed and walk to the front door. My neck hurts, my shoulders ache, and my legs burn from yesterday’s long shift at the restaurant. Today was supposed to be my one chance this week to sleep in and recover from eight straight days of work on the line, but there’s no way that’s going to happen now. Wherever my brother goes, trouble always seems to follow. It’s been that way ever since we were kids.

Wherever my brother goes, trouble always seems to follow. It’s been that way ever since we were kids.

As I trudge past the kitchen, I see Stan frantically trying to pull open the locked window above the sink. But since my apartment is on the ground floor, the landlord permanently locked all the windows to prevent break-ins.

I step up to the front door. Just before I press the talk button on the intercom, I poke my head into the kitchen and press my finger to my lips for quiet.

Stan shakes his head and mouths some words at me.

Please don’t.

For the first time since he showed up here, I start to wonder what Stan told Barry during their auditing sessions. He must’ve talked about me. But what did he say? What kind of secrets could an amateur magician possibly have, to make him so afraid of these people?

I press the talk button.

Stan runs back into the bedroom, the tail of his blanket fluttering like a cape.

‘Who is this?’ I say into the intercom, my pre-coffee crankiness seeping into my voice. ‘Do you realize what time it is?’

‘Good morning, Grant,’ a man’s voice says. The voice is calm and patient and free of all emotion, like an airline pilot. ‘We’re here for Stan. We know he’s in there. Can you buzz us in, please?’

Before I can respond, I hear three loud thuds and a crash of crackling glass.

I run back to the kitchen. The early morning chill leaks through the broken window. The woody smell of autumn fills the room. On the floor, Stan’s ruined binoculars lay among glittering shards of broken glass.

Another loud buzz tumbles through the apartment. But instead of returning to the front door, I retreat to the bedroom and call the police.

‘I need to report a break-in,’ I say. ‘A man driving a black SUV broke the window in my kitchen, and now he’s at my front door, trying to get inside my apartment.’

The woman on the phone asks me my name, my location, whether I’m in immediate danger or not. While I answer these questions, I look out the window and try to predict where Stan will sleep tonight. Outside, a lone oak sways slowly in the breeze. The woman on the phone tells me to stay on the line.

Steve Gergley is a writer and runner from Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. His fiction can be found at: 
https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/