Brent Monahan

The December Special Guest Writer is Brent Monahan

Please feel free to vist Brent HERE

brent monahan.

by Brent Monahan

Franklin Harrison walked wearily along the sidewalk, vacuum cleaner in one hand and demonstration case in the other, wishing he had not left his car at the top of Jonathan Drive. He had already assailed without success the first five houses on the east side of the street. Except for their exterior paint jobs, every dwelling on the winding street was identical. Split-level, one-and-a-half baths, three bedrooms, playroom, open living/dining/kitchen area on the second level, one-car garage.

The year was 1952, and the collective post-war ambition was to move into the new suburban neighborhoods being thrown up at insane speeds. They and their fifth-acre yards provided much more than did pre-war, Great Depression apartments or duplexes in the cities, even if they were built by inexperienced laborers from inferior materials. The sheer number of such spanking new communities around Trenton, NJ was the reason Franklin had taken the job selling Kirby vacuum cleaners. He refused to use the worst of the high-pressure techniques he had been inculcated with, trading instead on his helpful "nice man" personality rather than, for example, the tactics used by the sleazeball who had sold him his Ford.

Franklin would have made the Army his perpetual home except that they refused to reenlist him for his would-be fourth tour of duty. He had failed test after test for advancement. Having given the best years of his life to the war effort, including dropping out of high school in his senior year, he was not well prepared for civilian life. But he was convinced that a good work ethic and extra hours pounding brand new sidewalks would make him a success.

The house at the bottom of the decline was painted milk of magnesia pink. He paused to roll his eyes at it for only a moment, then slogged up to the front door, set down his demo case, and pressed on the electric bell. He heard no sound from inside. He tried again, with identical results. He looked down at the sisal mat. Instead of the almost-invariable "Welcome," the black lettering spelled out "Hals und Bein Bruch."

"Strange names," he muttered to himself. As he raised his hand to knock on the door, it opened.

Standing just inside was a woman wearing a wide smile. Franklin labored not to blink from surprise. The lady of the house looked for all the world like Donna Reed in her eponymous television show. She looked to be in her early thirties. Her bouffant hairdo was hard-lacquered in place. She wore make-up and a string of pearls around her neck. Beneath her perfectly-clean apron was a stylish flower-print dress. Most amazingly, she wore stockings and two-inch heels.

"Good afternoon!" Franklin chirped. "Is it Mrs. Bruch?"

"No," the woman answered, continuing to smile. "Oh! You're selling vacuum cleaners!"

"Yes, I am," he replied with an upglide, happy to receive the first truly positive greeting that day. "Might you have need of one?"

The woman stepped back and swept her hand invitingly inward.

"Perhaps. Come right in!"

"Why, thank you. I'm hoping to make you a happier housewife for many years to come."

"With that?" the woman asked.

"Absolutely. Y'know in the next thirty years you might need to buy three vacuums from the likes of Sears. But the Kirby has a lifetime guarantee."

When the woman closed the door, Franklin realized that--although the autumn afternoon sun outside was brilliant--the picture window curtains were closely drawn and that the room was lit by an overhead fixture and two free-standing lamps.

You don't say," the woman responded.

"I do say!" Franklin countered, and added a laugh. "Might I have your name?"

"Is your name Betty?"


"Then you don't have my name," she answered. Her look was so benign that he wondered if she could possibly have a mind that literal.

"Actually, I'm Frank Harrison. Well, Betty, this beautiful machine and its attachments will do half your housework."

"Half? Then you'd better sell me two."

Franklin studied the placid face staring at him, decided that Betty had a very dry sense of humor, guffawed, and said, "Good one! Now, your time is valuable, so I want to give you something practical in exchange for it."

Betty nodded at the appliance. "That vacuum."

"Well, no. But I will vacuum any space in your house to show you its amazing cleaning power."

"Sounds fair," Betty said. "How about the carpet in the upstairs  hallway?"

"Wonderful." Franklin had already set down the canister-style vacuum on the playroom floor. He unsnapped his case and removed two lengths of shining pipe. As he twisted one into the other, he said, "Other companies will sell you tin that's coated by a thin layer of chrome.  But we manufacture our solid hose elements from steel. Imagine--"

Before Franklin could utter another syllable, a door at the end of the room flew open and a man rushed out. Both his hands clutched large kitchen knives. His face was the embodiment of rage, flushed bright red. His eyes were huge as they settled on the lady of the house.

"Not one more moment!" he screamed. "You either open that door, or else—" He rushed toward her brandishing the knives in a lethal manner.

Franklin swung his steel pipe combination as hard as he could, striking the enraged man in the temple. The knives tumbled from his grasp. His eyes rolled into his head. He collapsed backward like a falling tree. The rear of his skull smacked hard against the playroom linoleum.

"Holy crap!" Franklin yelled. "Who is he?"

"He he wants me to buy a set of knives," Betty replied, with no trace of terror at all in her voice.

"I didn't want to hurt him, but he was going to—"

"I saw. Thank you very much. You are my knight with shining attachments."

Franklin realized he had seen no other door-to-door salesman as he worked his way down the street. "You're welcome. But why was he so angry?"

"Who knows what's in peoples' minds," said Betty. "I'm beginning to think I shouldn't let salespeople inside my house."

The felled man had not moved. Franklin knelt by his side. "I can see why. Oh, Lord! I think he's stopped breathing."

"Well, you gave him a terrible whack." Betty lifted her right hand and waggled her forefinger. "I'd better call the police."

"My Lord!" Franklin gasped.

"Now, I don't want you wasting your time until they arrive," Betty went on, "so why don't you go upstairs and vacuum the hallway outside the bedrooms?"



Franklin felt his legs fail him as he labored to rise.

"Well, get up!" Betty said rather sharply. "We don't have forever. I'll look after him as soon as I finish my call." She pointed up the six steps that led to the second level.

Franklin snatched up the vacuum cleaner and added the rug-cleaning brush attachment to the slightly-bent pipe combination in his other hand. As he headed up the stairs, the Donna Reed look-alike dialed the Princess telephone on an end table next to the couch.

The salesman paused as he reached the connecting space between the living and dining rooms. As with the playroom, the drapes had been securely drawn just beyond the television set.  The window that lit the dining room was of the clerestory variety, set too high to look out of. Again, artificial lighting blazed.

While Frank pondered the scene, a man in a white uniform and cap emerged through an arch in the back side of the kitchen. In his right hand, he held a large wire basket that held a plastic-wrapped loaf of white bread, two one-pound packages of butter, and three filled quart milk bottles. He opened the refrigerator, peered into it for a moment, shook his head, and turned toward Franklin.

"I've got to get out of here. Excuse me."

Franklin stepped back and allowed the milkman to pass. Curious about what he had just witnessed, he set down his demonstration equipment, walked into the kitchen, and opened the refrigerator. It was fairly filled with unopened quarts of milk, packages of butter and loaves of bread. Aside from bottles of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, the appliance contained nothing else. Franklin shook his head and peered through the arch from whence the milkman had emerged. Beyond it, a hallway ran far deeper than he imagined the house could have contained. He thought about returning to the playroom to find out whether or not he had killed the knife salesman but decided against it.

"Just go about your business," he told himself out loud. "You saved the woman. The police will be here at any minute, and you can't lose your opportunity to make the sale."

Franklin carried his equipment up the second set of six steps to the hall that he assumed was the one Betty wanted cleaned. The one hallway wall outlet was blocked with an electric clock cord and a second cord that fed a wall sconce. All five doors that interrupted the hallway walls were closed. He shrugged and tried the door nearest him.

Beyond lay a bedroom that clearly belonged to a teenage girl. To Franklin's surprise, the room's owner relaxed on her bed, surrounded by stuffed animals and pillows. She wore saddle shoes, bobby sox, a poodle skirt, a wide belt, and a tight, pink cashmere sweater than hugged her upper curves. A silken neckerchief covered most of her neck, and her hair was held back by a pink plastic tiara. Her eyes were closed, but she seemed to be listening to a good-looking man in his late twenties who sat on the wooden chair that matched a white and gold desk. The man, whose focus was riveted on a thick book, read to the teenager, in a tired-sounding baritone voice.

"'...a name applied to certain sea cucumbers,'" he said, "'sausage-shaped marine animals of the class Echinodermata.'" He halted and looked at Franklin as if he had only that instant realized the vacuum seller's presence.
The thought that ran through Franklin's head was that there was something slightly scandalous about a handsome young man alone in a pretty teenage girl's room with her stretched out on the bed.

Franklin said, "I'm here to—"

"Sell something," the young man interrupted. "Just like me." He gestured to the wide case at his feet.

Franklin ventured forward and looked down. He saw a row of Encyclopedia Britannica volumes, six marked "A-Anstey I" and one each of the next two volumes in the set.

"I'm Larry," the young man said, closing his book and dropping it into the case. His breathing quickened. "Did you just get here?"

Franklin looked behind him."Well, a few minutes—"

"We need to get out of this place!" Larry said with clear urgency in his tired voice. "I mean, don't even try to bring whatever you're selling with you."

"Why?" Franklin asked.

"Tell him why, Tiffany," Larry said, turning toward the girl on the bed. "Tiffany! Tell him why!!"

The teenager did not react in any way to the encyclopedia salesman's shouts.

"Is she dead?" Franklin worried.

"No. Look at her chest. She's breathing. It's like she has narcolepsy."


"A sleep disorder."

"How long has she been like that?"

"Since a few minutes after I met her. Her mother—"


"No. Nora. Nora asked me to read to her to see if Tiffany thought she was old enough to replace her World Books with the Britannica. I thought it was strange for her to leave me alone with this gorgeous kid, but I needed the sale."

"And how long have you been reading?"

Larry shook his head ruefully. "I'm halfway through Volume 3."

"I'm Frank, by the way. Why haven't you left before this?"

"I've tried. Come with me!"

Larry moved past the bed.

"Wait! This is the door for the hallway," Franklin said, pointing behind him. "That must be a closet."

"Come with me!" Larry repeated.

Franklin followed. Larry opened the door and stepped back to allow Franklin to see beyond.

A hallway indistinguishable from the one Franklin had just exited lay beyond. He stared at the wall clock and lighting fixture, then at the four doors farther down the space. Without a word, he reversed his movement and went to the room's other door. The same hallway lay beyond, identical except for his equipment.

"What the hell?" Franklin snapped.

"I hope you're smarter than me," Larry said. "I can't find a way out of this house! Come on!"

The two moved through the door that lay past the bed and into the hallway.

"Shouldn't this be an outside wall?" Franklin asked.

"I certainly think it should," Larry agreed. He threw open the first door they encountered. A foul smell assailed their noses.

"Good grief, what's that stink?" Franklin said.

"It's coming from behind that door. I haven't had the courage to open it."

Franklin strode forward and grabbed the knob. "I do." He yanked the door backward.

The space beyond was a closet. Its shelves and clothing rod were empty. A man's body lay half propped up. He appeared to have been dead for about a week. On his lap was a product case. The printing on the side read:  Fuller Brush.

"Jesus!" Franklin screamed. He did not linger to speak with Larry but rushed past him out of the room. He came to six steps leading down to a dining area, hurtled past it into the living room, and tore back the drapes. On the other side of the windows lay an identical living room, reversed as if the reflection of a mirror.

Franklin sprinted through the kitchen and its rear archway. He realized he had entered an identical kitchen. He ran on and encountered a set of six steps leading down to what looked like the front door. Betty or Nora or whoever had answered the door had disappeared, as had the man selling knives.

Franklin ripped at the playroom curtains, bringing them down along with their supporting rod. On the other side of the glass was the same living room he had seen twice before.

Gasping for breath, Franklin advanced on the front door. He opened it slowly. And found himself in Tiffany's bedroom.


Autumn leaves from newly-planted saplings tumbled along Jonathan Drive. Sally Monroe rang the bell of the home that lay directly across from its milk of magnesia twin. She bent and retrieved the three circular tins she had been carrying. The door opened, and a tired-looking young matron bouncing a cranky baby appeared, curiosity knitting her brow.

"Hi!" the visitor exclaimed. "I'm Sally Monroe."

Understanding relaxed the matron's expression. "Well, hello! Claire DiDonato. You just moved in two houses down."

"The paint still smells on the walls," Sally said. She offered Claire one of the three tins. "It says 'Hershey's' on the side, but it's actually filled with chocolate chip cookies I just baked. Second batch in my new oven."

Claire cleared her throat. "I think the tradition is that the old neighbors bring the treats to the new ones."

Sally smiled. "I know.  But I just couldn't wait to meet everyone on the block."

"How sweet," Claire replied. She peeked past her new neighbor's shoulder, at the pink house. "But a word to the wise: stay away from the place across the street."

Brent Monahan writes primarily in the supernatural thriller and period murder mystery genres. His sixteen novels have been printed by the likes of Simon & Schuster, St. Martin's Press, and Turner Publishing. His novel "DeathBite" was a major motion picture starring Oliver Reed and Peter Fonda, and "An American Haunting/The Bell Witch" starred Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland.