Joe Avery and the Mysterious Tenant
Charles C Cole
For additional income in their retirement, Janice’s parents, Ken and Lena, converted their basement into a rentable efficiency, with its own entrance and kitchenette. The first tenant was a bit of a mad scientist. Edmund Glencannon was a shy bookworm who played with chemistry experiments.
We didn’t know the details of his childhood, but we knew circumstances had generated intractable bitterness. He had emotional issues. Ken and Lena, a former Boy Scout executive and nurse, were ostensibly fostering a stray.
Rumor had it, Glencannon had devised a reproducible process which allowed him to extract all anger from his body as a foul-smelling, thin tar (kept in his fridge should he need a portion readministered for psychological counterbalance). The result: a brittle milquetoast of a man who suffered from something called “executive function disorder” where he lost the ambition to rise from bed or to even eat.
When his mail started piling up and he refused to answer his door, Ken and Lena called Janice who called me. Janice let herself in, and we found Glencannon withering away: a pale, shrunken husk of his former self. She suggested taking him to the hospital. He responded: “But I’ve never been more at peace! This is the answer!” When she held a mirror to his face, he gasped: “It’s a trick of the light! Open the curtains! Let in the sun!”
After doing as Glencannon suggested, Janice again showed him his sickly visage, unchanged. This time she proposed calling for an ambulance. “Get my vials! All of them! Every drop! I’ve been saving it! We’ll start over! I’ll show you! Though, be warned, it won’t be pretty!”
Janice brought him his equipment for pushing “it” all back into his tired body. We offered to stay should something go wrong, but he moaned: “Keep back! He’s a menace! Don’t trust him! I’ve seen his written thoughts! Homicidal ideation indeed! He’ll be back, stronger than ever! But, right now, I need his stamina!”
“Who?” asked Janice.
“Rime, the dark force I thought I’d suppressed forever! The ego to my id! He warned me this would happen without him, threatened it, but I didn’t believe him! I naively thought reason was superior, but the will to survive is a primitive animal!”
We paced outside his quarters. Minutes passed.
“Is he one of yours, you think, with roots in folktales? Or just a wounded soul, feral and wanting?”
Sometimes it’s not a clearcut case for one or the other. “We’ll know soon enough,” I allowed.
Janice was impatient. She debated with her instincts. She tried the door, but something heavy had been propped against it! She pounded, long and loud, and called out, “Dr. Glencannon, are you all right? Please let us help you! This has gone on long enough!”
The response was the distinct self-satisfied cackle of a faery-tale witch stirring a boiling potion in a large cauldron, as if Glencannon had pushed himself too far, stared into the abyss of his despair and been swallowed by delirium.
“We have to go in!” said Janice. “Please, Joe!” As I prodded the door with my shoulder, the mysterious tenant unlocked the apartment from the other side. The door swung open, and there stood a complete stranger! Shorter and hunched. His brow was pronounced like that of a prehistoric man, his skin the color of leather, and eyes almost entirely black!
“No need to panic, my girl,” he said in a rough whisper. “Everything’s fine once more. The doctor took things too far! He tried to expel me from his body, but I am the drive that keeps him going.”
Janice was at a loss for words. I said: “Who are you and what have you done with Glencannon?”
“For the purpose of pleasantries, consider me his assistant. The name’s Rime.”
“He said not to trust you!” said Janice.
“Really? What else did he say?”
“That he needed your stamina.”
“You’ll get no argument from me. Glencannon gets winded opening the fridge.”
“How did you get in?” asked Janice.
“He called. I heeded my master’s voice. I came home, then I promptly kicked him out. Or in.”
“Can we talk to him?”
“Not a good time, I’m afraid.”
“We need to know he’s okay.”
“He’s fine. A little confused. More introverted than usual; finally found a room small enough to fit him like a glove.”
Janice walked me to my car, as much to not be overheard as anything. “Do you think Rime and Glencannon are the same person?”
I smiled wanly. “There’s only one way to know for sure.” We returned to the locked door. Rime didn’t hesitate to greet us.
“Mr. Rime,” I said, “my name’s Joe Avery. I work with exotics every day. I think you have something in common with them. There seems to be a misunderstanding.”
“That because I’m home, I must want company?”
“You think you’re two people subletting the same body, but you’re not. You’re just a very bad mood swaggering about a basement apartment with a supervillain name. There is no Rime.”
“Do I look like Glencannon?!” he yelled.
“Your mood is more ‘external’ than for the rest of us. Let me help you!”
“Who asked for help?!”
“You did, by renting from my ex-wife’s parents. You knew I’d find out eventually. You even included instructions for the remedy with your recent rent payment, though my in-laws didn’t know what to make of it.”
“Glencannon lives life in fear. I am nothing like him!”
“Then you shouldn’t be afraid of a little cocktail.”
And so, we goaded Rime into his own undoing.
When Glencannon “reappeared,” we reported events. “He was defensive and brassy and all you,” I said. “Come out and meet him halfway. I think the ‘two of you’ will benefit from the results.”
We’ve seen improvement: someone who looks like a combination of the two. The sickly Glencannon is gone, thankfully, as well as the caveman Rime. Progress. I suspect their ‘lives’ will be a long-term balancing act.