Michael thought he was losing his mind. He looked inside the pantry. He analyzed every inch of the small room. He looked at each of the shelves for a spice or a cereal box or a container that looked out of place. The chances of there being a way out of the pantry were slim, but he didn’t know what else to think. His wife, Sadie, walked in to grab syrup and didn’t walk back out.
The light tap of her fuzzy pink slippers announced her arrival to the kitchen. “It smells amazing in here, Mikey,” she said and yawned. Michael looked over his shoulder and saw her wrapped in a green, sunflower-covered robe with her eyes half-closed and her head against the door frame. The pair smiled at each other.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” Michael said and turned back to his pancake griddle. “Grab a seat. Pancakes will be ready soon.” Sadie hummed a note of excitement. The sound of her slippers mixed with the sizzle of the griddle as she made her way to the kitchen island.
“You really know how to make a mess.” Punctuated with another yawn.
Michael flipped the four pancakes he was cooking before turning to look at Sadie. Her eyes roamed the white countertop in front of her. The half closest to Michael was covered in eggshells, used measuring spoons, a small puddle of buttermilk, and light dustings of flour. Michael knew he wasn’t the cleanest person when he cooked, but he thought the taste of his food made up for the mess he made. Besides, he felt like he needed to balance out Sadie’s tidy nature.
He waved his spatula in a semicircle, “Cleaning disrupts my culinary genius.” At the sound of her giggle, he turned back to his pancakes.
“I don’t think culinary geniuses forget to take the most important pancake ingredient out of their pantry.” Michael looked into the near-empty mixing bowl on the counter next to him. The batter looked fine and the pancakes smelled normal. “Maple syrup, Chef Mikey.”
“Not an ingredient. It’s a topping.” Michael flipped the pancakes onto two nearby plates. The scrape of a chair was followed by Sadie’s footsteps as she made her way around the island.
As she walked behind Michael, she gave him a kiss on the cheek, “Potato, tomato.” Her footsteps continued past him to the pantry at the end of the kitchen.
“So you agree, “ he called after her. She laughed in response.
“Don’t forget to turn off the griddle,” she called over her shoulder. Michael quickly turned around and shut it off. Sadie swore up and down that he wouldn’t survive without her. That he would burn down the house or stick his hand down the garbage disposal while it was still on. Some days, he agreed.
Michael grabbed the two plates of pancakes and carried them around to the island. “Can you grab some chocolate chips too?” he shouted as he set them down. The house creaked in response. Michael looked over at the pantry, “Sadie?” From where he was standing, it looked empty. But that couldn’t be right. He walked around the kitchen counter to get a better look at the inside of the pantry. Still empty.
He stood there. His head was tilted as if the pantry was an optical illusion and he could make his wife reappear from a different angle. He didn’t remember hearing her slippers tap out of the kitchen. Nor would she leave without speaking.
Michael crossed the room and stepped into the pantry. As he entered the tiny room, his foot kicked something on the floor. A round glass bottle of maple syrup. He picked it up and placed it back on the shelf, wondering how his Saturday morning took such a wrong turn.
“Sadie,” he called, as he walked through the kitchen. “Sadie,” he called as he walked through the foyer. “Sadie,” he called as he ascended the stairs. Again and again he shouted for Sadie, like a clip on a soundboard being continually pressed. In their bedroom, outside on the patio, in their study. Her car was still in the garage. Her sneakers were still by the door.
He walked back into the kitchen to grab his phone, not knowing who to call. Would the police believe his story? Would her parents freak out? Would her friends think he had something to do with it? Michael stared at his unlocked phone screen. He would start with Sadie and go from there.
The phone rang once before sending him to voicemail. He didn’t even get the chance to listen for the ring somewhere in the house. Before Sadie’s recording told him to leave a message, he ended the call and redialed her number. It sent him straight to voicemail.
Michael scrolled through his contact list, contemplating his next phone call. He stopped when he saw his sister, Kendra. Not only was she close friends with Sadie, but she always looked out for Michael when they were growing up. She would know what to do. He pressed her name and hit call.
“Michael,” a female voice said, but not from the phone. From the pantry. He turned and found Sadie standing there, her wide eyes burrowing into his. “Who are you calling?” she asked. Michael hung up the phone.
“Where have you been, Sadie?” he said as he placed his phone on the counter. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“What are you talking about?” Sadie waved one hand around the pantry, “I have been in here.” She batted her eyes at Michael, a gesture he normally found endearing, but not when her eyes were almost circular.
“The pantry was the first place I checked. You weren’t in there.”
“Well, that is because—” Sadie took another look around the pantry, and paused when she glanced behind her. She quickly turned back to Michael and smiled wide. “It does not matter. I am here now,” she nodded her head once and put her hands on her hips. “Shall we continue with our morning?”
All Michael could do was stare at his wife. His brain couldn’t make sense of the situation in front of him like he was trying to read a book while dreaming. He could recognize what was happening, that the book was a book and that his wife had reappeared in the pantry, but if he looked any closer all he would see was an indecipherable mess. So Michael didn’t question Sadie. “Pancakes are on the table. Don’t forget the syrup,” he gestured to the pantry. His voice was shakier than he wanted it to be, but he didn’t have the energy to strengthen it.
“Of course, Michael,” she said and started looking around the pantry. Michael made his way around the kitchen island. He sat on a stool and stared at the pancakes in front of him. They were normal pancakes. His seat was a plain, white stool. His gray t-shirt and striped blue boxers were as average as always. So everything must be fine, he thought to himself. Nothing to worry about.
Sadie pulled out the seat next to him and sat down. Michael turned to look at his wife. His wife who was wearing the same green robe she always did. His wife who was opening a skinny plastic bottle and raising it over her pancakes. “Since when did you start putting agave syrup on your pancakes?” Sadie paused, holding the bottle above her plate.
“I thought I would try something new today,” she said casually and forced her shoulders up and down. Michael continued staring at her as she poured the agave onto her plate. He couldn’t recall Sadie ever wanting to try something new. What’s the point of trying something new when I already know what I like? was her defense when questioned. But now she was trying agave syrup.
Michael turned back to his pancakes, debating whether or not to address her disappearance and reappearance. Something had happened that made Sadie want to break her Saturday morning routine for the first time since they moved in with each other.
“These are good, Michael,” she said through a mouthful of pancake. Another thing she never did. But Michael couldn’t come up with an explanation — not even an unrealistic one — for her behavior or her disappearance. He thought it was best to move on. After all, his wife was here and wearing her sunflower-covered robe, and that’s all that mattered to him.
“Thanks, Sade.” Michael cut into his pancakes. He usually joined Sadie in dousing their pancakes in maple syrup, but he thought it best to not think about it too much. Instead, he searched his brain for a conversation topic. “So,” he started, after swallowing a bite of plain pancake. “Are you excited about Tyler’s barbeque?”
Sadie’s hand paused as it brought a piece of soggy pancake to her mouth. A small string of agave fell from it and hit the plate. “Yes,” she said and her hand continued moving.
Silence filled the room as Michael waited for her to finish. After she swallowed, she went back to her plate for her last piece of pancake. A sign that she had no more to say on the topic.
“Kendra’s bringing Alex,” he said, hoping to get her talking. Sadie was never this reserved with him.
“Interesting.” Michael turned to look at her, a small frown painted on his face. She met his eyes. “I am excited to see him, “ she said after a beat of silence. Michael’s frown deepened and he turned back to his plate. It was nearly full.
“I’m sure she’s excited to see you too.” Michael grabbed his plate and got up from his chair, “Gonna go take a shower.” He placed his plate — with the pancakes still on it — in the sink. His brain was filled with questions and concerns. If he hadn’t made the trek from their kitchen to their master bathroom a thousand times before, he might have made a wrong turn and stood there, unable to recalculate his route.
The hot water and solitude revived Michael like a dead phone being charged to one percent. He still couldn’t comprehend his wife’s situation, but he could at least function like a normal human being.
Michael spent the rest of his morning and early afternoon avoiding Sadie. If this was a normal Saturday, this would have been a herculean task. The two often spent their Saturdays together, making up for lost time during their busy work week. Even if they weren’t physically together in one room, the two would pop in on one another’s individual activities to say hi.
Today was not a normal Saturday. Sadie was preoccupied with some grand search of the house. For what, Michael didn’t know. He asked Sadie when he first heard her rustling through the garage after he came downstairs from his shower. “Oh, you know,” she responded and went back to digging. She was taking objects out of a cardboard box one at a time. She would pick one up, examine it thoroughly, and place it on the ground. After watching her for several minutes with a tilted head, he left the garage. He kept walking until he reached their patio where he took a seat on a green lounge chair and stared at their grass.
There was nothing odd about the grass. It was even and neat. And normal. So was their patio furniture. Everything was normal and average and Michael wouldn’t let himself think otherwise. He sat in his ordinary patio chair until his phone alerted him that he had half an hour until Tyler’s barbeque was due to start. He responded to Kendra’s text about his earlier phone call, assuring her that everything was fine, and went back inside his house.
“Sadie,” he called as he walked back into the house. “You ready to go?” Silence. He checked the last place he saw her: the garage.
The closer he crept to the open garage door, the weirder it smelled. His nose was being bombarded with a pungent, acidic odor he couldn’t place. This was definitely not normal. He covered his nose with his shirt and stepped into the garage.
The shelves along the sides had been emptied and there were small piles of objects surrounding Sadie’s car. He stepped farther inside. There was a dark patch of concrete in a corner next to the garage door. The smell got stronger the closer he walked to the corner. He crouched to take a closer look and saw that it wasn’t just a dark patch of concrete, but rather black concentric circles. The widest had the diameter of a beach ball and near one section there appeared to be part of a doll's arm laid just outside the circle’s edge. Its hand pointed to the car and its elbow touched the edge. In between each thick black line were drawings. Michael could identify pieces of each — a triangle there, a circle here — but together the drawings meant nothing to him.
He straightened. There had to be a reasonable explanation for this, he thought to himself. An art project. Besides, Sadie’s car was still here. The shelves were still in place. Everything was fine. In fact, today was the perfect day to attend a normal barbeque at their friend’s house. Michael pushed the garage to the back of his mind and went to find Sadie.
As he reached the second floor, he heard the floor creak in their bedroom.
“Sadie,” he called as he walked into the room. Their king-sized, walnut wooden framed bed was covered in clothes, shoes, and other random objects from around the bedroom. Across from their bed, Sadie kneeled on the tan carpet in front of their closet staring at something in her hands.
“Sadie? You reorganizing in here?” Sadie jolted at the sound of his voice. She turned and smiled at Micheal while holding a pink high-heeled shoe.
“Michael,” she said and placed the shoe on the ground. “I did not see you there. What is up?” Michael gestured to the mess on the bed. His mind was having a harder time processing the information in front of him. It was too soon after the garage. “Oh. I am just cleaning,” she looked around the room before making eye contact with Michael. She smiled too wide like two hooks had snagged on the corners and they were being pulled upward.
Michael debated pursuing this conversation further. He couldn’t see any cleaning supplies nearby. No broom, no dustpan, no dusting spray, no glass cleaner, no rag. And why did she need to examine everything she took out? He felt like the mental dam he had been building all day was being pounded with a rush of water. The wall would have held up. But then he noticed Sadie’s round, fuzzy pink feet.
At first glance, he thought it was her slippers sticking out from under her robe. When he looked again, he noticed they were missing the black rubber outsole that prevented the shoes from slipping. Instead, the bottom was covered in the same fuzzy material as the rest of the slipper. Sadie grabbed the high-heeled shoe and stood up, its match in her other hand. In the four steps it took for her to reach the bed, Michael couldn’t separate her foot from her slipper. In fact, he couldn’t even see her foot. Everything under her ankle was a fuzzy pink material.
The dam broke. “What’s wrong with your feet?”
She looked down, “I. It’s —”
“And why have you been acting so weird?” Her eyes snapped to his. “The disappearing and the agave and the constant searching and cleaning on a Saturday. What’s going on?”
“Michael, calm down.”
“No. I want answers.”
“You are overreacting.”
“Overreacting? You claimed to be in the pantry for an hour, but I looked in there. It was empty. What aren’t you telling me?”
“Please, Michael. This would be a lot easier for both of us if you just calm down. Everything is fine.”
“What are you talking about, Sadie?”
“I—” she turned her head like she was listening to something.
“Sade,” Michael pleaded. She put up one finger to silence him. It was quiet in the bedroom for a few minutes.
She finally turned back to him, “I am sorry, Michael, but they are giving me no choice.” She took a step towards him.
He took one back, “What are you talking about?” Sadie took another step, her right leg extending further. It, and the rest of her body, began to turn a pale, pearl white. Her legs and arms had gone snakelike while the rest of her hunched over, draped in her green robe. “No, no, no,” was all Michael could say. He turned to run out of the room, but he was too late. A pale limb wrapped itself around his leg and pulled him to the ground. He turned onto his back to try and fight it, but he froze in horror. Sadie’s human face was nowhere to be found. In its place were four bloodshot eyes, sunk deep in their sockets. Her nose and lips were gone, replaced by a large, drooling, black circle that framed a vertical ring of jagged teeth.
“This is not personal, Michael. You are too curious, Michael. I must end my observation, here, Michael.” Sadie’s mouth didn’t move. The voice seemed to emanate from Sadie’s entire form as she dragged him closer to her. Michael wanted to scream. He wanted so badly to scream and kick and fight, but his brain and his body refused to cooperate. Instead, he just laid there. He let Sadie drag him across their bedroom floor. Her mouth expanded past the edges of her face and all Michael could do was stare as she dragged him inside.