The Curtain Seer by Chris Flakus


His house stood on a paved asphalt street, sprinklers chittering over his perfectly manicured lawn under a sky the blue of a child’s crayon. The other houses, white and shingled, were each identical to his. The cars in each driveway: blue carapaces with fat round wheels, like bright blue dung beetles. They were also the same down to the last detail. Jeremiah had an identical vehicle of his own parked in his driveway. 

Jeremiah stood on his porch drinking coffee. Despite his best attempts to appear normal, to wave and smile at neighbors as he usually would, and appear calm, his hand shook and spilled burning coffee over his fist. 

The Curtain Seer was to stop by that morning. The Curtain Seer.

What had they done for him to come? 

Jeremiah’s wife and children worked diligently to adhere to each rule of their living community. They went down the list. Their venetian blinds were tilted to exactly 45 degrees, laundry done and pressed according to code, shoes cleaned daily and set outside for inspection. 

Jeremiah mowed the lawn often and according to regulations. His wife, Martha, had made friends and found a job teaching at the small, local Kindergarten. Martha, a gentle woman whose warm smile and sharp wit had enchanted Jeremiah from the moment they met. And their two children, a son and daughter, David and Tascha. They’d been keeping their grades up. David even made the soccer team a few days before. They hadn’t caused a stir. They’d kept their heads down and tried to fit in.

So why this visit from the Curtain Seer? Jeremiah’s heart thumped in his ribcage, an angry bird scrambling to escape.

The car pulled up to the curb. Exactly like every other vehicle but for its color, a pitch black that gleamed like the segmented exoskeleton of a black widow spider.  

A short man with thin, wrinkled skin the texture of damp rice paper stepped out of the car. He was an old and old bent question mark with a long nose like a carrion bird. He set a battered old hat on his nearly bald pate and walked up the driveway, his oddly-fitting suit hanging from his frame as if from a hook.

Jeremiah noticed that several neighbors had stepped out on their front porches to watch. 

“Hello,” the Curtain Seer said, extending a bony hand, “I’m the Curtain Seer.”

“Yes,” Jeremiah smiled and took the hand, feeling cartilage covered thinly by skin as soft as it was fragile, “I’ve been expecting you.”

“And your family?”

“Kids at school, wife at work,” Jeremiah’s smile is beginning to hurt.

“And you, what do you do?”

“I work carpentry down at Al’s. My father taught me the trade.”

“Yes, we’ve got several carpenters here, we’re quite lucky,” the Curtain Seer said flatly, walking past Jeremiah into the house, beginning to run his hands up and down the living room curtains, occasionally pinching or flicking them as if expecting a reaction. He had a little leather-bound notebook in which he scratched words with a bronze colored fountain pen. 

“Of course,” Jeremiah chuckled. “I’m lucky to have the work.”

“May I see the rest of your curtains?” the Curtain Seer asked. 

“Y-yes,” Jeremiah felt his stutter sting like a hot iron, “make yourself at home!”

The Curtain Seer gave him a look, as if to say, “is it really your home to speak of?” Or perhaps that’s just how Jeremiah interpreted it. He’d begun to feel fear rising in him with an icy pressure. A cold ran through his veins that remained on the inside because, despite his best efforts, sweat had begun to bead his dark brow. 

He followed the Curtain Seer upstairs past family photos, their feet whispering over the carpeted floor. 

In the bedroom the Curtain Seer stopped suddenly at the window. He pulled once, with surprising strength for a man as frail as he, and the curtains came tumbling down. 

“My God!” Jeremiah shouted.

The Curtain Seer scratched something into his small leather notebook. 

“What are you writing?” Jeremiah heard himself plead.

“I’m simply here to observe.” The Curtain Seer said. “In fact, the least amount of contact between us would be best. Would you mind terribly waiting in your living room?”

It’d been the way he said it that bothered Jeremiah. Almost mockingly. Your living room. 

Jeremiah felt the sweat pooling beneath his arms and trickling down his back. The Curtain Seer could have been upstairs an hour or ten minutes, Jeremiah lost himself in the panicked slowness of time. 

At last, The Curtain Seer descended the stairs. 

“Thank you for your time,” he said, unsmiling. 

“Is everything, um, up to order?”

“You’ll be notified of our decision shortly,” The Curtain Seer said, then slammed the door behind him. 

“The whole thing felt off,” Jeremiah later told his wife as she chopped vegetables for dinner. “I mean, I just couldn’t say the right thing.”

“You checked the curtains, didn’t you?” her voice was serious, the sound of the knife coming down clack, clack, clack, and her voice tinged with a fear she obviously tries to suppress so as not to frighten the children should they be listening. 

“Honey,” Jeremiah sighs, “about a thousand times! I checked them myself and he pulled one down, I mean, no curtain could withstand that!! How am I supposed to take that shit?”

“Calmly,” his wife Martha smiles, an expression he’s come to understand as both a warning and a sign of compassion. 

“You’re right.” Jeremiah rubs his temples. “How are the kids?”

“Probably upstairs, playing,” Martha tries to smile. 

“How fast it goes by,” Jeremiah says, embracing her. 

“All too fast,” Martha replies, then begins to shake with silent sobs, her face pressed into Jeremiah’s chest. 

That night Jeremiah awakes to the sound of the front door being kicked in. He leaps out of bed and begins to run down the staircase. Dozens of men in white, doll-like masks stand at his doorway, identically garbed in black military gear, holding shining rifles with scopes and long, curved ammo clips that caught the moonlight like a razor.

“Gather your family and enough food for two days’ travel. Any delay or attempt to run will result in your execution.”

“Why? Why is this happening?”

“You know why this is happening.”

They drag Martha and the children from their beds. They treat them roughly. Jeremiah has no choice but to watch, filling a pack as quickly as he can with meager canned supplies and water while the masked men hold gun barrels pressed to the flesh of his neck, the metal cold as cubes of ice. 

They are escorted to the gates of town, each identical house with its windows lit and silhouetted neighbors watching from inside. 

“Roll them!” one of the masked men shouts to a guard atop the gate.

The gates groan open onto a lonely stretch of highway that leads into dark nothingness. 

Jeremiah and his family are prodded aggressively beyond the border. 

The slamming and locking of the gate behind them resounds like an earthquake in their souls. 

They’d spent so long out here, in the waste. Years scrounging, surviving. Moving as best as they could through a dead world. A nearly foodless, scorched earth. 

Then they found this place. 

Jeremiah thought, at last! Somewhere better. A chance. When they came to this community, it felt like a chance to begin fresh. Somewhere they might be safe. 

How foolish, he thought, gathering his family and beginning to walk into the howling darkness. How foolish he’d been to believe this place would be different from any of the others before it. 


Christopher Miguel Flakus is a writer and poet with an MFA in fiction from the University of Houston who has published widely online and in print. He has written conventional literary fiction, academic critical essays, chapbooks, and a novella with Odessa Collective Press and a Chapbook with Bottlecap Press. He is the co-founder of @Defunkt Magazine based in Houston where he lived for over twenty years. He was born and raised in Mexico City and writes in both English and Spanish. 

Published 5/12/24