Mildred opened the back door and smiled into the burnt-orange glow that pooled behind the melting sun. She set three bowls of kibble down on her porch and squinted into the woods. The feral cats would soon arrive to feed.  They hadn’t changed their routine in the last 2 years since Mildred moved into the house she inherited from her grandmother.

As Mildred turned to go inside, she suddenly noticed the gift her cats left. The dead mouse lay just near the toe of her slipper. Startled, she couldn’t help but scream.

“Everything OK, ma’am?” a male voice suddenly called.

Mildred spun around to find a man she’d never seen before. He approached the porch, a look of concern on his weathered face. His dirt-flecked overalls and work gloves implied he’d been gardening.

“Yes, fine,” Mildred breathed, laughing nervously. “Just a dead mouse.”

“A dead mouse is better ‘n a live one,” the man said. “Want me to dispose of ‘em for ya?”

“Oh,” Mildred said. “If you don’t mind.”

The offer left her feeling slightly awkward, but the man did have work gloves on.

As he started up the porch, he introduced himself as Tom, a local handy man.

“You name it, I do it,” he said. “I’m a gardener, carpenter, plumber, painter, and now, mouse undertaker.”

He smiled and Mildred laughed. As a single woman living alone, she could think of a few odd jobs Tom could help her with. She asked for his business card before he left.

In 3 weeks’ time, Mildred developed a great rapport with Tom. He repaired a hole in her ceiling, fixed a leak, and replaced her broken floor tiles. She reveled in having the acquaintance of someone with his skills. He also made good company. Her neighbors never bothered with her. She suspected they regarded her as a crazy cat lady.

One day, Mildred answered an unexpected knock at her door. Her ex-boyfriend stood before her. She had left him 3 years ago—and not on friendly terms.

“Steve,” Mildred squeaked when she finally found her voice. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Well, I couldn’t very well call since you’ve blocked my number,” Steve replied. “I don’t mean to take up your time. I was just wondering if you still had that pearl necklace I gave you.”

Mildred’s face fell. Never expecting to see Steve again, she sold it. And why not? It only reminded her of him. She decided to invite him in for coffee. This would take some explaining.

Once inside, an argument broke out. It turned out the necklace belonged to Steve’s mother and was the only thing of hers he had left. A quarter of an hour passed when a knock at the back door interrupted the quarrel.

Mildred opened the door to find Tom. He stretched his neck around to see inside.

“Everything ok here?” He looked past her, right at Steve. “Sounded like you were havin’ a fight.”

“Everything’s f-fine,” Mildred stammered, flustered. “This is Steve, my ex…”

“Who is leaving,” Steve interrupted. “Thanks for your time, Mildred. I won’t be bothering you again.”

With that, Steve marched out, slamming the door behind him.

Mildred began to sob. Tom tried to comfort her by clumsily placing his arm around her.

“You want me to handle this?” Tom asked softly.

“He’s gone now,” Mildred said, drying her tears. “It’s ok. I didn’t mean to get emotional.”

“OK, ‘cuz I’d handle this for you, if you wanted me to,” Tom said. Mildred wasn’t sure what he meant by “handle,” but she expressed her appreciation as she led him out.

The next day, Mildred opened her back door and screamed. A dead opossum lay there on the porch, staring up at her with its black glassy eyes. Her hand flew up to her chest.

Almost on cue, Tom appeared from around the corner.

“It’s alright, Tom,” she laughed breathlessly.

“’Possum, huh?” he asked. “No need to scream. He’s good and dead.”

Mildred curled her lips in disgust as she gaped down at the horrid creature.

“Yep, I figured as much. Another present from the cats.”

Tom drew closer.

“Nah, this one’s a present from me,” he said.

The smile vanished from Mildred’s face. Her heart sank and her pulse quickened.

“It’s just proof that if you need anything handled, I’d take care of it for ya,” Tom winked and flashed a lopsided grin. “For a price, of course.”

Mildred took a step backward. The fear crept in, prickling her skin and chilling her to the bone.

“That’s quite alright, Tom,” she said, backing into the house. “I’ll be just fine from here on out. I think your services here are finished.”

“You better be sure ‘bout that,” Tom said. “Just know I’ll be watchin’.”

Mildred already entered the house before he could continue. She bolted the door behind her.

Over the next few weeks, Mildred lived in paranoia. She felt Tom watching her, leaving her dead things. She jumped and screamed at every sound she heard and every critter corpse she discovered.

One stormy evening, Mildred looked out her back door to see his face peering up at her from the shadows. It appeared briefly, its ghastly pallor illuminated by a sudden flash of lightning. One corner of his mouth pulled upward into a grin that resembled more of a snarl. It was enough to send her packing.

She moved back in with her mother, temporarily. But she needed to move away—far away from the cats, from Tom, from her grandmother’s house. And eventually she did.

What were her old neighbors thinking, she wondered. Her actions over the final weeks of living in her grandmother’s house probably confirmed their suspicions. She realized how things appeared from an outsider’s perspective—how she likely appeared crazy. But feeling safe now, in her new apartment in a different town, she didn’t care who thought her crazy. She knew now what “crazy” truly was.