POMONA, Calif. — In a group text to her three sons, Caroline Barnhardt followed an already cryptic message with a “downright chilling” series of ellipses, according to text recipients.
Responding to a question about weekly errands, Ms. Barnhardt allegedly texted, “Michael better pick up the dry cleaning… Don’t know when I’ll be back…,” according to youngest son Jacob Barnhardt. “We’re still unsure of what to make of it,” he said.
Jacob, 19, admitted he was unnerved by what the text might imply, with its “vague language and Lovecraftian nuance.” So far, he has not asked Ms. Barnhardt for clarification, fearing she already explained it to him when he wasn’t paying attention.
“Michael ‘better’ pick up the dry cleaning? What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked of the message’s macabre composition. “I mean, I know we’ve dropped the ball on errands before, but that sounds like a direct threat.”
23-year-old Michael Barnhardt agreed, echoing concerns about her “maniacally deliberate punctuation” and “Poe-like air of uneasy mystery.”
“Why would she single me out? And what’s this about not knowing when she’ll be back?” the middle brother asked, unblinkingly staring at his phone. “She was acting strange this morning, but she said she was ‘in a mood because the barista at Starbucks had a little too much attitude,’ so I shrugged it off. What if she never comes home? Do I take pork chops out of the freezer anyway?”
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Paul Barnhardt, the eldest brother, was perplexed by his inclusion in the group thread altogether — to say nothing of its vibe of “supernatural disquiet and gothic trepidation.” “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a weird text,” the 29-year-old said. “But why am I even involved here? I moved to Boston six years ago and have nothing to do with the dry cleaning.”
Ultimately, Michael resolved to get the dry cleaning at whatever cost, fearing the ire and reprisal of his mother.
“I don’t want to take any chances,” he said. “She always complained about a checkout clerk at Trader Joe’s she thought was too slow, and now he doesn’t work there anymore. Maybe something… happened to him?”
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