When I moved back home from China, I had $16 to my name and lived on Shleisel’s couch until I procured an entry-level job at The Psych Ward. I used my first paycheque to move into a humble abode within walking distance of my new career choice. As you can imagine, the sorts of neighborhoods that surround the local mental hospital aren’t exactly the poshest in town. The house was originally built in the 20s, had a rusty porcelain tub, and office carpet in the kitchen.
But I was picking myself up by my bootstraps, so it didn’t matter.
This was a few months before I started dating The Psycho Ex so the list of people who wanted to murder me was relatively low, as was any concern for my personal safety. The majority of people I saw around the place were transients, process servers, and policemen. That is, until I got to know my neighbors—first was a little girl who lived across the street and was attracted, like most children, to Zola.
She seemed mostly unsupervised and over the course of time began telling me various tidbits about her life—she was teased at school, had a dog named Rafiki, and wished she had red hair. She’d developed an intense love affair with a local stray cat whom she called “Ginger Cat” and was very determined to make it her pet. She’d leave trails of food and attempt to tame it when she saw it after school, singing songs and repeatedly saying, “I just love that Ginger Cat.”
One morning, as I walked home from the night shift, she met me at her bus stop.
“I just hate that Ginger Cat.”
“Oh no,” I said, “what changed?”
“It has a home. I followed it and I saw it go inside someone’s window.”
“Oh but that’s a good thing, right?”
“I hate it. I threw rocks at it, I never want to see it again.”
A few weeks later her mother tried to appease her by giving her a kitten. It was absolutely adorable, and then one day it was gone. Eventually she explained what had happened.
“I tried to walk it with a leash. But I didn’t have a leash so I used a shoestring. But it wouldn’t walk.”
She stopped making eye contact, but she continued talking.
“Then I thought it was just sleeping for a long time… But it was dead. So I hid it underneath my sister’s bed. Then I was scared she would find it so I threw it over the fence.”
It was sad– for the kitten, and for the girl– though I couldn’t shake the feeling I was making a cameo in a serial killer’s childhood flashback to dun-dun-dun THE FIRST SIGNS OF TROUBLE. There must have been something about the neighborhood, because the guy next door was…
He seemed innocent enough at first, like some sort of South Pole Santa with his white beard, floral shorts and cowboy boots. He was out on his front porch with a water hose and called Zola over to him. I followed and after a moment of polite conversation he invited us inside.
I said “sure.” Don’t judge me—I was fresh off half a year in Asia, it was totally normal to go inside strangers’ houses. Sometimes you did it without even telling them.
The interior of his home was all wood paneling and taxidermy– Antlers hung on every wall with raccoons, bobcats and mounted fish between. Everything looked straight country except for his massive TV and expensive camera equipment. He began playing a slideshow of photos he’d taken, mostly of empty landscapes or unsuspecting people.
“You know,” he said, “You’re the first woman who’s been in this house for 38 years.”
I decided this was a good time to leave.
South Pole Santa began spending a lot more time on his front porch, seemingly seeking any opportunity to pop over for a chat. He kept insisting he had a video he wanted to show me, and would go so far as to wait on my porch until I got home from work. After I’d woken in the afternoon, he’d ring the doorbell while I tried to stay as quiet as possible, watching his silhouette through the Venetian blinds.
He simply would not back off about this video. Even though I tend to be a little too nice he left me no option when he showed up while I was taking out the trash.
“You’re not ever going to watch that video, are you?”
It felt like an accusation.
“Nope,” I said, “Probably not.”
He may not have had a woman inside his house for 38 years but I was pretty sure he had an entire basement full of them.
He mostly left me alone after that, but a few weeks later I found myself locked out at 2AM after being dropped off from a bar. Somewhere in the process of enjoying my youth I’d lost track of my keys and was left standing outside my locked door in the middle of the night. I walked to the backyard, counting on myself to have been stupid enough to leave a door unlocked. I was that stupid, but I’d still managed to latch the security bar. It was like something you would see at a hotel:
I could barely reach my fingers through the crack, but was able to feel two screws on either side of the lock. There was a 24 hour Walgreens within walking distance and within half an hour I’d returned with a $4 screwdriver. Using my bizarrely flexible fingers, I reached one hand in to hold the screwdriver and the other to turn it ever so slowly.
The screws were just beginning to loosen themselves when the voice of South Pole Santa boomed through the night.
“Now what have you gone and done?”
I’d been so focused on the task at hand that I hadn’t heard him cross the yard or come to stand on the step below me. I told him I had it under control and didn’t need his help, but he insisted on staying. He held a spotlight in his hand.
“Let me hold this for you.”
I was doing everything by touch alone, I’m not sure what a massive light was supposed to accomplish, but I told myself he was just trying to be nice. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that at any second he was going to hit me over the head and drag me to his basement where I would eventually be embalmed and dressed up in hunting clothes.
Thankfully, that’s not what happened. I ended up getting the lock off the door and was back in my house by 3AM. The next morning when I went to let Zola out, I found a photo of a white buffalo tucked into the door frame. At some point in the night he had come back to leave me this little gift—I didn’t know if it was a peace offering or some sort of hex, but I moved before I ever got a chance to find out. Regardless, I’ve held onto the photo. Just in case.
Who’s the creepiest neighbor you’ve ever had? Do you know any children who are going to turn into serial killers? Have you ever had to break into your own house?
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