Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 62
I loved my new studio; It had vaulted ceilings, a fireplace, and a freestanding wall that was open on both sides but created a pleasant sense of separation from the rest of the apartment.
It also had a patio. It only looked out on the parking lot below with its covered parking for residents. On the far side of the lot was the visitor parking; beyond that was a short brick wall, an alley, and then a row of older houses.
I hadn’t lived alone in nearly nine years, and I was eager to do so again. To relish freedom and independence, having my place was a glorious feeling.
One of my very first purchases was a small hammock I bought from Walmart. I’ve always wanted one; now that I had my space, I satisfied that wish. I set the hammock up in my living room initially. But after I accumulated enough furniture, I moved it to the patio. I would spend hours gently floating on it in the morning while I wrote my stories or read. In the evenings, when the heat wasn’t oppressive, I would swing gently on it for an hour while sipping a glass of wine or some rum concoction.
It was on such an evening when I first noticed him; it was only at the end that I learned his name, Frank.
Frank lived in the house next to the one directly across from my patio. I’ll never forget it. When I looked up, he was staring at me through binoculars. It would embarrass most people to be caught red-handed in such an openly voyeuristic activity, not Frank. He wore an old-school wife-beater t-shirt, black slacks with suspenders. I assume his outfit had also featured a shirt during the day, but he had unburdened himself of it.
Hoping to embarrass him, I wave to him.
He lazily raises his right index finger without lowering the binoculars.
“We’re not in Allen anymore, Toto,” I say to no one as I sip my daiquiri.
Frank continued watching me with his field glasses the entire time I rested on my balcony.
It was on that same night that I noticed the moving truck. It sat in front of the unit next door to mine. That’s odd, I thought. I’d been home all day, writing, stretching, and reading. I didn’t remember hearing a moving van pull in or unload.
I tried to dismiss Frank’s peculiar actions go as a one-time thing. But then, when I moved to the hammock the next night, within seconds of lying down on my hammock, he was there again, watching me.
He repeated this behavior every night. I tried to ignore him, but it was hard to relax when you know some pervert is just watching you continuously.
I longed to confront him. To boldly walk across the parking lot, hop the short wall, cross the alley, ask him what the hell he thought he was doing, but that would violate my lifelong commitment to being avoidant and shying away from all confrontations. Instead, I drank and rocked on my patio while simmering inwardly over the ignominy of it all.
I saw a thin man, dressed in black, unloading the moving van.
Such a weird place. First Frank and his binoculars, and then the new neighbor, unloading his van at night. I felt the neighbor must work nights because I never saw him during the day. I shouted “Hi, neighbor,” once to him. He didn’t hear me or ignored me. Such a strange place; I felt like I had moved into a David Lynch film.
Every night Frank would watch me the entire time I stayed on my patio. He always wore the same basic outfit, a T-shirt and slacks with suspenders.
On the eighth day, the moving van drove away.
I guess the guy over there must be a night-owl because I only hear him at night.
That night, when I made my way to my patio hammock, Frank’s clothing had changed. Now he wore jeans and a black sweatshirt. It seems darker tonight, but his face seems smeared with something greasy.
‘What is he up to now?’ I wondered.
Maybe nothing more than all his t-shirts and slacks were in the dirty clothes hamper, and he needed to do laundry.
I sipped my wine and returned my attention to my Kindle reader.
I was lying in bed the night the van finally departed. Like a loose tooth that your tongue will not quit testing and probing, my mind repeatedly returned to Frank and my new neighbor. Something was wrong with all of this. What was I missing?
Why would it take eight days to empty a mid-sized moving van?
Who moves in at night?
Where was my neighbor’s car?
I never saw him park anything in the lot after the van disappeared, but a few hours after it departed, I heard him through my wall.
Then there was the scream.
Just one brief scream. I think someone is in distress. But, hell, it was probably just the TV. What would I say to them if I called the police? That I’d heard a scream? Madness. Still, the cry was one that I would describe as blood-curdling.
I’d fallen asleep in the hammock. Something catches my attention and pulls me awake, some metallic scratching sound. The parking lot seems darker than usual tonight. I should probably get up, take my shower, and go to bed.
But then my heart stops.
On the other side of my second-story balcony, I see my neighbor, dressed in black, his face floating just beyond the patio railing.
“Shh,” he says to me. “Go back to sleep, human.”
Despite the craziness of the suggestion, I feel myself getting sleepy.
My eyelids grow heavy; I see my neighbor watching me; he continues climbing onto the patio.
Alarms are going off in my brain. But my body can’t be bothered. The night is breezy, and I’m comfy in the hammock. Surely my neighbor wants to – what? There is no logical answer to that conclusion, so my brain re-triggers the alarms. My body is already almost asleep again.
I hear a silent swish sound, see my neighbor jerk forward.
The first thing I notice after that was the wave of hot blood hitting me in the face. Some of it made it into my mouth. It tasted wrong, vile, diseased even.
My neighbor slumped over the railing with the feathered end of an arrow sticking out of his back. The skin on the back of his neck was turning black ash, flaking off; my neighbor was melting.
Both my mind and body are awake now. At some point, I had stood up.
Frank was standing under the carport, his crossbow still aimed at my neighbor’s back.
“Oh, hey neighbor,” he says affably to me. “I’m Frank. Do you think I could get my arrow back? They’re expensive.”