Streaks of pink, then red, then blue flash by the window. Screams of laughter radiate from their new house, a truly disgusting sound. There are three of them, two girls and a little boy. The oldest girl is Aubrey, 16 years old. The second girl is Harper, 8 years old. They always leave the house together at 7:30am for their father to take them to school at Newport Elementary. This leaves the 3 year old boy, Levi, home alone with his mother. I’ve gathered this much from just three days of watching them. This is my job.
Aubrey and Harper chase their little brother; they love hearing his childish screams when he stumbles as he runs from them. They let him run, they let him think that he’s fast enough to get away, and then they catch him. Scooping him up into their arms, they have to hold him tight as he wiggles and fights hard to break free. The chase is always entertaining, but my favorite part is when you can see the fear burn in their eyes once you’ve caught them. I love seeing each family struggle to get away from me once they know I’m always here, always watching.
Toys lay sprayed out across the lush, green yard. Plastic construction trucks sit half full with sand in a sandbox, freshly picked of any weeds. Bikes lean on the grey siding of the beautiful, million dollar house. The very house I grew up in, the same lawn I played on, they’ve infected it like a plague. They’ve infested my memories, one family after another, like c***roaches. They’re impossible to get rid of permanently, but I’ve managed to terrorize enough families that this house has gained a reputation. The frequency of new families moving in has dropped significantly, but not enough. This is the house of my childhood memories, making it mine, and it must remain my house only.
The trees dance in the wind as I stand frozen in place. They seem to reach out and surround our house, almost forming a cozy blanket of warm-colored trees. Distracted, I can’t help but admire the changing of the leaves in my favorite season. I’m gasping for air as Rori, my older brother, takes me by surprise and tackles me. We burst into laughter once I catch my breath and he teases me for standing still, vulnerable to sneak attacks. We are brothers, but we are best friends. We choose each other out of love and out of necessity because we’re all each other has in this world. Our parents are always too busy working to pay attention to us and when they’re not working, they’re arguing. But I have Rori and Rori has me. This is a promise we made to each other forever.
Levi reaches for a red ball, nearly half the size of him. Playfully, Aubrey kicks it out from under him and he goes chasing after it, only falling twice. Each step leads him closer to the curb as he’s determined to catch up to the ball as it bounces and rolls further away, refusing to slow down. Panic rises in the faces of the two girls as they see the fast moving truck speeding down their road, completely unaware of Levi. Immediately, ear piercing screams escape their mouth as their legs carry them rapidly following the path of their brother. The delayed screeching of the truck’s brakes stops Levi in dead in his tracks and reaching to cover his ears. Two sets of hands simultaneously grab him, pulling him as they fall back onto the grass.
“Noooo!” Levi yells, recovering from the fall and already yearning for the ball.
“Levi, watch where you’re going! You almost got hit by that truck,” Aubrey scolds him. “Mom and Dad would’ve killed us!” The truck continues past them, pulling into their driveway.
“But I want my ball,” Levi pleads, his words coupled with his best pouting face. Reluctantly, Aubrey leaves him with Harper and looks both ways before crossing the street. She stares intently into the bushes searching for a glimpse of red among the oranges, yellows, and browns. The leaves are damp against my knees as I crouch down, hiding from view. I grasp the red ball by my side and roll it back across the street slowly. Shock, disbelief, then fear flashes across her face in a matter of seconds. Levi squeals with happiness as he runs to pick up the ball that’s now at Aubrey’s feet. He shouts a quick “thanks,” but he has no idea who he’s thanking. A smile grows across my face as I watch Aubrey and Harper slowly creep back to their house, never turning their back until they hit the porch. Levi innocently follows them inside, ball in hand.
Satisfied with my first impression, I rise from my knees and brush off the leaves that stick to my pants. The two girls peer out the window across the street, hoping to see me to prove that they hadn’t imagined what just happened. They pause for a few seconds, then turn to head towards the back of the house. I take this opportunity to walk out from the treeline and slip my first letter into their mailbox.
A feeling of discomfort spread throughout my whole body like a disease. I could feel the cold oozing from my mind as the situation registered and goosebumps traveled all over me. There had to be someone standing in the woods watching us. There had to be something out there; Harper saw it too. A nagging feeling tugs at me and I can’t shake it. It’s evening now, but I still feel on edge from before. I make my way to the bay window for a second time just to ease my mind and reign in my imagination. Instead of receiving peace of mind, I feel unsettled when I notice that the mailbox is open with an envelope sticking out. The door emits a soft creak as I push it open and cautiously make my way to the mailbox. My hands shake uncontrollably as I reach out and grab the plain envelope. There’s no return address, there’s no name or label. Using my finger, I break the seal and pull out a perfectly folded letter tucked neatly inside the envelope. I listen to my instincts and glance over my shoulders to see if anyone is watching me, then I proceed to read the letter:
Welcome to my neighborhood, welcome to my home. Be careful, don’t get too comfortable, you won’t be here for very long. You’ve moved into my house, my territory. I’m watching you, I’m always here..
My feet carry me back into the house, sprinting. I slam the door shut behind me, locking the deadbolt, then the door knob, then I slide the table where Mom and Dad put their keys in front of the door just in case. Mom comes to the door and confusion fills her face as I’m panting with my back against the wall.
“What happened, Brey, are you okay? You’re looking a little pale,” she asks lightheartedly, but I can hear her concern. The words fight to come out of my mouth, but I’m left speechless. I extend the letter towards her, my hands still shaking. Her eyes scan the page and simultaneously grow wide with fear as the message registers for her.
“It's okay, sweetie, I’m sure this was just a silly prank. Nothing to worry about,” she tries her best to mask the shakiness of her words with a smile. “Let’s get you to bed. You've got a big presentation tomorrow.”
Deep down, Mom doesn't even believe her own words. She doesn't move the table I put in front of the door, instead she checks out the window, draws the curtains, and shuts off all lights. Together we go upstairs to our own rooms and I can already hear her sharing the letter with Dad. This isn't just a prank and we know it.
My first letter was received. I'm in the process of making them uneasy. Once the idea that I'm here is planted, it manifests into a growing vine of suspicion until it engulfs them and chokes out all reason and security. Sometimes they will resist, but in the end they always submit. They always leave. I always get my house back.
All the lights flicker out but one. The bedroom facing the street remains on throughout the whole night. Aubrey’s room, I'm guessing, but there's only one way to be sure. I make my way back towards the mailbox and tuck a letter inside it inquiring about it. I'm genuinely curious who is sleeping in my room this time around.
My bedroom door flies open, slamming against me wall. I nearly fall out of bed at the noise; I’m wide awake and on high alert. Standing in the door frame is Rori. I feel my face want to curl into a smile at the sight of him, he’s my whole world, the only person I love. As I take in the full scene, my stomach begins to knot itself up as tight as it can and my mouth drops in awe rather than into a smile. He leans against the frame in his pjs, but my eyes stick to the knife in his hand that’s dripping with blood. “Rori, wh-what’s going on?” I sputter, trying everything I can just to get these words out. “We’re free,” he answers and my mind slowly pieces together what he means. He’s killed our parents, that’s what we are freed from. “I’m sorry,” he continues. “I love you, but I need to be free from here.” With that, he embeds the knife into his chest and falls to his knees. My legs carry me to his side just in time to catch him before his head hits the floor. I’m crying out at the top of my lungs, but I can only hear ringing in my ears. He stares up into my eyes and I watch as the light begins to fade from his eyes. He begins coughing, trying to get the blood out of his mouth and he strains to whisper to me, “Promise me-promise that this-is our secret. Forever.” “I promise.” My response allows him to give in. My response gives him permission to leave me and his body falls limp in my arms.
Now all there is left to do is sit, wait, and watch until morning comes.
It's almost 7:30am, Harper and I are scrambling to get ready for school. As I'm running around the house grabbing my backpack and finding clothes to wear from half unpacked boxes, I can't resist the urge to peak out the window. My breath catches in my throat as I see another envelope sticking out of the mailbox. My feet automatically carry me out the door, down the steps, and over the lawn until I reach the mailbox. Wasting no time, I grab it and run back inside. Ripping open the envelope haphazardly, I read the words scribbled more messily than the first letter. This one was written in the dark.
Who sleeps in the bedroom that faces the street? That was my bedroom too. What’s the matter? Afraid of the dark, or only afraid of what’s hiding in it?
My heart begins racing and I run to give the letter to Mom and Dad. They read it and immediately tell me not to worry; they'll call the police and it'll be taken care of by the time I get home from school. I don't know how I'll be able to focus today, but I hug them and we're off to school. At least that's the one place I'm not being watched.
Just before noon, blue flashing lights pull into the driveway. They thought they could get rid of me by calling the police? Hah, like families haven't tried that before. I'm still here, aren't I? They'll get out of their cars, knock on the front door, and ask about the disturbance that the caller reported. Then, they'll spread out into the woods in search of me usually for about an hour or so before giving up. They reassure the family by leaving an officer to keep watch over the house and watch for anything or anyone that looks suspicious.
The girls arrive home from school and the police officer talks to them, too, about what they've experienced since they moved in. They're happy to share everything, hoping that I'll be caught and they can resume normal lives. However, that's never the case.
The cop is invited into their house and they sit down in the living room. When he turns his back to the bay window, I take the opportunity while the cop is preoccupied with interviewing the girls to slip another note in the mailbox. Then, I return to my hiding place among the shrubs and trees and continue to do what I do best.
How did we miss seeing whoever it is that's tormenting us out another letter in our mailbox? It's broad daylight and they still managed to creep out from wherever they are, across the street, and back without being noticed. This is no amateur prank, this is a serious thing. That's the one fact that's clear to all of us. The police officer even told us that we're not the first family in this house to report activity like this and receiving anonymous letters. The cop grabs the new letter from the mailbox, reads it, and hands it to Mom.
You don't think people have tried the cops before? I'm still here. First there was Officer Jones, then came Officer Hanson, and now you, Officer Clarke. Officer Clarke, you know what happened to the first two men that came searching for me; I'm sure you don't want to go missing along with them. I suggest you get out of my house, before I must resort to forcing you out.
My heart is pounding so hard, I'm afraid that everyone can hear it as we stand in silence. Officer Francis no longer holds his “confident we'll catch this guy” face, it's been replaced by fear. The color has completely drawn from Mom's face, leaving a pale, grey tint behind. I can't just wait in silence anymore; I'm about to break it when Officer Francis clears his throat.
“Ma’am, I understand you just moved into this beautiful home, but I must highly recommend that you seek out other accommodations at least until we figure out who is behind these letters. In the meantime, I do not want to risk the safety of you or your family by standing up to whoever is behind this. They are experienced and know how to get what they want one way or another,” he warns my mom, but at the same time he's pleading with her to take us all as far from here as possible.
Concern washes over the mother's face as she hands the letter over to the police officer. He says something to them that sends them all inside before he speaks on his walkie talkie. Slowly, his eyes sweep over the woods where I'm standing, helplessly searching for me. He proceeds to cross the street and makes his way to the edge of the road before stopping.
“We’ll catch you one of these days,” he announces with authority, but he's clearly afraid to venture any nearer.
Sirens blare in the distance, gradually growing louder. Red and blue lights flash as they speed around the corner and park in and around the driveway. A dozen officers spread out and march into the woods. Crunching on leaves, snapping branches, their noise makes my escape that much easier.
“Hey! I found something!” an officer calls out. He pulls a piece of paper of from being wedged between two branches. He reads it allowed:
You're on the right track, you're close. But not close enough.
Police officers huddle around him to get a glimpse at my note, oblivious that I'm still watching. One officer branches out and searches the area around where I stuck the paper. Closer and closer, he creeps towards the tree I'm hiding behind. As he peers around the backside, he freezes in shock. I take advantage of these precious seconds by covering his mouth and putting him in a secure headlock before he has the chance to fight back. I dig my thumb into the side of his neck, finding the precise pressure point that forces his body to go limp in my arms. I prop him up against the tree with another note in hand and make my final getaway from the police search.
The police officers emerge from the woods with sullen faces. Two of them work together to carry another officer that looks passed out and they buckle him into the backseat of one of the cruisers. Another officer carries more white papers in his hands and makes his way to our front door. My mom opens the door before he has the chance to knock.
“Ma’am, I'm sorry to tell you that we were unsuccessful in our search to find the person who has been tormenting you. We will continue to keep an officer looking over your house, but I still urge you to go somewhere safe. We discovered these two notes while we went out in the woods. The first reads ‘You're on the right track, you're close. But not close enough. -The Watcher.’ We found this one wedged between two branches, however the second one was found in the hands of Officer Smith who was sitting against the trunk of a tree, passed out.” The officer struggles to get any more words out, so instead, he hands the note over to my mom. I take a few steps forward to peek over her shoulder to read it. This letter cuts directly to the point:
Get out of my house or the next body you find will be dead, not unconscious.
Later that same afternoon the mother comes out with a box, then the father, then Aubrey and Harper with smaller boxes. They’re still hiding Levi from me, not letting him play outside and keeping out of view from the windows. They're not putting up much of a fight, which is a shame, but I still get my house back in the end. They finish loading up all their necessities into the car and leave the rest for the moving trucks to come back and bring to their next home. The engine starts just as the sun has set, and now comes my favorite part. I emerge from the tree line once they've back out into the road and I pause in the middle of the street, in plain sight, and in the glow of the headlights.
They're all staring straight at me, taking in my whole appearance. From my muddy converse to the black, tattered jeans, up to my black long sleeve and binoculars hanging around my neck. Their eyes pause on the sign I'm holding that reads “Shhh...” and trace my arm up to the finger I hold in front of my mouth.
Staring at myself in the mirror, I take in my appearance. This is the last time that I’ll look like this. This is the last time that I will look normal from the outside. This is the last time that I’ll be able to speak. This is the last time that I would physically be able to break my promise of silence to Rori.
I grasp the needle I found in my mother’s untouched sewing kit and tie a black thread to it. Slowly, I pierce my lip for the first of many times. The pain makes my lips go numb, making this so much easier. Stitch after stitch, I seal my mouth shut to prevent the truth from ever escaping my mouth.
I make another promise to myself to protect my house from all the families that will try to move into it. I will force them out, and I will scare them into silence too. I promise to do all of this for Rori.
Each and every one of their mouths drop in awe as they can't tear their eyes away, although they desperately want to. They are disturbed by the black stitches that sew my mouth shut. I continue walking past them and take my place sitting on the steps leading up to the porch. As I claim what's rightfully mine, I watch as their red tail lights disappear into the darkness.
And still, I continue to watch because that's what I do best.