The windows on the house across the street from me looked benevolent, like an anthropomorphic house from a kid’s book. Too bad it was probably a murder house.
Julie did not believe me. She scorned my strong tendency to wake up in the middle of the night. I had no credibility with her.
“Julie,” I would say. “Did you hear something?”
“Just you. Shut up. Go to sleep. No one wants to murder you. You’re not special,” Julie would say.
Then I would sink a hand beside the bed and run my fingers over Susan’s handle. I named the ax I kept there “Susan”, even though my impulse was to call it “Deckard.”
“What is ‘Deckard’ supposed to mean?” my wife asked.
“It’s from ‘Blade Runner’,” I said. “And the ax has a blade.”
Julie’s face became bitter as wormwood.
“Does that seem clever to you? Like does it actually seem cool and funny and like a good idea?”
“It’s Harrison Ford’s character’s name,” I said.
“I moved on as soon as I finished talking,” Julie said.
Giving the ax a playful name made me feel better, since just having it under the bed meant that I was ready to crush someone’s skull bones into their brain, and that this person was probably homicidal.
When I told her that the house across the street was a murder house, Julie pointed out that, in our town of 30,000, Cochranville, no one was missing.
“Except that woman with the Ford Explorer,” Julie said. “But come on, that was clearly her husband.”
I had an optimistic vision of the woman in some field, lying in melting snow, wildflowers growing up around her.
Julie continued: “She’s definitely chopped into pieces, in a stone-filled bag, in the bottom of a river.”
But still, it was her husband that did it, which means it’s not scary.
I woke up at nearly daybreak, jolted into consciousness by a dream in which a man emerged from a sea-chest with a knife, over and over, in a loop. I became instantly aware of intestinal distress, probably due to the two and a half bowls of African Peanut soup I had at dinner. As I made my way to the bathroom, I saw my neighbor across the street running through his living room, naked.
I’m not interested in seeing Peter Trask, my neighbor, naked. But the situation seemed out of the ordinary. I turned off the lights and waited. I got bored. I got my phone. I clicked into the regional crime news, something I try not to do. I hate encountering the instability of the world, and the stupid evil, but I get sucked in by it too. There’s nothing else like it. Before I lost the battle with myself and clicked on anything (“2 Dead in Fire”,”Orchard Rape”), I caught movement at Trask’s out of the corner of my eye.
A light flipped on in the living room, and Trask strode casually into the room. I stared at him with immunity from the dark of the living room. He looked across the street, seemingly right at me. I realized the screen of my phone was still on, casting light up at me.
He looked at me, seemed unsure of what he might be seeing. I decided not to switch the screen off, and let him assume his eyes were doing weird things. He stared for a few seconds and then left the room. Once he left, I gasped. His upper-body was, without a doubt, streaked with blood. His face too.
I did not handle this well.
I went back to my bed, hung my hand down and grabbed Susan from under the bed.
“Julie, Trask is running around his house naked, and he’s covered in blood,” I said.
Julie shifted and looked over at me.
“Clint, I’m going mash your hand down the garbage disposal and turn it on. Shut up and go to sleep.”
I did not go to sleep.
Later that morning, I was washing dishes and looking at the murder-house across the street. I contemplated calling the police. It seemed like the right time to call the police. But when you’re calling the police about your neighbor, it’s delicate. Because then he knows that someone thinks he’s running a murder-house. If he is killing people, you’re a liability, because you’re on to him. If he isn’t, then it’s just socially awkward.
As I scrubbed up the spoons, Trask stepped out of the house and walked, smiling, across the street. He looked up and saw me watching him, and gave my Civic in the drive a pat. He approached the front door. I pushed the backs of my hands into my eyes, because I didn’t want him to knock. I felt bowel discomfort. Then there was a knock and I didn’t move. Another knock.
From her crafting room, full of plush angler-fish and other horrifying deep-sea creatures that she sells on ETSY, Julie yelled:
“Answer the door, slut.”
I shook my head. “Think about Brie, Julie.” I referred to my sister, Brie, who is a slut. “Would you say ‘slut’ in front of her?” I hissed. She ignored me and, as I opened the door, I realized that she would.
Trask had come over to ask me when heavy-trash day was. He smiled the whole time. His bushy eyebrows conveyed affability. I felt relief. Then he smiled even bigger.
“You know,” he said, “we should get to know each other better. We live so close.”
He paused and moistened his lips, as concern bloomed on his brow. Then he said, “How have you been sleeping?”
I froze and said, “What’s that, Julie?” pretending to respond to an urgent request, coming from inside the house. I became a mute. Through shrugs and a host of more ambiguous and arcane gestures, I made it obvious to Trask that I had to go and the conversation was over. I suspect that I even made a motion representing the hanging up of a phone.
He continued to smile, waved, and then walked away. After a few steps he turned back.
“Everything over here seems real sweet and domestic,” he said. “I like this neighborhood. It’s kind of like nothing.”
Trask continued to smile. He backed off down the walk a bit, then turned and headed for his place. Over his shoulder he called back to me.
“But the quiet begs for disruption.”
“I like it quiet,” I called back. I wanted to throw something at Trask. Then I wanted to take Julie and go live in my parents’ basement 2,000 miles away in Michigan. But when those impulses passed, I had to admit that Trask’s sentiment wasn’t so alien to me. While I hated even the thought of mayhem—I felt something like an electric shock at just hearing the word “murder”—there was something worse about only imagining terrible things. I’d had the thought before that I wanted to be a witness to some evil, to actually have it touch me. Then it would be something that existed somewhere other than just inside my head, which seemed better.
I drove to work and quietly read web-comics and book reviews for eight hours. I tried not to think about going home and then going to bed.
At home, Julie laid on the couch, her head on my leg, occasionally looking up from her knitting at me and telling me about her day.
“But Beth said she didn’t care what I said, and that John Mayer songs, whatever aesthetic criteria you use, are ‘panty-droppers.’ And I was like, ‘It doesn’t take much.’ And 10 people liked it, because everybody knows it’s true and I’m just the one who has the balls to say it. They all want to pile on afterwards.”
She knitted a moray eel with confidence. The movement of her fingers radiated confidence. The tkk tkk tkk of the needles sounded steady and martial as it locked thread on thread. I realized that I didn’t do anything with the kind of confidence she manifested while knitting. Then I went back to worrying about going to bed. Then I decided to get drunk.
I went to Safeway and bought a box of chillable red and two cans of Lime-ade concentrate for poor man’s sangria. I drank large tumblers of this. Then I fell asleep on the couch in a sitting position. I woke up on the couch in the same position. Julie had not coddled me with a blanket, she’d just gone to bed.
I got up and stood in front of the window. I looked out at Trask’s house in the dark for a minute, still feeling a little drunk. Then I went to my room, grabbed Susan, and tucked her handle into my belt.
The moon was high and bright in the sky and gleamed on the wet grass as I stalked through my yard in canvas slip-ons. I was already across the street and in Trask’s front yard when I thought, “What the hell am I doing?” I turned around and looked back at my house. I realized that from here, across the street, I had Trask’s view. It looked pitiful. If it was an anthropomorphized house in a kid’s book, it was a sad house. Still, it looked warm. I felt a rising eagerness to be back there.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a shape slouching up the street. It kept to the shadows as much as it could, but didn’t seem that worried about concealing itself. It was enormous, taller than every car it passed on the street. It came up to Trask’s house. It was a wolf. It walked on its hind legs. It was a wolfman. In his hand he held a small bundle. He snapped his head up to look at me. He noticed my ax and shook his head.
Watching him in the moonlight was terrible and awe-inducing. He was enormous. This huge silvery beast, stalking the street, barely brushing past someone’s Elantra. Watching him move, I felt a transcendent terror. I realized I that I had always craved seeing that. Something that true and terrible.
My co-worker Brad went through this phase where he called everything “sublime.” I don’t think he had any idea what it meant. Once, he called a Super Bowl commercial “sublime.” But watching that wolf come for me across the lawn, impossible and hulking, that’s how I felt.
As he approached, I saw that the bundle in his hand was a man’s head. The wolfman dropped the head. I watched as it thunked on the ground and drifted slightly and then became still. I realized I was avoiding the wolfman’s gaze. I looked up and found him closer than I expected. He ducked his huge head down level with my face. His doggy eyes focused on me, yellow and moist. His lips curled back from his teeth and he spoke. Trask’s voice was hidden somewhere within, masked in slobber and growl.
“I’m glad to see you. Let’s get this over with, right?”
I nodded, closed my eyes. I didn’t know until right then that this was what I wanted. There’s a bit from a poem that I learned in high-school, where the poet says that the stiff and sore feeling you get from reclining and leaning on your hand doesn’t hurt enough. Like it’s a taste of the feeling you really want. Something more intense and rich. And that’s exactly how I felt before. After the bite, everything became new. Fear was over. Now I sleep every night like a dead baby dog. There’s a great comfort in knowing that I’m the worst thing out there.
We hunt in the surrounding towns mostly, as Peter has for awhile. Our ranks have grown a bit. It’s been good for my marriage. Julie’s gained new respect for me, even though the first time she saw me in my new form, she said, “You look stupid.” But then I bit her. She’s a natural.
We’re all excited. We don’t know exactly where it’s headed. We’re just enjoying being small right now.