“Excuse me, Miss? I got a package here addressed to you. The mailman thought it was best it stayed with me since your house was vacant. I’m Mary, by the way. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Thanks. I’m Victoria. Nice to meet you.”
Victoria took the package under her arm while they shook hands. She followed Mary’s smiling glance past her to the powder blue ranch-style home, where a sold sign swung in the breeze. The house sat pretty, with its navy-blue shutters and bold red door at the end of the cul-de-sac, the envy of the area.
“You moved into the old Casarosa house; I can smell the fresh coat of paint it got. There’s lots of history there, you know. I’m surprised it sold; we’ve tried to sell ours for some time now but can’t get a bite. Why is that?” Mary asked, examining Victoria from head to toe.
“Hmm. I’m sorry to hear that,” Victoria shrugged. “I wouldn’t presume to know why you’re unable to sell. I mean, I moved here. It can’t be so bad.”
“When the time comes,” Mary said, leaning in close. “Tell him to go away, so we can move on.”
“Tell what to go away? And what do you mean, history?” Victoria’s eyes widen, darting from her house to Mary.
“Don’t trouble yourself with this, dear. I’ve said too much already. I’ll be on my way.”
Mary turns away, her bunny slipper feet scraped the sidewalk, each step a struggle. Victoria set her package down and held the elderly woman’s arm.
“Wait, you said it. I want to know. I mean, I should know.”
As Mary found her balance, Victoria released her hands. “This is my home now. Wouldn’t you want to know what happened in yours? I’ve heard rumors around town that’s bothered me, and now you. I hope I didn’t get bamboozled with this sale.”
“Well, if you insist, I can tell you everything,” Mary sighed. “It was forty years ago when I moved here…”
“… My husband and I needed a bigger home to accommodate our three little boys, and I was two months into another pregnancy, so space was a big factor. Four months later, the Casarosa’s arrived. They were a handsome pair, young newlyweds, no kids, yet, but with the way I heard them go at it every night, it was only a matter of time. I used to watch them, especially the wife. She was a beautiful creature with this pin straight black hair down to her waist, olive brown skin, skinny. Big in all the right places. I was jealous and fat all over. My hair was falling out, surrounded by hyper kids and endless housework. Her life seemed perfect. I wanted that happiness back. I wanted her husband.” Mary laughed.
“Oh, he was a looker. He had some big position down at the base. But I felt Mr. Casarosa wanted to settle down and fill the other three rooms of that house up. He was always the first spouse in the cul-de-sac to get home from work, and the last to leave in the morning. You would think most offices opened around eight or nine, but he left for work around ten or eleven. One day he left for work only to come back two hours later. Next thing I knew, both Mr. and Mrs. Casarosa had loaded their car up with a bulging picnic basket, blanket for two, and a bottle of wine. Most men couldn’t wait to get away from home, not Mr. Casarosa.”
“Seems like they had a lot of fun, I take it?”
“Mm hmm, yes,” Mary’s eyes roll. “Although, I wasn’t sure how Mr. Casarosa would support a family with how rare he went to work.”
“Were you close with them?”
“No, no we weren’t.”
Victoria frowns. “What did his wife do for a living?”
“She was an artist. Painting, reading, banging on the typewriter. I saw it all with how often they kept their curtains open. She had a few other girlfriends over for brunch sometimes, or tea, and they always filled their dinner parties with laughter and joy.”
Mary shot her wistful eyes to the sky, lost in thought. A smile crept along her face and soured just as fast.
“One day, I got the most intense cravings I had traced back to their house. I knew Mrs. Casarosa made Apple Bran Muffins. I had to muster up the courage to go over and introduce myself, hoping to try one, and meet my neighbor. She didn’t answer. Next morning the tart apple scent returned, and you know how pregnant women’s cravings get. So, I went over again, no answer. This is when it got strange. When I got back to my house, the lime house there, right across from yours, I saw Mrs. Casarosa at her window, watching me watch her. Maybe she wanted to talk, I don’t know. I regret going back.”
“Why, what happened?” Victoria said.
“Well, I waddled back to her house and… I waved. Mrs. Casarosa didn’t move from the window. I knocked on it even, and she stood right there, standing, watching me through the glass as if I—I invaded her soul. Her hollow, wide black eyes looked me over, particularly at my belly. It’s easy to know when you’re not wanted, and I wasn’t sure what I did wrong, so I left. She spooked me. Even when I made it back home, I looked at her house again and she was there just watching.”
“She never said a word?”
“No. She stood at the window the entire time until her husband came home. Oddly late, mind you. It wasn’t like him. He turned my way, as if he knew I was watching him. I mean, I was, but I didn’t think he knew since it was so dark out. That eye contact though, even from across the way, his eyes were glowing red, just like your front door. Then I felt a—a sharp pain in my belly, like someone had dug a hot knife into my gut. The pain was—it was horrible. I shut the curtains so fast and struggled back upstairs. I sat in the bathroom all night wondering if I was about to lose my baby.”
“My goodness, were you and the baby okay?”
Mary ignored that. “Something told me to stay away, this little voice shouting in my head, don’t look again, don’t look, it said. I went back to the blinds, anyway.”
“What?” Victoria scoffed; the tale was absurd. “Why did you do that?”
“I couldn’t help myself; It drew me in. You’ll see when it comes to you, too.”
“When what comes?”
“Curiosity,” Mary whispered, rocking back and forth. Her arms brace against her chest, bound by an invisible rope. She continued, “the next day Mr. Casarosa left for work, right at nine o’clock. His wife was at the window again. Every time I pulled the curtains back, she was there. And that night, when the flashing red and blue lights danced across my dining room, I looked and saw Mrs. Casarosa wheeled out in a straitjacket. The entire time, her harsh, angry eyes never left me. I never knew what happened. I had the worst nightmares after that, and every night since. It’s the same for all of us, and it will be worse for you now that you’re in their house.”
“What do you mean, worse for me?”
“It’ll always be their house, the one you think you purchased. He’ll come for you just as he does for all of us… Mr. Casarosa. He’s coming… he’s coming… he’s coming…”
Mary continued to repeat herself and walked away. Victoria watched her go, confused. She picked her package up and went back inside.
That night, Victoria awoke from sleep with a thirst. She made her way downstairs where a shadowed figure stood gazing out her front room window. She gasped; her shaky hands cover her open mouth. Her heart bounces against her chest as the glass of water slips from her fingertips.
It doesn’t fall.
Victoria gripped the wall, watching the glass as it hovers onto the counter. He’s coming, he’s coming, he’s coming… Mary’s warning words echo in her mind.
“Don’t mind me, ma’am,” the shadow said. Its voice is deep, lined in mystery. “I’m here for my wife.”
Victoria took cautious steps forward, curious despite her fear. “… Y—Your wife isn’t here. I own this home now.”
It turns to her, a tall silhouette of a man void of any distinguishable features. A blank slate. “Don’t mind me. I’m here for my wife.”
“I said she’s not here. You need to leave!” Victoria wasn’t sure where she found the courage to raise her voice, but she had to do something.
“Not until death…” he said. Victoria followed his shadowed hand to Mary’s house across the street, where his black silhouette stands at the foot of her bed.
“She drove my wife insane. She interrupted her creative process at every turn and watched her every move. It didn’t help we failed to conceive. Seeing her pregnant belly was the last straw. Now I watch Mary, and all the rest, forever, until death do us part.”
The old woman lay there, frozen in fear. Heavy hands grip her body, forced down into the bed. The last Victoria saw was Mary’s frail, raised hand, dangling lifelessly in the air. It’s forced down, as well as the frilly pillows and flowery comforter tumbling on top of her. It’s all sucked down, suffocating her.
Victoria ran out her front door, spinning. Each house was cursed with standing silhouettes at the foot of their bed, each inhabitant forced inside their mattress, every night, from generation to generation.
Victoria ran back inside to find Mr. Casarosa, his hand still raised, pointed ahead.
“Don’t mind me, ma’am,” Mr. Casarosa began. “I’m here for my wife.”
“I understand now.” Victoria whispered to the devastated husband. “Do what you must.”
She got another glass of water and went back to sleep.