So, this is the story—the house on Red Rock Drive.

No one lives there now.

It was that young Schaefer man that bought it, the butcher down at the grocery.

All the townie boys are quiet. They move in with their mutt dogs, and let those scrubby little yards run to weeds, and they don’t bother anyone.

We aren’t much on community around here. No neighborhood sidewalk-sales or block parties or anything. No sidewalks and nothing to sell. Just brush and gravel and dirt. It’s a place people come when they want a little privacy.

Anyway, the butcher. He was quiet like the rest of them. He’d shovel a little sand in the winter when the road iced up, but he didn’t really make conversation or put himself out much. It’s not that kind of neighborhood.

Still, he was polite enough, and went to work most days, and I don’t know what he did when he was home. No Sunday barbecues or girls coming over, and he was never loud. But the TV was always playing late at night, and even though he knew you from up on the hill, he wouldn’t say hello if you saw him at the grocery.

I don’t know when it was that we stopped seeing him down at the meat counter. One day, they just had a new fellow there, and I’d have thought our butcher’d got itchy feet and moved on, like those boys sometimes do. But we could see his TV—you know how a TV will always flicker. There was just that blue light, flickering. We’d see it from across the fence at night.

And then, late in October or November, it got to going pretty much all the time. I’d look over and it didn’t matter if it was one in the morning or four in the afternoon—that TV was just always on.

This was the first winter he didn’t come out to shovel sand with the rest of them. It was like he just fell off the earth, and after awhile, we didn’t see the light from the TV anymore and I thought, well, maybe he just packed up and went on back to Ann Arbor, or wherever. Didn’t Laurie Boone say that he was from Michigan?

Well, one day in the spring, after everything was melting—this is going on four or five months by now—one day, Bob Slauson got nosy and went over there. You know how he is—and Bob stood on the front step knocking, but no one came to the door.

Most people would have gave up and left it at that, but Bob said he knew—just knew, without a doubt in his mind—that something wasn’t right, and he went around to the side of the garage and when he looked in the window, he saw that the butcher’s car was still in there, so he called the police and they came with the ambulance and the fire trucks and all the volunteer men, and knocked the door down.

And he was there.

He’d been dead close to four months by then, and the mice had got at him. It was winter, you understand.

The butcher, he’s just laid out on the floor, chewed and ate-up and thin as a rail. Because see, he locked himself in there, and he’d starved after a while. You wouldn’t think a thing like that could happen, even up here, but I guess it shows that a person can do just about anything when they’re not right in the head.

Well, they got in there and the whole house was just filled with jaw traps and these nasty trip-wires, like what you’d order out of the back of a militia magazine. Mary Ellen’s boy nearly lost a hand trying to open the door to the pantry.

In the bedroom, they found a whole mess of knives and ammunition, and four or half-a-dozen of those guns—not the kind you’d use to shoot a deer, but the ones with laser sights and scopes, like for taking down a man from a long way off. He’d drawn maps, all sorts, with lines and arrows that told the lie of the neighborhood, all the houses, and who lived there, and where the doors and windows were.

But here’s the thing: near as anyone can tell, he wasn’t planning any kind of rampage like you see on the news, but he was worried what we might do to him. He starved in that house because he got too scared of us all to even come outside.

The house is empty now, and I’d say it’s for the best.

Oh, there’s folks like Bob and Laurie who say that if we just got someone new in there, maybe a family, all that bad feeling and unease would go away, but it’s hard to say what’s true and what’s talk.

The truth is, nobody really knows anybody. Sometimes I even look at Bob and think that deep down, there’s really somebody else underneath. Somebody strange and secret. You just get to thinking that any one of those boys could be looking out his window at us, setting cougar traps and piling up guns.

And honestly, I don’t know that I care to go out lately. It’s easier to look from the window and not have to wave or talk to them unless the snow gets deep or the road’s icing.

It’s kind of scary out there.

10 thoughts on “Agoraphobe

  1. Cool thought experiment! I love it when fiction tries to answer question like this. What happened to the guy who *didn’t* escape? Who didn’t figure it out? Is the delusion really a delusion or insidious, subtle evil?

  2. This is a really good treatment of fear as contagion. On the other hand, maybe it’s about how instincts tell us there’s evil out there and we ignore them.

    Either way, creepy and awesome and now I’m going home and say hello to my damn neighbors in the cheeriest fashion I possibly can and waving to their children and carrying biscuits in my pockets for their dogs, dammit.

  3. Well, that made me smile 🙂 I like the idea that there’s a bonus here, encouraging people to talk to their neighbors. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but maybe there’s a lesson in all this 😀

  4. Haha–thanks? I actually started upsetting myself while I was writing it, so I think I know how you feel 🙂

  5. I hadn’t really considered how long it’s been since I tried to write something scary that didn’t have a speculative element. I think I’ll be sticking to speculative in the future. Real life is just way too upsetting 😉

  6. Suspicion, fear, loneliness. “It’s kind of scary out there.” I wonder when we stopped talking to neighbours. Was it when all the old people dissappeared from our suburbs? When granny flats were traded for, “We’ll visit ya Christmas Nan?” I know. When thumbs up became thumbs txting, and gidday mate was murdered by sony walkman. What about that bastard next door with that new car? How’d he afford that? From every window a kaleidoscope of ‘what the’, and I-don’t-care to terrify the lonely and ignored.

    Love the ‘Dead Man Walking’ narrators voice. Love that you made me think.

  7. I like how the narrator assumes I know stuff, like I’m just one of the neighbors. Very effective and creepy!

  8. I love the twist on that, that he was scared of the people and not the other way around. Well done! (So glad I found this comm)

  9. The spotlight week was been amazing in a few way. For instant, do you know that I had completely forgotten this story existed?! Thanks for reading this far back 🙂

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