Zachary Hay

A Strange and Violent Individual

There’s a scream coming from the house across from me. It’s a woman’s scream.

You’re … hurting … me–! it says.

There is a second scream. It is the same voice, though now I can tell it is not a woman but a girl. It says again:

You’re … hurting … me–!

Then there are the heavy footsteps of a man. Then nothing.

I should call the police but I don’t. Why? Because I am afraid of them. Because they will ask questions that I cannot answer–

Where are you going? At this time of night? Do you always go walking at this time of night? In the cold? Do you always do this? Where are you going?

And I will have no answer. I would tell them that I like this cold night air, but they will not take that for an answer.

Now another scream.

Stop! St-op–!

And the scream dies away as if stifled, a hand over a mouth.

I look at the house. It is an ordinary house, an ordinary blue house and there is a window with curtains drawn. I look inside. I see no one inside. It is a living room. There is a tan couch that does not look very comfortable. There is a bookshelf. I step up closer because I want to see what books are on it—I want to see if I’ve read any of them. I haven’t. There is also a television, and on the wall there is a big crucifix with Jesus hanging. Except for the crucifix, it looks like my house. It looks as though I could live here. I do not like this.

I ought to knock on the door. I am close enough. It would only be another five steps and there would be no harm in it. A man would answer. He would be a little man with a shaved head. He would almost look like me, but with something wicked in him. He would almost look gentle if he didn’t have a criminal’s face. You know the face, the one with knives for eyes. He would give me hell but I would keep a cool head.

Excuse me but I heard a girl scream, is all I would say.

No one screamed. He would lie.

You didn’t hear any screaming?

He would lie again.

Keep your ears open. It sounded like a girl in trouble.

And then he would get angry and ask me if I knew what goddamn time it is and shut the door. And then I would leave. I wouldn’t be a hero but I’d let him know someone was out here, watching, knowing what he was doing in there.

But I don’t do that. Why? Because I don’t hear any more screams. It is silent. And the silence goes on long enough that I begin to wonder if there ever were any screams. And so I keep on walking and keep on minding my own business.

I get three blocks down before I stop. There is a voice in my head. It is my conscience. It tells me that I should have done something. I hear the girl’s screams again and I see the girl’s face. She is pretty. She is identical to a girl I used to love a long time ago, and she is being hurt. Imagine being a girl with a strange man in your house. Imagine a knife at your throat. Imagine hell.

I turn around.

I am at the house again but the house is no different. There are still no screams and still no heavy footsteps. I get close. I look into the window looking for a man. But there is none.

There is another voice. This is the voice of reason, and it asks what the neighbors will think when they see a man outside this house. They will believe this man is the cause of those screams, this man who looks inside windows.

The living room light goes out, and I begin to run.

I do not run far. Why? Because I lose my breath easily and when I look, there is no one following me. Still, I walk. I walk toward my own home. I only want to go to my own home.

But now there is another voice. I do not know what this voice represents, but it tells me that there is a man behind me. It tells me he is following me. He owns that house that I peered inside and he is very angry with me.

This voice yells: A man walks behind you. Look and you can see him. He carries a knife, though you cannot see it. He believes that you tried to enter his house.

Turn around. You there. Turn around.

Now there are footsteps. They are steady and hard–knock, knock, knock, knock–and I am almost too afraid to look back, but I do. I see the man. He is not so short and he has hair, but he is the man I imagined. He has that face and he stares at me with those eyes. I look away.

Turn around. I want to talk to you.

I do not respond. I do not turn back. I only walk faster. 

I’m talking to you. I know who you are. What did you see?

Nothing, I say. I spit the word over my shoulder. I am almost running again.

What did you hear?

A girl screamed.

Liar. He almost sings this.

I’m sorry.

And now he says nothing, and now there are no footsteps but my own. When I turn to see, he is standing at a distance, watching me with eyes that look electric, as if he were a robotic doll. I say again, I’m sorry, and I continue to walk. When I look a second time, he is gone.

He is not gone. He is only elsewhere. No man with eyes like that takes them off easily. Those eyes belong to a strange and violent individual.

I continue home.

I look at houses as I walk home. I wonder what it is like in those houses. Probably it is all very ordinary. Some of the houses have blinds drawn and I can see in. It is all very ordinary. I see one man and he is watching television. He does not know I can see him. I stare a moment and then continue. In another there is darkness, but I can make out a hallway and a door. People must be sleeping behind that door. A third house has a light on, and a woman sleeping in a chair.

Why do they keep their shades and blinds open? Do they want you to look inside? Do they want you to enter?

I like very much to look inside houses. I like very much to see people. I like to think of being inside those houses. I like to think of how frightened people can get: tap on a window, and they will not go back to sleep; rattle a doorknob, they are paranoid until they sell the house; enter, and you’ve altered their life–they will never feel safe again. 

My hands shake as I approach my own house—I cannot say why. I walk up the porch and pull my keys from my pocket. I cannot manage to put the key into the knob. Still, the knob turns. I have left the door unlocked. I do not like that.

I enter slow. I am slower still to turn on the light. A voice screams,

Someone is in the house!

But I turn on the light and the room is empty but me. I close the door behind me and lock it. Then I move to the window. I’ve left the blinds open. I’m as stupid as the rest of them. I close them.

My hands still shake. I breathe deeply. I try to calm myself. I sit down on the couch, but it is not very comfortable and so I stand again. I look over the room. It is a perfectly ordinary room. How good it feels to be in an ordinary room when everything outside is so terribly, terribly strange. I may never leave again.

I sit on the couch again. I like this couch, despite the discomfort. I look over my things: the television that I watch too much, the shelf of books that I still have not read … and then something that is not mine. A crucifix, with Jesus hanging.

I do not know who has put this here and I do not know whose idea this was and I do not like it I do not–.

And then I hear it. It is close now. It is inside the house. It is the scream of a girl.

This is not your house, a voice tells me, and you have done a very … very … bad thing.

Zachary Hay was born in Detroit, MI in 1994. His fiction has appeared in the ArLiJo Journal, Crab Fat Magazine, the No Extra Words podcast, Fleas on the Dog, Dark Moon Digest, and the anthology Apocalyptic Monsters. He currently serves as a prose reader for The MacGuffin.