Kelly soaked in the warm bathwater without a care. The bubbles’ sweet scent placed her back in her childhood as she leaned her head against the tub’s edge. No more exams, no more homework for three months, she thought. When her freshman year had come to a close, she declined both the summer job her mom offered and summer classes; she worked herself to a breaking point and needed the time off. She could earn money with a job during the fall semester, and she would take more classes later, but for now, she had to enjoy this time.
Throughout high school, Kelly overworked herself. While it earned her the title of valedictorian and several high paying scholarships, Kelly felt cheated by her high school experience. Though she managed to meet her long-time boyfriend, Russell, she had missed out on the tight friendships that she admired from a distance. She craved to have a close girlfriend she could share her thoughts with, or even a couple with whom she and Russ could double-date. Normally, they went out with Steve and Karen. Kelly hated Karen. Since Kelly was attractive in her own right, she felt no jealousy towards Karen, but Karen was just plain stupid, almost as if she were doing it as an act. Kelly couldn’t relate to the girl, but Russell and Steve went way back, so she kept her mouth shut and played nice.
She stopped these thoughts and let her mind wander towards nothingness. She didn’t want to think about school, work, or anything stressful. Just relax. With her parents gone for the weekend, Russell would be over after work. Her head began to sag as Kelly fell asleep in the bathtub.
The sound of scratching woke her from the sleep. The sound was coming from the lock, and it reminded her of when Russell would pick the lock to surprise her.
“Russell?” She called out. No answer, but the scratching continued.
Kelly leaped out of the bathtub spilling water on the floor and rug. Bubbles clung to her naked body. She swiftly wrapped herself in a baby blue robe.
“Who’s there?” The scratching continued. “I have a weapon!” The scratching suddenly stopped. Kelly grabbed a pair of scissors from the side of her sink. Kelly grabbed the door knob. The handle shook like a pair of dice in her hand. She twisted. The bark of Paxton, her bulldog puppy, startled her. He looked up at her with his mouth agape.
She listened in the dark house but heard nothing. She tried to shake it, but the electricity of fear pulsed in and out of her. Something was wrong.
Kelly glided along the wall of the hallway. A bedroom was approaching directly in front of her on the side of the wall she was sticking to, while on the opposite wall, there was a closet. In a flurry, Kelly jumped to the opposite wall, holding close to the closet. The wood panels created a shuffling sound as she walked fast past the open bedroom door. She rushed to the end of the hallway to hit the light switch.
After a few seconds of adjusting to the light, Kelly could see the hallway to the old house was empty. The 14-foot ceiling remained its bland white. The high 10-foot doorways remained flanked with old wood. There was nothing to fear in front of her. As Kelly turned around, something in the window sent her heart pounding. It was a face.
In the window that opened to the backyard of the house, a man of no discernible age stood looking at her. His jaw was slack, and from the heaving, she could tell he was breathing strong. The man had a black and white beard that looked like a dog with mange. His left eye never broke from hers. His right eye was staring towards his ear. The man revolted Kelly. A sound caused her to break her gaze. It came from her left in the kitchen. When she looked back at the window, the man was gone. She shuffled to turn the kitchen light on and found her phone twitching on the counter. The number was private. She slowly raised the phone to her ear after pressing “answer.”
“Hello?” She said. She heard what sounded like moaning. “Who is this?”
“You’ve been a bad girl…” she heard a deep voice mutter through moans.
“I’m going to call the cops if you don’t leave me—”
“Looking so bad with that short blue robe… you tease…” He groaned. She nearly collapsed. Two possibilities blossomed in her head: either the man outside had her phone number, or someone else could see her. She hung up the phone and called Russell. He answered on the third ring.
“Hey, babe, what’s up? Kinda busy.”
“Please come over now,” she shrieked into the phone. “Someone is outside… I saw him… he was at the window.”
“I’m on my way. Call the cops… now!” A loud bang echoed from the hallway before she could reply to him. With the scissors in hand, she walked into the hallway and looked towards the window. She began to scream as she saw a message, in blood, written from the inside.
“No cops!” The blood dripped down the window towards the floor where Paxton lay dead. Kelly began to lose her ability to breathe regularly as she realized the enormity of the situation.
She wasn’t alone in the large, old house. Russell was on his way, but he had miles to drive. Her parents were as good as another planet away. She knew the safest room to wait for Russell was the bathroom: one door, one shallow closet, and one high window. Before hiding, she ditched her scissors in favor of her mother’s butcher knife. With all the courage left inside of her and knife and phone in hand, she stormed down the hallway to the bathroom. Inside, she yanked the closet door open. Nothing. She pushed the shower curtain aside. Nothing. Finally, she pushed the bathroom door closed all but a small bit to hear for Russell.
The wait seemed like hours. Her phone shuttered in the palm of her hand. The number was private. She bit her lip to stifle the sobs.
“He won’t be here in time.” The mirth in his voice was sickening. “As you saw, I have a key.”
“Who are you?” She whispered as her strength was sapped.
“I’m almost at the door. Here we go. Inserting the key.”
Kelly listened and heard a key enter the lock. Without hesitating, Kelly sprang from the bathroom and charged down the hallway.
“Knob is turning.” The knob turned. She kept her pace, knife cocked and ready with the phone pressed hard to her head. As the door opened, her hand came down like a bolt of lightning. The knife found bone and stuck. In the house lights, she saw Russell’s face begin to go flush.
“I knew you were a bad girl. Now, I get to punish you.” He let out a cackle that sounded infinite. The voice wasn’t from the phone anymore but behind her.
As Russell bled out from the knife wound, his eyes grew wide as an owl’s. Kelly started to turn, but before she could, she felt a wet, sweet-smelling cloth pressed on her face. Then, she felt nothing.
Short Story Commentary: Window Shopping
When I first started a writing project in 2010, I had no idea exactly where I wanted to go with it. I knew the short stories would be lacking at first, but as I wrote, I hoped that the story quality would step up.
I decided to restart my project with my first completed short story “Window Shopping.” Pacing-wise, it is a bit lacking. Some of my typical elements are there (unseen force of evil; blacking out to death; etc.), but I think this was my first attempt to succinctly build a scene with lots of tension. The character is completely innocent and naive, so like the stranger who is watching her, we are given a candid look into her thoughts and actions. The only gray area for us is we have no idea what the stranger is thinking, planning, or why he targeted this character.
I got the inspiration of this story, much to my wife’s chagrin, by writing by a window near my computer desk. I started to think how terrifying it would be if I would walk into the perpetually dark room, which isn’t helped by the hunter green walls that absorb all the light, and see a second of a face in the window that moves when we make eye contact.
I took that fear and modified it; instead of fleeing at being caught, the stranger was excited and enticed. Kelly, without realizing it, had willingly accepted to join in his game. The results were obvious from the start.
I think if I had to go back and flesh this story out, I would have made the death of Paxton a little more organic. How did the stranger get in the house? Later, it’s revealed he has a key. Why isn’t Kelly more startled with the fact that he would have had to enter the house to do what he did? I guess I can attribute that to shock, and she did act within her means. Running outside wouldn’t have helped her.
The conclusion to the story is something I planned pretty early on. How horrific does her ordeal become when she suddenly kills the only person who can save her? Not letting her mull this over in front of us, I have the stranger knock her out with ether or chloroform and drag her for his own unearthly plans.
The elements of this story will appear in others. I do have some form of justice in mind for the stranger, as well as the appearance of Kelly and Russell. Hopefully, this entry was done well enough to whet your appetite and give you impetus to watch me improve.
Thanks for your time.