“Nobody’s House” by Lauren Buckingham

I saw him again today. I’m afraid of him. There’s just something about that man, the way he looks at people, the way he looks at me. I know he wants to hurt me. I can’t let him.

I peel back the curtains and take a look out the window. I can’t see him now, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t there. I hope he isn’t.

I close the curtains again, shutting out the blinding white-gold rays of sunlight, shutting out the world outside my window. I remember how I used to love this window. It was the reason I chose this room for my studio when we first moved in.

I think back often to those first days here in this house. I didn’t expect to like it here at all. I never wanted to move here, that was Doug’s idea. He grew up out in the country, he said it would be good for the kids, they would have room to play, they’d be out of the city, away from all the predators and pitfalls that came along with city life.

I still don’t like it. I’ve tried to, I really have. I think I managed to convince Doug that I like it here, and for a while I managed to convince myself, but that was before our new neighbor moved in. After I saw him, the spaces seemed a lot wider, the dusty roads more desolate, and the quiet air even eerier.

I close the curtains and sit back down at my easel and try to focus on the canvas in front of It’s not finished, not even close. All it looks like now is a series of shapes and lines. That’s my favorite part of the creative process, the early stages when I can see something starting to take shape but no one else but me knows what it will be. It’s like my little secret, at least for a while.

My project at the moment is a close-up of a lemon, sliced in half, seeds and all. Why a lemon? Why not? That’s the beauty of modern art, it can be random and not make any sense. Just like life.

I squint harder and hold the picture I took in the kitchen closer to my face. I try to study the finer points of the fruit, the lines, the pores of the skin, the pointy off-white seeds, the varying shades of yellow.

All of a sudden, a loud crash sounds from outside. Startled, I looked up and arise from my chair. I don’t want to look out the window, but I have to. I ease back over to the window and slowly slip my fingers underneath the curtain. I peek out the window but I don’t see anything. Not at first, anyway. I look closer and that’s when I see it.

Relieved, I see the tree in our yard. That’s all it was, nothing more, nothing less. It’s been windy out today, the wind must have knocked it over. I suppose I’ll have to go out and pick it up, or I could just wait until Doug gets home. If I did that, he’d probably want to know why, and if I told him he’d just laugh at me and tell me I’m being silly. Or, he would take me seriously and ask me if I took my medication today.

He does that, sometimes, whenever I seemed a little bit off. He doesn’t come out and say it, of course. He’ll say things like “Are you feeling all right, Gemma?” or “Did you take care of things?” That’s the one that really gets under my skin. Of course, he doesn’t mean it to, he never does. He means well, I know that. He just wants what’s best for me.

I hold my head up. I’m going to be brave. I’m going to go out there and clean up the yard. If I see him, I’ll just go back inside, lock the door, and put a chair in front of the door.

I grab my green hoodie from the back of my chair and settle myself into it. I shut the door to my studio and I head to the garage to grab a rake and a trash bag.

Outside, I can see the tree branches strewn haphazardly throughout the front yard. It’s a mess, but I’m sure it won’t take long to clean up. Like many things, it looks much worse than it is.

Just as I bend down to start cleaning the branches, a voice calls out behind me. “Gemma?”

My heart skips a beat. I turned around. It’s him. He knows my name. How does he know my name? Then it occurs to me. I don’t even know his name.

“W-what are you doing here?” I manage to stammer.

He laughs and his face settles into a complacent smirk. “What do you mean, what I’m doing here? I’m your neighbor. I’m just trying to get acquainted, you know, be neighborly.” He starts pacing towards me.

I shake my head, but I can’t speak. My throat feels like it is closing up more and more with each step he takes.

“Come on, Gemma, let’s be neighborly.” He grinned. He moves closer, his hands outstretched and spread apart. Sweat drips down his ruddy face, and his beady eyes gleam with wicked delight.

“No…” I feel the word slip past my lips, but I can’t hear my own voice. I back away from him, but he is still coming closer to me. I turn around, I try to run, and I feel his hands grip my waist. He tries to pull me to the ground, but just as I’m about to fall, I grab hold of the rake.

“Yes, Gemma, you and me…” He whispers, in a low, menacing purr.

“No!” I shout, this time so loud I hear the echo of my voice.

I pick up the rake, and I swing at him. The edge of the rake strikes his temple. He smiles at me, as though he hadn’t felt the blow at all. He tries to lunge at me, but I hit him again, I hit him harder and harder, over and over. He screams, he cries, he tries to fight back, but it is no use. I’m the powerful one now. I watch him grow weaker and weaker until he finally collapses to the ground, never to get up again.

It takes a few moments for me to realize what I’ve done. His battered lifeless form lies sprawled on the ground, his reddish blonde curls streaked with blood, his face left barely recognizable by the rake. I’m shocked. I’m horrified. I just wanted him to leave me alone. I never wanted this.

As I look at the scene in front of me, I start to tremble. I’ve killed him, I realize. Now what do I do? It was self-defense, I tell myself. It was, wasn’t it? I hit him so that he would leave me alone, so that he couldn’t hurt me.

I stare down at my hands, then at his bloodied body, and back at my hands. There is not a scratch on me. I’m not injured, there’s not even any blood on me, no evidence of what he tried to. It’s my word against his. And he’s not talking. He’ll never talk again.

Overkill. That’s what they’ll call it. I can’t go to the police. They wouldn’t believe me. I could end up in prison, or even sentenced to death. A chill runs through my body. I can’t let that happen. My kids can’t grow up without a mother. I can’t handle prison. I don’t want to die.

I’ll have to get rid of the body. There isn’t any other way. I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I know I have to. The trash bag. Of course. That’s where I’ll put him.

I stoop down, gather up the bag and pull the crinkly black plastic around him. I carefully stuff him into the bag, and next I do what I came out here to do in the first place. I finish picking up the leaves and branches, now bloodstained, and toss them into the trash bag as well.

I notice how tidy the yard looks, once I’m done cleaning up. If someone were to drive by right now, they would have no idea what just happened. Of course, people seldom ever drive by here. There’s only two houses on this stretch of road, our house and his house. Well, it was his house. I suppose now it’s nobody’s house.

I drag the plastic bag into the garage. Oddly enough, it’s not as heavy as I feared it would be. I don’t know where I’m going to hide the body, somewhere out in the desert, maybe. But I can’t right now. I can hardly think, and the kids will be home soon. I’ll do it tomorrow, when I have more time, once I figure out where I can put him so no one will ever find him. For the time being, I place him in the trunk of my car.

As I turn to go back inside the house, I pause and take one more look at my car. It’s hard for me to believe that there’s a dead man in there, and that I killed him. Maybe I’ll never fully believe it. Or maybe it will sink in when I have to bury him. I don’t know. All I know is if that I want to get through this, I have to keep going. And going.


“This is delicious, Gemma. Nice job,” Doug remarked, later that night at the dinner table.

“Thank you,” I respond in a quiet voice.

Somehow I managed to pull myself together long enough to make dinner. Actually, it served as a comfort to me, something to focus on, to keep my mind off of what I’ve done. I still can’t believe that the same hands that made dinner for my family tonight killed a man just hours before. But I don’t regret it.

Doug looks up from his plate. “Did you hear we might be getting a new neighbor soon?”

I drop my fork, and I can feel my pulse race. But, how? No one knows who’s dead yet. Do they?

Doug chuckles. “Don’t look so surprised, that house has sat empty for almost a year. I didn’t think it would be long before they found a buyer.”

“But –” I manage to say. “That man…”

“No, it’s not a man who bought it,” Doug continued. “She’s a single mom, with two kids about the ages of ours.” He looks over at our two children and said, “You’ll finally have someone else to play with out here.”

“No,” I say. “I met the man who was living there. He moved in a few days ago, he used to walk by here all the time. Haven’t you seen him?”

He stares at me, puzzled. “No. There’s been no one living there.” He paused. “Gemma, have you…?”

I shake my head. I don’t know what to say.

“Excuse me.” I bolt from the table, and hurry out to the kitchen. I dig into my purse and grab my keys. Trembling, I head to the garage and pop the trunk lid open. I hoist the trunk lid up. Inside, I see the plastic garbage bag, with weeds sticking out the side of the bag. I tear open the bag and sift through the weeds, leaves and branches.

No dead body.  And no body at all. No blood, either.

I look around the garage and I see the rake, clean and also free of blood. As if it never happened. I turn around and race out of the garage, back into the house, past my family still seated at the table, so accustomed my unpredictable ways that they barely notice. I run to the bedroom and open my dresser drawer.

I smile, as I pick up my pill box and take a look inside. Today is Wednesday, I remember that much. I notice today’s dose is still there. I see M, T, F, S and S are still there, too. I haven’t taken my medicine in nearly a week.

I breathe a sigh of relief. Things happen when I don’t take my medicine. Or, rather, they don’t happen. Things don’t happen, but I think that they do.

I reach for a water bottle, toss a pill in my mouth, and take a huge gulp of water before the acidic taste of the pill can burn my tongue. I feel the tablet slide down my throat, and I take another gulp of water for good measure.

“Hello, reality,” I murmur aloud. “I’m on my way back…”