Up In The Window
The other night in a taxi, on my way home from a going away party for friends, I came up with this story. Just in time for Friday Flash because I’m at a temporary stalemate with my Dandy in the Underworld serial!
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The taxi jolted into movement again. We are nearing the building. The building with the figure in the window.
At night when in a taxi, on a bus, or in a car, I like to glance at the lit windows of apartment buildings as we speed by. I enjoy fleeting glimpses into various rooms. It’s intriguing to catch sight of wall hangings, décor, and light fixtures. The ultra-blue glare of a TV screen flickering on walls gives an eerie glow to a darkened room. Sometimes I glance in and witness a quick slice of life moment.
There is a specific window that has become an obsession of mine. Whenever possible, I reroute my travels to pass the window, just so I can stare up and take note.
In this particular window, no matter what time of night or how infrequently I pass it, there is always the same figure. It looks like a person sitting at a table or in a chair. The body is tilted slightly away from the window so I can’t make out a face. The person seems intent on something. What is it? Reading? The person could be watching TV, although there is never any telltale flicker of blue light. Perhaps the person is listening to music in a contemplative pose? Or maybe playing Second Life on the computer? In any case, the figure seems to always be in the same position. The same tilt of the body, the same slant of pale, amber-gray light. There is something unsettling about it, though.
One evening a few months ago, as the taxi paused in traffic, I had time to study the figure in the window. I decided the gender is male. He looks to have a very lean build, or at least what can be seen from the sternum up. He has a smooth shaved head. I can’t tell if he is wearing clothing. The window is on a top floor, about three floors up, so picking up details is hazy at best. But it appears he is shirtless or always wears pale beige-blue shirts that fit seamlessly to the body.
After that, about once a week, on random nights, at random times, I traveled past that window. He was always there. I started to have belligerent thoughts like, “Change position, dammit!” “Glance out the window!” “Stand up!” “Be absent from the window for once!” But he was always there, in the same position.
A few nights ago, I decided that it wasn’t a person sitting in the window, but a mannequin set up to look like a person sitting in the window. And that irritated me. It especially irritated me tonight after consuming a few shots of bourbon and a few beers. Irrational? Yes. But now I have a frivolous mystery to solve. Man or mannequin? I intend to find out tonight.
I tell the taxi driver to pull over. I pay him and exit the cab. I’m a couple blocks away from the building with the window. It’s a nice night, a bit brisk and fog-draped. That, coupled with my booze buzz, adds to the aura of mystery I’ve woven around this figure in the window. I very much hope it isn’t a mannequin. I kind of want it to be a stuffed dead person, in a mother of Norman Bates way, because I can be gruesome like that.
I arrive at the corner market across the street from the building. There he is, sitting in the window. I lean against the outside wall of the market, take out a cigarette, and light it. Just causally pausing to have a smoke, with a good view of the window.
Please move. Please glance out the window at me. I want to see your face. I want you to see me.
My thoughts have an urgent appeal to them. I inhale, frustrated. I’ve been staring up at the window, aching to see any kind of movement. I finish my cigarette, stub it out, and toss it into a nearby garbage can. I feel almost dejected.
It must be a mannequin.
The thought rankles. I lean against the wall again, giving one last stare up at the figure in the window. And then it happens. The figure moves. He turns his head and looks out the window. He sees me.
A curdling, nauseated sensation, not unlike the first rush of food poisoning, grips me, washes over me. I inhale in shock. I’m afraid and have a desperate need to immediately put distance between myself and the figure in the window. My gut tells me, Too late. You’ve been marked.
I don’t know what that means, at least not comprehensively. But my survival instinct knows.
I’m glad for the busy street. I hail the first empty taxi, keeping my gaze away from the figure in the window. The mystery is solved but not solved. I understand, but I don’t. It makes sense but it doesn’t. It’s frightening. It brings to mind, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” except not that exact story .
Horror movies usually take place in isolated areas. Small towns, the woods, islands, abandoned buildings, etc. I live in a thriving, cosmopolitan city where the horror stories are crime based. Man’s inhumanity to man. But after exchanging stares with that figure in the window, I now know that a thriving, cosmopolitan city is the prime place to hide and wait until the time is right for –
I don’t finish that thought.
The taxi is going fast. The nausea ripples over me. I’m short of breath. Anxious.
“Creepy night, right?” The taxi driver’s voice is jovial. “Makes you think something is going to jump out around every corner.”
I don’t respond. I have learned something unpleasant tonight. I’ve learned that the human race isn’t really alone and we aren’t really safe. And the voice in my head just keeps repeating over and over, “They’re heeeeere.” But it’s not amusing in the least.