Outside, Laura saw a little boy riding a bike in the street, just another one of those neighborhood kids, and she thought of how much she wanted to be a kid like that one riding by, just happy and carefree. She hadn't cherished childhood that much, and wished she had now. She missed school, where the teachers would always call on the kids that need a keyboard and a mouse to think. She didn't even care if she was one of those kids, the kind that measure how much work they'd done in joules. The kind that thought having sweetened applesauce was risky living. She missed it so much, and she hated her job as a reporter. The kid riding a bike disappeared out of sight, and now Laura's eyes caught a big moving truck parking itself in front of the house next-door. The house had been on sale for almost a year, starting in December, and hadn't received one offer. The owners of the house, Laura's neighbors, had been saddened as the year dragged on with no sale in sight. Last January, she moved from her makeshift apartment near downtown to the house she owned now. She had to choose between the one her parents had lived in, and the neighbor's house. She took the obvious one, and was happy. But now, as the other house remained unsold, she grew a bit sad. But now, it looked like it was sold. That was great news.
A black Mercedes pulled up behind the moving truck and somebody in a black trench coat got out-Laura couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman- and walked to the front step. He didn't ring the doorbell or anything; he just walked in, which surprised me because the only way that the guy let himself in would be because the deal was done and the old neighbors were gone. But the old neighbors, a nice elderly couple, would have called her about their newfound stroke of good luck. Confused, Laura got up out of the chair and walked downstairs and got out the Jell-o mold mix she had been saving for six months and started to make it. She wanted to go over there and investigate as soon as possible, but a nice neighbor would go over with a nice, springy Jell-o mold and a poised answer for a question regarding coffee on Saturdays. Laura would rather be a nice neighbor than a boisterous reporter. And plus, she liked Jell-o. Maybe the person in the black trench coat would share.
She got out the mix and followed the instructions. Later in the day, around three in the afternoon, the moving truck was gone and Laura was ready for her neighborly welcoming trip. She put on jeans and wrapped the shawl around her neck before she walked over, and by then it had grown even chillier than when she had gone out for coffee that morning. Shivering, she walked up the front walk and pushed the doorbell. After about ten seconds with no answer, she knocked three hard times. She saw the lock turn and the doorknob twist, and the door opened to reveal an old man with a small white beard and moustache. He had a deep scar across his forehead that was in the shape of an elongated T. He had a deep scowl that emanated fierce anger and frustration. Laura took a step back, holding the lime green Jell-o mold out in front of her.
"I'm sorry-I-did I catch you at the, uh-" Laura started. Normally she was calm and composed when talking, but there was something about this man . . . something strange.
"What do you want?" the man asked fiercely. His white eyebrows dipped in towards the top of his nose. His voice rung in her ears hours after she left.
"I just came to bring this Jell-o mold," she answered. She arranged what she thought a nice homely smile, but her fear shone clear as if it was branded on her forehead. "Just trying to maintain the regular neighborly niceness. I could come some other time, or-"
The lines on his forehead deepened yet. "Now I don't need no Jell- o."
"Okay, I'll just come back some other time," Laura said and turned around, meaning to walk down the steps and go back home where she would eat the dessert herself.
"But I'm hungry anyway," the man said. He smiled, but it was clear he was faking it. His eyes stayed in that mad mentality. Laura turned around, and handed him the mold, keeping her eyes on his. He took the dessert in one hand and offered his other to Laura. "Shawn Anderson."
She shook his hand. It was cold. "Laura Cansvy." Expecting him to invite her in, she walked towards him. But he didn't offer her to come inside.
"Thanks for the Jell-o," Mr. Anderson said. He let go of her hand and opened the door and walked inside.
"Bye-" Laura said, but the door had already slammed shut. "Jeez," she muttered under her breath. She walked back to her house, thinking of things she could have said differently. Yes, she could have said a lot of things differently. But this was different from her regular interview, this man was different. This guy was peculiar.
Laura opened the door and walked over to the living room after taking her shoes off, and sat down in the chair she had sat in when she first observed the moving truck. There were windows on the front and side walls, and the front looked out onto the street. The side window had a perfect view of Mr. Anderson's new house, and the two houses were so perfectly largely spaced, you could see the whole house, including the driveway and backyard. She stared at the house, and fell asleep in the chair ten minutes later.
There was a small plant that sat on the corner of Laura's desk at work next to her typewriter in front of the window. Few employees had the privilege to sit next to the window, and those were good reporters with good social skills, a powerful will and nice writing talents. On the other side of the typewriter was a cup of coffee from Starbucks, and beside it was a six inch tall clock with Roman numerals. Right now the clock read ten thirty-seven in the morning. It was the day after Mr. Anderson moved in, and Laura couldn't find anything to write about. This phenomenon was weird for the city of Fairway.
"You'll be ready for tomorrow?" a voice said from behind her. She jumped a little before she turned to see her chunky editor standing behind her desk with his hands in his pockets.
"I hope so," Laura said, and really, really hoped so. "There's not really that much . . ."
"You'll find something," the editor said. He walked over to the man sitting at the next desk typing away at a typewriter. Laura could hear the editor ask the same question to him, and he responded with a smile and a "Yeah." Laura grumbled and got up, out of her chair and walked through the front door, out of the small parking lot and onto the sidewalk. Today was another chilly day, but she was clothed properly this time.
She was practicing what she called "the Cansvy Method", in which you walk along the sidewalk until you either think of something to write or something to interview about. Hands in her pockets of her long white coat, her breath turned visible in the lower-forties-degree-weather as cars whizzed by to her right in the street. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary . . . crisp leaves on the ground, bare trees, cold, wet sidewalks, the open library across the street, Mr. Anderson-she couldn't get him off her mind. She couldn't stop thinking about how weird their meeting had been, how the elderly couple that lived there before Mr. Anderson hadn't even called Laura up to tell her that the house had sold. But a voice said from the back off her mind that she was just exaggerating things because she couldn't find a story. One time, when Laura was a kid, she was listening to the news radio when this talk-show host came on talking about how a celebrity started crying during an interview. The talk-show host kept saying that this was "Disturbing . . . startling . . . aww, this is just disgusting. So disturbing, this is just scary. This is just . . . I don't know." Laura laughed when she heard this, and somewhere in her thoughts back then, she thought even she could do better than that. Maybe that's where her career stemmed from. Who knows?
Crossing a street, she realized how far she had gotten from her office building. She was almost all the way downtown already, and downtown Fairway in the fall is always a pleasurable treat. When you walk down Main Street, which goes from Cleveland all the way to Randolph, all of the stores were almost on top of the sidewalk, which makes for great window shopping, especially with Presto's Bakery's sweet perfume wafting up and down the busy street. Down on the corner by the bus stop was a famous coffee shop, and next to it was the ever-popular Helena Theater. Across the street was a Sears and next to it was an antiques store with the smell of old paperbacks and spicy candles. Laura's cousin ran the antiques shop, whose name was Maria Sentien. Maria and Laura were close friends, and sometimes Maria would close the shop and have a coffee across the street during a lunch break when Laura was having a slow day. Laura thought she might visit Maria for a few minutes. It wasn't lunch yet, but they could still talk, right?
Laura passed the theater and stopped in front of a cross walk. She pushed the small black button in the telephone pole, and almost immediately the crosswalk across blinked a green image. Surprised at the short wait, Laura crossed the street quickly, as there were cars lining up on both sides of the crosswalk. When she got to the other side, she pulled open the heavy door of Sentien's Antiques and pulled herself inside. She was confused when she saw a young man, of what she estimated a teenager, standing beside the cash register at the back of the store. Maria usually worked alone. Maria was not married and Laura could just picture herself congratulating her friend on the fine pick.
Walking up to the back of the store, an old painted platter caught her eye. She would have to come back and look at it. "Is Maria here?" Laura asked when she got to the register. The young man looked up and Laura saw that his name tag read "Harris."
"No, she's out of town. Who are you? Can I tell her you said someth- "
"Where is she?" Laura asked. Where is everyone?
"I think she said she was going up to Cleveland to visit her mother. Do you want me to tell her something?" His white and black nametag glimmered in the overhead light.
"Tell her Laura said hello. Tell her to call me." Laura turned to leave, but then turned back around and asked, "How long will she be gone?"
The boy thought for a minute. "She didn't tell me."
Laura turned around and headed for the door with out saying good-bye. Why wouldn't Maria have called her when she left? Why wouldn't her neighbors have called when they moved out? What was going on? Well, Laura didn't know. But, as a reporter, it was her job to figure these kinds of things out.
She thought about ringing the doorbell, she honestly thought about it. But, for some reason, she felt a nodding notion that she should just spy. It was unheard of in the reporter's practice, but sometimes you just had to do some inside work to get some really good, juicy stories to publish in the paper next day. And, in this instance, Laura felt she needed to. There was just something about this man, Mr. Anderson, that just chilled her to the bone. He was scary. But again, the Jiminy Cricket voice popped into her head, yelling at the top of its tiny little cricket voice, "You're exaggerating. It's not that big of a deal. An old man moves in next door, and you go all Haunting of Hill House. You need a chill pill, gill."
Yes, Laura's mind answered back, but there's just something . . . something I just can't put my finger on . . .
Anyway, Laura walked down the side of Mr. Anderson's new house until she got to the first window. The shades were, surprisingly, already set up, and they were carefully drawn so they made a perfect Arabian-drapery kind of look. Inside, she could see, was mostly piles of big, brown and white cardboard boxes with tan tape all over them, and on the right side of the room was a lime green sofa that she imagined every single old person had. The carpet was a-no, there was no carpet; there was hardwood flooring that went all the way through the doorway and into the hall, and it was a beautiful light-brown shade of wood that was called God-knows-what. The wall paper was an ugly, rusty, yellow flower pattern that Laura remembered from when she had visited countless times as a kid.
She moved to the next window. This, unlike the other window, had no shades on it; it was bare. There weren't even boxes in it. It had pure white painted walls and white carpeting, something that reminded Laura of the rooms they put you in when you went crazy at the sanitarium. It disgusted Laura. She went into her backpack and took out her camera. She took a picture.
She moved to the next window. Again, it was at eye level. This window had shades, but they were closed. She was about to walk away when the shades parted and Mr. Anderson's old, drawn, haggard face peered out at her. His eyebrows were dipped in towards his nose like breadsticks into marinara, and his scar seemed to jump and pulse and Laura almost screamed. She quickly ducked under the window, and kneeled on the carpet of decaying leaves and grass, pressing her body onto the brick wall. She closed her eyes and breathed heavily.
After regaining her confidence, ducking, she walked back to her own house and started to think.