He hadn’t noticed the name in all the stress of the relocation.
That would have made Damien laugh if it wasn’t so tragic.
Wachter. Like the typo of what it really meant; the error that pointed clearly towards the plain truth.
Fortunately for Damien the name was as far as things went. There wasn’t actually anything to see in this part of Bismarck and after the crowds of New York City it seemed that Damien’s little problem was beginning to simmer down and the clashes and the collisions of images that usually boiled up under the skin of his eyelids were letting him sleep for longer and longer periods. The night before had been the best. He’d managed to grab three hours at a stretch.
This was exactly what Damien needed. What four years of prison therapy couldn’t give him. A little stream rimmed with green water-weeds flowed on its peaceful passage south from the Missouri River. Damien could hear and smell the water from the darkness of his second-storey bedroom. He sat up there most nights. Fitting into a civilised society, as the New York judge said. Keeping himself out of trouble, like warden Reznik had told him. Being a whole person, as his prison counsellor had coached.
He’d put his desk by the window and, at night, he sat there until he felt tired enough to sleep; looking out at the little stream and the old telephone wires and the white house across the road, mercifully shielded by the peacefully tilting branches of a brace of white elms.
As it was the white elms lined the entire length of Wachter Avenue; making it virtually impossible for Damien to see in through the black glass of his neighbours’ windows; or into any of the bedrooms of any of the houses that ran along the western arm of the street.
On the east the residential area stopped dead where the road hummocked a little over the quiet stream and the buildings only picked up again some five-hundred yards away.
So, it would seem, in many ways, that Wachter Avenue, despite its ironic name, had been the perfect place for his rehabilitation.
Only the white house made his mind in the slightest uneasy.
The white house, and the blue shadows of those tall white elms that danced the strangest kinds of dances on its horizontal panels of outer woodwork and on the single bedroom window-- the single window in the entire long street-- unobscured from Damien’s view.
Damien wanted nothing but peace now. Four years in a New York prison had beat any more ambitious thinking clean out of his skull.
He’d had enough of what people do. Luring you in with so much promise and vital energy only to make you look foolish or, worse, like a deviant.
Damien had never understood what the problem was. Once, in New York State, in the prison that is, he’d seen a nature documentary on TV, Natural World, or something.
On the Los Coronados Islands, in Baja California, the elephant seals had been fighting; each gargantuan wedge of testosterone and wild shaking blubber was beating its wide chest against the other, both mewling and fizzing at the mouth, and battering at each other until the bite marks were red and gory on the grey fat of both their faces and necks.
In the end the larger seal prevailed, as the larger always does, and he hefted his five-tonne body triumphantly over the slithers of slate and shingle; pinning the comparatively tiny female to the beach-floor and beginning to mate with her from behind; her whining and biting at his fat and tumorous trunk.
But that wasn’t what Damien was watching.
Watching still watching. Locked in a room for four years for watching. Name noted indelibly in a Registry of perverts for watching. Life ruined for watching. Watching. Still Watching. Sitting in a prison rec-room watching-- a bleeding elephant seal-- the runt-- the loser-- the naturally selected for loneliness, derision, pain, death, childlessness-- watching it watching them-- screwing-- the massive victor and his squealing prize-- two balls of grey flesh twitching on the shifting stones-- bucking-- hollering-- filling the stench of the sound with the dissonant ring and peal of their copulation.
Damien remembered the weight of male aggression too. Not the formless, wild male aggression captured through a lens by Natural World, or National Geographic, or even in the amateur bedroom roughness he’d caught in his own lens when the streetlights of New York went up and the lights of the apartments dimmed. No. Real and tangible male aggression. The feel of a claw-hammer thudding sickening into the spongy pit of his temple.
Damien remembered going down hard on the laminate floor of his old 19th Street apartment. He remembered his hand slipping off the door and reaching for his split and cracked head. He remembered the blood thick and sticky on the mock-wood and the already drying spatters on the head of the metal tool the guy had brought over just for the occasion.
And he remembered the guy too; thick bodied and pissed as hell. He hadn’t even waited for Damien to get back up. As though this hundred-and-thirty pound weakling posed no threat at all. He’d moved through the apartment like he owned the place and, sure enough, Damien didn’t move. He watched as the alpha-male intruder found the camera cassettes he’d stowed away religiously in his sock-drawer for years; and then smashed each flimsy piece of plastic to a hundred pieces with his red and greasy hammer.
You hear that, guy!? he thought. I’m not pissing myself, guy!! I’m not pissing!! I want you guys out!! I don’t want to see you anymore!!
All the while, as he worked away like this, he watched the neighbour’s window. It was only later, as he finally began to clip the cotton lengths of his new curtains onto the loops around the rail, that the thought occurred to him:
In the six weeks since moving from New York, he hadn’t seen a single soul go in, or come out of, the white house across the way.
The night rolled in over Bismarck; leaving the streets blue and misty in its darkening drag.
Damien had taken his small dinner sitting on his unmade bed and, afterwards, he left the lights off as he always did. Force of habit really. If you want to see out, and no one else to see in, it’s best to make friends with the dark.
His prison counsellor had given him a tip for dealing with his pathology. He’d admitted in a session to having watched a lot of television while growing up and, being close to forty now, it was the horror movies of the 1980s he apparently had to blame for the onset of his condition.
As he’d grown older the sickness had, of course, grown proportionately but, according to her, that’s where it had all got started: with the network premieres of The Hills Have Eyes II and Re-Animator. With Hellraiser, The Fly and with Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.
Tonight too a grey and perpetually fretting light tossed and changed in shape and luminosity over Damien’s inert and reclined body. He was laying on his bed facing the TV he’d rigged up on a pair of crates. The room around him was a real shit-hole-- stale sheets-- stinking clothes-- old dishes and pizza boxes littering the floor-- on TV some of the more disturbing scenes from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer spilled and shivered into the empty room.
“My momma was a whore,” Michael Rooker, playing Henry, told the story on screen, “but I don’t fault her for that-- it ain’t what she done it’s how she done it-- long as I can remember she’d be bringin’ men up to the house-- my daddy was there too but it didn’t matter none to her-- and she made me watch it--”
Damien looked across the room at the hang of the curtains; they were flickering faintly in the ghost-light that emanated from the television tube. He stared at their new whiteness for a long moment. Then he turned back to the movie.
“--and sometimes she’d beat me-- make me wear a dress-- and watch her doin’ it--”
Watching. Still watching.
Damien zoned out from what the actor playing a killer was whining about in the unreal world of celluloid neurosis. He’d seen the movie before after all. He’d seen a lot of movies before.
In many ways his counsellor had been right-- though she’d been full of shit in more than one. Television, though, that was one thing she’d got right.
Television had been his first voyeurism. Blood and killings and sex all spilling out in the shape of light from behind the dark glass. His generation had been brought up on smut and gore and so many of the guys he knew from school had only gone on to exchanged the TV screen for a computer monitor in later years.
Even now there were phones and tablets and laptops.
Even now the secret voyeurs sat in their innumerable rooms watching the sickest things imaginable on their glossy and expensive technologies.
Damien had been different in only one way. In adolescence he’d traded the TV screen for his neighbours’ windows instead of virtual reality. His parents had moved home three times, settling all over the state of New York, and Damien had squatted in the bushes of Scranton and Albany and Poughkeepsie-- staring through the pretty curtains, at the pretty women, in their pretty silks-- watching the pretty things they did for their husbands.
He looked back at the curtains. His eyes were still and sleepy under glass.
Watching. Still. Watching.
The curtains were white and had no pattern; though the way they doubled up blocked out all possible light from Wachter Avenue beyond.
Good, Damien thought. Good. I don’t want to see another window again. I want to keep them out!
I’ll regress, he thought. Back through this filthy, failed experiment called manhood. Back through prison and sexual frustration. Back through impulse and straight on, back through puberty. Away from the windows of Scranton. Away from the windows of Albany, Poughkeepsie, New York, Bismarck. Away from the window of the white house on Wachter and back to TV.
TV. Sweet, clean, violent, sexually depraved TV. Where you can watch anything-- and no one can do anything about it.
“You tellin’ me you ain’t killed nobody before?” Michael Rooker, playing Henry, was grilling Tom Towles, playing Otis.
“I ain’t sayin’ that,” says Otis.
“Then you’ve killed before, right?” asks Henry.
“Well maybe I didn’t have no choice,” says Otis.
“You didn’t have no choice here neither, did you? Did you?” asks Henry.
“I don’t know. It ain’t the same.”
“It’s always the same.” Henry says, “And it’s always different... it’s either you or them one way or the other... ain’t that right?... Open your eyes, Otis, look at the world.”
Damien pointed the remote and killed the TV.
He was goddamned if Michael Rooker was going to tell him to open his eyes and look.
But he did look. He always looked.
The room was much darker now; and the curtains he’d bought hung the way that a pall hangs on one massive corpse. Behind the sweet new material the old rot of the universe continued to revolve on its off-kilter axis.
Men would beat their wives tonight. There’d be grudging sex after arguments. There’d be copulations in lieu of divorce. The motels off Bismarck Expressway would admit their streams of infidelities. The city's prostitutes would continue to ply their trade within earshot of their sleeping sons and a mound of sinuous grey blubber would rise from the Mexican seas and belly-flop into an orgy of violence and coitus where the elephant seals gather to fight and fuck on the Islands of Los Coronados.
The thoughts of the day spun off-kilter in Damien’s rusty mind. Until his eyes blinked and closed behind his glasses.
It wasn’t a nightmare he had but the shard of a nightmare.
Someone had broken into the house. Someone was holding him down from behind. Laminate floor sticky with head-blood. Another guy had a drill and was leaning, faceless but angry, over his useless body.
The sharp end of the drill-bit bit down under the guy’s muscular weight; pressing a tiny borehole into the glass over his eyes.
Then the sound of the drilling started. Drowned out by a distant scream.
Damien woke up. His intact eyes were already staring across the room. At the curtains. Suddenly the dark room filled with an ominous presence. It felt almost as though there was something out there-- on Wachter-- in the street-- standing by the little stream-- or under the stands of white elm that lined the avenue for miles.
He knew at once what was going on. Or maybe the nightmare had just unlevelled his brain. There was someone out there. Behind the curtains.
Someone was watching him.
Damien crossed the room and pulled back the curtain.
His eyes opened so wide they hurt. He didn’t think a guy would do that, widen his eyes, but he had. To let in more light. To let out the doubt of what he was seeing. He didn’t know.
His chest ached and his stomach heaved and the breath strung in and out of him like a tiny iron sea.
The guy from the white house was standing in his bedroom; holding his duck-egg-blue curtains in his hand and staring across at Damien’s window. Damien himself, for all his trying, couldn’t see the man’s face or eyes-- there was just a black void there where the shadow of the elms fell into the room-- but somehow, nonetheless, Damien knew that the man had been standing there, for hours maybe, before he’d checked.
Damien kept looking but the figure in the window didn’t flinch.
Watching. Still watching. Watching still.
It was the next thing that happened that Damien couldn’t bring himself to believe. Right there. Seemingly not caring if Damien saw him or not. Not caring if he was caught or not. The figure standing in the bedroom of the white house slowly and deliberately brought his hand up to the windowpane.
In his dark, maybe even gloved hand, the guy was training a HD handy-cam directly at Damien’s bedroom window.
And, without knowing, Damien could sense it as the lens zoomed in.
B.T. Joy is a British horror writer whose short fiction has appeared within the printed pages, internet presences and podcasts of markets such as Horrified Press, Surreal Grotesque, James Ward Kirk Fiction, Human Echoes, MircoHorror, Flashes In The Dark, SQ Magazine, Forgotten Tomb Press and Chilling Tales For Dark Nights, among others. He is also a practicing poet and his poetry can be found in magazines and anthologies produced worldwide. He can be reached through his website: http://btj0005uk.wix.