It was the dog that signalled the start of it, though I didn’t realise it at the time. I was sitting in my kitchen, having a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. The neighbours dog was at it again, crying at their backdoor. Not that it would do him any good, they would be in work for another five or six hours. At first it was heartbreaking, that high pitched, yelping cry, then after the third day it became annoying and after the second week it was just tuned out, it became a part of the background noise of the neighbourhood. The dog was crying, as usual, but then the cry changed, there was a high pitched yelp, then silence. I looked up from my paper briefly wondering if the dog had hurt itself. I had met it a few times, small little dog, very friendly and always eager to say hello. I didn’t particularly enjoy the noise it made, but it didn’t mean I wanted it to be hurt either. I stood from the table and opened the backdoor, listening. There was the scrape of Mrs. Bensons trowel as she gardened away as usual, the hum of a lawn mower in the distance, but no sound of the dog. After a few seconds of silence I decided that my neighbours must have just come home early, after all, if it had been injured it would be whimpering still.
To be quite honest, I wasn’t paying all that much attention, I was suffering with some kind of cold and had called into work. I wasn’t bad enough to call out, but I felt miserable enough that I just couldn’t face the day of bullshit that awaited me. The plan for the day was simple, read the paper, have some coffee, maybe watch TV or play video games. I had a long waiting list of chores to be done too.
I went back inside and finished off my paper and my coffee, then I went upstairs to shower. It was already well past noon and I knew I should at least pretend I planned on doing something productive for the day. I felt refreshed after the shower, they always made me feel better when I was sick. Once I had dressed I decided I should go do some shopping, my cupboards were starting to look a little bare. I threw on a hoodie, grabbed my keys and headed for the door. That was when I first saw him.
He wasn’t immediately threatening. My first thought was “Shit. Now I’m going to have to deal with someone.” I already knew what he wanted, to sell me something ridiculous and pointless. I wasn’t paying much attention, I was running through the list of things I needed so I gave a brief wave, yelled something like I was in a rush and hopped into the car. I didn’t get a particularly good look at him, he was standing to the side of my driveway and I gave him another wave as I reversed out, a little thank you for waiting.
I picked up most of what I needed in the shops, I forgot a few things, as usual, but they weren’t important. When I returned home he was still standing at the edge of my driveway. I chuckled a little, obviously he was desperate to sell whatever it was if he was waiting for me. I dismissed the entire thing of course, he just happened to be walking back and it was a coincidence. I got out of the car and grabbed the bags, I didn’t bother looking at him, after all that would be an invitation for him to start his sales pitch. I gathered the few bags and brought them in, then I unpacked them in the kitchen, I’d already forgotten about him.
After everything was away I made myself a sandwich for lunch, just something quick before I went into the sitting room to watch some TV. I had a few TV shows I wanted to marathon, and there was nothing else I had planned for the day.
I walked into the sitting room and froze. He was standing at my window. Staring in at me. It was the first time I properly looked at the man. He was dressed in a suit, charcoal grey. I don’t know what kind it was exactly, but it looked expensive. He looked to be fairly well off too. I assumed on my way out that he was just in a cheap suit or something. He didn’t react when I went into the sitting room, didn’t flinch, didn’t even turn to look at me. He just stared. Arms down by his sides. The worse part was the manic smile. It was far, far too wide. I stood, frozen too, unable to move or look away. His eyes were dead. There was nothing in them. They weren’t cold or distant, there was obvious that there was nothing going on in that mans head. His grin trembled every so often, like his muscles were trying to relax but something was preventing it. I snapped out of it and stepped back through the doorway and out of the sitting room, wondering what I should do. The man obviously had some kind of mental break, but was he dangerous? I’d have to call the police and let them know. I peered around the doorway and jumped as his eyes immediately snapped to me. What ever fugue state he was in he was starting to snap out of it. I didn’t know much about mental disorders, other than what I saw on the news or TV shows, but I knew that when people were insane they could be stronger than usual and that was my fear. What if he broke through the glass? I mean, I wasn’t exactly weak, but I wasn’t in any condition to fight off a crazed attacker, at the very least I’d be injured, probably badly.
I had the phone in my hand, fingers hovering over the buttons when I knew I needed to look again. It sounds stupid, but I was going to call the police, he knew I was in the house, what difference would it make? I stuck my head around the doorframe again, his eyes didn’t snap immediately to me, but I could see he was alert. And that grin, still smiling away. I didn’t know how he could stand it, my own cheeks hurt just from seeing him.
I dialled 911, I was sure the dispatcher would think I was a bit unstable myself as I started to explain, but she didn’t. She told me to close the door to the sitting room and asked if I’d be able to barricade myself upstairs. The instructions were weird, but I was already freaked out so they seemed reasonable, the thing that frightened me the most was the tone of her voice. She seemed frightened. She was trained to be professional, to stay calm, and she sounded scared for me. I wanted to have another look, make sure he was still there but I restrained myself. If he was crazy, anything could set him off. I didn’t bother closing the door the sitting room, the movement might set him off, besides the door didn’t lock and it was flimsy enough. I went upstairs to the front bedroom. I knew I’d be able to see the front garden from there. It seemed like the best place to be. That way I’d know where he was. If he moved from the window I’d see him and if he broke in, well, I’d definitely know. I was assured that police were coming, they’d be here shortly and everything would be fine. The dispatcher didn’t want me in the front room, she said it wasn’t safe. So I opened the attic stairs. Stairs is a bit of s stretch really, it was just a folding ladder. Still, I could pull it up and be relatively safe in less than ten seconds if he broke in.
I looked out the window and there he was, standing in the middle of my driveway, beside my car. He was staring up at the window, like he knew where I was. I didn’t jump back, I didn’t try to hide, what would be the point? The grin was the worst part, at some point his lip had split open, blood was slowly running down his chin. It was awful. He didn’t point, he didn’t make any gestures, he just stared. I could see now that the dead sheen in his eyes was gone, there was something else there, not the bright awareness there had been earlier, but something else, I couldn’t quite pinpoint it.
The police arrived after half an hour. At some point the dispatcher had told me to go into the attic, then she was cut off. I don’t know if I hung up or if she did. Afterwards I suspected that she did. There were a lot of calls that day. They didn’t try to talk to him, they didn’t try to reasons with him, they didn’t even try to arrest him. They got out of their car and while one scanned the road, the other shot the man. Right in the chest. The smiling man dropped almost immediately. The officer walked up to him, he was still alive and moving, and shot him again.
I was hesitant to answer when they knocked on the door, they had just shot a man in cold blood. They called through the door that it was safe and if I saw anyone in that condition again I was not to approach them, I was to call the emergency services immediately.
I was frightened. Of course I was. I told them that I wouldn’t and that I would. Then they left. They didn’t even take the body. An ambulance must have come sometime during the night to collect him as his body was gone the next morning. It wasn’t on the news, not then. I saw nothing about it at all. I told my neighbours about it, to be on the look out, the ones with the dog. They told me someone had killed him the day before. They came home from work to find him dead in the back garden, his head twisted almost clean off. I tried knocking into Mrs. Bensons, she was getting on in years and I occasionally did her shopping. I wanted to check on her. There was no answer, I didn’t think much of it at the time, why would I? She probably saw what happened and went to visit one of her sons, too frightened to stay in her home. I wouldn’t see her again until a week later, standing in her porch with that awful, awful smile, her chin stained with blood, congealed into the wrinkles of her face, her eyes dark but glittering with life.