Curious Characters: The Neighbor Lady

So far, I have a few ritualistic posts that I’ve been creating for content. The poem posts, short story bites, and hopefully much more that I have on the brain throughout the week. Another example would be some “What I’m Reading” for book reviews that I feel are worth mentioning, and maybe some that I don’t…though, that’s a big “if” at this point.

But one post content that I’ve been mentally chewing on lately are some curious characters that I’ve encountered throughout my life. Much like the “Let’s Not Meet: The Creeper From Walgreens” story post I made some time ago, but something that’s more of my own thread and not a dedication to someone else’s work (Don’t get me wrong, I still listen to Let’s Not Meet, A True Horror Podcast and if you love chilling true stories, you should totally check it out!).

So here is post one for Curious Characters: The Neighbor Lady. The following is a true story, non-fiction encounter of a woman who I encountered when living in Oklahoma City in an apartment building with my sister during my final years of undergrad schooling. Names are omitted for the confidentiality of people involved.

CONTENT WARNING: The following story includes instances of mental illness and suicide. If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illnesses, depression, or suicidal thoughts, please reach out to your local resources or contact the National Suicide Hotline 800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741.

*Reader discretion is advised*

I sort of met my new neighbor on the very first day I began unloading my car into my new living space for the next two years. “Sort of” because I don’t know if you actually can say you have met someone when they’re standing on their porch, grasping the stair rail with wiry hands, glaring at you as you carry one box after another without saying a word. I kept catching her angry eyes on purpose, to silently say, “Hey, I can see you staring. You’re not doing a great job of hiding it.”

But she kept glaring, her thin lips twisted in a dry pinch. Her disgusted expression didn’t lessen, and it was only partial relief when I finally came out for my last car trip to find her stoop space empty. Partial because I could tell that this was my neighbor, and I’m sorry, Mr. Rogers, but no, I don’t think I wanted to be her neighbor. Who just stands and stares at people like that? So openly and hostile at a complete stranger?

My sister had already been living in the apartment building for a while, so I asked her, “Who is the woman next door? Have you met her?”

My sister rolled her eyes. “Oh. Her. Yeah, I tried saying hi to her when I first moved in, but she just sneered at me and practically hissed, ‘Why are you talking to me?!’ So I wouldn’t bother. She obviously wants to be left alone.”

So left her alone we did, but despite this, we couldn’t help the times that her presence was undeniable, disturbingly so. There were times I saw her coming and going from her squat apartment house, an attached square and squat building which was joined to the side of the main building where we lived. She was older, elderly even, with an aged face and a sharply pointed chin, and her stringy graying hair was pulled back into a limp ponytail every day. She was skinny, slight and short, and she moved in a weird lumbering pace, as if she didn’t have full control of her muscles. Her shoulders were hunched many times as if it was rare for her to be able to relax. Her beady, dark eyes always glared, never just looked at you but accused you of some unknown crime. It’s as if her every day was another day of walking with sharp pebbles in her shoes, another day of accosting glares, and God knows what else that occurred in her head.

We knew there was something not right with her, mentally, beyond the obvious and severe antisocial behavior. True, I understand people can be a non-people person, but her reactions to us anytime we dared walk outside when she was on her stoop with a cigarette in hand border lined furious. I wondered if she thought that her small apartment building came with its own land and we were all trespassers on our own rented space. She would give us a heated side-eye stare while her lips moved in breathy grumbles we couldn’t hear. I doubted we would want to hear whatever she had to say.

Again, we would try to ignore her, but the hateful presence was something you could feel like a cold wind. You can ignore it but it’s still undoubtedly there.

Especially when I was up in my bedroom one day, and the screaming began.

I was at my desk which sat facing a window which overlooked the parking lot behind our building. I could see her stoop and stair railing to the left, where she kept her garbage can. A shrill shriek tore through the quiet afternoon, and I jumped so hard and fast my knees hit into the wooden underside of my desk. My heart raced as I hurriedly leaned over my desk and fingertips shoved the plastic blinds of my window up so I can peer out.

And there she was, standing at her trash can, her scrawny and wrinkled face turned up to the sky, her mouth open, yellowed and broken teeth displayed, as she screamed with full force. Her hands grasping the trash bin lid, she began slamming the lid down over and over and over, screaming all the time that she did.

Shock paralyzed me at my window as I watched the chaotic episode. What in the hell was she doing? Glancing around, I saw she was alone, so was it because someone upset her or was it just…her?

This carried on for a full minute before she finally let the trashcan’s lid flop down and turned on her socked feet and trudged back into her apartment, slamming the screen door behind her. The now quiet scene outside felt so still and unsettling after such an upsetting scene. I had to wait a few minutes, watching and waiting to see if she would come out of her building again, but after a while of no movement of her front door, I finally let my blinds shut and sat back down in my chair, undoubtedly unable to get back to the assignment I had been working on. It was only midafternoon but already I was ready for some wine, something to soothe my rattled nerves. Suddenly, the dorm life with its nosy RAs, noisy neighbors, and shared bathrooms didn’t seem so awful.

A different time at the same window, I heard her screen door opening and closing a lot. Curious, I leaned forward to peek through the blinds again. This scene wasn’t as violent or loud as before, but it was still unusual and flabbergasting.

Our neighbor was dressed in simple cotton shorts and a plain shirt, a hat on her head and walking shoes. Leave it at that and you would think she’s going on a healthy walk around the block. But because this was her, it wasn’t just that.

She was wearing a handmade sandwich board sign, one of those signs that salespeople wear so a board hangs down over their front and also behind them against their back with whatever sale message the store wants to display to passersby. This one was homemade with wrinkled cardboard and silver duct tape. And the message made it all the more unusual and disturbing:

JOHN M. QUIT FOLLOWING ME!!!

I read it several times but came no closer to understanding what on earth this was about. Even if I asked, I doubt it would make more sense other than she believed some John was following her and she wanted him to stop. And who knows what other details would be attached to the story? As always, it was best to leave her to her own devices.

Though, at the end of it all, that proved to be fatal.

I was working on a Saturday night, and the store was finally closed after a long shift. I was in the brightly lit office helping check the cash count for the register drawers for the assistant manager when my phone began to buzz. It was my sister calling, which wasn’t usual (we mostly texted) so I knew it was important.

“Don’t come home right away,” was her opening line.

Confused, I said, “Uh, what?”

“You know the crazy neighbor? She killed herself in the parking lot.”

“What? How?”

“How do you think, Abbie? She shot herself!”

Yeah, that made sense but the shocking surprise caused my brain to lag and it was also the end of a tiring eight hour shift, too.

“So, why can’t I come home?”

“Well, the police have the back taped off and they’re not letting anyone leave the property or come on. I’m just saying that if you come home now, they may not let you even come up the sidewalk. I’ll go talk to them and call you after.”

It didn’t take long. I was still gathering my bag from my employee locker when she called back and said, “Okay. They know you live here, but come to the front door, not the back. She’s…still lying there.”

My stomach clenched, but it was late and I wanted to go home. So I did.

An ambulance and three cop cars were still parked on the street towards the back entrance of the lot behind our building. I could see the officials standing back there, talking to one another, but there was a relaxed air about them. I guess they declared that this was an obvious suicide, not a murder, so the intensity had lessened.

My sister let me in through the front door of the building (it was mostly kept locked from the inside and we only had a key to our individual apartment doors). And guess where you could see everything perfectly clear?

Yep. My desk window.

We both huddled over my desk together, having pulled the blinds up so we weren’t awkwardly parting them. The officers and two EMTs didn’t pay us any mind as they continued talking to one another.

And our neighbor’s lifeless body laid on the cracked concrete of the lot, legs straight out, both arms swept to her sides, one arm higher.

My sister explained that they had already removed the gun from her hand before I got home, but she did have one in that raised hand.

It was so odd to me how…not dead she looked. Her skin had a paler contrast but it was harder to tell in the glare of the street lamps and the shadows of night surrounding the scene. Her mouth was agape, her hair no longer up in a ponytail but laying out behind her head and neck. It was the stillness of her body that made my mind rush with adrenaline, how her chest and stomach didn’t move with any sign of living breath.

I could see a dark stain behind her head, but it wasn’t much bigger than where her hair laid against the ground.

“She must have put the gun in her mouth,” my sister explained when I commented on how little blood there was.

I quit asking questions after that.

For a long time, my sister and I watched until eventually the EMTs brought out a long black bag. She was placed in it, zipped up, and carried to the ambulance. Almost all at once all of the professionals vanished with her, leaving the head-sized spot of blood on the concrete.

Even after they were all gone and all that was left of our disturbed neighbor was a blood spot (which another neighbor would later clean the next day after no one else came to do it with a bucket of chemicals and sudsy water), I kept going to my window and peeking out. I’m not sure why I was compelled; maybe my brain wanted to be sure that the body was really gone and wouldn’t suddenly appear again. I had never seen a body outside of a funeral parlor or casket, so maybe that dark curiosity was why.

It was past midnight when I checked for the last time. Except, when I looked, I felt my heart nearly stop.

Four to five stray cats were now in our parking lot, all sitting right in the spot where her body had been laid. They weren’t lapping up the blood, thank God, but they just sat there. Stray cats usually fight or lash out at one another, but these cats were seated calmly in unison.

I didn’t look again after that.

A week later, I was walking up the sidewalk. I had to park my car in a parking strip up the block sometimes since our spots at the apartment were limited. When I came up and could see the building, I noticed our deceased neighbor’s door was propped open with a large rock. Milling in and out were a couple of men. They were cleaning out the apartment, boxes and tubs of random home things like lamps, blankets, throw pillows, books, and other normal items all being pulled out, probably on their way to either a Goodwill or a dumpster. The men wore shirts that brandished a moving company, so I figured they were hired hands and not relatives. I wonder if she had any relatives at all, or any one who knew her and still were in contact with her. The way she behaved, it wouldn’t shock me if she did have relatives but hadn’t spoken to them in years. Would they even hear of her death? Would they care? I’ll never know.

I walked up to cross the lot, to walk over that spot where she took her final breaths. I thought about the cats again and felt an uneasy knot in my chest, but it was when I looked up as I passed by her open doorway and saw a clear view of her living room that I stumbled to a stop and just stared with a cold shock of fear spread through my chest and into my veins.

On the broad wall of her living room, devoid of any pictures or decorative items, large words were painted in black. They were too thickly coated to have been spray paint. She had used a paintbrush to leave one final message to anyone who would see inside her isolated world:

I’M FREE

Thank you for reading this first submission of Curious Characters. I hope to keep my next posts in this category lighter. Don’t worry, this is probably the darkest one I have in my memory, but it’s certainly the most powerful.

Please like the post, comment, and subscribe to my website for more free content. Look through my newly redone menu and take notice of the self-published works which are available for cheap via Amazon for eBooks and Kindle.

Take care of yourself (physically and mentally) and I’ll write to you later.

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