The valleys lower and stretch into darkness, followed by distant city lights. Shapes of mountains rise against flashes of pink and orange, and the first stars in the sky scatter, if I bother to look up at them. As I walk the asphalt roads and sidewalks of my neighborhood, in quarantine at 9 at night, the children play while their parents sit on folding chairs in open garages. Sidewalk chalk glows in the dark: “Kindness matters.” We wave our greetings from far away, and I keep walking. I’d walk the entire night through if I could stand it. Ten miles a day of walking and five running are all my feet can take. Hard, kernel-like blisters throb; my calves feel like they will tighten for the last time and seize up on me. There is nothing but inclines around here and, when it’s time to go back down, the decline offers no relief. Momentum propels me forward—and smacks my shoes down hard on the pavement. But this is what I must do. It’s a brief respite from what awaits me. . .when I return home.
A constant, bone-chilling rattling and thumping sound comes from the east-wing room on the second floor. It’s right next to the home office I’ve set up to do my work—probably just six feet away. Even with headphones, I can feel the vibrations—the anger—the force of things being moved against their will, if they had one. These sounds didn’t happen until now—until about the first day of stay-at-home orders, which came three months after I moved into this house.
When I first noticed the noise, I opened the door to the guest bedroom, thinking that something must have fallen from the top shelf of the closet. When I checked, nothing seemed out of place, so I shut the closet door and started to walk away, but I heard it creak back open. I saw the open slit; my skin prickled. When it slammed back shut on its own, I jumped. Within seconds, it opened again on its own and slammed shut again, not once, not twice, but three times—a most unsettling trinity. The door continued to open and shut, but other things happened as well. The sheets and bed covers were ripped from the bed. The chair near the writing desk slid out and back in. Hazy shadows rippled overhead, and I felt the instinct to lower myself, crouching on the floor. A wild wind, isolated to this bedroom, with the windows closed, whipped up around me, and the entire bed flew in a circle in the center of the room—the metal frame rattling. A lamp chased it in pursuit, and the dresser joined in. My screams came out in short, frantic bursts as I ran to escape the room. But even with the door shut, I could hear the noise.
What could I have done? I didn’t, and still don’t know my neighbors very well. Even so, visiting is strongly discouraged. Also, who would call 911 when so many people are dying? Instead, I called a medium, who reminded me that her services are not deemed “essential” by the state. So, I locked the door of the guest bedroom and tried to drown out the noise with music—and with long walks.
On the fourth week of stay-at-home orders, I’ve walked and run over 420 miles. The soles of my shoes already have holes in them. New ones are on their way, within a month or two, if there are any people left in the factories who can make them. In the meantime, my feet bleed at night. They’re oozing with puss, and more blisters are forming. There’s a distinct moldy smell, and I believe that the skin on my feet is turning a distinct, sickening gray. There are no doctors—none that I would be able to see in person anyway. At least, I’m assuming they wouldn’t want to see me, since they have much better things to do these days. Besides, I did this to myself. The blisters force me to limp as I walk by the neighbors and shout my hellos from a distance.
“Do you know anything about the house on the corner of 131st and 128th?” I ask.
“The cute little boxy house that’s painted light gray?” my neighbor down the street asks.
“Yes, that one.”
“Not that I can recall. Sold pretty quickly—you bought it, right?”
“Well, welcome to the neighborhood.”
We wave goodbye and I step around the chalk flowers and messages that read “Kindness spreads. We are in this together.”
When I see someone else, I ask about the house. No one seems to know anything. I shuffle on. Sometimes, I think I hear them say something about how I must hold the record for the longest walks in the neighborhood.
In the living room, I check my neighborhood alert app. A bear was roaming free the other night. Someone filmed it. In the background, the shadow of a runner passes by. I’ve been captured on film it seems, and now I must fear the coronavirus and bears. I think I’ll take my chances with the bear because upstairs, the noises that bang and rattle and never quit are more terrifying.
But now, I start to think that maybe I’ve only imagined the noise. I wonder if it’s real—even as I hear it. And now, I have to know. My feet are swollen. The last thing I want to do is climb the stairs and open the door to the guest bedroom, but I have to know if what I see and hear are real.
When I reach the door on the east wing of the second floor, something pounds on the other side—just when I gain the nerve to turn the knob. I know I’ll have to take several steps back to avoid getting hit by whatever is on the other side, but I press on. It occurs to me that I probably shouldn’t open the door. What’s on the other side could spread and infect the rest of the house.
Once I open the door, the spectacle I encountered a month or so ago has changed. Every object in the room, including the contents of the closet, is spinning wildly above, precariously around me. Spatters of blood appear on the wall and now, within the hazy shadows, and above the clamor and wind, I hear low, menacing laughter that does not seem human. Something lives here with me in quarantine, in the guest bedroom. The asphalt streets and sidewalks are my only escape, but they lead right back to my doorstep—and to the uninvited guest.
On the fifth week of quarantine, the tent and camping stove I ordered three weeks ago have arrived. I set them up in my backyard. In the cool, dry air I let my naked feet breathe. I don’t think they’re healing. They fester more and more each day, but I force them into my shoes and take long walks. Walking takes the edge off the pain sometimes—when one foot is raised, and the blood thins. I won’t ever go back inside my house. Not ever. I’ve set up my laptop here, and a cooler with ice for my food. I’ve been sleeping under the stars.
On one of my walks, I think I hear the neighbors complain about a tent pitched in the backyard of the house on the corner of 131st and 128th. They’re concerned about a stench—
a mixture of feces and rotten flesh. They believe a squatter has taken up residence there. I laugh at the idea. There are worse things that could live in a person’s home. On the sidewalk, I see shades of blue and green glowing, in the shape of a child’s rendering of the Earth in chalk: “We are in this together, but we must stay apart.”
Cecilia Kennedy taught Spanish and English composition for over 20 years at the college level in Ohio before moving to Washington state with her family. She has published 23 short stories in 17 literary magazines since 2017. Her blog, Fixin' Leaks and Leeks chronicles her humorous attempts at cooking and home repairs.