Stay Away From The Window

Kayanne Smith

It was one of those perfect fall days. The ones you dream about during the hottest days of the summer months. The sky was a vivid blue and there was a slight chill in the air that brought the promise of campfires, hot apple cider, sweaters and all the good things that come along with the changing of the season.

Ruby walked along the sidewalk in the charming downtown of her Vermont hometown. It was this time of year she felt especially lucky to live in such a beautiful town. You just can’t find fall foliage more beautiful than in Vermont. She pulled her sweater more tightly around her as the breeze picked up and she ducked into her favorite local coffee shop. “Hey Ruby!” called the barista, “Do you want your usual?”

“Yes, thank you Frankie!” Once she had her latte in hand, she went on to finish up her errands and get home before the sun sank behind the hills just outside of town.

She needed to get home because years ago, the town faced one of the most tragic events in its history. Something Ruby still couldn’t believe she survived. Something that still haunted her to that very day, and she felt as if it was catching up to her more and more as the years passed by.

It was Ruby’s senior year of high school, and she and her friends had the most incredible night at the Homecoming dance. After the dance, they all piled in Louise’s SUV and drove to Kathleen’s house where they were spending the night. Ruby, Louise, Kathleen, Sandi, and Chelsea had been friends since kindergarten, and they’d stuck beside one another through thick and thin. Homecoming was no different.

Kathleen’s house was on some of the most beautiful acreage in town and was well equipped to host their friend group. As they chattered with one another, Kathleen’s mom set out snacks for all of them to enjoy and the girls settled into the large family room just off the kitchen. As with most sleepovers there was a lot of gossip, giggling, and little sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, most of them had finally nodded off, except for Ruby and Chelsea.

Chelsea was Ruby’s best friend, and Chels was struggling with an off and on relationship with the love of her life, Todd. While the others slept, Ruby and Chelsea made their way down to the basement where they could talk without waking the others. Ruby sat quietly and rolled her eyes as Chelsea regaled her with the latest Todd drama. She couldn’t understand why her seemingly smart friend kept going back to the jerk, but she stood by her and listened patiently as she cried over his latest stunt. Soon Chelsea’s tears had dried and before they drifted off to sleep, she had gotten her friend to laugh.

As the sun crept in through the small crack in the shades, Ruby slowly opened her eyes and realized she and Chelsea had never made it back upstairs with the others. She glanced at her phone and saw that it was almost 11. The house seemed eerily quiet for it to be that late in the morning. Kathleen’s parents were early risers, and though they usually let the girls sleep late, generally by now everyone was normally up and enjoying a delicious breakfast.

Ruby gently nudged Chelsea, saying, “Psst. Hey, Chels, let’s go up and see if the others are up yet.” Chelsea moaned and gave her friend a look of disgust. “Ruby, why? Why are you waking me up? It’s still so early.”

“Actually, it is pretty late, and I think we must be missing out on Mrs. Simon’s famous pancakes.”  With an eye roll Chelsea slowly sat up and the two girls made their way upstairs. But nothing would have ever prepared them for what they were about to witness.

As they opened the door, they noticed that all the blinds and shades had been drawn. Ruby couldn’t remember a time when she had ever seen them do this. Mrs. Simon loved to have all that wonderful natural light spill into their spacious den and kitchen. And again, they noticed how quiet the house was. It appeared as though everyone was still asleep, and Ruby had a sinking feeling that something was not right.

The girls rounded the corner and Chelsea let out one of the most blood curdling screams Ruby had ever heard. Whipping her head around Ruby saw the horrific scene. All their friends had been killed in their sleep. All they saw was red, as fear gripped every inch of their bodies. They ran as quickly as they could up to the Simon’s bedroom, only to find they too had been killed. Terrified they ran back down the stairs feeling as if they were in a real-life horror movie.  Ruby frantically called the police and the girls sat frozen, not knowing what to do or where to go. Their minds were racing with a million questions. How had this happened? How and why had they been spared? Was the killer still in the house?

It seemed like an eternity passed since they’d called 911, but finally they heard sirens screaming down the long drive of the Simon’s house not moving until an officer came to retrieve them. The girls, numb with shock, were taken down to the local police station where they were reunited with their parents.

Not long after the murders both girls received a note, written in block red letters, stating, “I’m watching you.” Terrified, they contacted the police and soon they had officers posted outside of their homes, in the hopes this would lead to a break in the case. Soon, they made an arrest, a local loner, Robbie Lathem, who was someone people had been wary of for years. And though he claimed he was innocent, he was soon convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

As the days dragged on, little by little, the town seemed to begin healing from the grief and trauma of this tragic and unimaginable event, yet Ruby and Chelsea continued to be plagued by the images that kept them inside the nightmare they could not wake from. And even though the killer was in jail, both girls had a difficult time shaking the fear that had become part of their day to day lives. Could they ever live a normal life?

After graduation Chelsea moved across the country in hopes that the distance would help her live a life without the crippling fear she dealt with day in and day out. Ruby was heartbroken that her dear friend had moved so far away, but understood trying to escape the hell they had been living for the last several months. And though there were thousands of miles between them, they knew they would be forever bonded.

Years passed by in the blink of an eye and the story of that horrific night had become a part of the local folklore, a scary story told around the campfire on a dark night. Both Ruby and Chelsea had completed college and were now living out on their own, working and learning to be independent. Chelsea remained out west, becoming a true California girl, and was in hopes to begin law school in the fall. Ruby had moved back to their hometown to take a job at the local elementary school as a kindergarten teacher.

She loved her job, and she loved this town and was so excited to be settling down in her own home. As she plopped down in the oversized chair in her den her phone buzzed. It was text from an unknown number and all it said was, “I’m watching you.” A chill ran down her spine, her chest tightened, and she felt paralyzed. She hadn’t been this scared in years. “Who is this?” she replied. Nothing. Then, “Your worst nightmare, come to life.” As she sat frozen in her chair, too afraid to move, she whipped her head around and saw nothing. What would she have done if someone was there?

Every day she would receive a new text, “I’m watching you.” And the terror she felt grew strong and stronger. Why now? Who was this? Was this someone’s idea of a joke? Soon it was the anniversary of the murders and Ruby felt as if her time was running out. She hurried to finish her errands around town and get home before the sun set. And just like clockwork, the text came, except this time it said, “Happy Anniversary.” Goosebumps formed all over her and she raced home, preparing for what she knew would be a long night.

Arriving home she looked all around, quickly making her way inside, locking the door and setting the alarm. She then began thinking of all the rules of surviving a horror movie, one sticking out in her mind, “Stay away from the windows.” She didn’t know why that one stuck out over all the others but chalked it up to the context of the texts she had been receiving, and the sinking feeling she was being watched, all the time. Ruby went through each room, meticulously closing the blinds, checking closets, making sure her house was a fortress. She busied herself preparing dinner and settled down in her oversized chair to enjoy some lighthearted TV, hoping that would keep her mind occupied with pleasant thoughts. As the night dragged on, she could feel the exhaustion kicking in. Soon she was asleep.

Sunlight began to creep in through the slits of the blinds and Ruby awoke. She took a deep breath and stretched her stiff body. As she stood, she gazed around the room and felt crazy for thinking the killer was out to finish the job. She had survived the night. Ruby crossed the room and opened the blinds.

The last thing Ruby ever heard was, “I see you. Happy Anniversary.”

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