by Jayne Regan
Jessie meets a new neighbour, but is he all that he seems?
|Jessie got out of her red Honda Civic and closed the door. Fumbling in her large bag for her house keys, she barely noticed the yellow post-it on her door. Holding her bag in her teeth as she unlocked the front door, she read the note.
Hi, I found a black Labrador with a red collar down by the river, is this your dog? Call Justin on 555-5381.
"Oh shit," she said, as she finally got her front door open. Dropping her bag on the floor, she pulled out her mobile phone and dialled her boyfriend's number.
"Hi, it's Robert, leave a message at the beep,".
Silently cursing him Jessie left a message.
"Robert the dog got out again, a man has her, he left us a note. Ring when you get this."
With a sigh, Jessie picked up her bag and went into the living room. Any chance Shannon got to make an escape and run to the river, she took it. Looking again at the post-it, she dialled the number. A man answered on the third ring.
"Hi, my name is Jessie I'm looking to speak to Justin please"
"You left a note on my door about my dog?" Jessie asked.
"Oh right, her ID tag had your address. I'm actually busy at the minute but I can drop her over in a half hour?"
"That would be great. If it's any inconvenience I can collect her---"
"No no, that's fine see you then,” he said and disconnected the call. Jessie looked at the phone for a moment, surprised at his abruptness.
Making her way into the kitchen to fix herself a coffee, a note written on the whiteboard on the fridge caught her eye.
Hi Babe, working late tonight, won't be home until after midnight xxxxx.
"Great, thanks a lot Rob," Jessie spoke to herself as she rooted in her wine cupboard for a cheap bottle of wine for the man who rescued her dog.
She was getting too used to the long evenings spent on her own in their newly bought home. She knew that Robert needed the extra hours to pay his half of the mortgage, but it grated on her all the same.
Finding a bottle of red wine she won at work in the back of the cupboard, Jessie made a quick cup of coffee, grabbed a book and retired to the porch to wait for her dog.
About 20 minutes later, a black Volvo pulled up into her drive. A man in a woollen cap and jumper climbed out and opened his trunk. Shannon jumped out and bounded over to where Jessie was standing, waiting to greet her good Samaritan.
"Hi Justin, I'm Jessie, thank you so much for taking care of her. We just moved in and she seems to be able to find different ways to get out of the yard everyday," Jessie smiled up at him as she stroked Shannon's silky head.
"That's no problem. I found her down the end of the river, she was soaking wet and shivering so I brought her home. I have dog too, so she had company." Justin looked resolutely at the dog as he spoke to Jessie.
Jessie thrust the bottle of wine towards Justin, "Please take this, I really do appreciate your help. Do you live around here?"
Justin took the bottle and tucked it under his arm. He glanced quickly at Jessie as they made the exchange but averted his eyes again. Jessie guessed he must be in his early forties but he hadn't shaved and his clothes were ill-fitting and old, so it was hard to tell.
"I live out the road not too far away. Do you live on your own?" he asked her, rubbing a hand through his salt and pepper curls.
Jessie was taken aback by the bluntness of the question but smiled at Justin to hide her discomfort. "No, my boyfriend and I live here together. He works in the city."
"It's good to have a dog when you're on your own," Justin said, finally making eye contact with Jessie. She was taken aback by the intensity of his stare, his grey eyes seemed to bore through her and she found herself shifting her gaze away.
“She's good company,” she agreed with a smile at her dog. An awkward silence followed until finally Justin gave Shannon a pat on the head and turned abruptly on his heel and stalked towards his car.
“Goodbye and thanks again for your help,” Jessie called after him. Justin raised a hand in response but didn't turn back.
What a strange man, Jessie thought. His appearance definitely didn't show any evidence of a woman's touch, she thought, maybe his people skills were rusty because he was lonely.
Shannon started jumping up excitedly, interrupting Jessie's pondering. Putting her strange neighbour out of her mind, she brought her dog inside.
After dinner, Jessie and Shannon retired to the living-room to watch some TV. Jessie lit the fire, pulled her curtains and poured herself a glass of wine. The autumn evening was chilly and dark and Jessie heard the wind begin to howl.
"Looks like a storm Shan," she spoke to her pet as she stroked her shiny black coat. She would never admit it, but even at 27, Jessie didn't like to be home alone in the dark. She was glad of Shannon's presence, but having Rob home would be better. She tried his phone again but it went straight to voice-mail.
"God dammit," frustrated, Jessie threw her phone with force across the room to the other couch. There it bounced into the air and fell onto the floor.
With a sigh, Jessie got up to retrieve her phone. The screen was blank. Pressing the power on button, Jessie cursed her stupidity. The phone remained dead. They hadn't had a home phone installed yet and now she had no way to contact Robert. Turning to go back to her seat beside the fire, something caught her eye. The curtains were slightly ajar and a movement outside was illuminated by the porch light. Jessie froze.
Walking slowly towards the window, she couldn't see anything outside. Her heart was pounding and her breath started coming quicker. Taking a deep breath she pulled the curtains apart and looked out into the night.
Rain was pouring down and the trees that lined the street were waving in the wind. Seeing nothing suspect, Jessie pulled the curtains closed and went back to her place beside the fire to pour herself another glass of wine.
A loud crash woke Jessie. The wine had relaxed her too well and she had dozed off. Sitting up, she quickly scanned the room. There was no sign of Shannon. Lifting herself out of her chair, she stretched and went to the kitchen. Nine times out of ten when she couldn't be seen, it meant that Shannon was up to mischief, usually, eating out of the bin.
In the kitchen, Jessie called Shannon. A quick walk around the perimeter of the room showed no signs of destruction by the mischievous dog.
Glancing at the cat clock mounted on the wall, she realized she had been asleep for over an hour, it was nearly 11.30.
"Shannon?” Jessie called, louder this time. In return, she heard a muffled bark, coming from the basement.
Out in the hallway, Jessie opened the door to the basement and Shannon bounded out.
"What are you doing you silly dog," Jessie reprimanded, "How did you get in there."
Turning on the light, Jessie started down the old wooden steps to the basement, closely followed by Shannon.
It was an area of the house they didn't use, except to store the unpacked boxes from their move.
Stepping off the bottom step, Jessie noticed a chill in the room and the sound of wind and rain seemed louder than the rest of the house. A chair lay on its side in the middle of the floor, the source of the bang she had heard, Jessie suspected.
At the end of the dimly lit basement, one of the narrow basement windows was open.
A chill crept down Jessie's spine. Walking determinedly over to the window she had to push hard against the wind to close it again. She was certain she had never opened a window down here. God knows how long it was open, she didn't know the last time either she or Robert had ventured to the basement.
Backing quickly towards the stairs, she turned and bounded up them with Shannon hot on her heels. She closed the door closed behind them and reached for the key that they kept above the door frame. She locked the door and slipped the key back on its hook above the door-frame, berating herself silently for allowing herself to be spooked by her own house. All the same, she decided it would be best to bring Shannon to bed with her until Robert returned from work.
Jessie decided to take a shower before bed, hoping the hot water would help her relax. Leaving Shannon in the bedroom, she made her way across the hall to the bathroom.
As she stepped under the hot water, she felt her shoulders drop and relax. She soaped her hair and just stood under the powerful jets and allowed the water to wash away the stress of the day. As she reached for her conditioner, a bang the other side of the shower curtain made her freeze.
Slowly, she pulled back the shower curtain and peered out into the steam filled bathroom. She couldn't see any immediate culprit of the noise but the steam made it difficult to see. Grabbing her towel she wrapped it around her and climbed out of the shower.
Turning to shut off the water, she froze. The bathroom door was ajar and steam was flowing out into the hallway. Jessie was sure she had closed the door. She remembered pushing it closed behind her and hearing the click. Shaking, she turned off the water and walked towards the door.
The absence of the noise from the shower made the silence in the house all the more pronounced. The only noise was the rain pounding off the window panes as the wind howled. As she reached the door, Jessie's foot found something hard and round on the floor as it stepped.
"Fuck it," she grimaced, rubbing her now throbbing foot. On the floor was a heavy silver cigarette lighter, the kind you refilled yourself with lighter fluid. Jessie picked up the lighter and turned it over in her hands, her heart pounding with fear.
Neither she nor Robert smoked. Someone had been in her house. In her bathroom.
Quickly, she locked the bathroom door and sat on the edge of the bath, examining the lighter. Engraved on the front was a dog. A spaniel of some kind. On the back there was something engraved in cursive:
Heaven goes by favour. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.
Another loud bang and a bark frightened Jessie back into the moment. Whoever had dropped the lighter, hadn't left without it.
Hurriedly, she pulled on her pyjamas, the only clothes she had in the bathroom. She needed a weapon.
"Think Jessie, think," she whispered to herself. A razor. Yes a razor.
Jessie ran to the cabinet above the sink. Reaching to open the glass door of the cabinet, she realised there was something written on the mirror in the steam. She could barely read it, as the steam was all but gone. Quickly she turned on the hot tap. As the steam rose from the sink, Jessie could see the image more clearly. It was a heart with a "J" in it.
Jessie wrenched open the cabinet and searched frantically for Roberts razor blades. As her hand closed on his razor she heard another noise coming from her bedroom. Quickly, Jessie crept from the bathroom across the hall to her room.
Throwing open her bedroom door, razor in hand, she found Shannon, alone and wagging her tail joyfully. Scanning the room, Jessie couldn't see anything out of place. As she went to take a step into the room, a voice spoke into her ear.
"Nice to see you again Jessie."
Jessie stumbled into the room turning to try and see the person that accompanied the seemingly disembodied voice. But the intruder was a step ahead of her. Grabbing her right wrist from behind he deftly wrangled the razor from her shaking hands.
"Well that's not a very nice way to greet a neighbour, is it?"
"Justin," Jessie gasped in shock as she looked into the eyes of her good Samaritan, "what are you doing here? What do you want?"
Justin smiled and brandished a large carving knife. Waving the knife menacingly in her face he said, "I wanted to get acquainted with my new neighbour. I've missed having a female companion for my dog Rex. You see, the lady that lived here had a dog that used to play with Rex. Then one day she said she didn't want me taking her dog out from her garden. Can you believe that Jessie?", he paused, his wide eyes searching her face for a reaction. "How selfish. She said I was around too much and I was making her uncomfortable," he shook his head his lips curled back from his teeth making him appear feral.
"Justin please," Jessie begged, "please don't hurt me. Shannon loves other dogs, I'm sure she and Rex can be great friends."
"Oh I know Jessie,” his face lit up and he waved the knife enthusiastically as he spoke.
“They got along so great today, I know she's the one for him. But you see Jessie, I don't think I can take the chance that Rex would have another friend taken away from him. It would break his heart."
He's crazy, Jessie thought. Thinking quickly she decided to play along.
"Justin you're absolutely right, how about we set up a regular play date for the two of them? We could take it in turns, what do you say?"
Justin threw back his head and laughed manically. Now the blade of the knife was pointed towards Jessie.
"Nice try Jessie, but what if you move? What if you call the cops the minute I take a trusting step out your front door? No Jessie, it would be much better for all involved if you were to die tragically and a kindly neighbour rescued your distraught pet."
Jessie knew now there was no point reasoning with a psychopath. She placed her hand in her pyjama pocket and pulled out the silver lighter.
"You dropped this in the bathroom Justin, here you go," Jessie threw the lighter towards a startled Justin. As he put his hand up to catch the lighter, Jessie took her opportunity and kicked Justin in the groin as hard as she could and ran.
Behind her she could hear Justin cursing and moaning in pain. She took the steps downstairs two at a time and ran for the front door. Shannon was following happily behind her, enjoying the new game. Jessie fumbled with the rusty lock on the front door. She could hear Justin running across the landing. A matter of seconds and he would be behind her.
As she pulled the dead bolt and turned the handle, Justin grabbed her ponytail and swung her around. Jessie lost her balance and fell to the floor. Shannon began to growl at Justin.
"Now look what you've done you silly bitch," Justin held Jessie's head to the floor with a hand around her throat as he spoke to her. His eyes were wide and deranged. "You turned her against me Jessie. Now she wont trust me. How can we be a happy family if she doesn't trust me? "
Jessie couldn't speak. Justin's hand around her throat was cutting off her air supply. She could hear Shannon barking and growling now and she felt Justin's hand loosen marginally as the dog lunged for the intruder who was hurting her master.
Justin screamed as Shannon's strong jaws clamped on his forearm and he let go of Jessie. Too weak to move from the lack of air supply, Jessie stayed panting on the floor and watched as her dog fought for her owner's life.
Helpless to intervene, she saw Justin raise the carving knife in the air above Shannon, ready to end her brave companions life. Jessie found the strength to lunge towards Justin. At that moment the front door swung open and with relief she saw Robert, briefcase in hand.
Without hesitation he ran towards Justin. Pulling back his foot, he kicked his neighbour's head like a football. Justin went limp, the carving knife fell from his hand and clattered on the hardwood floor.
Jessie curled into a ball and began to sob, great big, breathless sobs. Shannon came over and placed her furry black head against her tear streaked face. Robert kicked the knife away from Justin and crouched beside his girlfriend.
"Jessie what in the name of God is going on?"
It was 6am when the police finally left Robert and Jessie's house. Justin had been taken away in an ambulance some hours before, still unconscious. The police informed Jessie that her predecessor in the home, a lady called Sarah, had moved away when Justin began stalking her. As she had no proof, there was nothing the police could do to help her. They assured Jessie and Robert that Justin would be placed in a secure psychiatric facility.
"What about his dog?", Jessie asked, "Rex?"
"We have officers at the house right now," the officer told her, "but we haven't been able to find a live dog."
"A live dog?", Jessie asked.
The officer looked around him to ensure there was no one in earshot.
"Jessie, all we found were the remains of some kind of spaniel. It's in the late stages of decay. The sick bastard had it left in the dog bed with a bowl of food and some water in front of it. The food and water were fresh, like he'd just put it out."
Jessie heaved. "Oh God", she whispered to herself, realising just how lucky she was that Robert had returned when he did.
She turned away from the police officer and looked at her new house, the house they had been so excited to move into only weeks before. She felt Robert slip an arm around her waist and they stood there for a moment, united, wondering how they could ever start their new lives in the place that had set the scene for such terror.
"Robert," Jessie said, "I think we should move."
Special thanks to johnsings@Writing.Com for the advice on improving the ending.