Amber stood on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. Her boss was late again, and she couldn’t get in to start setting up the bar until he got there. She looked at her watch; it was nearly 10:30 AM. She wouldn’t have time to get her prep work done before they opened at 11. It would be fine, but it was frustrating. She also was going to make damn sure that he adjusted her time card to show that she clocked in at 10. She checked social media on her phone, smoked, and waited.
The people walking the streets of downtown Seattle paid no attention to her. It was drizzling and there weren’t very many people out on the streets. She stood underneath the awning of the bar and the rest of the city passed her by.
A homeless man came and stood near her, also under the awning. This was nothing out of the ordinary, it was downtown and around the corner there was a shelter so she had gotten used to seeing bums hanging around. Some seemed crazy, some seemed drunk, some would catcall her, but she never felt threatened. She didn’t even notice this man at first.
This guy was staring at her. There was a vacant look in his eyes; he didn’t move, but he had has gaze locked on her. He was unshaven with dirty, damp clothes, probably in his early forties. Amber expected him at any second to ask her for a cigarette but he didn’t say anything and didn’t approach her any further. She tried to go back to busying herself with her phone but couldn’t distract herself enough. She had sent her boss a half dozen texts, where the hell was he? She didn’t want to engage with this bum, so she took a walk around the block. When she got back under the awning the bum was gone and her boss had arrived and was unlocking the front door.
“I thought you were waiting here,” he said.
“Just open the door, I’ve been here half an hour.”
They went inside and went about the business of the day. She rushed to do her prep work; once they were open a few people came in and she immediately forgot about the homeless man she encountered earlier. She poured beer and mixed drinks and made small talk with her regulars. When her shift was over she left and went to her bus stop to get a ride back across town to her apartment.
When her bus arrived it was less crowded than usual. She actually got a seat, thank the Lord for small favors, she thought. She sat next to a middle-aged man in a suit who had his face buried in an iPad. She scrolled through the messages on her phone when she glanced up to notice a man sitting across the aisle from her. He looked to be in his mid twenties, but with a weathered face of someone much older. His hair was disheveled and his face smudged with dirt. His jeans were torn and he was wearing a jacket that hadn’t been in style for many years; one he probably got at a shelter. He was staring at her.
Amber shifted in her seat and looked over at the man in the suit. When she looked back he was still staring at her. She gave a weak half smile, hoping he would return the expression but his face remained unmoved. She decided to get off a few blocks before her stop and walk the last couple of blocks. She pulled the cord and got up. When she reached the front of the bus she turned around, hoping that this weirdo wouldn’t follow her. He remained seated, but still staring at her.
She got off a little unnerved but shook it off. This wasn’t the first encounter she’d had with homeless men since she moved to Seattle. She had been hassled, and even followed for a few blocks once. But there was something about the deadness in the man’s eyes she couldn’t quite shake.
When she got home she took a hot shower and began to feel better. She was going out with some friends from work tonight, a few drinks and a few laughs were just what the doctor ordered. She put on her favorite skirt and top and headed out the door to their favorite bar, just two blocks away.
As soon as she stepped outside she felt the cold air and second-guessed her outfit. It was early fall, the sun was setting a little earlier, and the air was a little crisper. It wasn’t far, and the bar would be warm, so she figured what the hell.
Her two friends were already there when she got to the bar. It was loud and a little crowded: they sat, and drank, and laughed. She told them what had happened to her today. They commiserated and told their own stories about being harassed on the street. Each had experienced it, none really knew an ideal way to handle it so they did the best they could and moved on.
The trio moved on to more lighthearted topics: they spent some time talking about their jobs, and school, and their relationships. After sitting with her friends for a few hours the bar began to thin out. It was a weeknight, but since none of them had a traditional nine to five job that meant little to them. Amber looked up and for the first time all night she was able to see the window. There was a man standing right outside, staring at her.
Another homeless man. Dirty, disheveled, and expressionless. Amber almost dropped her drink. She pointed him out to her friends and though they agreed he looked creepy, they didn’t think he was staring at her. Amber got up and went to the bathroom, and as she moved across the room his eyes followed her.
In the bathroom she looked at herself in the mirror. She washed her hands and went back to the main bar area. He was still standing there, just outside the window, staring at her. She walked to the front door and up to the bouncer.
“Excuse me,” she said, there is a man out there, and he’s staring at me, can you please get him to leave?”
The bouncer gave her a skeptical look. He peered out the window, saw the man and said, “No problem.” He took a step out the door and yelled, “Hey, you, beat it.”
The homeless man didn’t look up at him, he just slowly turned and started walking away.
“Thank you,” Amber said, and the bouncer gave a little chuckle, as if to say, crazy people, what are you gonna do?
Amber returned to her friends but couldn’t relax for the rest of the night. When it came time to leave she had had quite a few drinks and was feeling pretty tipsy. It was nearly one in the morning. The sight when she walked out the door sobered her up immediately. There were two men, two she had never seen before, standing twenty feet from the bar, staring at her. She let out a yelp and ran back inside. Her friends said it was ok, they would walk her home but that didn’t feel like enough for her.
She walked up to a group of four large men in their late twenties. She said, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I live three blocks from here; there are men outside who are making me very uncomfortable, if you would be willing to walk me home I’ll buy you a round of beers.”
The four guys looked at each other, wondering who this woman was and if she was serious. One said, “We’ll help you out, you don’t need to buy us a round.”
They left the bar and began walking back to her place. She stood in the center of the four, like a protective cocoon and they walked right past the two men. The men pivoted and kept their gaze on her the whole time. Back at her apartment she thanked them, and they said, "Don’t worry about it, maybe we’ll see you back at the bar." She locked the door, the deadbolt, and the chain to her apartment, and immediately fell into a deep sleep.
She awoke the next morning to makeup smudged on her pillow. Well shit, she thought. Must not have washed that off before I went to bed last night. She remembered the night, and everything that happened seemed so less threatening in the light of day. In her apartment she felt safe. It was her day off of work and she would be able to relax. She opened the curtains and looked out on the street below. The view from her third story downtown apartment wasn’t much, but she could see the street below her. And below her, across the street, were three men. Bums, like the rest of them, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and staring back up at her.
She was so taken aback she almost fell. Panic rose in her as she pulled the curtains shut again. She sat on the floor against her bed and curled up. This is crazy. This is a coincidence. I’m going to look back down out the window, and they’ll be gone. She slowly got up and went back to the window. She peeked through the curtains and they were still there.
Well of course they are, she thought. They haven’t moved but they’ll move soon. This has nothing to do with me. Those guys who were staring at me yesterday, they were pervy guys and I was dressed kind of sexy and that’s why they were staring at me. That’s why. These guys are probably looking at something on the roof, or the apartment above me, or something. I’m going to wait, and I’m going to look again, and they’ll be gone.
She turned on the TV so she would feel a little less alone. An infomercial was on and she sat looking at the TV, not watching it. An hour went by, then two. She gathered enough nerve to look at the window again.
They hadn’t moved.
She started to cry as she picked up the phone to call 911, but stopped herself. What am I going to say to them? Three men are looking at a building. And different men looked at me yesterday. A pathetic laugh came from her mouth, it all just sounded so crazy. She knew exactly three people in this city. Her boss, and her two co-workers she went out with last night. She called both of her friends but they didn’t pick up the phone. She sat back down and didn’t move for a long time. The sun went down and the streetlights came on. She was hesitant to turn her lights on, then they would know she was home. So she sat quietly in the dark.
She woke up starving. Apparently, she had fallen asleep, the sun was starting to come up. She hadn’t eaten anything yesterday, so she went to the kitchen and poured a bowl of cereal. I’m going to look out the window, she thought, and they are going to be gone. With bowl in hand she made her way over to the window, and with one eye peered out onto the street below. There were men and women going to work, cars driving by, people going about their business, but the three men were gone.
“Oh thank God,” she said out loud to no one. She looked at the clock, she had to be at work in two hours. She took a shower, and decided to head out a little early to get a proper breakfast at a cafe before her shift started. She grabbed her keys and opened the door.
There, directly in front of her door, standing in the hallway, was a man with grey hair and a long wild beard. He wore a tattered baseball cap and a filthy jacket. Less than two feet from Amber’s face, were those cold, dead eyes staring at her.
She screamed and slammed the door, locked the lock and the deadbolt and the chain lock. “What the hell do you want?” she screamed. No answer from behind the door. “How did you get in here?” she yelled. No response from behind the door. She looked through the peephole, he hadn’t moved, he just stood there, staring.
She grabbed the phone and dialed 911. When the police got there she buzzed them up. There was no sign of the man, or any indication that someone had broken into the apartment building. They talked to the landlord who said no one had reported seeing anyone suspicious. She told them about the last few days and what had been going on. They didn’t seem to take her seriously. What she was describing sounded like a conspiracy theory. A bunch of homeless men all got together and decided to stalk her. They said it was probably in her head, but if anything happened to give them a call. This pissed her off to no end, how could they be so dismissive of this? This was her life, and she felt that she was being threatened.
Her phone rang, it was her boss wondering where the hell she was. She told him there was a break-in and she couldn’t come in today. He was pissed that she hadn’t called earlier, but not to worry about it, and to just come in tomorrow.
After she had filled out an incident report she sat alone in her apartment and cried. The rest of the day she occasionally looked out the window and out the peephole into the hallway but there was no one there.
The next morning she lay in bed awake for a long time. She got up and looked out the window. No one stared back at her. She walked as quietly as she could to the door and looked out the peephole. The hallway was empty. Breathing a sigh of relief she went to the bathroom to take a shower. She opened the shower curtain and saw him standing there. Dead eyes, filthy clothes, mouth hanging open. She screamed and stumbled back into the bathroom counter knocking her toiletries to the ground.
She ran out of the bathroom and to the front door; she fumbled with the lock and got it open. As the door flung open she bolted out into the hallway, running right into another man, homeless, disheveled, and looking back at her with an unflinching cold stare. She ran back into the apartment and to the kitchen where she drew a butcher knife from its block. She went to the bathroom first, and the man in the shower had not moved. She thrust the knife into his neck, a geyser of blood shot out and splattered across the shower curtain and her face. His expression didn’t change. He stared at her with those vacant eyes. She drew the knife from his neck and stabbed him in the left eye. Then the right. He howled in pain and fell from his feet.
Amber turned and bolted out of the bathroom and opened her front door to the man standing in the hallway. She shoved the knife into his stomach, he had no reaction. She removed the knife and stabbed him twice more, once in each eye. He howled and dropped to the ground. She ran out of the hallway, down the stairs and onto the side walk, crying hysterically. People stared at this bloody young woman brandishing a knife. She ran and turned the corner. There stood another homeless man, staring at her. Without thinking stabbed him in his left eye, he stumbled backward cupping the wound with both hands. She stepped forward and stabbed him in his right, then kept running.
By the time the police arrived and were able to subdue her, four men lay dead in the street, plus the two in her apartment. Two more were blinded but would survive. For days, Amber sat in a jail cell, isolated from the other inmates while she awaited trial. She told the police what happened. She told her lawyer. She told the court appointed psychiatrist.
A week after her arrest she was brought into a small interrogation room to meet with her lawyer. She sat in a metal chair, handcuffed to a table. There was one door with a small window so the guards could monitor the room if necessary. Her lawyer walked in and set a laptop on the table. “Look,” he said, “if I’m going to help you I need you to be honest with me.”
“I am,” she said calmly. She had been put on a high dose of tranquilizers. “I’ve been nothing but honest with you.”
“There’s something I want you to see. The coffee shop next to your apartment building has a security camera. The police reviewed the footage to see if they could pinpoint the time the two men found dead in your apartment arrived. This was taken twenty minutes before you claim to have woken up.”
He clicked on a video file. The screen played black and white footage of the inside of the coffee shop, but through the front window you could see the sidewalk. People sat conversing and working. Then Amber appeared in the window. She was engaged in a conversation with two homeless men. She was smiling and gesturing for them to come with her. They seemed hesitant. She took one by the hand and said something that looked gentle and encouraging. The two men looked at each other and followed her out of frame.
“Why did you invite them into your apartment?” he asked.
She was shocked. “I… I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did. I need to know why.”
“I… I… I woke up, and they were there,” she pleaded.
“No, they weren’t. You invited them in. You brought them there to kill them.”
“I was… I was so scared,” she said.
“I think it’s best if we plead insanity. You killed six people with dozens of witnesses. I’ll work on a statement and come back in a few days to go over exactly what I want you to do. This is your only chance to avoid the death penalty.”
“Oh… Ok..” she said, still in shock at seeing herself on the screen.
The lawyer got up and folded the laptop. “I’m going to do everything I can for you,” he said as he walked out the door, shutting it behind him.
She sat for a moment, still handcuffed to the table when the light in the room shifted. Before she looked up to the door she knew what she would see in the window. Breathing heavily she got the courage up to raise her head. There looking back at her he stood, weathered face, unshaven and dirty, staring with cold, dead eyes.