It was the first Saturday of summer vacation between the 4th and 5th grades, and I intended to make the most of it watching cartoons and lazing around the house until my (single) mom came home from work. At 9 in the morning, as I was making myself breakfast, the phone rang. Mom was calling from work, frantically telling me to drop whatever I was doing, turn off any lights in the house that could be seen from outside, and stay away from windows. "Don't answer the door, don't answer the phone unless it's me. Now listen to me. The police and news are going to be around. You're not in trouble, but they'll want to talk to people who live around our house. Just pretend no one is home, let them knock. Just stay away from the windows and doors, stay in your room, don't turn on the TV until I get home. Close the blinds and curtains. I love you. It'll be alright, just stay in your room for now. Bye."
I hadn't actually turned on any lights yet, and I hadn't been planning on going outside within the next few hours, but no TV meant my plans to live it up this Saturday were dashed. Annoyed, I checked to make sure the doors were locked, took my bowl of cereal, and retreated upstairs to my room.
Nothing happened for a short while. I started the first chapter of a book I had been planning to save for later in the summer. I had been reading for a few minutes when I heard a commotion from the neighbor's house.
Peering through the blinds near my bed, across the cul-de-sac, I saw the family in the house across from ours piling into their minivan. The children, still in their pajamas, were being yelled at by their parents to hurry up. Their dad haphazardly tossed a couple suitcases into the trunk, and they were off, going what seemed to be a little too fast for the subdivision street.
It was a few more minutes until I heard sirens approaching. I soon quickly realized they were heading for my street. A handful of cruisers pulled up in short order. They parked in a circle around the island in the cul-de-sac, the officers jumping out and setting up yellow tape. I realized they were setting up a tape perimeter around the front of the house next to the one right across from mine, the one from which the neighboring family, the Wallis family, had made their hasty evacuation. A new family had moved into this house last month. There was still a rented moving trailer in their driveway along with a few boxes of stuff in their open garage.
Three police officers knocked on the door and waited a few moments. Then they repeated the steps with the Wallis's house with the same results. I saw a couple officers take the gate to the back of the house while the others stood around the cul-de-sac, one frantically chattering on his squad car radio.
The man who owned the house on the other side of the Wallis's stepped out of his door and started a conversation with the policemen. Two officers spoke with him, shooting glances and sometimes pointing at the house with the new family. While this was going on another neighbor drove up and was practically accosted as he exited his car and was surrounded by police wanting information.
All the while, more sirens were drawing near, and I could also hear a helicopter coming. Before long there were 30 cops swarming the narrow subdivision street, and at least two police helicopters circling overhead.
They started knocking on more doors. When they knocked on ours, I did as mom said and ignored it.
I don't exactly remember which came next, the media helicopters or the crime scene investigators and the detectives in civilian dress. There were at least half a dozen helicopters flying over my house within thirty minutes, and my ears became deaf to their noise after a while. At least they helped to distract from the almost constant ringing of the telephone.
Even though I knew the police just wanted information, I couldn't help but feel like I was the subject of a manhunt in my own house. Every time a helicopter passed over the roof I felt like hiding under my bed.
I decided to disobey mom a little and see what was on the news. The living room television could be seen through the front door window, but there was another set in the basement. I tepidly descended the two sets of stairs, almost running back up when I heard the phone ring again.
Having made it down, I turned on the basement TV and flipped to a random news station. The scene was live footage from one of the station's helicopters showing a medium-sized office building.
"Police still do not know... worked at this building... shot his supervisor and five other people...."
I started to get queasy. I immediately understood why mom had not wanted me to turn on the TV. Still, I kept watching, and the news feed cut to helicopter footage of our cul-de-sac. The camera zoomed down on that house next to the Wallis's, the one that had been sold last month. A feeling of dread came over me as I remembered that the man who had bought the house had a wife as well as two children who were younger than me. I had never met them, and I remembered Mom commenting that none of the neighbors had seen much of them since they moved in.
I changed the channel. The next channel was displaying previously recorded ground-level footage of the office campus exterior. There was a small trail of blood in the parking lot. A reporter said that this was from a woman who had been shot but only superficially wounded who had made it out alive. They then showed a woman being interviewed. I recognized her as a neighbor from a few houses over, but she was standing in front of the office building. She said she had recognized the shooter as the new neighbor and had been able to get away and call the police before he saw her. Though she didn't say it, I knew she had also been the one to call up Mom and the Wallis couple to warn them that the police and media would descend on the neighborhood.
I flipped back to the first channel. They were continuing to show overhead footage of the office building. "...Was declared dead on arrival. This make three dead including the suspected perpetrator...." At the bottom of the screen was a ribbon that read "3 Dead, Several Wounded In Workplace Shooting."
Just then the house shook, and it wasn't a helicopter making another low pass. Something had exploded outside. Afraid to leave the basement, I flipped through channels, but it took them all a couple minutes to get on the same page. A bomb had gone off in the house of interest. On the news, I saw smoke billowing out of a shattered window pane.
Within maybe ten minutes it was revealed that the bomb was small and had not injured any of the police and investigators inside. Still, these personnel evacuated the house for the bomb squad to make a more thorough sweep. I thought I caught a glimpse of something on the roof of the Wallis house, but before I could make it out the feed switched back to the office building. After replaying the interview of our neighbor who had been at the scene, they began showing interviews of people in our subdivision. No one seemed to know much about the shooter or his family.
There were only a few possibilities concerning the family and none of them were encouraging. The Chief of Police waited another hour to give a press conference, but the information he released had already been largely deduced by the media. The man who owned the house next to the Wallis's had shot and killed his wife and two children before driving to the downtown offices where he worked, where he shot six more people, killing two. He then waited for police to arrive, whereupon he engaged them in a shootout inside the building which resulted in his own demise.
I started to retch. I ran up the stairs and threw up my cereal into the toilet. After I was sure I was finished, I crawled past the front door to the kitchen, got a drink of water and made some toast. As I was leaving the kitchen the phone rang again and I recognized the number on the caller ID. It was my friend Josh or one of his parents. I decided it would be alright to answer and picked up the receiver, ducking under the dining room table to talk.
"Hey man, what's going on?" Josh asked in a concerned tone.
"Well, my neighbor's a mass murderer, my street is on lockdown, and some of the windows are cracked from that bomb that went off in his house. How has your day been?"
"Do they know like, why he did it or...."
"You know as much as I do. Mom and I barely ever saw the guy. I don't know what the news people think they'll learn by buzzing helicopters over our neighborhood."
We talked a little more before hanging up.
After that I was ready to go back to bed, sleep through the day and hope to find out this whole stupid thing had not been real when I awoke, but part of me still wanted to know more. I decided to go back downstairs. I just kept watching the TV. The news stations started showing photos of the murderer, and I vaguely recognized him. Though his name was shown and mentioned numerous times, it never stuck in my head, and to this day I have not bothered to find out what it was.
One of his portraits was from his military service. The man had been a Gulf War combat veteran. That was the only significant fact anyone seemed to know about him. Some commentator mentioned that he might have had untreated PTSD, another speculated that he was a natural killer who had joined the Army in order to kill people lawfully. Neither theories interested me. I started to tune the voices on the TV out, focusing only on the images, which were mainly alternating overhead feeds of the shooter's house and workplace. During one of the house broadcasts, I noticed something on the roof of the Wallis house.
A giant, slightly hairy, brown spider. It was about the size of a refrigerator and was flattened on the roof of their garage with its fangs pointed in the direction of the shooters' house.
There was nothing special about this spider other than its size and the fact that no one on the news seemed to notice it. It didn't have red glowing eyes or anything like that, it was just an oversized spider of indeterminate species lying there, perfectly still, its dull color allowing it to somewhat blend into the roof.
After all that had happened, I was not as shocked by this as you might think. I knew what I was seeing was impossible and wrong, but was strangely unfazed by it. Maybe my mind was at a loss as to how to respond and simply chose not to. In any case, the spider stayed there any time the TV showed the overhead feed of the houses, and so it remained for an hour or so.
Eventually I went back up to my bedroom to discover if I could see the spider from there in-person, but the upstairs windows did not provide a clear view of the Wallis's garage roof, at least not through the closed blinds and cracked glass. Frustrated, I returned to the basement to find them replaying the police chief's press conference. Then there was another interview.
This interview was of Lacey Stroth, one of our neighbors from up the street who was known to be an attention-seeking gossip. A somewhat heavy-set blonde with a slight valley-girl accent, she was the subdivision's busybody. I remember being particularly annoyed and a little angry with her when my mom was in a car accident that resulted in very minor injuries and she told everyone she was in critical condition.
Lacey was being interviewed by a reporter a few houses down from mine. Our cul-de-sac could be seen taped off down the street. Funny, her house was on the other side of the subdivision from ours, yet she just happened to be standing around when the media wanted to talk. (Well, to be fair, there were other neighbors gathered around to watch what was happening, but still, it was just like her.)
"Yeah, we all knew he was going to be involved in somethin'. The guy always gave me the creeps. Every time I'd pass him on the sidewalk and say hi he'd just nod and give me this penetrating leering look...."
Bullshit. The man never left the house often enough for that to be true. And none of the neighbors were expecting him to do something like this, they just didn't know anything about him. This was like the time she told people a neighbor who had been caught being a peeping tom was a pedophile when really he was just spying on one woman across from his house who liked to walk around naked with the windows open.
When the feed once again switched back to the man's house, the spider had shifted. It was only a slight shift, the spider was pointing in a slightly different direction, but with such observed changes being unsettling enough to see in a normal spider, this realization made me start to clam up. It certainly didn't help that it was clear at this point that no one else was seeing it.
I watched that spider on-and-off for two more hours. It didn't move again, nor was it commented on by the news anchors. That is until I saw it twitch, then start to crawl, then crawl off the roof, behind the house, and disappear from the camera's view.
Some time later my mom came home. I don't remember much else after that point in the day. We moved to a different city a few weeks later and I still don't know any more information about that event than what I remember from that day, nor do I care to research it, and I never told anyone at my new school about it.
However, though I can't be certain, I have at times thought I have seen the spider again. Sometimes, when watching coverage of tragic and violent events, I think I catch a fleeting glimpse of it on the screen. Whether it's real or just my imagination, each time this happens my mind reiterates the realization that popped into my head when I saw that spider crawl away all those years ago:
"Evil is real."
Written by HopelessNightOwl