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The Television Set

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I live in Oak Park, just outside of Chicago, Illinois. See, we have an ordinance here where you're not allowed to put up a "For Sale" sign in front of a house. So many homes are vacant here that they'd be absolutely everywhere if we could put them up, so in order to ensure people want to live here, we make it so it doesn't look like nobody wants to live here. Thus, no "For Sale" signs.

I live alone with my pet cat, an all black cat which I found out recently is a rarity. His name is Calvin. He was the runt of the litter. This isn't really important.

The story all started about two months ago. That's when I first got up late at night after a bad dream and went out for a cigarette and saw my neighbor from directly across the street was sitting in front of his large, bright television, which was facing right out his window at my house.

I did not think anything of it.

As days went on, I kept looking out my window and seeing my neighbor just sitting there watching TV. After two weeks, I came to the conclusion that he could very well be dead. It just didn't make sense that he was just sitting there, TV on, not leaving the couch for weeks. I could only see the back of his head, and he very well may have moved while I was at work, but knowing it was there the light of his television kept me up at night, and for hours on end there would just be no movement. I came to the conclusion that I should call the police to ask if they could check up on my neighbor. I didn't know him very well, we met twice. He was an older guy, I used to see him shoveling snow or raking leaves and I'd offer to help and he said no both times. He was a fairly active guy for his age and it didn't add up that he'd just sit there for days watching TV and not leaving his house.

So I called the police and told them and they offered to check it out.

I saw them pull up and couldn't help but watch. I was very curious, and even though I thought all that would happen was they'd call up an ambulance or something and remove my neighbor's dead body, not something I'd usually be extremely interested in watching, I had grown so curious about what was going on over there that I couldn't settle for the simple answer that my neighbor simply died in front of his television.

After knocking a few times, I saw them open up the front door and walk in. They looked around, one of them left the living room so I couldn't see where he'd gone (I could only see the one room where my neighbor's windows were). The one officer turned off the television and also left my sight. They both left and drove off.

About twenty minutes later I got a call explaining that the house was empty and my neighbor had moved out. They said a real estate agent had probably just accidentally left the television on. I went onto a few real estate websites and, as it were, the house was indeed for sale. Anticlimactic, but at least it was a far less morbid conclusion than I'd expected. I was sort of embarrassed that my mind had immediately gone to death when it really was so bland and simple, and I felt like a pretty bad person for actually feeling a slight sense of disappointment when I found out my neighbor hadn't died as I'd assumed.

That was a reasonable answer, a totally logical one. I had no way of knowing without the real estate signs up front, and I had no reason to question it. My neighbor had moved out. Plain and simple.

When I went to bed that night, it had pretty much entirely left my head.

My bedroom window faces out towards my neighbor's house. For the last two weeks I had been watching the television from my bed. It was how I went to sleep, just confusedly staring in wonder, slightly disturbed knowing I could be looking at the back of the head of my dead neighbor.

And since I had been staring at that television for the last two weeks, it took a few minutes to register the horror when I crawled into bed and looked at the television, still on across the street.

I didn't sleep very well. Every night, for about a month and a half, I'd just see that television. During the day, it was on. I'd walk up to the house when I was feeling more adventurous, and knock on the door, but nobody answered.

I started smoking quite a bit in lieu of proper sleep. Every night, I'd walk by the house; curious, scared, and confused. I contacted the realtor and asked if they were giving tours and she said they were not, so it didn't get turned on during some open house. I thought maybe I was hallucinating, that the television was never on, but the officer definitely went over and turned it off, so it had absolutely been on, at least in the first place. I invited a friend over two weeks ago and after a little hanging out I told him the story and asked, straight faced and horrified, if the television was on. He said that it was. He was clearly concerned for my health, and I don't blame him.

So the only other option I could think of was that maybe a squatter had taken up residence in the vacant house. It wasn't common in the area, as far as I knew. There's very little crime or homelessness in the suburban area I live in, so it didn't really make any sense for somebody to squat here, but it was all I could think of.

Last night, I worked up the courage to confront this squatter. I was going to call the police, but assuming the squatter had been there when I first called, I doubted it would do anything to tell them again. I worked it out in my head that as long as somebody else was living in that house illegally, it wasn't so bad for me to walk over and enter uninvited myself.

Stupidly, I worked up this courage while smoking a cigarette late at night, where the only light out was the light pollution over to the East in Chicago and the dim light of the streetlamps.

Shaking, both from the terrible cold weather we've been having lately and from the nervousness taking over, I opened the door. I was hoping the door was locked so I could back down on my sudden wave of courage and walk away without feeling like I was just running off with my tail between my legs. To my surprise and dismay, the door was not locked. I felt briefly confused, wondering why the realtor hadn't put in a lock like they did when I sold my house, but I realized that if there was somebody squatting here then it shouldn't come as a surprise that there wasn't exactly airtight security.

Slowly, timidly, I walked towards the living room. I could hear the faint murmur of infomercials and see the moving lights and colors of the screen's shine as I tiptoed, trying to make as little noise as possible.

My whole body went cold as I entered the room. There was my squatter: a middle aged woman, wrinkly, grey-haired, and dressed like a homeless person. It at least added up. I was more horrified of the fact that I had to now confront them than at the woman herself.

I stuttered a scared hello and she looked at me, and before I could form a thought she screamed the most hellish, horrifying scream I've ever heard. It was not the scream of a middle aged woman. It was demonic, deep and ear splitting. I froze up and my heart sank and my eyes widened and I stared, accepting that I was going to die, at this screaming woman for what seemed like eternity. It was an unwavering scream, it didn't sound like she was losing her breath after what had to have been a whole minute. The moment the initial wave of shock wore off, I just turned and ran. She hadn't moved save for turning to look at me as she screamed, and I looked to make sure she hadn't gotten up to follow me out, and she had not.

I ran to my house.

I considered calling the police, but I didn't want to explain the situation or risk getting myself into legal trouble for trespassing on my neighbor's property, and if they went there and again did not find the squatter there was no question that I'd be seen as completely insane. I lay awake, refusing to look across the street at the television screen, and my thoughts raced. Surely it had to have just been a squatter. She looked like one, she was clearly living in a house that wasn't her's, she was probably a mentally unstable homeless woman. I decided the scream couldn't have been as awful as I had thought, it was all just the makings of a scared mind.

I actually managed to get some sleep, shockingly enough, and when I woke up I briefly didn't even remember what had happened the night before.

What I woke up to was somewhat odd. My cat always sleeps downstairs in the living room on the sofa, but I found him, wide awake, sitting on my bed cleaning himself. In all my years living here, I never woke up with him in my room. I petted him for a little and went downstairs.

As I began remembering the events of the previous night, I decided to go out for a cigarette, and on my way out I found that my front door had been unlocked. I ran through last night in my head and I remembered vividly my frantic run home ending in me making sure all my doors were locked. My memory is very rarely faulty.

I felt my stomach churn and my heart sink and I felt a chill as I walked back upstairs to go to my living room.

What I found would have been entirely mundane in any other setting.

My television set was on.

I called the police to explain the situation. I called out of work and am spending the next few days in my friend's home with my laptop and my cat.

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