It had been four weeks since she’d bought the house, four weeks since she last spoke to the Realtor, four weeks since she’d even stepped foot inside. It had taken her most of those four weeks to consider the idea of unpacking and moving in; however, with the season changing from Winter to Spring, Melissa knew it was time. She couldn’t continue camping out in friend’s apartments, it was time to grow up.
In truth, the tales, stories she’d heard from friends and neighbors, they did nothing to help her accelerate the move-in date. The claims of shrieks from within,sounds of table-top games at night—the man next door, old and cranky, told her he’d seen a large black figure by the attic window on multiple occasions. Rumors, the Realtor had assured her, stories to keep the neighborhood from becoming gentrified. Melissa refused to fall for their wives’ tales.
She decided to unpack on a Saturday, to really settle down and spend the entire day and night—and perhaps even Sunday—turning the house into a home. She hated the idea of losing a weekend, but the thought of leaving work night-after-night only to spend the evening unpacking seemed even worse. Sure, it meant she wouldn’t be able to go out partying with her friends on Saturday night, but what did it matter? She couldn’t bring a guy home with the place looking the way it did anyway; the point was to impress the man, not look like a hoarder who works the night shift as a serial killer. No, the weekend was the clear choice—not to mention the thought of staying in the unfurnished bedroom for a full week, alone, was pretty unsettling.
By the time Saturday arrived, Melissa had already prepared a mental plan of attack. She’d start with the kitchen, unpacking the few boxes she’d brought from her tiny apartment, then move on to the auxiliary rooms: bathrooms, hallways, entry ways. She didn’t have much to unpack there, so starting with the easiest made the most sense. She would finish with the bedroom, where most of the work lay. The bed, desks, and cabinets still needed to be built and re-built, mountains of clothes needed folding and hanging, and—worst of all—she still had to figure out how to set up and reconnect all of her computers and electronics. This of course, wasn’t even considering the seemingly infinite other, smaller tasks that needed doing. It was going to be a long weekend, but she felt ready by the time she arrived at the house.
The moment Melissa stepped foot inside, pushing the heavy metal door open with her shoulder and making a mental note to replace it later on, she knew something wasn’t right. The air felt colder than it had during tours with the Realtor, or during the closing last month. The air outside had only gotten warmer, it made no sense for it to be so cold indoors, especially considering she had been told the A.C. was not working. She peeked her head inside, goose bumps forming along her bare arms as she stepped in.
The house was dark; walls, rooms, ceilings, and stairs blended completely with the shadows as one black figure that seemed to consume almost all she could see. She opened the door wider, the light from outdoors spilling in from behind and illuminating the dust-covered mahogany floors and stacked cardboard boxes that held her life. The revealed walls looked as decrepit and uncared for as they had when she last visited, caked in cracks, chips, and exposed frame. But the cold—it was so unique. It almost felt artificial, as if someone was exhaling a steady stream of cold air down her spine. She took another step inside, flipping the light switch beside the door.
The room immediately illuminated, shadows scurrying to the edges of the other rooms. A wide shadow remained in the far left corner of the entry way, cast off a lamp in the middle of the room. It looked almost too large for such a small lamp, so wide in the middle and smaller toward the top. She returned her gaze toward the center of the room; a hat rested on the staircase’s bannister. Melissa shivered, pulling her arms close to her body for warmth. The spaghetti-strap on her shirt slid off her shoulder, falling at an angle under her arm. She took another step forward.
The house smelled the same as she had remembered, musty and dirty, like a load of laundry left in for too long. She brought her arms closer, body shaking from the cold. She took another step forward then stopped. The air felt as if it had gotten warmer, like the temperature had increased twenty-five degrees between steps. She backed up slightly to where she had been before, expecting the Arctic chill to return to her spine. Instead, the air remained warm, just as it felt outside. Melissa placed her arms back at her side, body no longer shivering. A gust of spring air pushed against her from behind, lifting her shirt strap back up her arm. She felt it slide into place, almost as if the wind had intentionally moved it. Her eyes wandered to the hat sitting at a downwards angle atop the bannister.
It was a fedora. She’d seen them before at the mall, maybe at the Hot Topic there. It was black with thin, white pinstripes, a red bow tied carefully just above the brim. She walked over to it, carefully stepping around the cracks lining the floor below the stairs, until she was close enough to lift it off its perch. It was heavier than it looked, maybe a pound in weight, but made of a very soft material. She held it close to her face, a shiver running down her spine as she noticed how clean it was. Dust caked the walls, floors, ceilings—anything and everything—yet this hat, this fedora, was spotless. She swiveled her head left, then right, eyes scanning the adjacent rooms for movement. She placed the hat back down, then smiled.
The old man. It had to be him. He was trying to scare her, trying to keep her out of his neighborhood. It was so obvious. Who else would wear such a hat but the elderly, no longer concerned with basic fashion? It wasn’t going to work. Melissa flicked the light switch by the stairs, illuminating the second floor, and began heading to her room to take inventory. The wide shadow in the corner of the room looked much narrower and more lamp-like as she climbed, almost entirely different in fact.
The second floor was no cleaner than the first, but that was how she’d bought it. The Realtor said it would be a “fixer-upper,” and that didn’t bother Melissa at all. She and her father had built their last house almost from the ground up. Sure, there were some other builders occasionally, and a contractor named Ed who stopped by occasionally, but the two of them did most of the heavy lifting. She always enjoyed building, but her father had warned her against going into it as an occupation. Said it wasn’t great for women. Sometimes she still wondered if he may have been wrong.
Melissa stopped at her room, the door shut in front of her. The movers must have closed up after placing the boxes inside. She grabbed the knob and turned, door creaking as it opened. The room was dark, the blackout shades drawn tightly shut. It smelled different, though, almost like a florist’s shop. The musty, dirty scent that filled the house immediately was overcome by a natural, beautiful aura. She reached her hand inside the darkness, searching the wall to the left of the door for a light switch. She felt a bump under her arm, stopped, and flicked it upwards.
The light overhead beamed down, a fluorescent yellow filling the room. Shelves and dressers lined the wall, covered in picture frames, jewelry boxes, and various knick-knacks. A bouquet of flowers was propped atop her dresser. Her bed sat in the middle of the back wall, frame already built and headboard attached. The blankets were carefully made, pillows aligned on top in size order. A small desk stood in the corner of the room, her computer, printer, and various iPhone devices plugged in and and running. The computer monitor’s light blinked slowly on and off. She stepped into the room, smiling at the kindness of the movers. They never told her they’d set up the room, but she wished she had given them a bigger tip.
Melissa shut the door then pulled open a dresser drawer as she passed, her clothes neatly folded inside, then closed it. The closet held the same: shirts and pants hung perfectly, shoes lined in matching pairs. The only thing out of place was a single cardboard box atop the dresser. She pulled open the lid and stared down at her own underwear, bras, and various pieces of lingerie. She smiled, imagining the workers as they danced around to avoid her unmentionables.
Melissa walked over to the dresser and admired the flowers, red and yellow pedals crowded within a clear vase. She had never heard of movers leaving their clients such beautiful gifts. A card hung from one of the stems. She opened it up, the words “For you, m’lady,” were etched within. A strange, cartoon face was drawn below. She recognized it as one of those internet memes her coworker had tried to introduce her to. There was a beep from behind her.
She turned her head toward the sound and stopped, listening for it to repeat itself. The house creaked as she stood, no matter how still she did–like an old boat on a quiet, wavy night. The beep repeated. It was her computer, monitor light still blinking. She walked over, shaking the mouse violently until the screen came to life, bringing with it a photo of her and her friends on the beach. She squinted, trying to recall why she had been looking at that particular photo, then minimized it. A smaller window appeared, one she was not familiar with. The top read “Administrator: C:\Windows\system32\cmd.exe.” She had not seen it before and wasn’t sure if it was important, but reminded herself it was time to switch to Mac—the damn Windows machine was too confusing. She minimized the box, just as she noticed her taskbar looked a little different.
She always used the same taskbar on her computer. Quick access to iTunes, Facebook Messenger, Spotify, and Internet Explorer. Yet it was now completely different. Her iTunes was replaced with something called “Winamp,” Facebook Messenger had a “Google+” logo, Spotify was now “Groove Shark,” and Internet Explorer was, instead, “Chrome.” The browser, formerly her Internet Explorer, was active but minimized. She clicked on it, not sure why the workers would change all of her settings. It was open to a white website, which read “reddit.com/r/Linux” on the top of the tab. Dozens of purple links lined the page. She stared at them, unsure what they meant, until she stumbled upon something she could decipher: A search bar with the words “Make The Living Love You With Linux?” She clicked on it and pressed enter, bringing her to a new page stating “there doesn’t seem to be anything here.” She stared at it, eyes searching the page for anything with meaning. She noticed several unfamiliar bookmarks below the URL bar linking to “reddit.com,” “Fedora-Factory.com,” “MyLittlePony.com,” and “DungeonsAndDragons.com.” She closed out of the window, then pushed herself to her feet.
A gust of cold air rushed up against her back, sliding down her spine and around her waist, then back up to her arms. The black box, which read “cmd.exe,” reopened on her screen. She stared at it.
“C:\Users\Melissa>Hello,” it read, text line blinking just below it. Melissa picked up the mouse and moved it over the box, then clicked.
“Hi?” she responded, which immediately returned C:\Users\Melissa\Hi? ‘Hi?’ is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file.”
“You’re very pretty,” responded the screen, preceded by the same “C:\Users\Melissa>” format.
“Who is this?” she typed.
“I see you liked my hat. Thank you, it’s one of my finest. Do you like how I organized your room? How about the nice meme I put in the flowers?”
“Are you the a mover?”
“Those jocks? No, I got rid of them. They don’t deserve someone like you, they’re real jerks. I left your underwear alone, I promise I didn’t look.”
“What’s going on here?” she typed.
“I was going to install Linux on your system, it’s so much better than Vista. I’m a great guy, I’d do that for you.” Cold air ran down Melissa’s body, as if standing under a vent.
“Do I know you?”
“I had a blog,” responded the screen. “You’ve probably seen it. It was very political, very well-received. I’m a really good listener, total boyfriend material. Just look at what I did for you.”
“I’m not really looking for a boyfriend.” Melissa stood up from the computer, not sure what the black prompt was.
“Where are you going?” continued the prompt. She froze, staring at the text. Whoever was writing to her, they were watching her. She glanced at the windows—they were still shut, the shades blacking them out entirely. No one could see through. The door, it too was still shut behind her. She scanned the room for a camera, a microphone, anything. A wide shadow was flat against the corner of the room, just like she’d seen downstairs. There was no lamp this time, no lighting behind her to cast such a shadow. She felt the hair on her arms rise, a shivering sensation running down her spine as she took a step toward the shadow. It looked so familiar, almost human. She squinted and stared into it, studying it. The way the middle section blended into the top, it seemed like the shadow of a bearded, overweight man—but the hair seemed not to come from the face, but from what would be a neck. The legs, they were . . legs. They were legs. She stared at the shadow, the figure now making sense in her mind. It was that of a man, arms behind his back, legs close together. The shadow shifted slightly.
“M’lady,” came a high-pitched voice from within the shadow. “You owe me your love for what I’ve done.”
Melissa screamed and turned, running toward the door. She smacked against it, wall shaking with the force of her impact. She reached for the handle, her fingers wrapping around a cloth-like object and fruitlessly trying to spin it. Her eyes raced downwards, vision now blurred by tears, and watched as her fingers grasped helplessly at a red ribbon wrapped delicately around a black, pin-striped fedora.