I respect other people’s privacy. Not once have I broken into my sister’s diary, even though the lock is flimsy enough to snap with two fingers. I don’t eavesdrop on my mother’s conversations and I’ve never even snooped through my boyfriend’s phone.
But last August, after I’d shared a bottle of Jack with a girl who was as tiny as I was, my legs were wobbly. My mind was fuzzy. I wasn’t myself.
So when Julianna watched me fool around with a drone and mentioned how it went up so high that it could easily make it over Marybeth’s fence, I took her up on the offer.
Here’s the thing about Marybeth. She’s the neighbor you never see. The one who bolts from her Oldsmobile to the front door without waving hello to anyone. The one who looks so frail and shaky and close to death that you wonder if she’s had a seizure when you don’t see movement in her windows for a while.
Her house is right across the road with white siding, yellow shutters, and grey stepping stones leading up to her stoop. But her backyard…
About twenty years ago, back when I was still getting breastfed, she decided to build a fence around the entire backyard. Not a white picket one. Not even a wooden paneled one. This was more like a stone wall. Impossible to see over or break down or climb. No one knows why she did it. I don’t know if anyone had even asked.
“I bet she has a lion back there or something,” Julianna said as I flew the drone across the street, toward Marybeth’s property. “Well, maybe not a lion, but something exotic. Something illegal. It’s got to be.”
I pushed the drone higher as it neared the fence. Higher, higher.
“Oh. My. God. What if she’s growing marijuana?”
Juuust a little higher.
It went right over the edge of the fence, skimming the top. I couldn’t really see it after that, but I flew it around in circles for a few minutes before reeling it back in. When it landed, Julianna begged me to upload the footage to my laptop as soon as possible.
And that’s all I really remember before blacking out.
I woke up the next morning with a stinging in my head and vomit on my sleeves. I would’ve forgotten all about the drone, but Julianna had stayed the night, and she reminded me the second I sat up. I always had brutal, unbearable, I-swear-I’m-never-going-to-drink-again hangovers and she always bounced right back to her normal self. But that was a good thing, because she whipped up eggs for me while I grabbed my laptop.
Once the eggs were fried and the footage was downloaded, I popped a piece of bacon into my mouth and pressed the ‘play’ button.
Video of my house. Video of the street. Video of Marybeth’s front lawn. And finally, footage of Marybeth’s backyard, all plush and green with a woman limping through the center of it.
Julianna leaned closer to the screen. “Is that…”
I saw myself, the limping woman, making a beeline for the backdoor. It was definitely me. My ombre hair and scrawny shoulders and navy blue dress.
Did we break in? Did we get that drunk and that stupid? How the hell would we have even made it over the…
Wait. The drone flew into a new position, allowing us to see the woman’s face. She still looked exactly like me—except there was blood streaming down her face. The skin on her nose was slashed down to the bone and her eye sockets were empty, like they’d been gouged out. Like a wild animal had attacked her.
But when I watched the rest of the video, things got even weirder.
It’s hard to explain what I saw. It was like when you wake up from an in-depth dream that has hours-worth of storyline, but then you look at the clock, and realize you only had your eyes closed for two minutes. That an impossible amount of information had been jammed into your brain in only a few seconds.
I saw a toddler crawl toward a pool, fall in with thrashing arms, and sink to the bottom. A preteen get crushed by a fallen tree branch. A teenager convulse and collapse into the grass.
And every time I watched someone die, they looked exactly like me.
After the video clip had ended, I’d kicked Julianna out without even asking her what she’d seen. I needed my rest. Drowsiness caused hallucinations.
Of course, after an hour in bed, I realized there was no way in hell I was going to drift off with so many questions swirling around. I’d never sleep again, unless I checked out that house.
So without even bothering to change out of my navy blue dress from the night before, I pushed myself up and stumbled across the street.
I didn’t concoct some crazy plan to mount the walls or sneak in through a window. I just knocked.
When Marybeth answered, she spoke with a smoker’s rasp. “You need to leave. You need to leave now. I’ll call the cops on you, I will.”
“Oh, you’ll call the cops?” I didn’t mean to, but I laughed. “No. You need to tell me what’s been going on.”
Her expression changed. It was like when your boyfriend knows you know he’s been cheating and he can’t talk himself out of it anymore. He can’t keep lying.
So she let me in.
She led me to her living room, with soft couches and plastic tables, and started explaining before I even asked my question. She said that, twenty years earlier, she’d seen ghost-like visions of a baby drowning in her pool. Every single day. But it was never the same exact vision. The baby would have frilly pink clothes on one day and overalls on the next day.
A few months after those visions had started, she’d glanced across the street, saw my mother picking me up from my stroller, and realized that the clothing matched. That the baby was me.
That made everything feel real for her, so she boarded up her pool and built a fence.
And, as the visions evolved over the years, she made more changes. When she saw a vision of me getting crushed by a tree branch, she hired someone to cut down all of her trees. When she saw a vision of me convulsing, she bought as much medical equipment as she could afford. She also bought some rare African cat for protection, replaced her glass furniture with plastic furniture, and started a ridiculous fight with my mother, so that she’d warn me to stay far away.
When she finished explaining, she summed up by saying, “You’re destined to die here.”
She sounded crazy and she had to be. Otherwise… If it was all true…
I wanted to leave. I put down the pillow I hadn’t even realized I’d been squeezing, rose from the couch, and thanked her for her time.
And that’s when I heard the snarling.
It was coming from behind me. I could see Marybeth looking over my shoulder, shaking her head with tiny, rapid movements. “No,” she said. “No, it was supposed to happen outside. Not in the house. Never in the house.”
I swiveled my head and saw fur. Smooth brown with some black blotches in the middle of its long, thick snout. It looked like a cross between an oversized dog and a fucking lion.
The paw was up before I could blink. It slashed at my face and I felt the skin rip away. Felt blood pour out of my nostrils.
Marybeth was screaming.
I was on the ground now. I felt teeth latch onto my skin and dig in.
Marybeth had a gun.
By the time the shot went off, my vision had vanished, but I felt the massive body slump on top of me. It took whatever breath I had left out of me.
Marybeth was crying.
I heard her gasp and hiccup, felt her warm hands help me to my feet. But once I felt like I could stand on my own, I pushed her away and stumbled toward the door. I wanted out. Out, out, out.
Even without my vision, I managed to make it to a wall. Find a door. Hitch it open. But when I limped through the grass, I couldn’t hear the cars on the street clearly. I couldn’t feel the stepping stones against my feet.
I wasn’t in the front yard. I was in the backyard.
The same way I had been when the drone flew overhead and captured me collapsing in the place where I was destined to die.