Peggy felt her eyes burn as she and her friends walked out of the theater and into the bright lights of the lobby. She blinked hard, several times, and readjusted her glasses as she kept pace with her fellow movie-goers. It was a typical fall Saturday, and the matinee showing of When A Stranger Calls had just let out.
“I don’t know, I think the first 20 minutes were the best part,” Joe said.
“I liked it!” Jan asserted.
“If some guy ever came after me like that, I’d think I’d end up in an asylum along with him,” Debbie admitted. “I’ll be checking my bedroom and the phone lines for the next week.”
“Don’t be such a baby!” Peggy teased. “It’s just a movie!”
“That’s easy for you to say, there’s always someone at your house,” Jan said. “Some psycho can’t just waltz in with six people watching 60 minutes in the living room.”
“Not to mention your brother’s dog,” Joe said.
“Benny!” they all shuddered in unison.
“Do you need a lift home, Peg?” Debbie offered.
“No thanks, my dad’s picking me up,” Peggy replied. “I’ve got to babysit Keri and Amy and my sister’s working second shift tonight.”
As the group arrived at the movie theater’s glass doors, Peggy spotted her father’s station wagon parked out front. He waved her on impatiently.”See you guys later!” she called.
It took nearly 20 minutes for the family car to turn onto the wood-lined street where Peggy’s sister Ellen – a nurse – now lived with her husband and two daughters. Peggy reached for her school bag beneath the front seat as the car came to a stop.
“You’ve got a ride home?” her father asked.
“Ellen said she or Wayne could give me a ride.”
“Your mother’s at work tonight, but you call if you need anything.”
Peggy’s niece Amy was there to greet her at the door, her blonde hair in two thick pigtails. Amy’s older sister Keri rushed down the stairs at the sight of her aunt, screaming her name as she went. Ellen’s husband Wayne left for work shortly after her arrival, with the promise that he or his wife would be home sometime before midnight.
After a rousing game of Candy Land, an epic Barbie fashion show and a fine meal of macaroni and cheese, it was finally time for the girls to be put to bed. Peggy read them a story, tucked them into their beds and with the house finally quiet, settled in for her date with her chemistry book.
The living room sat at the front of the house and was connected to a large gourmet kitchen, with a slider opening up to a sizable backyard. Peggy set up her study space on the couch, facing the front door with a bowl of freshly popped popcorn and a Coke sitting on the coffee table. She readied her flashcards, scribbling furiously as she leafed through the hefty volume.
Peggy took generous handfuls of her popcorn as she scanned the materials in front of her, her crunching the only sound that could be heard until…
…the sound of the phone ringing broke through the calm silence and Peggy paused to roll her eyes at the rotary’s round numbers.
“Hi Peg, just calling to see how you and the girls are making out.” It was Ellen, probably on her coffee break at this hour – just past nine o’clock.
“We’re fine, the girls are in bed.” Peggy said flatly.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of studying to do for my midterm on Monday.”
“Well, I won’t keep you, and thanks again.”
Peggy sighed, struggling to refocus her efforts on her schoolwork, but her mind kept drifting off to other places and things she had done that weekend.
Maybe I can get a pair of pants like Debbie’s at the department store next weekend. That movie theater sure was crowded, she thought, chewing on her pen absentmindedly. Do they still have looney bins like that nowadays? What really happens if some lunatic escapes? Would an escapee run around town with his arms tied up in a straight jacket? It’d probably be pretty easy to tell…
She had just put her pen back to a blank notecard when she heard a small voice call out to her.
“Auntie…Auntie?” came her niece’s urgent call. Peggy snapped her book shut and scampered halfway up the staircase, her heart rate increasing for some unknown reason.
“What is it, Amy?” she asked from the first landing.
“I’m thirsty,” came the reply.
“I’ll be right up, stay in bed,” she instructed.
Peggy flicked the lights on in the kitchen, enveloping the room in a yellow glow, a bright glare reflecting off the sliding glass doors. She searched the newly organized cabinets for a glass and ran the tap to fill it, her eyes drawn to the woods beyond the window above the sink. It was not until that moment that she had a chance to look out onto the bare backyard with the half-finished deck.
The night was so dark, Peggy could barely make out the planks of wood stacked in piles ready for construction. She had the creeping sensation that she was being watched, but with no blinds or curtains on the slider to shut out those eerie thoughts (and possible watchful eyes), Peggy took a breath to steady herself.
You’re being ridiculous! she thought. Get a grip! She turned to leave the room only to be met with not one, but two pairs of eyes!
The two girls let out shrieks of surprise as the water from the glass sloshed all over Peggy’s blouse and the hardwood floor. Peggy held her hand to her heart as she felt it beat erratically in her chest.
“Auntie, Keri said there was a monster in my closet and that if I didn’t give him some leftovers he’d eat me instead!” Amy cried. Her sister scowled at the accusation.
“Did not!” Keri said, shoving her sister a little.
“Girls!” Peggy chided. “Enough.” She shook her head as if to clear those foolish thoughts from her mind. “Both of you, get a drink and a snack and go back to bed.”
Since her return from the kitchen, Peggy had become increasingly aware of the strange sounds in and around her sister’s new house. She could hear the furnace whistling as the heat pulsed throughout the home, but she felt shaky and cold. She seemed to notice a dripping noise, but she was certain she had turned off the faucet before she’d left to mop up the spill on the floor.
She hadn’t realized there had been so many trees when she’d walked through the yard, but their branches scraped angrily against the windows and threw long shadows in the moonlight. She almost wished her brother Jimmy’s stupid wiener dog was there to bite at her feet. At least then, she would not be alone in the living room. Surely he would be able to give off some kind of warning of an intruder…
What is the matter with me? Peggy scolded herself. Letting a stupid movie scare me.
Peggy jumped again when she heard the door of the first floor lavette slam shut. It’s just the wind…just like those shadows…it’s only the wind…it’s probably going to rain, she rationalized. Still, she didn’t dare leave her spot on the couch or the living room where all the lights gave her a sense of comfort.
She nearly choked on her own breath when the phone rang again.
“Hello?” she asked, her voice dry. She cleared her throat, breathing steadily in through her nose and out through her mouth, It was Kara, her younger sister, calling to settle a bet with their older brother Jimmy. Peggy was only half listening, distracted by a sudden surge of electricity that left the lights flickering.
“Kara, I’m babysitting! I’ll be home later!” Peggy hung up the phone with a bang. She was angry with herself for getting so worked up and she felt guilty for taking it out on Kara.
It’s just a little storm, I can find some candles if the power goes out. I’m safe. There is nothing to worry about. Everything’s fine…
The phone rang again but when Peggy went to respond to the caller, there came no answer. What could be so important? she wondered. The phone rang again but as soon as she picked up the receiver, the dial tone alerted her that the call had been disconnected. The phone rang again…
“Kara, put Jimmy on the phone now!” Peggy yelled, her breath hot against the receiver’s mouthpiece. There was silence, then heavy, labored breathing. Then a muffled, raspy voice that said…
…”Have you checked the children?”
She was still screaming when Wayne came rushing in to rescue her. She’d flung the phone down on the floor and could hardly form a sentence, hysterical as she was. She was sure something terrible was about to happen, just like in that movie. She had visions of a struggle, an open window, a figure shrouded in darkness, a weapon in his enormous grip. She thought she and her nieces were in mortal danger!…
…until she heard a familiar laugh. She snatched up the phone with vengeance.
“Joe?!” she demanded, straightening up and slamming the phone back onto the side table.
For his part, Joe could hardly contain himself, coughing and wheezing in between fits of laughter. “I hate you!” Peggy cried, her hands still quaking violently. “How did you get this number?” It took Joe several seconds before he could properly say Kara’s name. “I hate you!” Peggy said again, hanging up the phone without another word to her friend.
“Are you alright?” Wayne asked concernedly. Peggy felt waves of embarrassment wash over her as she attempted to fix her her hair, using the tears she hadn’t realized were there to smooth the fly-aways.
“I’ll never see another scary movie as long as I live,” she swore.
Peggy returned to the house she shared with her two sisters, her brother and her parents, all of who were fast asleep by the time she came through the door. Benny growled at her disapprovingly, seemingly annoyed at her very existence. She trudged up the steep stairs, exhausted by the night’s adventure. For once in her life, she was all too happy to be sharing a room with her younger sister. It should be said that Kara did not feel the same way about her roommate…at least for the next few days that followed…