Just about the first thing anyone new to the neighborhood learned was to avoid Bud Filimore. Cantankerous, territorial, and fueled by what seemed to be a deep-seated hatred for just about everything, he was the kind of man that childhood nightmares were made of.
Although he’d only lived there for a few months longer than us, by the time my family moved in across the street from the Filimore house, his reputation was already firmly established. When other neighbors came by with their cookies and casseroles to welcome us and saw me and my brother, just nine and eleven, they’d pull my parents aside and offer hushed warnings.
“Keep them away from that nasty little man across the way,” Mrs. Devin said. “He can’t stand children.”
“My son, Bill, swears Bud tried to run him down in his car!” Mr. Crane said.
“He’ll look for any excuse to yell at them. He says the most terrible things,” Mrs. Paul said
My parents thanked them, but I don’t think they quite believed them. My mom especially wasn’t fond of gossip and she tried to take such rumors with a grain of salt until she could make her own decisions. She didn’t have to wait long.
My older brother, Scotty, and I were outside tossing a baseball back and forth one Saturday morning when Scotty tossed it too hard and high. It sailed over my head, bounced in the street, and rolled to a stop at the very edge of Mr. Filimore’s yard. Both of us had overheard our neighbors warnings and were hesitant to even look at the house, much less approach it.
“Go get it, Liz,” Scotty said, nudging my shoulder.
“But you threw it,” I replied.
“So? You missed it!”
“I couldn’t reach it!”
My whining had no effect. He pushed me towards the road and, after checking both ways, I began to creep across towards our ball.
I had almost reached it, I just had to take a couple more steps and it would have been within my grasp, when the front door of the house flew open.
“What the hell are you doing?” A stout man with thin, graying hair came bursting outside and stomped across his lawn towards me.
“M-my ball,” I tried to say, pointing to it.
“You brats throwing things at my house? Think it would be funny to break a window?”
“N-no,” I glanced over my shoulder to see Scotty half-poised to run inside and whimpered.
“Get outta here,” Mr. Filimore snapped.
“Can I just-”
Before I could react, he’d scooped up the baseball, which had barely been touching his grass, and stormed back inside. The whole front of his house seemed to shake with the force of his slammed door.
It was the first of what would be many run in’s with everyone’s least favorite neighbor. Our parents tried to talk to him about his behavior, but he just told them to keep their noisy little shits off his lawn and away from his house if we didn’t want trouble. Dad thought about calling the cops on him, but as Mom became fond of saying, there was no law against being rude, so we were told to just try and be more careful.
“He must not have always been such a bull,” Mom said over dinner about a month after we’d moved in. “He’s married, you know.”
Dad scoffed at the idea. “Oh yeah? How do you know?”
“Dolores Devin was by again for a chat and it came up. Bud wears a ring and she said she sees Mrs. Filimore looking out the windows from time to time, but the poor woman never comes outside. She thinks she heard Bud say it was cancer once.”
“Poor lady, sick and married to that,” Dad said.
“Terrible, isn’t it? But it does explain a bit about him. He’s just trying to keep things quiet and peaceful around his house.”
“Yeah, sure,” Scotty muttered and Mom frowned at him.
“He’s probably very sad and lashes out without meaning to.”
“He’s an asshole,” Scotty said.
“Language,” Dad warned. “But yeah, he is.”
Whatever his reasoning, we all agreed it would be best to just try and avoid Bud Filimore.
Scotty and I were extra careful to keep all of our toys well within the confines of our own yard when we played outside. I also couldn’t help but keep a wary eye on the house across the street, just in case he decided to be extra crazy and we had to run for it.
That’s when I started to notice Mrs. Filimore.
Almost every time Scotty and I were out and I happened to glance at their house, I would see a tall, slender figure outlined behind the sheer curtains in one of the upstairs windows. While I couldn’t get a very good look at her, I figured it couldn’t be anyone but the missus; Mr. Filimore didn’t have anyone else.
She never banged on the window or shouted at us like her husband, she’d just stand there, watching us. I liked to imagine that she was a nice lady; a quiet neighbor who just enjoyed seeing kids at play.
I remembered my mom saying Mrs. Filimore was sick and I felt sorry that she was trapped in her house with her horrible husband, so I tried to be nice and smile and wave once. Just once. Mr. Filimore appeared on his front stoop and yelled at me for being a pest until I retreated inside.
When I peeked out the living room window later, Mrs. Filimore wasn’t in her usual spot anymore.
Eventually we got used to Mr. Filimore glowering at us as he drove slowly past, his short temper and his loud voice. It was such a regular thing that our fear turned to caution turned eye-rolling dismissiveness.
“Bud doesn’t own the street. You kids go out and be kids and if he has a problem with it, I’ll deal with him,” Dad said.
After that, we started to be a little less careful with our things and a little more free with our laughter. We lost a few balls to the Filimore yard, one or two frisbees, but nothing we really cared too much about. Nothing until Scotty’s remote controlled helicopter.
It had been a birthday present and we were both eager to try it out. As soon as we finished supper, we raced out to the front lawn, where Scotty prepared for the helicopter’s first flight.
Under my brother’s inexperienced and clumsy guidance, the helicopter lifted slowly from the ground and staggered drunkenly through the air. In his excitement to keep it aloft, Scotty didn’t even realize it was heading right for Filimore’s yard until it was too late.
“Scotty!” I tugged at his arm to try and turn it off course, but it only made things worse.
The little helicopter took a nosedive straight into the hedges under Mr. Filimore’s bay window. Scotty frantically wiggled the controls, but the helicopter’s blade was stuck fast in the thick greenery.
As if he’d been waiting for us to slip up, the front door was flung open and he practically pounced on the toy.
“What have I told you?” He bellowed.
Before we could argue, he had already disappeared back into his house. Upstairs, the curtain fluttered just so and I knew Mrs. Filimore was watching. I wanted to call up to her and ask her to get the helicopter back, but Scotty grabbed my wrist and dragged me behind him to find Mom and Dad.
When our parents went over later, he refused to come to the door.
“Don’t worry, kids,” they assured us, “next time we see him, we’ll sit down and have a real discussion about this.”
That wasn’t enough for Scotty though. I followed him up to his room and sat on the end of his bed while he paced back and forth while ranting about how unfair it all was. He was fuming and furious and he wanted his birthday present back now.
“But how?” I asked.
He paused, his gaze sliding to his window and the house beyond. “We’re going to take it.”
It was a childish, simple, stupid plan with no thought to consequence or punishment: we were going to break into the Filimore house and get all of our things back.
“We’ll do it when he goes out next. I can figure out how to get the lock open, it can’t be that hard, then we just have to find our stuff.”
“What about Mrs. Filimore? She never leaves!”
“You can distract her or something, I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.”
“I dunno, Scotty,” I said uneasily. I didn’t want to disrupt a poor, sick lady for a few toys.
“Don’t worry, we’ll just be in and out. She probably won’t even notice we’re there.”
I doubted that, but I had a hard time saying no to my big brother.
Scotty put his plan into action the very next afternoon. We were playing a game of horse in the driveway when Mr. Filimore’s garage opened and his car chugged to life. He was wearing his customary scowl as he drove by. The moment he turned the corner, Scotty chucked our basketball off to the side and bolted across the street.
I checked to see if Mrs. Filimore was in her window and, when I saw no sign of her, I followed.
Scotty’s idea of “getting the lock open” turned out to be using a small rock to break the window pane on the door above the latch. It was something he’d seen in a movie or something. Immediately I had images of flashing red and blue lights and handcuffs and my stomach turned sharply, but my brother whispered that it would be fine.
“He can’t prove it was us! Everyone on the street hates him.”
He sounded so confident that all I could do was nod. Scotty reached carefully through the broken glass, careful not to cut himself, and found the deadbolt. It clicked out of place and he pushed the door open, letting us into Mr. Filmore’s house.
I clung to to the back of Scotty’s shirt as we tiptoed across the kitchen. It was spotless, obsessively so, and smelled of cleaning supplies. Every window had something tacked over it, old blankets and towels, blocking out the bright afternoon sun and casting the room into a gloomy darkness that made the room seem small and oppressive.
I swallowed hard and forced myself to follow Scotty. Every room was the same; fastidiously clean, organized, and shrouded in shadows. The bay window that I knew he spied on us from had a little hole cut into the heavy velveteen material, just big enough for someone to see out of. I could just picture him sitting on his plastic covered couch, watching us, waiting for us to get too close. It was enough to make me shudder.
We cleared the whole downstairs pretty quickly, but there was no sign of our things.
“Shit,” Scotty hissed. “He must keep it upstairs.”
“But Mrs. Filimore…”
“Just stay close and stay quiet, ok?”
I nodded, too nervous to say anything else anyway.
We’d only gotten up a few steps when the floorboards on the second floor creaked. Scotty immediately pressed himself against the wall and motioned for me to do the same. We listened to the soft padding of footsteps crossing from one room to another.
“Scotty,” I whispered, grabbing at his sleeve with both hands, “let’s just go!”
“No, he went too far this time! I’m going to get my helicopter.”
Door hinges squeaked from somewhere upstairs and the footsteps stopped.
Scotty pulled his arm from me and scampered up the remaining steps. Reluctantly, I went up, too.
We found a guest bedroom first. It was all muted colors and magazine quality furniture, void of any warmth or personality. Like it was just set up for show, never intended for use. At least it was a bit brighter up there; the windows only had a few layers of sheer curtains over them. Enough to obscure visibility, but still let in light.
The second room was obviously Mr. Filimore’s. It was the most lived in looking room of them all, and even then that was only because there were some pictures hanging on the walls and some personal items on the nightstand. The bed was meticulously made, all the clothing, most of which was masculine, hung neatly in the closet, there wasn’t even any stray hairs in the brush on the vanity.
I wondered how someone could live in such a cold, lifeless house.
There was only one room left upstairs, the one Mrs. Filiman must have gone into. Its door stood half open. Scotty and I traded a look, his determined, mine silently pleading with him to go. He took a step towards the door. I shook my head and grabbed at the back of his shirt again. He brushed me off and placed the flat of his hand on the door, pushing it open slowly.
Inside, the room was almost empty except for a large vanity against one wall. A framed wedding picture was on it and I recognized Mr. Filimore despite being younger and thinner. In front of the vanity, posed on a tall stool, was a mannequin.
She was wearing what I thought of as a 50s housewife dress, white with little pink and green flowers all over it, a string of pearls, and a blonde wig carefully combed back into a bun. Her featureless face was fixed on the mirror in front of her.
Scotty’s brow wrinkled, showing the same confusion is I’d felt. We’d both heard Mrs. Filimore walk to this room, but there was no one there.
“Let’s just go,” I begged, a cold sweat starting to trickle down the back of my neck.
Scotty shifted his weight, obviously torn, and the floorboard beneath his feet groaned.
The mannequin’s head turned sharply towards us.
Scotty leapt back with a yelp, an arm thrown out protectively in front of me.
“Liz,” his voice was trembling, “run.”
I stumbled back down the hall on legs that didn’t want to work. I could heard Scotty stomping along behind me and, behind him, a rapid skittering.
We skid at the top of the stairs and I grabbed the railing to keep from falling headlong down the steps. While I righted myself, I dared to glance back down the hallway.
It was empty.
“Where’d it g-”
Something thudded against the ceiling.
We both looked up and screamed.
The mannequin was crawling, spider like, over our heads. She wrenched her head completely around, turning her blank face towards us, and flitted towards the wall. She started to descend, the whole time facing us.
I was still screaming when Scotty hooked his arm around my waist and hauled me down the steps. We crashed at the landing, tripping over one another, and we could hear the click of fibreglass on wood as she pursued us. I was crying, scrambling on my hands and knees across the floor, and my brother was shouting for me to get up, to go. He grabbed the back of my shirt and practically threw me down the hall.
And then Scotty was shrieking.
I spun. The mannequin was crouched on the last step, one arm outstretched. She had her fingers wrapped around Scotty’s ankle. They were tightening, tightening, until his bones started to crunch beneath her grip. He kicked at her with his other leg, but it did nothing. She started to drag him back towards the stairs.
“Scotty!” I screamed, but before I could move, he looked up at me and shook his head furiously.
“Liz,” he could barely get the word out through the fear and pain that masked his face, “run!”
I wanted to stay, I wanted to grab his hand and pull with all my might and drag him out of that house with me, but he shouted again, run, run, over and over until the words became a garbled mess of howling, terrified cries that chased me out the same door we’d come in through.
It was the last time I ever saw my big brother.
No trace of Scotty was ever found. My parents searched, police searched, there were dogs and special agents and tons of time, money, and energy were put into trying to find him. But none of it mattered. It was as if he had simply vanished. Bud Filimore wasn’t a suspect very long; with no evidence and no history of any kind of criminal record, he was let go. Scotty was dubbed a missing child, reduced to a single box of paperwork that was all too soon moved to the cold case stacks.
No one believed me when I told them what really happened. They all said Scotty must have been kidnapped on our way back from Mr. Filimore’s house and I was too young to really understand it, that I had gotten confused and, in my fear, made up some story using the scary thing I’d just encountered.
“Mr. Filimore’s mannequin belonged to his late wife, Sharon. He kept it after she passed because it reminded him of her. Sometimes he’d move it around, put it in a window, but it wasn’t alive. You understand that, right, Liz?” My therapist was fond of asking.
I told her what she wanted to hear, even if I knew it was a lie. The adults preferred it that way; it was easier for all of us. Maybe that was why I never showed anyone the note that had been left taped to our door, typed and anonymous, that just said, “I tried to keep you away.” I didn’t think it would have changed anything.
I knew, though, and I never doubted myself or the fact that Scotty had sacrificed himself for me, and up until Mr. Filimore packed up and moved a few years later, I would sit in my brother’s room and I would stare out the window at his house. I would watch the second story window, waiting for the telltale dark figure to appear behind the curtains.
Waiting for the quiet neighbor that everyone said didn’t exist.