Authors: James Renner
Tags: #horror, #weird, #computer, #creepy, #scary, #google, #ohio, #akron, #glitch
By James Renner
Published by James Renner at Smashwords
Copyright 2013 James Renner
Discover more titles by James Renner at
Alan’s father told him there was something wrong with
the house. He said the price was too low. Even in the post-bubble
Akron economy, it just didn’t make any sense. Not for the size of
the home, or for the location- drop-center inside the tony Merriman
Hills subdivision, not for the rich-kid school system their
would-be kids would someday attend. A four-bedroom Tudor with
original windows and a refinished bathroom? For $85,000?
“Something’s got to be wrong with it,” his father
Alan waved his warnings off as paternal paranoia.
Nothing he ever did was quite up to his old man’s specs. This
wasn’t the same world his father had known at thirty. Men today
frequently changed jobs, changed careers, moved from Cleveland to
Akron to work for a competing dealership. Adapt to survive.
Companies didn’t reward loyalty anymore. This wasn’t TTR Steel. TTR
Steel didn’t even exist anymore. That was his point. In this world,
this new real world, people sometimes unloaded a home for pennies
on the dollar just to chase an opportunity. So Alan almost didn’t
hear him at all when his father warned him about the house. He’d
heard it before.
Trish at least considered it for a moment. “What if
he’s right?” she asked, bending down to peer under the kitchen
sink, again. “What if there is something wrong, like a leak we
can’t see or a foundation issue and they don’t want to tell us and
then we buy it and it’s too late and we’re stuck?” When Trish
didn’t pause for punctuation it prickled the backs of Alan’s
eyeballs and gave him headaches. For a teacher, Trish talked an
awful lot like a kid sometimes.
“There’s nothing wrong with the house,” Alan said for
the twenty-fifth time.
If there was anything that did give Alan pause, it
was the lengths to which the seller maintained a distance from them
during closing. Alan and Trish only knew the man by a name on the
deed: Gregory Heslop. When they asked for a tour, and then a
second-look, they had to give 48-hours notice through the realtor
so that Heslop wouldn’t be there. When it came time to sign the
papers, Heslop used a lawyer as an intermediary even though there
was no haggling over the price. The keys were left in the mailbox.
All signs of Gregory and the Heslop family, if there had ever been
more Heslops than Gregory, had been erased from the property long
before Alan and Trish peeked through the windows one winter
afternoon after spotting the ‘For Sale’ sign in the front yard.
Sometimes Alan caught himself wondering where Gregory
Heslop was now, why he’d moved away from this adorable Tudor in
West Akron. But mostly he wondered why Heslop had never cared to
correspond with the home’s new owners in any way, even if only to
wish them well and to thank them for their money.
But Alan didn’t really think there was anything wrong
with the house. Not for a while.
The house was not without a few problems. For one,
the house did not have central air. It was too hot in the summer,
even with ceiling fans spinning, and too cold in the winter, even
with the radiators chirping and a boiler growling away in the
basement. It was drafty-- the windows seemed to suck heat from
rooms like angry ghosts. And after heavy rains, the house shifted,
floor boards popping as if beneath little feet, especially in their
Also, the living room had been designed in a time
before television, and so there was really no decent place to hang
the plasma TV. The best the nerd squad from Best Buy could do was
to mount it on a swivel in the corner by the mantel. But something
about that spot tended to make the picture static-y at inopportune
One of the things that Trish loved about the house
was the woods that wrapped around the back yard. Giant trees.
Bigger than any he’d seen elsewhere in Akron. Almost old-growth
big. But that couldn’t be. There were no old-growth forests in Ohio
anymore, right? The woods were beautiful, especially in the fall,
when they came alive in brilliant reds and burnt oranges. There was
an owl that lived somewhere back there. Late at night it screamed
at the house and it sounded like a girl crying.
Occasionally something knocked loudly from behind the
wall in Alan and Trish’s bedroom, from the place where the wall
abutted the bathroom. Somewhere behind that wall was an old pipe
that called out for attention.
There was nothing wrong with the house but there was
definitely something wrong with the neighbors.
A pair of doctors, Brooke and Erin Seiberling, lived
in the colonial to one side, a great white thing with red awnings
that had belonged to a former mayor. Brooke and Erin worked odd
hours at Akron General and drove matching Mini Coopers. Two months
after moving into the neighborhood, Trish had baked an ironic bunt
cake and they had walked it over to the Seiberlings’ one day when
both the Minis were in the driveway. Brooke and Erin had invited
them in, sure. They had cut up the cakes and served it with coffee.
But neither Brooke nor Erin would make eye contact with them and
they sat on the edge of the sofa as if ready to jump up and run out
of the room. When Alan thought to ask after Gregory Heslop and
whether he’d had any family, Erin had chocked on a piece of cake.
Then Brooke had remembered a supper they were supposed to have with
his folks that evening and so they’d said goodbye and walked home.
A half-hour later both Mini Coopers pulled out of the driveway next
door and did not return for four days.
On the other side were the Kormuschoffs. Barb and
Tony. When Alan and Trish had walked over one evening with a bottle
of wine and knocked loudly on the front door, no one answered. even
though they could clearly hear a television somewhere inside, the
sound drifting through the mail slot in the brick wall. Tony
stopped mowing his own lawn after that. He hired a kid from a
landscaping company to come out to the house once a week to take
care of the strip of lawn out front. Trish was convinced he’d hired
the kid just so he wouldn’t be caught outside one day and be forced
into a conversation with them.
“That’s crazy,” Alan said. “Crazy paranoid.”
On Halloween they put out a huge bowl of candy bars.
Not those mini Snickers, but full-sized Musketeers and Baby Ruths.
It was a silly way to ingratiate themselves with the neighborhood.
But most parents wouldn’t let their kids stop. They waved awkwardly
from the street or simply ignored Alan and Trish as they escorted
their little vampires and cheerleaders from the Seiberlings’ to the
Trish and Alan still had friends from Kent where
they’d lived near the university for a number of years, and so, in
order to feel less lonely in their home, they began to host
frequent dinners and game nights with their old chums. It was
during one of these social dinners, over a game of Scrabble, that
somebody suggested they look up the house on Google Earth.
“Fucking Google,” hissed Sara DeLaine, a
nervously-thin woman who’d roomed with Trish freshman year. Her
interjection was in response to Trish’s big score, won by snaking
“Googolplex” off the top of “Grist.” “They monitor everything now.
Medical records. Criminal history. Your email. Our house is on
Google Earth for anyone to see. It’s Big Brother.”
“Yeah, but it’s not the government,” said Alan.
“It’s a CIA front, dummy.”
“I don’t know why they’d care about me, though. I
guess I’m just not worried.”
Sara rolled her eyes. She was sitting on the sofa,
her legs tucked up under her like a goddamn cat, nursing one of the
six red stripes she and her common-law husband had brought with
them. “No one ever cares about their civil liberties being taken
away until it affects them directly.”
Trish leaned forward in her chair, drawing attention
away from the loose argument. “So what happened?” she asked. “When
you looked up your house?”
“Right,” said Sara’s partner, a round fellow named
Henry who worked for a PNC mortgage loan office in Cleveland. “It
was creepy. Wasn’t it, Sara?”
“I wouldn’t say creepy, Henry. It felt like being
violated. It was a kind of rape. Really. I mean, you pull up your
address on Google Earth and, boom, there’s a picture of your house
taken from the street when you didn’t know they were even there.
Nobody asked our permission. I mean anyone could pull up that
picture. Thieves. Rapists. Scouting for victims. I mean what if I
had been standing at the window, naked, just out of the
Alan, who knew Sara would never stand near a window
naked unless the shades were drawn and the lights were out, laughed
quietly. Trish shot him a look.
“It’s not funny,” said Sara.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“See what you think. Get your laptop out. Let’s take
a look. You might feel differently if you pull up the picture of
your house and there you are in the front yard pulling weeds with
your ass crack hanging out the back of your jeans.”
Alan shrugged and went to look for his macbook.
Sara’s neck was turning red. It did that a lot when
she got overheated about an idea. “I mean when does it stop? You
know that right here in Akron, at that Goodyear hangar, they’re
building a new kind of blimp that flies into the stratosphere and
takes high-resolution video that can read license plates on the
“I haven’t heard that,” offered Trish, who was making
fast work of the chardonnay in her deep glass.
“It’s true. They want to film us 24/7. Know our every
“But Sara,” said Trish. “You work at the Olive
Just then Alan returned with the laptop. He placed it
on the coffee table and sat on his knees to work it. In a minute,
he was typing their address into Google. A small orange street map
appeared. He clicked on a green man to the left of the map and
dragged it over to his road. The window changed, became a
photograph of a beautiful colonial with a wide flowerbed full of
petunias and heather outlining an English lawn. They all craned
their heads around Alan to see the screen.
“Okay,” he said. “What am I looking at?”
“That’s the Carney’s house, up the street,” said
Alan clicked on an arrow and the view swiveled. Their
house came into the shot, a brown Tudor with the paint peeling from
under the eaves where the Winters gnawed at it.
“Get closer,” Sara insisted.
Alan clicked on another arrow that scooted the image
further down the road until the view was directly in front of their
home. Some months ago, that Google van with its 360-degree camera
array sticking out of its roof like a periscope, must have driven
by quietly snapping pictures. Trish’s Saturn was parked in the
driveway. Judging by the blooms on the apple tree these photographs
had been taken sometime in May. Five months ago?
“See,” he said. “No ass crack. No naked Trish at the
He stopped short when he saw it. A second later Trish
let out a surprised hiccup.
“What the hell?” she said.
“What?” asked Henry.
Trish pointed at the window. It was maybe a foot
square, on the second floor above the front door, where the roof
climbed to a peak. There were a couple problems with this window.
First of all, it didn’t exist. At least not anymore. As long as
Alan and Trish had lived in the house, the front wall above the
door had no window. But more alarming was what was standing just
inside the window.
“Who’s that?” asked Sara.
“I have no idea,” said Alan.
It was a girl’s upper torso and face, that much was
obvious. A young girl, maybe eight years old, in a red jumper with
blond hair hanging to her shoulders. Her mouth was open as if she
were laughing. Laughing or…
“Jesus, Alan,” said Trish. “Is that girl
“Wait,” he said. “I know what happened. I mean, the
Google truck or whatever must’ve come by when the Heslops still
lived here. There must’ve been a window there they covered over
before they sold it. I bet that’s George Heslop’s kid.”
“That’s my car in the driveway, Alan.”
“Heslop must’ve had a Saturn, too. It’s obviously his
car if the window is still there.”
“But Alan,” said Trish. “That’s my Obama 2012 bumper
sticker on the back of the Saturn. And there, in the Florida room,
you can see your poster through the window. That Lord of the Rings
poster you hung on the wall.”