The building works stopped about half a year ago. I think the developer went bankrupt, but that might just be a myth going around our apartment block.
Either way, the building shell has been empty for months; bare gray walls, six floors, no windows or doors or decoration.
The crack addicts came about two months ago; at least I thought so. I saw the lights during the night, the thin shadows moving on the dark walls.
Carolyn disagreed. She called me over – one of those days when she asked me to babysit Sophie and I just couldn’t resists her charms – and we nearly had an argument about it. I meant it as a joke.
“Did you see the crack addicts already?” I asked.
“In the skeleton over there.”
“Nothing there.” She said. “Definitely not crack addicts.”
Carolyn opened the door.
“Watch Sophie closely, okay?”
“Sure.” I said.
“Really, I mean it, closely.” She said. “Please.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “She’s such a sweetie.”
Carolyn smiled; then she left for her date.
The parking lot between our apartment block and the unfinished shell was nearly triangular; Carolyn’s apartment was closer to the urban ruin than mine; I knew that she would have seen more than I did.
After our weird discussion I wanted to pay special attention to the people on the other side of the parking lot, but Sophie didn’t give me any time to do so. She ran around, folded and threw paper airplanes and somehow always managed to grab my attention.
At 22:30 I finally managed to get Sophie to go to bed; she made me sing for another ten minutes.
Back in the living room I tidied up the toys and dirty plates. I looked to the other side only for a moment, only for a few seconds before the lights went off – and still, the people I saw looked wrong. They looked too thin, too unhealthy.
Crack is horrible, I thought.
From my apartment they looked mostly normal. I saw them running on the fourth floor, running left to right – only the guy at the most left window didn’t run. He seemed to stay in place and the others bent down in front of him.
About a week later I babysat Sophie again. Carolyn was out; another date and I was already expecting her to come back and say that it all went horribly wrong and that the guy was just a pervert. She always said that and I wondered whether it was them – maybe the men she found were all perverts, or Carolyn’s cute face and tender figure with large chest made them wild – or whether it was Carolyn herself and her strange, quick changes in discussion topics that alienated the men and whether Carolyn’s “he was a pervert”-defense was just a lie.
That night Sophie went to bed early. Still I stayed. I wanted to read and finish my book – something that I somehow never manage to do at home when the laptop is around – but instead I ended up on the window. I watched their movements and behaviors. I felt like a voyeur, analyzing the addicts’ hierarchy and rules.
There were different things I learned that night – they had different levels of respect, those that ran the most bowed the most too. They bowed to someone in a right window, then a few seconds later they appeared in a left window, bowing to their leader. And also that really all of them were thin, there was no exception but one. Later, around 22:00, I saw a figure with long hair emerging from one of the few curtained rooms. She brushed something off her dress and then went to the leader.
The leader made her kneel and she kneeled longer than the others, as if she wasn’t sure how long she would have to stay. It looked as if she was a new member, a new victim of the drug – and the group was riding her hard so that she would obey to all commands.
Half an hour later Carolyn was home. She smiled and laughed, but she didn’t seem happy.
“He was a pervert.” She said.
“Where do you find all these guys?” I asked.
“The good guys aren’t single.” Carolyn said. “Or at least not many.”
“Oh.” I said.
“They all just want me for my looks.” She said.
I didn’t argue with her; half because I pitied her, half because I understood. She was nice, as a friend, but I couldn’t imagine being in a relationship with her and her good friends paranoia and OCD. Whoever she got – well, even if he accepted the child he would suffer from constant criticism. From the way her last boyfriend hit on every woman in the building I felt that maybe she also wasn’t exactly willing to offer her body even to those that were willing to offer their souls. Not that I blame her for it – no woman should feel forced to do that – but Carolyn was not easy to be with and I felt the frustration any partner of hers must feel; to have a pretty woman but not even be able to hug or kiss her, much less to do other things. That doesn’t justify anything, but it makes understandable that the guys that got too close ran away very quickly.
At home I didn’t see many new things; I still watched the group in the other building occasionally but there was not much to see. Running, sitting, bowing to superiors. I quickly realized that it wasn’t just an addict house, rather it had become a dealer house. That also explained the occasional appearance of new, less skinny people. They too bowed too long and then disappeared somewhere in the building – likely either on the floor to hit their drugs, or they might have gone out straight after their shot.
Another week; another of Carolyn’s dates.
Sophie was on edge. She kept running between her room and the living room. The teddy elephant was tightly in her arms. Not even Pocahontas managed to stop her from running around.
I gave up after a while – and instead I watched the other house. There was a new figure again, a more sturdy and thick body compared to the long and thin frames of the usual inhabitants. The new one, long hair again, bent down in front of the leader. The leader stepped towards her and placed a hand on her hunched shoulder.
Sophie slept tightly; I read my book. Carolyn came back around midnight with her head held high.
“A good night.” She said.
“Nice guy?” I asked.
“Well,” Carolyn said.” Not nice, but at least satisfying.”
“Good you finally have some fun.” I said.
“I think I really deserve it.” She said.” Life is so hard right now, with Sophie and everything.”
I spent another week watching the other side. The same visitor came back, with long hair and no clothes. Seeing the naked frame made me feel strange; I hadn’t noticed that most of the regulars were flat-chested males. Watching the exchange – a kneeling for a hand on the back – made me feel strangely aroused; I thought about starting my own drugs-slash-sex organization but I quickly laughed the thoughts out of my mind.
Still the woman stayed, with her head and chest bent forward and her breasts hanging down. I felt guilty for looking, but I couldn’t look away either. The scene wasn’t erotic per se, it was my imagination that made it erotic – my thoughts of what I would do if I was in the leader’s place with my hand on the naked back of a pretty woman.
I asked Carolyn whether she would like me to babysit again; I liked to babysit Sophie with her bright smile and the cute way she handed me things and told me to play with them. But it was mostly some voyeur drive, some instinct to see more of the events in the other building that made me offer more of my time.
Carolyn accepted. She said she had planned another date but likely could schedule it earlier.
Sophie was active that night; she handed me puzzle pieces and I finished her puzzle. Yet I kept looking out of the window; yet I saw the guest arrive again; bare-chested and pretty as before.
That the guest had the same body as Carolyn made me feel aroused and guilty. Sophie still handed me puzzle pieces and I thought about her mother’s body. I slapped myself when Sophie was asleep. What the fuck are you doing? I asked myself. She wouldn’t be good for you.
Sophie liked me; but Carolyn seemed cold. When I moved in it always felt as if she was interested, but over the months of babysitting Sophie that all seemed to have faded away. My desire was left; hers was gone. All she cared about were her Friday or Saturday night dates.
At least she cared about those until she began to refuse my offers to babysit. Those nights I saw the addicts’ female guest later. I didn’t make the connection; it seemed too absurd.
And still, I think I could have saved Sophie.
Carolyn always allowed me to play with Sophie if I wanted to do so; if anything she encouraged it. But from one day to the next it stopped.
Maybe she noticed that we all are perverts. I thought. Maybe she noticed that I stare when she bends over.
I felt guilty and yet I felt as if there was nothing I could do. Genes are destiny; that’s the way we are programmed, for good or for bad. Unconsciously women assess virility and men fertility. Unconsciously women check chest and back and arms and men check breasts and behind and waistline. We can avert our eyes, consciously prevent ourselves from looking – and still we analyze it, process it. Humans are like that; humans are made for that – to reproduce.
I was sad that I couldn’t see Sophie anymore. A few times I saw them in the corridor or in the lobby and each time Sophie ran towards me. She hugged me and I enjoyed the knowledge that I had made at least one person in the world happy. But Carolyn pulled her away.
“She needs rest.” Carolyn said.
“Can I come over tomorrow?” I asked.
“I think we have visitors.” Carolyn said.
They didn’t have visitors. Carolyn knew that I could hear her through the thin walls and that I particularly could hear her laugh. She always laughed loudly when guys came over; she always laughed softly when women came over. When she was just with Sophie she laughed in a different tone – with her voice higher and each laugh more abrupt.
Those days and nights I didn’t hear Carolyn laugh. I still heard Sophie – laughing, and humming in the way she hummed whenever she was bored or scared.
That too stopped on the Friday that I saw the guest again.
I hadn’t seen the guest for about a week. Maybe Carolyn was right with all men being perverts; I certainly felt like one while I watched the thin figure in the building on the opposite side of the parking lot.
The leader was just standing in the same place. I never saw any of them during the day – but at night the leader was always in the same room and in the same position. He only changed his position whenever somebody else entered.
Sometimes he seemed angry, sometimes loving, sometimes supportive – but most of the time simply controlling; just like the way he placed his bare hand on the naked back. That wasn’t a sign of gratitude or care, it was a sign of power and control. It said “Your life and body are mine.” – And I suppose that’s what happens with addicts, they give their minds and souls away to the drug and the sources for their drug. That’s why addicts can steal – because they don’t steal for their own soul; they steal for somebody else.
The woman came and knelt down. The leader placed a hand around her throat – or maybe just on her shoulder, my view wasn’t clear – and pulled her up. He pulled her high, as if he pulled her feet off the floor; but still only with one hand.
I saw the woman shaking; even from the other side of the parking lot I could feel her desperation and I could see her begging for another loan or forgiveness or whatever it was.
He let the woman down and she sank to the floor; it looked as if she cried. Then she slowly moved out of the room. She cried in the next room; then she seemed to go downstairs.
I could call it an accident; honestly I waited until I heard Carolyn and Sophie pass. I just wanted to see Sophie again, to feel her hug around my neck and know that there was a life I affected. It was evening already and I had noticed that Carolyn left that time. I noticed it from Sophie’s bored humming.
I didn’t expect them both to be on the corridor. I thought it would be Carolyn on her own; I wanted to ask her whether I could take care of Sophie. I wanted to tell her how bored Sophie was withot her.
Instead, when I opened the door, I heard a high squeak and Sophie ran towards me. She hugged my leg and I pulled her up to give her a kiss on the forehead. Carolyn forcefully pulled her away.
“Hey.” I said.
“Stay away.” Carolyn said.
Carolyn pressed the elevator button.
“You make us feel bad.” She said. “I should have done it long ago.”
“Do what?” I asked.
Carolyn pulled Sophie in the elevator. Sophie waved with sad, big eyes; I waved back with wet eyes and a fake smile.
“A fresh start.” Carolyn said.
That night there was light on the roof of the unfinished building. But inside the building most lights were off – all except the ones in the room with the leader.
I didn’t want to look at the house; I felt like crying and just wanted to look outside – but in a city there is not much else to look at except houses.
I saw the bare-chested woman enter the room. She pulled something along that was hidden behind the window frame.
The leader rubbed his thin, long arms.
The bare-chested woman bent down and picked something up.
The child was nearly still; only her legs moved as if she wanted to walk away. Her arms were hanging limb.
The leader took the child from the woman’s hands.
Then, for the first time, he ran.
The woman sank to the floor.
The lights in the room went off.
The lights on the roof glowed stronger; then, without any warning, they got very bright and then disappeared.
The next day there was no light in the unfinished building.
Another day later I saw the landlord entering Carolyn’s apartment. He told me that Carolyn had moved out; he said she had moved the furniture and her stuff long ago.
“They left only the mattresses.” The landlord said. “But she said she got some money.”
“I think it’s good for her. She said something about a fresh start.”
I never saw Carolyn again.
But I saw Sophie again:
First I found her toys in the trash, then her teddy elephant – then all her pictures.
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.