She had read that the worst torment for the prisoners of Alcatraz was seeing and hearing the people living in freedom across the bay. But even though the tower block had essentially become a prison for her, Magnea still cherished the view. When she and her husband had become some of the building’s first occupants 40 years ago, it was the view that captivated them. Now, it was its only merit. Since the TV’s menacing behavior stopped it from being a source of entertainment, they spent their evenings looking at the sprawling city outside the vast living room window. Now Magnea sat there by herself, watching the houses below and taking comfort in the notion that they were occupied by happy families who were not captives in their own homes.
This high up, she never saw any movement outside, save the odd, bewildered bird that dared approach the building. So she was aghast when she saw what looked like a person pass by her window. Shocked as she was, she looked out the window toward the ground, where she saw what looked like a puddle of blood but no body. She called the caretaker, who reluctantly agreed to check it out. Under normal circumstances – if there was ever anything normal about this place – he wouldn’t go outside the tower block after dark. But he would definitely lose his job if children were to discover a disfigured corpse in the morning.
The caretaker called Magnea back and told her there was nothing there, that she was imagining things. She only had herself to blame, really, spending all her time staring out the window. Maybe he was right. So Magnea decided to go to bed, but she didn’t sleep that night.
The next morning, she went outside – which she hadn’t done just for the sake of it in a long time – so that she could see for herself. The caretaker wasn’t lying. There were no traces of an accident. She took a deep breath and headed back up the stairs, all 13 flights. She didn’t dare take the elevator, because she didn’t know where it would take her.
When night came, she returned to her habit of looking out the window, but she didn’t enjoy the view like usual. She felt uneasy; the previous night’s vision had seemed so real. She was expecting the worst, and then it happened. Again, she saw a person in a flapping dress plunging past her window. She couldn’t call the caretaker again – he would have her committed. Not the police, either, because her phone could only make calls to the caretaker’s office. So instead she just closed the curtains and tried to read a book she had read many times before.
Once her only connection to the outside world, the view had now been ruined for her. It didn’t matter what time of day she looked out, she always saw that person plunging past her window. Magnea had tried to alter her sleep pattern in order to take in the view at different hours, but there was nothing left to enjoy. Now the curtains were always closed. The loneliness, which she had barely coped with before, had become overpowering.
After a few weeks of recycling old crossword puzzles and revisiting books she now knew by heart, she walked slowly toward the window. Magnea decided to let some daylight into the black hole the apartment had become and hesitantly drew back the curtains. She let out a muffled scream when she was met by a face at the window but quickly realized it was her own reflection in the glass. It was dark outside. She had lost all sense of time after the weeks of total isolation. But then her eyes caught the falling body. This was unbearable.
Magnea went to the bedroom and put on the dress she wore to his funeral. She wished he could see her in it. When she went out to the corridor, she was faced by the elevator, wide open and welcoming her. This time around, she knew it would take her where she was meant to go.
The roof garden was bigger than many public parks, but there was nothing that justified that botanical designation. The vegetation had completely given way to bare concrete – there wasn’t even a single weed in sight. But, oh, the view! It stretched as far as the eye could see in any direction, and there was nothing disturbing it. She felt the pull of the wind as she stepped on the ledge and took her last look at the city, bathed in light under the dark sky. She thought about the prisoners of Alcatraz who had leapt from the island cliffs into the rapid current below in the vain hope of escaping their imprisonment.
On her way down, she caught sight of the window she had spent so much time looking out of, and in that brief moment, she saw her own terrified face looking back at her.
Markús Már Efraím is an Icelandic author and educator who has spent most of his career offering free writing workshops to kids. He’s on the board of advisors for The International Alliance of Youth Writing Centers and has published The Stuff of Nightmares, an award-winning collection of horror shorts written by his 8- to 10-year-old students. Markús lives in Reykjavík with his young sons, Úlfur and Baltasar.