The traffic ticket was the last straw.
For the most part, Casey loved her little bungalow. It was the perfect size for her, and walking distance from the train, a small locally owned supermarket, and a great Mom & Pop breakfast diner. The only problem was that a string of previous tenants had left their mark in the DIY projects of dubious quality, and the buckets of mail they still received at Casey's address.
Monica Volkov was the worst one. For all the other ghosts of tenants past, Casey only received ad mailers and the occasional request for a charity donation, but for Monica Volkov, she always got serious stuff: envelopes that clearly contained hospital bills or insurance policies, even the occasional package. It was almost as if Monica Volkov had never bothered to tell anyone she didn’t live there any more.
Usually, Casey just wrote 'return to sender' on these things and silently wished Monica Volkov the best of luck getting her stuff. When the bright red envelope from the traffic enforcement division arrived at her mailbox, announcing that she'd run a red light equipped with an automated camera (which caused Casey to spiral into a minor panic attack), and it turned out to be addressed to Monica Volkov, she decided she'd had enough. It had been her house for nearly five years at this point; it was time for Monica Volkov to take some responsibility and start updating her address.
Casey had never actually met the woman (though after receiving so much of her mail, Casey certainly felt like she knew her). All Casey actually knew about the mysterious former tenant was what the landlord had told her in passing, which was that Monica was an overnight nurse at a local nursing home, but that was enough. That evening, she called the nursing home and asked for Monica Volkov. Miraculously, she was transferred right to her.
"Monica speaking," said a woman on the other end of the line.
"Hi," Casey began. "This is gonna sound weird, but I live in your former house."
"Oh," Monica Volkov said, sounding bemused.
"So, I still get a lot of your mail," Casey continued, "and this week I got a traffic ticket addressed to you, so I thought you would want to know…and maybe update your address?"
Monica Volkov sputtered in irritation. "Oh, that's—I don't own that car any more. I gave it to my cousin. The ticket must be his."
"So…you're getting tickets for a car you no longer own at an address where you no longer live?" Casey couldn't keep the edge out of her voice. She wasn't great at adulting herself, but this was a whole new level of apathy. "It sounds like it might be a good idea to contact the DMV and…you know…update your information."
"Please don't call me at work again," Monica Volkov snapped. Casey heard her slam the phone down, and the call ended.
Casey grabbed a Sharpie and wrote 'RETURN TO SENDER' on the traffic ticket in the biggest letters possible, going over each line a few extra times so it was nice and dark. I hope they hunt you down, Monica Volkov, she thought spitefully as she dropped it back in the mailbox.
The next morning, Casey was awakened by a loud crashing noise, and rushed into the living room to discover that her cat, Snickers, had knocked her tablet off the arm of the couch, sending it crashing to the ground and cracking the screen. Well, isn't that just great, Casey thought. She'd wanted to upgrade anyway, she just didn't have the money at that moment.
When she returned home from work the next day, to her surprise, there was a package on the doorstep. Casey was sure she hadn't ordered anything, so its presence was mystifying. Enthralled, she took the package inside immediately and ripped the box open.
Inside was a brand new tablet. Just the one she'd wanted, too.
Casey was stunned. She would have definitely remembered ordering a replacement for her broken tablet. Just in case, she checked her bank balance—no recent purchases of this size. Then how? Was it a gift? She didn't recall mentioning the mishap to any of her friends.
Puzzled, she checked the packaging for a clue and discovered the answer: the package was addressed to Monica Volkov.
Anger bubbled up inside her. You know what? Casey said to herself. If Monica Volkov can't be bothered to forward her mail for five years after moving out, it's her own fault. I'm keeping this tablet, she resolved, as payback for giving me that scare with the traffic ticket. After all, she reasoned, it showed up at my door just when I broke the other one. I'm meant to keep it.
Two days later, Casey was tearing apart her kitchen, looking for the beaters for her electric hand mixer. She checked every drawer and cabinet, but she could only find one of the two.
Two days after that, another package for Monica Volkov was waiting for Casey when she arrived home. This is getting ridiculous, Casey thought, bringing in the package and tearing it open rather forcefully.
To her astonishment, it contained a brand new mixer.
Over the next few weeks, Casey felt no qualms about opening any of Monica Volkov's packages. Now that she was opening them rather than just sending them back, though, Casey was beginning to notice a pattern, and it unnerved her a bit. The packages always seemed to contain something she needed, and always exactly when she needed it to show up. When Snickers used her desk chair as a scratching post? Three days later, a massive box was sitting on her doorstep, containing the latest in ergonomic seating. When the sound went out on the TV? Within a week, a new sound system, complete with subwoofer, arrived for Monica Volkov. She hadn't even known she would need the voltage tester when it showed up, but the next time she turned on the light in the laundry room, she discovered that the poorly DIY-ed light fixture in there was no longer working and would need a replacement. A new pair of sneakers when she couldn't find her old ones, some gray sweatpants in exactly her size, six gallons of apple cider vinegar (that one remained completely inexplicable)…all delivered to Casey's address for the mysterious Monica Volkov.
When the box of kitchen trash bags arrived just as Casey used the last one, she was starting to freak out a little. At her wit's end, she called the nursing home once again that evening, and asked for Monica Volkov.
Unlike last time, after a few moments on hold, the woman who'd answered the phone picked up again, without transferring Casey to Monica Volkov. "Monica says she's asked you not to call her at work."
"But this is important," Casey stuttered. "I keep getting deliveries for her, packages and stuff, and it's getting really—"
"Monica is administering medication to the residents right now," the woman cut her off. "I'll have to ask you to call her when she's not on the clock. Have a good evening." With that, she hung up.
Casey was thoroughly creeped out. She couldn't shake the feeling that someone—maybe even Monica Volkov--was watching her, or perhaps listening in on her. That night, she didn't sleep well.
The next day, Casey came home from work to a very sick kitty throwing up in the laundry room. After rushing her little guy to the emergency vet, she was told Snickers would have to stay overnight for at least a few days, so it turned out that Casey didn't sleep very well any of those nights, either. Three days later, Snickers wasn't completely back to normal, but he was at least on the mend enough that the vet allowed her to take him back home. The thought of leaving for work with the little guy in such precarious shape churned her stomach, so when she arrived home from the vet with her cat, she was, for once, pleasantly unsurprised to see a package on her doorstep: the set of cameras she ordered. She set one up in every room (including the laundry room, which was apparently Snickers's chosen puking spot) and left for work the next morning with a bit more peace of mind, knowing she could at least keep an eye on the kitty.
Once at the office, Casey turned on her computer and opened her browser to the live feed of her living room. Snickers was sitting in the window, looking perfectly fine. Breathing a sigh of relief, she went on with her workday, keeping the camera feed in the corner of her screen so she could keep an eye on the cat.
For the first twenty minutes, everything was fine.
Then, as Casey was working on a particularly tedious report, movement in the camera's frame caught her eye.
Casey looked over just in time to see her front door open, and a stranger walk in.
The intruder was a woman with dark hair, wearing what looked, in the grainy footage of the camera feed, to be medical scrubs. Casey's heart leaped into her throat as she watched the intruder fiddle with the doorknob for a moment and ultimately remove a key from the knob, then place it in her pocket.
Casey reached for her phone and dialed 911.
"What is the address of your emergency?" The operator asked, as Casey watched the strange woman kick off a pair of sneakers and leave them near the front door. Those sneakers, Casey thought with a sickening feeling, look really familiar. Casey hastily gave her address and blurted out, "There's someone in my house!"
"Are you in the house?" The operator asked.
"No, I'm watching a live feed—" Casey started to explain as the woman left the living room. Desperately, Casey fiddled with the camera controls, trying to remember how to switch to the other rooms to see where the woman went.
"You're watching remotely and you saw someone enter your house?" The operator repeated. "Do you recognize the person?"
"No," Casey said. "She let herself in through the front door with a key, but I don't know how she got it. It's not anyone I know—" the woman reappeared in the living room with her scrubs folded over her arm, now wearing one of Casey's tee shirts and the pair of sweatpants that had arrived for Monica Volkov.
As the operator had Casey describe the woman, Casey watched the intruder wander into the kitchen and grab a soda from the fridge, then plop down on the couch and turn on the TV. Casey watched, horrified, as the woman grabbed Casey's tablet—well, Monica Volkov's tablet, technically—and began paging through a few apps. Snickers trotted over without any concern and curled up in the woman's lap, and she petted the cat absently as she lounged around in Casey's living room like she owned the place.
"We've dispatched an officer," the 911 operator told Casey, with a warning to keep her phone handy so that the police could call her back with an update. All Casey could do was watch anxiously from her desk as she awaited their arrival.
The woman had finished her soda. Casey watched her turn off the TV, pat Snickers a few more times, and yawn sleepily. Standing up and stretching, she picked up her empty soda can and her scrubs and left the room.
Casey flicked through the camera feeds until she found the woman again in the kitchen, tossing her soda can in the trash. Then she headed out of the kitchen toward the back of the house.
Casey followed her again, catching sight of her in the camera feed from the laundry room. She tossed her scrubs in the washer, poured in the detergent, and started the machine. Then she jumped. There was no sound through the video feed, but it looked as though she was reacting to a noise at the front of the house. The police must be there, she thought with a shudder of relief.
The woman glanced around furtively and opened a small door next to the washing machine that came up to about hip-height. Casey had forgotten that door was there. It led to a small crawlspace, and the last time Casey had opened it was probably the day she moved in.
The camera's angle just barely showed the dark inside of the crawlspace—and it was not empty. To Casey's dawning horror, she could make out a blanket or two, a small pile of folded medical scrubs, and a neat little stack of canned food.
The woman knelt down, crawled inside, and shut the door behind her.