He had a poster of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in his bathroom.
It showed Janet Leigh in the shower, screaming, the knife coming for her.
The poster was fitting, considering his own horrible end.
His name was Bruce. I always hated that name.
Bruce was an aspiring filmmaker. He was related to Alfred Hitchcock, a claim he repeated often. His grandmother had convinced him despite no evidence except that they shared the same last name.
I don’t believe you, I said.
I was drinking an iced tea and trying to work on my screenplay on the patio our apartments shared.
Bruce had climbed out his window and sat next to me and began talking about a hundred different things, boasting how he had killed a lion on safari, how he once met Bill Clinton who gave him a Cuban cigar, how he had come up with the idea of a post-it note when he was three years old, and, of course, how he was related to the great film director.
Plus the movie Psycho was based off my grandfather’s idea, he said.
Bruce explained that his grandfather had been in correspondence with Alfred, even though Alfred never returned his letters, and one day his grandfather mailed Alfred a story about a woman who steals money from her employer but then feels guilty and decides to return it, but is killed in a shower. That was very specific, Bruce said, that she was killed in a shower.
You can imagine the shock when my grandfather saw Psycho, Bruce said. He was in a rage. He wrote a letter to a lawyer and was on his way to mail it when he was struck by a trolley crossing the street. That was his tragic end.
I think that movie was based on a book, I said.
Then the author and Hitchcock stole the idea, he said. People are really horrible.
Can you prove you’re related to Hitchcock? I said.
Sure, he said. Absolutely.
He had met a woman named Milo who claimed to be a psychic and medium. Milo said she could arrange a séance where she could conjure up the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock and ask him if in fact they were related.
The séance was arranged for the thirteenth of the month, the optimal day to speak with the dead, Milo claimed.
We sat around the kitchen table in Bruce's apartment. It was darkly lit, with candles over nearly every surface. If we didn't succeed in speaking to the dead we would surely burn the apartment down, kill ourselves, and talk to Alfred that way.
Milo spoke some incantations, muttered some phrases. She had told us a Ouija board was so outdated. Instead, she had an old radio and said Alfred would speak through it.
O world of the dead, she said. I call upon the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock. Please come forward. We would like to speak with you.
Silence, just the cackle of the old radio.
Perhaps we should change it to AM, I said.
Shut up, Bruce hissed.
O dead, O spirit world, I hereby seek entrance into your realms. I beseech you, let Alfred Hitchcock be released temporarily so that we can communicate with him.
We heard a faint sound on the radio.
Alfred, is that you?
Alfred Hitchcock, speak.
Yes, a voice whispered.
We all looked at each other. I admit, it was spooky.
Yes, again the voice whispered.
The medium motioned for Bruce to speak.
Alfred, hi. Bruce Hitchcock here, big fan. Hey, sorry to disturb you, I just wanted to know if you and I might be related. My grandfather always thought so, and we just wanted to sort it out.
Alfred, you there? Bruce said. Mr. Hitchcock?
What is your name? the voice whispered.
My name is Bruce. My grandfather was Terence Hitchcock. He lived in Philadelphia.
Terence, the voice said. Philadelphia.
Yes, Bruce said. Do you know him?
Psycho, the voice whispered. Psycho.
Over the radio, we heard the sound of a woman screaming. It sounded like she was being murdered.
So you admit it? Bruce said. You did steal it, I knew it.
The bathroom door slammed shut. There was no gust of wind, no reason for it to close so suddenly.
A mirror came off the wall and shattered on the floor.
All the candles were blown out.
I think you pissed him off, Milo said.
That is how we came to have the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock living in our building. Initially it was charming to have him around, a selling point.
The ghost liked to scare us. A slammed door. The sound of heavy breathing coming from the closet.
Birds would congregate outside our windows, pecking at the glass. On the patio once a few swooped down and attacked me. I couldn't sit outside any longer.
In the shower sometimes there would be a trail of blood leading to the drain, though I hadn't cut myself.
I would get vertigo suddenly for no reason.
One night I was walking down the hallway when he grabbed me and tried to push me down the stairs.
Listen, I told Bruce. We have to get rid of him. It's getting dangerous.
We need to do a cleansing ceremony, Milo said.
Milo burned sage and walked around the apartment.
We command you, O spirit of the dead, to leave this place at once.
The cabinet doors opened and shut. The lights went on and off. The cat meowed and went under the bed.
But finally it was quiet.
To celebrate the exorcism of Alfred Hitchcock, we drank. Bruce talked about how he had gotten this amazing idea for a film. He couldn't talk about it, he couldn't give the specifics but it was a terrific idea. He had gotten an agent and was going to sell his script and direct the film. He told me the name of the agent and I had heard of him, he was well known.
I admit. I was jealous. I had been trying to sell my script. I was trying to get an agent, and here was this asshole who was succeeding where I couldn't.
I drank more, and passed out. I woke up on the couch still in Bruce's apartment. My glasses were on the desk and I fumbled for them.
They fell into his desk drawer, which was slightly open. I found my glasses and put them on, and looked again into this open drawer. I saw a copy of my script. I pulled it out. He had replaced my name with his name. On the front was a note from his agent. This is the best thing I've ever read, the agent said.
I went back to my apartment. I had to decide what to do.
I heard him snoring through the thin walls.
I took my water glass and threw it against the wall.
You bastard! I screamed.
I heard him get up. He turned his shower on.
I lay down on my bed. I think I fell asleep. I don't remember what happen but when I awoke I heard screams.
Loud terrible screams.
The kind of horrible scream we heard on the radio that first time when we tried to talk to Alfred. But--and here is where it gets morally problematic--even though I heard the screams, I didn't go help him. I wanted him to suffer. I was angry with him. Tired and angry. That was my only crime.
If Alfred wanted to torment him, hurt him, cause him pain, that was fine with me.
The interesting thing, the police said, is that on the poster in his bathroom someone had signed Alfred Hitchcock's name in Bruce's blood.
Now, why would you do that? they asked. Why would you stab your neighbor to death and sign the poster in the bathroom? That's pretty sick, they said. Pretty sick. That's what happens when you watch too many movies. You should stick to books. They're safer.
You'll need to speak with Alfred, I said. He'll give you all the answers. Let's get an old radio, he talks through old radios. He'll tell you what he did. That crazy old man. You just have to ask.