The first time I met Karen, I instantly knew something was wrong with her.
She was a mousy girl with wild, dirty hair. The moment she saw me, she hurried past me in the hallway with her eyes downcast.
“Nice to meet you, too,” I called after her in a low voice.
For a short moment, she turned around. Her eyes were as wild as her hair. She seemed terrified about the prospect of social interaction.
She only mumbled a short “Hello,” before she hurried up the stairs.
I stood there, looking after her before she vanished. What a strange woman, I thought.
I’d been living in this apartment building for a month now, but I’d never seen her before.
If not for the occasional sounds above, I’d have thought I was living here all by myself. At least now I knew who the other tenant was.
It was almost two weeks before I saw her again. I was about to check my mail and almost ran into her in the hallway. She was carrying three giant bags of groceries, and the moment she saw me, one of them slipped from her arms. The contents of the bag scattered all over the floor.
“Jeez, sorry about that,” I called out and hurried to help her pick everything up.
“No,” she started in a low voice, “it’s alright I can-”
“Just let me help you real quick,” I cut her off.
We spent a minute in complete silence gathering everything up. Once done, she was quick to pick up the bags again.
She staggered forward and almost dropped one of the bags again as she tried to make her way upstairs.
I sighed. “Alright, hand me that,” I said and grabbed one of the bags.
“It’s fine, really,” she protested, “I can just,” but right then she lost grip of another back. Thankfully I was right next to her and caught it.
After that, she relented and let me carry the bag. She seemed so scared and out of it. What was wrong with her?
I sighed and made my way upstairs. She hurried after me, mumbling to herself.
“You really don’t have to, just leave it by the door and-”
She was cut off by screaming from inside the apartment. It was a high pitched voice rambling unintelligible.
“What the hell,” I said out loud in surprise.
“Sorry about that,” she mumbled, shuffling around in front of the door. “My mother, she isn’t doing so well, so,” she broke up again staring at me.
I waited for her to open the door so I could help her carry the bag inside, but she didn’t move at all. She just stared at me with wide eyes, and her mouth was nothing but a hard line. I could see the grocery bag trembling in her arms.
“Well,” I finally said after a while, “I got to go, so take care.”
She didn’t say anything to me. Even as I walked away, the only sound I could hear was the rustling of the grocery bag in her shaking arms.
Only when I was on the stairs did I hear her unlock the door.
Back downstairs in my apartment, I could hear the high pitch voice of who I assumed to be her mother. The woman was screaming and yelling for what seemed to be minutes.
For a moment I sat there brooding, but whatever was going on up there had nothing to do with me.
After this encounter, I didn’t see Karen for a long time. I’d have thought her and her mother had moved out if not for the occasional argument from upstairs.
One day I realized why. I’d worked overtime and got home much later than usual. It was already late evening. I was about to unlock my door when I noticed her coming in with a bag of groceries. Had she only gone out shopping that late to avoid running into me?
She looked as tired and scared as before, but much scruffier.
I could see the bags under her eyes as well as a swollen and split lip. The moment she saw me, she stepped back, hiding around the corner.
Only when I got out my keys and unlocked the door did she try to sneak past me.
I turned towards her to greet her but broke up when I noticed a long gash on her arm.
“Hey, is everything alright?” I called out to her.
Right at that moment she turned around and glared at me. At first, I mistook her expression for anger, but no, she stared at me almost pleadingly. What the hell was wrong with her?
Right then, I heard the shrill voice of her mother from upstairs again. “What are you doing down there you little whore? Are you talking to him again?”
She winced and closed her arms around the bag tightly.
“No mommy dearest, I’m going to be right there, just hold on a moment!”
With that, she hurried up the stairs, taking two at a time.
Soon after she was gone, the noise upstairs started anew. This time it wasn’t just yelling. This time I could hear the sounds of an actual fight and the shrill shrieks of her mother.
I had the phone in my hand and considered calling the police. I’d entered the number already, but then I put the phone away. It has got nothing to do with me, I told myself again.
That night, long past midnight, I was woken up by low knocks against my door. At first, I thought it was the lingering memory of a dream. When it didn’t stop, I got up.
I sneaked towards the door and looked through the spyglass. It was her, as I’d expected.
I cracked the door. “What is it?” I asked her sleepily and not a bit annoyed.
“Please call the police,” she said in a hushed whisper.
“What is,” I started but broke up when I saw her condition. There were scratches on her cheeks, and I could see the dark marks around her throat.
“Holy shit, what happened,” I called out in shock. Karen winced, her eyes grew wide, and she started shaking violently. Her mouth opened and closed again. When the screams upstairs started anew, her face lost all color and changed to a mask of terror.
“Where are you, Karen? Don’t you dare make me come down there and get you! You hear me, girl!? Get up right here, right now, your dear mommy needs you!”
For a moment, she stared at me and whispered the word ‘please’ once more. Then she hurried away.
I called the police then and there and told them there was a case of domestic violence in the apartment upstairs.
It didn’t take long for them to arrive, and I quickly explained the situation.
I watched as they went upstairs and soon I heard a serious commotion. Shortly after the paramedics arrived and I could see them carry a body outside.
“Jesus Christ,” I cursed and hurried outside. Why didn’t I call them earlier? Why didn’t I do anything to save her?
When I saw Karen, I stopped. She was led to a police car by two officers. The moment she noticed me, she beamed at me. It was almost as if she was in a state of bliss when she entered the police car.
“Freaking insane,” one of the paramedics mumbled behind me.
“Was it self-defense?” I asked the man.
His face was riddled with disgust.
“Self-defense? How the hell is stuffing a body self-defense?” the man cursed and turned away retching.
“What the hell?”
At this moment, one of the police officers hurried over to me. He thanked me for calling them but quickly led me back to my apartment. In a serious voice, he instructed me to stay inside and not to disturb them anymore.
I learned about the whole case from the local news a few days later.
The reporter talked about one of the weirdest cases in recent years. They called Karen The Taxidermist. What the police found in the apartment that night had been a young woman and the old, stuffed body of her mother.
I listened in disbelief. This story made no sense at all.
The reporter continued that the mother’s remains were old and that she must’ve died years ago. It was suspected that the daughter couldn’t cope with her mother’s death and had decided to preserve the body.
Years ago? That made no sense at all. I’d moved in only a couple of months ago. I’d heard the mother scream after her, hadn’t I? How in the hell was any of this possible?
For weeks I tried to make sense of the whole thing. Yet, I couldn’t. The story was too absurd.
I started to search for more about it online, but I didn’t find much. The case had been settled already, and Karen had been admitted to a mental ward in the city.
The decision was a quick one. There was only one way to get answers.
A few days later, I arrived at the mental ward. I explained to the staff that I was here to visit Karen Schubert and that I was an old family friend.
I was still a bit too early for visiting hours, so while I waited, I talked to an older nurse. She explained Karen’s condition to me.
Karen suffered from a severe case of schizophrenia and an identity disorder. When I asked what it meant, the nurse told me that Karen was thinking of herself not only as Karen but also her mother. At times she was playing out conflicts and talks between the two of them. It was clear from Karen’s history that mother’s death had affected her deeply. After it, she’d preserved the body and talked to herself as if her mother was still around. Eventually, coupled with her other issues, this developed into an identity disorder.
I listened intently, but it still made no sense.
“But I heard her mother speak,” I protested.
“It’s not seldom the case that each personality has their own distinct voice and speaking patterns. What you’ve heard is most likely-”
“No, that’s not what I mean! I heard her from upstairs and,” I broke up when I noticed the stare the nurse gave me. If I told her what I’d experienced, she’d think I was crazy as well.
I shook my head. “I guess, it’s hard to handle these things. Karen always seemed so normal, no one would have guessed,” I mumbled.
The nurse went on for a bit longer and explained to me how to best talk to Karen and which topics to avoid.
Finally, she led me into the visiting area where Karen waited for me. The young woman looked as scruffy and awkward as she’d always done. Her face, however, was beaming, and she welcomed me with a radiant smile.
“Hey there,” I greeted her and took a seat opposite her.
“Oh god, I wanted to thank you again for so long! I don’t know how I can ever thank you!” she rambled on. She even took one of my hands into hers before she realized what she was doing.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Why are you here? Schizophrenia? Identity disorder? I heard your mother from-”
At these words, Karen’s eyes grew wide, and in a moment, she jerked forward, pressing her hand onto my mouth.
“No, don’t talk about it! Never mention anything about that!”
I nodded. “But really, you don’t belong here, right?” I whispered.
Once more, she glanced around alarmed. Finally, though she nodded but leaned forward.
“But I want to be here! If they find out I’m not sick, they’ll put me back out there!”
“Yeah, but why do you want to be here? This place it’s-”
“It’s safe!” she hissed at me.
“Safe? From what?”
“From her! If they lock me up here, she can’t get to me. Not ever again!”
“Who?” I asked.
“Mommy Dearest, of course!”
And with that, she leaned back, closed her eyes, and smiled. Soon enough, she started giggling and laughing in her happiness.
I sat there and watched the woman opposite of me. She was in a state of complete and utter bliss.
When I got up to leave, I didn’t look back. I didn’t understand a thing she’d just told me. I didn’t want to. There was much more hidden here than just an identity disorder. For long minutes I sat in my car shivering and shaking at the absurdity of the situation before I was able to drive off.
I never looked up anything regarding Karen Schubert or her mother ever again. I never went back to that metal ward to talk to her. And I never spent so much as another thought on that story.