Doug locked his apartment door and sighed. He wondered what he looked like from a certain camera angle. If the neighbor at the end of the hall could see him, what would they think of him? Why was he sighing? He did it because it felt both right, a feeling that he was definitely having, and at the same time one of those moments he wished someone else could see and wonder to themselves, “I wonder if old Doug is doing okay?” He let his head against his door.

“You okay?”

Holy shit.


He pulled his head from the door, a small indention on his forehead from a never-used door knocker. It was Martha, his older, widowed neighbor.

“Hi, Martha. I’m fine.” He talked to her like he would his mommy when he wanted to stay home from school.

“You don’t seem fine. Do you have time this morning? I’m heading to yoga. A little workout might do you some good.”

Martha was holding her yoga mat. It was a lilac color and had blue pattern design on it. Doug’s eyes followed the design on her yoga mat right to her chest. She wore a mostly see-through white cotton shirt and a bright sports bra. She was older but most definitely still had it.


She caught him. He didn’t even blush because this happened all the time.


“I worry about you. You know that I can mostly hear everything that goes on over there.”

Doug feels like he might start drooling, his brain not quick-clicking and making sense of the words coming out of Martha’s mouth.

“I never hear anybody come over. Guys, girls. No one. I hear you watch your movies.”

There is a pause and Doug panics wondering what movies she is talking about.

“Those horror films of yours.”

Oh, yes, those, Doug thinks.

And those other ones…”

She grabs his wrist. “You could turn those down.”

Doug’s eyes go wide. “I’m sorry, Martha. I forget sometimes that even though I’m alone, you know, I’m not…alone.” Doug moves his eyes around wildly to signify that he is talking about the whole of the complex.

Doug’s relationship with porn is constant and distant. He watched a documentary on Netflix about performers in the industry and how exploited they were. After that, he swore porn off, claiming that he would be unable to achieve pleasure knowing how the young women had been ground up and spit out. Instead, he watches erotic films. These erotic films usually involve a professional actress, mostly eastern European, acting while naked and in compromising positions.

“Come with me to yoga sometime.” Martha pats his wrist where she was holding it. She double checks that she’s locked her door by tugging on it and walks past Doug. They are theoretically headed to the same place, the parking lot, but he dares not follow her. That conversation had come to a nice, natural conclusion and he didn’t want to muck it up any by being forced to talk about something else. He waited a few beats, then quietly pulled out his phone as if he was keeping it secret. He goes to text his high school best friend Greg, but thinks better of it. They don’t seem to have pleasant conversations anymore.

He puts his phone away, having killed enough time. The hallway is quiet as he leaves for his car.

For Doug, this is the worst part of the morning. Despite the fact that he has never really had car trouble, he assumes every morning that this will be the morning that his car does not start. This stroke of typical, everyday bad luck will cascade into a soul- and life-crushing issue. First, he imagines that his car will not start. He will be late for work. His boss will fire him. He will not be able to fix his car. Without a car and without a job, he will be kicked out of his apartment, forced out onto the street with only his podcasting equipment. His tiny, miniscule bit of solace is that he could probably record the podcast in his car (that won’t start) and edit at a coffee shop. But he fucking hates editing at a coffee shop.

There was a Thanksgiving break one time in college when he was forced to go visit family in the crappy city that he was born. It’s a crappy city because it breeds and harbors old money and racism. Those are the two exports. To head to the local Walmart there is to have a face to face encounter with every bad stereotype about everything. A lot of Tweety Bird shirts and These Colors Won’t Run.

Doug worked all day at a coffee shop, cranking out a paper for his Hollywood Criticism class. His professor had been pretty unimpressed that he had picked the topic, Social Criticism in the Films of George Romero, calling it borderline lazy as literally everyone knows what George Romero is trying to say.

“Okay, I’ll just switch it. What about slasher films and the AIDS epidemic?”

Doug’s professor raised an eyebrow to this and said that was a much better place to start. That this was a senior level class and that he should strive to write an engaging and original essay. “I need you to contribute to the discourse, otherwise what are you doing here?”

Feeling motivated by his professor’s harsh feelings, Doug was pretty determined to write the best essay he could. Doug watched around ten different classic 80’s slasher flicks. He had a good working thesis about the killer in the night that usually appears after a couple fornicates. He was proud of himself and tickled pink that he was watching movies and writing a paper about movies and that paper would help him graduate college!

There was one movie he watched, Sleepaway Camp, that he couldn’t get out of his mind. In the movie, kids go to a summer camp and are killed one by one. There are many swirling accusations about who could be the killer, but it turns out to be one of the campers who is upset from being bullied and perhaps extremely upset that she is actually a boy raised as a girl?

He laughed, but the more he thought about it, the more he loved the film. It was campy, sure, but it felt like it was trying to say something. He couldn’t put his finger on what, though. The movie had a wacky sense of justice as the killer targeted anyone who was even passingly mean to her. Feeling as though he could change his topic to be just about Sleepaway Camp and really peel back the layers, he popped the DVD back into the disk drive of his laptop. It would be work to rewrite his essay now, but he felt energized and excited about the proposition. Maybe this would propel him to get his masters. The sky was the limit.

At that moment, Doug decided that he would get up and pay for a refill on his coffee, he was no mooch! He’s not stealing the Internet!

What Doug didn’t know was that the DVD was going to pick up right where he had previously let it off, which was the scene just before the nude child was revealed.

There was an older man there, starched jeans, tucked-in shirt, who happened to not be minding his own business and glanced over at the auto-playing movie.

The old man got to see the final scene where a girl, with a penis, is holding a severed head and growling at the camera.

There was a fuss raised. There were calls of prayer to be said for a depraved soul. There was a manager, not much older than Doug, asking him to gather his things and leave.

“Where the fuck else am I supposed to get shitty coffee and write this fucking paper?” Doug’s temper easily flared and he got up in the manager’s face.

“You need to take your smut porn and leave!” the manager yelled in response. Doug stood his ground but moved quick as the manager began ravaging his belongings.

“Yeah, well, fuck you and fuck Barnes and Noble,” Doug screamed. He knocked over a stack of bestsellers in his wake.

And that’s why Doug doesn’t like to work in coffee shops. That paper never got written and Doug never made it back for the spring semester of his senior year.


His car, after opening the door and looking around for anyone to possibly rob him, starts. With the soothing sound of one less thing that could go wrong for Doug that day is the crushing realization that he is indeed going to make it to work alive.


This is an excerpt from Van Wright’s new novel, Attention Deficit, coming this Friday from Terror House Press.