Steve Gergley ~ House Sitting

The day after I fin­ished my first semes­ter of col­lege, I drove up to Utica to house-sit for my aunt and uncle. Having near­ly failed out of my com­put­er sci­ence pro­gram three times in less than a year, I decid­ed to ditch the city for the sum­mer to clear my head.

By the time I arrived at the house, my aunt and uncle were long gone. For the past few months they’d been dab­bling around with the VanLife fad, and now that they’d fin­ished cus­tomiz­ing their 2016 Mercedes Sprinter, they wouldn’t be back here for weeks.

So I lugged my bags inside and set­tled into the mas­ter bed­room. Once fin­ished, I trudged down to the base­ment where all the food was stored. I’d been dri­ving for the past three hours, and I hadn’t stopped to eat since leav­ing the city.

In the base­ment I found a thir­ty year-old man pac­ing around inside a large glass case. Sealed shut on all sides, the case stood eight feet tall and eight feet wide. Clusters of dime-sized air holes peered out from the top and sides of the case. Shoulder-length blond hair sprout­ed from the man’s skull. Gray flan­nel paja­mas hung from his thin body. In the back cor­ner of the case, I saw a fold-out wood­en table; atop this table sat an open lap­top whose pow­er cable snaked through a near­by air hole and plugged into the wall out­let a few feet away. To the right of the case stood a trio of tripods sup­port­ing a Canon SLR, a Motorola smart­phone, and an LED ring light.

Seeing all this, I dropped my unopened bag of Doritos and backed toward the stairs. Hearing the noise of the chips hit­ting the floor, the man in the glass case looked in my direc­tion and smiled. He waved in excite­ment and began speak­ing rapid­ly in German.

What the hell is all this?” I said. “Who are you?”

The man con­tin­ued speak­ing very quick­ly in German. The words tum­bled from his mouth like sharp rocks. Moments lat­er he ges­tured at the air holes before him, and the video equip­ment on his right.

Without anoth­er word I bound­ed up the stair­case and slammed the door behind me. I wedged a chair under the door­knob. I called my aunt and uncle until they final­ly picked up the phone.

When I fin­ished telling them about the strange man in the glass case in the base­ment, they laughed for a long time.

Oh, that’s just Dieter,” my aunt said. “Don’t wor­ry about him. Feel free to go about your busi­ness as if he’s not even there.”

Who the hell is he?” I said.

Oh, he’s one of those new-fan­gled inter­net peo­ple you kids are obsessed with. He trav­els across America and lives his entire life inside that box while ran­dom peo­ple watch him over the internet.”

I rubbed my eyes and sighed.

Okay, but why is he here, in your base­ment of all places?”

There’s ten thou­sand good rea­sons for why he’s down there, fel­la!” My uncle bel­lowed from the back­ground of the call.

Wait, so this ran­dom German guy paid you ten grand to use your base­ment for his weird livestream? Why?”

We haven’t the fog­gi­est, Jeffy,” my aunt said. “He just showed up at our door one day and hand­ed us a piece of paper that explained every­thing. Dale tried to chase him off the porch at first, but when that man reached into his bag and showed us the mon­ey, your uncle start­ed singing a dif­fer­ent tune right quick.”

And the rest, as they say, old boy, is his­to­ry!” my uncle yelled through the phone, before explod­ing into bois­ter­ous laugh­ter. “So you two have fun! And don’t for­get to feed Tammy. She gets one dead mouse per week.”

Wait, but what about—” I start­ed to say, but the line went dead.


Later that night, I lay in my aunt and uncle’s giant bed and tried to fall asleep, but I couldn’t. My mind churned in end­less cir­cles about the strange guy in the base­ment, and my dire sit­u­a­tion with school. By now it was clear I wouldn’t make it in com­put­er sci­ence. My brain just couldn’t han­dle all that math at that pace. But since video game design was the only career I’d ever dreamed of, I had no idea what I could do with my life now that I’d failed.

So I climbed out of bed and padded into the kitchen. Sitting at the table, I squint­ed through the gloom and stud­ied the chair block­ing the door to the base­ment. For the next few min­utes I lis­tened to the leath­ery buzz of the cicadas, the soft whirl of the mid­night breeze, the muf­fled mur­mur of Dieter’s voice. Soon my stom­ach grum­bled an angry com­plaint. So I stood up and pressed my ear to the base­ment door. Dieter con­tin­ued speak­ing rapid­ly in German. He clapped three times and laughed with child-like glee. He motor­mouthed a long sen­tence with the words New York, New York stuffed in the middle.

Quietly curs­ing myself for not bring­ing any food up here, I slid the chair from under the door­knob and trudged downstairs.

The moment I stepped into the base­ment, Dieter jumped in the air and waved at me in excite­ment. He spoke very rapid­ly into the cam­era and ges­tured in my direc­tion. While all this was going on, I bent down and picked up the bag of Cool Ranch Doritos I had dropped on the floor ear­li­er in the day. Before tear­ing open the bag, I offered it to him, in case there was some hid­den way to get food inside his glass case. But he shook his head, beamed a wide smile, pat­ted his stom­ach, and gave me a thumbs up.

I nod­ded and felt a small smile sprout on my lips. I had no idea how he moved this case from loca­tion to loca­tion or how he went to the bath­room in there, but those things didn’t mat­ter right now. I just wished I had the guts to try some­thing as weird and inter­est­ing as this in my own life.

With these thoughts in mind, I sat on the floor and opened my bag of Doritos. Dieter sat on the floor inside his case and watched me. After crunch­ing away in silence for a few moments, I cleared my throat and looked up at him.

So you’re Dieter, right?” I said, point­ing at him as I spoke his name.

Ja, ja” he said, grin­ning and nod­ding. Then he point­ed at me and said some­thing in German.

I have no idea what you just said, but I’m Jeff,” I said, point­ing at my chest. “And I’m going to be hon­est. I’m a fuck­ing los­er, Dieter.”

Ja, Jeff, ja,” Dieter said, nod­ding and smiling.

He said my name a few more times and spoke into his cam­era for anoth­er minute. Then he waved me over and point­ed at his smart­phone. Chomping down on my last Dorito, I brushed my hands togeth­er and walked over to his glass case. I looked down at him for a few sec­onds. He point­ed at his smart­phone again and nod­ded. But from where I stood I couldn’t see the screen. In order to read what was there, I’d have to step into the view of the camera.

I glanced at Dieter and shook my head. In response, he yelped some­thing in German, grinned at me in friend­ship, and began walk­ing around on his hands. As he did this, he hummed the theme song to Jurassic Park. After about a minute, he effort­less­ly flipped back­ward, land­ed on his feet, and raised his arms above his head like an Olympic gymnast.

He held this pose for thir­ty sec­onds, grin­ning at me the entire time. When he final­ly relaxed, he point­ed at his phone and then at me, as if to say: now it’s your turn. 

I looked down at my bare feet and mas­saged my throb­bing temples.

Jesus,” I said to myself with a qui­et laugh. “This is so silly.”

Dieter said some­thing in German and shrugged his shoul­ders. He shook his head and smiled at me.

Okay, okay,” I said, hold­ing up my hands in sur­ren­der and giv­ing him a begrudg­ing nod. “You’re right. You’re a hun­dred per­cent right.”

So I drew a deep breath and stepped in front of the cam­era. I glanced at Dieter’s phone and watched the Twitch chat zoom­ing past. I intro­duced myself to the view­ers and asked them what to do next.


Steve Gergley is the author of the short sto­ry col­lec­tion, A Quick Primer on Wallowing in Despair (LEFTOVER Books ’22), and the nov­el, Skyscraper (West Vine Press ’23). His short fic­tion has appeared or is forth­com­ing in X‑R-A‑Y Literary Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, Rejection Letters, Barren Magazine, New World Writing, and oth­ers. In addi­tion to writ­ing fic­tion, he has com­posed and record­ed five albums of orig­i­nal music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fic­tion can be found at: