Neighbors

 

I don’t have a whole lot of time left. I have a nagging feeling that what I’m experiencing is going to get much worse and very soon. I need to write my story down before I no longer can access it in my brain.

So, I don’t know if it’s still on, but there used to be a show on TV about terrible neighbors. Not terrible in the sense that they let their lawn become overgrown before finally mowing it down, or they trap you in what should be a minute-long conversation for a half hour or longer.

I’m talking about the darker side of the neighbor experience. The twisted, quietly rageful kind of neighbors that some unlucky people have to endure day in and day out. Twisted and quietly rageful, that describes my neighbors to a tee. Next door to me, in a one story brick house, lives a man and his teenage son. These people have created nothing but problems for me since I’ve moved into my current home.

When was it that I moved into this neighborhood? 2015? Or 2016? Jesus, I can’t recall. I’m here to tell you, there are fates worse than death.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is I moved in, and during my first week at my new address, I managed to make an enemy out of the two next door to me. It was an honest accident. I was late for work, so as I was backing out of my driveway, I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should’ve been. I accidentally hit this man’s red 1966 Chevrolet Corvette as he was zipping past.

As we waited for the police officer to arrive, he never uttered one word to me, even though I was very apologetic. The skin of his neck was flushed and the red was traveling all the time, creeping over his Adam’s apple and not stopping until it reached his hairline. Even though I was mortified about the situation, I shook it off. Did I blame the man for being pissed off? No, I understood his emotions on the matter.

Soon after the car accident, my mom came to visit me. It was her idea for me to rent this house. She’s lived in this little town for years and absolutely loves it. I get why, it’s really cute. There’s a strip with fast food businesses and a Wal-Mart and the like, but there’s also a “downtown” strip, full of twinkling lights, the small town atmosphere, and small businesses, like coffee shops, boutiques, and an Italian restaurant.

She’s very active in her church and community, so I asked her if she knew my neighbor.

“Yeah, I know him. He and his son go to my church. They seem nice, but I have to admit that I don’t know them too well. Why do you ask, sweetie?”

I told her all about my embarrassing accident. She laughed at me, before quickly apologizing and advising me to let it go.

“He’ll get over it, I promise. Men can be such babies.”

I, I can’t remember how much time went by before the first warning bell sounded in my mind. I know it wasn’t long after the car accident, but, God, memories have become so hazy. You know that feeling you get when you know you know something, but it’s hidden in the shadows of your mind? Christ, that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately.

I was waiting for a letter from my brother who’s incarcerated. My brother isn’t a bad person; he’s just sick. Drug addiction has caused him to make very bad decisions, and this last one landed him in a state prison, serving out a seven year sentence. Ever since he was put behind bars, he’s refused to see Mom or me. He won’t even call us. He says he doesn’t want to see or hear us all upset, but I think it’s too painful for him, too.

He was having trouble with a white supremacist gang, and it was really fucking scaring me. It was with chest-tightening anxiety that I awaited each of his letters. I can’t really sort out what the exact situation was with this gang because my memory’s all fuzzy, but my little brother was in danger. When I didn’t hear from him for a couple weeks, I got pissed off and wrote him to tell him how selfish and cruel it was to keep me up at night because he’s too lazy to sit down and write a damn letter. I couldn’t entertain the notion that maybe there was something more sinister going on, so I ran with the assumption that he’s just an ass.

Still, I got no response.

I called Mom and asked her if she’d been in touch with him recently. She said yes, and that he’d been doing much better. She added that she thought he was hurt by the way I’ve been ignoring his recent letters, though he’d never admit it.

I spoke with the mailman, and he told me that every piece of mail addressed to me was put in my mailbox. He did suggest I go to the post office and speak with someone there, though.

When I entered the local post office, I immediately laid eyes on my neighbor. Because this town is so small, he was the only one at the counter. His crystal clear blue eyes sparkled as his lips betrayed a smirk that was trying to spring up. In that moment, I was 99.9 % sure that he was behind my missing mail. I knew this conversation would get me nowhere. Still, I figured it was worth a try before navigating through the red tape of the post office hierarchy to resolve my issue.

He was polite, but cold when we spoke. I was careful not to convey any accusatory tones in my voice. He suggested that I get online and find the customer service number, then he thanked me and told me to have a wonderful day. His chilling smile held no warmth in it, and I walked out with my blood boiling.

I tried to figure out what was going on via the phone, but I never did get the situation straightened out. From that point on, I corresponded with my brother through my mom’s mailbox.

As I wrote that last line, something queer began to happen, and I have to write it down as it unfolds!

An image is with me of one of my childhood birthday parties. The cake has a candle on it-a number 10 candle. I’m sitting at the dining room table, sporting a pointy party hat and rubbing my hands together as my mom places a piece of chocolate cake in front of me. I beam as I pick up a plastic fork and dig in. My brother’s there, too, seated beside me, and he reaches over my plate and plunges his stubby little fingers into my cake, scooping up a thick layer of icing and plopping it into his mouth. I gasp and pout, folding my arms across my chest. My uncle laughs hoarsely as his wife snaps a picture of us. My mom scolds my brother before serving him his own piece. But now the scene is still, and we look like wax figures in a museum. The lighting is fading, as if we’re stage actors performing our last act…it’s dark now, darker than black.

Where was I? Wait, what’s this paragraph? Oh, God, I don’t remember writing that. I certainly don’t remember having that birthday party, either. I can remember other birthdays, but not this one that I described.

OK, I took a small break. That really has me shaken up, but I have to go on.

I had a boxer named Riley. She was a sweetheart-a very energetic, loving dog. In addition to walking her on a regular basis, I played with her in my backyard a lot to burn some of her infinite energy. My backyard is right next to my neighbor’s, of course. A wooden privacy fence keeps his yard hidden, but one afternoon, as Riley barked excitedly over a game of fetch, I swear I heard a voice whisper, “Shut the fuck up, stupid mutt.”

I wasn’t completely that I hadn’t misunderstood the threatening voice, and, not wanting to stir the pot anymore than it already had been, I ignored it and went inside soon after.

At the close of one of our walks some time later, Riley and I turned back onto the street I live on. To the left was the neighbor’s house, which we had to pass on the way back to mine. Suddenly, a cat meowed from his yard, and that was all it took for Riley to go nuts. Caught off guard by her wild movements, I dropped her leash. She took off into their yard before my gasp had completely come into existence.

Shit, fuck, shit!

I saw the cat, a small black one, raise its back before disappearing through a crack in the wooden privacy fence.

“Riley!” I yelled, eyes darting around in search of any sign that my neighbor was home. His replacement to the Corvette, a black 2015 Dodge Charger, wasn’t in the driveway.

She was clawing at the crack, whining to get to the kitty. She wasn’t an aggressive dog at all, so I’m willing to bet money that she just wanted to play with the cat. Out of the side door to the house came the teenage boy. He made a point of making eye contact with me before he walked over to Riley and gave her a swift kick to the side. She yelped and scurried back to me.

My blood pressure spiked, and my fists curled up.

“What the FUCK do you think you’re doing?” I shouted, stomping toward the punk.

He smiled calmly, turned on his heel, and re-entered the house.

“Hey! HEY!” I screamed after him.

Figuring that this was the last straw, I took Riley home and immediately looked up the local animal control. A little while later, I was speaking with a tough-looking woman in khakis and a baseball cap.

“Really, you’re sure that it was that neighbor?”

“Yes-well, the son, anyway. Why are you even asking if I’m sure? I said it was him, so it’s him.”

“Calm down, ma’am. It’s just that I go to church with them, and they seem like decent people. I’ll go over and talk to the boy.”

I waited on my front porch. When she resurfaced from the house, she was laughing. She came back over to me, re-shaping her smile into a somber, more professional expression.

“Ma’am, I’m afraid there isn’t much I can do at this point. There’s no proof that he attacked your dog. As a matter of fact, he states your dog was trying to attack him.”

A numbness came over me. Was this really happening? That little fucker was going to get away with this?

“Are you kidding me?”

“You could talk with the police, but I’m afraid they’ll probably tell you the same-”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Am I in the twilight zone here? He’s a God damn liar! I’ve never even heard my dog growl.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m going to have to ask you to calm down.”

I’ve never been so angry in my entire life. Actually, maybe I have. It’s so foggy up there. But I imagine it’s the angriest I’ve ever been.

Poor Riley-wait, it’s happening again. I have to write it!

I’m sixteen-I know this because I just got my driver’s license, which my mom is holding proudly in her hands. We’re in her station wagon, driving somewhere. We’re laughing and cutting up. At a red light, a couple of guys in the car next to us whistle. This cracks us up and we collapse into a fit of giggles before the light turns green. I hit the gas a little too hard, causing us to jerk back against our seats before zooming off. No, it’s frozen-no, no, no, it’s getting darker! Please, make this stop!

Fuck, I guess it happened again. I don’t remember writing the previous paragraph, nor do I have any file in my brain with that imagery burned onto it. I want to take a break again, but I’m so scared. I have to finish this.

Riley went missing. I put up flyers all around the neighborhood, but I knew in my bones it was pointless. She was taken by my neighbors.

I went into the backyard on a cloudy morning soon after, just to get some fresh air. My mouth dropped, and I screamed in pain and terror at what I saw. Riley was swinging from a rope tied onto a limb of the oak tree next to the patio. She’d been hung, her belly slit open. Beneath her, on the grass below, were her guts.

Something broke inside of me. I couldn’t deal with any sort of authority. Obviously these people were above that kind of thing. But I had to exact some sort of revenge. I had to. They murdered my sweet dog, all because of a crazed grudge they harbor against me.

I figured I’d do damage where it really hurt the sick fucker.

In the light of the moon, I sneaked into his driveway, wielding a pocket knife and a set of keys. I plunged the blade into each of the four tires on his damn car, then I keyed it. When I was finished with my dirty work, I paused, crouched next to the car. I peered up at the house, smiling bitterly.

A light suddenly poured out of the front window. In the window, crammed together like sardines, were four people shrouded in dark hooded cloaks. In unison, they lifted their arms and pointed-right at me.

I have no idea how they knew I was there. It must have been about three in the morning, and it was sodark out there, especially when you take into account that I was dressed in all black, from head to toe. I’d been careful not to make a lot of noise, too.

Yet, they knew I was there.

The light went out. Heart hammering and limbs feeling heavy, I ran back home. Inside, I double-checked that every door and window was locked. I spent the rest of the night posted up at my bedroom window, keeping watch on their house. I saw no sign of life.

The next morning, it felt like I’d dreamed up the hooded figures. I peeked outside at the house next door. There he was, surveying the damage done to his car. He wore no emotion on his face, but he did turn toward my house. His lips were moving, as if he was speaking. He closed his eyes and continued his odd murmuring.

What a basket case. He’s probably comforting his car.

I knew I couldn’t hide inside forever, but I wasn’t ready to face him. I needed sleep, but my body was still too amped up to allow it just yet. A random idea came to me. I don’t know why I decided to do it, but it felt right: I was going to steal a look at their backyard.

I carried a step ladder to the wooden privacy fence, climbed it, and, cautiously, glanced over. It was very overgrown. Leaves, weeds, limbs, and vines had claimed the yard. There was a screened in porch that appeared empty. There, leaning against the base of a tree, was a strange-looking…thing. I’m not sure what it was. I almost overlooked it because it blended in with the growth all around it. It was a bunch of twigs, vines, and grass interwoven together. It was covered with what looked to me like red and maroon blood.

Oh, God, Riley.

The thing was purposely bent and shaped into an abstract symbol. Next to it was a black curtain-

So I thought. But just then, the curtain moved and out of the messy growth came a single hooded figure, their entire head covered in the dark material of their attire. The person took one step forward and stopped, facing me. I lost feeling in my face as the blood drained out of it. I made one wrong move to relieve my aching knees and toppled off of the step ladder. Instead of checking to see if the person was still there, I darted back into the house.

After managing to get a bit of sleep, I went out to my car. I needed to go grocery shopping, but, even more than that, I needed to do something normal to balance out the crazy events that had taken place. I slid behind the wheel of my car and turned the key in the ignition, bringing the engine to life. In spite of my best efforts to avoid that general area, my eyes fastened onto the house of my neighbor.

He was standing in his front yard, arms relaxed at his sides. When our eyes met, he closed his and resumed that bizarre murmuring I’d seen him do earlier. I gawked, unable to look away. Unblinking, my vision turned blurry and tears streamed from my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. My head started to ache and then pound. I tried to close my eyes, but I was paralyzed, forced to keep them focused on the man.

He lifted an arm and pointed at me. When he dropped his arm to his side, he opened his eyes, and my headache instantly stopped. My clouded vision cleared, and I was again able to close my eyelids. He smiled at me and winked, then he sauntered back into his house through the front door.

I swiftly backed out of my driveway and drove away.

In the grocery store parking lot, I had a panic attack. What had he done to me? It felt like someone had mixed my brains around with a knife. It wasn’t painful, but something felt very wrong. I managed to calm myself with some deep breathing. I was being ridiculous. He was just trying to scare me.

My thinking process was all screwed up in the grocery store. I grabbed the wrong items. I forgot other items I’d bought many times before. I bumped my cart into shelves. I handed an extremely wrong amount of money to the cashier, who rudely informed me of my error.

On the way back home, I got lost in my neighborhood.

What started as sluggish thinking grew into a thicker mental haziness.

My fear growing, I went over to my mom’s for the weekend, nervous about staying at the house with all the weird things I’d witnessed and experienced. I didn’t tell her anything, just that I was “in a funk” and wanted to visit. I’d forgotten to pack extra clothes and my toothbrush. My mom condemned me for being careless and instructed me to get in her closet and find something comfy to put on while she hunted for an extra, unopened toothbrush.

Thinking it probably was a good idea to make myself as comfortable as possible, I tore through her closet, looking for sweats that didn’t remind me of grandmas. I pushed hanger after hanger aside, sighing at my mom’s wardrobe. I cringed over a horrible floral pants suit, and pushed it to the left, where the other rejected clothing hung. My hands grabbed the material of the next garment, wondering when my mom would ever wear such a dress. I pulled on the linen cloth, spreading it out in the air to get a good look at it.

It wasn’t a dress. It was a black hooded cloak.

My heart skipped a beat and a lump rose in my throat.

I forced myself to spend the night. It could’ve been coincidental. If it was no coincidence, I couldn’t afford to attract more attention to myself by rushing out of her house. No, I was stuck at a slumber party with a mother I never in a million years would’ve suspected of harming anyone, especially one of her children. My world was upside down, and I had to pretend it was right side up.

Since the murmuring and the hooded figures and the shocking discovery in my mom’s closet, I can feel my mind getting slower and slower. I forget more and more. It appears it’s now after my childhood memories, too. I’m thankful I managed to tell my story before…I think I’m going to die. It’s crazy, I’m only 27. I don’t want to go yet. I’ve never even been in love.

If I’m spared death, I’ll be stuck in a nursing home or someplace similar.

I’ll be the one babbling nonsensical things in the corner.

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