A new neighbor helps a young man recovering from an accident
|Despite what people say and what the newspapers will have you believe, I did not kill the old man, not even after stalking him for a month.
The stalking part they got right, the media, the investigators, the police and the journalists. I suppose as a lonely crippled kid, I got a little over the top with my own investigation. After the accident, and once Rena stopped talking to me, I began to burrow into myself, and there are only so many things a one-legged guy can do on his own.
But the old man’s death remains a mystery.
I met him when he moved in. My parents are the neighborly type; my dad on the neighborhood watch and my mom spends weekends helping school bakesales. I had been exempt from helping him move since this'd been just after my accident, but I was propped on a chair on our porch enjoying the sun and breeze. Hospital atmosphere is dreadful.
My visions of needles and pills were interrupted by a large man wrapped in a trench coat and hat despite the summer heat. He had a bushy white beard that gave his chin an extra five inches of coarse white depth and eyes buried in nests of wrinkles. He smiled at me, wide and friendly, burying his eyes further, and began gesticulating with his fingers.
I smiled back weakly.
“Oh this is Rena,” my mother ran over, the love of my life behind her. “Arnold, you’ve met Mr. Gray? He’s our new neighbor.”
“I saw the truck,” I responded. “Hey Rena.”
Rena pointedly ignored me. I later learned that her left kidney had been crushed by the tow truck but at the time I thought she’d looked fine. Auburn hair tied in a bun. Long gangly limbs and ocean blue eyes that just killed you. Just a tooth and her reputation ruined. Kinda unfair.
“Mr. Gray can’t speak,” my mom explained. “Since his grandson left for college I asked Rena to help translate.”
Mr. Gray aimed his lighthouse beam of a smile from me to Rena and the two began gesticulating.
“He says the ritual wares were supposed to go downstairs,” Rena said.
“Oh! Of course! My bad, me and Dave saw the antiques in them. We’ll put them back in the boxes for you.”
As they left, the old man flashed me another look over his shoulder. Only he wasn’t smiling. His irises, I noticed, were black as pitch, with sickly yellow webs around them. He looked at me the way I’d look at ants as a kid before I burned them.
“Heroin,” said Angie. “Do you need a break?”
“No.” I gripped the parallel bars and puffed my face, pain shooting up my hip in fiery waves. For whatever stupid reason, it was my leg that hurt. Hurt like hell.
“He also has needle marks inside his elbows. I saw him take off the coat.” Pain rocketed up my waist so bad my vision exploded into white coruscation. At some point the cool floor was pressed against me and Angie was steadying me back up.
“Do your parents know you’re watching your neighbor?”
“I told them the camera was for photography. Didn’t lie.” I tried to sound nonchalant. “I’m just curious. He’s not dangerous or anything.”
But I didn’t believe it. Not entirely at least. After physical therapy I added the yellow eyes to my list of drug symptoms. Next to that, his schedule. Pictures of him at different times of the day. Rena and my parents and others helping him out. Mostly just Rena. I tapped my pencil on my cheek. Now all I needed was red yarn and I’d be officially crazy.
A month later, Rena vanished. The police visited everyone, even me, and our school had a rally. My mom made me knock on Mr. Gray’s door. ‘You need to get out of the house, Arnie.’
Rena had been Mr. Gray’s big helper. He hired her to help with old-people stuff - internet problems, the phone, newspaper - all according to my camera. They’d even begun speech therapy, Rena holding a sheaf of cue cards, both of them laughing silently in my lens.
When I forced my wheelchair up the ramp, my phone went off.
“Arnie, they found Rena!”
The door was unlocked as I pushed it open; a thick rancid stench rolled out, like a physical punch. I gagged into the phone.
The windows shone beams of light downwards, illuminating a sea of dust. The source of the stench, a wagon spilling with grey sand, was parked in the living room, beside an upturned table.
“She was at some friend’s house and their car flipped over a gorge. But she’s OK.”
Two accidents in one lifetime. I wondered if her friend lost a leg. Maybe Rena was some sort of appendage magnet.
“Mr. Gray?” I called.
Then I heard his voice.
“She told me,” It hissed. “How you drove her to some stupid party. You were drunk but you didn’t care. Drove straight into a construction site, into a truck. You monster.” He was huddled in the kitchen, trembling, eyes wide as dinner plates. Needles, vials and straps cascaded from the counter above over his lap, over his pocked bare arm. I recognized the equipment from our school labs, borne here by gangly limbs.
“I’ll kill you,” He hissed. “It will kill you.”
A wave of cold washed over me as I drew closer. A wall of photos adorned his kitchen: me going to school, my mom lawn-mowing, our family dinners. And the mountain of cards Rena had brought. KILL ARNOLD. KILL. KILL.
“I just need to give it your blood,” He whined. He lunged forward, knife flickering. I screamed, hurling myself backwards. Pain bloomed in my arm as the knife hit it.
Something in the sand shifted. Rose up.
I saw two huge golden eyes, bright as lanterns, and its red cavern of throat as it lowered its jaws before I bolted away. But the old man crashed into me, his breath wet and rancid in my ear, both our hands fumbling for the knife. My wheelchair capsized and I felt his weight on me, his fingers on my throat, the knife a million miles away, my world squeezed into that ugly face hovering over me.
Then I shoved my arm over his face, smeared my blood over it.
He let out a ragged howl and whatever had risen from the wagon suddenly seized him. They both shot upwards, the beast hooking its claws into the roof, sinking its teeth in.
I remember waking up later in the hospital. Being arrested. All a slow dreamy procession of hilariously realistic things in my new mad world. I was told I was screaming of grey dust in my sleep. Of yellow eyes and giant teeth.