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Rated: E · Fiction · Tragedy · #2236646
Claire had to find some common ground with her neighbors, and she did.
It's the Neighborly Thing To Do

Claire was sure she wasn't mistaken, and knew it was just a matter of time. The distant sirens moved closer and closer. She'd bet anything that some misfortune had probably befallen Old Man Sneed next door. She journeyed towards the living room window, pushed the curtains aside, and peeked through the blinds. It was close to ten o'clock at night so no one should see her peeking.

Red and white strobe lights lit the front of her neighbor's homes across the street. A deep rumbling sound was absent, so she ruled out that a fire engine was approaching. She kept her eyes glued on the homes, and in a short time, she saw the headlights of an ambulance pull up in front of the old man's house and stop. Two EMTs jumped from the vehicle and rushed toward the back of it. Claire kept her emotions in check as the EMTs reappeared and jogged toward the front of Mr. Sneed's house.

At that moment, she retreated from the blinds. Who notified emergency services that something had happened to Old Man Sneed? She had a pretty good idea who it was, but needed to check it out for herself.

"Dennis, come out here. There's an ambulance in front of our neighbor's house. Hurry!" She knew Dennis was engaged in the Monday Night Football game between the Ravens and the Browns, but she didn't care. Being from Kansas, her football team was the Chiefs. All the others could suck it! "Dennis, come on. Let's go see what's going on."

Her ears caught the squeaking springs of their box mattress. He was on his way. The sound of his slippers sliding across the floor came closer, and soon he was standing over her shoulder.

"What's going on?"

"I don't know. Go put on your robe and let's go see."

"You are so nosey. Why do you want to know what happened? You don't even like the guy!"

"Because I want to see if the old man will stay gone permanently. I'm tired of him complaining to me about Chester."

"A little vindictive, aren't you?"

"So what? That's who I am."

"That's for sure. I'll grab my robe."

The last thing she needed tonight were smart-ass comments from her unappreciative husband. It had been a long day for her.

She planned on spending some quality time with Dennis once he got off work, and the best way to do that was to prepare one of his favorite meals. What should have been a relaxing shopping spree at her local Costco had turned into a nightmare scene from Black Friday shopping. She'd never seen the store so crowded on a Monday morning, and only three cashiers at the register were open.

Halloween was less than two weeks away, and as she watched the lines grow with carts full of food, costumes, and candy, she second-guessed herself. She chose not to watch the early morning news. Was something afoot she wasn't aware of? What should have been about a forty-five minutes shopping excursion ended up taking over two hours! Of course, that cut into her time to prepare lunch for herself and dinner for the both of them.

Luckily, Dennis came home later than usual from work, so there would be time for them to be together. Dennis scarfed his dinner down and left the table with hardly a word, anxious not to miss his cherished football game, something she'd totally forgotten. Also absent was a simple thank you for the wonderful dinner she'd rushed to prepare. Her eyes followed him as he disappeared into the hallway, his destination, the bedroom. Once she heard the springs squeak, she poured herself a glass of red wine and stewed in a vat of loneliness and nonappreciation.

When Dennis returned to the living room still tying his robe, she opened the front door and preceded him outside. Laying in the small flower bed by the door was Chester, their Bengal cat with his glowing eyes. He looked up, and Claire bent down to pet him. The cat shut its eyes and purred as she rubbed the top of his head. He swerved his head from side to side, forcing her fingers to scratch his entire scalp.

With a soft voice, she said, "Ahh, there you are. Are you being a good boy? Huh? Are you being a good boy? Yes, you are being good, aren't you boy." Dennis bumped into her, and she turned to look at him, her eyes expressed her annoyance. "Damn! I know I'm short but not that short!"

"Why did you stop so fast?" Dennis asked. "I didn't know you would stop walking so suddenly."

Claire huffed and started towards the driveway. The chill in the air shouted that fall had come, so she clutched both elbows and hunched her shoulders. A small crowd had gathered on the sidewalk, both in front and in the rear of the ambulance. Hushed murmurs were heard among the onlookers as they moved closer. Those were her neighbors, but she hardly knew any of their names, only their faces.

She produced a facade of caring and offered kind greetings to those closest to her, and they returned the gestures. She inquired about what happened, but only non-specific answers were returned. Soon, her attention shifted to the small front porch of the old man's house. Just as she suspected, that lady was there. The lady who lived next door to the old man on the other side. She was always visiting with the old man. A question flashed through her mind, which she dismissed almost immediately: Maybe she had killed the old man? After a short period, everyone standing around that fall night had their curiosities satisfied. The EMTs exited the house with a covered body atop the stretcher. Indeed, the old man had died.

After the ambulance took Old Man Sneed away, neighbors continued to mingle amongst themselves. A few kind words were expressed about the old man, and Claire even agreed with them. However, deep down, she was glad he was dead. She had only two words to describe living next door to the old man: constant conflict. Now he was gone and Dennis, herself, and cute little Chester could go back to living like the rest of their neighbors.

Before heading back inside the house, Claire watched that lady neighbor head toward her own home with her head hung low. For a moment, the middle-aged lady appeared to have aged as she blended into the darkness. Claire never knew the lady's name and didn't want to know it. Their gestures of neighborliness consisted of half-hearted smiles, if there were smiles at all. It became obvious the lady didn't care for her, her husband, and especially Chester, and Claire didn't mind one bit.

Since moving into their house over two years ago, Claire had seen the lady knock on the old man's front door on countless occasions. He'd invite her in, and she would stay for hours. Knowing nothing about what took place behind those closed doors, Claire's mind conjured up outlandish along with more realistic scenarios, like a covert neighborly tryst between the two. Imagine the old man getting it on with a middle-aged woman who could pass as his daughter. Neighbors with benefits, so to speak. That's funny. Or could it be something much more innocent, like having simple companionship while watching television. Maybe she was a nurse or caregiver who took care of the old man, cooking and cleaning for him, giving him his medicine, and maybe even giving him a bath. It was possible.

One thing had become clear tonight now that the old man had perished; Claire wouldn't have to worry about allowing Chester out to roam around the neighborhood anymore. Chester was the source of conflict between her and Old Man Sneed. She assumed the old man either didn't like cats, was allergic to them, or just didn't like Chester encroaching in his small garden. Or maybe he just disliked Claire. Regardless, he didn't want Chester anywhere on his property.

Frequently, Claire tried to explain to the old man that she could not control where Chester roamed, but the old man refused to hear it. She'd hear him screaming at Chester on occasions. Other times, she'd seen him stomping his feet and cane on the ground to shoo the cat away. And a few times she even caught the old man throwing items at the cat, but missing it by a mile, figuring that the old man's strength must have diminished as the years passed. There was one horrific thought that lay heavy on her mind during this time... the possibility of hearing a gunshot while Chester was out. She wouldn't put it past the old man if he tried to assassinate her cat.


A week had passed since the old man died, and this particular morning while Dennis was out working to pay the bills, Claire spotted the old man's unfriendly neighbor through the open blinds of the front window. She watched the lady cross the old man's lawn and start up his driveway, carrying an odd object beneath her arm. Being nosey once again, Claire moved over to the dining-room window and parted the blinds to get a better view, but not so much as to be noticed. The object the lady carried could be an ern, but she wasn't sure.

Her eyes stayed glued on the lady as she entered the old man's backyard and approached his garden. It was littered with colorful flowers and other greenery. Claire recognized the white tulips, bluish African lilies, blood red begonias, and petite golden buttercups. Sprinkled between the flowers were various green plants such as ferns and what she thought might be catnip. Often, she'd seen Chester exhibit odd behaviors while in the old man's backyard. He'd roll over and paw at the plants. Sometimes he'd chew at them then bounce away. She suspected only catnip could make Chester act so wacky.

The lady reached the garden, kneeled over the green plants, and sat the object she carried down at her side. What was she going to do? Claire watched her stand then disappear behind the rear of the old man's house. Soon, she reappeared with a small handheld spade and one end of a garden hose. Claire's curiosity peaked as the lady's antics had become her new reality show.

The lady returned to her knees and began digging with the spade, taking her sweet time to be careful around the plant's roots. Then, one by one, she removed the catnip plants. This brought a smile to Claire's face. If the old man would have done that earlier, there wouldn't have been much friction between them, although some would have lingered, regardless.

What the lady did next was curious. She set the spade down, turned and lifted the top off the supposed ern, then sprinkled the contents in the trench she had created. Claire was sure it must be the old man's ashes. He was coming home to his final resting place. The lady took the spade, placed it in the trench and swept her arm from side to side like she was evening out the ashes or whatever it was. Then the lady set the spade down and began rocking back and forth with her hands clasped in front of her. Could she be praying? Suddenly, the lady threw both arms up in the air and gazed skyward. Claire's jaw dropped and eyebrows crested. She wanted to step away, but couldn't. She'd seen strange behaviors before, but this was straight out of the twilight zone! Is this woman practicing witchcraft in front of my eyes?

The lady dropped her arms, twisted her head, then stared in Claire's direction with her head cocked.

Claire snapped her hand back from the blinds and jumped away from the window. The lady couldn't have seen her, not with the sun beaming down on that side of her house. At least she hoped the lady hadn't seen her. Claire wanted to return to the window, but hesitated. What if the lady continued staring in her direction? Claire tiptoed back to the window but didn't touch the blinds. She could see the lady still on her knees hovering over the trench she'd dug. The rocking had returned.

Claire dared not to get too close to the blinds now. Observing through the blind's small slats would have to suffice. The lady ceased rocking, grabbed the garden hose, and again her arm swept back and forth over the trench, causing droplets of water to rise and fall. Next, the lady replanted the plants, being careful not to damage them. Using her hands, she swept the soil around the base of each plant and patted it down. When she finished, she sat back on her heels.

About a minute later, the lady rose and returned the spade and garden hose back to where she'd retrieved them. She returned to the small garden and picked up the ern and the lid, but did not close the ern. Instead, she placed the top beneath her left armpit. The lady turned away from the garden and crept back down the driveway, dipping her hand into the jar over and over, sprinkling its contents along the way. All the while, the lady stared directly at the window where Claire stood. The ern's contents were sprinkled on Claire's lawn that ran along the side of the house. An enormous urge to dash outside and tell the lady to stop ceased when the lady's eyes flashed at her. Claire remained motionless.

Claire didn't know what to make of anything that happened back there. Her addiction to confrontation had been doused and more understanding was needed before she exposed herself. She stepped away from the blinds and headed toward the front window. Out front, the world was exactly the same except the lady was gone.

"What time is it?"

Everything she'd just observed took place in twenty minutes, but for her, it seemed like an hour had passed. She'd been so engrossed in the crazy lady's antics, she'd forgotten what she was doing beforehand, so she wandered around the house trying to remember, but couldn't. Eventually, she took a seat and contemplated everything she'd seen.


Halloween was four days away. Claire observed the lady return to the old man's backyard every day and water the plants in the small garden, paying particular attention to those she'd replanted. To avoid a repeat of the lady's first visit when Claire was sure the lady had spotted her spying, she stood mostly out of sight near the rear of the dining room each day. However, each day whenever the lady finished with her watering and chanting tasks, she faced the dining-room window upon leaving, and her eyes flashed at Claire. The same thing happened on another day when Claire positioned herself on the other side of the dining room. As the lady walked away, she turned and Claire saw her eyes flash at her again.

Something else disturbed Claire that week. As she usually did, she allowed Chester outside to roam the neighborhood, and he would go about his business hiding in bushes or underneath cars whenever anything approached he wasn't familiar with. Along with his daily outings, he continued traipsing and invading neighborhood backyards, being inquisitive as most felines are. Claire had caught him in the old man's backyard a few times, perusing the small garden.

Chester would jump and pounce as he neared the catnip. Then he'd lay down and swat at them with his paws, rolling over and swiping at the leaves. It looked like Chester was having fun, so Claire didn't mind much. But whenever Chester finished, he'd take the same route the lady had taken the day she dumped the contents of the ern on Claire's lawn. It's as if Chester followed the scent of ashes she'd sprinkled upon leaving. As Claire eyeballed Chester passing beneath the dining-room window, he would look up displaying his yellow eyes, then they'd flash at her. She'd seen the same thing occur every day that week.

In typical fashion, Chester returned to the front door and meowed to be let in. Claire allowed him in, and he appeared to be good old Chester, his eyes as normal as ever. But whenever she saw him leave the old man's garden, he'd follow the same path with his nose down until he reached the window and looked up. The flash always happened if she watched him.

She tried not to let the antics of the lady and her cat bother her. She thought of bringing it up to Dennis, but what could he do? What would he do? She was sure he'd dismiss it and tell her not to linger on about something she was probably imagining. Dennis had always been level-headed and didn't go for anything too farfetched from reality.

However, that Wednesday, Halloween Day, the situation between Chester and the plants in the old man's garden had degraded from its usual playfulness. She observed Chester chewing on one of the catnip plants. As she continued watching, it looked as if Chester had ingested some of it. While doing so, he swiped at his head with both paws vigorously. He shut his eyes tight as he rattled his head from side to side. Then he convulsed, its mouth open and paws clawing at the air as if suffocating. Claire's eyes grew wide as she believed her beloved feline was in its last throws before it succumbed to death. Chester's movements slowed until he lay still, frozen on his back with his head cocked to the side and all four paws raised above him.

Claire's eyes stung as tears welled, and so did her growing anger. She'd convinced herself the lady had poisoned those plants just to get her revenge for the grief she gave Old Man Sneed. Every cell in her body sparked with a heat so intense, she thought she'd pass out. Her clinched fist ached to bash, not something, but someone. Her brain sizzled, scorching all rational thought.

Fear was non-existent. Only anger was present, and she meant to release it.

Claire exited the house through the back door as clouds swept across the sky to blot out the sun. Her eyes stayed glued on Chester's carcass as she careened across her lawn and into the old man's backyard. She dropped to her knees. In her mind, she wanted to knock on the lady's door and throw her dead cat at her.

As soon as her fingers grasped Chester, his eyes opened and a steady flash of light beamed from them. Claire released her grip and screamed. Chester leaped onto her face, its claws penetrating her jaws and neck. The cat bit into her bottom lip and jerked its head back and forth, sending blood down her chin and into her mouth. Her muted screams stopped once the cat's rear talons sliced into her throat.

Claire fell back and slammed onto the grass. The cat's back legs pushed off her throat and propelled it forward so that its front paws had access to her eyes. It only took a few swipes before Claire's eyes became shredded pieces of moist, bloody meat. A scream barely sounded from the wreckage of Claire's throat. The cat let out a growling screech as if the muted noise upset it even more. Claire tried to roll, but the cat's claws continued mangling her skin, sending waves of searing pain throughout her body. The cat's growling grew louder and louder until Claire's energy was spent. Claire laid motionless allowing Chester free reign to rip at her body.

The old man told her that Chester should stay out of his yard, and he was right.


Without looking out the window, the lady knew what had taken place and entered the old man's backyard. She spotted Claire's body sprawled on the ground, face down. The cat moved aside. The lady bent down and tugged on Claire's hair until her head lifted off the lawn. A smile crossed her face to find Claire barely recognizable. She released the grip on the hair, and Claire's head smacked the lawn with a thud. The lady had plans for Claire, but she wouldn't be able to execute them until tonight, Halloween Night. She returned to her home to prepare.

The overcast sky sped up the onset of night, and just before it became too dark, the lady returned, cutting through her backyard with a wheelbarrow. The dining room light in Claire's home was lit. Her husband must be home, but the lady didn't care. She tossed Claire's limp body inside the wheelbarrow and made haste back to her house.

Inside the house, the lady had already laid down a large piece of plastic to capture any blood. What she had planned would allow for little bloodletting. She went to work prepping Claire's body to complete her Halloween display. While incense burned, she chanted and rocked, then returned to work on Claire's body. This continued for an hour.

The time was seven-fifteen, and the kids would be out trick-or-treating around eight o'clock. The lady finished ahead of time, so she hauled Claire's body back into the wheelbarrow and pushed it out the front door, parking it by the walkway leading up to the door. It was perfect. She returned inside the house and waited for the kiddies to ring her doorbell.

During the night, many kids, including some parents, paid the lady a visit announcing "Trick or Treat!" and many children screamed as they approached the lady scarecrow lounging in the wheelbarrow that stared at them, its eyes flashing whenever someone walked by.

© Copyright 2020 Pernell Rogers (arogers270 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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