By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 19: The Neighbors – 2
Mary Sue sat in the immense living room hidden in her tiny home contemplating the three different aspects of herself as she fed. Most would not believe how old the concept of a trinity actually is. It existed before and will exist after the human race for it is not mere happenstance. It is the essence of all creation.
In the beginning, the blind will of the primary three created all things in a spastic wave that is still expanding in all directions and of which Mary Sue and her sisters are but an eddy. A whirling dervish of latent power spun off the creation force when it built reality. In most cases, eddies like her spun along in the lee of the churning power with joy and excitement, shaping and creating in minor alongside their mother.
As there can be no creation without will, these minor eddies and forces become self-aware the moment they separated from the whole. Most eventually fell back into their blind creator, having chosen to once again become one with the three… but not all; some used their will to choose a different path. In the grand ineffable plan of this universe, all complex life must feed on life to exist. Those that chose the different path soon learned this lesson the hard way, and without their master to sustain them, they had to learn to feed or fade into the background as relics like a puff of gas from a dying sun.
“And to that endeavor, dear sisters,” said the crone, “We are doing exceptionally well in our new home.”
All had been thinking the same thing. Separating their own thoughts one from the other became more difficult the closer they were to each other – three aspects of one, separate but whole. Only in her house could she truly be with her sisters though. The laws outside did not allow for more than one aspect of herself to be evident at any given moment, so she cherished these moments. The world was a lonely place and there had been long stretches where she had been forced to live alone, outside of her home, where only one aspect at a time could be in control. Mary Sue did not like to think of those dark times. Especially now when they were feasting in such glorious and gluttonous waves.
The feast could not last, not at this rate. Gluttony was not sustainable and always led to unwanted attention and trouble. Her last meal lasted over fifty years. She would have to watch herself and not get carried away. For now, though just for a little bit longer, she would revel in the excess and feed.
One did not have far to go to see the consequences of Mary Sue’s ravenous hunger. Through the small copse of trees, the Eastman house had fallen into decay. Vines and weeds grew in profusion in the yard and up the side of the house. Black mold and mildew ate at the walls. Termites and other boring insects fell on the house in a plague. Roots grew into the basement and pushed against the foundation with ever increasing force.
Next to the Eastman house in 009, the Wellington household had not quite gotten back to normal since Mark blew chunks of breakfast all over his mother’s shirt. The doctors were unable to pin down what caused his illness and blamed it on a twenty-four-hour virus. They had sent him back home the following morning after a judicious use of anti-nausea drugs and a lot of intravenous fluids, but it had not been enough. Three days had passed and Mark was still queasy and unable to hold down more than a few bites of anything. This was not Susan Wellington’s first rodeo with stomach bugs, but her motherly instinct would not let her rest and ride it out. This illness seemed somehow different. She did not wish illness on anyone, but if this were a simple virus, why had JJ, her younger son, and herself not been infected? Usually these things ran through her house in a disgusting series and sometimes all at once, but everyone in the house always came down with it. This problem seemed specific to Mark and that meant it was not a simple stomach bug. She wanted to take her son back to the doctor today, if only she could find her keys.
In 007, Beverly Hernandez stood in the upstairs window overlooking the expanse of the neighborhood. She glared down at the neighborhood through empty eye-sockets as if she were not blinded at all. She turned her head slowly, taking it all in. This new sight given to her by the creature who took her eyes exposed all the world for her to see. If she had managed to retain her sanity, she would have marveled at all the things she could now see that she could not see before. Arching filaments of energy rose from Mary Sue’s cottage and reached out to every other home in Silent Glade. Strange sickly pulses of light surged upward along the filaments from her neighbors towards Mary Sue’s house at the end of the street. Colors unlike any she had experienced before shown all around her. The forest was alive with movement that no human eye could have ever captured. Unfortunately, when not controlled by Mary Sue, Beverly Hernandez fell into a cataleptic stupor frozen in place by her mind’s inability to cope with the reality she now lived: trapped inside herself but not alone.
Javier slept fitfully downstairs curled up with his back touching that of his teenage son. Alejandro refused to sleep alone now. Javier Hernandez could not understand what had happened to his family. First Beverly’s assault and now Alejandro’s regression into a fearful child too afraid to sleep in his own room. He knew Beverly’s empty sockets were hideous to behold and he wished he could convince her to leave a bandage covering the wounds, but she would have none of it, tearing off any covering the moment he placed it. Still, Alejandro had never been squeamish before. Javier’s troubled mind churned restlessly, unable to find peace even in sleep.
Tara Dixon screamed in 005 when what she imagined to be a long black rat snake crawled across her foot while she stood at the kitchen sink to fetch a glass of water. She had no fear of the dark and had not bothered to turn on the kitchen light. Cindi Lin raced from the bedroom and flipped on the light, then she screamed too. Two possums stood in the kitchen floor on their back feet, teethed bared and hissing. She looked at Tara and in unison both leaped off the floor and on to the kitchen counter. They may have remained there all day, if Tara had not suddenly laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Demanded Cindi with a pout. She saw nothing funny about the situation. What if those two had rabies or something?
“I thought it was a snake when its tail brushed across my foot. They’re kinda cute. Don’t you think?”
Cindi looked at her and rolled her eyes. “No. I don’t. That one looks like my Dad’s neighbor when he gets angry and puffed up. He’s all fierce and toothy with a skinny ass tail.”
Tara laughed, then said,” I’m just glad it was not a snake.”
When the possums realized the two humans were not going to attack, they dropped back down to their little hand like feet and continued to sniff around the kitchen for something to eat. Tara and Cindi watched fascinated as the two marsupials knocked over the trash can and started digging through it.
“They’re going to eat that moldy pot brownie you threw away, and then we’ll never get rid of them,” Cindi said.
Tara snickered. “Who knows? Maybe it will make them friendly. I…”
The cabinet door above Cindi’s head began to open, and the largest black rat snake that Tara had ever seen stuck its head out and began to slither slowly towards the top of Cindi’s head. Tara’s unfinished thought ended in a scream and a leap towards her wife. Snakes scared her more than anything on Earth, but she would be damned if one of them would get her lady.
She grabbed Cindi by the hand and jerked her off the counter, yelling “SNAKE!” in a long drawn out wail. Cindi turned and saw a black snake as thick as her wrist drop to the counter top where she had just been sitting. It was too much, too early, and both women ran screaming from the house wearing nothing but their nightshirts and panties.
The Stanton house in 003 looked more run down that usual. The yard appeared to have grown a foot overnight. Dark mildew stained the shadowed walls outside under trees whose boughs now reached into gutters and pushed up shingles on the roof. Inside, Tom Eastman crawled from the guest bed upstairs. He had not been able to sleep in the dead men’s beds. He tried, but the stink on both was too much and he was not about to change the sheets. That was woman’s work. If he could find Amy, he would put her to work before finishing what needed to be finished. Oh yes, he would finish her. That had been a long time coming. Unfortunately, he still had work to do, so she would have to wait. Oh but he had plans for her, yes sir, he had plans. He wondered briefly where she and Larissa were these days. He had not seen her car since returning from the border.
The AC kicked on and the ripe, sweet smell of rot drifted through the room. Hell, he had turned the damn AC on high to keep those boys from spoiling. He had not meant to put off their disposal, but his visit with Mary Sue had drained him somehow. Once he fell into bed, he had not moved for more than a day. Now that he thought about it, he did not even know what day it was. He did feel better though, and his wounds appeared to be healing. He would not be able to stay here now. No sir. He would have to find another house to hole up in. He wondered briefly where he would go next.
He stood up and stretched. The stink of himself suddenly overpowered the rot from downstairs. He needed a shower. Had he not turned on the water and the radio he found in the bathroom when he did, he would have heard the screams of Tara and Cindi Lin bursting from their house. That was too bad. Tom would have enjoyed watching them run into their yard wearing nothing but panties and t-shirts. As it was, he heard none of it and missed the only warning he would get that an ending was rapidly approaching.
In 001, Boston Patterson, age two, climbed into bed with his parents and wormed his way between, finally snuggling into the curve of his mother as she lay curled on her side. She wrapped her arm around her son and pulled him tight.
“Are you okay, baby?” She mumbled.
“Un uh,” he said, shaking his head. “The bad lady won’t let me sleep.”
“It’s okay baby,” she whispered and pulled him closer. “It’s just a bad dream.”
Boston shivered for a moment, but soon fell back asleep against the warmth of his mother, the scary stick-woman leaning over his bed all but forgotten.
Across the street and up a little way, Ginger-Lynn Debrow in 002 awoke to powerful cramps and nausea. Proof positive that the lovemaking from a few days had quickened in her, and she had conceived. She knew it and almost squealed in delight as she ran to tell her husband the good news. She raced down the hall, ran down the stairs, and turned the corner into her living room. What she saw stopped her in her tracks. Chase Debrow lay clutching his groin and groaning.
When Chase heard Ginger-Lynn come down the stairs, he knew she was excited about something. He would have given anything to be able to share it with her, but only a few moments before he felt something grab him by the balls and squeeze. His testicles now felt like someone had kicked him with steel toes and driven his gonads into his spleen. He reached for her just as another wave of pain hit him, and before he could even finish the movement, he was curling back onto himself.
Ginger-Lynn bounded to his side, pulling out her phone to dial 911 on the way, and said, “Oh my god, Chase! What happened to you?”
He could only groan.
No one was at home in 004 that day. Ethel Thompson went to the hospital late yesterday afternoon and never returned. Her husband Barry suffered another stroke right as she stepped into his hospital room the previous day, as if her presence alone was enough to pop one of his circuits. She was not far off, but not for the reasons she imagined.
Ethel felt slighted as if he somehow did this just to spite her. Did he not know how lonely that big house left her when she came home without him? She wanted to smack him and knock some sense back into the man. And God… did He not have better things to do than break her Barry? She could certainly think of a few things. Not wanting to be home alone again, she stayed at the hospital and cried frustrated tears at an uncaring universe and a god who would not listen to her pleas.
006 remained empty too. The Brennon family’s month-long vacation would be over in ten days. They remained blissfully unaware of the leak in their attic. The pipe, having cracked further from the constant pressure on the break, now sprayed water at a constant five gallons per hour. The ceiling in the guest room sagged. Water poured directly onto the bed which had absorbed a tremendous amount of water and weighed well over five-hundred pounds. The deluge found its way to the first floor though the seams under the walls as well as from under the door as it poured down the steps in a steady and growing stream. From there, it slipped into the crawlspace under the house where a sump pump ran non-stop as it attempted to drain the unending water and send it into the yard just above the street drain. The little pump did its job admirably, but it was not designed to run twenty-four seven for weeks. No one in the neighborhood noticed the steady stream pouring into the gutter. Mold and mildew grew at an alarming rate up the walls of the crawlspace, along the baseboards in the house, as well as in the guestroom and attic. The moisture attracted insects which had already begun to chew the softening wood.
Kathy Blanchart stood on her porch at 008 with binoculars raised to her eyes, staring through the trees at Oscar Jackson’s house. She was so bored. None of her neighbors had given her anything to work with in days, and she was running out of things to talk about. She had not seen Oscar for days. Not sense little Dee Lapin had come down sick. She had seen the two of them playing together in Oscar’s front yard many times. Convinced the old black bastard would molest the little girl, she had watched the two of them play through her front window hidden behind a curtain. She thought she would be famous if she saved that little girl from a war vet sicko. For weeks she watched the two of them, hoping he would slip up and she would see the monster behind those kind dark eyes. He wasn’t fooling her. Unfortunately, she had been terribly disappointed when he seemed to be as kind as he came across. She hated Oscar for that. She did not trust him, not at all. Kathy did not consider herself a racist. In her eyes, it was only prudent to watch those with more “criminal” leanings. A few folks tried to point out that thinking people of color were more “criminal” was racist, but she shrugged it off, saying, “Statistics do not lie.”
She looked from window to window on Oscar’s porch, covering all that she could see at least once. Still nothing. She guessed Oscar was crying for his playmate, probably lonely too. It served him right. He should not be playing with a little girl the way he did. It wasn’t natural.
She moved her glasses over to the Hernandez house across the street. Poor Beverly. Why had those detectives not been around to see her again? She had so much to tell them about the Eastman family. She had seen things in that house from her vantage point. Tom Eastman deserved what he got. That man was a good-for-nothing if Kathy had ever seen one. She wondered what happened to the Eastman family. She hadn’t seen any of them in a long time either. If the rumors were right, and Tom had something to do with what happened to Beverly in the woods, then God help him. She hoped he got what was coming to him.
Movement in a window upstairs at the Hernandez house drew her attention. Beverly Hernandez stood in the upstairs window facing the street. She was wearing a filthy white nightgown and to Kathy’s disgust and pleasure, the nightgown and fallen off of one shoulder and exposed one of Beverly’s breasts for all to see. Granted, no one could have seen her from the street since the Hernandez house was so far off the road, but she could certainly see it. Her heart soared at the scandal. She couldn’t wait to tell Mike. He had been stuck at home with his broken ankle, and he depended on her for news. She certainly had something to tell him now. Doctor or not, Javier Hernandez was a Hispanic. No wonder he let his poor blind wife wander around the house exposing herself. They were a filthy people after all. Why, she bet that he had torn the nightgown himself. She would make sure everyone heard about this.
Just as she reached for her phone, she heard screams further down the street. When it rains it pours, she thought to herself and turned the binoculars to the new scene. She could not believe her luck. Those two “lez-beans” – Kathy’s pet term for lesbian – were running down their drive-way in their underwear. Lord, help us all. Why with all the butts and boobs in this neighborhood this morning, they could all be living in a porno. The two were screaming though, perhaps there was some kind of danger. If the police came, she would have a reason to go down there and find out all the juicy details. She reached for her phone again and dialed 911.
Kathy Blanchart had not been too far off about what was going on in Oscar Jackson’s house at 010. Oscar sat in his kitchen with a cup of coffee and an old book stretched out before him on the table. Something was wrong in Silent Glade. He could feel it like the coming of a powerful summer storm; the very air seemed electric.
“Not exactly like an electric storm,” he mumbled to himself. “This is different.”
War does a funny thing to a man, especially once they have been deep in the shit. It opens a person up to understanding things that they were not meant to know. He didn’t really know how to explain it other than to say, “In war, anything can happen. Once you come to terms with that, you realize that if anything can happen, then maybe lots of things are possible that people assume are not. And when a person gets to that place, well then, the sky is the limit. And that frees your mind to think in ways most people do not.”
Oscar had seen things in Iraq. Things that did not make rational sense. A whole squad of dead soldiers do not just get up off their gurneys and stumble into the desert night, but that happened. Oscar saw it. Nobody tried to stop them. The local Iraqis had refused to talk about it at all. When Oscar tried to get more details, the Iraqis would make a strange sign in the air and spit to one side. Some would mutter sahira or jinn and warn him off. The people of the region truly believed in magic and beings that operated outside of what rational people consider normal. He knew more had happened to him in Iraq concerning that situation, but he could not get to the memories. His doctors told him it was PTSD, but he knew better. He did not doubt he had PTSD, but this problem was not that. His mind would not allow him to remember. Just like something in his mind would not allow him to see what was going on in his neighborhood of Silent Glade, but that in itself told him something.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” Oscar muttered to himself.
He took a sip of his coffee and turned his attention back to his book, an old leather-bound reprint of “The Book of Beasts”, a bestiary of Medieval Europe. He did not know what he was looking for, but he knew he was looking for something and he would know it when he found it.
Jennifer and Dee Lapin were at Vanderbilt’s Children Hospital in downtown Nashville. The nurses prepped Dee for the MRI scheduled for later in the day. So far, the doctors were at a loss. Dee had continued to suffer small seizures off and on since she had come to the hospital several days ago. The working consensus was some form of epilepsy, but the tests would have to continue to be sure, and Dee was ready to go home.
Back at home in 012, Gerald and the other seven children were trying to make the best of it, but the backbone of this family had always been Jennifer. Gerald struggled to maintain his composure when alone with the kids for long periods of time. God, he missed his wife. How she managed to maintain all she did and still be an angel was beyond him. He could barely keep it together, much less lead the kids through their daily education. If he was not yelling at Donnie and Devan to quit fighting, he was screaming at Darla to find Little D, or Debra to stop getting distracted. How did Jennifer keep up with it all?
To top it off, Little D was not sleeping well since Dee had been admitted to the hospital, and maybe before. Gerald wasn’t sure, but he did remember talking with Jennifer about one of the little ones having nightmares. Maybe it was Little D. The poor kid thought a monster, or something, lived in the corner of his room. Gerald wished the little man could speak more clearly. He might be able to help ease his nightmare if he knew the cause, or at least the vision. All Gerald could do was try and comfort the boy as he pointed towards the corner, babbling baby talk and shaking uncontrollably. Last night Little D crawled in bed with Darla after waking up for the third time, which would have been fine and dandy had he not peed himself in the early morning. He would not sleep with Darla again anytime soon, which meant Gerald would have to bring him into his bed tonight, again.
“Please Lord,” Gerald whispered as he fought to keep his eyes open while three of the kids took spelling tests. “Let him sleep tonight. Just give me one night.”
He watched his children for a few more minutes when he decided he had to get a cup of coffee or he would be drooling on Jennifer’s planner.
“Heads down when you finish your test. No cheating. I’ll be right back,” he said to the kids.
Gerald walked into the kitchen and started the Keurig. The coffee machine hissed as the water heated. A few of the kids were giggling in the backyard. When he glanced through the window to see which of his brood were outside, something at the edge of the forest grabbed his attention. An old woman seemed to be crouching behind a tree. He could just make out her outline and her silvery white hair. A cold chill ran up his spine. Was she watching his kids? He moved quickly to the back door and stepped outside. A brief wind picked up as he strolled across his yard to confront the intruder. How dare she skulk about around his house?
For some reason as he drew closer, he still could not get a good look at the woman. Was she moving away into the woods? Gerald slowed. A headache suddenly spiked his forehead like a nail had been driven into his brain. He cried out and fell to his knees. He looked up to try to get a glimpse of the intruder before she got away, but it was like a clear shower curtain had been pulled across his vision. And suddenly, from somewhere far away, someone began to scream.