Ahh… the power of change. Today, 3/4/19, I was re-reading this beloved piece and made a few changes.
This particular story won second place in a contest.
I’m pretty proud of it. I hope you enjoy it too.
The Old Man
He kept to himself. He mowed his lawn. He paid his taxes. He was just odd. Something was off about him.
While he was mostly quiet, many times heavy bangs coming from his building would excite the neighbors, enticing a few to call the police. Small threats and empty promises kept the neighbors slightly satisfied and slightly displeased. He continued and we all just breathed a sigh of exhaustion. There were some neighbors you should just leave alone.
That was rather difficult for some and a more difficult for one neighbor.
“I can’t listen to the awful banging anymore!”
Her hair tickled her nose as it fell from the mess of a mop on her head. She brushed it aside and continued to gripe.
“That neighbor scared my Peaches into a barking frenzy last night. She nearly wet the bed!”
She was the type of neighbor who knew of everyone’s business. If there was anything you wanted to know, she was your gal. While the information was always skewed, the entertainment value was worth the inquiry. She was a petite, but stout woman, in her 40’s. Widowed, she lived with her small poodle, Peaches, in a simple two-bedroom ranch sitting on a few wooded acres.
She looked at her neighbor for an answer. She shrugged her shoulders.
There wasn’t a thing they could do about the noise. They could call the cops, let them threaten the old man, and then the cops tell the neighbors he would be more cautious. Bla, bla, bla… It was all the same song and dance.
“I don’t know what you think we should do, Abigail. We have notified the police before and nothing gets done. Perhaps if it bothers you so much, you should tell him to stop yourself.”
She turned on her toes at the very word. Her dog yapped at the abrupt movement. She scooped Peaches off the ground and offered the poodle some words of condolence. She looked at her neighbor sternly, and for a moment, she was back in reform school getting punished by the dean.
“Perhaps, my indifferent neighbor,” she scolded, “I will.”
She marched her little legs down the dirt road, and her indifferent neighbor wondered if she would ever see her and her yapping poodle again.
Abigail’s feet met the top of the hill. Despite her small frame, she managed to make the trip quickly. There was a sick feeling bubbling in her guts when she saw him inside the building. The sun sunk over the roof and darkness started to ooze over the trees behind her. Swallowing her fear, she stepped toward the building, dog in tow. Sensing something its owner wasn’t privy to, the dog started to growl. Abigail continued, brushing off her dog’s warning. She stroked its black, wiry fur, speaking in comforting tones. The dog continued to growl, followed by shaking. Abigail leaned her head near the poodle’s face to ease its fears. Peaches, scared of its own shadow, abruptly turned its snarling jaws and latched its perfectly sharp teeth into Abigail’s cheek. She screamed in agony, dropping her beloved pooch. Peaches ran away from the scene, yelping.
Abigail grabbed her cheek. Blood flowed down her face, onto her neck, and seeped into her freshly pressed clothes. Shocked, she fell to her knees, flinging her body from the pain. Not one for knowing how to compose herself, she wept fiercely. Dirt clung to her skin and latched itself on loose strands of hair.
“What is going on here?” The voice was low and garbled. Years of smoking left a thick film of mucus lining his esophagus. He tried to clear his throat.
“What are you doing curled up on the ground? Get up!” He grabbed her by the arm and swung her to her feet.
The pain left her and fear encased her. She stood frozen, shocked a man of his size could lift her stout body with one arm. She stumbled as she regained her bearings. He caught her arm before she fell back to the ground. His eyes made their way to her blood-soaked cheek.
“You better get that fixed. I can see some tendons.” His grey eyes met hers and she shuddered before frantically feeling her open wound. She nearly lost her composure again when she felt the sticky tendons dangling from her face.
“Come inside. I can fix you right up.” He reached for her arm. Abigail withdrew. He gazed at her, almost confused by her sudden disagreement. “You need a bandage. I have some supplies in the house.”
Abigail turned up her nose. She was in a great deal of pain, but her instant disgust of even entering such a place wouldn’t stop her from being rude. “You want me to enter your building and let you touch me! I would rather get an infection. I can manage my own body, at my own house.”
He stared at her face, watching the wound seep blood into her mouth as she spoke. Each flex of her muscle made the tendons twitch. It was rather amazing, as he wondered how she was managing to speak.
Noticing how he was intensely engaged at her misery, she stepped back, remembering why she troddled up the hill.
“I came up here to tell you to stop making all that racket. I would never have come here, but you keep managing to disrupt the entire neighborhood. Now I have this terrible issue, and my poor Peaches has run off. I ought to sue you!”
She squared her eyes with his and waited for a rebuttal. Instead, he remained mute. She scoffed at his silence and turned on her heels, making her way back home.
Abigail clenched at her cheek, trying to stop the flow of tears. Her stomach was in knots and her body trembled. Nearing the top of the hill, she started to call for her beloved poodle, but the pain in her cheek intensified, and she sobbed harder from her sudden mix of emotions. Feeling weak with exhaustion and deciding she was a good distance away from the disgusting man, Abigail started to take a seat on the side of the dirt road, but the swift end of a 2×4 against the back of her small rounded head helped her take the rest she was looking for. He dragged her to his building.
He laid her on his workbench, a long slab of wood. Blood leaked from her cracked skull. Her eyeballs started forcing their way out of their sockets as the blood pooled behind them. He looked closer and saw bits of her brain making its way onto the dirt floor. He stepped back to fully take in his work and felt a sense of pride. He was disgusted by her. She was rude, he justified. She deserved more than leaking brains.
A distant scream came from a room inside his building. He left his possession rotting on the wooden slab.
They were cold and hungry. The chains were old but strong. Each was attached to each other, chained by the hands and feet, while the main attachment roped its way through a small opening in the metal frame.
He stripped them naked and often dressed their wounds. They were always dirty; filthy from the dirt floor and their lack of facilities. The flies swarmed their bucket in the corner of the dark room. One of the girls crawled into the adjacent corner some time ago; left to decompose. The maggots had set in. It wouldn’t be long until the other girl’s hunger pangs were larger than their need to never feed on human flesh, no matter how old or rotten.
One of the girls screamed again. Her voice echoed against the steel walls. He would come. He would be angry. It was her arm that pained her. A fresh wound that grew infected. She sulked over the injury. It was purple and the blood was dark. It was the bone scraping underneath her skin, begging to be free from its confinement, that left her in agony. She kept screaming.
He flung open the door and they scrambled to the walls, hiding in the shadows. He went for her and yanked her off the floor. She fell limp; weak from lack of water and food. Her tears soaked the earth.
Her arm snapped from his grip. She let out an intense yell and they all watched as her bone finally broke through the skin. Blood dripped from her fingers. In immense shock, the fragile girl lay silent at his feet. He kicked her in the face, the top of his steel-toed boot meeting her thin jaw. It snapped and hung sideways, exposing the inside of her mouth. The girls shuttered and gasped, finding their bodies closer to the cold steel, hoping to disappear into the metal.
He left. The door slammed behind him and the girl in the corner was now a fresh meal with a broken arm and a broken jaw.
His fresh victim twitched on the bench. He walked over to the door and poked his head out for the chance of any new visitors. Satisfied he would be left alone to do his bidding, he bolted the door and returned to the twitching, arrogant, insufferable neighbor on the slab of wood.
Peaches scraped the bottom of the door leading to her safety. She whined and pleaded, barking insistently. The noise took her from the TV and out onto the lawn. She could see Abigail’s front door from her porch, making her neighborly interactions much more wretched. She despised the lady. Seeing Peaches wanting to crawl out of her skin delighted her in a strange way, but she also enjoyed the silence.
She made her way across the lawn, over the road, and onto Abigail’s porch. She knocked on the door. Surely Abigail was done cussing out the old man by now. There wasn’t an answer. She twisted the doorknob, it crept open. Peaches rushed in at the mere sound of the door swinging on its hinges. She flung herself onto her bed, shaking.
She wasn’t the one to go prying in the night. She had more sense than that. Instead, she was the type to fix things in the daylight, or not at all. Surely, Abigail would come back.
She left and returned to the comfort of her home, stopping at her porch, watching the TV flickering in the dark. She didn’t care if she saw the snotty winch at all, really. She secretly hoped the old man found a use for her like he had found a use for the others.
Her heart fluttered. It was the old man again. A smile crept across her face. She turned to look in the direction of the noise. A small glow could be seen over the top of the hill. It nestled above the trees like a looming fire. She returned to the dancing of the TV and turned up the volume. It helped muffle out the screams.