Fear Thy Neighbor – Part 4

In this episode of “The Man Next Door”, the Middletons connect with their neighbors the Thomases, and Billy once again brings up the strange man next door…

The Man Next Door – Episode 4

Billy brought the old man up at breakfast the next morning.

“Did you guys ever notice that the man next door never comes out of his house?” asked Billy tentatively with a mouth full of Frosted Flakes.

“Billy—” his father began.

“I think he’s evil. Maybe a vampire or something, maybe that’s why he always keeps his shades down.”

“Billy, we’ve been through this. That man is our neighbor, and as eccentric as he may or may not be, I will not have you saying such things about him,” said Billy’s father, glaring down at him from over the newspaper.

 “What does eccentric mean?” asked Billy.

“It’s another word for weird, dear,” said Mrs.Thomas.


“Well, I’m sorry Charles, but that’s what it means!”

“Okay, okay. That was a poor choice of words. What I mean to say is that whatever our neighbors do is their business, as long as they’re not breaking the law.”

“Is blood sucking against the law?” asked Billy.

Mr. Thomas threw down his paper in disgust and held his head in his hands for several moments. Mrs. Thomas was biting her lip, trying hard not to crack up.

Mr. Thomas looked at her with hostility then turned back to Billy.

“Let me put it this way, champ. Do you want people coming into our house and watching the way that we live?” Billy shook his head in negation. “Of course you don’t. And they don’t want us watching them, understand?”

Billy nodded.

“Good. Gotta go, champ,” said Mr. Thomas, wiping his mouth with a napkin and throwing on his suit jacket. He pecked his wife on the cheek and a second later was out the door.

“You do understand what your father is trying to tell you, don’t you honey?” asked Billy’s mother.

“Sure, mom,” answered Billy.

But Billy didn’t understand, and that morning on the way to the bus stop he was more careful than ever to stay away from the house next door.

That night the Thomases were invited to dinner by the Middletons, an older couple on the same block.

Billy wasn’t looking forward to the dinner. His father had mentioned that the Middletons were retired, and although Billy didn’t know exactly what that meant he knew it had something to do with them being old. Besides, going to dinner would mean he would have to wear his nice clothes that always made his neck itch around the collar. His mom would probably even make him take a bath.

Billy turned out to be pleasantly surprised by the Middletons. Although they were old, they had a comfortable air about themselves that was very infectious, and Billy had been thrilled to learn that Mr. Middleton had flown a B-17 in World War II.

The dinner was delicious, and Billy concentrated on the juicy strips of roast beef and the heaping mound of mashed potatoes on his plate while the adults engaged in conversation.

Finally, as the plates were being cleared for dessert, Billy could no longer contain himself.

“Mr. Middleton, do you know anything about the old man that lives next door to us?”

Billy’s mother gasped and his father sternly mouthed “No” at him from across the table.

“Now, now, no reason to be hard on the boy. He’s asking a perfectly legitimate question. Your neighbor—Judd Brown’s his name, by the way—is the sort of man who raises eyebrows. The way he keeps himself locked up in that house as if he were dead makes one wonder how he passes his days.”

“I think he’s a vampire,” quipped Billy.

“Well, now, that certainly would explain a few things,” chuckled Mr. Middleton. “He used to be a friendly enough fellow when we moved here. He was a night watchman at some museum downtown, so he would spend most of the daylight hours sleeping. He and his wife went their separate ways a long time ago, but he had a daughter who came by once or twice to see him.” Mr. Middleton shook his head slowly.

“Even back then—that was around 1965, you understand—he seemed old. Real old. I can’t imagine him now. Must be in a wretched state, poor fellow. Some of the other old timers in the neighborhood have suggested that he may have as many as a 110 years on him, but when you get to be their age you tend to get your facts all mixed up.”

Billy stared at Mr. Middleton with shocked concern.

“Now don’t you go worrying about me, Billy,” said Mr. Middleton laughing deeply, “I still have all of my functions.”

“How does he get his food?” asked Mr. Thomas.

“It’s delivered, I suppose. I’ve seen people over there mowing the lawn, so I know he’s still alive and kicking.”

“I saw him in the window,” chimed Billy.

“That so?” asked Mr. Middleton. “What did he look like?”

“He had glowing green eyes, and—”

“Billy, remember our discussion,” boomed Mr. Thomas.

“Go easy on the boy,” said Mr. Middleton. “I’m sure old Judd was quite a sight.” Mr. Middleton paused before going on. “Strange thing is the attention he gives to that hedge of his. People come over once a month to take care of it, you know, lay some new soil over the roots and such. Strange thing is, I don’t recall ever having seen it trimmed. It’s as if the hedge maintains itself.”

“Perhaps it’s a certain species that only grows to a certain height?” suggested Mrs. Thomas.

“No, I’ve seen it up close,” stated Mr. Middleton.

“It’s your run-of-the-mill hedge all right, and it should be a big tangled mess by now, unless that crazy old geezer is going out there to cut it at midnight.”

“Honestly, George!” declared Martha Middleton.

George shrugged and everyone laughed, breaking the ghostly silence that had hung over the table as George talked about Judd Brown.

Martha Middleton retreated to the kitchen, and soon emerged with generous slices of apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream. It was clear that the two families had become fast friends, and before the night was through the four adults had finished off a bottle of champagne.

Shortly before midnight the families bid one another good night and the Thomases walked through the cool summer night toward home.

Billy watched the moths congregate around the streetlights, waiting for the scolding that was bound to come for bringing up the old man next door, but somehow they reached their house and the scolding never came. That night as Billy drifted off to sleep he thought maybe, just maybe, they are starting to believe me.

Fear Thy Neighbor – Part 3

In this episode of “The Man Next Door”, Billy has a terrible dream foreshadowing the events to come.


The Man Next Door – Episode 3

The next day was Monday and Billy’s first day at his new school. He had no time to think about the strange old man with the cool green eyes (although he walked on the other side of the street on his way to the bus stop to avoid walking in front of the old man’s house).

By Wednesday he had assembled a small group of friends at school, including Steve Atkins, whom he considered to be his new best friend. Things were going well for Billy’s parents as well. His dad had been assigned a big case at the new law firm he now worked for, and had even managed to find a tennis partner. His mother enjoyed her new teaching job at the local community college, and was thrilled by her students’ willingness to learn and generally warm attitude. In fact, the first week in their new house was the perfect picture of suburban bliss.

Then Billy had the dream.

It was a Sunday night, and the breeze had picked up outside so that it covered the noise of the crickets. Billy had been tossing and turning restlessly, unable to sleep because his parents had allowed him to stay up with them and watch the movie Jaws. He couldn’t stop thinking about the poor captain, how Jaws had bit him right in half so that blood had filled his mouth. Finally he drifted off into slumber.

Billy imagined that part of the reason the dream was so terrible was that at first he didn’t know if he was awake or dreaming.

In the dream he walked over to the window that looked out over the hedge and the house next door. The moon was round and fat in the sky, what Billy knew was called a full moon, and in the tall distant trees that delineated the woods at the bottom of the street huge, hunched-over bird-creatures waited on the branches. There was no breeze, but from somewhere down below the sound of rustling leaves could be heard.

Billy looked down and saw with horror that the hedge was growing, towering upwards into the night in a tangle of vines and branches. It wasn’t growing straight up, but toward Billy. There was something underneath the hedge, some hidden form that grew and stretched right along with it.

It was then that Billy noticed the eyes, cool and green, pulsing like emeralds as they rose swiftly with the branches right toward him. Soon he could make out the rest of the old man, where his legs joined the wood at the bottom of the hedge, where his fingers stretched forth into sinuous appendages.

Silently the windows shattered. Billy screamed, but screamed silently. The hedge clutched him with its cold, oaken grasp, lifting Billy high into the night, lifting him high as an offering for the bird-creatures that no longer waited by the woods but which were spiraling downward to him, talons outstretched…

Fear Thy Neighbor – Part 2

Due to the positive feedback and interest I’ve received on Episode 1, I’ve decided to rush out Episode 2 for your enjoyment.

In this episode the protagonist Billy Thomas gets his first glimpse of the man next door.


The Man Next Door – Episode 2

Billy Thomas sighed in exasperation and set down the heavy box he had been carrying on the floor.

“I’m bushed,” he declared simply, sprawling out on the carpet.

“C’mon, champ. There are only a few more,” said Mr. Thomas with a wink.

“Geez. I never knew we had so much stuff before we moved.”

“C’mon sport. We’ll get these last few then break for some Big Macs. What do you say?”

“Great!” exclaimed Billy, his eyes sparkling up at his dad as he bounded up and down with excitement.

They walked out together to the truck.

“Damn!” exclaimed Sharon Thomas, bending down in her loose work jeans to pick up the broken pieces of china that littered the driveway.

“Relax, honey,” said Mr. Thomas as he ambled down the walk, “It’s nothing some crazy glue won’t fix.”

“Charles Thomas! How can you say such a thing! Don’t you know that this set came from my mother?”

 “All the more reason not to worry about it,” said Mr. Thomas throwing Billy a wink.

Billy covered his mouth to hold in the giggles that threatened to spill out of it.

“Honestly, Charles, that’s a truly horrible thing to say! Especially in front of Billy!”

“All right, all right, I apologize. It was just a joke. You knew I was only kidding, didn’t you Bill?”

Billy nodded and covered his mouth again to stifle another eruption of giggles.

Soon they were all laughing, and then guffawing wildly, their heads spinning with heat and exhaustion.

Charles Thomas was the first to sober up. “Okay, okay, party’s over. Let’s finish this up so we can eat.”

They all moved around to the back of the truck where five or six boxes rested on the driveway.

Charles Thomas bent down and picked up a box that had been crudely labeled BILLY’S PLAYSTATION.

“Okay, Bill, this is your Playstation. Think you can handle it?”

“Yeah!” said Billy enthusiastically, wrapping his arms affectionately around the box as if it were a family pet.

Billy stepped up the slope of the front lawn toward the sidewalk. Once inside the house he set down the box on the floor of the living room with the others. His scrawny, twelve-year old arms were aching from the labor and he didn’t want to move any more boxes, so he walked out to the lawn to look for bugs. He bent down and spied a caterpillar winding its way up a lean blade of grass.

Billy felt something on his back. At first he thought that he had been stung, but then he realized that the sensation was primarily one of coldness, as if he had been struck by an ice cube shot from a wrist rocket. Instinctively he whipped his head around.

Over the hedge that separated their lawn and the house next door, a face peered down at him from a second story window. The face seemed incredibly old to Billy, even older than his grandfather’s face had looked just before he had passed away. There was something about the eyes; they were of such an intense green, a solid green with no pupil, and they were looking directly at him. It gave Billy the creeps.

Then a long, contorted thing (Billy figured it had to be an arm) reached out in front of the face and drew down the shades.

Billy stood completely still for several moments.

Then he rushed down to his parents.

“Mom! Dad! Did you see it?” he yelled.

Charles Thomas looked up in alarm and tripped over his own feet. He and the box he had been carrying spilled to the ground and several issues of Playboy slid out on to the grass.

“Gosh!” said Billy in amazement.

Two hands immediately closed down over his eyes.

“Charles, you pick those up immediately! I hardly think the neighbors will consider your nudy magazines proper lawn decorations!”

“Yes, dear,” grumbled Charles quickly stuffing the magazines back into the box.

Billy’s mother removed her hands from his eyes and spun him around.

“Now what is it that has got you so excited?”

 “The old man next door,” stammered Billy, “he was looking at me. It was creepy!”

“Listen, Billy, that man next door is our neighbor and I don’t think he’d appreciate being called old, even if it’s true.”


“Your mother’s right, Bill,” said Mr. Thomas sternly, “remember how me and your mother had to work to get into this neighborhood.”

“Yeah, but—”

“No buts, champ. Understood?”

“Yeah,” said Billy glumly.

“Good. Then let’s eat. The rest of the stuff can wait.”

They piled into their Dodge Caravan that they had driven down to the house the day before. Soon the talk turned to fries, hamburgers and milkshakes, but Billy couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.

Finally he turned around to look at the old man’s house as they turned the corner but only the house stared back at him, shuttered tightly from the outside.

Fear Thy Neighbor – Part 1

I am excited to share one of my favorite stories I’ve written, “The Man Next Door”.  

This series of blog posts will include episodes from my story “The Man Next Door” coming out 2022 in my collection The Dark Harvest. Each month, my blog post will reveal the story in a sequential manner.  I’ll provide some background describing what inspired me to write the story and parts of my personal background that surface in the narrative.

In this first blog post, the story takes place in my childhood home in College Park Woods.  Street names and other references have been changed, but locals could recognize some of the landmarks.

As an adult, I understand that many common factors (separation, the passing of a loved one, a pursuit of a private lifestyle, etc.) can result in someone living alone, but my childhood mind was not so forgiving. “The Man Next Door” was inspired by an old man living next door to our house. Because he lived alone, my childhood imagination ran wild and attributed supernatural aspects to this otherwise normal human being. The large hedge featured in the story was present during my youth and contributed much to my childhood imagination which inspired the events that unfold in this story.

You now have some insight into what inspired “The Man Next Door” which I hope provides a focal point for my idea that evolved into this story. 

Please enjoy Episode 1!

The Man Next Door

The bright yellow Ryder truck threaded its way through the quiet suburban streets of Sun Terrace. It was an early Sunday morning in late August and most of the members of the quiet community still slept. Somewhere a lawn mower droned its way through the morning, causing some of the residents who wished to forget about the chores of the approaching day roll over and pull their covers close.

The Ryder truck pulled into the drive at 9202 Thacker Way. The occupants of the truck, a couple and a young boy, bounded out of the high seats. They were thankful that the long ride was over and spent a moment stretching their limbs and warming in the sun. The woman went up the walk to the front door of the house while the little boy and the man went to the back of the truck to roll up the truck’s heavy back door and unfurl the built-in loading ramp. The man winced at the loud sound the ramp made as it slid out on its rollers and looked around at the neighboring houses with embarrassment. The unloading was hard work, especially for the little boy, but their moods were light despite the strain on their bodies and the sweat that was called forth by the humid morning.

They were oblivious to the gnarled old man who watched them from a second-story window, and his deep-set eyes which pulsed green with a vegetable brilliancy.