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?”
“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.