In this episode of “The Man Next Door”, the story reaches its fiery climax. Just prior to the action, the stresses of a new job and new home have formed cracks in the Thomas’ family life, as if the malevolent energy of the hedge had crept into their home as well.
Please continue to follow my blog after this post, as there will be an epilogue to the tale posted as the final episode.
Billy awoke to the sound of his parents arguing.
By the time he reached the kitchen he knew what the fight was about. His dad had lost the case, his first court case in the new town where he had something to prove.
It always hurt Billy to watch his parents fight, but this morning his excitement about the old man and the mysterious hedge numbed the hurt.
“Calm down, Charles, Billy’s probably up. It’s not good for him to hear us fight.”
“I don’t give a damn about—” Billy’s father cut off the words as he noticed Billy entering the kitchen.
“Dad?” asked Billy meekly.
“Yeah, what’s up, champ?” replied Charles, forcing a smile.
“I saw something last night. Something scary. It’s about the old man next door! He goes into the hedge at night, and his hair becomes leaves, and his legs branches!”
Billy’s father broke into a fit of maniacal laughter.
“You know what, champ? I was just telling your mother that part of that hedge is on our property, and that I was going to use my day off to cut it down.”
“Please, Charles, that man has never done anything to us,” pleaded Sharon Thomas.
“Two against one. I want it down. Billy wants it down. Majority rule,” he replied snidely.
“Let’s burn it down. We have to kill it!”
“We’ll start with trimming it, champ. We’ll see how it goes from there. Who knows?” said Billy’s father, staring defiantly at Sharon. “Maybe we will burn it down.”
“Go to hell, Charles,” she said coldly, and stormed upstairs.
Outside the sky was grey as slate. Mr. Thomas went to the shed and brought back the clippers.
“Do you want to do the honors, sport?” asked Charles, playfully snipping the clippers in the air. Billy backed away from the hedge. He could feel that it was alive, sentient.
“Okay, here goes nothing.” Mr. Thomas raised the clippers and approached the hedge. He clipped off a thin branch and a high-pitched scream arose from the interior of the shuttered house next door.
“What the hell?” muttered Charles, stepping back from the hedge in confused awe.
Suddenly the hedge came to life, its limbs lashing out like whips and wrapping around Billy’s father. A vine snaked around his neck. Billy’s father dropped the clippers and struggled to get his fingers under the vine.
Billy sprang to the ground to retrieve the clippers. A searing pain erupted from his ankle where a thin tendril had begun to gouge its way into his flesh. Still he groped for the clippers, and almost had them, when a thick branch coiled itself around his torso and began to drag him toward the interior of the hedge where hundreds of quivering vines awaited him.
His father fell to his knees, and the veins on his forehead stood up on his blue face. Tears sprang hot on Billy’s eyes as he desperately tried to free himself. Dozens of the vines had latched themselves on to his thin body, and a thick branch danced in front of his face, waiting to lock around his neck.
Amid the chaos Billy heard the screech of tires on the pavement. As he was drawn toward the interior of the hedge Judd Brown’s gnarled face filled his vision, and the pulsing eyes pulled him forward with their gaze.
Suddenly the face stretched into a scream, an ear-piercing shriek like that of a thousand dying gulls wheeling into a storm-riddled sea. Then it faded in its agony. The smell of smoke filled Billy’s nose and he looked around in amazement as the vines and branches reluctantly loosened their hold.
George Middleton stood in front of a blazing section of the hedge, shaking the last oily drops out of a gasoline can. His eyes were the eyes of a warrior, not the eyes of an elderly man who told old war stories from his rocker. Billy finally shook off the last pieces of growth and ran over to assist his father. Once free they walked over to stand next to George, content to say nothing, content to watch it burn.