In this episode, Marlic learns of Galron’s treachery, and encounters a new horror in the black temple of the Dharin Ki.
“Watch the center tile,” Malric warned. Malric withdrew his blade, Sliver, from its sheath, expecting danger ahead.
The two thieves crept up a narrow spiraling staircase, into a corridor lined with heavy wooden doors and paved with eastern furs and weaves. They were still several levels beneath the ground.
Malric stepped forward into nothingness. For an agonizing moment he swayed on the lip of the pit, watching the carpet that had covered it fall into the darkness below.
Then he was pushed from behind. Plunging headfirst, Malric attempted to roll his body so that he would land on his hands, but he did not complete the revolution and struck the hard stone with his back.
Through the haze of his pain, Malric could see the square of light above him, and Galron’s bearded, scornful face peering over the side.
Malric could not study the bitter picture for long. Slithering through the bones and old blades that covered the floor of the pit came a much older servant of the temple, a long segmented body with countless legs that clicked over the debris as it advanced. Its hungry red eyes and slick mandibles were visible in the near darkness.
Malric sat up and fished among the garbage for Sliver, which had been knocked from his hand upon impact. The beast was almost upon him.
“By Erahorn, Galron shall pay for this,” Malric promised the dead around him. He removed a rusty short sword from the pile.
The centipede reared up its forebody to strike. Malric dodged its mandibles and thrust at the creature. The hard plates that covered the creature’s underbelly deflected the blow.
The creature whipped its long body around Malric’s legs and toppled him as he was rising.
There was an immense pain in Malric’s ankle, and he shrieked. One of the centipede’s hook-like mandibles had found purchase, and the other was greedily trying to take hold.
Malric’s arm was shaking as he raised the blade. Using both hands, he guided the tip into a groove between the creature’s head and the segment before it. He then threw all of his weight forward and down, and there was a sickening crunch as the centipede’s head tore free from the rest of the body and the sword pierced the soft mush of its brain.
Finally the heavy animal chain around Malric’s legs was still, and Malric heaved the carcass from him. Reaching down, he placed a hand on either side of the creature’s dismembered head and worked the mandible out of his ankle, tossing the eggshell skull against the wall.
The stench of the creature’s body was suffocating. Malric looked up with fire in his eyes, but Galron was gone. Malric removed climbing spikes from his belt and steadied himself against the wall before beginning his ascent. He felt faint, and he vomited into the rubbish as he dug for Sliver. He finally found the dagger and wasted no time in mounting the wall. The creature’s venom was already making his head swim.
I’ve decided to try the S&S (“Sword & Sorcery”) Fantasy genre for this month’s series.
“Secrets in Sulsut” was one of my rare attempts at this genre, and I hope it echoes some of the great S&S tales from Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber.
The protagonist is a thief named Malric living in the medieval harbor city of Sulsut.
I hope you enjoy this brief diversion into S&S!
SECRETS IN SULSUT
THE FIRST SECRET:A SECRET VENGEANCE
North of the run-down slums that lined the street known as the Beggars’ Handshake, there is a boulevard of temples and shrines known as Tin-Ka Tah, or “Walk to Stars” in the ancient tongue.
On this boulevard there is a squat, black temple of the Dharin Ki, an elusive sect who walk the streets of Sulsut in grim crimson cloaks, never revealing their features to the light. Their bodies move strangely beneath the folds of their clothing, and their steps are unusually long. In Sulsut, these worshippers and their temple are avoided and disliked by the human residents of the city.
And in this temple, under the composite shades of darkness, stalks a thief named Malric.
Guild-brother Dirk was dying. His body twitched and rocked violently in the flickering torchlight, sick with poison.
Malric and Guild-brother Galron worked feverishly at Dirk’s belt, cutting loose the small pouches of gems that had been pried from the ornaments of the Dharin Ki temple. The murderer lay beside its victim, the black exoskeleton in the region of its thorax crushed and oozing green blood. Its fly-like, multi-faceted eyes stared into an apocalypse it would never witness.
Finally the worshipper’s venom ran its course, and Dirk was still.
Malric wished that the combat had never taken place. He wished that Dirk was still alive. He wished that he was roaming the streets of Sulsut, thieving freely as opposed to being trapped in this black shrine.
Most of all, he wished that the worshipper had not thrown off its cloak before attacking Dirk. The six, many jointed appendages and the weeping antennae of the creature were the product of strong sorcery indeed.
After removing the items from Dirk’s belt, Malric removed a ring with an odd signet from Dirk’s hand.
Galron watched him curiously as he did this.
“I find this signet interesting,” Malric said.
“A minor pilfering of Dirk’s, nothing more,” Galron replied in a disinterested tone.
“Perhaps,” Malric replied, stowing the object into his pouch.
“I think that it is best that we leave this accursed place,” hissed Galron, his beady green eyes madly searching the passageway.
Their pace was cautious. It was as if the two of them moved within a cloud of silence, so accomplished were they at their craft. Tapestries hung over the doorways of the chambers that were adjacent to the corridor, undulating with the incense-laden draft, each hiding a potential adversary. Jade idols with ruby eyes stared back at them from niches in the wall. They did not stop to pry the gems loose.
Malric stepped forward and froze. The floor beneath his left foot sank just slightly with his weight, and now attempted to push the foot upwards with spring tension. Malric placed his other foot on the tile to hold it down. He motioned for Galron to step back, and then he sprang forward onto his stomach. He felt a rush of air pass by his head, and watched as a huge blade rolled overhead and disappeared into a slot in the wall.
“By the gods of Erahorn, brother, that was close!” whispered Malric.
In the closing of the story, the hedge and the man next door have been destroyed, and things in the neighborhood slowly return to normal. Unlike the unhallowed ground of Stephen King’s Pet Sematery, it was important to me to have the house and land next door restored to health once the malevolent forces had been banished.
The young couple embodies this theme of renewal, as what better symbolizes Spring and rebirth than the love shared between two people?
I hope you enjoyed this episodic adventure and stay tuned for future episodes of other stories soon.
George and Charles knew they didn’t have much time. The fire department would soon arrive, and they would ask questions.
They forced their way inside the house next door with a crowbar. It was filled with a heady vegetable stench. They found the remains of the old man in the cellar, hard and blackened as if he were mummified. They wrapped the carcass up in a blanket from one of the upstairs bedrooms and carried it out the back door and left it behind a pile of bricks in the Thomas’ back yard.
The various authorities arrived and asked about the fire and the disappearance of the old man, but the Thomas’ and Middletons’ played dumb. Late that night George and Charles heaved the hard, woody thing into the back of George’s van. They drove to a deserted road in some nearby woods. There they burned the corpse and watched as its scent of wood rot and hickory drifted through the trees. They watched until there was nothing left but ashes. Those they scattered.
The authorities came again and again, and for a short while the old man’s mysterious disappearance was a hot media topic. The woods surrounding Sun Terrace were searched extensively with no results. Finally the story lost its fifteen minutes of fame and things began to cool down in Sun Terrace.
A year later a new couple decided to move into the house next door. The woman had an interest in gardening, and discovered that the strip of land between the two houses was especially fertile.
One night in the early spring Billy was awakened by sounds beneath his window, crooning sounds of delight or relief. Looking down from his window, he saw the two lovers embracing on a blanket under the moon. He realized that his parents had been right all along.
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.
In this episode of “The Man Next Door”, Billy receives a warning to stay away from the old man, and discovers the old man’s horrible secret.
The hedge is the central device in the tale, and while growing up formed an intimidating barrier between our house and the man next door. It was extremely thick, about ten feet high, and extended all the way from the back yard to the front of the house next door.
Of course, the transformation described in the story never actually took place, but it took place in my mind. And isn’t that where all the fun stuff happens anyway?
The next week workmen came to the house next door in a battered pick up truck filled with sacks of peat moss and tanks of insecticide. Billy stopped on his way to the bus stop to watch them strap the chrome tanks on to their backs like scuba divers. Reluctantly he decided he would risk treading on to the old man’s property to talk with them.
He had to tug on one of the men’s legs to get his attention. Finally the man turned off his sprayer and pushed his goggles up to his brow.
“What do you want, kid?” he asked, his jaws furiously working a stick of gum.
“Do you know the man that lives here?”
“No, kid. Never even met him. Don’t want to either.” The man looked back at the house and then back again to Billy nervously, his eyes filled with fear.
“You his new neighbor?” he asked.
“Yup,” replied Billy.
“Well, I better warn you. One of the guys saw him once when he looked down into one of the basement windows. He thinks the old man has some sort of disease. He said he was real old-looking, older than he thought anyone should be, and he was hard and twisted like tree branches, and had long green fingers like blades of grass. Take it from me, kid, the old man is a freak. If you’re smart, you’ll stay away from him.”
The man looked around nervously once again, then slid his goggles down over his eyes and went back to work.
Billy turned away and ran to the bus stop, his heart racing in his chest as the voice of the workman played back in his head: stay away from him, stay away from him, stay away…
Billy snapped awake. At first he thought it was the wind that had awakened him, because the sound had that particular crooning quality the wind sometimes gets when it blows through narrow spaces. Then Billy heard the feeling behind the sound, and he was sure that the sound was coming from something alive. Billy pulled the covers up to his chin, and he could hear his heart beating in the near silence like a drum.
Cautiously Billy rose from his bed and moved toward the window. He expected to see the nightmare creatures of his dream silhouetted in the distant trees by a fat moon.
But the scene was not from Billy’s dream.
Tonight’s moon was a slim crescent, and nothing but leaves hung on the distant trees.
The sound came again, a whimpering sigh rising in the night, and Billy looked down to the hedge. The old man stood below, his inhuman features evident even in the darkness. He was gnarled and bent, like the workman had described. His eyes were green like unripe tomatoes; his long weedy hair and slender fingers the same color. Green, the green of growing things; just as the rest of him was dark brown, the color of earth and of wood. He was pouring the rich peat moss over his body, moaning softly like a cat.
Billy watched the dark christening from above, spellbound and unable to look away. He did not know how much time was passing, only that the old man was changing…changing into something.
The old man grew wilder, his cries now more like those of a predator, and his eyes pulsed with a fevered frequency.
Billy watched, knowing that he should get his parents, should prove to them that he was right about the old man next door. But something was about to happen, and Billy couldn’t miss it. The old man unwound his sinuous limbs from the sack of peat moss and let it fall at his feet. He became still and quiet. Then, with great effort, he lifted one stumpy leg and took a step into the hedge. The hedge parted and allowed him entrance. There was a grating creak like the sound branches make in a storm when the other leg moved forward.
Billy watched in fascination as leg became root and arms became branch. The old man uttered a sigh of final release, like the contented sigh of the dead, and Billy knew that the old man and the hedge were now one. Billy watched for several minutes more as the old man’s form slowly disappeared into the tangle of branches. Soon only his eyes could be seen, two hovering emerald fireflies trapped in a green bottle.
Please stay, Billy wished to himself, please don’t disappear. I’ve got to show mom and dad I’m right.
But then the old man’s eyes winked out like the eyes of a jack-o-lantern, and there was only a hedge sighing in the breeze left behind for evidence.
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.
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…
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.”
“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.
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.
I live in Northern Virginia, about 45 minutes from Washington, D.C. The last few weeks we’ve endured endless gray days and nights, punctuated by snow and ice storms. As I write this it is a balmy 29 degrees Fahrenheit, although for once the sun is shining.
The wintry weather has turned my thoughts to one of my great interests – horror movies. Specially, horror movies set in extremely cold climates. Everybody has seen The Shining, and while watching a maniacal Jack Nicolson bust down a bathroom door with an axe never really gets old, I wanted to visit a few other movies set in extreme conditions that may have received less recognition, but are worthy of viewing on a cold winter’s eve all the same.
I’ve picked three of my favorites, but there are many more that fall into this fascinating subcategory I’m dubbing simply as “winter horror movies” (for example, a notable omission is John Carpenter’s The Thing). For each of the films referenced below I’ve provided the IMDB link so you can learn more about these films if they pique your interest.
So, without further delay, let’s leave some bloody tracks in the snow…
Storm of the Century
Storm of the Century, inspired by a Stephen King screenplay of the same name, takes place on Little Tall Island, Maine. As the residents are preparing for a huge snowstorm, a mysterious stranger named Andre Linoge (played by Colm Feore) arrives on the island. Linoge is soon apprehended and held in the local police station after murdering a local woman named Martha Clarendon. However, Linoge is no mortal man, and remains in jail only as long as it suits his purposes. Projecting himself into the thoughts and dreams of the townspeople, Linoge soon drives the townspeople to murder and suicide. It quickly becomes clear that Linoge is more than he seems, and his repeated message of GIVE ME WHAT I WANT AND I’LL GO AWAY is soon taken seriously by the locals, who convene a town meeting to decide whether or not to give in to Linoge’s demands. There is even a brilliant suggestion that Linoge was behind the disappearance of the missing colonists of Roanoke, Virginia in the early 1600s. As is always the case with King’s work, there is much more to the story, so follow the link below to learn more.
30 Days of Night takes place in the small town of Barrow, Alaska. Barrow is inside of the Arctic circle and endures a period during the winter months where the sun is not seen for thirty days. This sets the perfect scenario for an ancient tribe of vampires that descend upon the town, taking full advantage of the month of perpetual darkness. After the initial onslaught, which involves destroying the town’s telecommunications and power centers, the movie becomes a game of cat and mouse between the vampires and a handful of survivors led by the town’s sheriff (played by Josh Hartnett). Ironically, it is the power of the sun that ultimately is harnessed and turned against the invading vampires.
Ok – I’m going to get some heat (no pun intended) on this one. Whiteout is not technically a horror film. IMDB classifies it as Crime, Mystery and Action. But sometimes the lines between horror and suspense blur, and as suspense goes Whiteout is a good one.
Whiteout follows US Marshall Carrie Stetko (played by Kate Beckinsale) during her assignment at a research base in Antarctica. It is getting close to the end of the season, and the base is shutting down and Carrie and the other residents are planning to catch the plane home instead of “wintering through” the cold season. Carrie’s plans are suddenly changed when a pilot observes a body left out on the ice mass. Risking missing the last plane home, Carrie accompanies the pilot and the medical doctor assigned to the base out to examine the remains. It soon becomes evident that foul play was involved in the death, driving Carrie to winter through to solve the case. A complex story unfolds going back to a Soviet cargo plane lost in a storm back in 1957.
Of the three movies, Whiteout makes you feel the cold most keenly, and the unusual conditions in Antarctica that result in a blinding whiteout. Although not truly horror, the killer that presents themselves as a mysterious figure in a hooded coat and ski mask is as menacing as the killer in Urban Legend that dressed in a similar fashion.
And at the end of the day, is there anything scarier than a killer wielding an ice axe?