New Neighbors

“So, what do you think?” their realtor asked.

“I love the skylights in the master and the front room. And the built-ins are exactly what we were looking for.” Lily gushed.

“Kitchen’s a good size,” her husband said.

“Kitchen is a great size,” she nudged him.

“This neighborhood does feed into Rudolph Elementary,” their realtor said. “Test scores were top ten in the state.”

“It’s perfect but,” Lily peered out from the covered porch of the bungalow. “Everything else looks kind of, well, dead.”

“It is mid-October,” the realtor said. “Salem Street is the oldest in town, but the city just put in a new waterline last summer. Plus, this is the first house to come to market on this street in the last two decades. The sellers are incredibly motivated.” She flipped over her feature sheet. “If you’re on the fence, the owners would be willing to let you spend the weekend in the house.”

“Really?”

“Of course. Get to know the neighbors, get a better feel for the house. There’s rain in the forecast for Friday night. You can see how water tight the basement is.”

~*~

On Friday evening they brought their own trash bag and ate takeout on paper plates to avoid making a mess. The house was empty save for a few pieces of furniture and the kitchen appliances.

“I love this house,” Lily said as they sat on the deck watching the sunset. “It’s just the neighborhood is odd.”

Her husband shrugged. “It looks alright. It’s clean. Aside from some broken down driveways and an abundance of overgrown ivy, it appears safe. There’s been only one break in within the last ten years.”

“Which house?”

“Next door. Number 17.” The houses on Salem Street were all odd numbered. Theirs was number 13. The one across the street, number 15.

“Did they catch who did it?”

“They found him. Apparently the kid was allergic to cats and went into anaphylactic shock when he came in contact with theirs.

She made a face.

“Cat made a meal out of him.”

“Oh, stop!”

He laughed and nuzzled into her, nipping her neck. “I’m teasing but he may have had a couple bite marks.” He clicked his teeth. “Let’s go inside.”

Thunder rumbled in the distance, growling out its ill-intentions to bring about the next cold front to plunge them into increasingly miserable weather. The shorter days were bad enough but at least they had been warm up to this point.

The previous owners left their king-sized bed. The mattress was covered in plastic so they laid their sleeping bags on top and settled in. They kissed goodnight and his hand went under her shirt.

“We can’t,” she said. “This isn’t our house yet.”

“Yet,” he slipped her shirt up over her head. “They won’t know.”

“You’re so bad.”

“I know.”

~*~

The storm rolled in fast — rain coming down in an angry deluge. Lily laid awake listening to the thunder when the lightning flashed, illuminating the outline of a figure peering down through the skylight.

She sat up in the dark and the lightning flashed again.

There! A boy or teen. On the roof, staring down at her. The next flash and he was gone.

She shook her husband awake. “There’s a kid on the roof.”

“What?” he mumbled.

She flipped the light switch but the lights didn’t come on so she grabbed one of the flashlights they had brought with them and rushed into the kitchen to peer out into the yard.

She shivered. It was suddenly cold and the rain seemed so close. So clear was the sound of it hitting the pavement.

She crossed the kitchen to the stairs leading to the outside and the basement and found the door open. Rain was coming in through the closed screen door. She crept down the stairs and found the lock on the screen door was engaged and the screen appeared to be intact. She flashed the light down into the basement, illuminating paw prints on the steps.

A light fell across her and she jumped.

“Did we leave the door open?” her husband asked.

“I can’t remember. I think a cat might have gotten in.”

“You wanna check?”

“After you,” she teased.

He squeezed passed her and they descended into the basement illuminating the brick walls.

“So far so good,” he said. “Hey!” He pointed to the basement window. There was a girl peering in at them. She waved, unsmiling. They waved back. She pointed to the side of the house.

They went back upstairs and found a black cat pawing silently at the door. He peered up at them and let out a frustrated meow.

“How did you get in here?” Her husband reached down to pat the cat on the head. The cat sniffed his fingers then flayed open his wrist with his claws. “Shit!”

“He likes you.” The girl was suddenly at the door. Dressed in all black with a black umbrella, her hair was the liveliest thing about her – a chamomile yellow.

“You’re kidding?” He wrapped his wrist in his shirt, the blood soaking through.

“It’s rather late for you to be out. Do you live nearby?” Lily asked as she pushed open the door to let the cat out.

The girl picked up the cat as he swished her legs. “Thank you,” she said as she turned to go.

Lily was about to stop her but her husband called from the kitchen. “I need the light.” She locked the screened door and closed the inner door making sure to engage the deadbolt before going upstairs.

He was holding his hand under the running water. She held the light over the sink and they both gasped. Rust colored water was pouring out staining his skin brown. The faucet coughed, sputtered, and the water cleared.

“When was the last time you had a tetanus shot?” she asked.

“That’s the least of my concerns,” he said. He rinsed the cuts for fifteen minutes before letting her wrap it in a makeshift bandage of paper towels.

“Do you want to go to the hospital?” she asked.

“Right now, I just want to go back to bed,” he said. “I’ll check on it in the morning.”

~*~

The next day, Lily walked around the neighborhood. It was wet and the air was crisp with the promise of an icy winter. The windows of the other houses were dark. Some looked like they were depending on the ivy overgrowth to remain standing. She followed the crooked brick sidewalk, careful not to trip over the raised roots of the ancient trees, stripped naked, their leafy clothes strewn in the street and yards.

She returned to the house for breakfast and to check on her husband who remained in bed.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?” she asked as she felt his head.

“I’m fine. I’m getting up.” But he didn’t seem keen on the idea as he stumbled to the bathroom and turned on the shower. She stood in the doorway. The discarded bandage was on the sink, splotched with blood. She picked it up. Through squinted eyes, it looked almost like the silhouette of a cat.

Around 10 am, they walked to their future neighbors’ homes to introduce themselves but no one answered their doors.

“Maybe they’re at work?” her husband said. His face was flushed.

“On a Saturday?”

They sat on the covered porch listening to the leaves as the wind chased them into the street but mostly watching for movement. One car came down the street, turned around, and slowly drove by the bungalow.

“The sign is still up,” her husband murmured.

They went out for lunch. Her husband took one bite of his food and excused himself. His food remained untouched for the rest of the meal.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

They returned to the house and he laid down as she roamed the house, trying to imagine where things would go – their couch, his home office, the stained glass pieces she created at the glass shop.

She check on her husband again before eating dinner on the deck alone, watching the sun melt into a watery yellow.

“Hello, neighbor.” There was a man standing on the deck of the house next door; hair a nest of chamomile curls.

Lily came off the deck and met him at the fence. Hello, I’m Lily.”

“Lily, Lily, the daylily,” he sang and she could feel heat on her face. “Bartholomew, but that’s quite a mouthful. Bart is just fine,” he didn’t reach for her hand. “I heard my son snuck up onto your roof last night.”

“I saw him through our skylight. I was afraid he’d fall in the rain.”

He laughed. “He’s a climber but he’s harmless. Mostly. Why don’t you come over?”

Lily turned back to the house. It was late and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to get her husband up and coherent enough to socialize. She slipped through the side yard and Bart opened the gate for her grasping her hand in a firm handshake. The air took flight from her lungs. His hand burned like ice.

He didn’t appear to notice as he guided her through the overgrown grass up the stairs to his deck. She hadn’t realized there were others outside. An elegant woman on an uncomfortable looking chaise lounge of wrought iron extended her hand to her. “Circe,” she murmured. Her touch was light perhaps aware that it burned just as much as his. “And our twins – Emerald and Daimon.”

Emerald, the girl, was seated at the table and gave her a curt nod. Daimon jumped down from the roof, startlingly her. He took her hand and kissed it as he bowed. His mother batted him away. “That’s enough, Daimon.”

Lily pulled her hand away. In the fading light, a gem of red welled up from one knuckle.

Bart pulled out a chair for her. “So, when did you and your husband move in?”

“Oh. We haven’t. Yet. We’re spending the weekend in the house. A try-before-you-buy.”

“And what do you think so far?”

“It’s very quiet.”

“That’s what sold us,” Circe said. She dipped into the house like a liquid shadow and returned with a set of dishes.

Lily waved a dish away. “I’ve already eaten dinner.”

“It’s not dinner. It’s breakfast,” Daimon said matter-of-factly.

“That’s alright,” Circe said as she set a plate in front of Lily.

The twins were staring at her. “So, what do you think of the school?” Lily asked them.

“We’re home-schooled,” Emerald said.

“Home-schooled?”

“The school system doesn’t fit our schedule,” Circe said.

Bart came out and set a platter on the table with what appeared to be black hard-boiled eggs and some kind of meat smelling strongly of sulfur and ammonia. “In the center is clotted cream,” he said as if it was the only thing that warranted an explanation.

The black cat appeared on the deck railing the moment cream was uttered.

“And you’ve met Sylvester.”

“We have. He did a number on my husbands arm.” Lily looked down and found that a halved egg, serving of meat, and a smear of cream had appeared on her plate. She looked up and caught Daimon licking his fingers.

“He must have liked him a lot,” Circe exclaimed.

Sylvester hopped down and swished Lily’s leg and purred. She tried to angle herself away from it’s touch when she felt something sharp puncture her jeans.

“I should go,” she stood up abruptly. “Thank you for having me. Have a good night.” She missed the first step and caught herself on the railing. Before slipping through the back door of the house, she spared a glance back and saw they were all seated. Watching her.

She ducked into the hall bathroom to avoid waking her husband and showered before changing into her pajamas. When she went into the bedroom, she found the bed empty. She flicked the light switch on.

The bed and their blankets were shredded. The pillows mutilated and painted with blood. Cotton stuffing and bed springs littered the floor, sticking to the bloody footprints that left the bedroom and went to the hall. She followed them and saw they disappeared at the front door which clung to one hinge. The storm door was torn off it’s hinges and crushed on the front porch.

She turned in a circle, unsure of what to do. A tapping redirected her attention to the skylight above. Bart smiled and waved pointing to the front of the house.

She stepped out onto the porch, glass shards cracking under her slippers. Bart stood at the end of the stairs. “Now I know where your son gets it from,” her voice cracked.

“Guilty,” he smiled, showing all his teeth. “May I come in?”

He’s alright. He’s exploring the night. The thought bloomed in her head and it made a certain sense even though she didn’t fully understand. She nodded.

“Lily, Lily daylily,” she shivered when he sang as he floated up the stairs. “Don’t be scared. He’ll come back to you.” He enveloped her in a friendly embraced, his breath like winter’s air on her neck. “Let’s have you ready for him.” And winter’s ice pierced her skin.

~*~

The For Sale sign had been down for ten months. Lily and her husband sat on their front porch watching the sunrise between the trees. It would be time to go to bed soon. The baby in her arms growled when she pulled him away from her breast and he climbed to her shoulder, fist over tiny fist, to be patted.

“He’s got nails like his father,” she teased her husband as he took her hand in his, the claws receding as the sun became stronger.

A car crawled down the street before pulling up onto the driveway of house number 11. A woman got out and retrieved a feature sheet from the box set up next to the For Sale sign.

“Hm… new neighbors,” he purred before they retreated inside.

~*~

A/N: I had a strange dream last night. My husband and I were offered the opportunity to spend the night in a house we were considering but it was in a creepy neighborhood and none of the neighbors were out during the day. In the middle of the night, I woke up to see a kid peering through the skylight with a flashlight. We went downstairs (for some reason) and saw a neighbor through the window and another when we went outside.

A mild nightmare possibly brought about by too much blue cheese and my friend’s story of someone trying to break into her apartment while she was sitting inside.

I’m not very skilled at writing horror but it holds a special place in my heart. When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be a horror writer. I was a big fan of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, hence the Salem Street.

~*~

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