Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Flash Fiction Friday, Week 23: All that Glitters...
The prompt this week was about moving in to the home of our dreams that’s located in a picture-perfect neighborhood. The catch is, we have a nosy neighbor. Well, here’s my side of the story. I learned the hard way that appearances can be deceiving.
All That Glitters…
Whoever said that if something looks too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. Maybe I don’t have all the words right, but you get the idea. When I bought this house, it wasn’t just the house I was buying – it was the neighborhood and especially, the neighbors. On the corner of my new street is a lovely two-story home with a well-kept yard. Its occupant is a 74 year old widow who wanders the subdivision chatting to herself. She bothers no one though, and after a couple of trips around the block, goes back into her house. On the other side of me is another charming dwelling, with a large vegetable garden in the back. That house’s resident is a 72 year old widow who still drives herself to and from town, tends her garden and maintains her own grounds. The lady also runs a Bed and Breakfast to bring in some extra cash to supplement her Social Security.
How do I know all this? I do my research. I need to know who might come knocking on my door in the dead of night should the neighborhood’s power cut out in a storm. I’m living between two elderly ladies who are capable of taking care of themselves, so my days should be uneventful and my nights calm and restful. Right? Remember what I said about something looking too good to be true? Well, I’m living proof that that’s a fact.
From the minute I moved in, the 72 year old, a Mrs. Delaney, watched me like a hawk. She opens her curtains wide and there she stands, binoculars fixed on my property. If she was out weeding or picking veggies, every so often, she’d raise her binoculars and train them in my direction. She watched me leave, she watched me come home, she watched me mow my lawn, and she watched me get my mail. I felt like the headliner in one of those reality shows, only I wasn’t getting a dime for my trouble. I had blinds installed on all my windows and heavy curtains over them and kept them shut 24 hours a day, but it didn’t help my nerves. I knew she was standing there at her window, binoculars up, watching and waiting. But, for what?
At first, I figured perhaps I resembled a grown son who had moved away or maybe I even looked like her dead husband when they had first met and fallen in love. While that’s all very sweet and sentimental, she still creeped the Hell out of me. I want to point out that I’m no kidnapper or Satan worshipper. I have no skeletons in my closet, real or rhetorical. I’m a copy editor, who used to live in the city and worked for one of the biggest newspapers in the state. Even though I’m nowhere near retirement age, I got tired of all the rushing and the rudeness of big city life. I sold my condo, bought a house in this quiet little town, and got a job with the local press. My savings, investments, and IRAs helped to supplement my salary and I was looking forward to noise- and crime-free living.
Well, my house is perfect, the area is beautiful, and several ladies from town brought me casseroles and pies on the day I moved in, so my dream for a peaceful way of life came true, except for one thing. In addition to all the above, I also have my own personal stalker. Yep. Mrs. Delaney was not just a peeper. When I turn around in the grocery, there she is at the end of the aisle. Sitting at a table in the park to have my lunch, she’s three tables away having hers. Watching. Always watching. I decided something had to be done, and soon. Today.
Last night, I noticed a man checked in to her Bed and Breakfast. I slept in this morning to give him time to have his morning meal, call a taxi and continue on. By noon, Mrs. Delaney should be alone and ready for me to burst in and confront her. I was determined to find out why she was so obsessed with me and more to the point, what were her intentions? Was I to be invited over for coffee and cake that was drugged with sedatives to render me helpless so she could carve me up add my feet to her stew pot along with her homegrown carrots and onions? Okay. Maybe not that, but still. There was something she wanted from me or to do to me and I had to find out the truth. I felt like an animal caught in a trap, but this creature was not going down without a fight.
I snuck around the back, thinking I would climb in one of her basement windows, sneak up the stairs and startle the daylights out of her while she sat in her kitchen. When taking on the enemy, best to do it by surprise – you know, so you have the upper hand and all that. But, when I knelt down and looked through the window, her basement light was on and it appeared as if she was dragging a body down the stairs. What the…? I went around the front and tried her front door. It was unlocked and I let myself in. I made my way to the door to the basement and called down to her.
“Mrs. Delaney, it’s me, Robert. Robert Janson, from next door. Is everything all right? Do you need some help?”
Her response startled the daylights out of me.
“Yes, hon, could you give me a hand? I need to get Mr. Horace into the acid before he starts to smell. He’s been dead since early morning and he’s beginning to ripen. Grab hold of his feet and help me get him down the stairs, will you?”
For 72, this lady had some muscles on her.
So. It was Mr. Horace’s feet that were going to end up in her… Did she say acid? Oh God. I grabbed the man’s feet and helped her carry him down the stairs. When I saw his face, I recognized him as last night’s Bed and Breakfast guest.
“What happened to him? Did he have a heart attack?”
“Oh, no, hon. It was the poison in his cocoa. A couple sips and he was gone. I cleaned out his wallet and now I need to get him out of my way. I’ve got a lady coming to stay this evening. Help me get him to the cellar door. I’ve got a vat down there filled with acid and that’s where I put them. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly they disappear in there.”
“Who ‘they’?” I had to know.
“Why, my guests, hon.” Her tone was calm and even like she was forecasting a clear and sunny day on the Channel 13 news.
“Mr. Delaney didn’t leave much insurance, so I have my guests come and stay the night. If I have enough to cover my bills for the month, I just let them go on their way. If I’m short, I mix some poison in their morning cocoa and take their cash and Traveler’s Checks. No one comes looking for them and even if they did, no one’s going to look in an old lady’s cellar, are they?”
Is this what she planned for me too?
“Is that why you watch me and follow me around? Are you planning to stash me in your cellar vat too?”
When she smiled, a cold chill ran down my spine.
“Hon, this is a small town. We’re bound to run into each other here and there. Besides, I wasn’t watching you. I was watching Lydia, the lady who lives on the corner. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be and that’s why I use my binoculars. I know she steals tomatoes from my garden and I’m determined to catch her. That’s why I watch her day and night. Could you keep an eye out too and let me know if you see her in my garden? She wanders around at all hours and if I’m asleep and you see her taking some from my garden, will you call me and let me know? When I catch her, I am going to give her what for.”
I’ll just bet you will, lady.
“Um, sure.” I didn’t know where to go from there. After all, I’d just helped her dump a body into a vat of acid.
“I guess I’ll be going now, unless you need help with something else.”
“No, hon. I’m fine now. Enjoy your Saturday.
“Yes, ma’am. You too.”
My house in Little-Old-Lady-Land goes on the market first thing Monday morning. This small town peaceful life is way overrated.