Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Domestic Disturbance

The people who lived across the street from us were a curiosity from the day we moved in. They greeted us with apparent cordiality and openness but we could tell that there was something behind their façade of normalcy that was much more dreadful than any of the little secrets our family hid from the neighbors. Their handshakes were somehow threateningly firm and warm, and their eyes gave the impression that they were sucking your soul’s secrets out through your pupils. Though their smiles seemed genuine, the stark whiteness of their teeth always disturbed us just a little, and the longer they smiled, the more it seemed that they were not happy to see us so much as happy to have the opportunity to strike an inexplicable fear into the hearts of yet another innocent American family.

Click on "Post Page" to see the rest!

The longer we lived in our new house, the more of this new and intriguing neighborhood’s lore we learned. There were four children in the family across the street, three boys and a girl, and none of them exceptionally bright. However, they seemed to make up for their lack of intelligence with athletic ability and their father’s money. There always seemed to be a beautiful car of some sort pulling in or out of the driveway, and though we knew that the money came from the mother’s ex-husband, it was a strange fact that no one really had any idea what he did for a living, though no doubt it was one of the most lucrative businesses available to uneducated middle class men.

My brother and I were never really friends with the children across the street; the youngest was a year older than I was, and as my brother was two years younger again than me, it was unlikely that as we grew we should have much in common with them, especially since our parents decided very early on that the moral capacities of the people across the street were considerably below the standards they held us to. We were not allowed to go to the parties they held, (eventually they stopped inviting us) and after a while of careful observation of the kinds of people that would come to visit, my brother and I were quite sure that it was probably a good idea our parents had forbade us to closely associate with the neighbors upon whose house we looked every morning.

We grew, and so did the people across the street, and they became a permanent fixture in our lives, not socially, but as an example of how we did not want to turn out. The oldest brother was arrested for assault, the next oldest for grand theft auto, (though why he would be doing that was beyond us, since he could call up daddy and ask for practically any car that he wanted), and the daughter dropped out of school and had many boyfriends with whom she spent long and expensive weekends. The youngest son actually went to college, (albeit it not a very good one,) for which he received vast amounts of laudation and praise and monetary contributions from his family members. And, as he left the house across the street for college, I began my senior year of high school.

It was a beautiful year. I started it off well by being accepted early into the best college in the state, and receiving the role of Maria in the school’s production of West Side Story. With my departure from the house I had called home for so many years fast approaching, my brother decided that this was as good a time as ever to move away from being an annoying little prick and begin to act like a normal human being that I actually enjoyed spending time with. Since he was not the insufferable intellectual that I was, he reached out to me in the only way a popular boy of his age knows how: with sports; in this case, hockey. He, of course, gave the excuse that I was “a fatty” and in need of exercise, but my parents and I both knew what he was up to, and so I began to play hockey with my brother outside nearly every day after school.

We ran and dodged and passed and crashed into each other for nearly two hours every day, glancing down the driveway every once and a while at the house across the street that was now so conspicuously empty of hoodlums, except for the drop-out daughter (and her absurdly small dog), who returned home on occasion when she and her latest boyfriend had a falling out. The youngest son, away at his lower-tier college with an excellent football program, was undoubtedly getting plastered every night instead of studying for his exams; the oldest son, now out of jail and on probation for his assault charges, was shacked up somewhere in the city with his latest girlfriend, and the middle son was still sitting in a cell contemplating why he had decided to steal a car he could have gotten from his father for free. It was very peaceful. The two of us hacked away at each other without reservations, knowing that what wouldn’t kill us would make us stronger, literally, and that in ten months I was going to be living in a cramped dorm room with an unknown roommate and bad food, three hours away from the brother I was just beginning to be able to stand. His suggestions for the betterment of my hockey game were, I decided, veiled expressions of care and instruction for how to live my life away from home.

“You should hold your stick lower in your right hand when you take face-offs,” he said on occasion. Translation: “hold fast to your dreams, for they will fly away before you know it if you hold them only loosely.” Another frequently employed phrase was, “Stand with your legs further apart and your knees more bent so I can’t knock you over so easily.” This obviously meant: “be prepared to fight for what you believe in against those crazy professors who like to corrupt the minds of innocent freshmen.” And then of course, the most meaningful of them all: “Protect the puck with your life!” which clearly was a poorly disguised way of saying “Don’t give up your virginity to the first schmuck who buys you dinner and shows you his collection of vintage Pink Floyd records.”

Whatever he was trying to say, it was very evident that the hockey playing that my brother and I were doing was bringing us closer together than anything we had ever attempted to do to reconcile our differences in the past. In fact, we now were actually beginning to talk to each other about things other than how he wasn’t doing his homework or about how I was leaving stuff everywhere around the house. One Friday afternoon, out of the blue, he asked me a strange question.

“Do you know anyone who smokes pot?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, Alex was looking through Mitch’s backpack today and found a bag of weed.”

“He carries it around with him? That’s pretty stupid.” This was obviously not the response my brother had been expecting. So I gave him what he wanted.

“You don’t have any inkling of smoking it, do you? Because that would be stupid, too.” He made a noise acknowledging my wisdom and I continued to think out loud about the situation.

“Actually, that doesn’t surprise me too much. I mean, he’s incredibly hyper every time he’s over here, so he’s probably… almost a normal person when he’s stoned.” My brother laughed.

“Yeah, that’s probably true.” Suddenly, something behind me caught his attention. I gathered it must have been pretty severe because he indicated that I should stop playing hockey for a second, a request which, under normal circumstances, would most likely indicate the apocalypse. He pointed over my shoulder to the house across the street.

“Dude, look.” I turned around and saw that the youngest had returned home for the weekend during his study break, and, shockingly, the oldest brother was home as well. What appeared even more peculiar was what they were doing. After a few seconds of looking, I dismissed my brother’s surprise.

“Dude, it’s just laundry. They’re just unloading his first load of college laundry from the trunk.” But even I was not convinced. The way they were holding this massive pile of clothing was completely bizarre. It took both of them to lift it. I continued to watch. And then, our eyes opened very wide.

“Holy shit,” my brother exclaimed under his breath. He swore a lot when he was around me, but this definitely merited an expletive. Out of the strangely heavy mass of laundry had just popped what appeared to be a human arm. The two brothers, noticing the appendage sticking out, hurriedly shoved it back into the pile. By this time, my brother and I were already playing hockey again, not out of a desire to get back to the game, but in fear that, if they suspected we had seen what was in that heap of fabric, they would come into our house in the dead of night and smother us in our beds.

As a result, neither of us had any desire to sleep that night. Shortly after hearing the door to my parents’ bedroom close definitively at around 10:30, I heard a tentative knock on my door.

“Come in,” I whispered, and my brother crept into my room with as much sneakiness as he could muster in his rapidly growing gangly form. We both sat in the middle of my floor and just stared at the carpet for a few minutes. After what seemed to be an eternity full to bursting with frantic internal questions and fear of impending doom, I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“Do you really think that was a body?” This seemed to my brother’s conspiratorial young mind an infernally stupid question.

“Dude, what else would it be?! There was a fucking ARM sticking out of it! And I was watching them.” He responded to the look of alarm on my face. “Don’t worry, I was careful. They didn’t seem me looking.” I gave him an older sibling-type look. “No, really, I’m sure they didn’t. Anyway, I was watching them and they stuffed it back in there like their lives depended on no one seeing it. If it had been, like, rubber, or some shit like that, they probably wouldn’t’ve cared, or they would have, like, laughed or something. But their faces were like, ‘oh shit, man’ and they stuffed it back in with the pants and shirts like there were cameras watching them.”

“Jesus, man.” That was all I could think to say. “JE-sus. Our neighbors are murderers. JE-sus!” I just sat for a few seconds after that. “What are we going to do?”

“Do? DO?! Claire, these people killed a dude. If they find out we know they killed one dude, do you really think they’ll have a problem killing two more to cover their asses?”

“I think you’re thinking about this too simplistically. Maybe they didn’t kill him after all. Maybe it was an accident and they think they’ll be framed for killing the guy so they’re trying to hide the body and make it look like the accident it was.”

My brother looked at me like a teacher over the tops of his non-existent glasses.

“Okay, okay,” I acknowledged. “That’s very unlikely, especially considering the fact that the older one was in jail for beating the shit out of a guy. But maybe…”

“No. Not ‘but maybe.’ One of them, or maybe both of them together, killed that guy whose arm was hanging out of that laundry. There is no way of getting around that. And if they find out we saw them, they’ll have to kill us as witnesses and chop us up into tiny pieces and feed us to that ridiculous tiny dog of the daughter’s.” I look at him over the very real tops of my glasses. “Okay, okay, so they’ll probably just bury us in their backyard.” Right on cue, we heard a noise that sounded suspiciously like digging coming from the house across the street. My brother grabbed my arm.

“SEE?!?!?! They’re burying a BODY in their BACKYARD!!! How are we ever going to survive?”

“Shhh! You’ll wake up mom and dad.”

“Oh yeah… Sorry. And if they find out, they’ll immediately call the police. And then we’ll ALL be dead.”

“Louie. I don’t think you realize just how difficult it is to cover up ONE murder, much less five.”

“And you do?”

I wasn’t about to be an idiot and attribute my knowledge of the problems with crime concealment to my frequent watching of Law and Order and CSI, so I just started to pontificate about how people would notice the guy was missing and would report it, and then someone would find out that the people across the street were seen with him immediately before his death, and then one thing would lead to another and they would eventually be arrested.

“So, what you’re saying is that we don’t really have to do anything at all to get the law on them; it will come by itself.”

“Did you seriously just say ‘get the law on them’?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Nothing. I just thought it was funny.”

“You know what I think is funny about this situation?” I waited for him to tell me. “NOTHING! WE’RE GOING TO BE KILLED!” I put my face into my hands exasperatedly.

“You know what I think we should do right now?”


“Go to sleep.” He responded by grabbing his head with such fury it was comical.

“How can you think of sleeping at a time like this?”

“How can you think of using that phrase at all when you hate clichés so much?” He let out a sigh of air like a condemned man accepting his impending execution.

“Fine. FINE. I guess we can’t really do anything about it tonight anyway.” I nodded in affirmation and sent him off to his room for the night.

I was lucky I was the first one up the next morning, because when my alarm went off, I found my brother sleeping not only in my room, but curled up at the foot of my bed like a domestic animal. I shook him violently awake, as nothing less ever woke him from his practically comatose sleeping, and spoke quietly but forcefully into his face the moment he gained consciousness.

“Dude, are you serious?” He looked sheepish. “Mom and dad are definitely going to know that some weird shit is going on if they find you sleeping on my bed like a dog.”

“I must have sleepwalked…”

“A likely story. Please try and control your fear of sleeping alone in your room in the future, or go find the cat and make her protect you from invaders. She’s certainly evil enough to scare murderers.”

“True. Maybe I’ll look into that for tonight.”

“Like you would be able to get her to stay in your room without her eating you alive.”

“True again.”

“I know. I’m just a fountain of knowledge.”

“Shut up.”

“No, how about you shut up, go back to your room and pretend to sleep for the next fifteen minutes while I take a shower, and then you take one too and then we can get up and attempt to act like normal kids whose neighbors don’t kill people.” This appeared to be a reasonable plan, as he followed my orders and returned to his room.

While in the shower, I thought about the problem at hand, and suddenly, even more powerful than the fear for my own life came a very bizarre feeling: curiosity. Of course, my logical consciousness repeated to me the well-known proverb about curiosity and if it could kill an animal purported to have nine lives, then it sure as hell could screw over something with only one. But for some unknown reason, that didn’t matter to me. I actually wanted to find out what was going on across the street, to know who the dead man was, to know why he had been killed. I tried to tell myself that this was not television, that we were not detectives and that we could not simply sneak up on the house expecting no one to notice us looking into the window and putting microphones on the glass.

Binoculars were much less obtrusive. My grandfather, before his descent into alcoholic oblivion, had been an avid birdwatcher, and had spent a good amount of money on an expensive pair of binoculars, which he had left to my mother. Though she rarely used them anymore, they held a prominent place on the family bookshelf and my brother and I had no problem locating and extracting them. From his bedroom window we had a very good view of their living room-kitchen combination that went all the way through the middle section of the house, as well as a decent look into the bedrooms and garage. In fact, if we were crafty, we could even see a little ways into the TV room in the corner. Though we had lamented not having a Victorian-style house when we were younger, the ranch format of this neighborhood made it very nice and simple to spy on your neighbors from across the street.

Even with the hours we spent that day, there was not much that we found out. Overall, we discovered that their house was even messier than ours, that the primary decorating force in the house was very fond of wicker and puce-colored fabric, and that the tiny dog had the habit of jumping repeatedly against the bay window at birds. But we didn’t see any bloody knives, smoking guns, letters in large print visible through the binoculars that indicated a time and place with a footnote that said “bring deadly weapon”, or anything else obviously suspicious. What we did notice at around 1:30 that afternoon was that everyone had left the house, even the dog, carried out in the skinny tan arms of the daughter. Practically itching with a child-like yearning to explore, I attempted to pass the desire like a pathogen on to my brother, who, after a decent amount of persuading and assurance that not everyone looked at their windows at the neighbors like we did, agreed that we should actually walk over to the house across the street and unobtrusively see what we could find without leaving any sign that we were ever there.

Departing the safety of our property, we took with us a Frisbee as an excuse should someone find us creeping around on land that did not belong to us, and with the adrenaline rush that comes with both fearing your death and wanting an adventure, we crept nonchalantly across the street and into their backyard. We immediately saw where the ground had been disturbed with the digging last night, and were not surprised to see drag marks in the grass leading up to the upturned earth. Still, even with our expectations met, it gave us a horrible shiver to know that an actual person was buried underneath all that moist and grainy dirt. Still shivering, we approached the house with caution, hardly believing that we were even doing what it seemed that we were doing. Looking into the window of the kitchen didn’t provide us with much insight; there were no recipes lying out that called for human flesh, nor any notes that stated a time and place with an annotation of “Bring deadly weapon” or anything of that sort. In general, we found that we were a little disappointed.

And then we heard the sound of a car engine approaching.

It was too late to go back into our house, so we did something that we had seen on the screen and never expected to emulate in any seriousness: hiding behind the very large bushes at the back of the property. Naturally, after making sure we were hidden properly, we found a way to peek out from between the foliage in a way we hoped did not leave our shining eyes exposed. This time, the car that pulled into the driveway was the red Corvette of the older brother, shiny and almost new. As he backed into the driveway and opened the trunk, what we saw inside was neither shiny nor pleasant.

It was another body, obvious this time; no casual arm or leg flung out from within piles of dirty clothing. This was a full-fledged corpse, complete with bloodstained temple and flopping appendages. The youngest came out of the passenger-side door and looked, white-faced, into the back of his brother’s car. Then, with an almost surreality about his voice, we heard him speak.

“Man, this is crazy. This is fuckin’ crazy.” The older brother responded with disdain.

“What, you think you’re too good for this? Or just too much of a pussy?”

“No, man, it’s not even that, it’s just… you know, I’m in college, man! I’m trying to get my life together and then dad calls me up and I have to deal with this. This is fuckin’ crazy.”

“Fuckin’ crazy is what we do, lil’ bro!” He tousled his brother’s hair as if he were discussing his latest football victory. “If there weren’t fuckin’ crazy people in the world, what would all the normal people have to judge themselves against?” My brother and I looked at each other. This dude was fuckin’ crazy. Suddenly, a cell-phone rang with a loud jangle and my brother and I nearly jumped behind the bush, and then hastily squatted stark still again, praying to the God we barely believed in to help us not be seen. It was the oldest brother’s phone, and he answered it with a chest so inflated I knew without a doubt it had to be his father even before he spoke.

“Hey, dad!” There was a long silence, during which the speaker on the other end of the line spoke so forcefully that my brother and I could hear it from behind the thick bush, albeit as only a wordless mumble. He sounded angry, and the son could barely get a word in edgewise. In fact, the only complete sentence he uttered in the entire course of the roughly three minute “conversation” was right at the end.

“You’re coming up tonight?” (Some sound of affirmation coupled with anger.) “Okay.” And then, after another long tirade, silence.

My brother and I, paralyzed with fear behind the bush, stayed there for nearly another hour while the second body was buried, and the instant it was finished and the brother reentered their house, my brother and I scampered out of there through the back as fast as our legs could carry us.

This was craziness, we decided. Two bodies in under 24 hours? This was just craziness, and something had to be done. But we were too afraid, and instead spent the rest of the day looking out of the window with binoculars. That night, after our parents went to sleep, we both sat in the cushy comfort of the seat in the bay window, and promised to keep watch.

At around one in the morning, my brother and I, shamefully asleep, were awakened by the slamming of a car door echoing in through the open window. Rubbing our eyes and (in my case) putting on glasses, we were visually greeted by a beautiful vintage green Jag in the driveway. Standing next to it and arguing intensely with the oldest son was a man who, though we had never met him, we knew instantly to be the ex-husband, the father, the man who somehow was the ringmaster of this insane set of events that was shaking up suburbia (at least for those who were aware of them). His mustache, thin and well-trimmed, quivered with fury and, dare I say it, almost fear, as he spoke in no uncertain terms to the son about (presumably) how he had so royally fucked up everything. At this moment, the quivering mustache struck a nerve in my mind and I realized that this would be the perfect time to bring in the authorities. Not only were the amateurs who had botched the operation all there, but the hit-master himself was standing in the driveway, coming out of hiding from who-knows-where to belabor his incompetent sons about how they were not the ideal choice to carry on the family business.

“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?” My brother, always the cynic.

“Now is the best possible time! Look at that mustache! He is obviously someone important in the grand scheme of all things that are murder and crime-related around here.”

The facial hair finally persuading him, my brother relented, picked up the phone with shaking hands and dialed 911.

“911 operator; please state your emergency.”

“Hi, uh, we just saw our neighbors bury a body in their backyard.”

“Excuse me? Kid, this is not something to joke about.”

“No, I swear to God, and they did it yesterday too! They took it out of the trunk and started digging in the backyard and they buried it!”
“Honey, it’s late. You’ve probably been watching too many horror movies. Go to sleep, and don’t call us with any more jokes.”

“This is not a—” Click.


“They didn’t believe you?”

“How’d you guess?” He rolled his eyes.

“Let me try.” I called 911 again and prepared my best Russian accent.

“911 operator… hey, wait. Kid, we have caller ID. We know it’s you. Stop calling. Good night.” And that was the end of that. I sighed with a bit of defeat.

“You know, maybe we should just go to bed and call them in the morning from a payphone.”

“That’s stupid. I don’t think there’s even a point in calling back until we get something a little more substantial that ‘we saw our neighbors bury a body in the backyard.’”

“What exactly are you suggesting?”

Louie grinned a mischievous smile. I was not too thrilled.

“You know, unlike you I don’t have a death wish. You think spying on them again is going to get us anything we didn’t already find other than a gun to the head or a blade to the throat or a boot in the back of the neck?” He punched me playfully.

“Come on… where’s your sense of adventure?”

“I definitely have a sense of adventure. It just doesn’t involve snooping around the home of people who enjoy bumping other people off because ‘fucking crazy is what they do.’” Inexplicably, my brother chuckled.

“Yeah, that was pretty funny. I almost laughed. And then I remembered we were trying not to get caught.”

“Jesus Christ.” I had a psychopath for a brother, too. “Are you serious? You found the utter and complete mental disturbance of someone who lives across the street from us funny? I don’t know who I should be more afraid of— them, or you. Because even though they’ll be the ones doing the killing, YOU are going to GET us killed! KILLED! Do you understand what the word ‘dead’ implies? It implies that you will no longer be able to play hockey, to eat Chinese food, to ride your bike, to torment the cat, to do ANYTHING except LIE in a GRAVE and have your EYES EATEN OUT BY WORMS!!!!” There was a silence where I tried to make it seem as though I was not going insane.

My brother seemed more disturbed by my outburst than he was by the possibility that we could die. Granted, I was starting to lose it a little bit. But that was no explanation for his total lack of concern for our lives. Then again, it was two o’clock in the morning. Sleep was necessary. And so we dragged ourselves off to bed with heavy feet, preparing ourselves for the ball-and-chain combination we would have to deal with in hell, a place we would probably be visiting soon.

The next morning, a curious psychological phenomenon came to our attention. Not only had my brother’s desire to spy on the neighbors not been flushed away by sleep, my absolute aversion to exploration had actually turned to an utter and inescapable yearning for suburban espionage. The feeling was so strong that I was actually rather troubled by my nearly total support of his theory that we should spend our time on that Sunday peering into windows and even entering the structure across the street which was, of its own accord, foreboding. At this point, had we not known that the house had been built nearly thirty years before the current murderous family had moved in, we would suspect it had dead bodies in the foundations as well as in the backyard. Though many things we had once thought were totally improbable were coming to pass, we were still convinced that time travel to hide corpses was not a possibility that we needed to entertain.

Still, even with space-time bending out of the question, there were still many things for us to fear, the biggest of which was what exactly would happen to us if we were caught snooping. For some inexplicable reason, our active imaginations chock-full of torture methods from watching strange movies were not enough to dissuade us from going across the street again once they had all left again.

This time, we were not satisfied just to peek in the back window harmlessly like gardening busy-bodies. My brother, in particular, was convinced that we really needed to go into the house.

“And how exactly are we going to accomplish that? It’s not like either one of us knows how to pick locks, and they probably have some sort of home security system.”

“Honestly, Claire, who in this neighborhood has a home security system? WE don’t even have a home security system and our parents are the most paranoid people ever to walk the face of the earth. They probably keep a key under a rock or the doormat or some shit like that.”

“Oh, come on. Like people actually do that.”

Much to my chagrin, Louie reached under the gross burlap “welcome” mat and pulled out a key.

“That’s ridiculous. That’s just ridiculous.” And then, a more pressing dilemma. “Dude, we can’t just break into someone’s house like this, even if they are stupid enough to leave a key under their doormat.”

“Like anyone is going to know. Everyone’s at church right now. And anyway, like you said, they were stupid enough to leave their key under the doormat.”

“That is not an excuse! …Oi.” I grabbed my head with exasperation, but did not stop him from turning the key in the lock.

Instantly, the tiny dog started to bark. His little nails clicked on the linoleum as he ran towards us and the tiny pink bow on his head bobbed up and down with each step.

“See? The dog is barking. We should leave. Someone will be alerted.” My brother looked at me incredulously.

“Do you see this thing? It weighs less than my hand. And there is no way it’s producing enough sound to alert the neighbors, who AREN’T EVEN HOME!”

“Whatever. I’m just saying, this is a bad idea, so if we get killed, I told you so in advance.” My brother made his characteristic derisive noise. I raised my hands defensively, absolving myself from all blame. “I’m just saying….”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re just a wuss.”

“Shut it, boy.” Antagonized slightly, and in the mood for some joking, my brother turned around and put on his frequently-adopted rapper attitude.

“You talkin’ to me, bitch? I don’t put up with no shit like this, bitch.” He pushed me in the shoulders, and I, with my classic lack of balance, lost my footing slightly and knocked into the very large lamp behind me. I righted myself, but the lamp had no such power.

We watched the it fall as if in slow motion, just like in movies, and I half expected to hear my brother’s voice (sounding suspiciously as if it had been digitally slowed down) crying out “NOOOOOOoooooo….” accompanied by a futiley reaching hand. Instead, all that happened was we watched the lamp fall—directly onto the dog, who just looked up and watched his death descend. A slight crunching sound as his bones were crushed under the heavy pole of the lamp alerted us to his passing, and we stood still with utter horror for a moment as a very small bloodstain crept around the edges of the white fluff.

My brother and I looked at each other and saw an indescribable look on the other’s face which we thought most likely approximated what we ourselves must look like. Immediately, there was only one thing we could think to do. We bolted from the house and ran into our own backyard, thankfully remembering to lock the door behind us and replace the key under the mat.

Back in safe territory—if any place was safe anymore—and panting as the animal beneath the bronze lamp once had, we looked at each other yet again, and the inevitable accusations began to fly.

“You killed the fucking dog!” My brother was nearly tearful with the mixture of emotions running through his body.

“No, I didn’t kill it. That lamp fell on it after YOU PUSHED ME INTO IT!”

“I didn’t push you NEARLY hard enough for you to fall onto the lamp! God! What are they going to think when they come home and their dog is DEAD under a LAMP in the LIVING ROOM?!?!”

“It kind of looks like an accident…the dog might have just moved the carpet wrong and the lamp fell on it.”

“Well let’s hope for our sake they’re JUST AS STUPID AS YOU! That’s the worst excuse I ever heard. ‘Yeah, that fifty pound well-grounded lamp must have been knocked over by a ONE POUND FLUFF-BALL!!!!!’” He paused to catch his breath. “Jesus. This is bad. This is some bad shit.” He turned to look at me again. “NOW WE’RE MURDERERS TOO!”

“Oh, come on, Louie. It was a stupid little dog. And it was an accident. It’s not like we’re SHOOTING people and BURYING THEM UNDERNEATH THE ROSEBUSHES!”

Suddenly there was the roar of the daughter’s SUV and she pulled into the driveway recklessly, as she always did. My brother and I were frozen with fear, though not frozen enough to avoid running into the house as if we were being pursued by Jack the Ripper. Once inside, we hid in Louie’s room and peeked like toddlers between his drawn blinds. Nearly the instant we looked through the lens of the binoculars, we heard a scream that echoed as if it had come from the mouth of a denizen of the underworld instead of from between the lips of an anguished 20-year-old girl. Obviously, she had found the dog. We could see her frantically search through her unnaturally large purse for her cell phone and dial a number, speaking tearfully to the person on the other end of the line with such animation it required that she readjust her hair every three seconds. Within minutes, nearly everyone in the family had returned home to console her. However, when the father, mustache-a-quivering, pulled into the driveway, he seemed to have something else on his mind other than a dead dog. Entering the massive room that was the middle of the house, he immediately went straight to the kitchen counter that protruded like a bar. Not finding what he needed immediately, he went into a panic and began to throw everything off the counter in search of whatever it is he was looking for. I was rather concerned by this development.

“Louie, you didn’t take anything from there, did you?”

“Do you think I’m insane? The last thing I’d want to do is give them ANOTHER reason to kill us!” He turned his back to me and paced across the room in exasperation. As I caught a glimpse of his posterior side, I was confronted with something unbelievable.

Stuck to his back pocket was a pink sticky note with a few lines of writing on it in a neat and professional hand. I plucked it off and held it up in front of his face.

“This was stuck to your ass pocket. Even when you’re not consciously doing it, you manage to fuck things up.”

“Oh, come on. You can’t blame me for that. And what does it say? It might just be a grocery list.”

“Well, let’s find out.”

Written hurriedly, but still neatly across the piece of paper was “Carl Benneford, 3252 Fairway Ct. Found out about last job. Is allergic to peanuts. Will be home alone at 6:30.”

“Oh Jesus, Louie. Jesus.” There was no other exclamation that would possibly be warranted. “Okay, well, we have to call the cops now. There is no choice here. We can use mom’s cell phone or something.” My brother looked terrified and nodded in assent.

“Okay. I’ll go get it.” He sprinted from the room and I looked out of the window again, only to see, much to my utter shock, police cars pouring into the neighborhood and up the driveway across the street. Unless my brother was capable of telepathic communication, someone had beaten us to the punch. Louie, hearing the sirens, came back into the room and we watched through the binoculars, chuckling maniacally as the two sons and the father, mustache shaking with anger, were handcuffed and put into the back of the police cars.

Listening to the local news that night, my brother and I were not surprised to learn that there had been a total of 11 bodies found in the backyard during the excavation process. The tip that had led to the arrests had come from an ongoing investigation into the person killed right before Laundry Man, and the pieces had come together, resulting in the arrest of the family who ran the largest illegal car parts industry in the country. The killing had started two years ago, when an employee earning blackmail money had gotten too greedy, and had escalated as knocking people became easier with practice. Thanks to questions asked of all the surrounding neighbors, my brother and I were solely responsible for getting a police protection unit put on allergic-to-peanuts guy, and we grinned smugly about it whenever we could.

We were just beginning to sleep well that night when the doorbell rang. We answered it, as our parents were already comatose, and upon opening the door, were faced with nothing but a box on the front doorstep. We were rather apprehensive, but seeing as the entire family except for the daughter was in jail that night, we didn’t think we had much to be afraid of, so we lifted the lid cautiously.

Staring up at us were the dead eyes of the tiny dog we had unwittingly crushed beneath the lamp in our spy-like efforts. I felt my heart clutch in my chest and we looked up across the street, where the bedroom curtains hurriedly closed, hiding the frightening eyes of a young woman full of hatred.


Manisha said...

Hey Claire,

Very gripping! I liked the highly dramatic tone, it worked well with the subject matter, and the brother-sister relationship was great (I especially like when the narrator "translates" her brother's words into meaningful life lessons). One suggestion I have is to work on the beginning a little more: you insist at the beginning that the neighbors are a bad influence, but you do a lot of telling instead of showing--I'd like the narrator to see some evidence about their shadiness. I also had trouble keeping the brothers/father/stepfather straight at the end: if you put in more dialog involving them, maybe their voices would be clearer in the readers' minds? Oh, and work on the action in the scene with the dog a little more, I'm still unconvinced as to the logistics of how it died because of the lamp...

Other than that, a very enjoyable read. The dialog between the siblings was priceless!

Neil said...

I loved the tone of the banter between the brother and sister - it was very believable and added much-needed comic relief to a situation that could easily have descended into a cliche.

The ending was great, too. Turning the seemingly hapless and airheaded girl into arguably the scariest character in the entire story was brilliant, and the image of dead dog eyes staring up out of a box is incredibly haunting.

I'm not sure what the significance of the pot-smoking discussion is. The exchanges about hockey and so on made sense to me, but the bit about pot seemed disjoint from the rest of the story. I didn't see it coming and it didn't see a connection to anything else later on.

Don't get me wrong, I loved a lot of the little random details - the narrator playing Maria in West Side Story, the alcoholic birdwatching grandfather, etc. - but this uses up a fair amount of space and doesn't seem to accomplish anything.

P.S. Having read Manisha's comments, I agree - make it a little more clear just how a lamp managed to kill a dog.

Ankit said...

I also agree with both Neil and Manisha. Great story, by the way. I had some issues with syntax though. Around quotes, you seem to put newlines between the "he said"/"she said" replacement and the quote instead of before the "__ said". For instance, at:

After what seemed to be an eternity full to bursting with frantic internal questions and fear of impending doom, I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“Do you really think that was a body?” This seemed to my brother’s conspiratorial young mind an infernally stupid question.

“Dude, what else would it be?! There was a fucking ARM sticking out of it! And I was watching them.”

I would have formatted it as:

After what seemed to be an eternity full to bursting with frantic internal questions and fear of impending doom, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. “Do you really think that was a body?”

This seemed to my brother’s conspiratorial young mind an infernally stupid question. “Dude, what else would it be?! There was a fucking ARM sticking out of it! And I was watching them.”

instead, just to make it clear who is speaking.