The Creepy Neighbor
“I can’t see anything!” Barry yelled, angrily. He shoved me hard in the back.
“Ow, cut it out!” I said, pushing him away.
Barry toppled to the floor, scraping his elbow on the side of the living room table.
“You’re a real jerk, Anna,” Barry grumbled. He climbed to his feet, muttering under his breath as he inspected his arm. Even though he’s ten years old, Barry still acts like a baby. Whenever he doesn’t get his way, he whines. But since he’s shorter and skinnier than I am, not to mention two years younger, he’s no match for me. And today was no exception.
We’d been peering through a tiny window beside our front door to spy on our neighbor.
I ignored my brother and focused my attention on the lawn across from us.
An old man was crawling on his hands and knees in his yard, digging up huge handfuls of dirt. He dumped each pile into an enormous storage container and carried it to separate corners of his yard.
A man digging in his yard wasn’t unusual, but something about the storage container creeped me out.
A sudden breeze blew our front door wide open.
I jumped, startled by the sound. With a sigh, I ruefully went outside to retrieve more boxes from the car in the driveway.
Today was moving day and we had just arrived at our new house in Pleasant Grove, Connecticut. Our last house in Chicago had burned down in a fire. We’d lost almost everything. Our parents salvaged what they could but decided what they really needed was a fresh start.
Dad was excited we got the house so cheap. The family that lived there before had wanted to move immediately. Turns out, the family’s young son had mysteriously disappeared. They looked everywhere, but he was never found.
I felt bad for the family, but after our house fire, a new home at a low price was exactly what we needed. Plus, the extra money we’d saved would go towards the seafood restaurant my parents planned to open.
I swatted a fly off my arm and grabbed a box from the car. I continued to watch the old man move strangely about his yard. He appeared to be muttering to himself.
Suddenly, he spotted me.
I gasped and dropped the box I’d been holding. “Barry, he...he’s looking right at us!” I whispered.
My brother wiped sweat off his forehead. He put down his box. “Yeah, I can SEE that,” he grumbled. “Now that we’re outside in the open.”
I stared as the old man squinted at us in the bright sunlight.
“Hey, kids!” The old man called. He motioned for us to come over.
Barry glanced at me, shrugged, and jogged over to the old man.
My heart lurched. “Barry! Where are you going?” I hissed. That old man was creepy, I was sure of it. Who knew what horrible things were hidden in that storage container? My brother was too impulsive. It was why my parents forced me to watch him wherever we went. I was his sister and babysitter. It was exhausting.
Annoyed, I sprinted after him. Just as I reached the fence that surrounded the old man’s yard, a putrid, sour odor hit me square in the face. Phew! I thought in disgust. What is that smell?
The old man staggered over to us. He wore loose-fitting overalls and a baggy shirt. His hair was very red for such an old man. His face was masked by a thick, gnarly beard.
“Never seen you kids before. You new in town?” He was trying to be pleasant, but the words sounded slightly menacing.
My brother nodded enthusiastically. “We just moved in across the street,” he said. This is my sister, Anna.” He gestured to me, but I didn’t smile. “And I’m Barry.”
“Hi,” I finally said, feigning politeness.
The man dropped his shovel and clasped his hands together, excitedly. “That’s wonderful news! I’m Mr. Morgan.” He smiled.
I gasped. He had small, pointed teeth! I shook my head. It’s just your eyes playing tricks on you, I thought. Mr. Morgan doesn’t have pointy teeth! Still, I hoped he wouldn’t smile again.
Mr. Morgan cleared his throat. “That house has been empty for a while now. The family before you had some kind of tragedy. You hear about it?”
“Yeah,” my brother said. “Our dad told us their son vanished into thin air!”
A shadow of a smile briefly flicked across the old man’s face.
I felt a shiver run down my spine. Don’t be silly, Anna, I thought. This old man is harmless. Crazy, maybe, but harmless. I tried to push my feelings of unease aside.
Mr. Morgan pulled at his thick beard, as if lost in thought. Then he snapped his fingers. “Once you get settled in, I recommend going to Purple Lake.”
Barry and I glanced at each other.
“Purple Lake?” I asked.
Mr. Morgan nodded his head. “That’s its name, but the lake isn’t really purple. Some kids painted its sign purple, so the name stuck. I like to take walks down there. It’s too hot during the day, so I only go at night. You’re welcome to join me and my dog, Tuck, anytime.”
“Thanks for the offer,” Barry chirruped, trying to sound enthusiastic.
A sudden sound made me turn. A boy sped past us on a bike. He was around my age with wavy, dark hair. He grinned at me.
I sighed in relief. There was at least one cute boy in this town.
I stole a glance at Barry. Thankfully, he hadn’t seen the boy on the bike, or he would have pointed out my bright, red face.
I squinted back at the old man’s yard. There were large mounds of dirt piled haphazardly around the lawn. What could he be doing with all that dirt? I didn’t see any flower or vegetable seeds that would suggest a garden. The mounds were also too large.
The old man followed my gaze. “I hope you don’t mind the mess. An old guy like me needs exercise. So, I dig. It’s what I like to do.”
“Are you planting anything?” Barry asked, studying the yard.
“Nope, just digging,” the old man said, as if that was normal.
Just then, I heard, “Anna! Barry! Come help us with all these boxes!” I recognized my father’s voice. I turned to see him waving at us from the front door.
Barry spun around. “Sure thing, Dad!” he called. Barry gave a slight, polite salute to Mr. Morgan. “We gotta run.”
The old man became agitated, but then his smile returned. “Sure, sure, all right. You both run on home.” Mr. Morgan trudged over to a corner of his yard, heaved a heap of dirt into a red wagon, and dragged it to the back of his house.
“Wow, that guy is WEIRD,” Barry muttered, heading home.
I had just started to follow him, when my eyes landed on something grotesque in the old man’s yard. I sucked in air, too shocked to move. Poking out from under a matted clump of dirt, was a human hand!