FADE IN ON ... THE NEIGHBOUR
I’m not the star of this story – not the hero or anything; I don’t come rushing to the rescue when it looks like everything’s gone to hell and the main characters are at each other’s throats – or cutting each other’s throats - I’m just a neighbour. Well, I do rush in at the end, but it isn’t to help. Help myself, maybe. Stick with me and you’ll see what I mean.
Name’s Ian. And, to tell the truth, I might not have had much interest in what happened (and never would have believed it) if I hadn’t first noticed the monster crossing the lawn.
It was a typical summer’s afternoon during school holidays – nothing to do and all day to do it. I love days like that. I’d like to tell you I’m a big horror fan, but I’m not really – I spent more time looking at super-soap Larger Than Love and reruns of The Snoop Sisters than reading Stephen King or Cutter Cade; still, there’s nothing like seeing a Bigfoot on your neighbour’s property to shake you out of your summer slothfulness. Not that I was asleep. Just being lazy. Out on the back upstairs balcony, resting my eyes while lying on the old couch Dad loves to fall into at the end of the day while cracking a refreshing brew – then, straight away, I’m awake! I could have been dreaming … but I wasn’t. Definitely not.
Of course, your first instinct in a case like that is not to believe your eyes. You see people in the movies shake their heads and run fingers through their hair while their eyes bug out whenever they see something unbelievable – and in the soaps they turn away and talk to the other person in the scene with their back to them, voices croaking with emotion - but I just sat up, focused and froze.
Because there he was. Big. Hairy. Scary.
And approaching our neighbour Bruce Douglas’s sliding glass doors that lead into the house. His back yard’s a bit overgrown, but the Bigfoot didn’t notice. Maybe he was used to plenty of undergrowth. If he lived in the forest, shouldn’t he be more put off by bricks and mortar and glass than a bit of foliage underfoot? He wasn’t – just went up to the door, put his hands beside his head, pressed his nose against the glass and tried to stare in, like he’d been doing it all his life. Which, of course, was impossible. What did a Bigfoot know about double glazing, and why wasn’t he scared of his own reflection?
He didn’t look away, and I didn’t want to, but I had to run get my camera, and got back a minute later after rummaging in my room and leaving it looking more like a crime scene than when I started. This wasn’t going to be some dodgy mobile-phone shot. No. I framed the creature perfectly. I could see it now – “High School Boy Discovers Beast in Suburbia!” In ten minutes, I could be an internet sensation!
Not that I’m a fame junkie like a lot of kids. I don’t see myself being in a reality show or hosting a talent quest or anything – not that I’m against them, but the people who go on usually aren’t that talented or interesting. They crave the spotlight, but don’t know what to do when they get it. If you’re boring, you’re boring, no matter how many people are watching. Not that they usually watch for long. This week’s wannabe is next week’s has been, and a week after that, they’re on the comeback trail. Bruce isn’t a hasbeen, and has never made a comeback – he’s a working actor, not a star - but when he has the spotlight, he knows what to do. He was probably off doing it now on location someplace.
While Bruce might know what to do, Leon didn’t have a clue. As the glass door abruptly slid open, there was the Bigfoot, face to face – except he was a head taller - with Leon Cash, who’d been housesitting while Bruce was away. Bruce had told the near neighbours that Leon would be there, in case anyone saw him hanging around and thought he was a squatter or serial killer or both.
I don’t think I’d ever actually seen him. In the week and a half Bruce was away, Leon didn’t seem to have left the house. But I did hear the sound of typing at odd hours. Bruce might have said Leon was a writer; maybe that’s what gave me the idea of writing this down. I’m not a writer, but … what’s so hard about tapping away at a keyboard? So far as I can tell, not much. I mean, it’s not like work. They say if you had enough mindless monkeys, you could reproduce the works of Shakespeare.
I guessed Leon must be about Bruce’s age, but looked younger, almost boyish, and I’m sure there are girls who’d go for him; but I thought his narrow rectangular face looked like a blank mask of fear as he stared up at the Bigfoot, who mostly had his back to me, but at a slight angle so I could get Leon’s reaction. I guess this was what a director would call an over-the-shoulder shot. Leon is fairly tall, fairly thin and very pale, with black hair and blue-grey eyes; and right now, his eyes were wide – not bugging out – but bright with dread. My eyes must have been pretty big too, as I snapped away. Was the Bigfoot going to kill Leon? To eat him? To kill and eat him? To eat him while killing - or hang him up by the ankles, drain out the blood, and throw him on the barbecue with some salsa and soy sauce? I didn’t know. (But it might make a pretty interesting cooking show – Monster Chef). Right now, all I knew was that I had to get one decent shot.
If anyone saw these pictures, they could say it was a guy in a monkeysuit with his back to me. I could imagine some internet clown drawing a zipper up his back and sending it to all his so-called friends, hashtag fake. But I felt sure it was real. An actual Bigfoot. I couldn’t explain it any more than people can explain UFOs. All I knew was I had to get him to turn around.
I don’t remember how long I thought about it – probably all of two seconds – but in that time, the Bigfoot softly growled, and Leon’s jaw dropped. He is going to eat him, I thought, and picked up one of my mum’s potplants – an African violet - which I threw as hard as I could. I’m no athlete, but the plant did its job - it landed on top of Bruce’s back fence and shattered!
The Bigfoot must have thought a grenade had gone off – assuming he’d even know what a grenade was (not that it mattered; any loud noise would do) - because he spun around and roared! I snapped away. He roared some more.
Roar, roar. He started to dance around like a reject from Monkey Planet – which was maybe a movie Bruce had been in - then pointed up at me, slapped his knee, took his head off and roared again, only this time with laughter.
What was going on?
That was easy – I had fallen asleep – and this was a dream. It was not the kind of dream I might have liked – one starring the female cast of Larger Than Love – but it was a pretty funny one. They say you can’t die in your dreams, so I felt pretty confident observing the Bigfoot from a balcony two houses away; but what if he could jump? And what if this wasn’t a dream?
The answer to that soon became clear as, holding his “head” up with shaggy paws, Bruce shook his dirty blond hair and stuck his tongue out. In the afternoon sun, his blue eyes twinkled. There’s a reason some people are performers and the rest of us are not. They either look a certain way or have a kind of what my mum calls charisma. I’d say Bruce has a bit of both. With a bit of luck, he might land a guest role on Larger Than Love. Maybe get a love scene with Tonney Grammer, who plays the lovelorn Mink. That’d be something – to be able to tell the girls at school (especially Tammy McAlpine), “I know that guy who kissed Tonney Grammer!” But right now, Bruce wasn’t posing for a close-up … at least, not of his face.
“Celebrity stalker!” he shouted cheerfully as he turned around, dropped the bottom half of his hairy costume, bent over and mooned me!
Needless to say, I kept on snapping; this might not be Bruce’s best or best-known angle, but maybe it could give me an angle.
While the pics were printing on good Kodak paper (creamy white, not white white), I swung by the Technology Hut to do some shopping. They have all kinds of great things, and if I ever felt like working (unlikely), I’d ask for a part-time job there. If they paid me and I got a staff discount, that would be cool. By the time I got home, the pictures were ready. I put the ones showing his bare backside on top and headed over to Bruce’s.
My shoes made no sound as I walked up his front path – not that he probably had a celebrity attack-dog – but I wanted my arrival to be unexpected. Nothing moved in the shadows. There were no sounds – not even voices from inside - and definitely no typing. Any sign of the Bigfoot was long gone. The Bruce who answered the door wore bare feet, grey tracksuit pants and a white T-shirt with a faded Anarchy symbol. He smelt clean, as if he’d just taken a shower. Except for his breath – that smelt of beer.
“Ian - my favourite paparazzo!” he said, bowing. “To what do I owe the honour?”
“Thought you might be running low on headshots,” I said, offering the photos.
He looked at the top one and laughed, then turned and started down the short hall. “Hey, Leon – come and take a look at the expression on your face!”
Padding across the stained carpet, Bruce plopped himself down beside Leon and started going through the happy snaps as I stood at the end of the hall, checking out the simple furnishings – couch, two armchairs, marked coffee table, desk (none of it new) – with a sketch of Frankenstein’s monster framed on the wall. There were some pictures of Bruce in various roles he had played – detective, lawyer, hunter, killer – on the walls. There was a TV, but it was unplugged. Maybe Bruce didn’t want to catch one of his early movies by mistake. I’d heard some of them were shockers, and not in a good way.
The glass doors the “Bigfoot” had approached were behind the couch (with the curtains pulled back); there was a door to my left leading to the kitchen, and on the right, stairs going up (presumably to bedrooms and bathroom). To my immediate left against the wall was a bookcase, but I hadn’t had a chance to check that out yet. Would Bruce have lots of movie scripts, or Cutter Cade books, or Bronte classics in discount editions? (As you’ve probably gathered, I’d met Bruce but hadn’t been inside his house before).
What caught my eye was the desk – or what was on it – so much so, I ventured closer, walked around, and finally stood behind Leon’s plastic chair (covered with a towel), looking down.
Taking another chug on his beer, Bruce smiled. “Don’t worry, sport – you haven’t fallen into my hot-tub time machine and gone back to the middle ages – your eyes do not deceive you! Ever seen one of those before?”
“Don’t touch that!” snapped Leon, the only thing he had said to me except an inaudible hello. He was looking at me the way I’d looked at the Bigfoot, but with even more concentration. For some reason, he reminded me of a reptile trying to do a poo. Don’t know why. But the way he stared, I felt like I’d been caught doing something I shouldn’t, even though I hadn’t. Yet.
“I ... wasn’t going to.” I stood back in awe. I read the brand name: Remington-Rand. I’d seen something like it ... at my grandmother’s place ... and the first thing I’d looked for then was a screen. Gran explained that there was no screen – this was what people had used before computers. Like when ... dinosaurs roamed the earth?
I so much wanted to press one of the typewriter’s keys. But Leon looked like he was about to go ballistic, so I backed away. It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch, the ones the neighbours say they didn’t notice – until they cracked and grabbed a gun or a knife. By then, it’s usually too late.
“It’s nice,” I said vaguely, walking back around the desk, watching Leon become more relaxed as I approached an armchair and sank into its well-worn softness.
“Sure I can’t get you a drink?” asked Bruce. “I don’t mean beer – something soft. What are you – fifteen, sixteen? Take your jacket off – aren’t you cooking in that?”
I laughed self-consciously. “I’d better be getting back. Mum’s working on dinner.” I stood. Leon looked relieved.
“Don’t forget these,” said Bruce, holding out the photos.
“They’re yours,” I said. “Put one on your wall if you think it’s worthy.”
Bruce smiled. “Maybe I will. I don’t have any scary ones up there. Though I don’t mind telling you I’ve worked with a few scary people – real bears!”
“Mind if I take a look?” I asked, indicating the Bigfoot mask, which was sitting on the second-top shelf of the bookcase facing the couch.
“Help yourself. I’m gonna help myself to another cold one. Leon – sure you won’t have anything?”
“No, thanks,” he said, getting up as Bruce walked toward the kitchen.
I picked up the mask. Held it up to my face. I’d never seen an actual movie costume before. It seemed to have been roughly assembled and was probably cheap, but the overall look was impressive. I stared into the Bigfoot’s eyes – just two holes with fine black mesh behind them. I opened the mouth. It had plastic teeth, and behind them the same black mesh to hide the actor’s mouth. I ran my finger over the fangs. Not sharp. This would make a great costume at Halloween - I could see the world through the eyes of a Bigfoot!
Leon had no interest in the Bigfoot mask or me – he was keeping an eye on the kitchen doorway as he unlocked the desk’s top drawer. There was something stealthy in the way he did it.
I slipped the mask over my head. Perfect. I could see clearly; the mesh didn’t get in the way at all. I stuck my tongue forward until I could feel the pliable teeth. Then, taking the mask off, I reached into my coat pocket, and moments later, was replacing the head on the shelf. I angled it slightly differently, so it was now facing the couch, but would also take in the desk and kitchen doorway, and might pick up activity on the stairs. I wouldn’t know until I got home if I’d done it right; but as Bruce returned and Leon looked up nervously, I had a feeling I was in for some interesting viewing.