Warning: The following story may contain offensive material.
The thudding next door continued for the seventh night in a row. My wife lay next to me eyes open, staring at the ceiling.
“This can’t go on Beth,” I said.
“There’s nothing we can do,” she replied, turning her silver head towards me.
“Why are they working after god forsaken nine o’clock?”
‘They don’t have time during the day, they’re working,” said Beth.
“Why is that my problem?”
“I don’t know Neil.”
I dove under two pillows and pressed them down around my ears. It only dulled the sound of hammering. I erupted from my cocoon and tossed the pillows aside.
“You know what? I’m going to have a word with them.”
I climbed out of bed and stood up in my tartan shorts and white singlet.
“They’re disturbing the whole of Trentham, and us especially.”
My throat clutched and a coughing fit took over. I shook it off.
“Honey, you already called Noise Control, and they said it was below the threshold for them to act upon.”
‘I don’t believe that for a second. He works for the Council; he’s got them under his thumb.”
I pulled up a pair of khakis and tightened my belt.
“I’m just going to have a word Beth. Maybe they’ll listen to old fashioned reason. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll have something I like to call human compassion.”
I slipped on a pair of tatty brown slippers and left my neat little house. The noise got louder; a screeching of metal belonging to what could only be a circular saw.
Grumbling I strode along the cobbled path between my freshly cut lawn on either side. The lights were on next door and a white van was parked outside with its boot open, long planks of wood jutting out the back. I marched up the steps to the garish, peeling green door. They should just tear the whole eyesore down, but not while my wife and I are trying to sleep. I rasped my knuckles on the door, harder than they could take. I clasped my hands together and gritted my teeth as someone came to the door.
It opened to a thirty-something yokel in a white singlet, a lot grubbier than my own, blocking the light from inside. He had a crop of short blonde hair, and a pair of ear muffs hanging around his neck. In one hand he clutched a scrap of wood.
“Listen here, my wife and I are trying to sleep next door. It’s after nine for goodness sake. You have been at it all week.”
The wretched man simply shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m sorry gramps, have you heard of ear plugs? Actually shouldn’t you be hard of hearing at your age?”
My chest boiled over. “Have I heard of ear plugs?!”
The yokel began to close the door. I shot a slippered foot inside. He stopped.
“You might wanna move your foot, gramps. I don’t wanna shatter any bones. God knows you’re fragile.”
I removed my slipper and the door slammed in front of me. I marched off to my house and slammed my own front door in retaliation. He did not hear it; the sawing had already recommenced. Defeated, I climbed back into bed. Beth’s eyes were closed and she was already lightly snoring. That, I didn’t mind. It was almost soothing, but it didn’t help. I could not sleep with that yokel next door playing with his power tools.
The next morning I slipped out of bed. The kitchen called to me. In a daze I paced up and down the kitchen pulling out implements, laying them on the counter. My heart raced as I looked upon a stainless steel butcher’s knife, a sealed ziplock bag of green 1080 pellets, a rolling pin still dusted in flour, and a greased cast iron pan. Was I thinking this through? This was a path with no return. I shut the whimpering voices out and turned the oven dial to 180 degrees; Bake.
Hours later Beth came into the kitchen in a fluffy pink dressing gown as I lifted the muffins out of the muffin tin and lay them to cool on the wire rack.
“Mmmm they smell good,” said Beth reaching for one of the freshly baked cheese muffins.
I pushed her hand away. “No!” I barked. “These are for our neighbour next door.”
Beth was taken aback, but smiled. “Did you two make amends?”
“Not exactly,” I said, keeping my eyes on the muffins. “But I do want to extend our greetings, a welcome to the neighbourhood. That’s what good neighbours do.”
“Let me help,” said Beth.
I waved to the table where I had laid out a basket and coloured paper. Truth be told, I left it out for her. I wasn’t in the mood for ‘arts and crafts’.
We stood on our neighbour’s front steps and the yokel opened the door. He was now wearing a suit and tie. He shot a filthy look at me. Beth produced the basket of cheese scones sitting on a bed of red and white frilly paper. His expression changed.
“We would like to officially welcome you to the neighbourhood,” said Beth.
“I’m just about to head out, but I’ll take one for the road,” he said hungrily.
Beth took the basket back. “They are better when they have cooled,” she said. She glanced at me and I nodded. He reluctantly put the basket down inside.
“I’m Jake, and you are?” he asked, extending a hand.
Beth shook his hand gently. “Beth, and this is my husband Neil.”
Reluctantly I took his hand firmly and forced a glimpse of a smile. It was painful.
“I’m sorry about all the racket. With this job,” he gestured to his suit, “I don’t have much time for renovations.”
He closed the door behind him saying, “I have to go now, but thank you for the muffins,” and passed us to get to his van.
I walked Beth back to our home while the white van trailed down the street, its exhaust huffing grey fumes.
I sat outstretched in my armchair with a newspaper and the telly on, keeping an eye on the street outside. Finally the white van chugged up beside the curb and Jake opened his boot for more building supplies. “An empty apology,” I scoffed. Beth looked up from her historical romance novel, peering over her reading glasses. “What was that?”
“Nothing dear,” I said, returning to the paper.
An hour passed.
“Just going out for a wee stroll,” I said as I headed for the door.
“Supper will be ready in twenty minutes,” said Beth from the kitchen. I walked hastily down the path and up Jake’s stairs. The door was half open. Not bothering to knock I stepped inside.
The smell hit me first. I walked past the new beams and exposed walls, their Pink Batts showing. The lounge had been stripped completely. I stepped over chunks of plaster and made way past the still screeching circular saw, for the hall where Jake was hunched over the toilet bowl retching. He turned when he heard me approaching and wiped his mouth. “You…” He said scornfully, before quickly turning and heaving into the toilet.
I continued my approach. He struggled to his feet and faced me. Jake’s eyes were bloodshot and he panted heavily.
“You… poisoned me? You… You crazy old bastard!”
He stumbled forwards and swung at me. He missed and hit the wall.
“This was the only way Jake. The only way to make you quiet,” I lectured, retreating into the lounge. Jake was up again and stumbling towards me, madness overtaking him.
“It’s not long to go now; the poison has already taken affect. Soon your lungs will shut down completely, your body will start convulsing, and you will die of either respiratory failure, or heart failure. That’s up to your body.”
Jake charged at me. I turned to get out of the way only to trip over plaster. He crashed down on top of me, snarling, his mouth foaming.
He pinned me down and began tearing out what little hair I had. I looked around and reached out for something… anything. My hand felt solid wood. I grasped the plank and whacked him across the face. He fell backwards. The saw was right there, and he was already back on his feet like some kind of rabid dog. I picked myself up and, using the wood like a bat, swung at him and connected with his chin. He went over easy and toppled onto the circular saw, its blade naked and blurred. The screeching was outdone by Jake’s screams as it cut at his flesh, sawing through his arm. He lay there twitching as the floor became covered in a pool of blood and sawdust.
I yanked the cord from the wall and the noise stopped. Jake whimpered one last time, made one final gasp, as the shock took over and killed him. I took the basket of possum muffins and left the house. Looking up into the black night sky, the world felt so small. Curtains were drawn. Every house light was out. The street was dead and oh so still. I went home, ate my sausages, mashed potato, boiled peas and carrots, kissed my wife, and I slept for the first time in seven days.
This work by Michael J. Gray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License