The post for January 2022 is up over at Disquiet Time!
This month’s video is based on a couple of my stories I entered at the Ozark Creative Writer’s Contest in October 2021.
“The Nerve” was not a winner, but is one of my favorites and can be found here.
“Like A Good Neighbor” won Second Place in the Showcase category and is reprinted below.
Like a Good Neighbor
“Oh, hey, Marta,” Vicki tried not to let her neighbor see how much she had startled her. The odd little woman was standing right outside Vicki’s door. She did not seem to be raising her hand to knock or just passing by. Vicky shrugged her purse higher up on her shoulder and tried to pull her door shut behind her without physically pushing into Marta. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Actually, there is.” Marta’s voice was soft as the breeze that blew the branches of the trees just off the porch of their floor. The apartments had once been an old manor house and the covered porch running the length of the second floor served as their hallway.
Vicki had only been trying to politely ask the mousey haired woman to move out of her way, but now could think of no way to express that without coming across as rude. She had barely ever spoken to the woman since moving into this apartment 6 months ago. Abigail downstairs told her one afternoon as she took her trash down to the dumpster that she was certain Marta was a witch of some kind. Vicki had laughed it off as the superstitious nature of the elderly, but sometimes late at night she swore she could hear strange noises from next door.
“Okay.“ Vicki tried to prompt the words from her reluctant neighbor. “What is it you needed? I was just heading out for some errands-“
“I’ve been called away for a few days, and need someone to pick up my mail and water my plants.” The words came out in a rush so fast that it took Vicki a moment to process them.
“I guess could do that,” Vicki felt hesitant. Something felt off. “Are you expecting a lot of mail in the next couple of days?” The mail boxes for the block of apartments were next to Abigail’s apartment and were as secure as any Vicki had ever had before. “Surely your plants will be ok for that long.”
“Well, it may be more like a week,” Marta amended.
“Ok, sure.” Vicki really wanted to get to the post office before it closed and was not willing to argue about the exact length of time.
“Great.” Marta actually produced something that looked like a smile. Vicki was certain that was a first. The woman never seemed to smile. Or frown for the matter. Her face was a mask of pure indifference. She held her hand out, showing a shiny new key, it was clear it had been cut very recently. The key had been painted a wild mixture of colors, probably meant to resemble tie dye. “Here is the key,” she pressed it into Vicki’s palm and turned away. The instructions are on the kitchen table. I’ll see you in a couple weeks. A month tops!
A month? Vicki wanted to protest but Marta was already heading down the stairs with nothing but a large purse and her sunglasses on her head. Was the woman going to wear the same outfit for a month? Probably.
She sighed and tucked the new key into her pocket. She needed to get going if she was going to make it. She would worry about the bizarre request to water plants that would actually require instructions later. How hard could it be? Put some water in a can and put it on the plants. She would just have to go see when she got back.
The sun had set and Vicki was tired. Her afternoon of a couple simple errands and a run to the post office had turned into hours of chasing her shadow around town looking for a gift for her sister. She had given up and headed home well after she normally would have been starting dinner and settling in for the evening.
The fast food bag was clutched in her left hand as she fumbled in her pocket for her keys. She was tired and could feel a headache coming on. The smell of the take out burger made her stomach growl. Had she eaten lunch? She couldn’t remember now. Something thunked onto the wooden boards of the porch as she pulled her key ring free. Looking down she saw the ugly multicolored key Marta had given her earlier.
She really wanted to just go inside, flop down on her sofa and watch terrible television the rest of the night, but curiosity got the better of her. What did Marta’s place look like? Was it just the mirror of hers? Would it be cluttered or clean? “Just plain nosy is what you are.” Vicki scolded herself.
“But I could just go see what on earth she meant by directions.” Justification found, Vicki scooped up the key from by her feet and took the 10 steps to Marta’s door. Why did it feel so strange to stand at this door instead of hers? It was only a few yards away, but yet it felt like a whole other building. Marta had not left her porch light on and in the rapidly fading daylight it was hard to get the key in the lock. She noted that this door set was much older than hers, the knob seemed heavy like real brass. The lock clicked and she turned the knob. It was still warm from the afternoon sun.
Vicki let the door swing in on its own, she was surprised that it did not squeak, or groan, like a ghost story mansion. Not that she had any reason to expect it to. She never heard it making any noise when Marta came in or out. Maybe it was her blood sugar. She wondered if she should have eaten her dinner first she was getting weird in the head.
She fumbled for a wall switch inside the door, but the only one she found did nothing but turn on a plant light at the far side of the room. At least she thought it might be a plant light, the room was so full of plants she could hardly see it. She took a tentative step inside; the place had a smell like a combination of a health food store and a green house. There was also something less pleasant underneath, something sweet and rotten. She hoped she was not going to be expected to track down the source of that smell for Marta.
She was in luck, the kitchen was where she expected it to be and she made her way through the inside jungle to find the lights. This switch worked. Harsh blue white light flooded the kitchen and spilled out into the living room. She could see even more plants now, on shelves, on tables, on windowsills. There were even racks stacked with plants almost to the ceiling. Some looked like common house plants, and she thought some were cooking herbs, others looked like exotic flowers. Was Marta running a greenhouse out of her apartment? She never saw anyone come over and she certainly never saw Marta leave with plants. It was none of her business anyway. She looked around for the promised piece of paper and found it stuck to the fridge with a magnet shaped like a banana. They were the only things on the stark white surface.
The note was written on lavender paper with a border of butterflies and dragonflies. It was entirely too cute for Vicki’s taste.
Don’t worry about the plants in the living room, I have bulbs in those, they will be fine until I get back. Unless it is over 4 weeks, in that case just refill the blubs and put them back. It is the plants back in the spare room you need to look out for. There is enough meat in the fridge for the first week, but you will need to thaw more each Sunday.
Whatever you do, do not go in there at night. Always feed them when the sun is high and there are no clouds; they get active in the dark.
Vicki dropped the note and let it flutter down to the floor without trying to stop it. What was this? The Day of the Triffids? She was so not dealing with any plants that required a supply of meat. Vicki grabbed her dinner bag and headed straight to the door. This was absurd. She was out of here.
She was only steps from the door when something behind her made a noise like dry leaves blowing across pavement. She froze. Had she imagined it? She took one more step. No there it was again, it was coming from the hall. It was getting closer.
Panic made her vision go gray and she fumbled with the door knob, it was just like a horror movie, the monster was coming up behind her and she couldn’t get her fingers to work well enough to even work a stupid door. She refused to turn around, but it was definitely closer now. She threw the only thing she had in her hands, her dinner, finally turning the knob and throwing herself back out onto the familiar porch, slamming the door behind her. She heard the sounds of something hitting the closed door as she stood trembling, back to the rail, too scared to even move far enough to get into her own apartment. She was not sure if she was imagining it, but it sounded like she could hear the rustling of the paper bag she had thrown at the thing. Maybe it was a good thing she had gotten the extra meat.