The neighbor’s dog was barking again when I pulled into my dooryard.
Yesterday it barked for almost an hour. Fifty two damn minutes.
From my bathroom window I tried to see if it was just barking to come in or if there was something wrong.
Nancy might’ve gotten hurt. My old neighbor. She’s in a wheelchair. Or maybe Amy, her little mute grandkid.
I remembered the first afternoon I went in their house. Nancy was in the kitchen, chopping carrots for a stew, the flame of the stove reflected in her darkened frames.
“Could you hand me the grater hanging to your left?” she asked me, and that’s when I realized she wasn’t just handicapped like paralyzed in a wheelchair, she was blind too. The tilt of her head toward me but not quite facing me, all the utensils hanging in rows on the walls of the kitchen, the different height of the countertops.
That explained our odd first few meetings.
“It smells good,” I said, offering the grater before placing it in front of her. She heard whatever sound it made and then in a blur she was grating cheese into a different pan. Jaxy her dog came up and licked my hand.
“It’s conie,” she replied, looking, or seeming to look, right at me. I remember thinking her shades were so dark she might not even have any eyes at all under them.
I didn’t see Amy anywhere. The first time I saw that kid, she scared the hell outta me. She was standing out in my yard in the shadows of the moonlight, her blond hair waving in the breeze, staring up at the stars.
The barking brought me back. Should I go over there?
I didn’t want to go over there. Somehow I’d get roped into staying for dinner or whatever art project she was into now. I don’t understand any of what she does, never mind how, but some of it’s pretty cool, especially considering she’s blind. Like that new glass and metal whatever it is I saw in the back of her garage last week when I was leaving for work and she was just closing the garage door. Come to think of it, that’s the last time I saw her.
When I came back from my hike I heard a strange crackling sound, a sparking hum. I traced it as far as Wilson’s when the damn dog jumped out of the brush and scared the crap outta me.
“Jaxy!” I yelled, trying to scold it like I heard her do. “How’d you get out?” Jaxy was a golden retriever. Nice looking dog. Pain in the ass though. Barking every day. At least she lets me sleep at night.
Without answering the dog took off down the trail back home, leaving me to listen for the hum. It was gone.
I turned and saw Jaxy sitting in the path directly behind my house. I noticed she was looking into her own yard, not mine.
Nancy was sitting out on the edge of her property with her face in the last of the sunlight before it disappeared behind the elms. Her white hair looked like it was frozen. Jaxy twitched her nose at me.
From my vantage point high above I could see their whole yard and the paths in the grass she had worn with her chair over the years. They looked old and faded, reclaimed by the lawn, but one stood out brown and barren.
The path from the back door to the garage.
In fact, the whole yard looked kinda overgrown, more like my yard than her yard.
Amy wasn’t outside. She has some kind of skin condition where she can’t get any sunlight.
That night I woke myself up from a crazy dream. I was back on the trail tracing the hum again, except this time I got as far as Wilson’s silo when the dog started growling at something, and when I looked to see what it was, I saw Nancy in Wilson’s kitchen watching me through the window. Wilson wasn’t there with her, which seemed weird, and I opened the silo door to look inside, using my flashlight to see.
There was an old dusty piano in there along with some boxes of records or newspapers. A crash of glass and the dog barking made me turn to see the kitchen window was broken and Nancy was gone. Then I tried to remember if she was wearing her shades or not, and why I felt that she was watching me and not simply facing the backyard?
The crackling hummed again, and I looked back into the darkness of the silo to see the sound was Wilson hanging dead from an electrical cable strung all the way to the sky, his roasted body twitching and smoking. The dog lunged at something and I turned to see my neighbor slowly rolling over the grass towards me, her black sockets shooting sparks. She was the sound I had heard, not Wilson. As I watched, her chair became a baby carriage and she was pushing it toward me, walking now, her face dissolving into the darkness under her hood, and I realized the carriage was facing me and I could see the child inside as it got nearer.
It was not human.
It was something impossible, something that could never have lived or ever been born.
It had rows of tiny knives for teeth with blazing red flames for eyes and a snout that was glistening saliva and blood.
That’s when I saw pieces of Jaxy everywhere.
That’s when my neighbor reached out her lace gloved hand for my throat.
That’s when I woke myself up with a start, heart racing and drenched in sweat, the sheets soaked.
I got up to splash my face when I heard the hum again.
It was coming from her house, no doubt about it.
Through the window I could see a light was on in her garage.
Jeez Louise, I sighed. It’s just that art project thing she’s working on. She’s probably welding or something.
That’s what that crackling noise is.
At 3 am I didn’t consider how a blind person could use a welder, I just shook my head and went out onto the porch to go back to sleep.
A tapping at the window woke me. I rolled over and stared dry eyed at Amy, her blond hair framed by the rising sun through the screen window.
“What the hell??” I yelled, and was immediately sorry, but Amy was unfazed. She waved me to follow her.
I sat up, groggy but worried. For her to come here so close to sunrise must mean an emergency.
Amy was waiting for me on the edge of our yards, still motioning me onward as the sun was rising faster now.
I ran into her backyard where I saw light flickering inside the garage and heard the humming again.
It sounded like metal grinding and a low electric pulse. Smoke was coming from under the door.
Amy just stood pointing at it.
I looked over her head at the sun cresting the tree tops and lifted the aluminum door.
The first thing I noticed were the sparks flying, and then the old lady’s wheelchair sitting empty.
There was something in front of the shining metal art piece.
Something black and slithery, with four or five arms all working in unison.
I turned in disbelief to Amy, but she wasn’t Amy anymore.
As the sun broke on the lawn, I watched amazed as the little girl transformed into Jaxy.
My mouth opened but no sound came out and I backed instinctively away from her.
A snarling gasp behind me made me whirl to see the hideous monster in the garage regarding me.
It began to shift and twitch, spasms wracking its form, and Jaxy started howling, a bloodcurdling, half human wail.
The thing in the garage wasn’t done changing. It knocked the vacant wheelchair out of the way as its blackness began showing shades of pink and gray. As more daylight began to fill the garage and reflect off the many mirrors of the machine it bent forward and then fell flat on its back as if dead.
Caught in transformation between the monster it was and my neighbor it was becoming, its distorted form began to scurry madly towards me, coming spiderlike across the dirt floor.
The head turned upside down with a cracking of bone as Amy the dog brushed past me, looking at me over the creature. Blood was spilling from the thing’s mouth and flowing into its eyes as it neared.
Amy was barking at me, looking at me, desperately trying to tell me something. With tremendous effort the dog raised itself on its hind legs and with its mouth flipped a switch on the side of the machine.
The hideous thing that was once my neighbor turned from me to regard the dog. Then it lunged for her, but Amy was too quick, fully canine now.
Amy pounced on the thing and began to tear into it with her powerful jaws as the machine began to glow.
They struggled horribly, both creatures biting and snapping, ripping each other apart.
The dog whimpered in pain and tore itself away, backing up into the growing daylight.
As the monster on the floor began to rise up, it began to shrink, finally becoming my old neighbor.
But not quite.
It forgot or was unable to turn its head back around, so it glared at me upside down with black blood still streaming from its mouth, forming puddles in the dirt.
A cry began from somewhere inside it. I stood transfixed, terrified but unable to move.
That’s when the dog ran past me and lunged full force at the beast, knocking both of them into the central crackling glow of the machine.
They disappeared in a howl, the old lady screaming “Noooo!” and Jaxy barking again.
My heart pounded me away from there but as I ran onto the grass something made me stop.
I looked back and saw one of the black creature’s arms reaching through the void.
Remembering how Jaxy tried to tell me something I ran back to the control panel.
I flipped the still wet switch and the humming ceased, the glowing portal shut.
The next day I went to the animal shelter and bought a cat.