Crime writer and fellow blogger D.S. Nelson has offered another terrific story prompt. This is the story that came from it. Thanks, as always, D.S., for the inspiration! Hey, folks, do visit her terrific site, and try her Blake Heatherington mysteries. You won’t regret it!
The People Next Door
‘They’re not the hardiest plant in this climate,’ warned the ‘Garden Expert’ – his name tag said ‘Mike.’
‘I know,’ Alicia said. ‘I’ve been doing some reading. But they’re really beautiful, and I’ve got the perfect sunny spot in my garden.’
Mike nodded and said, ‘That’s what you need for these. Lots of sun.’ He helped Alicia choose a few seedlings, and gave her a pamphlet with care instructions. Later that day, she planted the seedlings in the sunniest corner of her garden and followed the watering instructions. It wasn’t long before they started growing, and Alicia knew that she’d see those beautiful flowers soon.
She was in her garden one afternoon when she noticed that a U-Haul truck had pulled up to the small house next door. In front of the truck was a beat-up Chevy. Three young men got out of the car, and one yelled at the U-Haul driver, who slowly edged the truck into position for unloading. For the next three hours, the group shouted, swore, banged, and shoved as they emptied the van. Moving day can be like that, Alicia thought as she closed the windows to lower the din.
But the noise from next door didn’t stop with moving day. Two nights later, whoever had moved in had a loud party, complete with music blasting, cars speeding in and out, and incessant shouting from inside the house. Alicia couldn’t drop off to sleep until four, when the last guest finally left. As she went out to get the paper a few hours later, she saw a pile of cigarette butts in her yard and empty beer bottles in the adjoining yard. She sighed, went inside, and got a plastic bag to pick up the butts. If this was what life was going to be like from now on, she wasn’t looking forward to it. Hopefully it was just a case of rude party guests.
It wasn’t. One evening, a week after the party, Alicia was watching TV when a car minus the muffler and plus the stereo at full blast pulled into the driveway next door. She couldn’t resist looking out the window to see what was going on. The driver got out of the car, leaving the stereo on, and yelled. Then the front door opened and a young man came out of the house. He wore baggy shorts, a dirty T-shirt, and a baseball cap and carried what looked like a fast food bag. ‘I’m coming,’ he called as he walked towards the car. The two got in and roared off. They were pulling away when Alicia saw a hand stick out the passenger window and let go of a McDonald’s bag – right on her lawn. The two men laughed loudly as the car sped up. That was it, she thought. Time for a friendly conversation.
The next day, Alicia went next door and rang the bell. No answer. She rang again. Finally, she heard muffled, thumping footsteps. When the door creaked open, she said, ‘Hello, I’m Alicia. I live next door.’ Then she tried on her best ‘I come in peace’ smile.
The young man stood there a moment, letting the smoke from his cigarette curl around his hand. ‘So?’ he drawled.
‘I thought, well, since I live next door and you’re new here, that I’d introduce myself.’
‘Who is it, Jamie?’ called a voice from inside. A woman.
He turned his head and yelled, ‘None of your business. Just shut up, will ya?’
Then he looked at Alicia again. Up and down. ‘What do you want?’
She took a breath and then said, in as pleasant a voice as she could, ‘Look, I know you just moved in, and it’s always a pain to get settled. But could you please not drop cigarette butts and paper bags in my yard?’
‘Whatever,’ he said, shrugging. ‘It’s not a major crime. Besides, I can’t help it. My friends come over. They do things.’
‘Yes, I’ve heard them. In fact,’ she took another breath, ‘I was going to ask you about that. Sometimes your friends are really loud. It’s very hard on the rest of us who live here.’
‘Hey, it’s a free country. It’s none of your damned business who comes over.’ He scowled and shut the door. As Alicia turned to leave, she heard the woman’s voice again.
‘Who was that?’
‘Just some bitch from next door.’
The noise kept getting worse. So did the complaints from other people on the block. The police were even called in a couple of times, but nothing really changed. Alicia’s bean plants grew beautifully, though. She tended them carefully, and it wasn’t long until they were almost fully grown.
Then one morning, Alicia went out to her garden, only to find that some of the plants had been destroyed. They’d been smashed down by feet taking a short cut from next door to a parked car, no doubt. There was nothing else to do. She gathered up as many beans as she could find, took them inside and rinsed them. Then, she put them in a plastic container and went next door.
She had to ring a few times, but Jamie – that was his name, Jamie – answered at last. When he saw that it was Alicia, his eyes narrowed a little.
‘What?’ he asked.
She smiled and held up the container. ‘Just a little something from my garden. They’re fresh castor beans. You can put them in tacos, salads, whatever.’
Jamie took the beans from Alicia’s outstretched hand. He looked at her again. ‘Thanks,’ he muttered.
‘Enjoy,’ Alicia said with another smile as she left.
That night, Alicia heard the wail of an ambulance siren as it pulled into the driveway next door. She watched out the window as the paramedics bundled Jamie into it. It wasn’t her fault, she thought, if that idiot was too stupid to know that castor beans are highly poisonous. At least there would be peace on her street now.
ps. The prompt isn’t a ‘photo of castor beans. It just inspired the story. Here’s what castor bean plants actually look like.