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READ NOW: The New Neighbors

This week I have been smashing through the short stories, and this here is my current work-in-progress!

The New Neighbors tells the story of Carol, a lonely suburban widow who jumps to befriend a new couple who have just moved in next door. Much to her disappointment, Carol’s attempts at making a connection with the reclusive couple are rebuffed, and her curiosity turns to suspicion when a potential connection arises to an interstate missing persons case.

You can read the story in the body of the post below, or download the PDF here:
The New Neighbors

Enjoy the read, and feedback is more than welcome!

The New Neighbors

A Short Story by Kate Kelsen

Copyright © 2020. All Rights Reserved

The New Neighbors Cover 3

 

Summer had dragged on a month too long, but finally autumn had arrived in Woodbury, Connecticut. There was a chilly nip to the air, and the foliage along Maple Avenue had turned orange, brown and golden. Carol pulled her front door closed behind her, turning and walking down the front steps. In the basket on her arm were a loaf of freshly baked bread and a container of home-made pumpkin soup. The grass crunched beneath her boots as she crossed the yard to the neighboring house. Slipping the key into the door, she stepped inside, setting the basket down on the kitchen table.

“Hazel?”
Carol glanced across the way into the living room. Hazel’s armchair was empty. She

climbed the stairs to the master bedroom, knocked once, and opened the door. Hazel lay slouched against the headboard, her eyes restfully closed. Carol sat down on the edge of the mattress, placing her hand down over Hazel’s. She gasped once, closed her eyes and shook her head, a tear trickling down her cheek.

A tag was tied around Hazel’s big toe, and the black bag was zipped up over her

head. The undertaker gave Carol a small box.

“Her personal effects,” he said.

“Thank-you.”

“You take care.”
Sitting on the edge of her bed, Carol held the box in her hands. She heard the front

door open and close, and footsteps coming up the stairs. Michael stopped by the bedroom door, and Carol looked up at him.

“Hazel is gone.”

 

SYLVAN, Hazel Joan of Woodbury- Passed away peacefully on 14th August, 2011. Dearly loved neighbor of Carol and Michael. Family and Friends are invited to attend a service for Hazel, at 10am, Wednesday 31st August at the Warwick Funerals Chapel. 

 

Standing in front of her bedroom mirror, Carol ran her hands over her black dress. Michael waited for her in the hall. He looked smart in his suit and tie. It still brought Carol a tinge of sadness to think that the first suit she had bought her son was for his father’s funeral.

She turned to the bed, picking up the small box and tucking it into her bag.
“Why are you bringing that?”
“In case anyone shows.”
Next to the burial plot, Carol and Michael stood holding a handful of lilies each.

Carol extended her arm over the hole in the ground and dropped her flowers in, and Michael followed.

After the service had concluded and the priest had left, Carol and Michael returned to the car.

“I still can’t believe that nobody came,” said Carol. “Not even her son.”

Hazel’s house across the way had an eerie stillness to it during the day, and was dark and sombre at night. There was something dissimilar about it now that there was no life residing inside. Without its former custodian, it was a shell of a home, dark and dormant. Until one evening, like lungs taking in new breath, light filled the house again. From the window, Carol watched a lofty man lugging a frail-looking woman in a wheelchair backwards up the porch steps. That was the last she saw of them that evening, and the lights were out early.

The very next morning Carol marched across the way to Hazel’s house, holding the small box with her personal effects. She rang the bell, and the man of the house appeared, remaining behind the screen door.

“Can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m Carol Cunningham. I’m from next door.”
The man nodded.
“Reid McKay. Nice to meet you.”
His tone was polite yet standoffish.
“You’re Hazel’s son?” Carol inquired.
Reid said nothing. Carol grinned awkwardly, extending the small box.
“ I have this. It’s a few of her things. I was hoping to give them back to her family.”
“I’m not family.”
“Oh. Well, I just wanted to stop by and welcome you to the neighborhood. My son Michael and I—”

“Thank-you, but this really isn’t a good time.”
“Oh, I see. Well, if there is anything we can do to help, I’d be more than happy. I used to care for Hazel who used to live here—”
“Excuse me.”
The door closed, and Carol huffed in defeat.
“Well, that’s that I guess,” she muttered, and turned and marched home.

Much to Carol’s disappointment, the new neighbors kept to themselves. Reid McKay left in the mornings and returned home in the evenings. His wife was nowhere to be seen.

***

Bang! Bang! Bang! went the basketball as it hit the backboard of the hoop. Jacob bounced the ball, and Michael attempted to snatch it away. Jacob posed to take a shot, and Michael watched on helplessly as the ball sailed over his head and into the yard next door.

“Ja-cob!”

Balancing unsteadily in Jacob’s cupped hands, Michael pulled himself up over the timber palings, peering over the fence into the neighboring backyard.
“I can see it!” he grunted.
Jacob let him back down to the ground, and together they ran next door and up the front steps. Michael rang the bell, and Mr. McKay answered.

“Hi, uh, my ball went over your fence. Can I get it back, please?”
“Well, now we won’t have to listen to that incessant banging day and night!”
Mr. McKay slammed the door closed, and Michael looked at Jacob, puzzled. They ran back to Michael’s house, finding Carol in the kitchen preparing dinner.

“The guy next door won’t give me my ball back!” Michael exclaimed.
“What?”
“My ball went over the fence, and he won’t give it back!”
“He’s probably busy making dinner. Go ask him again tomorrow, you might catch him at a better time.”

A few days passed, and when Mr. McKay still had not thrown the ball back over the fence, Michael reluctantly asked his mother for help. In response she put together a hamper of wine and cheeses, and Michael joined her in delivering it, trailing behind her as she led the way across the yard. Standing on the porch, Carol exaggerated a struggle with the weight of the basket in her arms.

“Ring the doorbell, will you, Michael?” she grunted.
Michael huffed as he raised a floppy arm to the button. He pressed it for a few seconds before folding his arms again and resuming his reluctant slouch. Mr. McKay appeared.

“Yes?”
“Hi, Mr. McKay. This is my son Michael; I understand he lost his basketball over your fence a few days ago.”
“Yes, it’s nice to not be woken at 6am every morning!”
“I understand,” said Carol, nudging Michael. “Michael has something to say to you.”
Michael sighed.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you,” he muttered.
“You see, it was Michael’s father’s ball,” Carol added. “They played together almost every day…”
“This really isn’t a good time…”
The door closed, and Michael looked at his mother.
“Now what?” he exclaimed.

At his bedroom window, Michael puffed clouds of pungent earthy smoke out into the chilly night air. He passed the joint to Jacob, and peered through his binoculars at the house next door. Through a downstairs window, he could see an empty plate discarded on the kitchen table. Mr. McKay appeared, stepping out onto the porch. In his hands he held Michael’s deflated basketball, and Michael watched on helplessly as he threw it in the trash can.
“You asshole!” he exclaimed. “He popped my basketball!”
“What?” Jacob coughed.
Michael lowered the binoculars. “We have to get him back, Jacob.”
“How are we going to do that?”
Michael paused thoughtfully.
“We could slash his tires.”
“What? That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it? What if we get caught?”
“The ball belonged to my dad, Jacob. I should make you do it; you’re the one that lost it over there.”

Sipping her morning coffee, Carol flicked through the morning paper. A headline on page six caught her eye.

‘Former Live-In Carer Speaks Out in Case of Missing Vermont Psychiatrist.’

Carol read on.

‘A former live-in carer has spoken to Burlington Police in regards to a possible  connection to the case of missing woman Elizabeth McDermott, who vanished from her psychiatry practice four years ago. Amy Bennett, who worked for a brief time in the employ of a man who called himself ‘John Linden’ contacted emergency services from a lake house in Waterbury, Vermont following an alleged altercation. Ms. Bennet was treated in hospital for extensive injuries, including two broken legs.

Police say that Mr. Linden is traveling with a woman who is being transported in a wheelchair, and that the woman would appear malnourished and unwell. Police urge anybody with information to contact authorities immediately.’

Heart thumping, breath quivering, Carol peered across the yard to Hazel’s house. Mr. McKay’s car was gone. She crossed the yard and climbed the front steps, sliding her key into the door and slipping inside. She crossed the way to the stairs, taking each one carefully, freezing at the slightest creak in the timber beneath her feet. She made it to the top, and she thought her heart was going to thump right out of her chest as she crept along the hallway toward the master bedroom.

Turn back now! She thought. Turn back now!

She stopped outside the closed door, wrapping a trembling hand around the doorknob. Inside, an emaciated woman lay in the bed. Her hair was thin and wiry, her eyes sunken, her skin pale.

Carol’s eyes dropped to the foot of the bed. She reached for the bedspread, pulling it back to reveal the woman’s legs, horribly disfigured, bent and twisted from old fractures. Her ankles were covered in bruises and welts from the shackles that were chained to the bars at the end of the bed. Carol looked back up at the woman’s face; her eyes were strained with pure desperation. Carol took her mobile out of her pocket.

“9-1-1 emergency.”
“My name is Carol Cunningham…I need help at no.1 Maple Avenue, Woodbury…I need help, there is a woman trapped. Please hurry.”

The woman’s eyes widened, and Carol screamed when a hand came over her mouth from behind. She was dragged backwards, and she grabbed at the door frame, her fingers slipping. She bit down hard on the hand, and her attacker howled in pain as she scrambled out of his grasp and down the stairs. When she had almost reached the bottom, her ankle rolled and she fell onto the floor in the hall. She cried out as Mr. McKay took a hold of her and dragged her along the hall, opening the basement door and pushing her in. She tumbled down the stairs, hitting the floor hard at the bottom. She looked up just in time to see the light disappear behind the closing door.

“Not again,” Reid muttered as he charged back along the hall. “Not again!”
He leapt up the stairs two at a time, stopping at the master bedroom.
“Time to go,” he said to the woman, approaching the wheelchair sitting in the corner.
“Come on, Lisa. I’ve got to get you out of here. Just hold on.”

Step by step, he awkwardly pushed the wheelchair down the stairs. He pushed Lisa out onto the porch across the way to the car, stopping suddenly, growling violently at the sight of his tires deflated. He threw his arms in the air, pacing a few moments, looking frantically around. Composing himself, he scooped Lisa up out of the wheelchair and carried her inside.
“Come on, Lisa! I’ve got to hide you!”
He carried her down into the basement, stepping over Carol who was cowering on the floor. He lay Lisa on a slab bench and covered her with an old drop cloth.
“I won’t leave you,” he panted, stroking her hair. “I promise.”

He ran back up the basement stairs two at a time. As he approached the front door, he stopped dead in his tracks again at the sight of the red and blue lights flashing outside.

The number of emergency vehicles on Maple Avenue was steadily increasing. A handful of news vans were among them also. Lisa was wheeled on a stretcher out of the house and into the back of an ambulance as cameramen and photographers jostled for a picture of her. Carol was next, joined by Michael who rode with her in the ambulance to the hospital.

“Is my mom going to be alright?” Michael asked the attending paramedic.
“She’s going to be fine, son,” he reassured.

The door to Carol’s hospital room opened, and in stepped a man in a suit, with brown
collar-length hair and a moustache. He showed a badge.

“My name is Detective Brendan Clements. I’m from the Burlington Police. Can I speak with you, Mrs. Cunningham?”

“Sure. Carol is fine. This is my son, Michael.”
“You should be very proud of yourself, Carol. If it weren’t for you, and whoever slashed Daniel Harrison’s tires, Elizabeth McDermott may not have been found.”
“So it really was her?”
Clements nodded.
“It was. Daniel’s mother had recently passed away, leaving him the house in Maple Avenue, and so when Amy uncovered the truth he had the perfect getaway.”“Oh my God!” Carol shook her head, reaching over and taking Michael’s hand. “I just knew something was going on over there! I just can’t believe that all this was happening right under our noses!”
Carol paused thoughtfully.
“How is she, Detective? How is Elizabeth?”
“She’s quite unwell, as you can imagine. It will be a long road to recovery. But she has the best people caring for her now.”

***

Holding her cup of coffee in her hands, Carol watched the unfolding news bulletin on the television. The headline read ‘Elizabeth McDermott returns Home’. The footage was showing a whole street lined with people cheering and waving decorated banners and signs. A car pulled up in front of a house, and aided into her wheelchair, Elizabeth McDermott hid behind the hood of her sweater as she was swept away inside.

“Daniel Harrison was a former patient of Elizabeth McDermott’s in Burlington. He had developed an unhealthy obsession with her, and one night he waited for her outside her clinic and ran her down with his car. He then kidnapped her and took her to a lake house in Waterbury in Vermont, where he kept her for four years. He eventually hired a live-in carer named Amy Bennet, and Amy has stated that she was told that Elizabeth’s vegetative state was due to a brain aneurysm. It has been revealed that Daniel kept her heavily sedated, and was slowly poisoning her to death with drain cleaner.”

The doorbell rang, and Carol reached for her crutches.
“Coming!”
She hobbled to the front door, and on the step stood a man in a collared shirt, tie and vest.
“Peter Marshall,” he greeted with a smile. “Hazel’s estate lawyer. We spoke on the phone.”
“Oh, right. Come in. Can I make you a cup of coffee or something?”
“Oh, no thanks, I’m fine.”
Carol sat with him at the kitchen table.
“You meant so much to her, Carol. You being there for her. She really loved you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s in her will.” Peter slid a piece of paper across the table at her, and she picked it up. “She left you the house, Carol.”
Carol looked up at him, speechless for several seconds.
“I thought she left it to him? To Daniel, her son?”
“Well, police and forensics have been sweeping through the place since Elizabeth McDermott’s discovery, and in the process came across an updated version of the will.”

***

Carol paced Hazels living room, shadowed closely behind by the man heading the removals team.

“And the desk?” the man enquired, pressing his pen to his clipboard.
“The desk goes,” Carol confirmed. “No, wait. The desk can stay.”
“The couch?”
“Yes, please.”
The removalists moved to shift the couch.
“Wait a minute…” Carol hesitated. “The couches can stay.”
“What about the chairs?”
“They stay too. Actually, everything is going to stay.”
“Are you sure? What about the bedroom?”
“No.”
“Kitchen?”
“No.”
The man shrugged.
“So then, we’re done?”
Carol nodded.
“We’re done. Sorry to waste your time.”

Sitting by the window in the sun room, Elizabeth looked out over her parents’ back garden. On one side were tidy flower beds, stepping stones and leafy bushes, and on the other side a row of shady trees along the fence line. In many ways it was still mostly the same as she remembered, with a few differences. In an attempt to maintain some privacy for her, Elizabeth’s parents had strung up tarpaulins between the trees and the fence, so that she could still go outside without the interference of curious, prying eyes eager to get a glimpse of her. The tarpaulins were a stark reminder of her new reality, an unwanted notoriety. In a way she felt she was still captured.

Elizabeth’s mother came into the room and placed a cup of tea down next to her.
“Andrew called. He’d like to see you, if you’re up for it.”
“I am.”
“Are you sure? He did say he can talk to you on the phone if you preferred.”
“No, no. I’d like to see him.”

Andrew’s tears began to flow the moment he stepped into the room. He was the same as she remembered, yet different all at once. In his tear-sodden, screwed up expression, Elizabeth saw relief and joy twisted with anguish and grief. He sat down beside her, and she took his hands in hers, sighting a gold ring on his finger.

“I’m sorry, Liz,” Andrew whispered. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
“What for, Andrew?”
“For not waiting for you.”
“Andrew, I know you had to move on with your life. I wanted you to.” She smiled,

stroking his cheek. “I’m glad you came. I wasn’t sure you would.”

“Of course I would. I never stopped thinking about you, Liz. Never. I did everything I could to find you. We had hope, but all the leads went dry…”
“And there came a time when you had to move on.” Elizabeth ran her thumb over his ring finger. “So, you’re married now?”
“Yes. We have a daughter.”
Elizabeth smiled to herself.
“I always knew you’d make a wonderful father.”
She looked out into the garden.
“I’m supposed to have a very different memory of this place. Our wedding ceremony. I had it all planned out: I was supposed to walk with Dad through the garden gate, past the flowerbeds, along the stepping stones into the garden. I can still imagine the guests, turning in their seats, smiling as they watch me walk down the aisle.” Elizabeth pointed out the window. “You would have been standing right there, waiting for me.”

She paused, sighing deeply.
“We would have bought our first home, a small house in a good neighborhood.  It would have been our little piece of heaven. We would have started a family within a year, I reckon.” Elizabeth looked back at Andrew, smiling warmly. “All I wanted was to marry you and settle down. A modest life; that was all I wanted. It was hard to imagine that anything could go wrong.”

The world on the other side of false imprisonment was a changed one. Everybody Elizabeth had loved and cared for were still there waiting for her, except for Andrew. The more time that had passed the more she had feared she was losing him. With each passing day she feared he was closer to the moment that he would decide enough was enough, that he would accept that she may never come back. That he would put the past behind him and begin again.

Seeing him again now had filled her with joy that was quickly followed by sadness. It was indeed as she had feared: he had found someone new to love, and that someone had started the family that Elizabeth had so desperately wanted with him. After having been crushed by the disappearance of the woman he loved, he had gathered the pieces of his shattered heart back together, and found the strength to let himself love again. Elizabeth’s re-emergence had surely been a shock to his attempt to forge a new life for himself.

Elizabeth had lost Andrew, but she treasured the memory of the time they spent together. She would always love and care for him. She was not angry with Andrew, but with Daniel Harrison. Along with her health and freedom, Daniel had stolen the union between her and the man who was supposed to be her husband. In order to create his fantasy of a life with her, he had taken Elizabeth’s opportunity of a life with Andrew. And she did not know if she could ever forgive him for that.

 

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BRAND NEW SHORT STORY: Munchausen

Well I don’t know about you, but self isolation has certainly been very productive for me.
Today I am very excited to announce a BRAND NEW short story: Munchausen.

Munchausen is a prequel to my short story ‘The New Neighbors’. It follows Amy, a personal carer who begins a job at a remote lake house in Waterbury, Vermont. John Linden, the man of the house, needs help looking after his wife Lisa, who was mostly paralyzed by an apparent brain aneurysm. As the story unfolds, Amy becomes entangled in a mystery involving the residents, and she begins to realize the sinister motivations behind her employment.

You can read the story below, or download it as a PDF HERE: Munchausen by Kate Kelsen

Enjoy the read. This story is still a Work-In-Progress, so I would love to hear your feedback.

Munchausen

Munchausen
A Short Story by Kate Kelsen
Copyright © 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Elizabeth quietly observed Dan as he sat sobbing in the chair opposite her. He held his hand out to her, and she passed him a box of tissues.
“You’re giving me a referral?” he sniveled, touching a tissue to his eyes.
“Yes.”
“Why?”
“You focus too much on your therapist, Dan, instead of your therapy.”
“Is this because of our chance encounter the other day?”
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.
“It wasn’t altogether chance, was it, Dan?”
Dan smirked.
“Was that your husband?”
Elizabeth said nothing. Dan tilted his head, looking inquisitively at her.
“Do you always pretend to be that happy with him?”
He leaned forward, and Elizabeth stiffened where she sat.
“You would be loved, Elizabeth. And looked after.”
Elizabeth said nothing. Dan scoffed, nodding.
“I just hate that I have to pay to see you.”
“I’m your psychiatrist, Dan. It would be unethical to engage with you outside this office.”
Dan looked down at the crumpled tissue in his hands.
“The saddest thing I could think of is that I wouldn’t get to see you again.”
He shook his head, looking up at her with newly sharpened spite in his eyes.
“Can you even imagine what it is like to be completely dependent on another person
for your basic mental and emotional needs? Every single part of my identity has been taken from me, and now this. I’ve always dug deep to keep my hope alive in hard times. But you’ve just knocked the wind right out of my optimism, Doctor. My energy to survive is wavering. What will be the point if this is all that’s in store for me from now on?”
“I’m sorry, Dan, but I still think you should see another doctor.”
Dan sat upright, nodding stiffly as he picked up his jacket.
“Alright,” he said.
He stood up, shrugged on his jacket and left the office. Elizabeth stayed where she sat
for several minutes longer, lost in a thoughtful daze, before snapping out of it and collecting her notes, returning to her desk.
Switching out the light, Elizabeth closed and locked the door behind her. As she
stepped out into the street, she withdrew her gaze from the path and redirected it into her bag. Looking up suddenly, she was blinded by the headlights, and the next thing she knew she was laying on the road. Through the blur, she saw the driver step out of the car and approach her, before slipping silently into unconsciousness.

Amy found the lake house at the end of a private road half a mile long. She stepped out of her car, admiring the surrounding canopy of hardwood trees as she climbed the steps to the front porch.
“Hello?” She knocked on the door. “Hello?”
Her calls remained unanswered. She stepped inside, following the long hall all the way through the house to the back door. There, she observed a woman sitting in the garden in a wheelchair.
“You must be Amy.”
Amy turned to see a man step out onto the porch behind her.
“I’m sorry, the front door was open…”
“It’s okay,” the man smiled. “It’s a big house. I’m John Linden.”
“It’s a lovely place you’ve got here.”
“Thank-you.”
They looked out at the woman in the wheelchair.
“What’s the nature of her condition?” Amy enquired.
“Brain aneurysm. She can’t speak, can barely move. Doctors figure a month, maybe.”
John cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, I’ve been having a rough time with it. She’s the love of my life, and she’s dying. John covered his mouth with his hand.
“I’m sorry…”
“You don’t need to apologize. Really.”
“We’ve been together forever, you know? I feel like I’m losing my soulmate…”
“That’s understandable.”
“And the thought of someone coming to live here…it’s just hard. It’s always been just us.”
“I understand. Really. So, she can’t speak at all?”
“No,” John said, composing himself again. “She’s pretty much paralyzed.”
John and Amy approached the woman.
“Lisa, this is Amy. She’s going to be taking care of you for a while. Amy, this is my
wife Lisa.”
“Hello, Lisa,” Amy smiled.
John placed his hand on Lisa’s shoulder.
“You’re the fifth one I’ve interviewed. The last girl left, just up and quit. The job is yours if you want it. ”
Joy helped Amy carry her boxes and suitcases to her car parked across the street from
their apartment building.
“It’s less than an hour away,” Amy insisted. “I’ll be back all the time.”
“You better. Come here.” Joy hugged Amy. “I’m proud of you.”
Driving into Waterbury, Amy passed wood lots, post-and-beam barns, and rolling
stands of sugar maple. Pickups stacked with cordwood lined South Main Street, alongside
sport wagons crammed with kids, skis, and commuter bikes.

Amy turned off Route 2, arriving at the lake house two miles along. She pulled up in
front of the house, and started to unload her boxes and bags. John appeared and helped her bring them inside. He showed her to her room, placing the box in his arms down on the bed.
“You’re a photographer,” he commented, gesturing to the camera in the box, and picking up a small picture frame.
“I dabble.”
“Well, there will be plenty of photo opportunities around here for you, I’m sure. I’ll let
you get settled in. Let me know when you’re unpacked. I’ll show you around.”
Amy stepped outside her room, looking up and down the hallway.
“Mr. Linden?” She took a few steps along the hallway. “Mr. Linden?”
She reached a staircase, looking up to the attic door at the top. She turned, startled by John standing behind her.
“Oh, sorry,” she stammered. “I’m…I’m unpacked.”
“Great. I’ll give you a tour.”
Downstairs, the kitchen overlooked the dining area with a wall of windows to take in the views of the lake and the mountains. Adjacent to the kitchen and dining area was a fire-lit living room, with an adjoined sunroom.
“The house was built in 2000,” said John. “There’s seven acres, and a hundred feet of
sandy beach on the lakefront. There are three bedrooms and three bathrooms, and water
views from almost every room in the house.”
“Is there an attic?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I just noticed the door at the top of the stairs. Near my room.”
“There is, but you don’t need to go in there. All I keep in there is old paperwork, records,
that sort of thing.”
John turned to Amy.
“I’m sure you’d like to freshen up. It will be time for Lisa’s medicine soon. I’ll show you how to give it to her.”
In her private bathroom, Amy looked into the mirror hanging on the wall above the
sink. She pulled her hair into a ponytail and wrapped it around itself, securing the bun with a pin. She removed her top over her head, reaching into the shower and turning on the taps. Amy stepped into Lisa’s room, approaching the bed.
“Hi, Lisa,” she softly greeted. “Remember me? I’m Amy. I’ll be taking care of you.”
Amy switched on the bedside lamp. She pulled the sheet up around Lisa’s chest,
jumping when Lisa grabbed her arm.
“Let go, Lisa.” Amy attempted to pry Lisa’s fingers open. “Lisa, you’re hurting me!”
“There you are.”
Lisa let go, and Amy turned to see John enter the room.
“I thought you said she was paralyzed.”
“She has spasms sometimes. Don’t let it scare you. It’s time for her medicine. She
takes her pills in powder form.”

John held a glass to Lisa’s lips, and she drank the contents down.
“Amy, would you be so kind as to join me for dinner?”
“Sure.”
“Wonderful. I’ve made a stew.”
Opera music played softly in the background as Amy sat with John at the dining table.
“So, tell me a bit more about yourself, Amy. You’re not from around here, are you?”
“I moved from Burlington.”
“But you weren’t raised in Vermont.”
“No. I was born in Los Angeles, actually. Raised in New Jersey. I worked in New Orleans for a while, too.”
“A lot of moving around.”
“I was living on the road with a traveling rock band.”
“I see. Quite a world away from hospice care.”
“My father died while I was on the road. He was alone, and I wasn’t aware of his
condition.”
“I’m so sorry to hear it, Amy.”
“I felt so guilty about it that I wanted to devote myself to becoming a person who
makes a difference.”
“Well, you’re certainly making a difference by being here. How’s your stew?”
“Very nice, thank-you.”
In the kitchen, John stood at the stove, ladling stew into a bowl he had set aside. He took a small brown glass bottle and measuring cup, filling it and tipping the contents into the soup, stirring it in.
“What is that?” Lisa inquired.
“Oh, just a tonic. Lisa always believed in balancing medical and alternative
medicines. I’m just continuing to honor her wishes. Would you mind taking this up to
her?”
“Sure.”
Amy took the tray with the bowl of stew and a spoon upstairs to Lisa’s room, placing
it down on the tray table next to the bed. She dipped the spoon into the bowl, holding it to Lisa’s lips.
“That’s a lovely husband you’ve got there, Lisa.”
Lisa pressed her lips closed, making grunting noises. Amy paused, lowering the spoon.
“Lisa, what’s wrong?”
Lisa flailed, knocking the bowl of stew onto the floor.
“Shit!” Amy exclaimed, scrambling after it.
John entered the room.
“What’s going on?”
“She was struggling.”
“It’s alright,” John soothed Lisa, approaching the bed and stroking her hair.
“Thank-you, Amy. I’ll take care of it.”
“Are you sure? I can go get a cloth…”
“It’s fine, thank-you.”

The following morning Amy lifted Lisa from her wheelchair into the bathtub, and as Lisa
relaxed into the hot water, Amy glimpsed what she thought was a smile. She picked up the sponge, and as she dipped it in the water, her gaze fell upon Lisa’s legs. Her toes stood like fat little sausages on the ends of her feet, which along with her legs had a blotchy red and purple discoloration.
After the bath, Amy dressed Lisa and placed a hat on her head, and then wheeled her
outside into the back garden, where John was re-potting plants.
“Thank-you, Amy.”
“Do you need anything, John?”
“Not right now, thanks.”
Amy climbed the stairs to the second floor, pausing at the sitting space at the top,
looking up the next flight to the attic door. Glancing over her shoulder, she tentatively
climbed the first few steps, and then the rest until she reached the top. She placed her hand around the doorknob, finding it locked. She stepped back, regarding the door a moment longer, before turning and going back down the stairs.
That evening, Amy sat with John at the dinner table.
“John, can I ask you something?”
“Sure.”
“When Lisa was in the bath, I noticed she had swelling and bruising around her feet and the lower part of her legs. It looks like she’d broken her legs at some stage.”
John nodded.
“She did when she had the aneurysm. She fell down the stairs.”
Amy nodded.
“Sorry to pry.”
“No, I’m sorry I didn’t mention it before. You’re her carer, after all. You need to
know these things.”
John paused, taking a sip of his wine.
“Amy, do you think you will be alright here by yourself with Lisa tomorrow?”
“Sure. Why?”
“I have to go up to upstate. My mother has passed away. I have to go and sort out
her affairs with her estate lawyer. I’ll be back late.”
Standing underneath the flow of hot water, Amy closed her eyes, exhaling slowly.
Rubbing a bar of soap over her arms, she glanced over her shoulder, pausing momentarily in search of the shadow that she had seen out of the corner of her eye. There was nothing. She continued to lather up her arms.
When Amy opened the door to Lisa’s bedroom first thing in the morning, the smell hit
her like a brick wall. She approached the bed, looking down at Lisa where she lay in her own feces, next to the word ‘HELP’ scrawled in excrement.

Amy helped Lisa into the bathtub, and while she soaked there Amy carried the sheets
from Lisa’s bed downstairs into the laundry room, dropping them into the washing machine.
She returned to the bathroom and helped Lisa into her chair, dressing her for the day.
Downstairs, she parked the wheelchair in the usual spot in the back garden. When the
washing cycle had finished, she carried the basket of clean sheets outside to the clothesline.
As she hung them, she caught Lisa watching her from her wheelchair, noting the look of
dismay in her drawn gaze.
That night, Lisa lay in the bathtub, and Amy wet the sponge and rubbed it across
Lisa’s chest.
“Amy…”
Amy paused, meeting Lisa’s troubled gaze.
“Amy…Amy…Amy…”
Lisa started thrashing violently, and Amy jumped back against the vanity mirror,
shattering it. She collapsed and hit her head on the sink, crumpling to the floor.
Lisa clasped her hands around the edge of the bathtub, pulling herself up and peering
over the side. Pulling herself out of the tub, she cried out as she fell hard on the tiles. Lying on her stomach, she used all her strength to push herself up. She looked over Amy’s body, seeing the antenna of the cordless phone protruding from underneath her. Her breath quivering, she reached over, pulling at it with all her might. Using her feet to push her along, she dragged herself across the bathroom floor into the bedroom. Next to the bed, she held the phone to her ear, whimpering at the sound of the dial tone.

Amy stirred awake, peeling her eyes open. Her head was pounding with pain, her
vision blurry. She reached out to her sides, bracing the door frame with her hands, pulling herself slowly to her feet. The bed was empty, as was Lisa’s wheelchair. She staggered toward the doorway, peering out into the hall. She stepped out of the room and crossed the way to the banister, seeing Lisa’s body lying at the bottom of the stairs.
Amy heard John’s car pulled up outside, and she met him at the front door.
“Lisa got out of the tub!” she exclaimed.
“What?”
John looked past her to Lisa, his expression sharpened with alarm.
“I’m so sorry! I don’t know what happened!”
“Did you give her her medicine?”
“Yes!”
“Did you make sure she drank it all down?”
John approached Lisa, turning her over. Lisa thrashed her arms at him, and he grabbed
at her wrists, forcing them down.
“Go get the chair!” he shouted at Amy.
“We should call the doctor!”
“In the morning! Just get the chair!”
With Lisa lying limp in her bed, John touched a glass of water to her lips, tipping the
water into her mouth.
“I’m so sorry John…”
“I’ll have to double her dose from now on,” John sighed. “That’s all I can think of.”
“Don’t you think we should call a doctor?”
“In the morning.”
“I’ll come and check on her later, then…”
“That won’t be necessary. That will be all for tonight, Amy. Goodnight.”
Amy left the room, hearing the door lock behind her.
Tossing and turning in her sheets, Amy sat bolt upright in her bed, sighing in
wakefulness and falling back onto her pillows. A shadow crossed the room, and the door
clicked shut. Amy gasped, looking through the darkness, but saw nothing.

The following morning, she found John in the kitchen cooking breakfast.
“Have you called the doctor?” she asked.
“Oh, there’ll be no need for that,” John insisted. “She seems to be doing much better
this morning.”
“John, I really think Lisa should see a doctor. She fell down the stairs, she could have
injured herself…”
“Lisa is fine.”
Amy was silenced for a moment at the firmness of his tone.
“Well, I need to see a doctor. I hit my head hard last night.”
“If you want to see a doctor, fine. But no doctor is coming here.”
“John…”
Amy jumped when John slammed his fist down on the bench.
“She is my wife, and I am her husband, and I say what happens to her!”
“Okay, okay. No doctor.”

Joy stood by the examination bed as Amy was examined by the doctor.
“Have you had any dizziness?” the doctor inquired.
“A little after I came to.”
“Nausea? Vomiting?”
“No.”
“Confusion? Any concentration or memory problems?”
“No.”
“How did you feel when you woke up this morning?”
“A bit sluggish. Foggy.”
“Sensitive to light or noise?”
“No.”
The doctor stepped back.
“The most important thing you can do right now is rest, physically and mentally. You
should not do any heavy activity yet. You’ll need to come back and see me to get the all
clear.”
Amy’s heart raced with hesitant anticipation as the examination drew to a close.
“Doctor?”
“Yes?”
“Have you by any chance treated a woman named ‘Lisa Linden’?”
The doctor tensed his brow and shook his head.
“The name doesn’t ring a bell. Why?”
“She had a brain aneurysm about a month ago. She lives in a lake house outside
town with her husband. I’m caring for her at the moment.”

“No, I can’t say I know her. Now, you’ll need to take a few days off. Like I said, no
heavy lifting. I’ll see you in a few days.”
Joy peered out the windscreen at the hardwood canopy as she steered the car along
the driveway.
“Whoa,” she muttered as they approached the house.
She pulled the car up outside, and Amy unfastened her seat belt.
“You sure you’ll be alright?” Joy queried.
“Yes. It’s okay. Like I said, he’s just funny about strangers.”
“You’re practically a stranger.”
“Yeah, I know. I won’t be long.”
“Be careful.”
Amy stepped out of the car and went inside.
“John, I’m back.”
She found John by Lisa’s bedside. John stepped outside the room.
“The doctor says I have a mild concussion. I need a few days’ rest. I’m going to stay
with my old flatmate in Burlington.”
“Why can’t you stay here? I can give you a few days off.”
“You’ve got your hands full with Lisa. You don’t need to look after me too.”
“It won’t be a problem.”
“It’s okay, really. I’ll be closer to the doctor for my follow-up. I’ll only be gone a few
days.”
“Alright, well, let me know when you’re coming back.”
Amy packed her clothes into a bag, and as she passed through the hall on her way out, she caught a glimpse of Lisa, and the troubled gaze she had become so used to seeing.
Amy sighed, and after a few moments, turned back into the room, dropping her bag on the bed.
Amy stepped outside and approached the car, leaning in the window.
“Where’s your bag?” Joy asked.
“I’m staying here.”
“What?”
“John has given me a few days off. I’m going to rest up here.”
“What about your follow-up?”
“I’ll get a cab if I need to.”
“This is crazy, Amy.”
“I just feel like I need to be here right now.”
Joy sighed.
“Alright, well, let me know if you need any help. Or a lift. This place is literally The Styx.”
“I will. I’ll be fine.”
“You better be.”
That evening as John dozed in front of the television, Amy climbed the stairs,
slipping into John’s room. She pulled open drawer after drawer, searching through the
contents. She searched the cupboard, reaching in and taking out a set of keys.

Glancing over her shoulder, Amy slipped the first key on the ring into the attic door.
The lock did not budge. She tried the next key, and the next, and the next. The lock finally
clicked. She pushed the door open, a cloud of dust blowing into her eyes. She blinked and
rubbed her eyes, stepping into the room. She reached around for a light switch, but found none. Venturing further in, she shone her flashlight around, observing a room full of antiques. She reached the other side of the room, finding a wall was covered in photographs and newspaper clippings. On the floor below stood a row of candles, their bases melted into the timber floorboards. Studying the photographs, Amy noticed that they were all of the same woman. She peered closer at one of the newspaper clippings. The headline read: Search for missing woman intensifies. Amy read on.

WATERBURY: The Sheriff’s Department has requested help with the ongoing search for
psychiatrist Elizabeth McDermott, who went missing from her practice in Burlington last
month…

Amy hurried down the stairs and into Lisa’s bedroom, closing and locking the door behind her. She approached the bed, leaning over Lisa, taking her hand.
“Lisa, is this you?”
With her free hand she held up one of the photographs.
“Squeeze my hand if this is you.”
Amy’s stomach sank hard and fast when she felt Lisa’s fingers tighten around hers.
“Okay…” Her voice was trembling. “Okay. I’ll help you, I promise. Just…”
“Amy?” John called, rattling the doorknob from the other side.
“Shit!”
“Amy? Open this door!” John burst into the room. “What are you doing? Get away from her!”
John hurried over to the bed, sitting beside Lisa and stroking her cheek.
“It’s alright,” he whispered. “That will be all, Amy.”
Amy turned to leave the room, hurrying back to her bedroom and closing the door.
With a quivering hand, she picked up her mobile phone and dialed 9-1-1.
“My name is Amy Bennett. I need police and paramedics. We’ve got people hurt here. Please hurry.”
She turned and gasped when she saw John standing behind her. He grabbed a fistful
of her hair and she struggled as he dragged her out into the hall, knocking over a lamp on a side table. He swung her around, throwing her over the banister. She landed halfway down
the staircase, tumbling the rest of the way to the bottom. John regarded her briefly over the banister before returning to Lisa’s bedroom.
“Time to go,” he said, approaching her wheelchair.
Step by step, he awkwardly pushed the chair down the steps. He pushed her out onto
the porch across the way to the car. There, he opened the passenger door, and Lisa groaned as he forced her into the passenger seat and closed the door. He jumped into the driver’s seat and sped off down the private road toward the highway.

Joy pulled her car up in front of the hospital, running inside and stopping at the desk.
Breathless, she asked for Amy’s room number. Amy was lying in her bed, being tended to by a nurse.
“What happened?”
“Her legs are broken,” said the nurse. “She says she was pushed down the stairs.”
Joy shook her head. “This is all my fault.”
Lying on her back, Amy looked down at her legs, which were encased in plaster casts and propped up on frames. This would have been Lisa’s view, she thought, but not in a clean, crisp hospital room. In an upstairs bedroom in a lake house outside Waterbury.
The door opened, and in stepped a man in a suit, with brown collar-length shaggy
hair and a handlebar moustache. He showed her a badge.
“Lisa, my name is Detective Brendan Clements. Could we talk? In private, if you
don’t mind?”
Amy nodded. Joy left the room, and Clements took the seat that she had vacated.
“Is it okay if we talk about John Linden?”
“Yes.”
“I understand you were employed by him at the lake house in Waterbury?”
“Yes. As a live-in carer for his wife.”
“Can I show you a few pictures?”
Amy nodded, and Clements held up the first photograph.
“Is this the woman you were caring for?”
Amy nodded.
“Yes.”
He lowered the photograph and showed her another.
“And is this ‘John Linden’.”
“Yes.”
“Okay.” Clements put the pictures away. “What did John tell you about Lisa?”
“That she had suffered a brain aneurysm, and only had a month to live.”
“Could she speak?”
“Not really. She did speak to me the first night I was in the house. I was checking up on her. She told me to get her out of there. I…I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even tell John
about it. I thought…I thought it was just ravings. The patients at the nursing home before used to rave all the time. Say the nurses were trying to kill them.”
Amy paused.
“One night she lashed out while I was bathing her. Knocked me out. She managed to get out of the tub and crawl to the stairs. John got to her before she could get out of the house.”
Amy shook her head.
“He increased her medication…I thought they were just pills but, they were keeping
her sedated…he was keeping her drugged up. And he was giving her this tonic…it could
have been a drain cleaner, for all I know.”
“What happened last night? How did you come to be here?”
“I found this shrine in the attic. Photos and news clippings of her. I tried to call for help, but he caught me and threw me down the stairs.”
Amy looked at Clements with trouble in her gaze.
“Why did he hire me? Why would he risk exposure like that?”
“To taunt her,” Clements replied. “She was unable to speak, unable to alert you to the situation, unable to ask you for help.”
“Where are they now?”
“We don’t know.”

It was after dark when John pulled the car up in front of No.1 Maple Avenue. He stepped out of the car and approached the front door, unlocking it. He returned to the car and took the wheelchair out of the trunk, lifting Lisa out and sitting her in the chair. He pulled her backwards up the front steps and into the house, and once inside, he picked her up out of the chair and carried her up the stairs, lying her down on the bed.
“I’ll draw you a bath,” he said.

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The New Neighbors prequel COMPLETE

EEEEEEE!!

This afternoon I finished writing the first draft for the official PREQUEL to my suburban suspense/domestic noir short story The New Neighbors. And it still does not yet have a name.
This prequel follows nurse Amy who begins a job at an isolated lake house in Waterbury, Vermont and becomes entangled in a mystery involving the house’s residents. It is basically The Skeleton Key without the Hoodoo.