Next Door by Lori Lopez

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SUMMARY: A kid discovers the truth about the people "next door" in this creepy crawly fable.

THE FINAL DAY of Kat Mandou's life commenced as tedious as most. The only thing out of the ordinary was that something peculiar seemed to be going on at the house next door.

Not that he was inclined to snoop. Quite the opposite. He preferred to ignore the world, and seldom heeded the inhabitants of the dreary olive-planked eyesore -- accidentally glimpsed on occasion because they left the drapes wide like they had no secrets, no skulking chain-rattling embarrassments to hide. Kat doubted it. Everyone had a skeleton or two.

Impressions consisted of a couple always grinning at a toddler. If they were so happy, why did he hear so many blood-curdling wails? A decrepit geezer toward the rear of the abode was a permanent fixture, seated on a musty-dusty tattered-battered sort of chair. Kat wondered in an especially idle moment if the fossil might be stuffed like a museum exhibit, the victim of a mad taxidermist.

Today their drapes were inexplicably drawn, which seemed stranger than the disturbing signs. (Actual signs, spelling trouble in capital letters!)

But the self-absorbed teen did not intend to lose sleep over a situation that had nothing to do with him. He simply didn't care.

Even the date, All Hallows Eve, did little to reduce his doldrums. Typically, there were no invitations to costume parties. No cordial solicitations to anonymously wreak mischief. Kat might as well have been invisible as far as the social roster of Baneridge High was concerned. A phantom, sheer and flimsy, ineffectually haunting those malicious cliquish corridors.

Except for a name that prompted peers to tease, "How's the weather up there?" Being tall and gangly probably didn't help.

Things could've been worse, Kat conceded. His name could have been Tim Buktu.

So here it was, another Halloween staying home. But this year his parents were attending a presentation on organic gardening. Fun!

"Are you sure you won't come with us?" nagged his mother.

Kat rolled his eyes. As a tyke he had been hauled to community functions, barbecues, family reunions, birthday banquets, weddings and funerals. He had been subjected to every mall, market, or convention under the sun. What could be more stagnant, more grueling to endure than a rock show? Rocks! Polished piles of inanimate minerals! Anything, perhaps, rooted to the ground? No thanks. He wearily declined.

"You're constantly moping. You need a hobby, a diversion. Something that appeals to you. I remember you enjoyed planting flowers with me. You were the best weed-puller on the block!"

"I was five years old."

"He doesn't need a diversion, he wastes enough time. He needs to decide what to do with his life," objected Dad, who tended to address Kat indirectly. "It's never too soon."

"And you've been saying that since I was five," scorned Kat.

"He could, of course, become a chiropractor like his old man!" the tell-that-kid-to stand-up-straighter advocate hinted.

Right. As if he wasn't already terrified of the future.

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