Inside Drops of Crimson

In This Issue

The Girl Next Door - Marie Morgan

Mr. Avery hated the city.


He hated the crowds. He hated the crime. He hated the liberals and the utter lack of morality. Mr. Avery had hated the city his entire life, and now that he was retired, he’d packed up his belongings and moved to a small town in the countryside.


It was the perfect embodiment of small-town America. The kind of place where everyone knew each other’s names. It had a family-owned grocery store, plenty of churches, and farmland along most of the roads. In short, it held on to the values of the good old days which, while Mr. Avery couldn’t exactly remember living in, he was sure had once existed. And it was in the spirit of those values that early one Saturday morning he knocked on his next door neighbor’s door.


Now, Mr. Avery had only been able to afford an apartment, not the picturesque little house of which he and his late wife had once dreamed, but he saw no reason why he couldn’t get to know the person next door. Back in the day people knew their neighbors; they borrowed cups of sugar and the like. It just wasn’t the same today, and he blamed the internet for the change. (Mr. Avery viewed the internet like people hundreds of years ago viewed the sea: as something menacing and impossible to navigate.)


He knocked on the door and then waited. And waited. Then he rang the doorbell, but the apartment must have been vacant, because there was no answer. He found himself getting grumpy. People today. Why, he shouldn’t even have to introduce himself. Any decent person would’ve come to welcome their new neighbor the moment the moving truck had arrived. There was simply no excuse for the bankruptcy of American values today.


Grumbling to himself, he set off across the open terrace to his own apartment, but then he heard the door open behind him. He turned around--and nearly had a second heart attack.


It was a young person--it had to be considering her lack of decency. She’d answered the door in nothing more than a black silk robe. Her hair was cut so distastefully short she could’ve been mistaken for a boy (though in the back of his mind, Mr. Avery knew there was no way any red-blooded man could mistake this female for the opposite gender), and her exposed skin was unseemly pale, no doubt owing to staying indoors and watching television all day. It was exactly the type of person he’d expect to live next door to in the city. The only way he could’ve been more upset was if she’d had visible tattoos.


“What do you want?” she asked, squinting in the morning light.


He bristled with indignity. The manners of young people today.


“I’m Vernon Avery, your next door neighbor. I’ve come to say hello.”


She stared at him blankly for a moment. “Hello.”


In the silence that followed, Mr. Avery felt a bit silly, a feeling he didn’t enjoy. “Well then, I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other around. Good day.”


“Right,” she replied, and then she closed the door without so much as a goodbye.


Well. It was a shame, a darned shame that even in a decent town like this there were people sucking the rest of the population into a moral vacuum. He worried for future generations, he really did.


However, as the day went on, Mr. Avery forgot the outrage his neighbor had caused him. He went grocery shopping at the family-owned store. He went to the library and browsed the large print section. He called up his son the accountant and lectured his grandchildren. The day passed in no time at all, and after a dinner alone he went to the church bingo night to which he’d been invited. The people there were friendly and knew how to treat someone who was new in town. Particularly friendly was a widow named Louise, who dressed nicely and agreed with everything he said. Yes, Mr. Avery was in a good mood when he got home that evening, but that all changed when he saw his neighbor.


She was still wearing that black robe. Were young people today too lazy to even get dressed? And she was opening her door for a man who had to be a good ten years older than her. Mr. Avery could hear his moral outrage growing. What kind of woman invited a man inside at this time of night while wearing only a robe? He had a few choice words, but being a gentleman he couldn’t utter them. He went to bed with dark thoughts about depravity swirling through his mind.


When he woke up the next morning and got ready for church, he kept an eye out his living room window to see when that man would leave. He was halfway through his breakfast of grits when he saw him--no, wait. That wasn’t the same man he’d seen last night.


He rose from the kitchen table to get a better look. It was definitely a different man. This one was younger and had piercings all over his face--something Mr. Avery wouldn’t have forgotten if he’d seen him last night. The woman waved goodbye to him from her front step as he walked shakily towards the parking lot. He was clutching his neck. It had to be one of those--whatchamacallits--hickies. Mr. Avery couldn’t imagine what else it could be.


Just how many men had that young lady had over last night? He decided it was a good thing he was going to church this morning, since he’d apparently moved in next door to a bed of sin. Why, the moment he got back from mass he was going straight to the landlord to lodge a complaint. A God-fearing man shouldn’t have to live next door to this. He could only imagine what that woman was doing. In fact, he spent most of the Sunday sermon imagining it in great detail. He had to know what he was fighting against, after all.


When he pulled back into the apartment parking lot he marched straight to the office building. The man behind the desk was the same who’d forced him through all that horrible paperwork and given him his key, and he greeted him with a cheery wave.


“Mr. Avery, good to see you. What can I do for you today?”


“I’d like to register a complaint.”


The smile fell off the man’s face. “Oh. What about?”


“The young lady next door to me.”


The smile returned, dreamy and contented. “The one in 2A? She’s such a nice girl.”


“No, that’s exactly what I’ve come to talk about. Last night she played hostess to multiple gentlemen callers--multiple, I tell you. It simply isn’t decent. I demand you evict her.”


“Evict that nice girl? I’d never.”


“At the very least you should tell her that her behavior simply won’t be tolerated. It’s disgraceful.”


“Mr. Avery, I think you’re overreacting.”


“Overreacting? What kind of apartment complex are you running?”


He stormed out in disbelief. There were decent family men living in this complex with that foul temptress, and this spineless man wouldn’t do anything to protect them. Then it hit him. The man behind the desk must be one of her callers. It was the only explanation. It was a sordid web of lust into which Mr. Avery had stumbled, but he wasn’t going to give up. It was his public duty to protect those around him. That woman had to go.


For the next several nights Mr. Avery watched the apartment next door and kept records. If the landlord wouldn’t do anything about this, then he’d go to the police, but not until he had ample evidence. The woman in 2A took approximately two callers each night, one just after dusk and one before sunrise. They were people of all kinds, ranging from their forties to late teens. Some of them could have passed for respectable men, but others dressed all in black and were covered in tattoos. Why, there were even women among them. Mr. Avery could barely contain his disgust.


Once he attempted to peek through her window to catch a glimpse of the despicable act--for evidence, of course--but her dark curtains were always closed. The woman was constantly locked up in her corrupt domain. She only left her apartment once that he could see, and she returned hours later carrying shopping bags. She didn’t seem to have a job--or maybe this was her job. She was a prostitute, a scarlet woman. It was the only explanation. He felt a smile spread slowly across his wrinkled face. The police would definitely be interested in hearing about this.


That night he was organizing his notes and rehearsing his speech for the police when he saw a new man leave her apartment. Mr. Avery walked over to his window and craned his neck to make sure the youth went straight to his car. You could never tell with these types of people. Dawn might come tomorrow to find the entire apartment complex vandalized.


He had to press his face against the glass to keep watching, but it was a good thing he did, because the man suddenly wobbled and fell into the bushes. Mr. Avery straightened and immediately made for the door. The nerve of this man--he was probably drunk, and now he was ruining Mr. Avery’s bushes. (Not that Mr. Avery tended to the bushes himself. The rather suspicious-looking groundskeeper did, but they were still his bushes.)


He strode down the terrace to where the man was shakily trying to get to his feet.


“Young man,” he said. “Young man, just what do you think you’re doing?”


He walked around to get a better look at the hooligan and saw him clutching a tissue to the side of his neck. Another hickie. Did these people have no shame, displaying their horrid lifestyles for the whole world to see?


“Now you listen here,” Mr. Avery said. “This is private property. You can’t--”


The tissue fell away, and Mr. Avery jerked back a step. It was bloodstained. No, it was positively soaking in the crimson liquid. His eyes moved to the young man’s neck, and he saw no bruise there. He was marred by a bite, twin pinpricks oozing blood. Mr. Avery’s heart rate shot through the roof, and as he backed away he stumbled and nearly fell. The only thought on his mind was getting through his front door. He needed to be inside where it was safe. He needed--


He slammed the door behind him, unable to form another coherent thought. His hands were shaking as he bolted the lock shut, and it took him several tries to clasp the chain. Then he went straight to the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. Half an hour later he was passed out on the couch in blissful unconsciousness.


The next morning when the sun rose he found it harder to be afraid. His stark terror of the night before was a memory, like a dull ache where a sharp pain had once been. He was still afraid, but now he was angry, too. That vixen was biting people--biting! His mind went to dangerous places, to ideas he’d never dared before indulge. First an old Dracula movie, then one of those new crime shows on TV about serial killers. That woman wasn’t just a threat to morality--she was a threat to his life and that of his neighbors. If there was any time to call the police, it was now.


He went straight to the phone and dialed the number. A few seconds later he was explaining it all: the men coming and going at all hours, the bloody bites, the scandalous robe. By the end of his report he was shouting, and the woman on the other end actually had the nerve to tell him to calm down. She promised that two officers would come by to check it out, so he parked himself on a chair by the window and waited for their arrival.


It took them two hours to come--two hours! But they finally came, and Mr. Avery watched from the window as they knocked on the door and she answered it. A brief conversation followed, and she invited them inside. Mr. Avery felt a righteous swell of satisfaction within him. Finally she would get what she deserved. They’d search her home and find who knows what. Blood maybe, or evidence of Satanist rituals. She’d be sent to jail. Maybe he could even testify in her trial. His head spun with excitement. He’d barely lived in this town for a week, and already he’d made it all that safer for its residents.


He was imagining the story this would make at next week’s bingo night when the officers came out of the apartment--smiling. It was like someone had punched him in the gut. He stared in disbelief as the woman waved them a cheery goodbye and they departed. They weren’t taking her downtown or anything. He couldn’t understand what had gone wrong.


They were in on it. They had to be. She’d seduced them, or maybe they’d already been accepting carnal favors from her. What was the world coming to when you couldn’t even trust the police?


He’d have to confront her himself. It was the only way. If the police and authorities wouldn’t take care of this, then it was up to him. Someone in this country had to stand up for what was moral and just.


He’d finished off the whiskey last night, but he had a six-pack in the fridge, and he drank a whole can in several quick gulps. He would have set out the door right then and there, but a nagging feeling in the back of his mind caused him to grab the old cross hanging on his wall first.


He stormed outside and banged on her door, righteousness flowing through his veins. She opened it a moment later, hair tousled, eyes bleary. Her robe was about to fall off, its half-open front revealing pale breasts and legs.


“What do you want?” she groaned.


“To tell you that we don’t want your kind here.”


She rolled her eyes.


“I’m serious, missy!” And he waved the cross at her.


She knocked it out of his hands with a force that sent it shooting out of sight. He stumbled back and tripped, falling painfully on his backend.


“Demon!” He scrambled back across the floor. “Devil woman! Witch!”


“No, stupid.” She grabbed the front of his sweater and lifted him to his feet. “Vampire.”


He didn’t get a chance to scream. He barely got a glimpse of her fangs before she plunged them into his neck. But he was glad she did, because once she bit him everything got better. He was hazy and warm, safe as a child in his mother’s arms. All the aches and pains of his aged body disappeared, and it was like he was floating in the clouds. He couldn’t imagine why he’d been so frightened before.


It was a dream he didn’t want to wake up from, but all too soon she dropped him roughly and spat onto the floor.


“Ugh,” she said. “You taste like…old people.”


She wiped her mouth and looked at him, and he remained perfectly still under her gaze. For a moment it seemed like she didn’t know what to do with him.


“Okay. Here’s the deal.” She crossed her arms across her half-exposed chest. “I don’t like you. You’re ugly and nosy and you smell like soap. So you’re going to move away. I don’t care where you go--you think of somewhere nice. But you’re not staying here.”


Her gaze, unquestionably the most horrible thing he’d ever seen, softened, and she sighed.


“Here’s hoping the guy who moves in after you is cute. Now wash up and get some rest. You’re a mess.”


He slumped towards his front door and heard her help up the man from the bushes. Once inside he cleaned himself off, changed into sweats, and collapsed into bed. He had a big day tomorrow, so he needed his rest. He’d decided to move to a retirement community in Florida. He and his late wife had once dreamed of living in the sun. Besides, he didn’t want to cause any trouble for the young lady next door.


She was such a nice girl.

About the Author

Marie Morgan pays the bills by teaching English overseas, but creative writing has always been her passion—particularly writing about monsters, magic, and the mysterious.  The Girl Next Door is her first published work of short fiction.

Copyright (c) 2008 Drops of Crimson. All rights reserved.