Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Neighborhood Code

                “Holy cow Johnny, don’t be such a wuss,” said Edgar as he shoved Johnny in the back towards the front door. Johnny shrugged Edgar off and started up the long crumbling stone steps toward the Old Anderson Mansion. The Old Anderson place was a shadow of its former Victorian glory and had frankly been the eyesore of the entire Kennebunk neighborhood for years. It was terribly dilapidated and was scheduled to be demolished.

                “Go man, c’mon…go,” egged Edgar.
                Johnny tossed his empty beer can into the long grass that rustled in the night winds. He looked back at Edgar and flipped him the bird.

                “I’m going, nerd,” said Johnny.

                Johnny knew the stories about Old Mrs. Anderson and the curse she placed on the neighborhood. She said that as long as her house stood undisturbed the neighborhood would be spared the horrors of blight and destitution. But if the house were to be removed or torn down, then hell would come to Kennebunk.  Mrs. Anderson was a crazy old philanthropist who went to too many seances and spiritualists and believed she could protect her mansion from beyond the grave. It was clear her curse was a joke since the neighborhood had indeed fallen into destitution and blight, along with prostitution, drugs, alcoholics, wife beaters, work-out equipment in the driveways, oil drum fires, and all the other classic stereotypical visuals of a poor neighborhood. Mrs. Anderson’s curse was a joke. Most of the old neighborhood types had taken to spitting through the iron fence onto the mansion’s scraggly lawn.

                Johnny stepped up to the old ornate oak front door and took a deep breath. He looked at the orange sticker on the door, notifying any possible occupants that the house was scheduled to be demolished in two days.   He burped a little and looked back at Edgar. Johnny and Edgar, friends since childhood, had been drinking for most of the day. Johnny had won a scratch off lottery ticket for two hundred and fifty bucks so they were having a day/night on the town. They were at Matteo’s bar, which used to be Kennedy’s Bar until 2008, before getting kicked out for trying to get the waitress Clarita to make out with Edgar. So while wandering the streets Edgar got the bright idea that they should break into the Old Anderson Mansion before it got torn down.  

                “Are you going to knock,” asked Edgar and he laughed.
                “Shut up. I’m going…,” said Johnny.

                Johnny did knock. Shave and a haircut. He looked back at Edgar and laughed like a drunk. Edgar laughed too and tried to light a cigarette. Johnny turned back to the door and pushed against the old wood and to his surprise the door opened without much struggle.

                “That was easy,” said Johnny as he stumbled back from the open doorway. He shrugged and started to walk inside the old mansion. Edgar called for him to wait up and he bounded sloppily up the steps and followed Johnny inside, like he always had.  They walked into the dark foyer and heard the crunch of old leaves and paper under their feet. They had both lived in the neighborhood their entire lives but they never had the courage to break in to the old place until now. Even though the people spit on the lawn, there was an unwritten rule about breaking in. You just didn’t do it. There were never even any squatters in the place. The reputation of it being a haunted house kept most homeless and druggies away.

                It was said by the old timers in the neighborhood that if you went into the house uninvited, Mrs. Anderson would be quite displeased. Johnny had heard their stories about headless corpses being found on the fringes of the property and how stray dogs and cats, and even rats wouldn’t go inside the place. But the house and Mrs. Anderson had to feed. They had to feed in order to keep the neighborhood strong. Johnny had always dismissed it as stupid nonsense, something to scare the kids away; which seemed to work.

                “If I had known it was so easy to get in here we would have done it years ago,” said Johnny as he nudged Edgar.
                “Yeah,” said Edgar as he looked around in the dark.

                They stepped forward toward the old parlor and fumbled through the dark. Edgar took out his Zippo lighter and held it up over his head to light their way.  The room flickered, bathed in the yellow fire light. There was still some furniture and random books strewn about. Leaves and moss covered the ground and the house had a greenhouse smell, mulched and composted. It was warmer in the house than outside. The cool fall night hadn’t crept in.

                “Good insulation in this place,” said Johnny.
                “Yeah, it’s almost, warm,” said Edgar.
                “I gotta pee,” said Johnny.
                “Me too.”

                They laughed at each other and continued to stumble through the house, absently looking for a bathroom in a house that was built before indoor plumbing was standard. They didn’t notice that the front door closed quietly behind them.

                “Where do you think the bathroom is,” asked Edgar as he stumbled into a stack of old boxes.
                “Watch out man,” laughed Johnny,” do you want to wake up Old Mrs. Anderson?”
                “Oooh, I bet she was hot. I’d wake her up alright,” said Edgar as he grabbed his crotch and gyrated his hips forward.
                Johnny laughed and the two found their way into the dining room. It was once a beautifully paneled room with crystal chandeliers and an elegant dining table for 20. It was now covered in wood rot and the lighting was gone.  It looked like a room that had been crying for 70 years.

                Johnny kicked up some of the wood debris that had fallen to the floor and looked at Edgar.

                “Must have been one hell of a room,” said Johnny.
                “Yeah,” said Edgar, “I’m gonna pee in the corner over there.”

                Johnny nodded and took the lighter from Edgar and looked around the rest of the room. He saw the old kitchen doorway and could have sworn the swinging door was actually swinging.

                “Did you see that door move,” asked Johnny.

                There was no response from Edgar. Johnny turned toward the corner where Edgar went to pee.

                “Edgar? Edgar? What the hell man,” said Johnny.

                Edgar was gone. Johnny walked toward the far wall of the dining room calling for Edgar but there was no response. He looked all around the ground for any sort of floor collapse or holes that Edgar could have fallen through. There was nothing, the floor was solid. The kitchen swinging door was flung open and a hot wind roared into the dining room. Johnny staggered backwards and the Zippo’s flame licked the sides of his hand. He cried out and dropped the Zippo to the floor. He bent down quickly to pick it up and re-light it. He flicked the flint and the flame cleared the darkness. He looked up past the flame. Her face was right in front of his, Mrs. Anderson, like a porcelain doll, white smooth skin and black soulless eyes.

                “Your friend did wake me. But not in the way he intended,” smiled Old Mrs. Anderson.

                She reached out and pulled Johnny’s head off before he could scream.

                In the weeks that followed, the house remained standing. Any demolition equipment that came to tear the house down would mysteriously break down or the weather wouldn’t cooperate. Strange fires would break out around the job site or the mud around the property would get so thick the workers couldn’t step through it to get to the old mansion. Eventually the demolition contractor just had to move on to a new job and the house stayed where it was, untouched.  The rose garden started to bloom in the yard. A Whole Foods was opening near-by and the workout equipment disappeared from the driveways. The streets got cleaner and jobs in the neighborhood started booming. 

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