This is a story that was inspired the Daily Prompt: Good Fences? writing prompt. It took me a bit more than a day to write it, but it was a fun exercise.
There was a banging on the wall. Again. Sometimes the banging was incessant; sometimes it only lasted a few moments. But no matter its length, volume or intensity-it was annoying in the extreme.
What in the name of Mary are they doing over there? He wondered rhetorically.
The new neighbors had moved in over two months ago and, based on the noise, seemed to be in a constant state of remodeling, decorating or maintenance. He’d never seen them going to or from a job, the grocery store and, now thinking about it, other than brief nods to one another when retrieving the mail from the front porch he could not recall actually seeing them outside the house. In truth the only evidence that there were plural occupants rather than singular was the fact the banging sometimes sounded as if it was coming from multiple locations. That was when the banging was its most annoying
When he first moved into his corner town home, 12 years ago, his only connecting neighbor had been an 85 year old woman, obviously not the loudest of people. While he would never have said they were friends, they were the very classical definition of neighbors. She would sign for packages when he was at work or out of town, he would mow her postage stamp sized lawn in spring and summer and clear the snow from her walk in the winter. Her children appreciated his occasional visits to fix a pipe or repair a shelf while checking to make sure other routine maintenance was being done. When the old lady had passed away, the house had sat vacant as her children demonstrated their carrion feeding nature and fought over the little she had left behind.
After the lawsuits had been resolved, a realtor sign appeared on the front lawn. He dutifully endured the normal sense of minor dread that comes with the knowledge of the impending arrival of new neighbors. Over the next few weeks as potential buyers traipsed through the house that dread decreased or amplified depending upon his cursory appraisal and stereotypical judgments. During the weekend long open house he was downright aghast when an obviously pregnant woman with two toddlers in tow rampaged throughout the house and yard. The lack of a man with her solidified his prejudicial opinion of her social-economic class as well as her morality. It was hard to keep his composure when, while getting his mail, he overheard the mother complaining about the financing not being easy to get. When, three days later, crowned upon the realtors sign crossbar, a sold declaration appeared his heart dropped.
Two weeks later, early on a Saturday, he was woken by the sound of several can horns. Looking out the window of his bedroom he saw a moving truck had blocked the front street. Throughout that day, a chaotic cacophony of car horns, bangs, stomps and bonks provided a soundtrack to his day. He continually fought off the urge to look outside to gawk as the new neighbors belongings were paraded from the constantly irritated street, dragged up the front stairs and squeezed through the narrow front door. The chaos continued the next day, starting just as early-perhaps earlier. It went on for several days after the weekend, waking him before his alarm clock had the opportunity. When the following weekend arrived, he was shocked that a normalcy seemed to return. While there was the noise of occupation bleeding through the wall, it was muted and offered a hope that the situation would be tolerable.
Two days later it felt as if all hope had been abandoned. While sitting down with a black lager and his evening appointment with the DVR there came a tapping-a rapping-on the opposite wall. Starting just barely above the level of notice, the intensity crescendoed to a volume that interfered with his attention and declared there would be no other point of focus for him that evening. The quiet he had grown accustom to and cherished was gone.
This state of affairs continued and became the new norm. He would wake each day to either his alarm clock or a banging, tapping, rapping-the odds of which he had begun to calculate based on an elaborate equation he continually formulated during the ever increasing time it took him to fall asleep. The intricacies of math were generally a comfort to him, but with the banging, tapping, rapping drawing his focus away from the logical predictability of numbers he found no consolation. There had been plenty nights before the new neighbors where the cool comfort of arithmetical thinking helped push him in to slumber. However there had been many more nights before the new neighbors when such calculations were not needed and a gentle decent into a night’s repose came easily.
But what might be the truly most irritating aspect of the entire affair was the fact that, while annoying in the extreme, the disturbance never approached the level where a complaint could be justified. Every time the volume approached the threshold of criminality, or at the very least un-neighborly, it would recede, like a wave retreats from a shore leaving just enough evidence to kindle a memory but not enough to establish its existence in the here and now. Additionally, he had never had to deal with anything like this before. Any previous disturbance in the neighborhood had always been dealt with by someone else. Whenever anything untoward occurred in the area, he barely had time to notice its presence with a peek through his blinds before one of the row’s other occupants was dealing with it. This allowed him to remain within the comfortable boundaries of anonymity towards those to whom the odds of conflict were greater.
This time things were obviously different. The banging, tapping, rapping was on his wall and he had no evidence that anyone else in his row was affected. The next neighbor over he knew even less of than the new ones. A few words exchanged during neighborhood snow or leaf clearing and membership in the neighborhood online social group was the extent of his relationships to anyone in the area. Taking all of these variables into account, the only result was that he would have to be the one to deal with this situation—something he was totally inexperienced at. Thus the state of affairs continued as he avoided it rather than confront it. As would be expected, his avoidance of the assumed quarrel confrontation would produce did little but cause increased fixation upon the very element of strife. Which, after many weeks of aggravation building to the present level of infuriation enveloping his cognizance, returned him to the original rhetorical question: What in the name of Mary are they doing over there, and the present object within his sight: the shotgun he had purchased so long ago that he had forgotten its existence until he stumbled across it in the closet while following the banging, rapping, tapping along the wall with his ear from one end of his bedroom to the other one night.
The shotgun’s actuality was confirmed by the smooth feel of its steel barrel and matte black finish, the black color menacingly reinforcing the weapon’s gravity. This was mirrored by the words “Remington 870 Tactical” engraved on its side and the gun’s gentle dent upon the box it came in, its weight depressed the box’s green surface like a planet in a graphic of Einsteinian space-time. He barely remembered purchasing the shotgun, but did remember he chose the black matte as it looked more aggressive to him than the traditional—although fake—walnut or the overly cheesy appearing camouflaged version. Not really understanding what he was buying, he allowed the salesperson at Wal-Mart to equip him with a box of 2 3/4″ 12-gauge shells, five of which were now in the weapon’s bottom loading magazine. The whole process of feeding the plastic, deceptively fragile feeling shells into the weapon had been mechanical—no actual thought was involved in the process. His mind had been occupied by noticing insignificant details of the shells’ construction and the gun’s seemingly eagerness to accept the penetration of the ammunition into its action.
Moving his head with the rhythm of the banging, tapping, rapping, he could see, along the edges of the blinds in his front windows that the night was at its darkest. Rising from the chair he walked to the wall and pressed his head against it, the paint’s texture hot against the skin of his ear. Swearing the banging, tapping, rapping was moving he dragged his ear along, following. He shot back, away from the surface, when a second banging, tapping, rapping joined, this one above and back toward the front of the house. Slowly stepping back, he heard a third banging, tapping, rapping, this one sounding further back and higher. Grabbing his phone, he thumbed open the sound meter app he had used to confirm the banging, tapping, rapping’s reality over a week ago and stared at the screen, waiting for the program’s judgment. Unleashing an almost infrasonic growl, he dropped the phone and stomped upon it, shattering the display that had read 13.5Hz/4.6dB.
Before he had realized it, the shotgun was in his right hand and the front door of his home slammed open. Placing his left palm upon the rough brick top, he vaulted the short wall that separated his porch from the new neighbor’s and landed with a thud. Stomping toward the door, a wooden affair with fifteen glass panels situated in rows of three just like his own secured behind a storm door, he worked the pump on the gun. Taking his hand from the pump, he yanked the screen storm door open, nearly pulling it off the hinges. His right foot slammed into the wood and glass door just above the height of the lock shattering the nearest panes but failing to open it. A second kick caused the door to bash against something behind its recess. Crashing, almost falling, through the opening he stormed into the home and stopped.
In front of him, just as in his own home, rose a set of steps, 21, before a landing and a turn blocked any further sight. To the left of the staircase he could see the ceiling of the room, the floor to the second story of the home, but unlike his home, it appeared as if this building had been cut in half in its interior. Side stepping to his left, holding the shotgun like he had seen in some movie or television show, he inspected the cut and saw that it extended all the way to the roof of the house and back to the very rear wall. The remaining half of the interior had been buttressed with additional supports that could be seen from the cut side. But perhaps the most confusing part of this was what appeared to be a massive machine of Goldbergian complexity that dominated the cut out half of the building. The contraption appeared to be affixed to the wall this house shared with his home and various tracks, wires, apparatuses and what looked like other smaller machines traversed along the machines’ frame. Affixed to some of these smaller devices appeared to be metal rods with different materials crowning their heads. These rods were attached to gears and the rods gently banged, tapped and rapped against the building’s shared wall at different speeds and strengths. Those that were fastened to tracks moved in a dizzying pattern, his mind could barely detect the sequence each followed. Monitors hung upon the rear of the machine all tilted so as to be viewable from the second story of the building.
Seeing such a convoluted mechanism took more moments to comprehend than anything else he could have imagined encountering upon bursting into some stranger’s home and he began to deflate until a modicum of movement caught his eye. A head stuck out from the second floor and stared down at him. The head belonged to a man, brown hair unkempt, glasses perched precariously on his nose. As the man gazed down at him, he had the distinct impression that for the other man, it was like looking down an abyss and seeing it look back.
Waving the shotgun instinctively toward the head he pulled the trigger at what he thought was the right moment and saw a red and gray tinged mist rain down. Darting back toward the stairs, he took them two or three at a time and launched himself upon the landing at the top. Here, he saw changes to the building had been made as well—all of the interior walls removed creating one large second floor room and additional supports added to hold the roof. Computers, files and other papers littered the tops of desks and tables where about six or seven people sat with various stages of terror and disbelief etched into their features. Not knowing what else to do, he began to turn the shotgun towards them in turn and pulled the trigger: once, twice, thrice, followed by a fourth time. Each pull of the trigger was accompanied by a scream, a blood red spray and a thump. Upon the fifth pull of the trigger, there was no report from the eighteen inch barrel. Strangely, it was this moment that it occurred to him that he had not purchased the two-shot extension considering it an up sell.
Two people remained on the floor with him, both appeared to be rigid and fixed in place. He walked toward the closest table that had been previously occupied by two persons, their bleeding corpses now thrown back and glanced down. The first thing to catch his gaze was a picture of him walking across the parking lot at his office. Moving his eyes about he saw the table was littered with dozens of pictures of him all over the city. There were pictures of him seated at his desk at work, out shopping, at the liquor store, as well as pictures of him in his home; sleeping, eating, working—there were even pictures of him in his bathroom. Spinning, he saw the room was decorated with charts, diagrams and larger pictures of himself at various locales—again, some from inside his house with some even appearing to have been taking recently.
He turned his gaze toward the two survivors and found himself uttering a single syllable: “Why?” He didn’t really understand his choice of interrogative; it was just what came out.
Behind him, there was a commotion that he was less than half aware of. He heard scraping metal, the distinctive sound of shattering glass and stomping. The commotion was accompanied by shouts and exclamations, terms he recognized: “left”, “right”, “move”, “clear”. He didn’t actually hear the words, however. Turning, he was confronted by an anonymous figure in black wearing a matching helmet with an opaque visor. The figure held an object his mind told him was dangerous but recognition of the object, any actual danger and so many other things eluded him right now.
More words were thrown at him: “down”, “floor”, “drop”. The words seemed to come from the figure in black, but again he didn’t hear them even though their meanings were well within his ken.
“Why?” he uttered again.
Another black figure appeared next to the first, this one too was holding one of those objects that caused something within him to scream caution. Again more words were flung at him, but again, he had no understanding. Looking down, he realized he was still holding his shotgun and while something inside him, the same something that told him he should be afraid of the objects held by the figures in black, told him he should probably put it down, but he couldn’t release his hold on it. It was the one thing he understood right now and letting go of it would be releasing his hold on what remained of certainty. There was so much going on around him right now, so much noise, so much chaos and the gun was solid. He could sense the situation gaining critical mass and, accompanied by the sound of a god’s thunder, his soul suddenly felt free.
–Edited by R J Davey