Don’t look for safety in the suburbs.
Neighbors are much like family, you can’t pick them. And neighbors Reggie Parks and Ollie Dumont have lived next door to each other and shared a common fence for many years. Parks and Dumont have had their ups and downs going back a long way. But one autumn day, the lives of these two families spiral out of control as an all-too-real horror invades their idyllic community.
From Reggie Parks’s back porch, the day looked like a painting of autumn. The chilly air was misty-gray with the smoke of neighborhood chimneys, the azure sky bright through the skeletal tree branches to which a few desperate leaves still clung. The ground was dappled with the bright oranges and muted yellows that had fallen from the two maples, the elm and the royal empress. Children’s laughter came from the backyard on Reggie’s right, and to the left, smoke rose from the other side of the tall, slatted chain-link fence where, he guessed, Ollie Dumont was burning leaves in his backyard.
Reggie had always hated that ugly fence—it was old and more slats broke away every year, giving him the creepy impression of a long row of big jagged teeth along one side of the yard—but he could say nothing about it because it was Ollie’s fence. He knew it would be a waste of time to bring it up with the Ollie. He would chuckle and say, “Sure, I’ll get to work on replacing that fence, uh, let’s see—” take a look at his watch, then say, “How about the day after my funeral? That work for you?” and chuckle again.
Ollie was a cranky old fart. He was a Vietnam vet and a retired carpenter, and he was married to June, one of the sweetest women Reggie had ever known, right up there with his own mother. Silver-haired and apple-cheeked, she looked like a grandmother who had just stepped off of a Norman Rockwell canvas. They had four children and enough grandchildren and great-grandchildren to make their house sound like a bus station every year at Christmas time.
Reggie was willing to cut Ollie some slack because he was about seventy, give or take a couple of years—he refused to tell anyone his true age—and Reggie, who would turn fifty-one in January and already suffered from more aches and pains than he’d ever experienced in his life, found that he had a lot more respect for old people than he’d had in his giddy, invincible youth. By seventy—or whatever age he was—Ollie had plenty of reasons to be cranky, whatever they might be. Even so, he could be a genuine pain in the ass.
Reggie and Kimberly had lived next door to the Dumonts for twenty years. Ollie had always been loud, irascible and opinionated, but age, while dulling and dimming so much of him, only magnified some of Ollie’s worst traits. All of his filters, the functionality of which had long been in question, were collapsing, and he said whatever popped into his head, and if he was angry, he said it very loudly. June, being the human equivalent of a batch of sugar cookies fresh out of the oven that she was, took his shouting in stride. More than a few times, while Ollie bellowed on about something, June had turned to Reggie and silently rolled her eyes.
At the rear of the long backyard was an eight-foot tall fence that Reggie had installed shortly after they moved in, and on the other side, a deep, dense grove of oak trees separated it from a large complex of storage rentals. That same fence continued up the other side of the backyard and nearly all the way to the front of the house before it ended at a gate. On the other side of the fence, the Goldman children and some of their friends were on the large trampoline, and, from the sound of their laughter and shrieks, were having a grand time. That was fine with Reggie. It was a nice sound and usually cheered him up.
When he and Kimberly moved in, that house had been occupied by Morris and Felicia Goldman and their three children. Morris owned a small jewelry store in the mall at the time, but in fifteen years he had a chain of stores that was so successful, he and Tonya decided to move to Palm Springs. Their oldest son Aaron, his wife Sarah, and their three children, soon to be four, now lived in the house. They were not exactly standoffish, but neither did they encourage interaction. They exchanged smiles and greetings, but little more.
Reggie’s right hand clutched the handle of a rake as he went down the steps and onto the back lawn. It was a bigger yard than he and Kimberly needed now that the kids were out of the house, but it got a lot of use when they visited.
Through slats in the chain-link fence, Reggie saw movement and the orange flash of flames in milky smoke. He recognized Ollie’s hooded green raincoat.
“Hey, Ollie!” he called. “Nice day.”
Movement continued over there for a moment, then he saw the olive green of the coat move across the gaps in the slatted fence and go into the house through the back door.
Maybe Ollie was simply too preoccupied with burning leaves to notice anything else…
More About PEEL BACK THE SKIN
PEEL BACK THE SKIN is a powerhouse new anthology of terror that strips away the human mask from the real monsters of our time–humankind. Featuring a star-studded cast of award-winning authors from the horror, dark fantasy, speculative fiction, transgressive, extreme horror and thriller genres, PEEL BACK THE SKIN is the next game-changing volume from Grey Matter Press.
Including all-new fiction from Jonathan Maberry, Ray Garton, Tim Lebbon, Graham Masterton, Yvonne Navarro, Ed Kurtz, Durand Sheng Welsh, James Lowder, Joe McKinney, Lucy Taylor, Charles Austin Muir, Erik Williams, Nancy A. Collins, John McCallum Swain and William Meikle.