Part 9 of my “12 Short Stories” – Challenge
Based on a prompt by Mia from deadlinesforwriters.com
There is nothing like being good neighbours
There was a parcel on the doorstep when Helen came home. She bent down to pick it up and figured that the postman had misread the address. Theirs was number 13 and this package was supposed to go to whoever lived at number 31. Well, great.
She went inside to drop her bag and check the answerphone then left again, the box under her arm. It was heavy for its size and made a sloshing noise as she walked. It also gave off an unpleasant smell that reminded her of a hospital. Or, strangely, her compost heap. People ordered the weirdest things online these days.
Three quarters down their cul-de-sac, Helen’s stomach sank as she realised the proper owner of the package. She slowed down her steps and wondered if she should just put it down at the gate and hope for the best. Instead, she took a deep breath, ignored the goosebumps and said to herself “Oh, don’t be silly! What do you think is going to happen?”
She walked the last steps to the gate at the dead end of the road and up the path to the old house everybody avoided. Warm amber light shone from all its windows. Rose bushes bloomed abundantly in the crisp November air while soft smoke curled up from the crooked chimney. It all looked so cozy that Helen wondered if her neighbours had got it all wrong.
There was no doorbell so Helen was just going to knock. But before her hand connected with the door, it opened and a wrinkly face and pale blue eyes appeared.
“Mrs. Gray, this has been left at my door by mistake. So I thought I’d give it to you myself.”
The old woman had the wispiest white hair that tried hard to escape the bun at her neck. This seemed at odds with the blue jeans and dark purple hoodie she was wearing. Mrs. Gray beamed at Helen: “Oh, that is just so lovely of you! I bet it is quite heavy too. Won’t you come inside and have a cup of tea? The kettle has just boiled and these days so few people come to visit me.”
“Um,” was all Helen could come up with. She had mainly wanted to get rid of the package. “I don’t know. To be honest, I think I should go home and get started on dinner.”
“Come one, just the one cup! It would help me so much if you could carry the box inside, too. I have been waiting for it to arrive since the day before yesterday. I hope it is still alright anyway”
“What is it anyway?” Helen asked and then remembered. Whatever it was, it had probably gone off, judging by the smell. She cringed and hoped Mrs. Gray would not notice anything before Helen had left.
“Ah, you know,” Mrs. Gray flapped her hands. “Stuff. Hobby related ingredients.” She opened the door more widely and grinned waggling her dainty white eyebrows. “There may even be cake. And please, call me Edith.”
By now, the parcel felt like a stone in Helen’s arms, so she shrugged. “Alright, but I don’t need any cake. Or tea. Just show me where you want me to put this and I will be out of your hair in a minute.”
Edith led the way inside. The corridor was much darker than the brightly lit windows had promised. The lack of light may have been the reason why it also felt longer than it realistically should have been. There was an open door to the left, which Edith slammed shut before Helen could even think of peeking through. They entered a room via another door straight ahead. There was a table on which Helen dropped the box. She tried to cover the sloshing sound with a groan of relief.
“So what would you like? How about trying my own homemade herbal infusion mix?” Edith bustled away in the direction of what seemed to be the kitchen. “Make yourself comfortable on the sofa!”
“I really can’t stay, so there is no need at all for you to go to any trouble!” Helen called after Edith. She rolled her eyes, stared at the ceiling for a bit and then went over to try and sit on the sofa. The two tabby cats and the brown animal that looked a bit like a lizard presented a bit of a problem. Helen did not mind pets usually. These three, however, did not bother to hide their displeasure at having a visitor in their territory. The lizard stared even harder than the cats.
“Oh, you cheeky little rascals, let the nice lady sit!” Edith shooed her pets to the left, so she and Helen could squeeze onto the newly liberated part of the sofa. She pushed a chipped mug at Helen who sniffed its steaming brown contents gingerly.
“So, when did you two move here? I remember when all the area was forest, before the street was paved and the properties developed. Back then my house did not even need a number.”
“A couple of years ago,” Helen said, her eyes scanning the room for somewhere she could place the mug without having to lean over too obviously.
“It’s good to see you are not superstitious about your own number. Quite a few people did not want to move in at number 13.”
“Oh no, neither of us believes in that kind of nonsense,” Helen laughed. Out of the corner of her right eye she noticed Edith looking at her intensely then quickly breaking into a grin and clapping her hands.
“Well, it is a good thing that you came here to deliver the missing ingredients for my latest experiments. I had run out a while ago but now I can get back to work at last. So thank you very much again!”
Edith stood up and walked to the table, fishing a big knife out of the front pocket on her hoodie. She used it to cut along the side of the box which released a cloud of greenish vapour. At the same time the cats crept back up towards Helen, hissing. The lizard seemed to have materialised on the back of the sofa directly behind Helen’s neck. When its tongue shot out to touch her skin, Helen jumped up.
“I really, really have to go, I am sorry Mrs. Gray!”
“You haven’t even touched your tea, Helen! How am I supposed to-”
Helen felt a cold creep up her spine. She pushed past Mrs Gray who put up a surprising amount of fight and hurried through the long dark corridor. Helen heard Mrs. Gray tumble to the floor and at the same time something small scurrying after her.
At the gate she stopped to catch her breath and look back at the old house. It was completely dark and half covered in ivy, some of its windows broken. In the light from the street lamps she saw that the bushes on the front lawn had totally wilted away.
Helen stared in disbelief for a while, then decided she did not want to know after all, and ran all the way home.