“I’ll get it.”
Ron Moore, his wife Layna, and their almost three-year-old daughter Emily had just moved into the new house in the suburbs the week before, but this was the first time anyone had come to visit.
“Hi. May I help you?”
“Seth Kennedy. I’m your next door neighbor. Just thought I’d drop by and say…”
Little Emily grabbed onto her Mommy’s leg and started crying hysterically. She looked up in terror at the man at the door, and then buried her face again.
“I’m sorry. She doesn’t usually do this.”
“What?” The neighbor cupped his hand around his ear.
Ron looked back at his wife.
“I’ll take her into the other room.”
As Layna carried their daughter into the back, Ron turned to the man at the door and shook his hand.
“Sorry about that. It’s been a long day and she probably needs her nap.”
“That’s okay. Kids, right? Anyway, like I said, I just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood. Nice to have new faces around here. Nobody’s moved to or from this block in I don’t know how long.”
“Yeah, well we were lucky to be able to get the place. My brother-in-law is a Realtor and gave us a heads up.”
“I see. Well, welcome. Hope to see you around.”
“Sure, Seth. Same here.”
After closing the door, Ron walked down the hall and into his daughter’s bedroom. Layna was still holding Emily and comforting the little girl.
“What’s wrong, Sweetie?”
“Monster, Mommy. He’s a monster.”
Ever since that say, whenever, Emily would see Seth Kennedy walking down the street, or mowing his lawn, or waving as he drove past their house, she would cry and run. Seth began to worry about it, but she was only a kid, and kids usually grew out of this phase in a few months, a year at most. Even if she told her folks what she really saw, they’d never believe her.
“We’ve got to get her past this, Layna. It’s rude for Emily to cry and call Seth a monster. He’s been nothing but nice to us.”
It was a Saturday afternoon and their little girl was down for her nap.
“I don’t know. There’s something a little off about him. It’s like he’s trying too hard to be nice.”
“We are the first black family in this neighborhood. At least he’s talking to us. No one else is.”
“That’s not true. I met Judy Foster from down the block. She has a little girl about Emily’s age. I must have talked with Judy for hours while Em and Danae played. I invited them over tomorrow so the girls could play again and you could meet them.”
“Yeah, but did they come over when we first moved in?”
“I think people here aren’t used to change, but once you get to know them, they’re okay. Seth Kennedy is the one I’m worried about.
“Darren Foster. Pleased to meet you.” The two men shook hands. “This is my wife Judy, and..”
The two girls gleefully ran into each other’s arms. Then Emily took her new friend by the hand and led her into the living room where she had all of her toys lined up on one side of the coffee table.
“I see they’ve become fast friends. Please, come in.”
The Moores and the Fosters had coffee together as they watched their children play, a pretty typical scene in most American suburban neighborhoods.
After a bit, Ron took Darren out back to describe the landscaping he planned to put in.
Both men turned to see Seth waving at them over the fence that separated the Moore’s property from the Kennedy’s.
“Hi, Seth.” Ron was still enthusiastic about his next door neighbor, but was a little surprised to see that Darren gave a polite but reserved nod.
“Say, Ron. Mind if I have a look around your garage? You said you’d gotten a new lawn mower and I’m interested in replacing my old one.”
Seth watched with suspicion and anxiety as the two other men disappeared back inside.
Once in the garage, Ron flipped on the light and started walking to where he kept the yard tools.
“Wait a second, Ron.”
“It’s about Seth. Have you noticed anything strange about him?”
“Only that my little girl thinks he’s some kind of monster.”
“So does mine. So do all the kids below the age of four on this block. They always have.”
“Look. We thought we had everything under control. We have Seth restrained, but that only goes so far, and while we can’t force him out, we know better than to go anywhere near him. The Randolphs finally couldn’t take living so close to him, so they moved out, and Kennedy has a corner lot so he has no neighbors on the other side.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He’s not what he appears to be, none of us are.”
Ron chuckled nervously. “What? Seth Kennedy is really a monster and you’re some kind of zoo keepers?”
“That’s pretty close to the truth, Ron.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but are you crazy?”
“I know it sounds crazy, but…look. I can only show you this once. Seth’s a creature of habit and it’s mid-morning Sunday, so he’s probably started mowing is front lawn by now.”
Both men could hear a lawn mower starting up outside.
“Open your garage door.”
Ron didn’t take his eyes off of Darren as he pressed the button and the mechanical hum of the garage door opener assailed them. The door was pulled up and light streamed in. Then Ron followed Darren outside.
Darren put his hand on Ron’s shoulder. “Just once, now. When he turns and comes back this way. Look at his face.
At first Seth’s face was just his face, and then it was horrible. The balding man’s nose and jaw extended outward like a wolf or a boar, twin fangs protruding downward, restrained by a thick wire muzzle. Then he turned his mower the other way and the apparition was gone.
Ron staggered back into the garage and bent over, hands on his knees.
“Just breathe. You’ll feel better in a second or two.”
“What…what the hell was that? I wasn’t imagining things. Hell, he isn’t even human.”
“No, he’s not. Well, yes he is, but he’s…possessed.”
“That face is what he is inside. He hates life and goodness, children, everyone. The muzzle is from us. We can’t banish him from the Earth, but we can contain him. That’s our mission and purpose. When the Randolphs moved out…well, they were getting old and their powers were on the wane. We were waiting for replacements. When you moved in with your family, we didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”
“What are you? Who is Seth?
“Seth is the last demon, the source of hate, racism, violence, rape, murder, he is the supernatural source of it. We can restrain him, but not completely. Little children can see him for what he really is, but as they get older, they lose touch with that sense.”
“You never said who you are.”
“We are the keepers. We’re people, just like everyone else, but we were trained to have certain abilities. We guard the world against Seth getting loose. I wish we would have said something sooner, but we sincerely thought living this close to him would be so uncomfortable that you wouldn’t stay long.”
“What are we supposed to do? I can’t have my family living with…with that thing next door. Oh my God, poor Emily. No wonder she’s terrified of him.”
“The way I see it, you have two choices, Ron. You can move out. We’ll see you get a fair price for your place and can arrange for you to buy a new house in a good neighborhood.”
“You can join us, you and your wife. We can train you. If you say yes, you’d be doing the world a really good service.”
In less than a year, she won’t notice him anymore. Until then, you’d have to keep her away from Seth.”
“Look. I’m not sure…”
“I know. Take some time to absorb this. Talk to your wife about it. I’ll be glad to answer any questions you have, and either way, we want to do right by you. I’m sorry we didn’t talk to you about this sooner. We just weren’t sure how to approach it.”
“Yeah…I need some time. Oh God, I’m living next door to a monster.”
Seeing that hideous image, I thought about how people can seem so ordinary on the outside, but in truth, they’re muzzling their inner natures.
So I had an African-American family move into the “burbs” where things seem pretty ordinary, but their next door neighbor, who appears nice and welcoming on the outside, really hates everything about them.
The story just evolved from there.