Our new neighbors are simultaneously the scariest and nicest people I’ve met.
The house across the street had been for sale for a while. Jason had no idea, for the longest time, who lived there, but one day while perusing the online real-estate listings, he saw it was for sale. Judging by the state it was in when the pictures were taken, it seemed that an elderly woman lived there alone and may have died or gone to live in a nursing home.
A year and seven months later, Jason walked to the end of his driveway to pick up his mail. He noted a storage pod and new cars in front of the house.
"Hmm, they finally sold it," he said under his breath and walked back to his house, plopping the mail onto a table with a few weeks worth of old mail and went about his business. Everything he needed, he got online, so he assumed anything else was junk mail.
A few days later, he was cleaning and decided to clear off the mail table. While sorting through, he happened upon a small, mint-green envelope with only his name - written as "Mister Jason Blazczack" - and the senders' names, Brad and Danielle Kala.
Confused at who would have mailed it to him, he searched through his phone and email contacts, in case the party in question may have been clients, or second- or third-degree relatives. Having found nothing, he texted his sister, "Do you know a Brad or Danielle Kala?"
"No. Y?" she responded a few minutes later
"I got mail from them and no idea who the fuck they are"
"No clue. Sry"
In the meantime, he'd opened the envelope and found an invitation to a housewarming party in three weeks, the RSVP date of which was one day from the present. It instructed to bring a dish or purchased snack or drink.
Jason flipped the card over by chance, and noticed the address was on his same street. He searched the address on his phone and raised his brows in interest, seeing that it was the house across the street.
Naturally, he did not RSVP either way. A few days later, he heard a knock at the door while he was watching videos on the internet and arguing in the comments. He opened the door slightly.
“Can I help you,” he asked, looking down through the crack at the two people standing on the porch.
“You’re Jason?” The man asked. He was unremarkable in appearance
“I am,” he replied
“Nice to meet you, Jason,” the other man said, “I’m Brad, and this is my wife Danielle. We just moved in and, ah, wanted to get to know our neighbors”
“Yea, people don’t really value their communities any more and we want to change that,” Danielle chimes in, “one neighbor at a time”
“Nice to meet you,” Jason said, mildly bristling at Brad’s use of his name twice in rapid succession. He knew it was one of those tricks often cited to help ‘become likable to others’, and started to become suspicious
“So we just moved from Oklahoma City, and wanted to let you know that if you needed anything, let us know,” Danielle continued
“Ok,” Jason replied after a moment of awkward silence, “Um, did you need anything?”
“Nope. We’re good, ‘just wanted to reach out and get to know everyone” Brad said
“Oh that reminds me,” Danielle said, “Did you get the invitation to our housewarming party? We got RSVPs from everyone but you and two other people, and wanted to make sure the invitation reached you.”
“I’ll have to look through my mail pile later,” Jason said
“I can take your RSVP now,” Danielle chimed cheerfully, “it’s on the 14th, in about two weeks”
“I don’t know. I have to see what I have to do that day,” Jason said, becoming anxious of their insistence
“You’re right across the street and it’s just a casual thing so you can just pop over for a few minutes. I know we all got things to do,” she said
Jason slowly, silently exhaled through his nose, listening to her, and thought, Will these people even take no for an answer?
He pretended to check his phone calendar, and informed Danielle, “I actually have a thing I gotta send a client by the 17th so I’m gonna actually have to RSVP ‘No’ then”
“Oh cool,” Brad commented, “You’re self-employed too? I’d be interested in talking business with you some time. Ya’know, actually maybe you can help me understand some of the laws here? What kind of work do you do?”
“Designer,” Jason said, feeling a sinking feeling of terror that this other person just so happened to have this thing in common with him
“That’s awesome. You look like the creative type,” Brad said, “If you ever need work, let me know. I’m an engineer but I know a lot of my own clients sometimes need graphics or whatnot.”
“Sure, sounds good, I’ll let you know,” Jason said, his tone reflecting a desire to end the conversation
“Ok, well if you change your mind about the party, let us know,” Brad said
“Sure,” Jason said, starting to close the door as he saw Brad move his feet as if to turn and leave
“Oh, I forgot,” Danielle said, “Can we get your phone number so we can keep in touch?”
Jason sighed, his tone becoming more serious, “To be honest, I don’t know anything about you and you don’t know anything about me, so I think we could go without exchanging numbers for now considering you can just...walk onto my property, evidently, if you want to talk to me”
“Oh, ok,” Danielle said, sounding a little dismayed by his reply, “We’ll be going now, then. Thank you.”
“Ok, see you around,” Brad said and he and Danielle walked away.
Jason closed and locked the door, and watched them from a nearby window to be sure they walked back to their own home or somewhere else that wasn’t his property.
A few days later he was talking to his sister as he paced through the house, “...so this couple walks over and starts asking me questions about my job, and wanting my phone number, and it’s like they’re hell-bent on getting me to go to their housewarming party. I don’t know them. Why are they so insistent on getting in my business? What are they plotting? Are they feds or something?”
“Sometimes people just want to be friendly. You said you don’t know them, but how are you supposed to if you act like a dick to them - ‘cause I know that’s what you did, actin’ frigid and giving one-word answers - and refuse to communicate and be open. I don't understand why you act so suspicious and terrified of people.”
“There are some people I just ‘click’ with and that’s all the people who I’ve talked to and been friends with for years, so I’m not as neurotic as you seem to think I am”
“Why do you think that would happen?”
“I don’t know. Some personalities go together better than others, and some people are just- they get off on fuckin with others and making misery. I have no patience for that shit anymore”
“You gotta give people a chance. I know you had a hard time growing up, but if you let that affect you now, you’re just letting those people from high school - who are now probably totally different and don’t even remember you - live in your head. It’s probably something you take for granted because you see yourself every day, but you’re a huge, terrifying dude so the fact that someone’s talking to you in spite of that, and how you respond, says a lot”
“Why do you think that's where my mind is? All I want is to be left alone. Is that a crime?”
“Please just do me a favor and go apologize to them and go to their party. Be nice and act like a normal human being.”
Jason sighed and replied, “Ok,” with a noncommittal tone
“I’m serious. I feel embarrassed for you because this isn’t a problem you should have when you’re almost forty”
“Ok, Jessica. I’m going to make dinner. Bye,” he said and hung up.
He didn’t make dinner but he picked up the invitation again and checked “Yes” to RSVP. However, the next day, he dumped a pile of junk mail and it passed out of mind again
Eventually, Jason had forgotten about the neighbors and the conversation with his sister. That was the case until he found a new email titled, “Referred by a friend”.
I hope this email finds you well. My name is Greg Walsh, and I’m looking to work with a designer such as your self to revamp the Walsh Group branding. Our mutual friend, Brad Kala, said you may be able to help
We can Zoom if you would like to discuss this, or you can call me at 555-912-9534.
Greg D. Walsh
Walsh Group LLC
‘Mutual friend’?, Jason thought to himself, feeling a wave of anxious nausea. He tried to work through the morning, planning to address the situation later, but he was too distracted by thoughts about the interpersonal situation he faced and decided he needed to do it now
He changed into some decent clothes - jeans and a black, plain t-shirt - and walked to the Kala residence and rang their doorbell
Danielle answered, “Hi Jason. Good to see you again. How are you?” Her tone was pleasant and it was as if she forgot about their last interaction
Jason didn’t remove his sunglasses. “Hi, is Brad there?”
“Yea, let me go get him,” she said, “Would you like to come inside?”
“I’m good, I just need him for so- a quick moment,” Jason replied
Danielle went inside and Brad opened the door a moment later. “Hey Jason, what’s up buddy?” he asked cordially
Jason hesitated a moment before speaking, “Ssso, I see the good intention in giving my info to that Walsh guy, but I would have appreciated more if you asked first”
“Sorry about that,” Brad replied, “it’s just, your E-Mail is on your public web site, so I didn’t see the harm in referring Greg to you.”
Jason blinked in surprise behind his sunglasses at the fact Brad had evidently searched him on the internet
“That’s totally true” Jason said, “but there’s higher expectations with a referral and if you’re not familiar with my work and you tell someone ‘Yea this guy’s perfect for your job’, it puts me in a weird position.”
“C’mon, you’re great at what you do. You just need to have more confidence,” Brad said and shook Jason’s shoulder in a chummy way
Jason gave an anxious eye-roll behind his sunglasses and shifted his weight to his heel, crossing his arms under his chest. “Yea maybe I should,” he said, his tone and soft smile ambiguous, appearing convincingly cheerful to mock the statement
“Oh, not to change the subject too much,” Brad said before asking, “but will you be at our housewarming party?”
Thinking of what his sister said, Jason said, “I might, I don’t know”
“Good. Hope to see you there. If it helps get your ass over here, what kind of beer do you like?” Brad asked
“Bring a friend if you want, too” he added
“I’m fine, I’m not a beer-person,” Jason replied. He also considered Brad meant a lady-friend, which he was unfortunately lacking at the moment.
“You like Wine? Liquor? You seem like you could use some tequila,” Brad continued, “Seriously, just say what you want and I’ll make it happen.”
I want to be left alone, Jason thought to himself
“Maybe he doesn’t drink, doofus!” Danielle yelled from the kitchen window
“Well, if you don’t, then I apologize,” Brad said, “...But seriously, it’d mean a lot if you could stop by. We want to make this a nice neighborhood and bring everyone together”
“Ok. Thanks. I have to go take a call in a minute,” Jason said as he turned and hurriedly walked away to go back home
“Ok, see ya next week!” Brad shouted as Jason jogged across the street and part-way up his driveway before walking the rest of the distance
It wasn’t the kind of resolution Jason wanted, ideally, but the conversation soothed his nerves enough that he could continue working through the day
The next few days were Kala-free peace and quiet. Jason was productive and reasonably content, even when he contacted Greg Walsh about the work he requested. Greg was decent enough and his project was something Jason could do easily.
Bidding on the project, a little higher than he would have otherwise, he considered that he could have been excessively stand-offish to Brad. It was pigheaded to withhold gratitude for the referral, and Jason, being the one who had the “problem”, felt he could be obligated to try a little harder to meet the Kalas in the middle. Perhaps he could learn something from these people.
There was less than a week til the housewarming party and Jason hadn't heard anything from the Kalas. He knew he was more introverted than the norm, but always assumed there was a significant section of the population that shared his preferences. Perhaps Brad and Danielle interacted with others and realized they were over-zealous and alienating; perhaps they dialed themselves back a notch, based on that. Maybe they were trying very hard to be "good neighbors" and couldn't keep up the act for more than a week or two.
Jason went to the gym one night. He hadn't been for a while but went in the evening to avoid the crowds -- or people in general. There was one other person in the whole place and it was cool, quiet, and he could take his time. He was between sets, standing in front of the racked bar with his headphones in, looking at his phone, when he heard a voice.
Huh?, he took one earphone out and looked around.
It was Brad.
"Heey, I didn't know you went here. We just joined," Brad said gleefully
"Nice," Jason replied, fiddling with his earphone as to suggest he wanted to put it in and get back to what he was doing
"You think you could show us the ropes, buddy? We didn't get a tour," Brad asked
"Uhh," Jason hesitated, unwilling to give a tour of the gym, "Well, there's free weights over here, and machines over there. And uh, some treadmills, bikes, and shit. It's all really normal stuff."
"No, I mean, do they have battle ropes?!" Brad laughed
"No, uhh-" Jason said before Brad cut him off
"Noooo, I was just messin' with ya! We're friends! You don't have to be so serious"
Jason didn't laugh, put his earphone in and got under the bar to start another set
"We're gonna go check it out then. Have a good workout!" Brad said, without a hint of sarcasm
Jason finished his set no less than three minutes later and just as he set the bar back on the rack, he heard a voice again, and took his earphone out. It was Danielle.
"Hey- Hey!," she said until she realized, when he turned to look, that he could hear her, "Ope! I'm sorry. Hey I was wondering if I could work in with you?"
Jason looked at her blankly and gestured in the direction of the other rack, "There's another rack right there. I can put weights on for you if you need, but it doesn't make sense, ya'know?"
"Ooooh my god, I'm sorry, I didn't know! I'm sorry!" Danielle said, covering her mouth and momentarily bowing in embarrassed laughter, before she walked off to the other rack with a small skip in her step
Jason debated on leaving early and coming back a different time to avoid these people, but the way work was going, he didn't know when he'd feel like it again. Besides, Danielle was minding her business now that she got started, and if things stayed that way, he wouldn't really have a reason to leave. He made it through a few more sets unmolested, then Danielle walked back over. He took his earphone out.
"Hey. So, like, I don't want to bother you but can you spot me?" she asked
"What about Brad? Can he spot you?" Jason asked, puzzled as to why she would ask him when her own husband was with her, albeit elsewhere
"I don't wanna bother him," she replied sheepishly
Jason couldn't help but cringe and laugh under his breath. "Heheheh, what'll you do if I say no?" he asked, rubbing his forehead in incredulity and what he perceived her logic to be.
"We-Well, wh- that's ok I guess," she said, evidently not expecting his reply. "I'm good," she added with a hand wave and a slight scrunch of her face.
He sensed that she didn't like his answer but was just sounrealistically polite she didn't even attempt to snark back or call him out. Danielle continued to mind her own business and Jason finished up. He made it to the locker room to wash his hands and get his stuff out of his locker.
He fumbled his wallet at the sudden sound of a voice in the silence, "Heya bud!" It was Brad.
"Wassup..." Jason replied flatly, pretending to look at something on his phone as he stooped to pick up his wallet
"So uhh yea. Jussst, workin' out. 'Saw you lifting," Brad said, "Man, that's more than I lift. Are you more of a powerlifter or a body building guy?"
Jason looked up, brows raised, confused because he looked like neither, "Uhh...I just do it for exercise."
"How are you doing making friends in the neighborhood?" Jason immediately followed up, relieved to change subjects. It seemed to him that Brad and Danielle were inexplicably obsessed with him, so he wanted to see how they - or Brad, at least - saw themselves.
"Know what?" Brad said, "We're having a great time with everyone. We went to the Berdini's for dinner last night. Do you know them? Rich and Stephanie? They have a son who's like 6."
Jason paused and thought. He'd seen a few different women walking up and down the street with kids about that age, but he didn't know any of their names. "No, I don't know them."
"Well," Brad started again, "You probably know Joe Huffman, then? He lives like three houses down from you. Great guy. He can tell you fuckin' anything about cars."
"I don't," Jason said, "I really just keep to myself, honestly."
He regretted not doing any snooping to find out who his neighbors were and what they were like, if for no other reason than to validate what Brad was saying. His paranoia made him wonder if Brad might be dropping made-up names and "facts" to convince Jason, who he knew was a recluse, that he talked to other neighbors than him. This might be a cover, he thought, for these people's stalking. If this kept up, would he find himself waking up drugged, in Brad and Danielle's torture dungeon? Come to think of it, he was a fair target for a pair of serial killers -- neighbors didn't know him well, he didn't have a job that would immediately start calling if he didn't come to work, he didn't talk to his family often, he didn't go to church or any community organizations, and he wouldn't attract the same level of sympathy and concern as a typical "missing white woman" thanks to his gender, appearance, and presumed lifestyle. Dead guy, "foul play", case closed. How they knew most of that, he would have to think.
Guy who died? Just some weird degenerate...probably OD'd on drugs or choked himself doing some kinda' pervert shit
"It's a good thing in this day and age to know your neighbors," Brad said, "Even if you're introverted, you need to have people who can help you when you're in trouble."
"Yea that's true," Jason said and turned to walk away, "Nice talking to you..."
He walked quickly out of the gym and took the long way home, checking his mirrors for anyone following him. Those words, when you're in trouble, sat and soaked in his mind as he drove, feeding his paranoia. He wondered if that could have been a warning of some kind. One of the Kala's cars were parked in front. They had a garage, so they could have hurried home and hid one of the cars to give the appearance they weren't home yet.
As he drove up his driveway in the dark, flanked by uncut grass, he had an eerie sensation that the grass could be a fine place for someone to hide. He shut his car off and listened to the sound of crickets and silence while trying to see into the darkness. Anything that could have been on the horizon was blocked by the height of the surrounding trees. He hurried into his house, locked the door, and turned every light on in the living room. Typically, he liked living in an old, decrepit house, but now, all he saw was a labyrinth where someone could be lurking, evading and stalking him as he looked for them, in the old servant's stairs or one of the numerous rooms. It didn't help that in the warm night air, the expansion of the wood caused periodic creaks and cracks. Normally, he was accustomed to the sounds, but he was having a difficult time telling the difference between "house sounds" and an underfoot creak of a floorboard.
The one damn night I don't carry, he thought, having not brought his gun with him because it was just a quick trip to the gym
He slipped his shoes off and walked quietly to the fireplace to take down the claymore sword above the mantle. The ceilings were high and the mantle was scaled appropriately, so although he was tall, he had to tip-toe and grab the sword by the tip of the scabbard to lift it off the hanger. Unlike many of the swords he collected, this one was sharpened, so he made it intentionally hard to reach for anyone much shorter than him. He drew the sword and slipped the belt holding the scabbard over his shoulder, then made his way to his bedroom, creeping quietly, checking around corners, looking behind him, as he turned on every light he could reach.
Without incident, he got to his bedroom and closed the door behind him - locking it - then checked the closet and under the bed. He sat down on the bed, facing the door, and sheathed the sword. He tossed the sword beside him, breathing a slow sigh of partial relief. In the silence, he sat perfectly still and listened. He debated whether he should stay in his room or do a sweep through the house, but after some deliberation, decided to stay put. He stood a better chance in this bedroom, where they'd have to make a racket to get in, rather than wandering through the house, potentially playing two-versus-one cat-and-mouse. He suddenly realized the curtains were open, so he jumped up to shut them. After some aimless pacing, he loaded a handgun and a rifle and positioned them in a semi-strategic way by the bed.
Jason texted his weeaboo friend, "text me tomorrow and make sure I didn't get murdered"
A few minutes later he received a text back, "u wot m8?"
"My neighbors are TOO friendly. I think they want to kill me," Jason replied
He stayed up for a few hours, quietly looking at his phone and reading, and pausing to listen at the slightest sound. Feeling the urge to piss, he debated running across the hall to the bathroom, but instead found a cup to use, and opened the window to throw it out.
After another hour or so, he felt cold and found himself nodding off, so he got into bed with the lights on. Although he was tired, he couldn't fall asleep normally. He paced some more, then had the idea to construct a "diversion" -- he put various objects under the blanket to make the bed look occupied but unrolled a sleeping bag onto the floor between the bed and window. The diversion wouldn't be convincing with the light on, so he turned it off and retired to the sleeping bag, where he fell asleep looking up the property tax records of various neighbors around him.
He woke up to his phone's alarm and the sound of birds. At this point, he'd gotten about three hours of sleep and had to force himself out of the sleeping bag. Looking at the diversion he constructed on the bed, the drawn curtains, the sword, both guns, and the cup on the table he remembered pissing in, and realizing his eyes hurt because he slept in his contact lenses, he felt annoyed with himself for acing in a way that now seemed irrational.
Yet, still, he unloaded the rifle then proceeded to do a very lazy sweep of the house, checking the various rooms and hallways, the window and door locks, and turning off all the lights he left on, while feeling like an idiot. Afterward, he went about his typical morning routine.
A shower and clean hair felt good, and he donned glasses for the day so his eyes could stop hurting. While he sat on his couch - in his typical summer house-outfit of ball shorts, slide sandals, and no shirt - sipping his tea, he revisited the property tax site trying to remember the names Brad dropped.
Hoffman, and some Italian name...Bergoli? No, that's the 'Cash Me Outsahhd' girl. Bartoletti? Battaglia? he thought as he clicked around. He found Huffman four houses from his, left and across the street, and found three parcels with Italian names but couldn't recall the name Brad said. At this point, he wasn't even sure what letter it began with. Yet, even if he was talking about people who existed, it was still yet to be verified that Brad was as close with them as he made it seem that he was.
His phone vibrated some time later. It was his weeaboo friend, "Did you get murdered lololol?"
"No. I'm an idiot," he replied.
"Other than anticipating your own demise, what's up?"
"The usual. Trying to get work done, fixing my house etcetcetc"
The phone vibrated again and Jason picked it up casually, assuming it was his friend. It was a text that just said, "Hi." and it was from someone who wasn't in his contacts and the area code was one he hadn't seen before.
"Who's this?" he texted after a moment of deliberation
He set his laptop aside and stared at the phone as his pulse quickened. Before he could think of something to reply, another text arrived, "Are you ok?"
Jason gritted his teeth and growled, "No I'm not ok, leave me the fuck alone."
He began his reply and didn't stop despite another text from Brad arriving, "We saw your lights were on all night"
"How did you get my number?" Jason asked
"Greg Walsh forwarded me one of ur emails," Brad replied
Why the hell would he forward an email to you?, he thought, lowering his brows in confusion as he stared at the screen and absently twisted his beard, Is Greg part of this too?
"He just texted me. I didn't give him my number," Jason texted his weeb friend
"How'd he get it?"
"He said a client forwarded one of our emails to him. There's no reason why they would do that"
Jason then replied to Brad, "Did you ask him for my number"
Brad quickly replied, "Yes"
"Does that seem appropriate to you," Jason replied
"Greg and I are good friends. I didn't think it would be an issue"
Jason put the phone aside and contemplated his next steps. Whether the Kalas were stalkers plotting a murder, annoying extroverts, or well-meaning people trying to break through to someone who seemed miserable and in need of friendship, he needed to put his foot down and sort the issue out. If it started a feud, at least then, they might give him the cold shoulder, or else escalate to things he could call the cops about. Again, he put on decent clothing and walked over to the Kala residence.
Before he could knock, Danielle opened the door and walked out with a plate of cookies covered in plastic wrap. "Ope! I was just going to see you," she said as she almost ran into him.
"Danielle, I need to talk to you and Brad," Jason said
"Sure, what's up?" she asked then yelled into the house, "Braaaaaaaad!"
"I want to talk to you both," Jason replied and waited
"What's going on?" Brad asked as he walked out of the front door, leaving it open
"Why does it seem like you're always trying to contact me and always seem to be where I am?" Jason asked
Brad looked confused, "What do you mean by 'always'? We saw each other at the gym once, and I've never texted you until this morning."
Jason sounded flustered as he explained, holding his steepled hands in front of ever-so-slightly snarling lips, "So, day one, you come on my property and ask me a bunch of questions. You refer a client to me without giving me a heads up. You sent me an invitation to your party, I didn't respond, so you ask me about it three times -- I'm not going, by the way. I can't go to the gym without you people being up my ass, and then you go around my back to get my phone number that I already said I wasn't going to give you."
"I'm sorry that you feel that way, but we've lived here for almost a month now and we've only spoken to you five times, and twice - including today - you came over here," Brad said, looking puzzled. Amid the conversation, Danielle took the cookies back into the house and didn't come back out
"Are you gaslighting me?" Jason said, tilting his head, equally puzzled
Brad shook his head, "I-I'm not sure what you mean by that"
Jason paused and sighed slowly, "Maybe we have an issue of perception, then. You guys are clearly very outgoing people. I'm not. That's why I don't go out much, that's why I keep my house how I do, that's why I go to the gym at 10:30 at night. Maybe five times a month talking to someone is fi-four times more than I personally prefer."
"Honestly, I got that vibe when we met you, but figured it was because nobody ever took the time to get to know you and you were caught in a sort of negative feedback loop," Brad said, then shrugged, pressing his lips together, "but hey, sometimes things just are the way they are."
'We thought you were a piece of shit, so we gave you a chance only to find out you are, indeed, a piece of shit,' is how Jason deciphered the message and he didn't have anything to say. It cut him emotionally and made him feel self-conscious. He wanted to leave.
"I can see how you'd think that," he said after the pause, "But again, I have nothing personal against you, but it freaks me out when people come on too strong. I don't think being private makes me a piece of shit, though."
"I never said it did," Brad said, "Do you think it does?"
"I don't know. I came here for a conversation and you sent your wife inside," Jason replied
"I don't want to argue with you, Jason," Brad said, "We can try this again some other time because I still want to have a good relationship with you. And I agree there are probably things that got lost in translation, and we could have done better, but - and I say this with utmost respect for you - I think you should get help."
"You are...probably right," Jason said reluctantly, resisting the urge to deny it. Admitting he thought Brad and Danielle we trying to kill him would be too much right now. "Give me like three weeks," he said
"How about you talk to us when you've sorted yourself out," Brad suggested.
"Maybe...well, have a good day," Jason said and walked back to his house feeling like a fool.
Jason started going back to therapy and resumed contact with the Kalas
They found they don't have much in common, besides enjoying BBQ and Joe Huffman's Dodge Viper
Greg Walsh still asks Jason for design work
Jason paid a landscaping company to cut his grass