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In the Old House on the Corner

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In the old house on the corner, there lived a man. He was a mysterious man, and no one in the whole town knew even the slightest thing about him. There were only a handful of times anyone had ever seen his outside of his house, and he never talked. Even so, he was big and strong and kind and loyal, and he was probably the kind if person that, if you were picking teams for something, anything at all, you'd pick him first. Even with all of these wonderful qualities, he was a very sad man. Anyone who had ever seen him could tell you straight away that he had the saddest eyes they had ever seen. He barely slept, barely ate, and if some of the neighbors heard crying drifting up the street from that house late at night, well, it was probably just the wind. Yes, he was a very sad man, indeed. Lonely, too. Well, not anymore.

As good as Holly's memory was, she couldn't figure out if that man had always lived there, or if he had just turned up one day, unseen, as always. She couldn't remember if that house had always been falling apart, broken shutters hanging loose, white paint peeling off the rotting wood, and shriveled up grass left untrimmed long enough that it reached up past your knees, all sorts of weeds growing up with it but never any wild flowers. There had been a fence around the property, once, but the posts had long since fallen apart and the gate only swung from one hinge. The latch was broken and in the middle of the night, she could sometimes hear that gate's rusty hinge squeaking as it was blown about by the wind.

The first time Holly ever heard anyone talking about the man in that house, she was in the park that was behind it. A group of older boys huddled up near one of the gnarled trees by the chain-link fence that divided the two properties, whispering among themselves theories of who that man was. They stopped once they noticed her hovering near by, the small three-year-old girl not welcome in their circle. The leader of the pack, a scrawny boy by the name of Jeff, who was accepted as the toughest kid on the block after he had been attacked by Ms. Denby's dog last summer and had to get stitches, called her over with a false smile that poorly masked his nasty intentions, although at three, she really couldn't tell the difference between that and a genuine smile.

Once she got close, every boy in the bunch was wearing that same smile. Jeff was the first one to speak, his voice dripping with false compassion. “Hey there, sweetie,” he said, mimicking the adults. “What's your name?”

“Holly,” she replied in a small voice.

“Hi, Holly. My name's Jeff.” He spoke slow, treating her almost as if she was an alien from a different planet he was trying to talk to, like talking slower would make her understand. He pointed towards the back of the house on the other side of the fence. “Say, Holly? Do you know about the man who lives there?”

Holly shook her head. As far as she knew, no one lived there. It certainly didn't look as though anyone did. It wasn't in as bad of a state of disrepair as it was now, but the grass was still in need of a good trimming and the house looked like it could do with a fresh coat of paint.

Jeff smiled maliciously, knowing she was curious. “Did you know that he's a monster?”

Holly's eyes opened wide and she took a step back from the fence. She only lived a few houses away from him. Did she really live so close to a monster?

“It's true,” Jeff continued. “Me and my gang here have seen sliding about at night.” The rest of the boys nodded their agreement, joining the scheme.

“Wh-what's he look like?” she asked, voice quivering.

“Terrifying,” one of the boys supplied.

“Yeah,” another pitched in. “He's almost 8 feet tall!”

“With fangs,” said another.

“And claws!”

“And coal black eyes!”

“And skin so white you'd think he was a ghost!”

“And you know what he eats?” Jeff whispered. “Raw, live animals.” Holly gasped, and Jeff continued. “He goes out late at night and catches whatever he can find. This one time, I saw him snatch a squirrel right off of a tree branch! He holds 'em in his hands while they're still squirmin', and then he take a bite right outta their neck! And you wanna know what I heard? Some nights, when his hunts don't go too good, he sneaks into people's houses and gobbles them up right in their beds!”

Holly shrieked and ran back to where her mother was sitting on the bench, impatient as always and itching to leave and go back to the office. Holly was in tears but managed a few blubbering words to her mother to tell her what the boys said. All her mother did was, on their way out of the park, tell the boys that they shouldn't make up stories. She briskly walked Holly back to their house, and then was off to work again, leaving Holly alone with her father, as usual. She didn't tell him what the boys had done, even though she knew he would be more understanding.

For a long time after that, Holly avoided the house like it was a wild animal, tense and ready to pounce. She always walked on the opposite side of the street, hiding behind her dad for protection when she couldn't get him to walk by it any faster. But months passed and the monster was never seen sneaking around the neighborhood late at night to catch live animals, and Holly never heard any screams or anything coming from that old house. But sometimes at night, she could have sworn she heard someone crying, heart-wrenching and painful and it almost brought tears to her eyes listening to someone who was that upset and broken and...

Well, it was probably just the wind.