“Welcome to The Falls. Please enter your code now. Welcome to The Falls. Please enter your code now.” The tinny female voice chirped at him, entirely too perky, from the key pad. Mel Arky reached through the lowered window of his SUV for the keypad before the goddamn chipper little robot piped up again.
“Welcome home, Mr. Arky.” The voice said as the front gate opened. Ann had found that personalized greeting so charming when they first moved in.
Now she confessed to fantasizing about taking a baseball bat to the thing like she worked at Initech.
Driving along the neatly manicured street Mel focused on schooling his face into a pleasantly neutral expression rather than the scowl that more accurately represented his feelings. He didn’t need one of his neighbors complaining he was being “un-neighborly”. Christ, if I wanted to live in Stepford I’d have moved to Connecticut. He thought darkly. Still when he passed Abbey Normal out watering her rhododendrons he forced a smile and waved.
Pulling into his own driveway, Mel felt the first honest expression cross his face since he put his entry code into the security gate. He smiled. Leaving his Lexus parked in front of the left side of his two car garage he walked to the mailbox.
The smile turned to a frown.
When he left that morning his mailbox had been “Desert Sienna”. It was now, decidedly, “Desert Sage”. Gingerly he touched the lip of the box. It felt dry…ish.
The paint was dry in the same way crème brûlée was solid. The thin crust of dry paint broke under the pressure of his hand and sticky green-ness smeared across his fingers.
“Son of a bitch!”
“Sorry about that, Mel, it’ll wash out with a little turpentine.” Stan Beck appeared out of nowhere, paintbrush in hand, smiling like he was Ned Fucking Flanders.Mel hadn’t punched anyone since he was a sophomore in college. He was strongly considering revising that as he glared at his paint brush wielding neighbor.
“Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Mel ground out. Stan raised the brush like it would defend him from a blow to the face.
“Trying to be neighborly. Got to be up to code.” Rather than punch the other man, Mel shoved his hand violently into the mailbox and pulled out the contents, paint smearing on the brown wrapping of a medium sized package and across the envelopes of a few bills.
Mel didn’t even deign that with a response, instead, leaving the mailbox lid open he stalked to the house. He didn’t have to look back to know that Stan was most likely touching up where his fingers had smeared his vandalism.
“Ned Flanders painted our mailbox.” Mel growled entering his kitchen to find Ann at the stove, glass of wine in one hand the other moving something fantastic smelling around in a skillet.
“I wondered, his wife dropped by a little bit ago bearing flowers. I shouldn’t have let the Danaan in.” Ann did feel a twinge of guilt at her unkind words and tone. Helen Beck was actually a delightful woman, but she was just so damn paranoid about the rules. To listen to her and Stan the CC&R was the Bible. It was asinine. Yes, the community was indeed charming but it was also starting to suffocate her.
Beside her Mel poured himself a healthyserving of wine. He must’ve had a shit day at work as well to be this worked up.
“Forget the mailbox, I’m gonna paint this whole damn place look like you won it selling cosmetics! How about THEM apples.” Ann sat aside her spatula and placed her free hand on her husband’s forearm. His muscles were taught under her fingers. She’d never seen him this keyed up before. Strange that all this was coming out over a mailbox. A freakin’ mailbox. Though, honestly, everyone had their breaking point and this place was driving her (and apparently Mel) closer and closer to it.
Ann had never considered herself a rebel. On the whole she was actually more comfortable with rules than without but he’d never realized how much she missed choices until there weren’t any. There was absolutely no personality in the entire neighborhood. Sure the houses had slightly different architecture and floor plans but in coloring and exterior presentation they were all identical. The order and uniformity had sucked the soul from the houses – and at times she didn’t wonder if it had also sucked the soul from her neighbors.
Maybe they should move.
A vision of packing boxes danced in her head and Ann felt a little queasy. She hated moving and they’d really only just settled into the place. They’d only just painted the living room a color other than white.
To distract herself from the swirling dread that filled her chest every time she thought of packing and moving Ann turned the gas to low and crossed the kitchen to the dining table where Mel had dropped their mail. The paint on all the envelopes did not transfer onto their nice table, for which Mel’s hide should be eternally grateful (she’d have tanned him if he got “Desert Sage” on the mahogany). Bill, Bill, Michigan begging money from an Alumna, Catalog, Catalog, Package.Ann stared at the brown wrapped box in her hand, it was about as long as her forearm and shallow, about as wide as her hand and without an address – either to or return.
“What’s this?” She turned, holding up the box for Mel to look at it.
“Not a clue.” He shrugged. Behind him the oven timer went off.
“Here, you open it while I put dinner together.” She offered him the strange package as they traded places.
“It’s not ticking.” He announced as she pulled the marinated chicken breast from the oven. The rice only needed another five minutes and then everything would be ready.
“Well that’s something!” Oven off she joined her husband to peer at the now opened package. From inside the box colorful wooden pieces appeared.
“It’s a whirligig.” Mel announced, holding up the main piece, a tubby little man dressed like a lumberjack with an ax. Ann supposed he’d chop wood as wind blew his propeller.
“Tasteful.” There was a mischievous gleam in her husband’s eye.
“The neighbors would really hate it.” His lips curled into a positively evil smile. Behind them the egg timer went off announcing that the rice was ready. Ann kissed her two fingers and pressed them to her husband’s cleft chin.
“Put it together after dinner.”
Ann smiled to herself as she closed the curtains in the living room, the chubby little whirligig man was hard at work chopping wood out in the front flowerbeds. The thing was tacky as hell and not remotely what Ann would have chosen herself for lawn décor but this wasn’t about her personal aesthetic, this was a statement. Door locked and lights out Ann climbed the stairs to bed feeling like she’d gotten the last word in an argument.
The creaking was coming from her house, not her head, Ann realized with a jolt, her eyes flying open. Something was wrong.
“Mel?” She whispered. Beside her Mel snorted but didn’t stir. “Mel.” She said a little louder, shoving him forcefully. He jerked awake.
“Whaz I snorin’?” He mumbled.
“No.” Ann hissed. “I think there’s someone in the house.” Mel was wide awake at those words. Silently he got out of bed and bent to retrieve the cricket bat he’d brought home from his study abroad trip.
“Stay here.” He told her firmly. Ann nodded, burring herself in the duvet like it would actually protect her. From under the covers she reached to her night stand for her phone. Hopefully she was mistaken, hopefully they wouldn’t need the police….
Her phone wasn’t beside the bed.
It was charging downstairs in the kitchen.
“Fuuucck.” She whispered.
And then the screaming began.
“Mel? MEL!” I’ve got to help him.
Shit, I don’t have a weapon.
Casting her eye around she settled for the metal lamp beside the bed and ripped it from the wall.
She didn’t even make it to the top of the stairs.
1138 is a running joke originating in George Lucas Films, but used elsewhere, including in shows like Firefly.
Initech – the Company in Office Space.
Stepford, CT – The fictional town at the center of Ira Levin’s satirical thriller The Stepford Wives.
The Danaan is another name for the Greeks, in this case coming from the Aeneid “Timeo Danaos et Dona Ferentes” – I fear all Greeks, including those bearing gifts. Which in itself is a reference to the Trojan horse.
Mary Kay gives away things to people who hit certain sales quotas, most famously a pink Cadillac.
As a side note Ann Arky’s maiden name is Arbor, because I love puns. So I figured a woman named Ann Arbor needed to be a Michigan alumna.
Shaun of the Dead anyone?