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The Monster Next Door

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Toby was pretty sure his neighbor was a vampire.

His name was Adam, and he’d moved in two weeks ago. The same time that mummy turned up in the desert just outside town. Desiccated was the word they used on the news, and Toby had to look that up to see what it meant. He wasn’t allowed to watch scary movies, but he was pretty sure that if a vampire drank a person’s blood all the way out, it would be like when he sucked all the juice out of a Capri Sun and the pouch collapsed in on itself.

Plus, Adam was weird. He hardly ever left his house, and he hung black curtains in every window. Toby’s mom said Adam probably worked at night and needed to sleep during the day. Just like a vampire would.

“You leave that man alone,” Toby’s mom said the next time she caught him watching the house next door through the living room window.

She seemed nervous about it, but his mom was always nervous, had been ever since they moved from Portland to Phoenix because of Dad’s job. Toby missed the old house with the stairs and the grassy back yard and his dog Merlin, who Mom said was too old to make the move and now lived with another family.

“He’s weird,” Toby said.

“He keeps himself to himself, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

The next day Mrs. Loomis’ cat went missing, and Toby was pretty sure Adam took him because he saw Gully’s sparkly collar in Adam’s yard. He snuck over when his mom was messing around with the laundry and picked it up, stuffing it in his pocket. When he got back to his room he took it out for a closer look.

Gulliver Loomis the tag on the collar said in fancy writing, with a phone number under it.

Mrs. Loomis walked up and down the street for days, calling for Gully and shaking a bag of cat treats and tacking reward posters up on all the telephone poles. Toby tucked the collar in his dresser drawer but didn’t count on his mom finding it when she put his clean clothes away.

“Toby Williams, what did you do?” she asked, clutching Gully’s collar in her hand. Her face was white, and her eyes were wide, and Toby scowled back at her.

“I found it next door. In the weirdo’s yard.”

“Don’t lie to me!”

“I’m not lying!” Toby shouted back. His hands curled into fists, and his room suddenly looked weird, like extra lights were on making everything too bright. That happened a lot when he got mad.

His mom took a step back. “Stop that. Stop that right now.”

“Say I’m not lying,” Toby insisted. “Say it, Mommy!”

“You’re not lying,” his mom said, her voice wavering. “Stop doing that with your eyes.”

Toby took a breath and tried to stop being so mad, and his room went back to being normal. “I didn’t do anything to Gully. I swear.”

His mom looked like she wanted to believe him, but she still wasn’t sure. In the end she kept Gully’s collar and told Toby to keep far away from Adam and his house. She pretended not to notice when he didn’t agree.

Toby resumed his watch on the house next door.

*o*o*o*

A week later they found another mummy in the desert, and Toby was pretty sure he saw Gully in Adam’s upstairs window.

He waited till after his mom thought he was in bed for the night, and after he saw Adam leave his house, before he snuck next door. He brought his head lamp and his backpack, in case he needed to smuggle the cat out.

“Dang,” Toby muttered to himself. All the doors were locked, and Adam never opened his windows.

Uncle Ludo could’ve knocked the front door right down, but Toby knew he’d be in trouble if he tried to break in. People were always getting in trouble for that on the police shows his dad liked to watch.

“Gully!” Toby whispered as loud as he dared. “Gully!”

He scanned all the windows, trying to find a sign of Mrs. Loomis’ cat. One of the curtains twitched, but that might’ve been the air conditioning kicking on.

Toby had to find Gully and prove to his mom he hadn’t hurt the cat. She thought bad things about him sometimes, which was why he didn’t go to public school and why he was spending the summer on his own instead of playing with friends. Sometimes Toby hated his mom. But only sometimes.

“Come on, Gully!” Toby whispered. “Don’t you want to go ho–”

“What are you doing?”

Toby whirled around, his headlamp shining full in Adam’s face. The same Adam who’d kidnapped Gully and was probably a vampire sucking people dry and leaving their desiccated bodies in the desert. Toby had never seen him so close up. He looked pretty normal, except for the thick leather gloves he was wearing.

“I’m looking for Gully,” Toby said truthfully. His dad always said the truth was easier to remember than a lie. “Mrs. Loomis’ cat.”

“He is not out here.”

“Yeah. I know.”

They stared at each other for a long moment, Toby defiantly holding his ground, and then Adam nodded.

“Would you care to come inside? I have cake.”

Toby knew what his mother would say about that, and she didn’t think their neighbor was a blood-sucking monster, but he also knew it would be his only chance to get Gully and prove to his mother he’d never hurt a cat.

“Sure.”

The inside of Adam’s house looked nothing like Toby expected. There was no velvet furniture or candelabras or a coffin for a bed. Most of the rooms were empty, no pictures on the walls and not a stick of furniture anywhere, except for the kitchen which had stools set up at the counter. And two small bowls on the floor, one with kibble in it and one with water.

Toby sat on one of the stools and put his backpack on the other.

“You are always watching me from your window,” Adam said.

He opened a cabinet door and Toby saw rows and rows of boxed cake. Adam pulled one out and set it on the counter. It was chocolate.

“Are you a vampire?” Toby countered.

“Do I look like one?” Adam asked.

He didn’t. He had an orangey tan like some of the people in the neighborhood did, the kind that came from a cream instead of the sun. And really white teeth, but no fangs that Toby could see. Adam’s brown hair was kind of long – he wore it in a ponytail – but close to his head it was white. Toby’s mom called them roots, which was weird because how could hair have roots like plants?

“No. But maybe you’re good at disguises.”

“Maybe I am,” Adam said solemnly. “You are not afraid of me.”

“I’m not afraid of anything,” Toby replied. That was almost the truth. “My big sister would kick your butt if you tried to hurt me.”

That made Adam grin, and Toby was almost sure his perfect white teeth slipped a bit, like Grandpa’s dentures.

“There is nothing on this planet more terrifying than me.”

“Flesh-eating bacteria. I heard about it on the news.”

Adam made a face. “I am what your kind would call an apex predator.”

The teeth slipped again, only this time they slipped right out and Adam caught them in his hand before they hit the floor. His mouth was full of fangs!

“Like a shark,” Toby breathed, leaning in for a closer look. His neighbor was even more interesting than he thought. “Is that how you suck people dry?”

“No.” Adam pulled one of his gloves off. “This is how.”

There was a long, deep cut on Adam’s right hand. It should have been bleeding but it wasn’t. Fast, too fast for Toby to try and defend himself, Adam lunged forward, yanked up Toby’s shirt with the still-gloved hand, and slammed the cut one on Toby’s chest.

It hurt worse than getting needles at the doctor’s office. Toby gave a little scream and tried to slide back off the stool, but Adam held him in place, his face so close Toby couldn’t help but see the hungry look in his eyes.

“Get off me!” Toby pushed at Adam’s face, and some of the orange color came off on his hands. There was greenish-white skin underneath, and Toby was scared in a way he’d never been before. “I said get off!”

The light in the room changed, going impossibly bright, and this time when Toby pushed, Adam stumbled back.

Toby clambered off the stool and pressed himself back against the wall. He put his hand over his chest, breaths heaving. It felt like he had a really bad sunburn where Adam had touched him; it ached and throbbed.

Adam snarled, dropping down in a crouch like a cat when it was getting ready to jump. “What are you? Why can I not feed from you?”

“I’m Toby Williams, and you’re not turning me or anyone else into a mummy.” He lifted his head and said in his loudest speaking voice, “I wish the goblins would come and take you away! Right now!”

The lights went out and a sudden gale blew up outside, rattling the windows and shaking the doors. Toby could still see Adam perfectly well, and the reverse seemed to be true because Adam never took his eyes off Toby. Not even when the kitchen door slammed open, bringing in sand and wind and Toby’s big sister.

“What’s going on?” Sarah asked. Her long, dark hair was pinned up and she was wearing a fancy white dress with silver sparkles all over it. “I was in the middle of a party.”

“He’s a vampire,” Toby said. “He tried to desiccate me.”

“He tried to what you?”

Toby lifted his shirt to show where Adam had put his hand, and sparks flared from Sarah’s fingernails when she whirled around to look at Adam.

“What did you do to my brother?”

Adam looked confused. “You are not exhibiting the expected behaviors of normal humans.”

“Who said anything about normal? Boys! Take him!”

The goblins came out of every nook and corner of the kitchen – the cabinets, the corners, the empty refrigerator – and surrounded Adam with knives and nipper sticks and swords. They all chittered at Adam excitedly, taunting him and poking at him.

“This was not in the report,” Adam said.

There was a clap of thunder and Adam and the goblins were gone as if they’d never been there. Toby noticed the cake was gone, too.

It came in really handy, sometimes, having a Goblin Queen for a sister.

“Are you okay?” Sarah asked as the lights came back on. She knelt down on the floor in her pretty dress and took a closer look at Toby’s chest. “This doesn’t look so bad. Does it hurt?”

Toby shook his head. “Not so much anymore.”

“Does Irene know you’re out after dark?”

“No. I was looking for Gully. She thinks I did something to him.”

Sarah frowned. Toby’s mom was only her stepmom, and they never got along. “Well, let’s find him and get you back home before you get in more trouble.”

They found the wayward cat, looking very healthy for having spent so long in the care of a vampire, in one of the upstairs rooms chasing a beetle. Sarah promised Toby she’d bring Gully to Mrs. Loomis, who would let the whole neighborhood know her precious baby had miraculously returned.

“Try and stay out of trouble, kiddo,” Sarah said before she left. She gave Toby a kiss on the top of his head. “We’ll see you in a couple of weeks, okay?”

Toby loved visiting the Labyrinth. No-one was scared of him there.

“What about Adam?”

“Jareth can figure out what he really is, and what to do with him long-term. I’m thinking the Bog of Eternal Stench could use a new caretaker, though.” Sarah grinned and Toby grinned back.

Toby’s mom apologized to him the next day when Gully re-appeared. But it was clear she had some concerns when Adam came up missing, even though she never voiced them.

That was okay. Toby didn’t mind being blamed for the stuff he actually did.