(Here’s a short story I’m doing for a class. I have no intent to shop it around, so I figured I’d share it on here. Enjoy.)
The Lake Monster
By Cody Leigh
Closed blinds hide prying eyes. Neighbors fall along the spectrum between obsessive ex-girlfriend and misanthropic xenophobe, but small strips of hard plastic along the window are the ultimate equalizer. It’s rare when any of them are worthy of attention without being single, blond and mature but there are exceptions; neighbors that disturb coexistence set themselves up to become undesirables. As such, The Browns had to pay the price for their hypocrisy.
For four years I’ve lived on The Lake, and for four years I’ve fed its denizens. Flapping wings, squawking mouths and wobbly gaits were commonplace on the waterfront. So was cheap dogfood, a solid nutritional choice for the wildlife contrary to what one might expect. Feeding the birds had been an interesting diversion to the daily dampening of mental faculties via dumb labor and dumb people. It was an opportunity to breathe, to reflect, and to contribute to the survival of inferiors. Imperfect creatures as they were, they had none of the failings of their human overlords. In particular, ducks had precisely zero qualms about the existence of The Browns. The reverse was wholly untrue.
The Browns were runaways; they lived elsewhere outside of the holidays, but always came to the lake for summer and Christmas. They spent roughly a third of the year on the Lake, but acted as if they were year-round residents. They complained about day-to-day affairs and attended socials though realistically they shared few of the same concerns as the year-to-year denizens. They certainly found time to complain about the feathered specimens that had long predated settlement here. But complaint, as it often does, turned into conflict.
Animals shit. This is a fact of life. All animals produce waste of some kind. Animals that live in the wild have no need for toilets; all the world is a latrine. An animal doesn’t think twice, unless it is trained, about dumping the contents of its bowels into someone’s yard. The yard belonging to The Browns is not an exception to this rule. If you refuse to place a fence around your property, then you accept the consequences. The consequence, in this case, is to allow your backyard to become a literal dumping ground.
The Browns did not stand for this of course. They were defiant people that deferred to live in conflict with nature. They also owned a few ankle-biters that, in the immense stupidity of many dogs, fail to recognize the detriments of eating goose-droppings. Overhearing a neighborly conversation, I discovered that one of their precious, stupid pups had nearly stumbled into an early grave on account of a mouthful of feces and its owners’ negligence. They decided to create a makeshift fence to protect their “babies”, a half-measure easily trampled by the larger avian species.
I could’ve pointed out, from across the lawn, that the animosity of The Browns against wild animals was in stark contrast to their domesticated, four-legged gremlins. I could’ve suggested that their cheapness in spite of spectacular wealth and lack of desire to build a proper fence should be their primary concern. I could’ve gone into detail about how no amount of coercion would convince the lake creatures that this was anything but their territory. I could’ve also pointed out that part-timers shouldn’t have much of a say in the affairs of the neighborhood when they hardly contribute any money or anything of substance to the perpetuation of the community. Silence, a smile and a wave seemed more appropriate at the time.
The Browns’ difficulty in adapting to nature was an amusing diversion at first. Then things escalated. The Browns, recognizing that their fence was pointless and deciding they would not invest in an actual enclosure, resorted to a bastardized effort of antiquated defense.
I was watering the plants on my deck. The tomatoes were growing nicely despite the heat. My green thumb was nothing spectacular to behold, but I took pride in my ability to give life. I had often been enamored with the dark side of creation, but this was my attempt at turning over a new leaf. Due to some morbid curiosity, I spied the twisted, tangled mess that was The Brown’s rope “fence”.
Metal nails. They lined the base of the five-dollar, DIY fence line in worrying number. Each tip had a sadistic shimmer, a gleaning beacon to draw curious creatures into self-harm. The Browns had declared war on birds of all creed, color, and species. And, in doing so, earned my attention.
As a neighbor, I feel that my involvements are minimal. I am not an active participant in neighborhood affairs. I find that keeping to myself is preferable to becoming entangled in the drama and exposure that comes with neighborly interaction. The occasional positive experience is marred by layers and layers of tedium, repetition, and brownnosing. But my non-interference makes life easier for all parties. And as much as I despise some of the residents, the overall residency is passable.
This current injustice could not be ignored. The Browns had to be taught the terrible consequences of their fanatic opposition, and unwillingness to invest in security.
I had long seen The Browns and their day to day living. My job kept me at home often, and my own animals took up a significant portion of my time. On my trips outside, I would see The Browns performing maintenance, yucking it up with other well-to-dos and sharing a pathetic, romantic fire-pit during the night.
On the morning of reckoning, I was having my usual protein mixture of disappointment and necessity with a side of raspberry. My own four-legged beasts were in my yard, enclosed and safe from nature’s effects. I was simply waiting for a habit to kick in. And a disruption to take place.
I heard a sliding glass door being swiped aside, and the jingle jangle of collared necks sprinting full speed.
A loud whine. A cry to heaven. A demand to get the car. A destination set for the local vet. Frantic cries and desperation filled the air. The contrived concerns of any passerby mingling with genuine horror. All of it wrapped up in a bow of accomplishment.
Nails and wind typically don’t mix. You never know when a nail laid in one spot might work its way over to another. You also never know how many nails might do the same.
Dogs and nails don’t mix either. Soft paw pads coming down fast on hard metal results in a few gimped animals and a massive veterinary bill. It may also result in shouting matches with your significant other, and sensitive information broadcasted loudly to your neighbors.
All of that happened in the second week of June. It is nearly September, and The Browns have yet to return. From what I gather, their relationship is strained and the property is being abandoned. The realtor must be rubbing his hands together, patiently waiting to exploit the view and location for substantial commission.
I rub my own hands together to sprinkle the crumbs along the deck. Cheap dog food crumbles easily, a fickle composition to be sure. The birds walk freely along The Brown’s vacant yard as they approach my dock. There are no squawks of pain, no snaring of wings on the fence.
There is only satisfaction.