“Next Door” is one of the outstanding stories of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2016 written by Sarah Harrouche Batista, Panama.
Some people call nights ‘peaceful’; I call them disturbing.
I live an average life, waking up, breakfast, high school and whatever comes next; but sometimes average needs something exciting, which for me is a disgrace, sometimes even a curse. My quest for finding something “exciting” took the wrong turn, bringing to me an overwhelming desire to fall asleep as soon as I touched my bed. My deep slumbers were interrupted by a child’s sobbing, which took me on an adventure I wouldn’t know if I regret or not. It all began as soon as my neighbors moved in.
The first night I heard a girl sobbing, I sat upright. I thought that what made it weird was how she tried to hide it, as if she was scared.
I consider myself as a curious person, which explains why I decided to observe that girl every day. The first day she was sitting alone in a bench at a little park nearby. I approached her and softly speaking, introduced myself. She seemed completely lost, making me uncomfortable.
“I’m your neighbor, in case you didn’t know,” I said quickly trying to make the situation a little less awkward.
She just looked at me and smiled. I understood that she had no interest in speaking whatsoever.
“Okay well, good luck with life,” I said, annoyed.
I realized that my words had made her mad, so I quickly left.
I got home and saw mom and dad fighting again, which was the scenery that greeted me when I got home every single day.
Trying not to interrupt, I walked slowly to the stairs only to hear a big “Oh, honey you are home, we can’t wait to tell you the FANTASTIC news we got.”
I turned around and saw both my parents finally smiling, which scared me a lot. These were not normal smiles.
“Your dad is leaving us!” my mom yelled with the biggest smile on her face.
I was speechless. Normally after any fight my parents had, I would go upstairs to my room and just listen to some music, but this time was very different. I knew my family was not going to be the same. I somehow liked the feel of a complete family under the same roof despite our differences; I liked watching mom and dad with me in the pictures on the wall. Now I had to get used to see them as my mom and I in a house, whilst my dad lived somewhere else.
The next morning I decided to go for a walk. All I wanted was to clear my mind.
On leaving the house, I noticed that dad’s car was gone. So it was official; my parents would no longer be together. I kept walking to wherever destiny took me. I saw houses, children playing with their parents and there I was, looking at a little swing in the same park I stood the day before. I saw a small figure walking towards me. I recognized this girl. She was my neighbor.
“It is a hard life, isn’t it?” she said, sitting next to me.
“It sure is… Tyler”, I said, introducing me.
She smiled. “I’m Jenna, so… what’s the deal with your parents?” she seemed interested, but her eyes always looked as if she was about to cry.
“My parents have been fighting for a long time; they decided to get a divorce just yesterday, but what about you? I heard you crying.” she turned her back on me and didn’t say a word. I did the same.
After a couple of minutes of sitting down next to this girl, I noticed how she covered her wrists; she had little cuts, which she covered with her long sleeves.
“Why did you do that? Are you insane? Do your parents know?” I asked, as soon as I saw the cuts.
She looked at the floor and she started to cry, just this time I heard her crying a little bit louder, unlike the nights at home when I heard her soft sobs. I just looked at her and decided to stay quiet. Later that morning, she left. I did not go to school that day; all I did was stay at home while my mom did the usual activities.
Days passed, and I spent every single night hearing the girl cry, but it was different from the first night. She had started crying loudly, as if she was more upset every night. I met with her everyday just to stare at each other, quietly sharing the disgrace, which we called ‘life’.
One day she started shaking; her hands were cold and she stopped breathing. I knew instantly that she was having a panic attack. I had her lie on the floor and calm down. But she told me not to call anyone, and that worried me a lot. After a while, she stopped shaking and ran back to her house. I never felt more useless in my life; this girl had a ton of problems and all I could do was sit quietly next to her every day.
One night, sitting in bed, I heard her cry again. Her sobs were so loud and I could not hear anything else apart from her crying. It kept going for half an hour until I finally heard something fall on the floor, and then her crying stopped. After that, I did not hear a single sound.
I finally went to sleep. The next morning I went out to our usual spot, but did not see her. I went back home and asked her, “Mom, do you think the neighbor… died?” to which she looked at me really confused, and said, “Honey, we don’t have any neighbors, nobody lives in that house”.
Her body was never found and there was no girl called Jenna.