The Neighbors

Randy and Marvelle Simpkins are looking forward to a quiet Halloween next week. They are pretty sure they couldn’t stand another one like last year. You see, last year they got the daylights scared out of them when Tilly Armstrong, their next door neighbor, started playing the violin around midnight. It wouldn’t have been that big a deal if it weren’t for the fact that Tilly had been dead for two years.

Randy and Marvelle are in their late forties. Last year, with their daughter Alisha off to school at Belmont, they decided that planning a bunch of shenanigans for Halloween would not be part of their routine. That however, hasn’t always been the case.

Halloween Pumpkin

For many years, in the weeks before Halloween, Randy would take a garage sale mannequin and dress him up like a scarecrow with a pitchfork. He would then put him in a rocking chair on the front porch. For the neighborhood kids, it was a little creepy at first, but as Halloween approached, they just ignored it. Then on Halloween night, unknown to the kids, Randy would dress in the same outfit and take the mannequin’s place. When trick or treaters would walk past him to knock on the door, he would lash out at them, effectively scaring them half to death. He repeated this stunt year after year, and it always seemed to find a new victim. As Alicia became a teenager, her father’s goofy antics mortified her, and she begged him to stop. But Randy was unfazed.

Nevertheless, last year Randy decided it was time to forego all the Halloween foolishness. So he and Marvelle did little more than carve a pumpkin and put in on the front porch. But that didn’t stop the kids from coming.

Carter Street had always been a favorite for trick or treaters. It runs parallel to Fleming Street and is filled with beautiful Victorian houses built around the turn of the century. With its large front porches, huge trees, and broad sidewalks, it makes a perfect place for kids to safely troll for goods. When they moved to Watervalley eight years ago so he could take over running the farmers Co-op, Randy and Marvelle fell in love with the neighborhood. Soon after that, Marvelle took a part time job as a robotics engineer at the cabinet factory. Tilly Andrews, the next-door neighbor, was the first person they met.

Tilly was the retired high school music teacher and now in her mid seventies. She was a sweet and friendly neighbor, but it didn’t take Randy and Marvelle long to see that she was desperately lonely. Her husband of over forty years and passed away and their only son had moved to Boston and rarely got home. She desperately missed them both.

Sometimes, late at night, she could be heard playing her violin in her front parlor. It seemed her favorite song was the theme from Dr. Zhivago. Numerous times, after Randy and Marvelle had turned the TV off and were preparing for bed, soft melancholy notes would drift through the silence of the dark night through their bedroom window.

Somewhere, my love,

There will be songs to sing

Although the snow

Covers the hope of spring.


Somewhere a hill

Blossoms in green and gold

And there are dreams

All that your heart can hold.

It would always make Randy and Marvelle sad to hear her playing out her lonely lament, and Randy would make a note to go check on her the following day. Tilly was always so embarrassed for having disturbed them.

Two years ago Tilly passed away. Her son came for the funeral. He was a nice enough young man, somewhat chubby and eccentric with a full beard and a kind of un-kept, disheveled look about him. He had asked Randy and Marvelle to keep a watch over the house, saying that he didn’t want to sell it just yet. He offered them a monthly sum to do so. They agreed out of deference for Tilly, but refused the monthly payment. So, he handed them the keys and every week or so Randy would go over to check on the roof and the heat and the plumbing. Sometimes, he felt an odd presence while he was there. But he let this pass.

Last Halloween started out rather quiet, except for the steady stream of trick or treaters. It seemed that every sixty seconds, the doorbell dinged as if it were on a timer. Randy and Marvelle reluctantly began to take turns, leaving their TV show in the back den to traverse to the front of the house and dole out candy.

The evenings troubles began somewhere about an hour after dark. By now the doorbell had rung for the fortieth time. It was Randy’s turn to once again trudge to the front door. But this time it wasn’t a trick or treater. It was Emily Wallace. Randy was about to make his first really stupid mistake of the evening.

When she was fifteen, Emily used to babysit their daughter, Alisha, who was eleven at the time. Back then Emily was tall and gangly with long blonde hair and an absolutely darling, sweet smile. Eventually she had gone off to college and Randy hadn’t seen her for years.

Well, she was back. And instead of being a cute, spindly fifteen year old, she was now standing before him as a luxuriously curved, blonde woman of twenty-three in a full body, skin tight cat suit complete with two little pointy ears. She still had that sweet, innocent smile but right now it was generating about 10,000 volts and was being aimed directly at Randy. Needless to say, he was electrocuted.

Being a middle aged man with a receding hairline and somewhat paunchy stomach, he simply wasn’t used to having beautiful and curvaceous young women regard him so adoringly. He immediately lost the power of speech.

“Emlee! Yaboo! Wawoo to zeee uooo.”

Emily giggled lightly, offering him an amused, curious look. The engaging attention of this sweet, gorgeous young woman had reduced him to large blob of blubbering protoplasm. Eventually Randy composed himself, partially regaining his command of English, and feeling the desperate need to hold in his stomach.

“Emily. So good to see you! Cute costume.”

Emily smiled and scrunched her shoulders. “Thanks. Hey, want to see my tail?”

Randy’s eyes were now the size of Frisbees. Part of him was screaming, “Who wouldn’t?” But the other part was frozen, locked in the fear of public humiliation for even looking in Emily’s general direction.  Apparently Emily’s costume included a three-foot long cattail that was stiffly curved and bouncing waywardly behind her. She put her hands on her hips and turned her backside toward him, exposing a full view of her diminutive and rounded derriere. But Randy kept his eyes locked at face level, knowing full well that if he dared look down, some government satellite with a telescopic lens would somehow snap a picture of him gapping at the behind of his former babysitter. It would be on the front page of the Watervalley paper by morning.

Even still, Randy was now locked into male stupor…. a goofy suspension of time and place and good sense. It seemed perfectly appropriate to do everything possible to prolong this conversation, maybe for up to an hour. So he began to quiz her with an engaging slate of questions, seemingly oblivious to the fact that as the minutes passed, the line of trick or treaters was extending out the front lawn and almost to the street. But Randy was beyond help. His brains were now made of tapioca. This conversation was a slice of heaven.

At least until Marvelle arrived.

Randy’s delayed return had finally made her curious. After arriving to the entry hall and seeing Emily in her cat suit and her babbling husband, she sized up the situation in a matter of milliseconds. She greeted Emily warmly and then turned an incredulous scowl toward Randy who was now doing his best to invoke a face of unwitting innocence.

“Hey, dear. Emily and I were just catching up. Did you know she was back in town?”

Marvelle was unmoved, and, with arms folded, continued to stare at him sourly. Finally, she reached over and grabbed the large container of treats, once again smiling toward Emily.

“Em, good to see you sweetheart. Come back and visit when it’s not so crazy.”That said, she began to hand out candy to the extended line of costumed children. Randy retreated back to the den, immediately rolling over in his head his best strategy for appearing nonchalant. Eventually Marvelle returned and stood soldierly in front of him, again with arms crossed, and regarded him with a look of sharp reprimand.

Randy finally looked up at her, feigning all the virtuousness he could muster. “What?”

Marvelle stared at him coolly for a few lingering moments. She finally exhorted a definitive “humph” and went to finish the dishes in the kitchen.  She wanted to drag him along by the ear and give him a stout lecture. But instead, Marvelle quietly smiled. She had put a plan in place that would give him an even larger scare, one that would fix his wagon.

The evening hours passed and all the trick or treaters dwindled. Finally, Randy turned off the porch light off, turned off the TV, and went upstairs to bed. Marvelle was on her side with her back to him, fast asleep. He read for a little while till he became sleepy, then turned off the bedside light and started drifting into dreamland. Outside, the sidewalks of Carter Street were quiet, save for the occasional fluttering of the moths around the solitary streetlights.

That’s when Randy heard the violin.

The notes were melodically drifting into the still night air; sweetly, softly playing the theme from Dr. Zhivago. At first, Randy thought he was caught in a half-sleep, only imagining this. But when he opened his eyes, the music continued. His neck stiffened. He sat straight up in bed. He listened. Still the music continued. He looked over at Marvelle, who was dreamily lost to the world. Then, he slowly put his feet on the floor and quietly, step by step, made his way over to the bedroom window. What he saw sucked the oxygen right out of him.

Through the soft veil of window sheers and illuminated by a single lamp, there stood Tilly Armstrong delicately playing her violin. Her arm moved back and forth rhythmically to the notes, which rang out somberly into the night. Randy began gasping for air, unwilling to agree to what his eyes and ears were telling him.

“Good heavens!” He whispered lowly. “This just can’t be!”

Then he heard another sound. It was low whimper, followed by a weak snort. It was Marvelle. What in the world was going on with her? Then he noticed something odd. The arm playing the violin was moving, but it was moving constantly in the same motion, like a saw going back and forth. Marvelle snorted again.

Then it all came home to him. He remembered from the previous week, that when he had gone out to the storage building behind the house to get his pitchfork that the mannequin was not in its normal place. He had been had.

“Oh, your good, Momma. You’re really good.”

Now Marvelle exploded in an outright howling laugh. In the shadowed light of the bedroom, she turned over to face him and couldn’t help but giggle at him standing in the moonlight of the bedroom window, scared like a little girl. Randy laughed too, but it was only a reluctant, good-sport kind of laugh. He didn’t think it was so funny.

“You know, Momma, if you had wanted to do it up right you should have put her in the parlor like old times instead of up in the bedroom. Marvelle’s cackling halted immediately. She went dead silent.


“Like I said, you should have put her in the parlor.”

Now it was Marvelle who stiffly bolted upright. Through the pale darkness she stared at Randy. Then she threw back the covers and nearly ran to the window. What she saw sent chill through her. She let out a low gasp, bringing her hand to her face. This wasn’t right. This just simply wasn’t right.

“What’s wrong?”

Marvelle gasped for air. She was white as a sheet. He knew the look on her face was no act. Finally, she choked out the words.

“Randy, I didn’t put her in the upstairs bedroom. I put her in the parlor.”


This year, Randy and Marvelle are thinking about going to Nashville for Halloween and maybe staying in a nice hotel. They still don’t know what to think about last Halloween. But one thing they know for sure. They don’t want to be on Carter Street Halloween night.

But Alicia… well, she was different. She knew a lot of things. Two weeks before last Halloween she knew about her mother’s devious prank because she ran into one of her mother’s coworkers at the Mall in Green Hills. The coworker let it slip that Marvelle had rigged the mannequin with a motorized arm, put one of Ms. Tilly’s dresses on it, and borrowed a violin. She knew her mother was planning on sneaking it into the parlor Halloween afternoon. She knew her parents would take turns handing out trick or treat. She knew her old friend and babysitter Emily had a mischievous streak in her and would be a good diversion. She knew that when the outdoor flood lights came on it was time to cut the music, get the mannequin and speaker back downstairs, and get the heck out of there. She knew the hundred and twenty-mile drive back to Belmont in the middle of the night was well worth it. And finally, she knew that sweet revenge on her Dad for all the years of merciless pranks he had pulled on her was a feeling she would savor for a long time.

But there was one thing she didn’t know.

She didn’t know that when she quickly exited the back door of the Armstrong home, she didn’t quite pull the door to. Shortly afterwards, a small gush of wind caught it and pushed it open, letting in the cold October air.

And what none of them know is that soon after, a soft, wrinkled hand pushed it shut again.

After doing so, the owner of that small hand walked back to the parlor. There she found him was quietly reading a book. He looked up and smiled at her. She was tempted to take the violin from the mannequin and play it because Junior had taken hers back to Boston with him.

But she didn’t want to disturb the neighbors.

So instead, she sat down next to him on the couch and softly, tenderly sang the words.

You’ll come to me

Out of the long ago,

Warm as the wind,

Soft as the kiss of snow.


Till then, my sweet,

Think of me now and then.

God, speed my love

‘Til you are mine again.*

Then she sweetly, contentedly reached over and held his hand.

I’m  j. high, and for now in Watervalley, that’s pretty much the highpoint.


* Somewhere My Love, also know as Laura’s Theme, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, music by Maurice Jarre.

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