The new neighbours

By Sharon Lynch

The house had stood empty for several months. Every time Jonathan walked past it, he looked at the SOLD sign and wondered. Who had bought the place, and where were they now? As soon as that sign went up, rumours had curled up and down the sideroad like smoke from a wood stove. 

An older city couple had bought it. No it was a young family planning to open a business. No it was a cousin of someone’s cousin who had just returned from a job in China. Of course no one really knew but speculation was a favourite indoor sport on those dark winter days.

Jonathan wondered who would want to move at this time of year. Before the snow came, he had occasionally seen a flashy vehicle parked in front along with every light inside shining through the windows.  He had assumed a real estate agent was showing it to potential buyers. But then there had been no action for weeks. Snow began to accumulate in the driveway and bunch up against the front door. And not long after the snow arrived, so did the SOLD sign. But nothing else. Like a forgotten New Year’s resolution, the building continued to stand dark and empty. 

Then one morning Jonathan was awakened by the sound of motors. Looking out his bedroom window he saw a collection of vehicles scattered around the mystery property. A moving van, two pick-ups and a car were crowded together while someone worked a chain saw. In no time the old apple tree was gone and one of the pick-ups had moved over to park where its branches used to be. Jonathan felt a bit sad to see that tree go. Deer used to gorge on apples every fall and the blossoms in the spring always gave him a lift as he walked by with Morris, his dog.

Ah well, things change, he told himself. Maybe now some of the questions that had swirled in the neighbourhood could be put to rest. But it didn’t happen. In fact the house continued to be a deepening mystery. Because he lived next door and liked to be “in the know,” Jonathan kept an eye on the comings and goings and it seemed there were mostly goings. Sometimes no vehicles stood in the driveway. Other days a single, never-before-seen car stood there. And nights were odd. At 8 o’clock in the evening the house was always in total darkness yet the driveway was often again full. 

One morning as he and Morris walked by, Jonathan heard several barking dogs and caught a glimpse of two canine heads by the patio doors. All to be seen or heard were the dogs. But after that single morning, Jonathan saw and heard nothing more. No more dogs and if there were people inside, they were very quiet. 

It was the week between Christmas and New Year. The storm had passed through leaving a softly rounded world of white lace and silver silhouettes. The sun turned the landscape into diamonds and pearls and Morris the dog kept burying his nose into the drifts as he and Jonathan walked down their road. Two deer watched their passage from a distance, their faces fluffed up in the cold. 

No sign of the new neighbours. A car in the driveway but he wondered if anyone was in fact at home. It was truly a mystery. As if his thoughts had walked up to the house and knocked, the front door opened and a man emerged. Jonathan immediately recognized the real estate salesperson and raised his hand in neighbourly greeting. The gesture was returned. Then he watched as the salesperson walked over to the SOLD sign and turned it around to say FOR SALE once again. 

Responding to Jonathan’s question, the man said the sale had fallen through and the house was back on the market. Apparently on the day of closing, there had been a terrible accident, killing the entire family including their dogs. They had never actually taken possession of the property.