The new neighbors moved in next door but I didn’t think much about it at first. I waved from my porch to instigate friendly relations but I wasn’t about to barge over there and become ‘The welcome wagon’. I’m more of a ‘live and let live’ sort of neighbor, uninterested in embedding myself in other people’s lives. The same was true for my preference about them. ‘Friendly’, but not REAL friends.
Several months went by and I was a little embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know their names. They had re-lettered the mailbox to say: ‘NATAS’ but I only knew the man’s first name from his wife calling it out from the driveway. Who names their child ‘Lord’, anyway? She was attractive in a creepy ‘goth’ sort of way. I still didn’t know her name. I dudded her ‘Elvira’ until I learned the truth. He’s a tall, snazzy dresser and their kids are average looking. Nothing out-of-the-ordinary.
I thought it was a little bit odd when they put up Halloween decorations right after the Fourth of July, but it seemed harmless enough. Some people really get into party themes. Here was a family living next door to me and I’d made almost no effort to get to know them. There’s a fine line between being ‘private’ and ‘rude’ or uncaring and I felt like maybe I’d crossed it a little. I worried my aloof behavior might’ve made them feel unwelcome.
With a gregarious ambition that I soon came to regret, I went over to introduce myself. ‘Elvira’ answered the door. I made a mental note to ask for her real name so I could stop mock-labeling her, in my head.
“Hello! I’m ‘Lili’. Won’t you come in? My husband should be home from work soon.”
I thanked her and sat down on their couch. The decor of the living room was ‘interesting’, to say the least. Basically it might have passed for more Halloween decorations but it wasn’t cheap ornamental junk. They REALLY went all out on their gothic motif. It brought to mind what you’d expect a medieval torture chamber to look like. Executioner’s axes were on the walls and what appeared to be an inquisition rack for confession was also prominently displayed nearby. I’m sure my reaction to their ‘dungeon’ was amusing.
“Don’t pay our colorful furniture any heed. We are eccentric in our tastes but we rarely sacrifice neighbors on their first visit.”
Her attempt at (what I assumed) was levity fell very flat. I smiled politely at the noble effort but it seemed just like what a real sadist might joke about. It certainly didn’t help reassure me. I went to arise so I could make a hasty retreat from their creepy ‘murder den’ when I heard Mr. Natas’ car pull into their driveway. It seemed that I was going to have to stick around the ‘Addams family mansion’ at least a few more minutes, to avoid being impolite. I silently cursed my mindless desire to introduce myself to them.
‘Lord Natas’ came inside and was immediately notified by Lili of my visit. I introduced myself and made vague apologies for not coming over sooner. I sat back down while ‘Samael’ (as he introduced himself) and I made chit-chat. Lili observed our uncomfortable little interaction from afar. Their children were not yet home from school so it was just the three of us in their ‘living’ room. I tried to think of things to say but I was too distracted by the axes and sacrificial daggers on the wall. Mr. Natas noticed my nervousness and tried to put me at ease.
“We haven’t used those ritualistic daggers in ages.”; He offered with a slight grin. The coldness of his eyes gave me an involuntary shiver. Then he added: “They’re as dull as butter knives so we had to quit using them. We use the axes now.”
Samael glanced over at Lili to gauge her reaction to his provocative jest but she betrayed no emotion. I got the feeling she was distracted by something ‘troubling’. My guess was that whatever it was, would be far more troubling to me, than to them. I desperately sought an excuse to skedaddle out of there but my mind drew a total blank. Try as I might, I couldn’t fabricate a good excuse to facilitate my departure. Short of me abruptly leaping up and fleeing in abject terror, I was going to have to stick around a bit longer and tough it out.
I could tell my morbid hosts were enjoying my wide-eyed reaction. They seemed to be feeding off the growing level of unease. It had the effect of actually encouraging both of them to increase their alarming banter. I was trying to play along. If there’s one think you learn growing up as the victim of bullies, it’s that if they know something bothers you, they’ll do it forever. I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of seeing me squirm. I did my damnedest to pretend to be amused while sweat beaded on my forehead.
I’m not sure they were fooled by the paper-thin facade but it’s the best I could do. I wanted to turn the tables and creep them out for a change but they had ‘home court advantage’. The two of them kept using clever metaphors and sick puns to vaguely suggest they intended to harm me. I was pretty alarmed by their twisted little mind game but it was never so obvious as to qualify legally as an actual threat. There was always a more innocent interpretation that it could mean.
Any rational person would have already excused themselves and hightailed it out of there, but I was determined to stick it out. I pushed past my paranoia and deepening fear. I had to live next door to these macabre ghouls. If I turned tail and ran, they’d have the upper hand in every future contact I’d have with them. Lili feigned concern about my tense posture and body language. Then Samael asked if I’d ever been on a medieval torture rack before.
Since I’d managed to rebuff their psychological threats, they were systematically pushing me toward more physical intimidation. They worked as a cunning team, all the while with pleasant smiles on their emotionless faces. I couldn’t begin to say what possessed me but I stood right up and volunteered for a ‘chiropractic adjustment’. Both of my hosts smiled at my unexpected acceptance. As she placed my wrists in the restraints, I couldn’t decide if I was incredibly brilliant or amazingly stupid. Upon feeling the device tighten to an uncomfortable degree, I had my answer.
Muscles stretched. Tendons drew tight. The sockets of my bones popped and cracked. I would have confessed to anything, and yet my two sadistic hosts were not officially interrogating me for any stated reason. They were just showing me they were in control. We both knew it. I wanted to scream out. I wanted to piss my pants in agony but somehow I kept it together. Finally Lili released the rack and my body sprang off of it like a rubber band.
I caught the two of them making eye contact. There was an unspoken air of respect, I was sure of it. Intense waves of pain radiated through my body as the tension was released so dramatically but I did my best to pretend I enjoyed the whole exercise in torture. Instead of excusing myself, I sat back down on the couch. Part of that was because I was in so much pain I could barely stand, but I also wanted them to think I wasn’t afraid of them.
The three of us went right back to talking of ‘regular things’ without even skipping a beat. All the while, the most disturbing mind games imaginable continued. Believe it or not, we did have some genuine interests in common and I started to feel my fear and tensions dissipate. Samael asked about my hobbies and pass-times. After relating my interests, that opened the door to reciprocation. I asked about theirs.
Lili spoke up and admitted she had a consuming passion for studying the chemistry of potions and poisons. Samael watched my reaction with obvious glee. I tried to pretend I wasn’t disturbed by her revelation but it became infinitely harder when she offered to mix me a drink from their bar. It had a number of ancient looking blown glass bottles with the skull and crossbones insignia on them. She poured me a tall glass of something that actually bubbled from the top like a mad-scientist concoction.
I downed the strange brew without hesitation and immediately asked for another, with a straight face. The two of them looked at each other and laughed hysterically. ‘Lord Samael Natas’ and his wife finally dropped the spooky intimidation pretense and dark humor. I had rolled with every psychological punch and braved their brazen introduction. In short, I had earned their respect.
“You sir, are a good sport and a man after my own heart.”; He offered earnestly.
I replied. “You aren’t supposed to know that yet. My surgical tools are in my trunk.”