Howdy Neighbor

There are times when real life is too bizarre for words. Yet, a pair of portly neighbors, a jelly-like floor, and sleep deprivation once plagued my life. Needless to say, I didn't live in that particular apartment very long. However, years later, it has inspired a story. Read on for the result.

      At first, Jill loved her new apartment. That is, until incessant stomping kept her from her thoughts, let alone a good night's sleep. Her upstairs neighbors were cordial enough, greeting her with a daily "Howdy, neighbor" as she came home from work. However, after two weeks of spotty rest due to heavy-footed clomping, Jill's nerves were aching and raw. When she caught herself making a meal of cat food, Swiss cheese and hot sauce, she finally decided to pay her neighbors a visit.

      Exhausted, she clambered up the stairs to her neighbor's stoop. Outside their front door, she raised her fist to knock, when an overwhelming feeling of insecurity caused her to suddenly pull away. But memories of sleep deprivation flooded her brain. Tired of hearing thumping equivalent to a competitive bass tournament, her fist propelled itself forward. As her hand continued rapping, she swallowed a lump that had formed in her throat.

      A latch caught, and the door squeaked open, exposing a 350-pound blondish woman, braless, wearing a stained wife-beater tank and a pair of knee-length shorts.

      "Hey, Hon. You need somethin'?"

      Gaping at the spectacle, Jill closed her mouth before catching a fly. "Um . . . Yes. I live downstairs . . ."

      The woman cut her off.

      "Girl, I know who you are. What 'chu want?"

      "Well," said Jill, "I've noticed a lot of noise coming from upstairs lately, and I was wondering if there was anything you could do . . ."

      The big woman huffed, turning slightly red.

      Uneasy, Jill stepped backward.

      Suddenly, the door swung open to reveal a balding man, equally as heavy as the woman, wearing jean overalls, sans a shirt. "Woman," said the man to his overstuffed counterpart, "don't be rude. Show the lady in."

      Before Jill could protest, hands grabbed her and pulled her into the apartment.

      The place was littered with clutter. Commemorative Elvis plates lined the entire back wall, while assorted knick-knacks dotted the remainder of the space. Within two steps, Jill fell into a spot where the flooring had gone soft. Eyes wide, she struggled to her feet. Another two steps in, and the floor again went limp beneath her.

      "Is your entire floor like this?" asked Jill.

      "Like what, Sug?" said the man.

      "Soft . . . Like the wood has been worn out."

      The couple exchanged a look. The man moved a step closer.

      "Where is it?" he asked flatly.

      Surprised, Jill asked, "Where is what?"

      The large woman leered toward Jill. "You know damn well what."

      Jill managed to avoid the woman's grasp. Wild-eyed, she responded, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

      "We know you have it, you skinny little bitch," said the woman.

      Shaking her head, Jill backpedaled until her rump bumped into a row of Elvis platters. Dishes thumped onto the floor, but the lack of wood saved them from breaking. Pudgy hands grabbed a handful of Jill's hair and tugged her forward.

      "Listen bitch, it's bad enough that you stole my money. Ya think it's a good idea to bust my plates, too?"

      Hot tears streamed down Jill's cheeks. Pleading, she said, "I really don't know what you're talking about, and I'm really sorry about the plates."

      The woman jerked Jill's hair hard enough to crack her neck, causing her to fall to one knee. Jill's momentum forced the portly woman off balance, and letting go of Jill's hair, she fell backward onto her husband. With the duo rolling like bowling pins on the unstable floor, Jill scrambled until she was out the door.

      Making a beeline for her apartment, she flew through her front door in seconds. With wobbly hands, she barely managed to lock the deadbolt behind her. A thunderous commotion sounded above, then ceased as heavy footfalls took to the stairs. Jill scanned her apartment for a weapon, but came up empty.

      Her purse lay on a bookshelf next to the front door. She fumbled for the purse, digging until she found her cell. Without hesitation, she dialed 9-1-1.

      "9-1-1, what's your location?"

      As Jill relayed her location, calling number and the nature of emergency, pounding reverberated from the front door. Startled, she jumped into the air, nearly toppling over the couch. Her cat skittered into her room and underneath the bed. With 9-1-1 still on the line, Jill ran to the guestroom closet, where she stored an old baseball bat. She threw open the closet door. Dust and debris littered the floor. As she stepped in to grab the bat, she stubbed her foot on something solid. A glance down revealed a black duffle bag, lumpy and bursting at the seams. Looking up, a whole in the ceiling, plugged by cardboard box labeled "junk room," led directly to the apartment upstairs.

      The crisp cracking of wood reminded Jill of her purpose. She removed the bat from the closet and ran toward the guestroom door. With a quick push, the door rocked toward the jam, but before it could latch, a pudgy arm broke through.

      A scream tore from Jill's throat. She swung the bat into the fleshy arm. Echoes of pain filled the air. With the arm out of the way, Jill shut and locked the door. She sank, back against the door, to her butt and wept.

      Scuffling and cursing sounded from the hallway, followed by a thwack and the sharp splintering of wood. Jill looked up to find the blade of an ax two feet from her head. As she scrambled to her feet, the ax cleaved the door again, spraying shards into the room.

      Torn by slivers of broken door, Jill crept further into the room. Sirens echoed in the distance as she slipped under the bed. The door finally gave way. She watched as four chubby feet surrounded her. She sat silently, waiting for hands to pull her into the open. The ax thumped into the mattress.

      "Son of a bitch," said the woman. "Goddamn thing's stuck."

      As the duo wrestled with the ax, Jill watched as a half-dozen pairs of feet filtered in.

      "Move away from the weapon!" shouted a commanding voice.

      The pudgy feet turned, then attempted to break for the door. The electric crackle of tasers sounded, followed by two hefty thuds. Drool ran down the woman's bloated face as she wordlessly blinked at Jill.

      "Ms. Spence, are you in here?"

      Jill nodded, then realized she couldn't be seen. "I . . . I'm under the bed."

      "You can come out now. It's safe."

      Jill shoved herself out from her hiding spot. By the time she stood, officers had cuffed her neighbors and were struggling to get them to their feet.

      After an interview that lasted a lifetime, Jill was left alone in her ruined apartment. As her cat came out to greet her, she remembered the lump-filled duffel in the guestroom closet. Hustling to the guestroom, she patted her kitty's head. Creeping over the remnants of door, she made her way to the closet. The bag sat on the floor, untouched. Heart thudding heavily in her chest, she unzipped the duffel. Stacks of paper-fastened hundred dollar bills lined the inside. Without hesitation, she grabbed the bag, along with a suitcase, and ran to her room. She emptied the money into her luggage, filling the remaining space with clothes, assorted toiletries and a bag of dry cat food.

      Holding the cat under one arm and pulling the suitcase with the other, she exited her apartment. "We're going on a trip, Kitty."