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Work in Progress – July 21, 2022

Locations: Fiction Published

The Man Next Door
By Tom Mercer 

I had lived on a dead end street in the suburbs of Boston for about 10 years when the man moved into the house next to me. We introduced ourselves to each other the day he moved in, but we had spoken only a few words to each other in the months that followed. Because I live alone, I enjoy talking to neighbors, my mail carrier and people in our nearby park. However, my new neighbor was clearly averse to unnecessary chat and he kept to himself at all times. The only thing I knew about him after six months was his first name: Alex.

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Perhaps it was his hermit nature that intensified my curiosity. During the six months that he lived next door I had not bumped into him in the grocery store, the post office or any of the local restaurants. With the exception of our mail carrier, I had never seen anyone even approach Alex’s front door. Although I do ascribe to the “live and let live” philosophy, I couldn’t help but wonder why Alex would want to lead such a lonely life. Eventually, I came to regret my curious nature.

It was in early July that I first noticed Alex bringing large boxes into his home. Judging by the effort that Alex put into moving the boxes into his house, I discerned the contents to be extremely heavy. The boxes only remained in his house for a few hours following their delivery, after which I would see Alex moving the same boxes into a large tool shed in his backyard. Alex always kept that tool shed securely locked, and it had no window to afford a curious neighbor even a quick peek at the shed’s contents. I tried to reign in my curiosity, but I found it more difficult to accomplish as time passed.

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It was September when Alex had an electrician run what appeared to be a 240 volt line from his house to the tool shed in his backyard. The autumn air was seasonally crisp, but inside my curiosity was burning white-hot. It was that month that the Alex-mystery deepened and my curiosity spiked.

It was a Saturday night when the Alex-mystery reached its apex. I had gone to bed at a reasonable hour but was awakened around 3 a.m. by strange noises emanating from the shed in Alex’s backyard. I rolled out of bed and looked out of the window with the best view of my neighbor’s backyard. I was astounded by what I saw. Alex’s shed was the source of the disturbance. Brilliant flickering green lights emanated from the cracks around the shed’s door. The strange vision persisted for about an hour, then stopped. At that point, I returned to my bed and slept fitfully the remainder of the night.

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When I awakened Sunday morning, I resolved to speak to Alex about the bizarre event during the night. I approached his front door, rang the doorbell and to my astonishment Alex opened the door and invited me into his home. I followed him into his living room and he asked me to take a seat. I was nervous but I knew that this might be the only opportunity I would ever have to satisfy my curiosity. I summoned up all of my available courage and asked Alex to explain what I had witnessed in the early-morning hours. Much to my surprise, he presented an incredible explanation.

Alex informed me that he had traveled back in time from the future. I was aghast, and rendered speechless. At first, I didn’t believe him. He continued, saying that something had gone wrong in the time-travel retrieval process, and that was the probable reason that his scheduled return to his own time had not taken place. He went on, explaining that he had been forced to construct a similar time-travel device in his tool shed — an apparatus that he hoped would make a return trip to the future possible. 

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He asked me not to tell anyone about his backyard project — and I thought to myself that it would be madness to share his story with anyone for fear of being issued a straitjacket and a room in a local sanitarium. With that in mind, I assured Alex that I would tell no one about his project. Alex concluded by saying that he would attempt to make his return trip that very night. I returned to my house in a confused daze. I still harbored doubts about my neighbor’s sanity.

I went to bed at my usual time that night, but it was impossible for me to fall asleep.  I wrestled with the idea of informing the authorities about the matter, but I did not act because, to the best of my knowledge, Alex had broken no laws.  I thought about men and women who had sought out excitement and incredible adventures versus those who had settled for safety. I examined my own reluctance to seek out adventure. Sleep did not come easily that night, and I was awakened long before morning.

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It was about 2 a.m. when I heard the unmistakable sound of machinery running. The sound was definitely coming from Alex’s toolshed, and a quick glance out my bedroom window revealed an intense green light seeping through every crack and seam of the structure. I threw on some clothes and ran towards the toolshed to investigate. I was there in a matter of seconds, but I had missed Alex. He was gone. Presumably, he had returned to the future. The machinery, however, was still running. A shaft of intense green light was still focused on what I judged to be the time transport pad. Without any hesitation, I stepped onto the pad.

Two days later, a brief article appeared in the Boston Globe. The article was about the mysterious disappearance of two area residents and the discovery of an unusual apparatus that was found in a toolshed near their homes. The author suggested that the toolshed may have had something to do with the men’s disappearance. However, because government authorities had already removed the toolshed, the cause for the residents’ disappearance was never more than a matter of conjecture.

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Tags: #creative writing #Tom Mercer #Work in Progress
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