'Clark's Cult'

Kristan Ginther

Clark moved to a quiet cul de sac in a suburb. His home was white with red trim, though he intended to paint the trim gray to match the rest of the houses in the circle. Uniformity was crucial. Clark previously had lived anonymously in an East side apartment building, but found the call of domesticity overwhelming. He wanted a dog and felt his odds of getting a serious girlfriend increased with the purchase of his home on 333 Maple Grove Shady Lane.

Clark was six-feet, four inches, which was strange for an Italian guy. When he was growing up tall, a different coach each year would try to recruit him for the basketball team. Clark wasn't interested—he was a sensitive writer, a daring comedian and an all-around good guy. He currently taught second graders at a public school where he could use his abundant skills to entertain his class, and they loved him for it.

His nearest neighbors were couples.   There were Jack and Cheryl on his right, Bill and Kathy on his left, and Ellen and Bob across the street. Jack and Cheryl were retirees who spent most days getting annoyed at nothing. In the short time that Clark had been on the block, they had already called the police over a suspicious looking car (a pizza deliveryman), started a petition so that nobody could park on the Maple Grove Shady Lane unless they had a special tag, and complained to the airport that planes were flying too closely overhead at 20,000 feet. But they were nice enough to Clark.

Bill and Kathy were in their thirties, closer to Clark's age. They had an adorable pug puppy named Mugsy, and Kathy was six months along with their first child. Kathy stayed at home, while Bill was a lender at a mortgage company downtown. Clark noticed that Kathy always gave Bill a peck on his right cheek before he went off to work. They were so happy. And Clark was envious.

Ellen and Bob were Clark's sports-obsessed neighbors. Everybody in the neighborhood was a diehard Packer fan. Ellen and Bob could engage you in steady conversation on the Brewers, Bucks, and Badgers, as well as the latest goings-on in WNBA, volleyball, bowling, tennis, golf, and soccer. Ellen was also a big Jeff Gordon fan. She said that eventually they wanted to move south to be closer to NASCAR races. Clark was pleased they shared a passion.

Clark enjoyed his new neighbors and neighborhood, and after his first month of residence, he asked the entire cul de sac over for barbecued brats and hamburgers, as well as plenty of Miller beer. The event was a rousing success. Everybody, except for Kathy, became thoroughly tipped and ate more than they should have. There was, however, a curious absence. Clark had never met nor even seen his neighbor, Sue, who was at the end of Maple Grove Shady Lane. He invited her to this neighborhood event, but she had not responded either way.

The neighbors were disgusted at Sue's rudeness. Clark, being the polite gentleman that he was, downplayed her not being there. Because of the flow of alcohol and the immediate comfort that inebriation brings to people in crowds, Clark got the lowdown on Sue. Kathy said she was short and looked like an elf. Bill said she slept around. Ellen said she was too good for NASCAR. Bob agreed with Ellen. Jack said the main reason that he started the petition for no parking was because of the hooligans she had over to her place. Cheryl said she was a Libertarian. And now this! It was agreed upon that day that Sue was the worst neighbor, and they all wished she would move, including Clark, though he didn't know why.

After the barbecue, Clark found himself frequently hobnobbing with his neighbors. He enjoyed the camaraderie and, because he was lazy, the easiness of the socialization. There were cards at Bill and Kathy's on Monday evening, cocktails and a televised game at Ellen and Bob's on Thursday evening, and karaoke at Jack and Cheryl's on Saturday night. However, he did get a bit disturbed by the continuous badmouthing of Sue at each event. He had still not met her nor seen her small form, but he trusted his neighbors' judgment that she was indeed the devil incarnate.

It was at the fourth card night that Bill and Kathy brought up doing something about Sue. Clark didn't know what that could be, but he suggested they confront her about their numerous grievances. This suggestion was dismissed. They had been there and done that to no avail. Something else was needed.

At Thursday's cocktail hour, the entire neighborhood gathering was brought down by a Brewers loss. Then, after discussing everybody's respective boring workdays, Ellen and Bob turned the topic over to Sue, the evil bitch.   Bob lightly punched Clark on the shoulder and said the neighbors should try to scare her out of the neighborhood. Ellen laughed and said that perhaps putting a dead animal in her yard would do the trick. The whole group giggled nervously at the idea.

Clark was dreading Saturday karaoke because he was growing tired of nefarious plots to rid his neighborhood of a person he had never met. But he went anyway because he thought the neighbors would be upset if he didn't show. After running through songs ranging from ‘It's Not Unusual' to ‘Stairway to Heaven' to ‘Hungry Like the Wolf,' the neighbors grew tired of the constant barrage of mediocre music. Instead, they opted to drink and converse about inanities. About halfway through a discussion on a child's disappearance in the suburb, Cheryl said, “You know who I wish would disappear,” and the conversation went to Sue from there.

With his jolly personality, Clark could not endure yet another moment of Sue bashing, so he excused himself and returned home. He decided that he would take a break from the neighborhood gatherings because he was finding them increasingly poisonous, and even worse, repetitive. On Sunday, he phoned Bill to say that he could not make it to card night because he didn't feel very well. He faked a cold voice for added effect. He boycotted the week's events. But on Saturday, Cheryl paid Clark a visit early in the day to ensure that he was coming. Clark relented on his neighborhood strike and told her he would get his singing voice ready.

Clark skipped his typical Saturday afternoon nap so he would look sick and tired, thus making a case for an early exit. He was annoyed with himself about the lengths he was going to avoid and appease his neighbors. When he arrived at Jack and Cheryl's, he was surprised that the microphone and speaker were not set up.   Jack greeted him warmly and said they were going to do something different tonight. The rest of the neighbors filed in, and they all made themselves comfortable around Cheryl and Jack's dark oak dining room table. Cheryl handed out the Millers and told everyone to use coasters so as to not besmirch the table's perfect wood.

Jack started the conversation with, “I think we should rub her out.”

Clark gagged on his beer. Then Cheryl added, “Let's be realistic. We should at least give her the opportunity to leave.”   Clark sat paralyzed as the unfathomable conversation whizzed past him. He was only jogged out of his stupor when Kathy asked if he “had any connections.”   For a moment, Clark was puzzled. Then he realized that Kathy was referring to organized crime.

Clark slowly shook his head no, and Bill chimed in, “I thought all of you Italians were hooked up in some way.”   With the passing of each diabolical sentence, Clark became more determined to leave. Finally, when Bob and Ellen said they knew of somebody from the fantasy leagues who could probably help with this situation, Clark left the house quickly, mumbling something about a fever.

Clark sprinted to his home, and for the first time, he locked all of his locks, including the chain. As he went through the night's events, he went into a state of deep denial, which was much easier than thinking about Sue's impending annihilation. He believed that he was overreacting. That his neighbors were reasonable people. That his quiet neighborhood would remain that way. He calmed himself by repeating these mantras over and over until he drifted off.

Clark awoke early Sunday morning to a loud shriek. He sprinted out the front door of his house in his underwear. He saw a distraught Kathy wailing on her front doorstep, though she didn't appear to be crying any real tears.   Bill intercepted him before he could talk to her.

“Mugsy's dead. We couldn't find him this morning so we went out looking for him. He was in Sue's front yard.”

Clark was confused because Bill and Kathy kept Mugsy in a crate overnight. How did he get out?   Clark's mind spun when he arrived at the only logical conclusion: His neighbors were puppy slayers.

Clark knew he had to speak with Sue as soon as possible. The neighborhood was getting more dangerous than the barrios of Brazil, and her framing for the pug pulverizing was in full swing.

After the morning's excitement, his neighbors prepared to go to church to ask for forgiveness for the doggie assassination and guidance on how to do in Sue. As the cars left the driveways one-by-one with perfectly coifed couples in them, Clark ensured that all of his mad neighbors were gone before dashing to Sue's house. He knocked frantically on her door.

Sue opened the door. She was indeed petite, but Clark would not have characterized her as elfin. She was cute, muscle-bound, and dressed head-to-toe in camouflage. She ordered Clark to enter her home. Clark was stunned to find vast amounts of weapons strewn over her household. There was a Magnum on the kitchen table, a machete on the couch, and nunchucks near her cat's litter box.

Sue glared at Clark and said, “So you had to join the neighborhood cult, didn't ya?”   Clark answered that he thought it was more like the mafia.   Wordplay did not matter to Sue. She told Clark there was going to be a war soon, and he needed to pick a side. Clark remembered how hopeful he was just a couple of months before, and now he wondered why he ever left the relative comfort of apartment living for psycho-suburbia. He did not have time to consider how he was going to extract himself from this nightmare before the first blood was shed. A rock crashed through Sue's window and dinged her in the head. The war was on!

Clark caught a glimpse of his neighbors in all of their Sunday finery standing in Sue's front yard. They had obviously planned this moment for a long time and split from church in the middle of the reverend's sermon on peace. By the look of their sophisticated arms—grenades, AK-47s, flamethrowers and missile launchers—they intended to make this a quick attack.

Clark asked, “Why don't we call the police?”   Sue responded that there was no time left and threw Clark a samurai sword. Sue believed they would come at the house from all directions after their initial heavy-arms assault. She told Clark that if they survived the missiles, flames, and grenades, they had a pretty good opportunity to take a couple of the neighbors down with them.

Clark was standing in the living room as the first grenade flew in through the broken window. He could not move. Sue noticed his passive stance, picked him up, and carried him to her bedroom. The grenade exploded with such ferocity that it pushed them down the hallway onto her bed. Clark thanked Sue for saving his life, but she was on to the next line of defense. She leaped up, closed the door and quarantined them in her bedroom by pushing her dresser up against the door. Explosions rocked Sue's house, but she was more nervous about the footsteps she heard circling around back.

Kathy was the first to arrive at the bedroom. She used her mammoth pregnant belly to wedge open the door as she pushed the dresser to the floor and entered. Sue took her out with a knife to the temple. Bill raced in and opened fire on the bedroom. Clark was thinking about self-preservation when he stabbed the sword into Bill's heart. Sue told him it was a nice job.   She lay bleeding on her bed, wounded in the arm by one of Bill's many bullets.

Clark felt queasy but there was no time for such indulgences; the retirees had arrived. Because they were older, Jack and Cheryl were not quick enough to avoid Sue's assault with a deadly weapon, in this case, lighter fluid and a match. Clark laughed softly to himself, thinking about how he had seen many man a-fires in movies, but never a couple engulfed in an inferno. He wished he had some brats to roast and a nice cold Miller.

Clark thought it was predictable when Ellen and Bob entered with two grenades held triumphantly over their heads like they had just won the Olympics. Clark thought back to all of the NASCAR he was forced to watch, tackled Bob in a fit of fury, and pulled the pin. Ellen pounced on Sue who relieved the grenade of its pin, as well. The house heaved with a final blast.   The cul de sac at Maple Grove Shady Lane was quiet no more.