“The Boy Next Door”; unedited original short story. Genre: psych horror?

**Content warning: contains references to abuse, paedophilia, and murder.**

The damp, torn fabric of Ben’s collar whispers as his eyes dart about the room. The kitchen is warm; too warm. He feels as if someone’s set a timer, and watches with expectant wonder as he cooks alive. He shakes his head in an attempt to drive out the thoughts that creep in and try to unsettle him.

“I can handle this,” he declares to the room. “It’s ok, no one will know.”

He continues to stare at the growing pool in front of him, his mind races with possibilities. A warm breeze from the open door disturbs the scattered papers and they drift gently back to the floor like confetti. His eyes latch onto them, wanting to lose himself in tranquil dreams. He tries to imagine the paper as fragile butterflies on a summer’s day. In his mind he sees a multitude of colours: bluebells lining the paths along the country roads, great expanses of blazing rapeseed fields, the sweet scent of freshly mown grass, vibrant summer flowers, and crisp blue skies as the sun beats down warmly upon his olive skin.

He thinks of his Grandma’s quaint garden where he would often spend time in solitude. He couldn’t hear traffic or people there; he would just lie on the dewy grass with the soothing scent of lavender in the air whilst she busied herself baking cakes and cookies for him. He would drift off to sleep to the sound of bees about their business, jumping from one laden planter to the next. If he lay still long enough he’d soon feel the soft wings of butterflies brushing his skin.

The beautiful day dream shatters as the smell hits him – the noxious stink of shit. He wrinkles his nose in an unsuccessful attempt to rid himself of it. He couldn’t help but think there is no dignity in death. He pinches his nose and takes shallow breaths through his mouth as he moves closer, edging around the puddle in the centre of the room.

Ben gingerly reaches for the scattered papers, their waxy surfaces slick with blood. He turns the first over to see a child in dungarees grinning back at him. The room spins. The blood tinted picture feels too surreal, the smile so out of place. He scans the room again and realises each piece of paper represents another boy; handfuls of instants strewn haphazardly around the tiled kitchen floor. His stomach drops as he realises he knows at least half of them – all local boys.

He steps around them taking great care when placing his feet. “Step on a crack and you’ll break your mamma’s back!” The children’s song reverberates around his head.

Edging closer to the lump in the centre of the room he knew what he would find – the pot belly of his neighbour draped in rumpled clothes. Mr Simmerson was always dressed to accommodate his ample girth, though without a question in the most finely made cotton shirts. He was seen to be a very respectable man.

Ben wondered what the neighbourhood would think now if they knew what Mr Simmerson had been doing to some of their children.

His stomach became visible – it appeared as if he’d struggled and his clothing was now in disarray, though his face was also covered by items of clothing. It reminded him of a drama program he’d seen on TV where someone covers the dead in respect. He suspected that this wasn’t the case here – he knew he wouldn’t have wanted to see Mr Simmerson’s face as he died either. The gurgled breaths that issue from the folds were enough to suggest the serious nature of his current condition combined with the slashes around his torso. Ben made no attempt to aid him either.

“Hello?” Ben called softly. He imagined that the man rose from the floor to yell at him, but he didn’t.

Sighing in relief he began to relax, sitting with his back to the wall and legs crossed as if he was back in school. At that moment he wished that he was a child again so he could run to his parents and explain everything. They would make everything ok, as parents surely do. He wishes that he’d done it many years ago. But he had chosen to remain silent and keep their dark secret.

He couldn’t change what was and he had no desire to try to explain this to them now. He continues to sit beside Mr Simmerson, as if offering the man some comfort in his final moments.

What sane person would sit and watch a man bleed out? What sane person would remain in a room that smelled so bad? He was sure no one would. He did though, briefly considering calling an ambulance, or calling the police, but he changes his mind.

‘I’m not that cold hearted!’ he thinks to himself. He just didn’t want them to save him. He remembers all the times growing up that this man had hurt him. He knew he was tainted beyond repair. By the time he’d turned sixteen the man wasn’t interested in him anymore.

“You’re too old to be here, child.” He’d made it sound like he was doing Ben a favour of course – letting him live his life. Mr Simmerson had been very gentle when turning him away. He didn’t yell or push him, but the rejection stung.

The man had ensured that Ben grew attached to him. He’d groomed him from an early age by enticing him with games, sweets and money. He’d slowly built up from a friendship, then to pictures and finally to a ‘relationship’.

He’d been separated from his peers as he’d grown unsure of how to interact with them; labelled an outcast for so long that he couldn’t fit in anywhere anymore. He knew that his childhood wasn’t typical and he wouldn’t be able to discuss the effects of his relationship with Mr Simmerson with anyone else.

Ben had watched as his neighbour befriended the other little boys in the neighbourhood too, and part of him had been jealous.

He knew what the man did wasn’t right. He knew that he should have said something to protect the other little boys. But no one had protected him. He loathed the attention he’d paid them. The hatred and hurt had blocked all sense of reason and he’d turned a blind eye. He’d refused to say anything to anyone despite knowing what the man would do to others.

Ben felt the shame of his actions as he sat on the cold floor. His face burns with the knowledge that he could’ve protected the other children, but the boy within him had prevented him from doing it. The boy within him had been angry that they had taken his place.

He’d convinced himself that somehow he’d ruined the arrangement. After lots of thought, Ben finally began to accept that it wasn’t him that was wrong – it was his neighbour. He’d taken advantage of his innocence and many others like him. He knew that it wasn’t right and he’d wanted to hurt him for all the years he’d stolen from him and the others.

Looking at the body in the middle of the floor he now knew that someone had beaten him to it.

Sitting there and watching the man die, he wondered which boy had done it; which boy had been brave enough to question it? Which boy had been strong enough to put an end to it? He wouldn’t tell anyone that it was someone else. He’d watch the man die, and then he would wait. He’d wait until they found him, and would willingly leave with them. He’d take credit for the murder he’d intended on doing and, in doing so, could finally do what he should have done years before: protect the other children.

It was too late for him but maybe that other little boy could finally be free.

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