R. S. Ramdial
The Wendels lived a hundred yards down the road from us when I was a boy. This was in Charlton in the early 1980's and back then the place was emptier and greener. The trains had stopped coming there in 1976 and there was no road that led to the highway -- that was built only in 2001 -- so to get out into the bigger world you had to drive two hours to Queensville and take the road to the highway from there. And really there was no reason to leave Charlton unless you had a hot foot to travel or wanted to see relatives or something.
We were the Wendel's nearest neighbors but we didn't see much of them. They stuck inside their neat little house most hours of the day. Notice that I said nearest and not closest. We never got close to the Wendels. No one ever did. They were furtive people. Barry Wendel owned a car but all he did with it was drive down once a week to buy groceries or to pay bills and fill the tank. Then he would come back home and his wife would open the door and he would hurry inside, his arms full of his purchases, glancing all around and at particularly at our home with his sharp eyes, like a man smuggling illegal goods.
Barry Wendel had inherited nearly a million dollars from his father and he stayed home all day. The Wendels had a small fenced yard and they kept it very tidy and took care of it themselves. They always tended to it at night though. They burnt most of their rubbish and there was a small metal drum at the back of their yard that they used for the fire. My dad used to be a bit chuffed at them because he liked to go out onto the front porch after dinner and have a smoke, but if the Wendels came out and started doing yardwork he would come in, because man and wife and the son, fifteen year old Leslie, would stare daggers at him, as if they suspected him of evil designs on them.
Leslie did not resemble either parent. His father was short and thick and neat while Leslie was thin and tall and slovenly. He was a few years ahead of me in school and I hardly ever saw him. I knew that he had gotten in trouble for smoking and that Mr. Wendel had passed some money to the principal to keep his son from being expelled.
Leslie didn't pay much attention to schoolwork, even the shop classes. It was the general expectation of those outside the Wendel home who knew of him that he would go to some technical school and learn a trade. He didn't. After failing to graduate, Leslie Wendel stayed at home and did nothing, joining the family business you could say.
So the three of them made a strange little household; three people who kept to themselves and seemed to distrust everyone. They didn't bother us and in fact the Wendels made for interesting conversation with anyone we had over for dinner. It was like having something like a sideshow up the road.
In 1986 we had a problem with the front porch. It had been sagging for a while and my dad decided to fix it. A friend of my dad's put him in touch with one Lou Sawyer, who lived way on the other side of Charlton. Lou came over to help. He was a man in his sixties, old and strong and he and my dad got along real well while they fixed that porch.
Then on the third day I was outside helping them by holding nails when Mr. Wendel left his house, racing past as always in his dark green car.
Lou stood up and fixed his cap. "Hold on there. That looks like a Wendel if I'm not mistaken."
"That's Barry Wendel," my father told him. "You know him?"
"I know the family. He's the eldest. He's got two younger brothers who live in Queensville."
"Two brothers?" my dad said in surprise. "I didn't know that. They don't come up here then. Nobody goes to that house. Heck, they don't even come out for the postman."
Lou made a face. "Those brothers don't speak. Them Wendels are one strange clan. They been hereabouts for better than two hundred years and they've always seemed to have a kink in their heads. Every generation does something that you hear about. Nothing's ever proven though but when you hear the same talk from ten unrelated folk, it sounds like the pure truth. Like these brothers here. There's suspicion that they murdered their father you know. To get his money."
My father looked astonished. "I've never heard that."
Lou nodded. "I heard that from the retired sergeant himself. They couldn't get enough evidence and he hints that they bribed his boss, so they've stayed free."
"They're vicious," my dad said, looking at that house with both interest and uneasiness.
"Well so was their old man Mr. Dougherty. Their father burned his brother-in-law alive. That was in 1953. He got away with that. He just took a hating to the man and went down one Christmas, took him out, got him drunk, and doused him and set him on fire." Lou cocked at eye at me. "Sorry to have said that in front you son. My tongue ran away with me."
"That's all right, Mr. Sawyer," I said. I was mesmerized by what he was saying. The Wendels were not just strange but wicked. This was a very new way to see them.
"Now when they killed that old man for his money, he was one hundred and four years old and still going strong. Every one of them Wendels lives longer than the devil himself. These three sons just couldn't wait for their father to die. His father was called Abner and he lived to be a hundred himself. The story on Abner is he killed his wife. He kept a woman on the outside for their entire marriage and his wife knew it but never said a word. Then one day he just took an axe to his wife and that was it. There was some trouble with the police over that because his wife was a Neville from Hamilton, but he got away. Best be careful, Mr. Dougherty. Your neighbor ain't an easy man."
My father was indeed careful after that. I knew that he thought about telling my mother and eventually did. She was scared and talked about moving.
My dad shook his head. "No. They're a hundred yards down the road and we don't bother them." Still, my dad stopped going out on the front porch to have a cigarette after dinner altogether.
Leslie Wendel stayed at home after high school day and night for three years. Then one day there were two cars in the yard and on Sunday Leslie Wendel would speed off down the road and would be absent the entire week, only returning on Friday night. We heard the word that he was working in Queensville but we never heard at what, or where he was staying.
Leslie seemed to be getting tired of being under his father's thumb. He would return Friday nights and on Saturdays there would be loud screaming arguments that even we could hear. All three of them were going at it. I thought back to Mr. Sawyer's history of the family and wondered who was going to kill who next.
Then one day Leslie brought home a girl. She had long black hair and was prettyish. She looked no more than fifteen. She moved into that small house with the three of them. My parents and I couldn't believe that any girl could like Leslie that much. We decided that she must be poor and uneducated to be taken in by whatever promises Leslie would have made.
One day a car drove up to the Wendel home. My mother was home and she saw what happened. The car was a new Chrysler Le Baron, big and shiny. A well dressed lady out and walked up the driveway and rang the doorbell. The Wendels were home; the car was there and my mom said they even looked out from the curtains. But the Wendels never came out. The lady rang the doorbell and knocked for nearly twenty minutes, calling out loudly all time. Then she went away.
"It had to be the girl's mother," my mother said.
The girl got hugely pregnant and she had a baby. She had the child at the house and thereafter she remained inside for weeks at a time. Mr. Sawyer visited us for Christmas that year.
"Heard the boy got married," he said. "The girl comes from a rich family -- she's Peter Dalton's granddaughter."
We were all surprised and I remember my dad saying, "Jesus Christ." The Daltons were all doctors and lawyers and bankers and their daughters only married into the cream of society. How did one of them end up with the Wendels?
"The talk is she just wanted to show the family that she could do what she wanted," Mr. Sawyer said, sipping a coffee laced liberally with brandy. "Her name's Rachel I think. I heard she's broken off all contact with the family."
My father told him the story of the lady who had come to the house. Mr. Sawyer nodded. "It was probably Rachel's mother. The father's wiped his hands off her, but you know mothers."
Rachel became a sort of tragic figure in our eyes -- the girl who had married a worthless husband. But she seemed to be happy. Whenever she would come out, strolling the baby and later on walking with the toddler, she looked pleased. She seemed to have fitted into the Wendel's peculiar way of living. She joined them in watching around with suspicion whenever Mr. Wendel or Leslie came home and hurried into the house. It was like they all imagined that they were surrounded by enemies.
The child turned out to be a girl and she resembled her mother. She couldn't seem to speak properly and instead screamed or shouted in an ugly squawk. You could hear her even down at our house sometimes.
Then one day something happened. It was December 16th and I was painting our fence. I saw movement up the street out of the corner of my eye. The next thing I knew was that Rachel had run past me on the road, her black hair streaming behind her with a good deal of grey in it. I recalled that I had not seen her in weeks. I caught a glimpse of her face. Her face was thin and her eyes were in dark circles. She ran down the road all the way to town. Neither Mr. Wendel nor Leslie was home and I recovered from my astonishment to wonder what would happen to Rachel of either of them met her on the way.
I kept watch the entire day. My parents were visiting in town and I was alone. Mr. Wendel came home and his wife met him at the door. When my parents arrived, Rachel still had not returned and I told them what had happened. It was only as I was telling them that I realized that not only Rachel had run away from the Wendels, but she had also left her daughter behind.
We expected some activity from the Wendels but we were disappointed. They didn't seem to care that their daughter-in-law had abandoned them. They went on as usual and within a year, the girl was calling Mr. Wendel daddy and his wife mommy. Leslie didn't seem to pay very much attention to her. It was very curious and we wondered what had happened to Rachel. My father and mother actually discussed going into Queensville and looking up Mr. Sawyer to hear what he knew. They didn't do it and over the next few months our interest leveled off.
Then in August of the next year the phone rang and I answered it. It was a girl's voice.
"Is this the Doughertys?" she asked and I quickened to the voice at once.
"Yes it is," I said, unable to believe that Rachel was calling our home.
"I used to live up the road with the Wendels. My name's Rachel. I had long hair. Do you know who it is?"
"Yes, I know." I didn't know what to say. "How are you?"
"I'm good. I'm good." She paused and I could hear her breathing over the phone. "I had to get out. I had to. They're strange people and I couldn't stay there any longer." She began to speak very quickly, the words spilling out of her. "They do all sorts of strange things. They have pictures of animals with human heads all over that house. I used to wake up at night and hear them talking in some language I never heard before. I didn't know what to think. I just ignored it and pretended everything was normal.
"Then I had the babies. I had two daughters not one. I had twoand they took one and kept her in the basement and they never let me see her again. I asked for her but they told me that she died but I knew they were lying. They always kept the basement locked and they never let me go down there. I wanted to believe that she was dead but I knew she wasn't. I knew it. For three years I pretended that they were nice people but I couldn't hide it anymore. They were turning the daughter they let me keep against me. They were telling her to call me Rachel and not mom and making her call the old man dad and his wife mom. They held me down one time and told her to spit on me."
Her voice was getting hysterical. I didn't want to hear anymore but I couldn't make my voice work to tell her to stop.
"And on my last day I decided to do something. The man and the boy were away and the lady and my daughter were sleeping in one bed. I was scared but I took the key and unlocked the door and went into the basement. It was so dark…so dark. I found the light and turned it on and it was weak and orange. And then I saw my daughter. My other daughter. " Her voice had become an almost breathless gasp.
"She was a child in a crib, small like a year old. The crib was old and wooden and it stank. There were stains everywhere and it smelled awful down there. I wanted to throw up. I went to my daughter, and then she turned around and I screamed because she was still a baby but her eyes were so hard.
"Then she yelled in a deep voice, a man's voice, 'What are you doing? She's down here! She's down here! Come for her!' She grabbed at me. Her nails had never been trimmed and she scratched my arm. She tried to bite me with sharp teeth, like a rat's. And her mouth was covered in dried blood.
"The next thing I knew I was running to town. I knew I had to get home. I got home and I prayed that they wouldn't come after me. I still dream about that thing in the basement, that thing with hard adult eyes and a man's voice. It wasn't a baby and it wasn't human and they had fed it their own blood." She took a deep sobbing breath. "It wasn't human. What did they do? What did I do?" Rachel's breath was washing over the phone as she cried. I was too scared to feel sorry for her.
"I had to tell you," she said after a few moments. "You live right there and you don't know. You have to get away from there. They're evil. They're evil."
She hung up. I was left there, my mind whirling and all the hair on my body was standing.
I told my parents what Rachel said that same day. They talked it over and we left town, moving to Keystown, the nearest place where no one in the post office knew of any resident with the last name Wendel.
© 2006 by R. S. Ramdial
Mr. Ramdial resides in Trinidad in the West Indies, and writes novellas and short-stories to take his mind off the horror of life in a tropical paradise. More of his short stories can be found online at Alien Skin Magazine and Bewildering Stories. He prefers not to mention what his neighbors are like ...
E-mail: R. S. Ramdial
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