For some reason, the man who had just moved into number ten had decided to learn a weird sort of musical instrument. Late night practices produced a ghostly and unappealing noise and made living next door unpleasant. It sounded like something out of a sci-fi movie.
“Sixty years I’ve lived here and that bugger next door is driving me to an early grave. What time does he call this,” Dennis said to his wife as he stood and thumped on the wall that divided the properties. Instantly the noise stopped, and peace reigned again. “That’s more like it. One day I’ll knock on his door and give him a piece of my mind.”
His wife looked at him and smiled, she knew very well that it was unlikely that Dennis would ever do that. “Of course you will dear.”
As Dennis and his wife Muriel climbed the stairs to bed, he grumbled to himself about noisy neighbours and climbing stairs. He held on to the wooden handrail which was smooth and polished to a high shine. One by one he passed the framed photographs of family members on a floral wallpaper backdrop. It was almost time to redecorate again. Dennis shuddered at the thought. Stripping back the paper and sizing the walls, it was such a burden. But Muriel would badger him until he gave in and she would once again pick wallpaper with a similar print to what they already had. Dennis wondered why they bothered to change it.
When did his life get so bothersome? Cuckoo Close had always been respectable, but one by one, the neighbours had either passed away or moved away, and Dennis wasn’t as comfortable as he had been when he first bought their semi-detached home. All he wanted was a quiet life and enough money to see him and Muriel through to the end. Retirement was supposed to be a pleasant time of life. A time to spend with grandchildren and take nice day trips to the seaside, not to be plagued with noisy neighbours and redecorating. Things just hadn’t turned out the way he expected.
Outside, the wind began to howl and whistle. Rain fell on the rooves of the houses that lined the close. Winter was coming to an end, but spring eluded them for another week or two. Tree branches swayed in the dark to a gusty song, and new leaves rustled, clinging to the twigs and branches for dear life. Somewhere, a dog cried in the night to be let in. It wasn’t the weather for anybody to be out.
Dennis stared out of the bedroom window. The double glazing kept out the cold and as his fingertips touched the glass, he could see the trees straining against the sudden icy blast and he shivered slightly. Something moving towards the end of the neighbour’s driveway caught his eye. He strained to see through the wet darkness of the storm. What was that bugger up to now? Dennis squinted to try to make out what was going on. In the blackness, he could see his neighbour heading out into the weather.
“Dennis love, come to bed,” Muriel said patting the patchwork quilt beside her.
“In a minute, I just want to watch that bloke next door. What’s he doing out on a night like this? He’s up to something, I know it,” a suspicious Dennis told her. He watched until the other party was out of sight and after removing his dressing gown and slippers, climbed into bed beside his wife. “I think there’s something very strange going on next door Muriel.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, he’s just as harmless as you are you daft old sod. Now, lights out. Remember we’re going out tomorrow,” she reminded him.
Dennis lay back and closed his eyes, his head sunk into the soft pillow. Sixty years he had lived in that house with his wife and life had been bliss until that weirdo moved in next door. In the darkness, shadows danced on the walls as if they appeared from nowhere. The odd shapes looked strange and after the eerie music from earlier, he felt a little on edge. It was silly really, but it rattled him slightly and he was curious about the new neighbour. The fragrance of the perfume Muriel had worn that day drifted his way as she moved slightly. It interrupted his thoughts, comforting him a little. Dennis soon forgot about the bizarre music and drifted into a peaceful state of slumber.
Another month went by before Dennis began to question the actions of the neighbour again. The strange music was still apparent, but not as late in the evening. Annoyingly, the weirdo had taken to playing it as close to the wall as he could possibly get and it creeped Dennis out. He wondered what on earth could make such an eerie noise.
There was never any exchange between the two men, not even a nod in the street, but Dennis was bothered by the stranger and without Muriel knowing, he decided to find out more about his neighbour. She would never agree to him snooping around, but if she didn’t know, then it wouldn’t matter.
As the seasons changed and the daylight lingered, the weather warmed slightly, and the evenings were somewhat balmy considering the usual climate. Dennis and Muriel had taken to leaving the windows open overnight for the cool air to circulate, especially in the upper level of their home. As Muriel slept, Dennis lay awake listening. He could hear his neighbour through the wall. He heard him descend the stairs and then the sound of a front door closing. This was the opportunity Dennis had been waiting for. He crept from their bed and dressed quickly. Taking a glance at his wife to make sure she was still sleeping, he left the bedroom and tiptoed down the stairs, then out into the night.
Dennis found the fresh air still but invigorating as he walked quietly along the road. He could see the man he was stalking ahead of him; but kept enough distance between them as to not arouse suspicion. As he continued to follow, Dennis had no idea where he was going until they came to the hill that led up to the local cemetery. It put him on edge. He hadn’t thought they would end up there. Perhaps his neighbour was going to do a bit of grave robbing. Although, that didn’t seem to be a very popular activity in this day and age. Dennis tried to rein in his imagination. It stretched to its limits conjuring frightening images of scientists building monsters and gave him the willies. Perhaps he should have stayed home. Determined to see it through, he trudged on.
The large ornate wrought iron entrance gates were wide open. Dennis stepped onto the hallowed ground and looked around him in the darkness. A creepiness greeted him. Not fond of cemeteries, knowing he would somehow end up in one eventually, he didn’t want it to be before his time. The lamps lit to show the pathways had a strange glow about them and Dennis was unsure which way his neighbour had gone.
“Are you following me?”
Spinning around Dennis came face to face with his mark, “Um,” was all he could get out. Up close the guy looked quite menacing, not to mention he was a good six inches taller. Fear began to surface, and he did his best to suppress it.
“Come with me,” he said, grabbing Dennis roughly the arm.
Dennis didn’t know what to do. Nobody knew where he was, and he was really starting to regret following the guy. How was he to know they were going to a cemetery. His neighbour hurried him along a bitumen road in silence until it ended, and the pathways branched off weaving in and out of the graves. On the top of a hill, there was a wooden bench where they sat down together. Finally, Dennis had his arm back and he contemplated running, but he was more fearful of a heart attacked than the guy beside him. Climbing the hill had been just as difficult as climbing his stairs at home, even with the gruff neighbour dragging him along by the arm.
It was a while before they spoke, and Dennis began to get even more nervous. He wondered why they were sitting on a bench on a hill in the boneyard in the middle of the night.
“This is the best view in the cemetery,” the neighbour said finally, as he looked down the hill in the darkness.
Dennis nodded his head in agreement. Even in the middle of the night, you could see the entirety of the premises, but at the moment, it was bloody petrifying. What did this guy have in store for him?
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here.”
Dennis looked at the man, “I’d be a fool if I said no.”
“I want to bury my mother here on the hill,” he confided. “She always loved a good view.”
Feeling slightly more relaxed about the situation, Dennis just nodded.
“I’m Martin by the way,” he said cheerfully, holding out his hand towards Dennis.
After the introductions, Dennis wondered why he had thought the guy was a weirdo. He seemed quite normal, in an odd sort of way. “Where is your mother?” he asked. Dennis couldn’t remember Martin having any visitors. Perhaps she was in a nursing home somewhere. She would have to be quite old by the looks of her son.
“Come with me,” Martin urged, as he got up from the bench and the two men retraced their steps. They stopped near a few headstones, one of which looked a little newer than the rest. “There. That’s where she is now.”
Dennis looked in the direction of the torch beam. Now he understood.
“She passed away about ten years ago and I always promised her she would be buried on the hill, but it wasn’t possible. The land on the other side if that footpath isn’t consecrated. So, they don’t bury anybody up there,” Martin explained. “She doesn’t know she isn’t buried on the hill, but I know. I’ve let her down Dennis.”
It was that one sentence which pulled at his heartstrings, so Dennis came up with what he thought was a foolproof plan. He felt sorry for Martin and a few days later an idea struck him. One that might help relieve his strange neighbour’s misery and rid the world of the dreadful sound of that alien noise coming from his house. Armed with a six-pack of beer, he knocked on Martin’s door. The home was not as he imagined. Dennis had pictured a maximum amount of weirdness, but the place really was quite ordinary. The wallpaper was similar to his own. “What’s this,” he asked settling into a chair beside a strange looking metal construction.
“That’s my theremin. Here, let me show you how it works.”
Dennis watched the extremely theatrical demonstration that Martin provided, finally understanding where the strange music had come from. “What made you want to play something like that?” he asked, curious about the strange sound it produced.
“I like it. I liked it the first time I heard it. So, I bought one and started practising,” Martin explained. “Sorry about the noise.”
After taking a turn at the theremin himself, he sipped at his beer and explained the real reason for his visit. Martin’s eyes widened as he listened to his neighbour and the two men came up with a strategy to execute the plot.
“It’s nice to see you getting on with Martin from next door,” Muriel said a few days later. “He’s not so bad after all.”
Dennis was feeling too anxious to answer her. Tonight they would carry out their plan and the thought of the job at hand made him a little queasy. An idea like the one he had shared with Martin wasn’t something he would normally think of. He picked away at his dinner, and tried not to dwell on it too much, smiling at his wife as she chatted away.
Shortly after midnight when he was sure Muriel was asleep, Dennis trotted off to the cemetery with Martin. They carried the tools required to relocate Martin’s mum and give her the view he had promised her.
“This is it. There’s no going back now,” Dennis said as they stood by the graveside. “I hope you’re not squeamish because I can’t imagine this is going to be pleasant.”
By torchlight, the two men set to work digging, working away as the hole got wider and deeper. Finally, the shovels made a clunking sound as they hit the top of the coffin. Clearing the rest of the soil away, Dennis handed Martin the crowbar to pry the top off. “She’s your mum mate. I just hope there are no meaty bits left,” he said, struggling his way out of the hole and getting the sack ready.
“The coffin was pretty cheap, so there shouldn’t be.” Martin took the tool and pried open the coffin. The gruesome sight of the skeletal remains grinned at them in the torchlight. “Ah Mum, you were a good-looking woman.”
“I can see that,” Dennis said sarcastically, staring at the grinning skull. “Now let’s get her out of there and in this bag and don’t leave any parts of her behind.” Dennis opened up the hessian sack and held it out in front of him.
“What?” Martin asked staring into the bag. “Me?”
“Well, she’s not going to get in by herself.”
Martin carefully lifted the skeleton from the coffin. “I don’t think she’s going to fit,” he said looking puzzled. The sack was clearly a lot smaller than a lot of the bones.
“Just put her in a bit at a time,” Dennis suggested. “You know, sort of like a puzzle.”
Martin lifted the bones out of the hole one at a time and carefully placed them into the bag. Slowly he manipulated the skeleton of his late mother to fit her into the sack that was clearly far too small. A moment later the skull and one of the arms fell to the ground. Martin watched in dismay as the rounded, bony cranium rolled across the grass and settled next to a nearby headstone.
“That’s no good,” Dennis mumbled. “We’ll get those bits in a minute, let’s just get the bulk of her in this.”
Getting all of the bones into the sack wasn’t the easiest thing either of them had ever done, and after retrieving the head and adding the arm to the hessian bag, they scoured the area to make sure there were no odd bits of Martin’s mum lying about. Picking up the shovels, the two men filled in the grave. It was much easier than it had been to dig the hole and they finished in no time. There was a bit of a mound, but that would sink down and after covering it with the turf they had removed carefully to begin with, you couldn’t really tell, much.
“Let’s get her in the ground,” Dennis said, and they headed up the hill. “We’ll take up a patch of turf and then dig another hole to put her in.”
Once again, they worked together until they had a suitably sized hole for the remains.
“Alright then, tip her in,” Dennis said.
“I can’t just tip her in, it’s not right.”
“She’s not going to know, we’re doing this because you feel guilty,” Dennis reminded his accomplice.
Piece by piece, Martin carefully put the bones of his mother in the hole in the ground with the skull at the top. “I think that’s all of her. Wait, what’s this?” he asked pulling something small and round out of the bottom of the sack.
“That’s a potato, it must be a leftover,” Dennis said taking the shriveled vegetable from him. “Come on let’s get her covered up. Do you want to say a few words or something?”
Martin stood thinking for a moment and then cleared his throat. “We bury this skeleton today in memory of my mum who always liked this spot. I’m sorry we had to do this illegally in the dark without your closest friends. Carry on Mum.” He picked up a handful of soil and sprinkled it into the hole.
They soon had the bones covered and the turf replaced. Dennis looked around. “It’ll be light before too long, make sure we don’t leave anything behind,” he said as they tidied up as best they could. As they were ready to leave the new grave-site, Dennis spotted something white nearby on the ground. “What’s that?” he asked pointing to it.
“Bloody hell, it’s me mum’s foot,” Martin replied as he bent down and picked up the object.
“Well shove it in your pocket and let’s be off then,” Dennis said. “We’ll come back and bury it another night.”
Reluctantly Martin did as Dennis suggested. “I’m not sure how she’s going to feel about being buried without both of her feet,” he said.
“I don’t think she’ll even know, it’s not like she’s using them at the moment.” Dennis smiled to himself. Although they had done this out of pity, there was a sense of accomplishment when sorting out someone’s last wish.
As the two men left the cemetery, they both felt relieved. The job was done, and Martin’s mum was in the very spot she had wanted.
“What’s that noise?”
“What noise?” Martin asked as they hurried towards their homes.
“It sounds like tapping,” Dennis replied.
“I hear a clicking noise,” Martin told him stopping to listen.
“No, it’s more like click tap, click tap,” Dennis explained. “It’s getting louder, it’s coming from behind us.”
They both turned to see the grotesque site of a dirty grey skeleton standing there. An arm sticking up from the top of the spine waved around and from the shoulder hung a skull where the arm should have been. The skeleton reached the flailing arm out towards them with its bony palm facing up.
“What does it want?” squeaked Martin barely able to speak.
“I don’t know, it’s your mother,” a terrified Dennis said looking at the misshapen monster. “Maybe it’s the foot, give it the foot.”
Martin took the foot from his pocket and handed it to the skeleton with a trembling hand. The bony fingers wrapped around the prize and the skeleton turned and hobbled off tapping down the road. Both men watched as the jumbled mess walked away clutching the cherished bones.
Disturbed by the reality of their night together, they quickly finished the journey home in silence. Dennis left his neighbour at the gate and went upstairs sneaking into bed just before the morning arrived. He lay in bed staring at the ceiling wondering if he would ever be able to sleep again. The grotesque grin and the appearance of the dishevelled skeleton wouldn’t leave his thoughts. More than anything, it was the thought of what they had done. The idea had been ridiculous, but Martin’s mum had wanted the best view in the cemetery and they had moved her for that reason. He wondered if she were back in her original spot or in the tiny hole they had put her bones in. His eyelids became heavy and before he knew it, Muriel was shaking him awake.
Dennis never visited next door again after that night. He just didn’t know what to say to his neighbour. Martin moved away not long after and someone else moved into number ten. Dennis kept to himself, just nodding to the family when he saw them over the fence. He never told the tale to another living soul, not even Muriel, and on summer nights when the window is open he listens carefully for the familiar clicking footsteps that will haunt him until the end of his days.