549 W. Hawthorne Drive (excerpt) by Darren Diarmuid

The following is an excerpt of the short story: 549 W Hawthorne Drive by Darren Diarmuid, which you can find in the anthology The Hawthorne Project. Inside you’ll find ten dark and creepy stories written by him and other amazing authors. I hope you enjoy this little snippet. Oh, and click any of the links below to buy.

That damn dog hasn’t stopped barking ever since Gladys died.

I still remember that day rather vividly. It was an exquisite Saturday afternoon and I had decided to treat myself to a gander at the collection of paintings and antiquities in the Chazen Museum of Art in the University of Wisconsin. I remember looking at ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ by Giorgio Vasari and thinking about how wonderful it is to be alive and how nice it is to finally take a little break from my busy schedule. I remember the peculiar taste of the bratwurst sandwich as I gazed at the glacial waterways. I remember standing on the observation deck of the State Capitol, glancing at its majestic Roman-Renaissance dome, admiring the views of the city and the lakes. I remember stopping my car on the way home to take pictures of the purple wood violet flowers in the meadows during that beautiful day in June.

And then as soon as I made it back home, I saw my neighbor, the elderly Mrs. Hawthorne rushing about her front yard, squinted, horrified eyes, calling for her Gladys. I rushed inside and pulled the curtains. I didn’t want to deal with it, and I still had some work to do, but I decided right then and there that I would take care of Mrs. Hawthorne in any way that I could. In a way, I felt responsible for her loss, but I couldn’t deal with what was happening right now.

Nowadays, I repay her quietly in my own way, walking her little Bolognese Elvis each evening, so she doesn’t need bother leaving the house as often. My small penance. Even buying him expensive treats and such occasionally. It’s been over a year and none of the other neighbors have even checked in on her, or asked how they could help after such a loss, which is just as well. If they did, then perhaps they would discover some things that they probably wouldn’t like to know.

But a lot has changed since then. In my personal life, at least. I’m not quite sure about the other neighbors; I don’t talk to them much. I’ve always been quite the worker, but this year I’ve decided to devote my life to it, sometimes working up to sixteen or eighteen hours a day.

Although I wish I hadn’t done this, because outside disturbances are proving this to be rather difficult, I’ve decided to assign myself the rigorous task of completing three thousand words this hour towards my upcoming data analysis project for work. Twenty minutes in and not even a quarter of the way completed that yet, the initial sounds of laughter from the neighbors to the right is testing my patience. Students. Adam and Chris, as I recall. Two roaring imbeciles in their mid-twenties who rent the house next to me. Adam doesn’t seem to leave the house very often, but Chris is restless. Together, they’re something wretched. Every day is another noise disturbance.

I’ve left the window on the latch to distract me from the ticking of the pendulum counting down the time I have left to complete this challenge, but I certainly wish I hadn’t. I can already smell the exhalation clouds of marijuana smoke filtering out past my window. Talks of smut. Laughs. Giggles. Then the crunching of an empty can of beer is casually disposed in the center of their lawn. I suspect that the loud music will start in precisely an hour and a half.

The little dog starts barking again, and although he’s probably snapping at the students or a squirrel, it reminds me that I haven’t walked him yet this evening. As soon as I finish my word count for this project, I scoop out a few high-end dog treats, leave the house, and avoid making eye contact with the students at all costs. I turn into the Hawthorne’s lawn at as fast a pace as my legs can muster, open her side gate, and toss a pumpkin and peanut-butter treat to Elvis, who deftly snatches it from the air. His tail starts wagging and the barking stops. Perhaps he’s happy to be fed, but I’d like to believe that we’ve somewhat bonded. As soon as he’s finished eating, I give him belly rubs for a few minutes. Then I get the harness and leash and we go for a walk around the road. I hum the tune of ‘That’s Life’ by Frank Sinatra as we start to walk, and just like usual, I keep my head tilted down towards the ground and avoid looking at the pesky students as they create little havocs and deplete their brain cells.

“Mr. Harris!” a woman calls as the other guests begin to arrive to their house, abandoning their cars all over the boys’ lawn.

Don’t look. Do not look at her.

“Mr. Harris!” she calls again, louder this time.

I look up and force a smile, realizing that there’s no way that I wouldn’t have heard her. She’s an attractive brunette with beautiful, sun-kissed skin. Loose, white shirt with a purple bra underneath and an open, black button-up shirt on her shoulders. Endearing smile. She’s holding a transparent glass with black cola in it. As I get closer, I can smell the vodka.

“Cute dog you’ve got there, Mr. Harris. What’s her name?”

“His,” I respond, gulping down saliva, nervously. “It’s a ‘he’; his name is Elvis.”

She walks right up to Elvis, kneels, and starts rubbing his head. As I look down, uncomfortably, wanting to leave and carry on with my walk, my eyes accidently glance at her cleavage, so I look away as quickly as possible, hoping that no one saw me or get the wrong impression. Elvis sniffs at her drink and then starts barking at her. She backs away.

“Sorry, buddy,” she says, with a sense of sass.

“He gets like that. I’m sorry. He’s not my dog. Just walking him… Sorry.”

“Whose dog is it?”

“Mrs. Hawthorne,” I say, pointing at her house.

“You’re so sweet,” she says in a voice that I can’t tell if it’s sincere or condescending. “I’ve heard some things about her, but everything is different. She’s so mysterious. She’s almost like something of folklore now at this stage.”

You can find Darren’s story, along with nine additional ones, in The Hawthorne Project. Each creepy tale interweaves with the others for a week of terror on Hawthorne Drive, a small cul-de-sac in Greenfield, Wisconsin. Buy it at lulu, Amazon, or on your Kindle.

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