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Road to Taykhoo - This is the beginning of my realistic fiction story set in the fictional country of Teegia - let me know what you guys think!

Road to Taykhoo
Yegyar Beiraghan started hearing noises. A weird swishing sound and a tapping at his window. Tinkerings of music that didn’t seem to have a melody. Then, he woke up.
Yegyar was a 15 year old boy with a wiry build, dark brown wavy hair, gray eyes, and olive skin. Drowsy, tired, and frustrated from the short, six hour nap that was supposed to be sleep, he slowly turned his head to the electric clock on his nightstand, praying for it to be too early to get ready for the horrendous experience that was school. To his dismay, the bright, glowing red numbers on the black screen showed 7:41. He quietly cursed, making a mental note to himself to try to go to sleep earlier in the day. He knew he’d just end up staying till two in the morning anyway. Yegyar got up slowly; his whole body seemed to be in a mild malaise. Moving to the dresser, he pulled on his school uniform: navy chinos and a white polo with the school seal sewn on. Now dressed, he trod over to the heavy maple door of his bedroom and turned the brass handle.
Walking, or rather creaking, through the corridor, passing framed portraits of himself at two, at the pumpkin patch next to a scarecrow, at seven, holding a violin, and at twelve, in his soccer uniform, he thought of the day to come. Would Sengin, his crush, finally ask him out to the Winter Formal? He smiled to himself at the thought. It was supposed to be girls asking guys, but he wondered if he should try and ask her anyway. Trodding down the walnut stairs, he suddenly felt a sharp pinprick on the sole of his foot.
Wincing from the pain, he picked up the injured foot to survey the damage. He found an inch-long strip of hardwood lodged in. Gingerly, he tried pulling it out. He struggled to hold on to the tip of the splinter with his thumb and forefinger. He knew the right thing to do was to walk carefully to the bathroom and sort through the cabinet for a splinter-pulling instrument, but for some unknown reason, perhaps the thought of taking too much time locating the tweezers, he didn’t. Thumb and forefinger securely attached to the piece of wood, he pulled. Nothing. He pulled harder. It wouldn’t budge. Now he was using both hands to try and dislodge the wooden invader, and, to his delight, it finally came free. He picked it up, and felt giddy. He started to chuckle at it, the chuckle turning into a hearty laugh, and the laugh turning into a maniacal cackle. Suddenly, he realized he sounded like a psychopath. And a psychopath at this time in the morning! He looked around, behind him, in front of him, and listened for footsteps.
Good.
The coast was clear.
He tumbled down the rest of the stairs, all eight of them, and landed on the icy, frozen chill of the linoleum. A vague sense of dread and misty terror filled the foyer where he stood. There was nobody around. Yegyar ambled to the kitchen, and opened the cupboard. As usual, a musty, half-rancid, half-perfumed smell of clove, cinnamon, paprika, and stale crackers entered his nostrils. He rustled around for the box of granola bars, his favorite, and came upon it where it always was, behind the beans and next to the rancid crackers. Those expired squares of ground wheat were his father’s favorite, although he couldn’t figure out why. He reached in the box and felt a bar. Extracting it, he realized it wasn’t a bar, and rather just a wrapper. Puzzled, he stuck his head in the cardboard enclosure of the box and was shocked not to feel the cascade of granola bars on his nose.
“Hi, Yegyar. You’d better hurry up. It’s already 8:03.” Drat, he thought to himself. He shaved off twenty minutes just dressing and splintering about. He turned around and saw his mom with a cup of tea and the newspaper.
“Sorry, I’d thought I’d better throw those granola bars out,” she mentioned. “They have way too much sugar. I never noticed when buying them.” Something didn’t seem right to Yegyar. He thought of the empty wrapper in the box and felt a burst of anger well up inside of him.
“Then, why was there a wrapper in the box?” Yegyar asked. He instantly regretted it. His mom erupted into lecture mode, putting down the tea she was about to sip.
“Don’t talk back to me like that, young man. Do you see this roof over your head? Your father and I work very hard to support you. The least you could do is be grateful. Is that understood?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Yegyar murmured, but inside he was seething. His mom, relieved by the respectful tone of voice, relaxed and turned back into the pacific side of her demeanor.
“Good, I made you some oatmeal, but you’d better eat it quickly.” Yegyar chugged the ceramic bowl, the gloopy, bland oatmeal scorching his throat. It had a weird taste. What was it? Garlic? Yegyar had no time to ponder what his mother put in the oatmeal. He rushed to the door, pulled on his shoes, threw on his backpack, and out he went.
“Have a good day!” his mother screeched.
His legs pounding on the pedals of his MX-830 Falcon road bike, Yegyar felt the cruel, wintry bite of the early February air on his face. Squinting his eyes to protect them from the wind, drops of moisture froze on his eyelashes, turning himself into a part-snowman. He was cycling as fast as he could manage on the gravel-topped road connecting his house with the city. Spruces, weighted down with snow, bare birches, wide oaks, and lofty beeches with brown leaves clinging to lower branches, survivors from last spring, surrounded him. The land in Karsh-Gaiga would be frozen until Mid-April, when streams would come to life, buds on trees would give way to new, chartreuse leaves, and snow would be almost fully melted. In the distance, he saw Lake Aibashar, the largest in Teegia, frozen with indigo blue ice reflecting the vivid sky. The drone of a car flew past him and he thought how lucky the people in it were to be in the heated, cozy interior with warm light and comfortable seats. It was a pleasant enough journey in September, but right now he felt betrayed by his parents as to why he had to ride his bike in the -20 degree air.
The woods cleared out and he turned onto the bike lane on Provincial Road 104, or Raibenghan Avenue at this stretch of it. He passed Toghan Bookstore, whose owner was always kind to Yegyar and once in a while let him have a free book, Darkhin grocery, a small family-owned business run by a couple in their 60s, Lakeside Cafe, a high-end bistro, and Baibaran Bakery. He would’ve loved to have stopped by and picked up a warm almond bun there, but he didn’t have time.
Turning onto Yarankhan Street, he went by the Chalet-style houses, with their fluffy caps of snow and tall elm trees lining the street, coming together to form a tunnel that would be beautiful in the summer, but now was just a reminder of the deadness and brutality of winter, a cage of bare branches. In the distance, Yegyar could see his school, Taibarag Chaishenkhu High. It was named after a Teegian king who defended his homeland from the invading Chuffians. Supposedly, he also was extremely ruthless to his own subjects, ordering anyone who spoke against him to be executed, but they didn’t teach that in history class. The stone-clad building was two storeys, with a red corrugated tin roof, and engravings of snakes at the entrance, a fitting design for the teachers of the school. Yegyar screeched to a halt and locked his bike. He was relieved to see the throng of zombie-like students entering the building. He was one of them, joining the crowd. Seeing his friend Egun, his face lit up a little.
“What’s up, Yeg?” he greeted Yegyar. “You ready for the English test?” Yegyar almost paused in his tracks. He had totally forgotten about studying for the vocab test for English. It was like he was never informed of it. The vocab list was tucked away deep in his backpack between science lab reports and math homework. He cursed, sending a teacher’s scornful eyes his way.
“That’s today?” he asked. He hoped the answer was no.
“Yeah, you studied?” Yegyar told him he forgot.
“Don’t worry man, you can study at study hall,” Egun reassured him, and he was off to his first period. Yegyar knew that wouldn’t do anything for him as he stepped inside Mrs. Hainakhan’s English class.
Ch. 2
Yegyar entered the classroom, with helpful posters about synonyms, frequently misspelled words, dimmed lighting, and a lavender scented candle infusing its flowery scent. He grabbed a cardboard privacy fence at the table next to the door and made his way to his desk. He propped the fence on the fake plastic varnish of the plywood desktop. He knew he was doomed. Quickly, he grabbed a dull pencil from his backpack pocket and waited for the test to begin.
“I don’t want to see any vocab papers out. We’re going to start the test in two minutes,” Mrs. Hainakhan announced. She walked to her bureau and pulled out a stack of papers. Licking her finger every so often, she started passing out the tests. He saw his tablemate Chaigaran get his test and then he saw in front of him a slowly falling white piece of paper careening toward his desk. Dread filled him. Hopefully, the words wouldn’t be too hard. He read a lot, so maybe he saw most of these words before. He took a peek at the paper and saw:
Define these words and use in a sentence:
Adumbrate
Ebullient
Scurrilous
Probity
Inchoate
Vituperate
Turpitude
The dread that filled him grew deeper. He didn’t know any of them. They sounded like a different language and he desperately tried to decode anything that looked slightly familiar. His parents were strict on grades, and if he received anything below a 90, they would scold him. He didn’t know what would happen if he failed.
“You may start,” Mrs. Hainakhan notified the class. Three ominous words. Yegyar started to define adumbrate. “Useless or idiotic” he wrote. He saw the word “dumb” in it and thought that might’ve had something to do with the word. “The adumbrate man tried to erase his writing with his pen cap,” he wrote for the sentence. That was ironic. Yegyar was making a fool of himself; he could’ve just put “Yegyar was being adumbrate by forgetting to study for the vocab test.” Oh well, it probably wasn’t the right definition anyway, he thought. Yegyar turned around and saw a couple of students turning their papers in. Frustration and stress filled his mind. He forced himself to calm down, but he struggled with the rest of the definitions and moved on to the multiple choice. He did a little better there and thought he might just pass the test. Now most students had their privacy fences down and only a couple of them still were answering questions. With a heavy heart, Yegyar got up from his seat and stumbled to the collection tray, putting his test in. Mrs. Hainakhan assembled the papers and put them in her gradebook.
“Okay, everyone finished? We have five minutes left in class. I’ll pass out the Atokhen Bridge projects from last week. I was a little disappointed by the grades, you guys really need to work harder and focus on the story,” Mrs. Hainakhan said. Receiving his project, Yegyar was astonished at the large, crimson 75 circled on his project folder. He thought he had worked hard on his project and had expected at least a 90. He knew Mrs. Hainakhan was a tough grader, but he didn’t know she was that tough. He listened to the other student’s reactions. He was surprised to hear Teitengar, who usually struggled in school, get an 85.
“Bro, I got an 85! Let’s go!” Teitengar punched the wall in excitement.
“Nice job, man. I got an 87, not bad!” Nondraighan said. “Hey Yegyar, what’d you get? You’re really smart, I bet you got a 100.” Yegyar winced at his desk, turning away from the two boys. He didn’t want to ruin their expectations.
“No, Nondra. He’s probably sad. Hey Yegyar, a 95 is nothing to be ashamed of. You can tell us what you got!” Teitengar said reassuringly. They were used to Yegyar being low-key about his high grades.
“75.” Yegyar mumbled the grade. He was really ashamed.
“What was that, Yeg?” Nondraighan prodded.
“75.” Yegyar spit out the grade a little louder this time.
“What’d he say, Nondra?”
“He got a 75. Wow, that’s low. I feel bad for him,” Nondraighan told Teitengar.
“75? Wow, I’m smarter than Yegyar. What the heck, is this an alternate reality?” Teitengar questioned. Yegyar thought the same. Everything was going horribly so far, and it was only 9:30!
The bell rang, and Yegyar got up slowly, trekking to the door.
Math was pretty uneventful. Yegyar was good at math, and the class was doing two-step equations, so it wasn’t bad at all. Still, he felt put off and unmotivated by the day’s events. Feeling a little better after math, he made it to history. Mr. Wenyep was droning on about the Reforms of 1877 and the transfer of power from royalty to a democracy. Yegyar, and indeed about half the class were about to fall asleep in the beige room, with its maps of Aibashar and Teegia, posters of motivational sayings, and famous figures. There was a bobblehead of Eshkan Hencharkhei, a highly regarded man who helped found the national school system of Teegia, on Mr. Wenyep’s desk.
As Yegyar was drifting off into daydreaming, thinking about moving to a warmer place in this cold part of the year, suddenly he heard his name in a loud booming voice.
“Yegyar, can you tell me who was the first person to sign the Reformation Accord of 1877?” Yegyar tensed up, and it dawned on him that he didn’t listen to a thing Mr. Wenyep said. The stolid look Mr. Wenyep gave him wasn’t giving anything away, but Yegyar had an idea that he knew he wasn’t paying attention. Well, if he didn’t know the answer, he might as well add a little humor to the situation.
“Um, Mr. Hunyarkhui?” he said, serious in tone. Mr. Hunyarkhui was the principal of the school; many students joked about how old he was. The classes erupted into a giggle. Rashar, a large boy with round glasses who found everything funny, was on the verge of tears, his resounding chortle making the whole class laugh harder. Mr. Wenyep wasn’t laughing, he wasn’t even giggling. He didn’t find it funny at all.
“Mr. Beiraghan, you have disrupted my class and caused everyone to lose their focus. Detention. Tomorrow after school,” he reproached.
Yegyar sunk in his seat. Egun, sitting across the room, gave him a knowing glance. For the rest of the class, Yegyar felt humiliated and sensed his cheeks burning. After the bell rang, he got up and made his way to his homeroom. Egun caught up with him
“That was hilarious, Yeg. Too bad you gotta go to detention,” he said.
“It would be too bad if I went to detention,” Yegyar answered. The ideas of leaving this town were already forming in his mind.
In Ms. Leikhurun’s homeroom class. Yegyar sat at his desk listening and reading the announcements on the smartboard. As Ms. Leikhurun went on about track meets, food drives, fundraisers, bake sales, and the school musical, he thought about asking Sengin to the dance. He saw the announcement flash on the screen for ten seconds, and he knew he had to do it.
“Okay, that’s that” Ms. Leikhurun said, and went to grading papers. Yegyar caught a glimpse of Sengin, with her light brown eyes and black hair, and started to get up. As he was walking to her desk, he thought of what he should say. Hey, Sengin, what do you think about going to the winter formal with me? Simple, but it didn’t sound bad. He was two desks away when, Gaishenur, a tall boy with freckles and straight medium brown hair turned around and said in a half whisper,
“So, hey Sengin, the winter formal’s coming up, I was wondering if you’d like to go with me, if you haven’t asked anyone yet.” Blushing, she said that sounded great. Yegyar’s heart shattered. It felt like he was punched in the stomach. He turned around and went back to his seat, about to cry. He desperately maintained his composure. Still, the blow to his confidence was devastating. That tears it, he thought. First the splinter, then the test, then the bad grade, then the detention, and now this?
“Oops, guys, I almost forgot. I gotta hand out your report cards.” Oh no, Yegyar thought. Something’s bound to go wrong. Ms. Leikhurun went around the class handing cards first to Iduran, Cheigin, and Atanga and now making her way to him. The 7x5 envelope fell to his desk, holding the potential to ruin or repair his school life. He didn’t want to look at it, so he slipped it into his backpack.
Lunch was his solace from the brutality of the day. He unpacked his lunch and ate the delicious barley and beans with chicken in silence. He thought to himself, I need to get out of here, everything’s been going wrong. But where should I go? He thought of the cold, barren wasteland that was Karsh-Gaiga for half of the year. He wanted life, warmth, and energy. Taykhoo, the nearly tropical megacity in the south of Teegia where oranges and pineapples grow, beckoned to him.
The rest of the day was as crummy as the part before it. In Ancient Teegian class, he spoke in English while he wasn’t supposed to. In chemistry class, the teacher yelled at him for breaking a beaker and spilling toxic fluid on the lab table. In orchestra, he couldn’t stay together with the rest of the group. He biked home utterly exhausted and angry.
Ch. 3
Yegyar entered the red wooden house in no mood to talk.
“Hi, Yegyar, how was school?” his mother asked. She couldn’t even begin to understand how horrible it was.
“Jim-dandy.”
“That’s good, Yegyar. I heard from your homeroom you got your report card today.” How did she know that? He pondered it for a while and came to the conclusion that she must’ve gotten an email.
“We’ll open it after dinner, okay?” his mother said. He agreed and continued to his room. Inside he was fearful. It shouldn’t be too bad, right? He had been getting less than perfect grades recently, especially in English.
Now in his room, with its white walls, posters of the periodic table and the Ikhai Ice (a basketball team), the Teegian flag, a globe, a bookshelf to the right of his bed, and his nightstand and dresser to the left, Yegyar sat on his bed and opened his backpack. He went through it, taking everything out: projects, homework, forms, tests, quizzes, bellwork, pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks, folders, and binders. And his report card. He weighed it in his hand, worried. He got into a panic, pacing the room. He thought, what will happen if the grades are bad? Should I care? He had such a bad day that not very much mattered to him anymore. His mind became increasingly nihilist as he paced. He turned on his laptop and searched “Taykhoo.” He read up on it, reading about the climate and people. It sounded great. There were trendy and cultural areas in parts of the city that he would love. Not like bland old Karsh-Gaiga. The weather was great, warm for 10 months of the year and cool for 2 months. Palm trees lined the streets and cafe culture presided everywhere. There was a great public transportation system, with metro, ferries, light rail, bus, commuter rail, and high-speed rail. For the next two hours, he watched videos and played games on his laptop (the phone he had was his mom’s former phone, which was at least as old as he was). Settling in to play another round of Battleground X on his laptop, his mom burst into his room, sending a shock wave of cold wind to his face.
“Hey, Yegyar, dinner’s ready.” She glanced at Yegyar playing his computer game. “Oh, and you know I don’t like you playing those games. I hope you did your homework. Come on, it’s bean pods and beef pancakes.” That didn’t sound too bad after a long day at school. He trundled down the stairs, careful not to step on any splinters, and met with his father at the dinner table. His dad was helping himself to a few bean pods, making loud crunching and slurping noises like a pig. It hurt Yegyar’s ears, and every so often he would make fun of his dad’s chewing by imitating it. His mom clanked a red porcelain plate at his place, and he took a couple pancakes and a ladleful of beans. He ate quietly, mulling over the day’s events. How could it get this bad?, he thought. He drank some water, letting the cool, smooth trickle hydrate his parched mouth. His parents were drinking hot cinnamon tea. It smelled good, but Yegyar was never a fan of it. They continued eating for the next twenty minutes. Yegyar, relishing the food as relief from the day.
“So, Yegyar, how ‘bout that report card?” his father probed. “You have it here?” Yegyar shook his head and ran upstairs to fetch it. His eyes traveled around the room and he spotted it on his bed. Picking it up, he walked back slower than when he came, his heart rate increasing. His parents coming into view from the foyer, he started getting nervous, his palms becoming clammy. He handed it to his dad.
“Let’s see here,” his dad said. He ran his thumb under the seal, tearing it open. Picking the card up and holding it out a couple feet from his face, his eyes widened. Shock, then anger flooded into his face, which turned as red as a freshly boiled lobster. He sort of looked like one too, with tiny round eyes like black orbs set in his bowling ball shaped head.
“What is this, Yegyar?! A 79 in English, a 83 in Science, and a 88 in Orchestra! In Orchestra, Yegyar! How is that even possible?! I thought we raised you better! Oh my gosh-” and his father held his face in his hands.
“Look at your father, Yegyar! Look what you’ve done! See how he feels, you made him that way! Unbelievable, a 79 in English!” Yegyar turned around, angry tears forming. It was impossible. It never occurred to him that his grades were slipping. Anyway, who cared? His parents didn’t care about his livelihood, only about his grades! Is that what parents are for? It’s not even what teachers are for! He stormed up the stairs and ran down the corridor into his room. Turning on his laptop, he started to pound on the keyboard in frustration when he heard footsteps come up the stairs.
“You should be done with your homework by now, Yegyar. I’m very disappointed in you. You let this family down. What a shame, our only son!” his mom said with a heavy sigh. If it was supposed to make Yegyar ashamed of himself, it wasn’t working. In fact, he was angry at them. Just as he was about to unpause the movie, he heard a slam of a door and loud arguing for his parents room. Although muffled, he could make out most of what they were saying.
“God, what a disappointment! You should’ve really raised him better, Maigin!”his father yelled.
“Me?! where were you when I was trying to take care of him?! He’s abominable, and he’s getting worse!” his mom retorted.
“You know, you’re right, I don’t even want him! What a disgrace, sitting around in his room all day! How about some recognition of our care! The spoiled brat!”
“You don’t want him?! I don’t want him either, you take him!” his mother hissed.
His father sputtered in exasperation. “No, you! You’re the one who “raised” him!” he said in a mocking tone. His father’s inflection sent an icy grip of anguish that felt like the Ross Ice Shelf was collapsing on Yegyar.
This was too much for Yegyar. It was unbearable to hear. If they didn’t want him, then he didn’t want them either.
submitted by Teegurr to writers

10

The worst yard in the neighborhood was cleaned up for cult activity. Only Karen was strong enough to save us...

In every little slice of suburbia, quietly tucked away in those “cute neighborhoods” referenced in the real estate pamphlets, there is always THAT house. You know the one. The “shit show.”
Welcome to Saddle Downs. At one time the best neighborhood in town, but now amongst the perfectly manicured lawns and driveways with nary a spot of oil leakage, an unholy abomination that looks like an episode of Hoarders made sweet love to Fred Sanford’s bread and butter elicits sighs and dramatic eye rolling from all who reside here. They wonder out loud “how someone who can afford to buy here could live in that kind of mess. Of all the damned nerve!”
Standing in the driveway--garden hose in hand and meticulously rinsing my yard tools, I surveyed my crab grass outbreak with disdain and BOILED under the surface about what he’s done to this once beautiful collection of domiciles. I know the property values here have completely gone to shit. How could they not? And it’s ME who has to live DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET from him.
The trash. The junk. The 1989 Geo Metro with no hood. The kiddie pool full of slime and frogs. FFS, he has three VCR’s stacked beside the mailbox. Yes…I said VCR’s
And is it so damned hard to cut your grass on Tuesdays like the rest of us?? I want to try the new edger I picked up during a July 4th sale (40 volt, top of the line), but as of right now I haven’t even seen the point. My yard will look like shit no matter what, because of HIM.
The neighborhood association won’t help. If it’s anything other than potholes or barbeques, they have a “hands off” approach to governance. I plan to run for president in the spring.
Anyway…I could feel my blood pressure going through the roof that night, and the plant-based diet I switched to wasn’t doing shit to help bring it down. Something HAD to be done about him…
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Allen.
Mid 50’s, twice married and twice divorced, he works as an I.T. contractor for the state. Being stuck at home because of Covid, I hadn’t seen him outside in months. Who needs to go outside when you have GrubHub and your lawn mower is lying next to the house in 100 pieces? He had made a perfect hermit’s life, intrinsically safe from those of us who only asked for a little bit of respect for the neighborhood.
So, imagine my surprise when at 6pm last Friday evening, he suddenly stumbles out the front door, down the steps, and begins cleaning up his yard. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was so stunned that I forgot the hose was still on until it soaked my favorite pair of Duluth Trading khakis.
I blinked a few times to confirm what I was seeing. Allen was actually cleaning!
I quickly gathered my tools and hung them in their outlined spots on the pegboard my wife, Karen, got me for Father’s Day. Her essential oils business has really taken off lately and she’s starting to spoil me. It’s amazing what people will do for some of her concoctions. She’s got proven anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of her blends. She’s healed everything from spider bites to yeast infections with those little bottles of miracle juice.
I practically sprinted into the house to let her know what Allen was up to. Making sure to sit by the window the rest of the evening, I continued to peek out at my new favorite neighbor during commercial breaks in the Sean Hannity show. I wanted so very badly to go talk to him about it, but I was terrified that interrupting his task would jinx my good fortune.
When I went to bed around 9:30, Allen was still hard at it and showed no signs of slowing.
The next morning at 6:15 I heard the familiar beeps that signal a large vehicle moving in reverse. I nearly fell over trying to slip into my Crocs to get to the porch and have a look. A massive flatbed truck was dropping a 30 foot long dumpster in the yard. Allen was really getting serious!
I couldn’t take it any longer. I had planned to spend the day applying epoxy to my garage floor, but it was Allen’s project I was truly excited about now.
I had to go over there.
Quickly putting on some work quality clothes, I calmly made my way down the driveway and across the street. The yard was already looking better, but it really did have a long way to go. Allen was working like a madman.
He’s about 5’6 and half as wide as he is tall. What remained of his light brown hair was shaggy and unkempt, and he always wore the same outfit; dark gray suit pants, worn out loafers, and one of those silky, short sleeve dress shirts with vertical stripes that were popular in the early 1980’s.
Despite the less than ideal attire for the task at hand, Allen was working his ass off…and so would I. It was clear that absolutely nothing in the yard would escape the dumpster’s insatiable appetite, so without a word I fell in beside him and set to work.
It was a beautiful free-for-all and I was having the time of my life. I practically pranced around the yard, grabbing up anything I felt capable of getting over the side of the giant trash receptacle. Toys, scrap metal, fast food trash, some ugly ass yard ornaments Allen’s ex-wife had set out back in the late 90’s. Plastic frogs and flamingoes, bleached and dried brittle by 20 plus years of sun and weather cycles.
It was the most fun I’ve since the free resort weekend I scored just for attending a time share seminar and buying a share of a sweet villa in Branson, Missouri.
Oddly enough though, after a solid half hour of work Allen hadn’t said a word, or even acknowledged my presence for that matter. I finally broke the ice.
“Hey buddy! Just thought I’d come out here and give you some help. You’ve got a BIG job on your hands here, but it’ll be totally worth the effort. I even have a perfect grass seed blend for you. I came up with it myself after a long battle with clover. You won’t believe how good it’ll look in a few weeks!”
Allen never acknowledged my presence. He just continued, pushing himself harder and harder. His hair was all over the place and sweat had soaked through his clothes from head to toe.
A thought suddenly hit me.
I lightly grabbed him by the upper arm and said “Hey Allen. Did you ever stop last night?”
“No.”
I pressed further “You didn’t come in at all? You’ve just been out here nonstop?”
“Yes.”
It was killing me. I risked ruining everything, but I had to ask.
“Hey man…Why are you suddenly cleaning up after 20 years of neglecting your yard and ignoring everyone who has ever asked you to do something about it?”
Under labored breath, still without slowing even a step or glancing my direction, he said
“They’re coming.”
I inquired further.
“Who’s coming? You having a family get together? Pampered Chef party? Jehovah’s Witnesses stopping by to check on your soul?”
Allen suddenly snapped up, lunged at me and screamed directly in my face.
“NO…NO NO NO!!”
He abruptly turned and went right back to picking up a large chunk of a broken toilet covered in wet leaves, heaving it into the dumpster and waddling to the other side of the driveway to begin unearthing an old riding mower covered in the remnants of a splintered water bed frame.
I was a bit caught off guard by the aggression. Regardless, I was so happy to see Allen’s grass for the first time since April 22nd, 2001 that I was willing to overlook his anger. Still, though, at that point I felt it best to just go on back home.
I went ahead and started on my garage floor project. I backed my RAV-4 out into the driveway. I didn’t have to deal with Karen’s Volvo because she had an early appointment at the hair salon, then planned to return some things at a department store she felt were dishonestly presented by the salesperson…I think she planned on giving that manager a piece of her mind.
After a few more days of cleaning outside, inside, and having a huge fence built around the yard, Allen’s place was looking great. I decided I would go shake the hands of whatever visitors he was having that had motivated him to take on this glorious project.
As it turned out, I was given the opportunity to do so sooner than expected. Allen’s guests arrived the very next day.
It was an interesting looking bunch that piled out of a few of those monster passenger vans. Upon closer inspection I saw the side of them said “ZIP-LIFE HOLISTICS.” Everyone looked to be under 40 or so, and some of them couldn’t have been much past their high school years. Athletic wear—more specifically, track suits—was the prevailing choice in attire for every single one of them. Each of them wore a different color, though, and when they got out of the vans it was like someone dumped a bag of skittles onto the driveway.
Their energy was boundless. Running, jumping, and shouting loudly with the same enthusiasm I feel when my grass finally reaches the 4.5 inch mark and I get to fire up the Cub Cadet. God I love that mower.
Everyone congregated in the front yard, surrounding Allen and giving him endless handshakes and pats on the back. Allen looked exhausted, but he had put on his best smile for the greeting.
Behind that big smile though, terror filled his eyes.
The next morning at 7:00 on the dot, the cheers began.
“WHO-LIVES-THEIR-LIFE WITH ZIP AND PRIDE??”
“WE DO! WE DO!”
“WHO FLOWS WITH JOY THEY CAN-NOT HIDE??”
“WE DO! WE DO!”
They did this OVER and OVER and OVER for a solid 15 minutes, stopping only to cheer and clap.
Finally, they shut it down and bounded off to the van where a woman was handing out leaflets of some sort. They began to sprint off throughout the neighborhood, so after all of them were gone I sauntered over to talk to Allen. He was alone in the yard, dressed in a lime green track suit and doing jumping jacks.
I feigned enthusiasm.
“Hey buddy. How’s it going with the visitors? They’re sure an energetic bunch!”
His attitude had turned a complete 180 degrees. “Oh, hey Brad! Yeah, they’re stupendous! What a great bunch of people. They’re gonna change the life of everyone in this neighborhood. Just you wait and see!”
Despite Allen’s zeal, I was skeptical and still a touch unnerved by the arrival of these health ambassadors. I mean…maybe they could help the neighborhood get back on track. Quarantine had really taken its toll on the midsection and hind quarters of just about everyone in Saddle Downs. Working from home was awesome, but the cafeteria choices were endless now. Eating had become a sport for me by that point.
I figured I could try and get on board. It was just a bunch of over-zealous kids, right?
“Well Allen, I suppose all of us could use some guidance right now…and maybe they’ve got some techniques to help us avoid Covid, right?”
“Oh, most definitely brad. Most definitely. You’ll see.”
That was enough for me for the moment. As I started back to my own yard, I turned back and asked Allen how he got involved with these people.
“I met them on the Internet playing an ORPG game called Second Life!”
I had no idea what that was, but the answer was good enough for me.
I cruised back over to the house, figuring Karen had my kale shake ready to go, along with a little avocado and falafel on toast that would likely NOT hit the spot.
As the day wore on, I kept an eye on things out on the streets of Saddle Downs.
The Lifers, as I’ll refer to them, were going door-to-door with their flyers. Some successfully gained entry to make what I presumed was their sales pitch, while others maintained that huge smile and boundless enthusiasm after being turned away at the door. They did, however, leave a small yellow sticker on the mailbox on the way out.
Allen continued to exercise, with one of the Zip-Life zealots cheering him on.
Eventually a couple of them were on my doorstep. Ugh. It was the first time I had seen any of them up close, and the only way I can describe them accurately is to say…
They dazzled.
The startlingly attractive young man and woman before me had perfectly straight, shockingly white teeth. Their aroma was fantastic, like some perfect blend of sugar cookies and Tide Pods. Clean, and sweet. It was intoxicating.
Their eyes were big, bright and full of life, reminding me of those things that endlessly swirl and put you into a daze while the hypnotist snatches your wallet. The whites were white enough to make me squint, and their irises were vivid in color and matched their track suits. The young man’s orange irises didn’t have that fake look you see with color contacts, either. I think they were legit, which for a split second sent a chill down my spine.
As the young man began his pitch, perfectly straight, blindingly white teeth opened to a mouth that said “Hello sir! I’m Tanner and this is Kylee. We’re friends of your neighbor, Allen Randall, and are representatives of the world’s number one door-to-door health and wellness company, Zip-Life Holistics!”
I have no idea what he said after that. All I remember is smiling dreamily, looking back and forth between their mesmerizing eyes, skin that appeared to have disco balls embedded in its pores, and feeling compelled to only breathe through my nose. I found my feet shifting below me as I pushed open the storm door and welcomed them into my home. Floating in sheer ecstasy, I led them to the couch, where they sat down and produced a flyer for me to read.
At that moment, all I could think of was how much I wanted to please these strangers. How I would do absolutely anything for Taylor and Kylee.
Yes, I’ll sign those forms. Yes, I’ll be ready at 10pm on Friday. Sure, I’ll be eating nothing but raw, organic foods until then. I’ll do everything just as you wish. I just want to be well, for YOU. Thank you for saving me.”
Thank God for Karen. She had been in the Kitchen, live streaming one of her “Super Coupon” videos (she has 152 subscribers…not too shabby, right?) and hadn’t noticed Tanner and Kylee’s entrance until the smell hit her.
“Who’s here? That’s not Gain. That’s Tide. That shit is expensive! Someone needs a coupon lesson!”
She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw me starting to sign papers.
“Don’t you sign anything Brad! They’re probably gonna hit your credit card for a hundred bucks a month or something.”
“You kids skedaddle. Didn’t you see the magnet on my car? I blend ESSENTIAL OILS. Do you know what that means? It means get the heck out of my house with your worthless pills, or whatever other malarkey you’re peddling. It ain’t happenin’! Not on my watch!”
The two beautiful, amazing smelling Lifers smiled, thanked me for my time, and gave Karen a little death stare as they made for the door. Karen followed them into the yard, yelling the whole way.
“Don’t you make a face at me! I’ve got your leaflet in the house and don’t you think for a second that I won’t call your manager about these shady tactics you’re using!”
I exhaled sharply and ran my hands across my face to wake up a bit. When I looked back up they were gone…and one of those little yellow stickers adorned our mailbox.
Karen gave me a bit of a scolding after she came back inside, but I did deserve it. It didn’t last too long, though, because she had to get to work on a big batch of potato salad to take to a party at my office. Those people love her recipe.
The rest of the Lifers eventually congregated back at Allen’s house. It looked like they were camping in the back yard, which is probably why Allen had that absurdly high fence installed.
Around 7pm, things got…weird.
Firstly, there was more cheering.
After the noise subsided I could hear a lot of grunting and groaning, and eventually curiosity got the best of me. I grabbed a ladder and made my way up to the roof. Our houses are more diagonally lined up, so with a bit of height I got a pretty clear view of Allen’s back yard.
It looked like they were performing feats of strength.
Some of them began picking up landscaping rocks the size of watermelons, followed by each taking a turn throwing theirs across the yard as far as possible. The best throw was about 15 feet, which was REALLY far for a rock that I would guess weighs around 200lbs.
The winner? Kylee, all 5’2 and 120lbs of her.
After that, some of the men locked arms and legs, building upon each other for some kind of creation. Bodies twisted and contorted, eventually taking the shape of a wheel…complete with human spokes.
One of the women gave them a push, and off they went, rolling across the yard. It was an impressive feat of strength and flexibility…and just a touch unsettling. The wheel made it back around the yard, and several more of the men stood on others’ shoulders on both sides of the “wheel,” eventually revealing themselves to be posts. The entire contraption together became a freaky Ferris wheel. Someone gave it a push, and off it went, slowly rotating on an axis made of the backs of their brethren.
That was both mesmerizing AND freaky, but a big group of the women, however, really pushed the envelope. The men began to chant.
DO IT! DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!
It took a few minutes for it all to come together, but after everyone was in position I was looking at all 20 of the women bent into impossible positions and exercising body control that would require the strength of a herd of elephants. Arms bent backward, shoulders dislocated and twisted in ways that would paralyze any normal person. I felt bile rise in my throat, even viewing it from over 100 feet away.
All the disgusting contortions came together, and suddenly I was looking at a 10 foot tall spider with the entire body and 8 legs made of people who should have been dead from their positioning alone.
And it wasn’t unstable. It wasn’t about to collapse like one of those shitty popsicle stick houses we made in kindergarten. Had it not been so terrifying, it would have been nothing short of magnificent.
And then that spider WALKED…
And then it RAN…
Their bodies were in perfect harmony as “it” ran across the back yard.
More chanting.
“SPI-DER! SPI-DER! SPI-DER! SPI-DER!”
Continuing to run with absolute accuracy, they began to emit a clicking sound that I can only describe as “how a spider sounds in a movie.”
“TICK-A TICK-A TICK-A TICK-A!
TICK-A TICK-A TICK-A TICK-A”
My skin was crawling at this point.
Then, as if the situation couldn’t get any more bizarre and terrifying, I watched as that human spider crawled right up the back wall of Allen’s three story house and onto the roof. And when it stopped I realized that before it crawled up the house, several of the men had jumped on and stacked themselves close on the front of the spider body. Their heads were packed tightly together, and their eyes became the spider’s eyes.
And they blinked in unison.
Then it shifted a bit. The legs, the body, and those eyes, rotating around while a few dozen mouths emitted that “tick-a tick-a tick-a” sound. In a side profile stance, facing off in the distance it stood.
It felt as if everything around me had gone silent. This wasn’t just funny, or creepy anymore. It was downright scary. And as I soaked it all in and began to wonder what the hell I was really witnessing, I watched, horrified as every Lifer on that hideous creation turned their head toward me.
And they smiled…
*************************************************************************************
I slept like absolute shit that night. After the spider spent a few minutes twitching around on the roof and looking at me, it/they crawled back down to the yard and disassembled. Eventually everyone settled down and I didn’t hear anything else until early morning when the daily cheering began again.
I must admit, the spider really scared me. When I said those girls got into impossible positions I was NOT exaggerating. I was looking at fully dislocated shoulders and hips, spines twisted up like paper clips, and heads that twisted completely around. These were not normal people.
This routine continued for the rest of the week.
-Wake up and cheer
-Work the neighborhood
-Cheer some more
-Do weird shit in the back yard until dark, including but not limited to
-Relay races (on their hands)
-Professional-style wrestling (without padding)
-Duck, Duck, Goose and Red Rover (with tackling)
-Forming a human snake 50 feet long and slithering around the house for 45 straight minutes, with everyone making a “sssssssssssssssssssssss” sound and flicking their tongues. Then every few minutes coiling up and striking at imaginary things.
They did try to make their pitch to us once each day, becoming more persistent as the week progressed, but Karen always shooed them off. On their Friday afternoon visit she even sprayed them with lavender oil. Tanner looked PISSED about it, too. As the days wore on, though, I noticed the little yellow stickers eventually being removed, and figured my weak minded neighbors were finally giving in and agreeing to the presentation. Not Karen, though. She’s hardcore about this kind of thing.
Four days into this adventure, I noticed something. I had never seen them eating, drinking, or going into the house to use the bathroom. I did see twice a day they were given a shot glass worth of some kind of liquid, which I presumed was whatever product they must be selling
Despite it all, the neighborhood was still running normally. People came and went, cars were washed, and dogs were walked. Mrs. Bush down the street was in her front yard, drunk and arguing with her adult son, who was also drunk, about his chronic unemployment and wasting his government money on “cheap women.”
Friday night, Karen and I were sipping some of our favorite craft beer on the porch when we noticed an abnormally large number of people heading down the street. I recognized some of the faces and others were foreign to me, but they all turned in to Allen’s driveway and formed a line that extended a ways down the street. I suddenly recalled something on Tanner and Kylee’s pamphlet about “being there” on Friday at 10pm. A quick check of my watch confirmed that it was, in-fact, 10pm. Now I was REALLY interested to see what was going down.
I moved from the porch to the living room to watch one of these quarantine MLB games, which was almost as weird as watching the Lifers do their thing. I kept a constant eye on the goings-on at Allen’s though and as the evening wore on the traffic really picked up. For hours I sat there watching neighbors get in line, looking completely happy and relaxed—no doubt enjoying the Scent of sugar cookies and eye candy the Lifers provided—waiting their turn to go behind the gate. Several of the Lifers looked to almost be standing guard there, with more standing along the street in front of the house.
All night long, the cycle was the same.
-Person goes through the gate on one side of the house, followed by a few minutes of silence.
-Horrific screaming, followed by the Lifers clapping and cheering.
-Then the person shuffled out of the gate on the other side of the house, and very slowly shuffled home.
By 2am, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to get a look behind that house again, even if it WAS a shitty angle.
I was headed for the roof again.
I grabbed my ladder and began my ascent. As I reached the top rung and my head cleared the roof line, I heard a voice coming from below—accompanied by the very faint smell of sugar cookies.
It was Tanner.
“Hey Brad! Whatcha doin’ up there?” He gave the ladder a little shake.
“I don’t think it’s safe to be up on the roof this late. Why don’t you come on down and go back in the house? Kylee said Karen looks pretty lonely in the bed.”
They were watching Karen sleep??
Now I was angry. I felt a surge of adrenaline, and it was finally time to tell this asshole what I really thought of him and his stupid Lifer friends.
“Tanner, why don’t YOU get the FUCK out of my yard and go back to your weird-ass cult across the street before I call the cops!”
Tanner chuckled and said “Braaaaaaad. YOUR NEIGHBOR, the chief of police is in line at Allen’s right this minute. You know that.”
And then he literally jumped straight up the 30 feet to my roof.
Tanner crouched directly in front of me, grabbed my ladder and tipped me a foot back from the edge, literally holding my life in his right hand.
His orange eyes glowed like two big fireflies in the darkness.
“Brad. Everything is fine over there. It would REALLY be in your best interest to climb back down this VERY unstable ladder and get “the FUCK” back in your house.”
I nodded, scared shitless. My adrenaline surged again as I gripped that ladder with every ounce of strength I had. There was no exit plan here if he let me go, and I am not ashamed to admit that I wet my pants.
“Ok, Tanner. I’ll go back inside. Please, PLEASE move my ladder back and let me climb down.”
And just like that, he returned the ladder to a safe angle, got in a high-dive position and did a gainer off the roof, landing perfectly on his feet.
When I stepped off, he was directly in my face. He did NOT smell like cookies and Tide now. He smelled musty, like an old museum. The glimmer in his skin came and went like static on a TV, and his eyes no longer dazzled. He looked tired, as if he’d used up every ounce of his normally boundless energy.
That’s the last thing I remember.

I woke up on the couch around 7:00. My drool-covered shirt was turned halfway around my torso and one of my socks was missing in action. I felt absolutely awful. Every muscle ached to some degree and my feet felt like they were made of lead. I was completely exhausted, and my back felt like it was on fire. I made it to the kitchen and tried to get my head together. Out of nowhere, I was suddenly ready to MURDER someone for some bacon…or sausage…or a bagel with Lox…or some Lay’s potato chips…or a big glass of sea water. I threw my middle finger in the air and turned in a circle to let ALL the components of Karen’s stupid plant-based diet know what I thought of them. Dr. Ornish could eat a dick…actually I guess he wouldn’t, though.
I practically DRAGGED myself to the window to see what the Lifers were up to.
They were gone.
I was startled as Karen emerged from the hallway, tripped, and fell flat on her face, sending half a dozen essential oil vials flying across the room. I was too tired to even try to help her up.
Groaning, she pushed herself up on her elbows.
“What the hell happened last night, Brad? The last thing I remember is that Kylee girl standing beside my bed speaking in another language. There were bits of English mixed in there. She said something like ‘we are ancient…older than death himself…’ and then something about cows and pigs no longer being sufficient?”
I looked at her like she had three eyes. Not only was I in tremendous pain…I was feeling a little combative.
“What? Are you drunk? Did you put too much lemongrass and ylang-ylang in your tea again last night??”
When Karen is pissed, her voice gets really nasal and her A’s are literally enough to bust eardrums. After my smartass comment, I really had it coming, though.
“NOOOOOOO BRAAAAD! She said it! She said that shit, and the last thing of it I recall is her rolling me over onto my stomach and saying “Thanks bitch. I’ll fill you back up with Marjoram.”
She had managed to stand again, but doubled over in pain and hit the floor once more.
“Ughhhhhh…Damn-it Brad, why does my back hurt SOOOOO BAAAAD???”
I looked down at her exposed back. It was swollen and red, and she had a tiny hole or needle mark just above each kidney. I had the same. What the heck was up there?
Trying to look at my own back, I began turning in circles like a dog trying to sniff its own butt.
“Karen, look at these holes in my back. What’s in that spot?”
She had spent a few years in nursing school back in the day before quitting to sell door-to-door cosmetics, and god only knows what other flavor of the week MLMs that came about.
She thought about it for a moment. “I think it’s the adrenal gland. What the…did they steal our adrenaline???!!!
I helped Karen to her feet, we plopped ourselves down at the kitchen table, and I blacked out.
*************************************************************************************
Three hours later I woke up, my cheek smashed down on the table. Surrounding me was remnants of a bag of beef jerky, a jar of pickles with no juice, and my mouth was caked in what tasted like feta cheese. Karen was on the floor, blocking the doorway threshold and mumbling something in her sleep about not needing a receipt. Peeking out from under the edge of her robe was what was left of the block of feta.
I shuffled my way to the bathroom, stripped off my disheveled and urine stained clothes, and let a hot shower take me away to paradise. God I was thirsty. Karen says the chlorine and fluoride in city water is bad for me, but I didn’t care. I drank it right out of the faucet.
After getting cleaned up, I stepped out on the patio for some fresh air. Many of my neighbors were out and about, moving like they were 100 years old but trying to do the normal stuff--taking walks, washing cars, etc. I gingerly made my way next door to speak with my buddy Mike. He had been out of town most of the week, but I saw him in line last night. I caught up to him as he was checking his mail.
“Yo Mike. How’s it going?”
He looked terrible. “Hey Brad. Man I feel like complete shit. I don’t know what the hell happened to me last night. I haven’t felt this bad since I got completely plastered at your Super bowl party.”
I vividly remember that event. Mike, the 50 year old accountant, attempted a backflip on a dare and landed on his face.
I looked at him quizzically. “You mean you don’t remember being at Allen’s? Going behind the fence for the Zip-Life product demonstration?”
He closed the mailbox and looked back up at me.
“The what? Zip Who? I haven’t spoken with Allen in months. I’d like to kiss him right on the mouth though, for finally cleaning up his property. I wish I had been here to see it. Damn, dude. My back is killing me!”
He turned and raised his shirt, and sure enough… the same swelling and holes in his back.
I told him what I suspected had happened to us, but he had absolutely no recollection of the Lifers ever having set foot in Saddle Downs. I was too tired to press the issue, and Mike didn’t seem to care about the holes in his back. It’s like his memory and even his sense of self-preservation was just…absent.
I ended the conversation and made my way a couple houses down, intercepting a lady named Sandra as she VERY slowly made her way through the morning walk she’s taken every single day for 23 years. We had the same conversation. She had the same marks, and like Mike, had no memory of the night before.
I tried several others and got more of the same. Finally I headed for Allen’s house, banging HARD on the door. When he answered, it was clear that I had woken him up. He was wearing nothing but a pair of old, very undersized boxers.
“Uhhh…hey Brad. What’s up?”
“Allen, I’ve had enough of this shit. What the hell did those people do to everyone last night??”
He looked completely confused. “What? What are you talking about? Who?”
I roared with every ounce of strength I had left.
“THE ZIP-LIFE PEOPLE, ALLEN! THEY JACKED EVERYONE UP! WE ALL HAVE HOLES ABOVE OUR KIDNEYS AND NO ONE KNOWS WHY! I’M THE ONLY ONE THAT EVEN REMEMBERS THEM BEING HERE!”
All of a sudden it was like the light bulb went off. Allen’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull. I exhaled sharply, relieved that SOMEONE could finally shed some light on all of this.
Allen jumped through the door, darting back and forth across the porch, giving evil stares to everyone he could see.
As he flew by me for the third time I caught a look at his shirtless back…
There was nothing.
No holes. No swelling. Just a nice, plump back with enough hair on it to sculpt a mowhawk.
And as he ran out into the street with murder in his eyes, naked aside from the underwear hanging halfway down his ass, I knew the story had ended. I wasn’t going to get my answer, because I knew what the next words out of his mouth would be.
Wild-eyed, and practically foaming at the mouth with rage, he said…
“WHICH ONE OF YOU ASSHOLES CLEANED UP MY YARD!”


My favorite neighbor
submitted by hgtv_neighbor to Wholesomenosleep