The Neighbours: A Short Story

Preamble: Sometimes a story just pops into my head; perhaps a personal experience has influenced it. But it is, nonetheless, purely my imagination and totally fake. It’s not based on anyone or anything in particular. As the reader you may make assumptions otherwise. Do so at your own discretion (and peril).

After a long, gritty day at the office, Alex could be sure of one thing: a happy face to greet her when she walked through her front door. No matter what kind of day she had, as soon as her keys jingled in the lock Toby would be there with his gentle eyes trained on her and his tail wagging a mile a minute. Toby was a true mutt whose gene pool was a mystery even to the vet, but he was the best companion a girl could ask for. True blue in every sense: loyal, loving, fierce and protective. All he asked in return was the basics. Love. Food. Shelter. And walks. Lots of walks. Toby enjoyed outdoor life to the fullest.

On this particular day Alex needed Toby’s calming effect more than usual. Her HR position skill was tested to the max by a complaint launched against her co-worker for harassment. The complaint landed on her desk late in the day and she was torn between duty as a professional and as a friend and colleague. The allegations were severe and could mean extreme punitive outcomes. Company protocol dictated that she immediately acknowledge receipt and confirm action would be undertaken immediately. There is a 48 hour investigation and due diligence provision for high level accusations. This fit the criteria for high level as it was both against a management team member and was sexual in nature. The only offence to supersede any time lapse was health and safety. If someone reported a potential risk for loss or damage it was addressed without pause. Alex decided it was late enough in the day to forego starting her investigation. But her dilemma was whether to notify her friend off the record first. She decided to leave work a bit early instead. A cop out perhaps but she needed alone time to think about all the angles. Pause and reflect.

Alex gathered her belongings and advised her admin group leader that she had a personal matter to deal with. Without waiting for any questions or further explanation, Alex quickly left the office opting for stairs rather than elevator to reduce the chances of running into anyone. In the basement parking garage she realized she was out of breath; the thought of what the next few days would be like we’re already starting to eat away at her. As she jumped into her Mini Cooper (a parting gift from her now ex husband) she flipped on the radio to drown out the voices in her head.

Driving into her neighbourhood was always a great tranquilizer. The big trees and wide streets lined with generous sidewalks and well maintained front yards was serene. It was an older area of town where homes were smallish but had lovely front yards and fenced in backyards for privacy. Being family oriented, the homes had kid friendly amenities like hoops out front and pools out back. There was usually kids bikes parked in driveways and maybe a road hockey game or two in progress. It was a safe and friendly place. She parked in her driveway and made her way to the door. Oddly Toby wasn’t barking as usual.

Alex opened the door and Toby was sitting right there. He was whining and pawing her to say let’s go! Alex wondered if he’d eaten something and needed to purge; he was diligent to wait until he could go outside no matter what. She dropped her purse and knapsack on the hallway floor and grabbed the leash. Toby was jumpy and whining. As soon as they stepped outside Toby barked and pulled Alex to the side of the house. This was so out of character for him! As they rounded the house Alex spotted the reason for Toby’s strange behaviour: there was a bloody t-shirt dumped beside her trash bins.

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