By Janie Franz
Gwen Mason juggles her workload as a grad school student and her new life as a newlywed. Her neighbor Carol Shaeffer provides pleasant company at first. But when the visits become intrusive, Gwen wonders if she’ll ever be free of this woman.
Plagued by migraines after every visit, Gwen begins to suspect something sinister is at the root of them. And after she finds out her neighbor has lied to her, she is afraid. Really afraid.
Gwen looked now at Carol’s mousy hair and felt a streak of compassion. “You’d look good with some curl around your face.”
“How about shopping tomorrow?” Carol blurted out. “There’s a big bargain bin sale at the Fashion Mart.”
Gwen hated a sale at that discount store because it resembled guerrilla warfare. But sometimes they did have environmental T-shirts really cheap. “Sure,” Gwen conceded, “but I have to study tonight.”
“Okay,” Carol said, looking intently at Gwen and finally frowning. “You don’t look too good, honey. You’d better rest tonight so’s we can go out tomorrow.”
“I’m just tired,” Gwen answered. “I’ve this big exam tomorrow. I need to memorize a bunch of formulas.”
Carol moved her face closer to Gwen’s. “Still, you look strained around your eyes. Sure you’re not reading too much? Or maybe you need a bigger watt bulb in your lamp.”
Carol and her motherliness—sometimes it was nice, sometimes— She clucked at Gwen all the time, and more so lately since the headaches haunted her. Right now, though, Gwen actually felt fine. She turned from Carol and stooped to put away the plastic grocery bags under the sink. No. She felt a dull ache on one side of her head and suddenly a raging thirst dried out her throat. She marveled at how dehydrating those headaches were. Sometimes thirst was the only sign a bad headache was on the way.
Quickly, Gwen stood and filled a tumbler with water from the tap, gulping it down. The nausea began slowly as only queasiness but built quickly the longer she stood in her kitchen with Carol. This headache steamrolled through her skull.
“I need to lie down.” Gwen heard her voice tight and clipped as she moved around Carol.
“That bad, huh? You go rest. You’ll be all right by tomorrow. I’ll let myself out.”
Gwen waved her hand at Carol and headed to the bedroom where she drew the drapes and stretched out on the bed.
Here is the background behind “The Neighbor”. As a reader who can get right inside the stories I read, I aquirmed a little as I read this from Janie.
When I was a newlywed as my main character Gwen is in “The Neighbor,” I had a neighbor who was always at my door. She was a stay-at-home mom who had a lot of time on her hands. She and her husband were characters. Little did they know that they might find themselves as models for characters in this spooky story.
I wrote it several years later after being a stay-at-home mom myself. And I did take some considerable liberties with the characters. I wrote it in third person, my preferred voice, and it remained in a drawer for a very long time. I pulled it out, many years later, for a writing workshop I was taking in college, as a very older than average student. My classmates suggested that I write it in first person. So I rewrote it in that form.
Then back in 2009 when I was participating in the Muse Online Writers Conference, I prepared to submit it in an online pitch session to a publisher who wanted shorts. It was accepted in first person. But my submission languished at the publisher until she emailed me and said that she had no idea when the publishing house would get to it to go through the editing process. I also got the impression the house wasn’t doing very well so I asked for my rights back (no contract had even been sent). That house closed a few months later.
I was already a house author with MuseItUp Publishing so I submitted it to them. Lea Schizas, the publisher, read it and sent it back to me, asking me to rewrite it in third person. I laughed because I always felt more comfortable writing in third person than in first, and I even preferred reading books in third over first. A quick rewrite and a resubmission, and the story was accepted.
Working with a new cover artist on this book, we came up with the very creepy cover.
I still find the story chilling when I read it. I hope readers do, too.