Short Story
                                        What Ethan Saw
                                                                 By Nolan Yard


 The old adage was true—you can’t trust anyone.  Sure you could get to know someone for many years,
they could become like family to you, and you would place all your bets and the keys to your house on the
solidity of their word.  No lies, no deceit—nothing of the sort coming from them.  Or so you would think.

 Ethan learned this maxim early in life.  This way of thinking didn’t just develop, was not just an aftereffect
of his recent relationship woes with his college sweetheart Cassandra, formerly known as Cass.  (He now
preferred to associate her with her more formal moniker.)  They’d dated for two years, and he valued her
as something more than just a girlfriend.  He actually thought possibly, just maybe, there’d be a chance that
they’d grow old together—the whole shebang.  Marriage, house, kids.  Nothing, nada, zilch.

 He guessed there was another.  They grew apart the past few months, what with the chaos of their lives.  
Ethan worked his graduate assistantship in English, plugging away at his inevitable Ph.D., while the
previous year Cass settled on her bachelor’s and a busy career in marketing.  Their schedules conflicted
and their time away from each other kept accruing exponents.  Ethan felt he tried while Cass didn’t, not
really anyway.  Now that the first month was past, Ethan felt a bit more stable.  But that feeling of broken
trust still gnawed at him, since it was out of the blue that she wanted a break.  He obliged to give it to her,
though he suspected each passing day meant the solidifying of her fling with some other dude she met on
one of her marketing events.

 But this wasn’t entirely the reason for Ethan’s mistrust of his fellow man, or woman.  All his life he grew up
in one of the most cookie cutter, smoke and mirrors places that ever existed—the suburbs.  They say keep
Austin, Texas weird.  They make signs, t-shirts, coasters, magnets, bumper stickers—you name it—with
the same phrase highlighting the state capitol as an epicenter of all things quirky and bizarre.  But it was
just like anywhere in the entire U.S.—you couldn’t trust anyone on what they say.  Each person has their
own opinion on what a place is like, but until you’ve actually been there, their word could be about as
accurate as a Texan meteorologist.  People all thought Austin was weird, but Ethan knew that to be a lie.  It
wasn’t until you left the city, when one entered the environs of suburban developments, the cookie-cut
housing tracks on the outskirts of the still-burgeoning big city, that one encountered the true weird.

 Over the years, Ethan followed the local news closely and the oddities that popped up again and again.  
In places like Round Rock, Pflugerville, Manville, Cedar Park, and even his own suburb of Wooded Acres,
crimes occurred like normal.  Only, the normal ones were few.  What he saw a few years ago—what he
believed to be a legitimate kidnapping—was reported to the police.  On one of his many walks he like to
take around his neighborhood, he’d seen young Porter Crawford being led into the creepy old woman’s
home.  That creepy old woman, Maude Finch, denied everything once Ethan notified the police, after
telling the boy’s mother when she’d gone door to door on their street inquiring about her son and asking if
anyone had seen him.  Little Porter stayed missing ever since, and no matter Ethan’s pleas and insisting,
there was no evidence in the old lady’s home of any wrongdoing.  But Ethan knew—in his gut he knew.  
The old witch had done something to the boy.

 The disappearance of the Crawford kid took place only two streets over.  Now the baffling behavior of
suburban denizens invited itself practically up to Ethan’s doorstep.  Still living with his parents, Ethan could
not complain.  It had its perks.  He was saving money to help pay for his student loans and his bedroom
was on the ground floor and even had a side door that led out to his backyard, so he could come and go
as he pleased from the side of the house without disturbing his parents in the living room.  It also offered
him a degree of privacy to study, since his parents’ room was upstairs.  Still his friends Steve and Will
could easily slip through the side gate and startle Ethan any time they liked.  He had told them many times
to call first, but it didn’t take.

 It was the latter of these friends who brought recent news of goings-on on Shady Hollow Lane, the street
on which he lived, to distract Ethan from his studies and dwelling on Cassandra, or Past-Cass as he
mantra-ed to himself in an effort to speed up the getting-over-her phase.  Will, more often than Steve,
would disturb him by loudly rapping on his window.  Ethan didn’t mind much, for though Will had high-
functioning autism, his friend still could not gauge certain appropriate conduct in social relationships.

 One mid-week school night, after Ethan had just sat down to grade U of A freshman entrance essays, the
window rattled.  Ethan started then sighed, getting up from the paperwork.  When he opened the door, Will
carried a look of distress, despite having his aussie-doodle, Little Al, with him.

 “The pizza man, you say?” Ethan said, petting Little Al while the dog drenched his wrist in hearty licks.

 “My house was the last stop of his delivery route. That’s why the cops showed up,” Will said.  He rubbed
his arm and his legs twitched, making the chair creak beneath him.

 “Wait. The cops came to your house?” Ethan had heard on the news of a missing Dominoes delivery guy,
but he didn’t know that his street was the exact spot the man supposedly disappeared.

 Will nodded. “A couple days ago.  I told them what I told my mom.  My friend Buddy and I ordered pizza
one night.  We heard the car pull up and I saw the Dominoes sign outside my window.  I waited for him to
knock because you only opened the door when they knock and after you check through the tiny window
that it’s not a stranger.  When I couldn’t wait any longer, I opened the front door just to check.  The
Dominoes car drove off in a hurry then.  The tires screeched and everything.  He didn’t deliver our pizza.  
My mom was mad about that.  She called and complained.”

 “I’m sorry you never got your pizza, Will,” Ethan said.  “Maybe the police will find him so that he can get
back to his deliveries.”

 Will leaned back to make room for Little Al to place his head on his lap.  “I told the cops something else.  
Mom had to stop me from talking…”

 “What did you say, Will?” Ethan asked folding his arms.

 “Well, they asked if I saw anyone walking up to the pizza man or talking with him.  All I said was that
Vincent had a party that night and that there were a lot of cars parked on our street so I think someone
could have spoken with him and that Vincent is a weird guy and I think he is a mean person.  Mom
shushed me and said not to talk bad about our neighbors.”

 Ethan agreed with Will about the man.  Vincent was Will’s next door neighbor, an unmarried homebrewer
in his late thirties who threw a lot of parties that tended to be secretive, almost cultish.  And there was one
night where Ethan saw something truly bizarre in Vincent’s backyard.

 “Did the cops talk with Vincent?” Ethan asked.

 Will nodded. “They talked with him at his front door.  I saw them writing notes on their notepads just like
they did when they were in my house.  When they were done, they walked over to our other neighbors, the
Andersons, and spoke with them.  I was watching out the window.  As the policemen walked past my
house after talking with Vincent, I could see him still standing at his front door.  He was watching them
leave, and then he turned and looked directly at me.  He looked angry.  I slowly backed away.  Then he
smiled.  But it wasn’t a real smile.  I know a real smile.  This one was fake.”

 Will began ruffling the fur of Little Al nervously before continuing.  “Ever since then, Vincent and his
girlfriend who visits have been giving me looks whenever they see me.  I want to tell mom, but I know she
will say it’s not really happening and that it’s just my anxiety.”

 “When you say they give you looks, do you mean that they are unfriendly looks?”

 Will nodded vigorously. “Yes, it makes me not want to walk Little Al.  Because when I walk by, sometimes
they sit on the porch giving me looks—and not just to me.  They give Little Al looks too.  And they laugh like
they are making fun of the two of us.”

 Ethan never liked Vincent or his girlfriend Misha.  He’d only spoken to them once or twice, but there was
something about them that came off as rude and unapproachable.  Ethan also never cared for bullies,
having been a victim of some in middle school.  And this was typical bully behavior—didn’t matter that they
were adults who drove nice cars and paid a mortgage.

 “It’s not right that they are making you feel this way, Will.  Maybe you should tell your mom and dad, so
they can talk to Vincent about it.”

 “No, no, no.  I can’t.  They won’t believe me, and besides, I don’t want mom and dad to get hurt.”

 “Get hurt?” Ethan said, leaning forward, holding out his hands.  “No one is going to get hurt.  All your
parents need to do is have a short talk with him.”

 “No.  They hurt people.  They hurt the Dominoes man.  That’s why he’s missing.  Someone else drove off
in his car, and I think it was Vincent or his girlfriend, or one of their guests.  The pizza man doesn’t forget to
make his delivery and doesn’t speed off like that.”

 “Did you see them hurt the pizza man, Will?”

 He shook his head.  “Didn’t see anything like that, but I know.  I know they did it.  They’re bad people.  You
have to believe me, Ethan.”

 Will’s eyes had glazed, and though Will rarely made eye contact with anyone, in rare moments he did.  
This was one of them.  “I don’t know what to do, Ethan.” Will put his head in his hands, slumping down.  
Little Al nudged his snout in a valiant effort to comfort his owner.

 “It’s okay, Will.  I’ll look into it.  I’ll be careful.  It may all just be a misunderstanding.  Okay?”

 Will looked up again, then nodded slowly. “Okay.  You are smarter than me.  I know you can do
something.  Maybe then they will be better neighbors, and stop being mean.”

 Ethan always wanted to investigate Vincent, ever since that one night.  He had gone on one of his twilight
walks in the cold, his hood up on his U of A sweatshirt.  He smoked a harmless joint at the mid-
neighborhood park.  He didn’t know if the weed had been laced with something extra, but he could swear
that on his walk back home he saw something strange in Vincent’s backyard pool.

 As he strode down the concrete walkway on the small hill behind Vincent’s house, he noticed his
neighbor had people over for one of his typical, quiet soirees.  Though trees blocked most of his view,
Ethan could see, from the side, people dressed in black standing around in awkward silence, sipping their
drinks.  If that didn’t seem odd, it was what he saw in the lit-up pool just over the lip of the yard fence.  The
water was completely red.  There was no mistaking it.  It was not quite dark out, and with the pool lights,
Ethan could tell it looked like one thing—blood.  At first, he shrugged it off as a side effect of the weed.  
But the next morning he remembered it vividly.  It vexed him to the point where he returned to the same
spot as the day before.  The pool turned back to normal.  But that and the fact Vincent and his girl were
treating Will this way were enough to find out the truth of the people who lived across from him on Shady
Hollow Lane.

 There was something going on in Vincent’s side yard.  Ethan had long been an aficionado of survival and
wilderness situations.  For ten years now, he subscribed to Backpacker and Wilderness Survival
magazines.  With those subscriptions and an extra fee came the “free” pair of the best binoculars known to
man—the Night Vision 5K’s.  It was a Friday evening and Ethan perched atop the ancient oak edging the
small park on the small hill looking down on Shady Hollow Lane.  For a book nerd, Ethan was an expert at
climbing trees… and at spying on his various neighbors.

 Through his Night Vision 5K’s, Ethan saw Vincent move from guest to guest, offering them refreshment
throughout the night.  Ethan also noticed a secret hatch from the side yard, almost out of view, that Vincent
opened and descended to obtain more drinks.  Knowing this to be a violation of Wooded Acres Estates
notorious HOA’s bylaws, Ethan now had some leverage against the man.  Residents of the Estates could
not put in added, special improvements to their properties—it was conspicuously verboten.  One time his
eccentric neighbor Hippie Ted tried to put a jacuzzi in his front yard and that project had been stonewalled
as fast as a fully-cranked jet pipe.  If the cops couldn’t get Vincent, surely the HOA president Barbara
Pierce and her board of devoted members could.

 The pool this night did not appear to turn bloodred.  Though Ethan could not be sure, for it was very dark
outside, the dim glow of the neighborhood sidewalk lanterns barely illuminating the buzzing light-obsessed
gnats.  Ethan knew Vincent and Misha were in some sort of cult.  Everyone wore black and seemed to
behave in a subdued, supplicant manner to their host, who brought up kegs of his brew from the secret
hatch.  Ethan had never tried his neighbor’s homebrew, and he was beginning to think that, like the joint he
smoked, that it must have been laced with something odd—not quite as strong as the Jim Jones punch,
but something that made Vincent’s guests seem a bit strange… and eerily thirsty for more.  Ethan had
seen guests quaff multiple drinks within a half hour, and none seemed eager to hit the head.

 It wasn’t until 2am, after all guests had left and Vincent and Misha went to bed, that Ethan hopped the
fence and approached the hatch.  He quietly removed the heavy mat that covered the illegal addition.  The
hatch’s lock required a bolt cutter.  Ethan had gone back home to get one after noticing this fact via the
zoom feature of his Night Visions.  Luckily his parents were not in the garage to inquire as to his nocturnal
skulking.

 The lock rattled as he cut it, and he crouched in silence listening to any noise from above to see if Vincent
or Misha heard anything.  As quietly as he could, he slid the lock out and pulled up the hatch door.  The
smell hit him instantly—the coppery tint of fresh blood.  He descended the small stairs, using a flashlight to
help with his footing.  He could not find any light switch, and he was hesitant to use one anyway, worried
the glow would draw too much attention.

 Kegs lined the wall, labeled in what Ethan recognized as Latin and Slavic.  Odd, that especially in Central
Texas, Ethan thought.  He bent down, bringing his hand up to cover his nose.  The pungent smell of blood
made him want to gag.  He ran the flashlight along the floor of the small passageway, looking for signs of
dried blood.  It had to come from somewhere.  Yet there was not one drop.  Ethan looked again at the
label of the keg in front of him.  It might as well have been written in Klingon.  He ran his fingers along the
tap and pointed the nozzle down away from his shoes.  He pressed on the release lever and the liquid shot
through and splattered a bit on the cold cement floor.  Ethan leaned forward, shining the flashlight on the
spill.         

 He quickly brought the light away and tried to keep himself from gagging.  What kind of people are they?  
A hidden, sudden swell of fear hit the pit of his stomach.  But something told him to go further down the
passage.

 He got to his feet and tested two other kegs.  Both the same, emitting the coppery stench.  Ethan came to
a row of small refrigerators, each filled with medical bags of various blood types.  On the far end of the
long room was a dark corner.  Ethan wanted to leave, wanted to get out as soon as he could.  He had a
sinking feeling that Vincent’s shadow would show up above the hatch at any second.  Yet something,
another feeling, prompted him to check and see what was around that corner.

 Ethan approached and turned.  There was a screen of dark tarp blocking something, but soon Ethan
could make out that something—for there were feet dangling upside down tied by rope hooked to the
ceiling.  Beneath the bottom of the tarp were blood stains dotting the concrete, and the victim’s hair slightly
dangled into view.

 Ethan backed away quickly, bumping a shelf.  A plastic tub fell, splattering a jello-like substance in only
one color.  The sound it made echoed down the passageway back toward the hatch.  Ethan ran for the
stairs, gripping the pepper spray he’d brought with him, just in case.

 He made it to the top of the hatch.  In the window above he saw movement.  They must’ve known
someone was down here.

 He jumped on a patio chair then lunged himself over his neighbor’s fence.  Pain shot through his ankle
when he landed awkwardly.  As fast as he could, he crossed the street.  He went around Shady Hollow, for
he knew there was the possibility of Vincent watching him as he ran away.  Ethan would go along the
concrete wall that lined the backyards of every house on Shady Hollow and the next street over.  It would
allow him to get to his room without risk of being seen.

 Before turning down the next street, Ethan glanced back.  Not one, but two dark shadows stood in the
middle of Shady Hollow, not pursuing, just watching.  Though Ethan managed to slip into his bedroom the
backway, sleep did not come easy.

 It wasn’t quite a week until the police showed up at Vincent’s house.  Ethan had called the police,
Barbara Pierce of the HOA, and Barbara’s friends on the Wooded Acres City Council.  He called
anonymously, but when the blue and red lights eventually showed up, Ethan watched from his living room
window.  Barbara Pierce and a few board members waited several yards back from the porch, giving the
police their space.

 Turns out the body was not found, and there was actually an explanation for all the blood.  Turns out
Vincent was also a survivalist who had a permit to hoard blood, in case of an impending apocalypse.  
Moreover, turns out his neighbor also had a special license and contract to solicit blood to blood banks
and hospitals, as a sort of freelance blood broker.  Ethan never knew such a thing existed.  Good news
was, the police and Board of Blood Professionals had Vincent’s licenses and contracts revoked due to
the illegal storage of blood in beer kegs.  Evidently, these storage devices were against regulation.

 Yet, in the end, it was the intrepid HOA and the city’s ordinances that had Vincent and his girlfriend
evicted.  After the dust cleared, Ethan had a long talk with Barbara Pierce who had no qualms with sharing
the far reaching arm of her associative powers.

 Three months after Cassandra had dropped him, Ethan saw the moving vans leave Vincent’s driveway.  
He breathed a long sigh, glad that neither he nor Will would have to put up with them anymore.  They were
murderers, plain and simple.  And cultists—at least according to Ethan.  And Wooded Acres had too
many of those already.  Ethan knew firsthand.  He’d already stumbled on a few of their ceremonies in the
past.  He did not care to revisit any of them, nor did he care to see another news story relating to them.  
Yes, getting rid of Vincent, Misha, and their ilk was definitely a good thing.

 Ironically, the next day Ethan received a call from Cassandra.

 “Hey, Ethan,” she said.

 “Hey.”

 “I know it’s been a long time since we’ve talked.” There was a pause and a sniff. “But I’ve been doing a lot
of thinking… I was wondering if we could grab coffee later and have a talk, discuss some things.”

 Ethan wasn’t going to press replay this time.  “Actually, Cass, I have plans later.  My neighbor’s throwing
a little get-together and I promised I’d bring something.”

 “Oh, okay… alright, Ethan.  I guess we’ll talk later then.”

 “If I’m not busy, yeah maybe.”

 “Okay then, bye.”

 “Bye.”

 Ethan put his cell in his pocket and got out of his car.  He walked across Shady Hollow Lane and up to
Will’s house.

 Will’s friend Buddy opened the door and Will stood right behind him.  Their eyes grew wide as Ethan
opened the celebratory box in front of them.

 “All right,” Will said, “pepperoni!”

 Right beside him, Little Al licked his chops.
To read other short stories,
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About Nolan Yard

My name is Nolan Yard
and I've been published in
Foliate Oak, Aphelion,
Blood Moon Rising, Points
in Case, and
Defenestration Magazine.
I've worked with editors
from Tor, Random House,
Folio Literary and have
self-published an epic
fantasy novel under the
pen name Louis Emery.