Home > The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(5)

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(5)
Author: Roan Parrish

   “Didn’t you get my letter?”

   Wes glanced at the mailbox he never checked. Anything he cared about came through via email.

   “No.”

   “Oh. That’s what Daddy said.”

   As if conjured by his title, the father in question came running across the street.

   Wes had watched Adam Mills move in the week before through the periscope mounted on the side of his house. He might not have wanted anyone to look at him, but he certainly watched them.

   Adam and his daughter had arrived in a medium moving van, and Adam had unloaded his belongings himself, with the help of one other person. He had introduced himself to every single neighbor that happened past.

   Only of course they hadn’t happened past—they had coordinated trips to the mailbox and the grocery store with times when Adam was outside, so they could scope out the new addition to Knockbridge Lane.

   Wes had lived here for four years. He knew the routine. They’d tried it on him too. And they’d failed. But Adam was friendly. Talkative.

   Normal.

   “Gus, Jesus, you scared the sh—You scared me,” he said.

   Adam Mills jogged up the steps and glared at his daughter.

   “What did I tell you?” he demanded.

   “I know, Daddy, but I just had to,” Gus said.

   Father and daughter seemed to be having an intense conversation made of looks and facial expressions.

   Wes cleared his throat.

   “I’m really sorry,” Adam told him, and slid a hand around Gus’ small shoulder.

   “It’s in your mailbox,” Gus said. “Write me back, okay?”

   She looked so intent that for a moment Wes considered that perhaps this was a cry for help. But then she pouted at him and spoke sweetly.

   “Couldn’t we please see your taranula again? Just for a second?”

   “Tarantula,” Wes corrected. He shot a glance at Adam, who had gone pale and shrunk backward, hand that had been on Gus’ shoulder hanging in the empty air.

   “No, no,” Adam said desperately. “We can’t bother Mr. Mobray.”

   Gus put her hands together and bounced in place, mouthing please over and over.

   Wes was just about to close the door in her wide-eyed little face. Then, inside the house, something exploded.

   Wes bolted inside and ran to the room that housed the biogas generator.

   He’d had a problem with a leaky valve between the slurry and gas storage before, but that shouldn’t have been explosive.

   As he rounded the corner, the scene before him came into focus: one splodge of wet compost goo on the floor and a splatter on the wall, one tube that should have been connected flapping free, and one hognose snake hanging from the chandelier, hissing at the raccoon below.

   “Oh, dear god—” came Adam’s voice behind him, while at the same time Gus said, “A snake! Can I touch it!?”

   Wes wheeled around and glared at them. Who just waltzed into other people’s houses?

   “Sorry!” Adam said, putting his hands up. “We wanted to make sure you didn’t blow up.”

   “I wanted to see the tarantula,” Gus confessed.

   Wes found himself in an octagon of things out of place. Agitated and flustered as he was, though, he couldn’t resist the clarion call of a kid who was fascinated by snakes and spiders like he had always been.

   “Her name’s Bettie,” Wes said grudgingly. “She’s sleeping right now.”

   “Who’s that?” Gus pointed.

   “Milford,” Wes said shortly. But her interest didn’t waver, so he grudgingly elaborated. “She’s a Heterodon platirhinos—a hognose snake, about thirty-six inches long.”

   “Is that perhaps a...raccoon?” Adam asked. While Gus had come closer with each word, Adam had retreated to the farthest corner of the room and fitted himself into it.

   “Janice.”

   “Oh, sure,” Adam murmured weakly. “She’s tame, then?”

   Wes shrugged. Humans’ estimation of tameness was variable and useless.

   “Is that what exploded?” Gus asked, gazing raptly at the biogas generator.

   Wes nodded.

   Gus screwed up her face. “What is it?”

   “It’s a biogas generator,” Wes said. When she crept closer to it, Wes found himself helpless in the face of her curiosity. “It converts food and herbaceous waste into methane that I can use for power.”

   Gus blinked, cocked her head, and said politely, “Can you use other words?”

   “She’s eight,” Adam said.

   Gus was looking up at him, all big-eyed attention, and Wes realized she actually was interested.

   “As things decompose—rot—like in the trash, gasses form. One of those gasses is methane. I keep my rotting, uh, stuff, in this container and when the gas is produced, it inflates this rubber thing here, and creates pressure. That pressure can bring that gas to the stove or a light—whatever I want.”

   “From trash?” Gus said in wonder.

   “Yeah. It’s basically like a giant stomach. Just like food breaks down in your stomach and creates gas, which expands your stomach, and the pressure makes you...um.”

   He wasn’t sure what the proper word was for a kid.

   She giggled. “Fart?! That’s why people fart?” She whirled around. “Daddy, that’s why people fart!?”

   “I...to be honest, I didn’t know that, sweetie.” Adam looked to Wes. “Do you run your stove off this generator?”

   “No, not the stove. That was just an example. I could. But this is an experiment.”

   “Experiment in what?” Adam asked as Gus, apparently having lost interest in the biogas generator, said, “Can I hold that spider now, please?”

   “Oops, we gotta go now,” Adam said instantly.

   “Daddy’s very scared of spiders,” Gus whispered completely audibly. “But can I?”

   Bettie was a sweet, shy creature who liked to crawl slowly around the perimeter of the house as if she were keeping watch. She didn’t like sudden movement or loud noises, and a child seemed a guarantor of both. Wes didn’t want to let Gus hold her.

   But most children—most people—thought of tarantulas as terrifying, dangerous threats. The fact that Gus was interested in her rather than scared made him happy.

   “If I let you hold her, you have to be very, very still,” Wes said seriously. “It tickles when she crawls, but you can’t jerk your hand back or scream or throw her.”

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