Pseudopod 340: Neighbourhood Watch

by Greg Egan

“Neighbourhood Watch” originally appeared in an Australian magazine, Aphelion, in 1986, and was reprinted in Karl Edward Wagner’s THE YEAR’S BEST HORROR STORIES XVI in 1988. The story is available to read at here

Greg Egan is an Australian author writing mainly hard science fiction, but he published a few horror stories in the 1980s. His science fiction novel THE ETERNAL FLAME, the second volume of a trilogy set in a universe with different laws of physics than our own, was published by Night Shade Books in the US in September 2012, and by Gollancz in the UK in October 2012.

Your reader this week, writer and singer Ron Jon Newton, has written and published children¹s books; scripts and screenplays for animation and live action; musical lyrics and libretti. He is a student of strange phenomena/parapsychology, horror and children¹s literature. He has created a blogsite of haunting microfiction (melding narration/music/sfx) The Spectre Collector and a blogsite of recordings regarding an ancient cannibal blood cult, The Fruits of Madness.

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“Only at night, says the contract. After eleven, to be precise. Decent people are not out after eleven, and decent people should not have to witness what I do.

Andrews is seventeen, and bored. Andrew, I understand. This suburb is a hole, you have my deepest sympathies. What do they expect you to do around here? On a warm night like this a young man can grow restless. I know; your dreams, too, shaped me slightly (my principal creators did not expect that). You need adventure. So keep your eyes open, Andrew, there are opportunities everywhere.

The sign on the chemist’s window says no money, no drugs, but you are no fool. The back window’s frame is rotting, the nails are loose, it falls apart in your hands. Like cake. Must be your lucky night, tonight.

The cash drawer’s empty (oh shit!) and you can forget about that safe, but a big, glass candy jar of valium beats a handful of Swiss health bars, doesn’t it? There are kids dumb enough to pay for those, down at the primary school.

Only those who break the law, says the contract. A list of statutes is provided, to be precise. Parking offences, breaking the speed limit and cheating on income tax are not included; decent people are only human, after all. Breaking and entering is there, though, and stealing, well, that dates right back to the old stone tablets.

No loophole, Andrew. No argument.

Andrew has a flick knife, and a death’s head tattoo. He’s great in a fight, our Andrew. Knows some karate, once did a little boxing, he has no reason to be afraid. He walks around like he owns the night. Especially when there’s nobody around.

So what’s that on the wind? Sounds like someone breathing, someone close by. Very even, slow, steady, powerful. Where is the bastard? You can see in all directions, but there’s no one in sight. What, then? Do you think it’s in your head? That doesn’t seem likely.

Andrew stands still for a moment. He wants to figure this out for himself, but I can’t help giving him hints, so the lace of his left sand-shoe comes undone. He puts down the jar and crouches to retie it.

The ground, it seems, is breathing.”

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