He keeps the lawn and the landscaping at no charge. Wouldn't you like to have this neighbor?
The house next door to Herb's stood long empty, a 'For Sale' sign tilted forlornly at the sidewalk, rusting in the weather. Many stopped to look. Nobody would buy. Herb liked this very much.
This meant an extra driveway for his car, when he wanted to power wash his own driveway. This meant he could tend the lawn the way he saw fit, and no need to fret with a neighbor's preference for unkempt shrubberies and weeds. This meant solitude on the north side of his house, which, combined with the fact that he sat at the end of an undeveloped cul-de-sac within his run-down neighborhood, meant he kept solitude all around. With nobody living across the street, nobody next door, and the utility easement swinging around the back of his own place, Herb lived happily isolated from the rest of the world.
It was a world he despised and that, he was convinced, despised him. Solitude suited him, and it made everybody else on the planet a bit safer.
Herb tended the house next door dutifully, anyway. After the previous neighbors left suddenly, their mortgage apparently paid, the weeds grew and the landscaping deteriorated. Once he was certain the Phillips were never coming back, he adopted the place, so to speak, and began caring for it as if it were his own. He trimmed the bushes, pulled the weeds, mowed, watered and fertilized the lawn. He painted the exterior when it pealed, and he scrubbed the concrete driveway when it became dinghy. He mended the fence around the backyard. He retrieved and disposed of the mail.
After a time, he started opening the mail. Herb found most of it to be the typical junk, which he discarded. Several of the more official letters were sent by the city, threatening to seize the property if local and state taxes were not paid. These, he also discarded.
Long they threatened, and long was the process. One summer Saturday four years after the Phillips disappeared, Herb, while mowing the lawn, found a bright orange sticker fixed to the front door of the house next door, along with a heavy lock that hung from its knob. He found the same around back.
He read the bright orange notice. The house had been seized and was now for sale as-is, all contents included. It listed a local agent as the contact for the sale, and it indicated that the interior of the property could be viewed with the proper key code for the locks.
Herb knew the property would sell quickly without his intervention. Abandoning his lawn mower in the middle of the front yard, he immediately drove to the grocery store and bought fifteen pounds of raw fish. This, he separated into half-pound portions, which he buried shallowly all over the yard. Also, he dropped several fillets down the vent pipes protruding from the roof, and he stuffed several more into the attic through the home's soffit vents.
The stink would deter all but the most determined buyers, but somebody would probably buy it, anyway, once the price dropped low enough. Herb knew he had to take measures to make certain nobody stayed, once they moved in.
That night, beneath the cloak of darkness and during the wee hours of morning, he selected a bright, shiny pair of patent leather loafers, a pair of heavy jeans, a gaudy plaid shirt and a big, floppy hat from his closet. With these garments, he clothed a plaster frame he had constructed, and then he buried all in the backyard flowerbed of the house next door, which had kept so neatly for so many years.
Due to the periodic concealed deposits of fish, beef, pork and poultry that Herb made to the property, along with the various carcasses of dead rats, bats, scorpions and tarantulas found lying scattered and obvious around the yard, the house next door remained empty and unsold for another year. Then, during the following summer and despite obvious indications of a raging termite infestation, someone bought the place.
Herb thought they must be most desperate people indeed. He disliked them immediately, sight unseen.
They took possession of the house on Friday. By Sunday, most of the Phillips' abandoned property sat piled at the curb, ready for the garbage collectors. Dogs, cats, raccoons, possums and field mice from far and away soon converged on the heaps, which they found liberally strewn with white plastic garbage bags that stank pungently of rotten flesh. By Monday, the entire neighborhood reeked of the stuff, as night-raiders scattered the bags throughout the streets and alleyways. Flies converged on the summer stench in their millions, perhaps in their billions. A tornado of carrion insects whirled around the disruptions within and without the house next door to Herb.
Friday of that same week, Herb's new neighbors decided to destroy his labor of five years by completely uprooting and replanting the landscaping. They added a birdbath to the front yard. They re-cut the flowerbeds, uprooting and replacing Herb's stone bulwarks with gaudy bricks. They cut down one tree and dismembered the rest. They planted sage in place of his periwinkles. They tore out his oleanders and replaced them with crape myrtle. Crape myrtle!
As the young couple busily dug out planting holes in the front flowerbeds that evening, Herb crossed the lawn to offer his hand in friendly introduction, swallowing his own churning guts and aversion with each step. Giggly and beaming, they accepted his grip and exchanged their names. They were Robert and Naomi Briggs.