I think the whole street breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the EMTs take a body bag out of the Ferguson house. I was only about ten or eleven at the time and it’s been a while so some details of my childhood are lost to time, but I can’t forget Mr. Ferguson.
There was never a Mrs. Ferguson in the picture, as far as I know. He lived in the house on the corner, the one with the bright yellow shutters and the gorgeous garden out back. The garden didn’t make up for the rotten old bastard he was. I wondered once if he was nicer when he was younger, when he didn’t have to walk with a cane and could actually get around without help, but my dad set me straight on that one. Mr. Ferguson had always been a terrible person and the neighbor from hell.
All day long, Mr. Ferguson would sit on his front porch in his rocking hair, grasping onto his black cane as he stared out on the street. If someone walking their dog even got close to his yard, he’d start spewing threats about what he’d do if the dog took a shit on his lawn. If a kid put even a toe on his property, he’d get up from that chair and start shouting more terrible things. I learned my first cuss words from Mr. Ferguson, he didn’t censor his language even among the smallest of ears. And he wasn’t all talk. One of my friend’s dogs wandered into the Ferguson yard, just sniffing around as beagles do, and Mr. Ferguson beat that dog bloody. The poor thing had anxiety for the rest of its life and if you so much as passed the Ferguson house with it the dog would lose its mind.
Other than him, our neighborhood was a friendly place. Summers were full of cook outs and pool parties, winters had Secret Santa gift exchanges and someone was always willing to help shovel out your driveway. You’d never be hard pressed to find a babysitter on short notice, odds are your friend had a teenage daughter willing to make a few bucks to make sure the kids were on bed in time.
But not Mr. Ferguson. People did try to bring him in on the fun sometimes. He’d scoff and tell them to leave him alone in no uncertain terms. Mom said he just wanted to be miserable. I didn’t understand how someone could want that and well, I still don’t.
One hot summer morning though, his caretaker came in to do a check and found him in his garden, dead as a door nail. Probably a stroke or a heart attack.
My mom made us go to the funeral. I don’t know why, she probably hated Mr. Ferguson the most and we were like one of five people that went. One of those people was the priest. At least it was short, the priest just said a few words about how we should treasure our lives and be good to others and then Mr. Ferguson was chucked into the ground.
That was that… or so I thought.
The accidents started happening just a week later.
I was at my friend Michael’s house, we were playing board games when we heard the crash. It was so loud it shook the house and Michael dropped his soda. Root beer spilled onto the carpet as we tried to figure out what that sound was for a second.
Then we heard his dad screaming bloody murder.
Forgetting completely about the spilled soda, we ran out to the garage where he’d been working on changing the oil in the car.
Michael’s dad was pinned by the car against the garage door, face white as a sheet as his head lolled to the side. I saw blood splattered against the off gray color of the metal and I puked while Michael ran inside to call 911.
It was luck that he survived. He never walked again and health issues plagued him for the rest of his life, but for a guy crushed by a car that’s probably best case scenario.
It was an accident, sure, but a weird one. The car just suddenly launched forward as Michael’s dad stood in front of it. But there was no one in the garage with him. So yeah. It was just an accident.
But accidents started happening more and more often.
The next one was at the final pool party of the season. We were all at the Benson house because they’d just gotten a brand new hot tub. There was probably like twelve kids running around, the sun was shining, the barbecue was sizzling. I had just gotten out of the pool to grab a lemonade and was chatting with Annie when I heard the pop.
Mrs. Benson and her friends had been relaxing in the hot tub, making jokes and laughing until the pop. Their bodies suddenly went rigid before they began rapidly jerking about and twitching. Mr. Benson shouted if she was all right and I heard this gurgled yell before Mrs. Benson went under.
The kids stampeded out of the pool and I smelled something burning before I realized that the hot tub was on fire.
Mrs. Benson and her sister ended up dying on the way to the hospital. The other woman ended up surviving but not without some serious electrical burns. Electrocution via hot tub. Just an accident. But there was one more accident we all missed until we returned to the pool to see a little body floating at the top. Three year old Maggie had fallen in during the chaos and drowned.
Mr. Benson moved away after that. Losing both his wife and youngest child in that house just killed something inside of him. But after he moved away, we all saw it happen.
His backyard became overgrown by plants. Not over a few weeks, like what happens when a house is uninhabited and there’s no one to mow the lawn. The very day after they’d left that house the backyard was now filled with dandelions, daffodils, lilies. and all sorts of flowers that shouldn’t naturally appear in the late summer.
It was like a garden.
Accidents happen, sure. But not like this. Not when a guy who’s been working home improvement his entire life ends up toppling from a ladder and breaking his spine. Not when a mom trips and falls face first into the open dishwasher and ends up getting impaled on a knife. Not when a toddler was left alone for just a few seconds and ends up nearly drowning in the bathtub.
Dogs ran into the road and ended up getting hit by cars. Kids fell from their bunk beds and cracked their heads like eggshells on their dressers. Teenagers got into fatal car wrecks. It was a mess.
Two other families ended up leaving our neighborhood and their yards had the same fate as the Benson’s- completely grown over. A morbid beauty.
Fall came and the yards grew brown but the gardens seemed to be even greener. The whispers started about a ghost. A ghost that was such a miserable old bastard in life and was now a nasty poltergeist in death.
Mr. Ferguson had never left our neighborhood.
It all came to a head when a tree was struck by lightning and a large tree limb crashed into our living room. I’d just tripped while picking up my things and suddenly the roof caved in above me. I was lucky I was on the ground. If I’d been standing, well, I’d probably not be telling you this story.
Two nights later my mom woke me up. She looked grim.
“Come on. We’re going to see Mr. Ferguson.”
When we walked out of the house, I saw everyone on our street was out. Everyone had this same grim look on their face. The deaths, the mutilation, it’d forever tarnished our street and we’d all had enough. We walked down the street, I saw several guys walk into Mr. Ferguson’s house with mallets and chainsaws, but we kept going with a few of the others. I saw that several of the adults were carrying shovels and containers of lighter fluid.
We walked into the graveyard and my mom led them right to Mr. Ferguson’s grave. She took a deep breath.
“… Start digging.”
It was the frantic endeavors of people who believed they were cursed. Dirt flew in the air and nearly pelted me in the head a few times. I hid behind my mom, who just stood there stone faced.
Even now the accidents weren’t over. A man tripped in the hole and his leg snapped like a twig. He wailed as he was dragged away by a few others before they got right back to digging. Someone else got smacked the face with a shovel and blood coursed down his face from his nose as he just kept on digging.
Finally the coffin was reached, the lid cracked open. Mr. Ferguson’s body laid inside. He didn’t even look dead, it was like he was just taking a nap.
Then they started pouring the lighter fluid in. It covered the corpse’s skin, his clothes. They probably added more than necessary. My mom struck the match and threw it in, shielding me from the sudden burst of flames.
I didn’t get to see the body, but I swore I heard that old man’s yelling as his body burned.
It was over after all that. The gardens were all dead by morning. The accidents stopped. And although we’d lost so many of our friends over the past year, we recovered. New neighbors moved in. We welcomed them into our fold. One or two asked about the property on the corner, the one that looked like a tornado hit it, and we’d just say it was vandals. They stopped asking. We never talked about what we did to Mr. Ferguson’s body. And soon we just stopped thinking about it.
I grew up on that street. Even now I only live a few blocks away. And for so long I wondered why our family was practically the only one untouched by the tragedy. We never got hurt, even when the tree branch came crashing into our living room.
I think I found out the answer. See, my mom passed away a few months ago from breast cancer and I’ve been going through her things. She’s always been such a good, kind woman and it was great seeing pictures of her helping plant the garden behind the church and teaching at the local school.
But in the bottom of the box, hidden under dozens of other albums, was a picture from when she married my dad. Unlike the family picture with the groom, all it was was my mom and an older man. I didn’t recognize him until I flipped the picture over.
On the back was written ‘Pauline Walters (P. Ferguson) and The Father of the Bride.’