Saturday, June 02, 2007

It's always the quiet ones...

I call him The Prophet.

He lives across the street, in a small, plain, shabby house. He drives a plain, small, shabby car. He is a plain, small, quiet man, whose clothes are always pressed and whose lawn is perpetually mowed. He creeps me out.

I believe he has his own cult, which meets every Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and I have yet to figure out how he fits all those people into a tiny two-bedroom frame house. His followers are evidently very wealthy; their clothes have that lush, soft, well-draped look that you only find at stores where a belt costs $500. Their Lexuses, Escalades and Range Rovers sit bumper-to-bumper in a gleaming line by the curb, making passage nearly impossible. Why would such well-heeled parishioners flock to a humble little home-based church, instead of some well-appointed cathedral with a skyward-reaching steeple? What is this man’s allure? Whatever it is, it must surely be sinister.

They start arriving about an hour before their service, or ritual, or whatever it is, begins. The women’s headdresses and robes are swirled blue, yellow, green and red. Then men dress in black. For a while, they meander around the front of the house, yelling from car to car, the kids playing ball out front. Then, they are gone, and from inside comes the thud-thud-thudding of drum music, sometimes accompanied by chanting. This can last for hours.

For the seven months I have lived in this house, I have been obsessed by this event. I blame it on my writer-ness: we are compulsively nosy, partly out of sheer curiosity, but primarily because only by understanding what makes other people tick can we accurately portray human life. I need to know what goes on in that house. I need to know because without this knowledge, I cannot evolve as a writer.

And I am not alone. Twice I saw a man, dressed in a suit and trenchcoat, loitering around The Prophet’s house. The first time, he spoke on his cell phone for a while before going to the door. No one was home, so he went to talk to the neighbor, who was outside because of a power outage on the block. He left, visiting no other houses. He came back about a week later, and I haven’t seen him since. Then a few weeks later, The Prophet’s car was vandalized in the middle of the night. In my city, late night vandalism sprees targeting an entire block or neighborhood are not uncommon. In this case, only The Prophet’s car was hit.

What if I have been right all along? What if there are all kinds of nefarious goings-on being perpetrated at that little white house across the street? Will they be thwarted before whatever evil scheme they are hatching is launched? Or, like so many of the other malevolent plots I’ve stumbled upon, will this prove to be the product of too little sleep, too much chocolate, and way too many crime shows and horror movies?
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