Updated: Jan 6, 2021
If anyone would have asked Doug about his neighbour Joe, he would have said that Joe was just a cantankerous old fart. Doug always thought his neighbour was just one of these seniors who had been alone for so long, they did not like company anymore.
Sure enough, when the old man moved in to the small, decripit bungalow next door, Doug and his wife Tracy went over to welcome Joe to the neighbourhood, only to have the door slammed in their faces. Joe made it clear from day one he did not want to mingle with the neighbours. Doug shrugged his shoulders while pretending to listen to his wife complaining about how rude that old geezer was.
Frankly, Doug could not care less. He preferred to spend his days sitting on a lawn chair in front of his garage, sipping beers and listening to the radio, preferably as far away from his wife as he could get.
Tracy enjoyed parking herself on a chair as well; but she preferred to sit in the living room, close to the window, where she had a great view of the street and the sidewalk. She kept a close eye on everyone. Every morning she watched those goth kids from No. 19 walk to the bus stop on their way to school. If they were really going, Tracy was convinced these good-for-nothing kids did nothing but smoke pot and worship the devil all day. I mean, really. The way they looked all dressed in black, with black nail polish and black lipstick. Thank gawd her kids were nothing like that. No, she raised them to be good christians. Praise the lord. Tracy scoffed as the neighbours goth kids walked past. One of them saw her peeking and raised his hand as a greeting, index finger and pinky up, making the horns symbol. Tracy gasped and said aloud: " Sweet jesus, I knew it. These kids are the spawn of Satan!"
The neighbours kids laughed at the expression on her face and continued along. Tracy shook her head in firm disapproval.
Where was this world going to? All them devil worshippers out there, tearing down all the good christian values of our society. Thank god she was not quick to judge. She pressed her lips together and looked the other way, scanning the street for more people.
There was Laura, that heathen from No. 27. Scum of the earth, that one. Not a good christian bone in her body. She worked in a bar and drank liquor like a sailor and swore like a trooper. She was a single mother of two. Clearly Laura had never heard of the sanctity of marriage. Tracy rolled her eyes as Laura walked towards her car, in skinny jeans, high heels and Ray-bans, her long auburn hair waving in the wind.
Such a sinful woman. No modesty there, this jezebel. Tracy looked away and ignored the friendly smile Laura sent to her. Tracy shook her head when Laura got in her car and drove off. Thank the lawd she was such a patient, god fearing and tolerant woman and not quick to judge. Because honestly, this neighbourhood could do without the Satanists and the Jezebels.
Wait, was that Joe? Tracy held her breath for a second. It was not often she got to spot Joe outside during the day. He seemed to be a bit of a night owl. She looked at him with dismay. That horrible, rude old man had slammed the door in her face when she and Doug showed up with their welcome-to-the-neighbourhood casserole. She had never met anyone so rude. Joe must not have known that Doug was an elder of their church and that they had lived there for 40 plus years.
Joe had been living there for several years now and she had never seen him set foot in their church. Obviously he was not a god fearing man. Tracy stretched her neck to see where Joe was off to. She wondered how old he was. He was old, but his pace was quick and firm. He had an air of mystery about him. Tracy could not stand the fact that she knew so little about him. She jumped up and darted outside, where Doug was sitting with a beer in his hand. Tracy despised her husband for drinking. It really was a sign of poor taste and as a good christian, he should know better. But his beer was the only thing she never had been able to get rid of.
Sure enough, she had trained Doug throughout their marriage to be a good husband, although it had not been an easy task. But Tracy was a very persistent woman and after three decades of marriage, Doug had given up on many things for the sake of peace in the home.
As Tracy stepped outside, Joe walked past their house. Their eyes met and for a split second, Tracy thought she saw something in those eyes, that she had never seen before. She felt as if she froze to her core; then, the feeling was gone, as instantly as it had started. And it was just old neighbour Joe's eyes she was looking at.
It had lasted only a split second, but it left Tracy with a feeling of doom that she could not shake off. It was as if something else had looked at her. But how was that possible?
Doug raised his hand at Joe but Joe ignored him and continued his stroll. Tracy put her hand on Doug's shoulder, digging her fingers into his flesh.
"I can't stand that man!" she whispered. "Something is wrong with him, I'm telling you!"
Doug ignored her, as he had done for many years now. It had become his coping mechanism.
Joe had moved into the neighbourhood for a very specific reason. He was a purpose driven man. Always had been. He would go to a place, do what he would come to do and then move again. It had always been like that. He had been around for so long, he could not even remember for how long exactly. He had seen many seasons change, years pass, one after another, until they became centuries and millennia. Joe was a traveler but not a drifter. He always had a purpose. And this time was no exception.
Joe served a Master and he served Him loyally. He had been a watcher and an observer for thousands of years. He was not a teacher. He was a cleaner. His Master had many servants and they all had specific roles to play. His Master went by many names; Joe and He had been together since the beginning of time. Joe served his Master faithfully and loyally, as a good servant does. His Master was fair and honest and the embodiement of light and darkness. Joe was personally appointed by him as a cleaner. And this time, this little suburban neighbourhood was in need of a good cleaning. It was stained by hypocrisy, dishonesty and judgement. His Master despised hypocrisy.
Joe did what he had done for many years. He walked. He observed. And he had found the stain in the neighbourhood where he was sent to. His Master had been right, as always. There were many opposing forces in this universe and his Master was dedicated to bring illumination and wisdom into the world, to expose the ancient lies that had caused so much suffering. It was a noble cause and Joe was dedicated to it.
This particular neighbourhood was stained by the venom of one particular person and it was time for Joe to fix it.
Tracy was standing at the church entrance, chatting away with the wives of other Elders. Of course, she was far more superior considering the fact that her husband was the senior of the group. She smiled generously at the other ladies, who flocked around her like sheep. Tracy loved being the centre of attention. After all, there was no better christian than her. She deserved it. She smiled and waived at people entering the building, as if she was the queen of England. She always enjoyed standing in this particular spot, looking down on the people walking up the steps to the entrance. Then, to her dismay, she noticed old neighbour Joe approaching in his beat down vehicle. That ugly old car was as decrepit as the bungalow he lived in. The smile dropped off her face. He could not be serious about attending church. The last thing this congregation needed was that cantankerous old fart in here. Why, this certainly would bring down the class and quality of this church. Some people thought they could just show up and join, as if this church did not have some standard to keep up!
Joe walked up the steps, looking at Tracy. Neither one of them smiled, they just looked at each other. Then Joe walked right passed her and found a seat in the back of the church.
Tracy scoffed. The nerve of that old man! She brought her hand to her heart. It was racing in her chest. There was something about him she really could not stand. He was trouble.
She marched past him to her seat in the front row, holding her head up high, as a good and important member of this church should. After all, her family had been coming here for generations. Her Papa had been an elder here, just like his before him. If anyone had the right to be there, it was her!
Joe leaned back against his seat. He observed the people as they sat and shared this morning in church. Some good, some bad. Joe did not care much for churches, as they represented the discomfort that had been brought to his Master for many, many centuries. But being here was a necessary evil. Joe was preparing to do his work. It was almost time.The world would be a little bit better after he had done his job. It always was.
After service, Tracy lingered around in the front and kept a close eye on Joe. He did not seem to be making an effort to get up and leave. After the last members had left, she stood up from her spot and folded her arms across her impressive chest, staring straight at him, her dismay written all over her face. Joe stared back, relaxed in his seat. Neither one made a sound for several minutes, they just looked at each other. Then Tracy marched over to him. "I demand to know what it is you think you are doing here!" she said in a lowered voice, as if she was afraid someone might hear her. Joe smiled at her. "I thought all were welcome in the house of your lord, dear neigbour," he replied. Tracy scoffed. "Not all", she answered. "We do try to maintain a certain standard here and someone like you does not fit in here." She tapped a foot on the stone tiled floor, impatiently, as to get him to get up and leave. Joe slowly got up. "I will make my leave, Tracy. But before I do so, I would like to give you a gift. It is special gift, only meant for special people. I should have given this to you when I moved in the neighbourhood, but I was not sure who the best person to give it to was at the time. You see, this is a gift only a certain type of person deserves. And I do believe that in our little neighbourhood, nobody deserves it more than you, Tracy."
Tracy was surprised, to say the least. And flattered. She knew she was special and that nobody in their neighbourhood could live up to her, but to hear neighbour Joe admitting that, was certainly a surprise! She could not help but smile. How could she not? It is always a pleasure when one is appreciated for what one really is.
Joe had risen to his feet and opened an old backpack he was carrying. He pulled out an object that was wrapped in what seemed to be old newspapers. "Be careful, this is very old and fragile," he warned. He handed Tracy the package. "You truly deserve this, Tracy."
She received it with both hands, a bit flustered. Then she looked up only to discover that Joe was gone. She looked around but could not figure out where he had dissapeared to.
It did not matter, what did matter was the fact that he had recognized her for what she was. The best person in the neighbourhood. Finally some recognition!
Tracy smiled and started to unwrap the gift, dropping the yellowed newspapers on the floor of the old church. The packaged contained an old hand mirror. The back was beautifully engraved with symbols she did not recognize. The material seemed to be silver, as it was a bit blackened here and there. She turned the mirror around to the reflecting side. It had some spots on it, as if the glass was very, very old. She looked up again, to see if Joe was anywhere in sight. Why on earth would he give her an old, stained mirror? This was not exactly the kind of gift she was hoping for. She turned the reflected side closer to her face, but had trouble seeing her face.
She moved over to the windows, to find a bit more light and tried again.
As she looked at the reflection in the mirror, the expression on her face changed from surprise to absolute terror. Then, Tracy started to scream. She screamed and screamed and screamed.
Joe rewrapped the mirror and put it back in his bag. It had returned to him. It always did. It had done so from the beginning of time. He swung the bag onto one shoulder and started walking. It was time for him to move on. His job was done. He had cleaned the neighbourhood from that ugly stain, that venom. A faint smile formed around his lips and he started walking. He did not know where he was going next.
But in time, the Master would let him know. He always did. He had, since the beginning of time.
And Tracy? These days, Tracy can be found in Shady Pines, the local hospital, where she permanently occupies a room in the closed mental health wing, slouched over in a wheel chair, her mouth always a bit open. She hardly ever speaks and when she does, she is not making any sense at all. Doug visits her once a week, sometimes once a month. He is the only one. He never found out why she broke down in church and screamed until her vocal cords were so damaged they could not make any more sounds for a long time. He still does not know what turned her into a vegetable on that particular, sunny Sunday morning.
Joe does. He knows the mirror very well. He knows it showed Tracy who she really, truly is. And that monster, that deformed, twisted thing that stared back to her from the mirror was more than she could handle. You see, contrary to what Tracy believed, the darkness that should be feared is not 'the devil'. It is the ugliness that resides in some people. It is a twisted, derailed monster that spits its venom when it talks and acts, doing damage and harm to other people. Those are the true demons to fear, not the Gods of Old, like Joe and his Master.