December 13, 2018 - 8:15 A.M.

It wasn't the fourth of anything, certainly not July. Snow sparkled on every surface, lending magical stillness to the generally tranquil Willow Way Circle, a subdivision of Fairville, Illinois. Every lacy flake had yet to be disturbed by shovel, blower, or plow. Only Dulcie's boot prints on her back porch marred the perfect whiteness, and she was carefully retracing her steps to go back inside.

  A whistle and pop split the early morning silence.

"Are you kidding me?" Dulcie whispered, breath fogging before her clenched teeth. Did he have to ruin such serenity?

Sure enough, another explosion disrupted her peace. What was the point of shooting off bottle rockets during daylight? After the third whiz and bang, rage made her roar, "It's not July!" loud enough for all of her few neighbors to hear.

She stomped snow onto the welcome mat and slammed the backdoor behind her. Mr. Boom Boom couldn't see her from his vantage point across the road, but after months of aggravation, she scarcely cared what he thought anymore.

Willow Way Circle had provided a quiet refuge when she moved in a decade before. Although less than a mile from town, its four houses at the end of a wooded lane felt isolated and rustic. Folks out here mostly kept to themselves, but their newest neighbor was managing to make everyone miserable. Another dozen screeches and bangs assured Dulcie he didn't care what she thought of him either.

January 1, 2019 - Midnight

Wrapped in a fleece blanket and nibbling caramel corn, Dulcie was watching Ryan Seacrest do his annual New Year's Eve gig at Times Square on TV. As midnight struck across her time zone, she heard cars honking and faint hollering beyond the trees towards town. Mr. Boom Boom had been setting off cherry bombs intermittently for over an hour. Now he unleashed a deafening barrage that, no doubt, included Roman candles and other heavy explosives illegal in Illinois and dangerous to all. Dulcie hoped his festive spirit and armaments supply dwindled soon so she could get some sleep. With her luck, he'd set her house on fire.

A trio of slightly different cracks and thuds rent the night. Dulcie's lights surged, flickered, and went out as her computer whined a declining death knell. She flinched and sunk lower into the sofa cushions, shocked yet resigned.

Holding her breath and scared to move in the dark, she shivered as the house rapidly cooled. The last time she'd checked, it was only 17 degrees outside.

She got up cautiously and shuffled over to peek out of one of her front windows. What to her wondering eyes should appear but a powerline snaking upon the ground! Sparks like orange fireflies flitted above it against dingy curbside snow.

Dulcie fumbled for a flashlight, tied her warmest robe over her Snoopy pajamas, and tried not to panic at the prospect of a night without heat. As she reached for her phone, red and blue police car lights strobed up the road. To her relief, a power company truck with a cherry picker followed.

Martha, an elderly neighbor, was talking with a cop and gesturing toward Boom Boom's house. What a relief Dulcie wouldn't have to call for help or go outside to answer questions. Martha looked adorable in a white wool coat with red pompon beret, mittens, and scarf. Her house was the first built on Willow Way Circle, and she'd lived there alone since her husband's death.

Lighting candles for warmth and light, Dulcie worked a crossword puzzle and gazed outside from time to time. Two police officers knocked and entered Boom Boom's house, but they emerged minutes later without him. Dulcie suspected he'd shot down the wire in his drunken zeal. Unfortunately, firing guns on New Year's Eve remained popular with some despite efforts to discourage it.

Maybe Boom Boom held permits for his guns and pled it was an accident. Perhaps one of his pyrotechnics inadvertently did the deed. If the cops didn't blame him, it might have been someone else, she supposed. Then again, the power line could have snapped on its own, although there'd been no ice storm or strong wind.

After about forty minutes of linemen working in the cold, Dulcie's lights, TV, and furnace revived. Both vehicles left, and Boom Boom's house remained dark, so there was nothing else to see. As Dulcie slipped between her freezing sheets, the only sound was her brief grumbling that dissolved swiftly into snores.

February 2, 2019 - 2:50 P.M.

On an unbelievably warm winter afternoon, Dulcie was struggling with her dissertation. She'd finished outlining two of the seven deadly sins as they related to Edgar Allan Poe's body of work, but she couldn't find enough gluttony to equal what she'd presented on lust and greed. Should she scrap the whole idea? Her brow furrowed as she pored over many a quaint and curious volume of Poe's macabre genius. But a familiar racket broke her concentration.

Peeved and out of patience, Dulcie tore open her front door and spied her thoughtless neighbor shirtless on his balcony. Boom Boom had the body of a god, but unfortunately for her, it was Buddha. He slurped from a Stag beer can and burped loudly enough to scatter squirrels. The gray hairs sprinkled across his saggy chest plus greasy sweat glistening on his bald head repulsed her.

  "Excuse me," she said, leaning out and waving with a forced smile. "I'm doing some important writing. Would you please skip the fireworks today?"

  Mr. Boom Boom gazed down on her like a disdainful despot challenged by a peon. "I dunno what yer talkin' about, missy," he drawled.

  "Well," she said, clinging to her last shreds of tact, "I keep finding sticks from bottle rockets in my yard, and they seem to come from your direction. Didn't you set something off just now?"

  "Nope, wasn't me." He smacked his lips, setting them in a firm line she suspected could be dangerous to cross. They stared silently at each other.

"Oh...well, okay then," she said reluctantly. "Enjoy the weather."

"Sure am enjoying the view," he said, looking her up and down with the obvious lechery only the base can master or dare.

Dulcie dropped her eyes to scan what she was wearing: loose jeans and an ancient Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt. Nothing to fan the flames of passion. She flushed, first from remote and inexplicable guilt, then with fury for letting him rattle her.

"Damn nice for Groundhog Day," he added, as if sensing her discomfort and wanting to seem as if he'd innocently been discussing their surroundings.

Dulcie retracted into her doorway before he could expound on the flimsy holiday of woodchucks and their shadows. She'd just have to ignore him, maybe put on some headphones to work.

They didn't help as he proceeded to make even more noise than before. The tension in her neck and shoulders was inviting a headache. As she scanned a passage from "The Cask of Amontillado," she wondered if wine counted in gluttony. Why must she suffer such a fool with no convenient catacomb to seal him in?

Through her open side window, Dulcie noticed Martha walking her white dog Quinn. Dulcie called out to her, but Martha's hearing got worse each year. Still, Dulcie enjoyed her company and was glad she wasn't the only woman out there.

One other family dwelled on the Circle, the ever-expanding, redheaded Kincaid clan. With seven kids and one on the way, they owned the largest, nicest house but spent the least time in it. When school let out each year, they packed up and headed to their summer house on the Lake of the Ozarks.

April 9, 2019 - 3:20 A.M.

Trying to cure her insomnia, Dulcie had been playing Mah Jong since two in the morning. The pop of a firecracker surprised her because Mr. Boom Boom usually had the decency to cut it out before midnight. The next sound gave her chills and would echo in her nightmares.

A high-pitched yelp gave way to whimpering, the unmistakable cries of a dog in pain. Dulcie bolted to the front door and saw a pathetic form slinking toward Martha's house. Even in the moonlight, she knew its wet trail must be blood.

"What in the hell!" she gasped, running to the wounded creature. It was Quinn, Martha's prized white Spitz, a dog loved as much as any child. His eyes looked terrified yet determined as he tried to drag his hindquarters home.

Dulcie rushed back inside to grab an old blanket and wrapped the tremulous creature so it wouldn't hurt itself by moving. She rang Martha's doorbell and pounded hard, noticing the little doggy door. So that's why Quinn was out so late.

Martha answered after several minutes of clatter, wailing and nearly fainting when she saw Quinn was hurt. Blood seeped through the blanket near the dog's tail, but Dulcie tried to hide it as she carried him to her car. Rearranging the blanket for better absorbency, she wrapped him up for Martha to hold and sped them to the only 24-hour animal hospital in Fairville.

When Dulcie took her cat Helix there, Dr. Palmer never displayed emotion. "The injuries were caused by an explosion," he said with barely controlled outrage. "We can save his life, but there's extensive internal damage and hemorrhaging. He'll need a colostomy and maybe never walk again unassisted."

Dulcie's midnight snack of chips and salsa churned toward her throat. She gasped, sorry Martha had to hear the grim details. The frail, silver-haired woman stared ahead as though too sad to ever speak again.

The sun was up by the time the doctor emerged to say the operation went better than expected. Quinn should be able to bear weight on his left rear leg and get around with a limp.

"If you'd like to file a report, we can call the Humane Society and get an officer over here to take a statement."

Dulcie had been ruminating on the coincidence of Martha speaking to the cops on New Year's Eve before they questioned Boom Boom. People with a grudge had been known to take it out on others' pet.

"Not necessary," Martha said between sniffles. Dulcie wanted to challenge her, but the sweet lady was clearly at the edge of her wits.

As the doctor stepped away, Dulcie followed him to ask a question, fearing the answer. "How...exactly...did Quinn get hurt?"

"It's something I'd hoped to never see," Dr. Palmer said with a heavy sigh. "But my father told me city kids where he grew up used to pull vicious stunts. One of his classmates put a firecracker in a kitten's rectum and lit it just so they could watch the poor thing run until the fuse burned down. It didn't survive, given its small size, but luckily Quinn is still with us."

"How cruel!" Dulcie winced. It stirred a memory of one Halloween from her childhood when a beagle was skinned and left on Main Street in her hick hometown. It remained there long enough for all the kids on the school bus to get an eyeful of depravity. She barely made it to the restroom before the chips and salsa exited her gullet.

July 4, 2019 - 8:30 P.M.

It was the one night Mr. Boom Boom ought to have seemed less obnoxious, his obsession momentarily the norm. All day he'd popped off rat-a-tat-tat firework bursts and burned those ashy snakes that stain sidewalks black till the next rain.

When Dulcie wandered out into the humid twilight, he was on the balcony in only camouflage shorts and flip flops. He held a pair of lit sparklers and was drunkenly humming some patriotic tune..

"Hey there, lil' lady." He leaned over the rail, leering. "What's doin'?"

Dulcie didn't look up. "Thought I'd see if anyone has a cool display."

"Well, y'know I'm gonna," he said smugly.

"Of course." She dragged a lawn chair across concrete to drown him out, sitting in the middle of her driveway where the trees least obscured the view.

Boom Boom tried to converse between his pyrotechnic preparations, but Dulcie kept her responses minimal. When she saw Martha coming down her front porch steps, she eagerly waved her over. Fetching another lawn chair, she insisted Martha take a seat at her side.

"I gave Quinn a sedative from Dr. Palmer," Martha said. "Since the, um, accident he's scared of loud noises. Guess most pets dread this holiday."

"Usually," Dulcie said. "Helix cowers under the couch till it's over." The women shared a light laugh, and Dulcie was about to ask about Quinn's health and whether Martha had any suspicion as to what had happened to him. Boom Boom might overhear, though, and why risk ruining the older woman's fun?

"Not much longer till the Kincaids return," Martha said. "School starts earlier every year."

"Sure does. Think they'll have the baby by August?"

"More'n likely already did."

"Oh, that's right, she was due in late June. That brings our Willow Way population to 13."

  "Once the baby's talking, we could start a coven," Martha said with a wink.

Dulcie laughed hard at that. She never knew what to expect from this charming lady, but she'd grown to love her like a grandmother.

As the sky darkened, more and more glittering displays, shrill shrieks and thunderous echoes surrounded them. Boom Boom had come down to set up an inferno on his lawn.

"Ladies, have I gotta show fer you," he slurred, doing a creepy stripper dance move. They both glanced away. Having meticulously arranged his projectiles while finishing off a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon, he set it on the ground, stuck a red-sticked rocket inside, and lit the fuse.

Nothing happened. He paced away, looking at it with suspicion then annoyance. Sighing and shrugging, he walked back to tap the side. Nothing. "Well, shee-it!" he said, bending to pick it up.

The squeal of its late ignition was drowned by his roar as it drilled into his left eye. With a stifled pop, the gunpowder exploded inside his skull. The Buddha belly protruded from the grass, shaking like jello during his death spasms.

Martha screamed and started to get up, babbling about dialing 911. Dulcie latched onto her arm and said, "Wait."

Boom Boom stopped moving and moaning. Dulcie could tell from the crater where his face had been that he was on mute for good. A friendlier neighbor might have attempted CPR or called for help, but he'd worn out his welcome long ago.

The red wooden stick nestled amid his matted chest hair, reminding her of hundreds of the blasted things she'd retrieved from her grass, maybe while he watched her bending over. No, she wouldn't miss the bastard, and she wasn't sorry he was dead.

  Martha looked at her with shocked, uncomprehending eyes

  Dulcie gently shook her head and said, "Don't cry over him. He wouldn't have called a doctor for your dog. Speaking of which, we ought to check on Quinn before we call to report this."

  All around them was a spirited cacophany of explosions and gorgeous rainbow of sparks. "Happy Independence Day," Martha said with a shy smile.

January 03, 2020 03:01

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


William Webster
21:52 Jan 08, 2020

Nice job!


Crystabel Lynx
16:24 Jan 10, 2020

Thank you!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Sarah Paris
21:20 Jan 06, 2020

A bit long, but a truly nice story! Good job!


Crystabel Lynx
04:40 Jan 07, 2020

Thank you! I'm revising it to make it a touch more Gothic and pare it down further for impact.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Crystabel Lynx
03:09 Jan 03, 2020

Sorry some of the indenting got messed up. Welcome to each and all! This is my first submission to Reedsy, so please be gentle. No, wait, we learn by being exposed to harsh truths, right? But try to be nice, okay? I'm a little conflicted. Happy New Year to all!!!


Jannatul Jui
20:50 Jan 06, 2020

It was amazing, i liked it.


Crystabel Lynx
04:41 Jan 07, 2020

Thank you, Jannatul!!!


Jannatul Jui
11:03 Jan 07, 2020

You're welcome.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.