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  • Route 7 Review

Neighbors by Babak Movahed

Babak Movahed received both a Bachelor and Master’s degree in American Literature. He defined the type of writer he wanted to become by examining the prose of writers like Hemingway, Faulkner, and Baldwin. Additionally, he received his first publication credit after an original short story was published by his university’s literary magazine. Babak still writes creatively in his free time. His recent works have been published in the The Hungry Chimera, The Blue Mountain Review, Hamilton Stone Review, Allium, Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine, Blue as an Orange, and Table/FEAST.


It was a Tuesday, and like every Tuesday for the past 124 Tuesdays, Phil Larsen watered the

small yard in front of his unit. The gardener of the complex did this task every Friday, but Phil

didn’t trust the gardener’s work because Phil didn’t trust the gardener. She never expressed her

suspicions, but the landlord assumed Phil’s need to do the gardener’s job had something to do

with either a love of gardening or racism. The gardener was Salvadorian, and Phil was a 76-year-

old white man. Phil Larsen didn’t care for gardening, nor was he a racist.

The landlord was descending the steps leading to the two units on the bottom floor of the

complex. The unit directly next to Phil’s had been empty for some time, and despite the

landlord’s efforts, she couldn’t find a suitable or willing renter. Phil heard the landlord talking to

someone. He wanted desperately to avoid eye contact and the subsequent pleasantry of “hi,

how’s it going?” Phil shuffled behind the large oak tree nestled in the center of the yard to give

the façade of watering some hidden away shrub.

Despite his effort, the landlord shouted, “Hey Phil, come meet these prospective neighbors.”

Phil’s throat swelled up and his palms became sweaty. Who are these people? Why are they

looking at this complex of all places? Oh God! Maybe they’re thieves looking for a low security

apartment to rob! Phil was so absorbed in his paranoid speculation he didn’t notice the out

stretched hand of the young man. He was some kind of Middle Eastern, presumably given his

thick beard and dark features. The Middle Eastern was accompanied with what Phil determined

to be his girlfriend, a fair skinned white woman with bright red hair. A cascade of judgmental

thoughts poured through Phil’s mind as he reached out to shake the Middle Eastern’s hand. He

didn’t introduce his name though; it was too soon for that. The landlord and the couple walked

into the empty unit, and Phil distinctly noticed a smirk, grin, or sly smile come across the Middle

Eastern’s face as he closed the door.

Moving day, and of course, the young couple had too many things and too many people helping

them move. There were people coming and going across Phil’s yard for hours. He wasn’t able to

go out and water, which deeply irritated him. The young couple seemed louder too. Phil was able

to hear their hushed conversations through their shared wall. He couldn’t make out what they

were saying, but he was sure it was nothing good, and even guessed that they were talking about

him. Phil thought there was something concerning in the way that man looked at him. It felt like

he was eyeing me down, trying to get into my head.

As Phil was tapping the side of his head with his index finger, there came a knock at his door.

The air was still, and the echo of the knock resounded throughout Phil’s apartment.

The terrifying realization occurred that perhaps the young couple had been eavesdropping on

Phil. Rational thinking dictated that this was a ludicrous belief given that Phil was not saying

anything aloud to be eavesdropped upon. However, Phil’s neurosis was getting the best of him,

and although it didn’t overtake his entire mind, it did enough to make Phil sweat profusely.

There was a second round of knocking at the door, which stirred Phil back to the reality of the

situation. I have to answer the door, but if I don’t maybe they’ll just go away, Phil persuaded

himself. Unfortunately, he mechanically stepped to the door and swung it open with his best

attempt at a welcoming smile.

“Hi! My name is Renee. You probably remember my boyfriend and I from last week. Clearly,

we fell in love with this complex, which is why we wanted to move in as soon as possible.

Annette told us that you help upkeep the garden. It looks great, again so much so, it forced our

hand to move in here. I love gardening too, so if there’s anything I can do to help out, I’d be

more than happy to. I guess I’ll start off by just putting out a few potted plants on our patio to

match the vibe of the garden...”

The young lady continued to talk about planting something or the other, but Phil wasn’t totally

sure. Phil couldn’t shake the feeling that she was sizing him up, taking quick mental notes on the

details of his apartment. She must’ve memorized the layout of the couch, TV, work desk, and

who knows how much more. She’ll likely report this back to her boyfriend. Instinctively, Phil

started closing his door, but remained still in the open part of the frame.

“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to keep you! I’m just excited about moving in is all and just started

going. Anyways, I wanted to give you these cookies as a gift.”

Phil reached down and took the tray of cookies.

“Thank you.”

Every day of the week, at the beginning of every hour Phil was awake, he made some

rearrangement to his apartment. The pattern became fairly consistent after the first day; focus on

the larger items first, move them very slowly as to not make a racket, shift to smaller pieces of

furniture in the afternoons, and spend the evening moving small items and decorations.

Phil was meticulous about the process, but never the placement of the items. On his first go at

strategic decorating (a term Phil coined to relay both the action and its purpose; this was not for

pleasure, but for protection) Phil essentially flipped his entire apartment. The result was

impressive for an elderly gentleman. Although initially elated, Phil noticed an obvious flaw in

his design. Those young hoodlums have already found out that I was going to shift things

around, Phil thought. They knew! I’m sure of it! I saw the way the girl was scheming. Pretending

to be friendly. Blabbering on about gardening to... to gain my trust. That must have been it!

Distract me and get me to trust her, only so she could case the joint. They must be planning on


Phil’s confidence in his neighbors’ “casing” abilities, forced him to be more cunning about his

rearrangement routine. The strategic decorating had to be somehow different each go. After

completing each round, Phil’s apartment became more and more of a nonsensical hodgepodge of

furniture and knickknacks. The odd assortment of objects each held a significant ulterior

meaning personal to Phil. A collectable set of state spoons Phil purchased on Flag Day. A

specific style and design of each MLB team’s baseball caps from 1983; Phil’s lucky year. His

stockpile of oddities wasn’t exactly like a hoarder’s, but Phil’s obsessive attachments and need

for personal comfort was just as concerning. His carefully curated home resembled Peewee’s

Playhouse, but with less childlike whimsy.

By the end of the evening a full week later, Phil had to shuffle around numerous obstacles (some

of which, like his collection of crystal crosses, were placed directly on the floor, a potentially

dangerous and effective booby trap) to get to his kitchen. The bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom

remained intact, mostly because there was no way those nosy neighbors were able to see into

those rooms. Phil always kept his blinds shut.

Although the strategic decorating was finished for the night, Phil had one precaution left to

finish. He stepped over to the countertop where a box of blue latex gloves was next to the tray of

cookies Renee delivered last week. The cookies were untouched with the exception of one. Phil

removed two fresh pair of gloves from the box and snapped them on as if entering an operating

room. He grabbed the half-destroyed cookie and snapped off a small piece.

“Skittles! Skittles! Come here boy!” Phil called out.

He waited a few minutes but gave up on the hope that his cat would come when it was being

called. Surprisingly, Skittles was even more distrusting than Phil. Skittles was sure that Phil was

trying to poison him. The cat was only partially correct in his assumption. Phil wanted to use

Skittles to test how poisonous the cookies must’ve been. If Skittles were to perish from the laced

cookies, his death would be on the young lady’s hands, not Phil’s. To Phil’s disappointment,

Skittles always refused to eat the piece of cookie.

After running low on daily essentials, Phil needed to restock. However, his mounting paranoia

left him feeling too vulnerable to settle with his usual three-week three-day supplies written

down on legal paper. Traditionally, Walmart would be only store he would visit. The prices were

fair, it had everything he needed, and they were sympathetic to the elderly, an opinion that made

Phil feel safer during his shopping experience. However, he needed bulk canned goods with

extended shelf lives. I’m in this for the long-haul, Phil thought to himself. There was a military

surplus store not particularly far that Phil decided to pay a visit. He stockpiled a 6-month cache

of human and cat food/toiletries (the surplus store did not have kitty litter, but Phil figured the

industrial sized bags of sand would suffice as a substitute, a sentiment that Skittles did not share).

Since replenishing his inventory, Phil had not left his apartment, not even to water his once

precious garden. The uptick in precaution occurred one evening as he was performing his daily

ritual of reconfiguring his living room. As Phil was scattering his tchotchkes in new locations, he

heard a tapping against his shared wall. He stopped what he was doing and pressed his ear

against the wall. Sure enough, there was a slight tapping. It had a persistent cadence, not overly

loud, but seemingly coming from multiple points. Phil scuttled along with his ear smashed flush

against his wall. He tried to discern its origin, but it was impossible. The closer Phil believed he

was to the mysterious sound, the faster it teleported to the other side of the wall. This cat and

mouse game repeated itself for an hour, and even then, the only reason Phil ceased his pursuit

was because his ear was in pain from being rubbed raw.

Phil backed away from the wall and in a fury, he kicked a set of commemorative Forest Gump

plates. The cheap China went flying and exploded in a flurry of ceramic shards. Phil thought the

plate pieces looked like shrapnel, a comparison he deemed apropos considering this was war.

The young couple constantly made out the faint noise of things being moved about. They figured

it was simply a kooky compulsion of the strange old man. Regardless, the never-ending hubbub

was not a bother; they just turned up the volume on their TV. This time they heard the crash and

grew concerned.

“Do you think he is OK?” Renee asked.

“Probably? He must’ve just dropped some shit on accident.”

“I don’t know. He’s old, babe. He might be hurt. Think of those Life Alert commercials. All an

old person has to do is fall and they could be really fucked. Go check up on him.”


The Middle Eastern man aggressively knocked on Phil’s door. He wanted to convey a sense of

urgency at having to check on the old man’s wellbeing. Phil did not pick up on that intention. On

contrary, Phil knew beyond a doubt that if he opened the door, he would surely be killed, or

mugged at the very least. He froze, not even taking a breath, in the hopes that the dangerous man

would assume that Skittles dropped the plates. Cats enjoy being mischievous that way. But the

Middle Eastern man knocked again, even harder this time, and shouted,

“Hey, are you alright? We heard a crash.”

Oh my God! Oh my God! Phil panicked and desperately thought, what should I do? I can’t do

nothing! That bastard will break the door down and catch me totally unprepared. His heart was

beating out his chest.


“I’m fine. Thank you,” Phil replied back.

“Alright. Just checking”

Phil tiptoed to his window, pulled back the blinds, and checked to see if the violent neighbor had

truly left. Next time, Phil thought, I’ll be ready for them.

He was done waiting for them to strike. Too much time had passed and the only discernable

changes to the vicious young couple’s behavior was that they were causing more of a racket.

There were always strangers strolling up and down the shared yard. These people were worse

than expected. Clearly, they were running some debauched drug house. It was only a matter of

time that the drug dealing couple bribe a junkie to attack Phil in exchange for an amount of drugs

equivalent to the value they placed on Phil’s life.

Phil needed to gain the upper hand. His solution was simple, lure them into a trap and use the

element of surprise to strike first. But Phil was sure that the plan would fail if he left his

sanctuary. The floor was riddled with booby-traps that would be useful if they counterattacked

and charged into his home. Phil had to draw them to his door and make his move from close

range. After some consideration, he had conceived his attack plan.

On a dull weekday evening, Phil was prepared to spring his trap. He paced impatiently back-and-

forth in his bedroom, only taking periodic breaks to listen for sounds of movement from the

devious young couple. They needed to be in their bedroom for the plot to succeed. Finally, Phil

Babak Movahed, 8

made out the noise of someone shutting a closet door. Without a moment’s hesitation, Phil

slammed a pill of books onto the floor and screamed, “Oh! Oh! My back! My back!” at the top

of his lungs.

Phase 1, right after Phil’s deception of injuring himself, the Middle Eastern man exclaimed,

“don’t worry! I’m coming over to help!” and was heard rushing out of his bedroom. The door to

his apartment was left unlocked, which would allow for the Middle Eastern man to enter right

away, something he will certainly do given his rushed effort to “save” Phil.

The young man swung open the front door and called out, “hey, where are you? Are you ok?”

“I’m in the bedroom! And ooohhhh ahhh, please hurry!”

Phase 2, Phil had turned off all the lights in his apartment. While trying to find the light switch,

the young man stepped on one of the many sharp snares Phil carefully laid down. It was a

vintage looking Snoopy ornament that immediately burst into pieces under the weight of the

young man’s foot. Although Phil was expecting to hear some of pain induced wailing, all was

quiet. He had placed his most fragile and jagged items nearest the door and along the path to the

light switch. Phil anticipated that the villain would barge in and head straight for a light, only to

be immobilized by a sharp object impaling his foot. Despite the lack of shrieks in the air, Phil

knew his window to pounce was limited.

Phase 3, Phil rushed out into the living room, carefully avoiding the litany of items on the

ground, wielding a large replica knife from the classic horror film I Know What You Did Last

Summer. He ran at the young man, who had just turned the light on (wearing sandals made

crushing the ornament a deterrent in that the young man paused for a moment out of utter


“I got you now!” Phil cried out!

Unfortunately, Phil did not account for what was to come next. Skittles had grown weary of his

owner’s efforts at poisoning him. Even worse, Phil had completely neglected tending to Skittles

needs beyond occasionally feeding him. The litter box was in disarray and Skittles hadn’t been

allowed to go out for weeks. His tiger blood pumped, and the vindictive cat lunged at Phil’s leg.

Skittles claws dug straight into Phil’s calf, which caused a lightning bolt of pain to shoot up his

body. The two former compadres proceeded to get into a skirmish. Phil swung an open palm slap

across the side of Skittles body. The impact did little to penetrate Skittle’s dense coat curtesy of

his Persian ancestry. However, this was the first time Phil had ever raised a hand to him, which

caused Skittles to release his leg more out of confusion than pain. The two locked eyes for a split

second that seemed an hour before their silent stare down was broken by Skittle’s fierce shriek.

The rogue and vengeful cat dove once again and bit into his owner’s thigh. Phil cursed out from

the excruciating pain and stumbled back. He tripped onto one of the crystal crosses, and to Phil’s

dismay, he was not wearing any shoes.

The cross impaled Phil’s foot. He fell backward, crashing on top of numerous other household

possessions. Phil was falling into unconsciousness from the agonizing pain. But before his mind

plunged into that black abyss, he distinctly remembered the young man staring down at him with

a diabolic grin, like he had intended for this to happen all along.

Phil’s eyelid flickered open ever so slightly with the stubborn determination of survival found in

wild animals before they fall prey to a predator. Through waning vision and subdued hearing, he

was able to make out a form crossing his doorway. Phil forced his eyes open just long enough to

see the treacherous middle eastern and his conniving concubine hovering over his fading body.

Phil fainted right before a brief exchange.

“He’s really hurt Renee. I mean that foot is just pouring out blood. I think he might bleed out.”

“Oh babe! We finally got him. That was easier than we thought it would be.”


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