Excerpt from

The People Next Door

Trying out a new job at Luna College, Kurt Gillis has moved his family to a house on the New Jersey shore. During the rental process, Kurt learned that the owners had suffered a tragedy, something to do with their only child. Kurt doesn't know the details. While he's out shopping, his wife Debra, left alone with their toddler, Drew, receives a visitor.

A middle-aged woman in a flowered dress stood on the step outside. She was ash blond and slender, maybe a little too thin. She wore white button earrings and a choker of white plastic beads.

"I'm Enid Maul," the woman said. "You must be Mrs. Gillis?"

"Yes, I am." Debra stood back to admit her. "You're our landlady, right?"

The woman smiled faintly. "You could call it that. I just wanted to be sure everything's all right."

"It seems to be. It's all so nice and clean. I was just putting our stuff in the refrigerator."

"If you need anything, or have any questions, give me a call. Here's my number." She handed Debra a piece of paper with a telephone number on it. "Is your husband here?"

"No, he went out to get some beer for the movers."

The woman's eyes traveled almost unwillingly to Drew. Her lips tightened and she quickly looked away.

"Well, if you need anything. . . ." She started down the steps.

"Thank you," Debra called after her. "It was nice to meet you."

Mrs. Maul got into her car and drove on out to the street.

It had been an odd encounter, Debra thought. So brief. Maybe she had to get somewhere in a hurry.

But the way she had looked at Drew. . . . It was downright hostile. How could any woman look at a baby that way?

And what had happened to her own child? Was it the ocean? The traffic?

There were so many things. Life was so fragile.

Debra shuddered as something dark seemed to pass over her. She snatched up Drew and, unmindful of his protests, held him tightly.

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