“Alice Through the Plastic Sheet” by Robert Shearman
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012
Alan and Alice are a tightly wound couple living in a nice neighborhood. Their next-door neighbors are the kind of neighbors that, once you have them, you hate to lose them. They are quiet and respectful, they keep their yard properly groomed and their conversation to the most polite levels of shallowness and brevity. It’s not hard to live next door to people like that.
Unfortunately for Alan and Alice, the neighbors are moving, and the family that takes their place is the antithesis of everything that was good about the people they’ve replaced. They are mysterious and noisy, and they quickly begin to drive Alice to distraction. She insists one night that Alan go over to intervene, and what he finds is that the people who live next door are nothing like anything they’ve ever encountered.
From that point on, these new neighbors seem hell-bent on torturing Alan and Alice. The play Christmas carols all hours of the day, sometimes the same song on an endless, maddening loop, and always at ear-busting volume. As they unpack their belongings they toss cardboard boxes and styrofoam pieces out into their yard, where it drifts into Alan and Alice’s place like snow.
The stress of the situation quickly crumbles the careful routine that Alan and Alice (and their son and dog) have always lived by. The stress causes fractures in their marriage and at Alan’s job; and the fact that the police seem to take pure joy in ignoring their complaints only worsens the situation.
Robert Shearman’s story is at times an achingly real examination of the strains and breaks that can occur in the wake of the slightest shift in a relationship, whether it’s between neighbors or between spouses. At other times it’s a surreal, nightmarish narrative with its own twisted, borderline insane logic. Are the neighbors real, or are they some sort of manifestation of the pressure that Alan and Alice feel to keep up what is clearly a facade of a partnership? Are their actions justified, or the acts of people who’d crossed the line of sanity long ago and are just now realizing it? I know what I think, but the beauty of a story like this is that you might thing something completely different, and yet we both could be absolutely right.