Nothing was done about the intruder. Though they never came back, Eli couldn’t help feeling like it was being swept under the rug.
Anyone he asked for a clue into who had done it just told him there is no vandalism in the community.
A sense of foreboding hung over Eli’s head since the break in. Every night he came home and he just knew someone would be in his house.
It took him several nights of searching every room, only to find them completely void of life, before he the feeling would lessen, though it would never truly leave.
Still, with the apparent lack of vandalism, the window on his front door was busted and he was tight on cash.
So, for now, there was piece of cardboard in place, to keep the outside separate from the inside.
As usual, neighbor after neighbor informed him of how this broke the rules. Ms.
Brown was the first, and though Eli could tell that she was disgusted by the lack of order, she was keeping her cool.
She told him that it was against the rules, but if he was quick they could look past it.
The next neighbor, was the first one he had met. She introduced herself this time. Her name was Mrs.
Turner, and she was there to tell him that his terrible house was going to tear down the market value of all the whole community.
Finally, Mr. Booth told him that his sad excuse for a home was a blight on the community and he should be punished.
He was going to bring this to the community’s yearly meeting, he announced as if the words were a threat, but Eli found himself caring little.
He tried to explain to the man that someone else broke his window and that he wasn’t quite able to replace it yet. Mr. Booth didn’t care though, he left mumbling about the meeting.
Things weren’t right. Eli finally settled on that much. Gated communities could be weird and very prone to groupthink, sure, but he knew they couldn’t be this bad.
Eli found Anna’s house easily. Though it was taken care of meticulously like all of the other homes in the community, her’s had a youthful touch to it. A small, bright garden.
Touches of color peering through the windows, and the tasteful but unique mailbox, he just knew it was her.
She answered the door very quickly after he knocked, it was rule that if someone is home they must answer within ten seconds.
Eli could see the surprise in her face the moment she saw him, though he couldn’t quite place if it was the good kind.
“I need your help.” He said, breathlessly.
Anna looked him over for a moment and then scanned the surroundings outside.
“Come in.” She turned around and lead him inside.
It was a modest home, but it was very much a home.
The table and drawers had day to day items strewn on them, the pillows adorning furniture were used, and pictures of Anna’s life, family, and friends were scattered,
artistically along the walls. This was a place that Eli wished he could emulate in his on house, but the community left him feeling a stranger there.
“You need to try harder to follow the rules.” Anna finally spoke from where she was perched on the edge of the kitchen table. “They're getting impatient.”
“They were impatient from the start.” Eli wanted to scream, but he held his temper. “Somebody even broke into my house the other week.”
“You have to understand, these people are set in their ways and this community is here exactly for that.” The girl said. “I got this house through bank foreclosure, that they somehow missed.
So, I was on the outside, too. Though, they’ve pretty much all forgotten about me now that you’re here.”
“It’s not fair.” He finally settled on the response. “My grandfather left the house and they just want me to leave.”
Anna lowered herself off of her seat and walked up to Eli, standing confidently for what she would say next.
“You have three options, Eli.” She looked him straight in the eye. “You can leave and forget you’ve ever seen this place. You can stay and follow every rule to a 't'.
Or, you can continue doing what you are and they will act.”
Eli scanned her face, looking for the hint of a smile that meant she was joking, but there was only a deadly seriousness. Her face was statuesque in the wake of her proposal.
“What do you suggest?” His voice came out quiet and meek.
The words caused Anna to take a step back and cut their eye contact.
“The community meeting is only a few weeks away.” She said, and her words were now less confidant. “I'm not sure you can turn it around and gain their approval, now.”
He could see something break in her, Anna was no longer steadfast and capable. This place was as toxic to her as it had been treating him.
“Let’s go.” Eli’s words grew in urgency. “We can leave this place behind. Together.”
For moment, only a short second, Eli saw hope enter the girl’s eyes. He was certain she would say yes. But, her face fell and with it that glimmer.
“I can’t. This place has grown too much a part of me.”
Without words, Eli crossed her home and stood at her front door, gazing outside. Meandering by were a few pedestrians, assuredly getting some fresh air and exercise, but Eli knew the truth.
They were keeping tabs on him.
Anna followed Eli and watched him as he tried to formulate his goodbye.
“I’m going to stay.” The words finally came out. “I’ll follow the rules.”
The girl pursed her lips and and gave a small shake of her head.
“I hope you can pull it off.” She answered tightly. “Honestly.”
“Well, I can’t just leave ya behind.” He said, with a forced chuckle.
Anna’s face softened and for a fraction of a moment, Eli saw that glimmer, but she quickly hid it away. He was growing attached to that glimmer.
But, she didn’t say anything back, instead swallowing hard and giving a nod of the head, then gesture to the door.
He didn’t need to be told twice. Eli left into the brisk autumn air, trying not to look at any of those who just “happened” to be walking by.
The world seemed to hate Eli, but Anna made it bearable. She dropped off an in depth list of the rules he would have to follow, and he vowed he would do so. And, he meant it, surprisingly.
Never had he had such a single minded determination.
Still, the misters and misses of the community didn’t make it easy on him. Someone remarked to him that the window he replace on his door caused a glare when outsiders looked at it.
Another told him that it was insulting that he locked his door when he left for work.
Even one person came to his house to tell him that he should put more effort into this attire if he was to be a reflection of this community.
He was growing more and more offended as time went on, but Eli knew that Anna did it, he could.
They met for weeks, spending time not just on teaching him rules, but just for the fun of it. He found at they had a similar taste in cheesy, action movies.
They both wanted to travel to Germany for Oktoberfest. She had the same goal to try every cheese the world had to offer as he did.
Eli found himself cursing and thanking the community for all of its actions in his life.
But, even though Anna had set him on being a community member and contributing, he wasn’t just going to become unquestioning.
Whenever Eli asked Anna about the community’s roots, she’d tell him she wasn’t sure or insisted that it was just like any other small, rural town.
Eli didn’t believe her, so he took to those neighbors that were still on a semi-friendly basis with him.
Finally after the question dodging, Eli set out, a week before the community meeting, to the local library.
It was a tiny, red brick building set in the center of the nearby town, side by side with the post office and grocery store. He had to know what it was about this place.
Why was it so constricting? When had it started?
The mousy librarian that sat deep behind the main desk greeted Eli as he walked into the tiny library. She was obviously more a piece of the establishment than an employee.
And, with one look, he could tell that she it been awhile that she had someone new in here looking around, as she perked up and asked him if he could use any help,
and to her astonishment he said yes.
“Do you have anything on local history?” Eli asked, hoping to keep his answers as vague as possible.
The lady watched with piercing blue eyes over her half-moon eyeglasses, waiting for more detail. Something curled up in anxiety in Eli’s core.
“We have small, piece on the town here.”
“Anything on the area just to the east, there?” He asked, treading farther and farther from his intended secrecy. “Like maybe the gated communities over there?”
The librarian didn’t answer for a long moment. Though she was mousy at first, Eli had found that he felt more like prey under her scrutiny.
“We have little information on them.” She said the words, but they carried a different meaning. “Do you have something particular you’d like to know?”
Eli thought on the question for a second, determining exactly what it is he’s trying to find.
If he had only one question to find as much as he could about the place he now called home, what would he ask?
“Well, I live over in one of the communities. A particularly...” His words drifted, then he caught himself. “Odd one.
The woman behind the desk studied Eli, without moving.
He could tell that there was something about the community that terrified the people even out in the town, but he just couldn’t wrestle the information from them.
They were as unwilling to talk about the place as the residents.
“Which one is that?” The words were quiet, but they were the only sound in the place.
Eli gave an uncomfortable chuckle.
“I think you know which one.” He said, waiting for a response. A yes, no, a nod, anything, but the lady only continued to stare at Eli, expecting him to continue.
“Well, I guess, I just wanted to know. Why was the place started?”
Then the two watched each other in a silent atmosphere thick in implications.
“Why is it that any community is ever created?” The woman answered his question with her own. “But, to keep unwanted people out.”