Chantelle was excellent at her job. And as such, she quickly shifted through her reports to find the most series infractions first. When she came upon Anthony’s report on the Muiller residence, Chantelle groaned.
The Riverside Homeowner’s Association had long been trying to acquire the deed to the Muiller property. Riverside was crowded and the only room left to build on was the various properties owned by private individuals. But private people tended to be stubborn and hard to contact. The Riverside-HOA was quite desperate to get Muiller’s deed as it would open up a lot of gates for the business. And the boss had given this ugly project to Chantelle to babysit. Because that is what she did.
It was Chantelle’s responsibility to bother Mr. Muiller about selling the place while checking the properties edges for infractions that would force Muiller to foreclose. Initially, Chantelle had been energetic to be charming and persuasive enough to win the day. But after four months of nothing, Chantelle ended up passing the job onto one of her associates. Diplomacy didn’t matter at this point anyway. Just persistence. And a lackey could do that.
But lately, Anthony’s reports were filled with outlandish remarks of bulldozers, large scale engine shipments, and massive amounts of rock being stored up. Chantelle always made the half hour trip to see the residence for herself and never observed anything that would suggest a large scale building project. Mr. Muiller always laughed at her accusations, which made her yell at Anthony. But Anthony never stopped sending in reports full of lies, clearly to get attention.
So when Chantelle received this newest report she did something she swore she would never do. Chantelle scanned the words without really reading them and moved on, finally deciding to get a new assistant. She raised her eyebrows at the word “fire” and knew it was a hoax. Chantelle would have heard if there had been a fire on the Muiller residence.
It was the only laziness Chantelle had ever committed in her long line of paperwork. And it would be her last.
A month later Chantelle ran into the heat of her small mistake. Being called into the boss’s office was always nerve-wracking. Was it going to be pleasure or punishment, joy or fear, celebration or fire? But today there was only her boss and a remote. Once seated, he clicked the “on” button and a screen flashed on to reveal a news report. He let her watch it, then turned it off. He said nothing and nothing needed to be said. The reporter had said it all.
Chantelle left the office more astounded than remorseful. Mr. Muiller was clearly more sophisticated than he let on. Chantelle decided to see the crime for herself because she could not quite believe it.
She made the drive in a record twenty minutes and found the quiet neighborhood full of vehicles and hordes of crowds. It was like a festival had come to town. The streets were full and sadly the yards held parked trucks as well, digging ugly ditches into all the yards. Chantelle had to backtrack for ten minutes before she found a suitable parking space and joined the wave moving towards the spectacle.
It was hard to see anything at first and so Chantelle straightened her blouse and whipped out her identification card. She began to shoulder her way through the crowd flashing her badge at everyone. Her voice was full of authority and so the masses cleared out with barely a glimpse at her key card to the office.
It felt good to use her power one last time before having to turn in her equipment, but Chantelle’s mood turned dour when she reached Muiller’s fence. The fence itself was a disaster of rotting wood and mold but one but Chantelle noticed the trash. It was always this way. Chantelle had an eye for beauty and had taken the HOA job to help keep her neighborhood pristine.
But Mr. Muiller had ruined that dream. Chantelle drug her eyes up and beheld a sight more belonging to a fantasy novel than real life. For there was now a moat fifty feet onto the property that was clearly visible to all, even through the trees, because it was a moat filled with burning rocks. Mr. Muiller had built a lava moat.
Chantelle didn’t know how, but she suspected it had something to do with the large stacks of smoke reaching towards the heavens from the center of the property. Taken all together, Chantelle almost decided it was a thing of beauty. But it was more like the beauty of a firework. Quick, expensive, and dangerous. This was not a thing that could last and there were already quite a few law enforcement on the premises. They would arrest Mr. Muiller for endangerment of the public, the purchase of illegal weapons, or even for simply not officially filling out the proper permit paperwork.
Of course, they had to get to him first. A lava moat is used in games as the ultimate protection for a reason. Would they order a crane for policemen to climb across? Would they attempt to bring in trucks of water to put the fire out? Would a smart technician find a way to cut the power? Or would they have to simply wait for a helicopter to fly them all in? At this point, Chantelle wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Muiller had rockets on his back porch. Clearly, anything really was possible.
And Chantelle laughed at the absurdity of it all. She lost herself in that laugh and thanked Muiller for that simple joy. He really was the worst neighbor, but Chantelle couldn’t help but love him as one would love a cranky old man with his quirky habits. Perhaps, Chantelle needed to worry less about being a good neighbor and keeping her yard spotless. She committed to not worry if her grass was cut to the ideal length so she could lay in the softness of it one day.
Chantelle watched the slow river and felt the warmth from the road. She decided it was beautiful because it had touched her spirit. After all, beauty was joy felt through seeing. And what could be more joyful than a lava moat?
Photo by Zoltan Tasi