Have you ever noticed that almost every other street in your neighborhood has a sign signifying that there is an active Neighborhood Watch in that area? For those who don’t know what the Neighborhood Watch is, it’s a collaborative effort by the residents to act as a sort of guard, protecting those who live next door and down the street. If anything were to be suspicious, the police would be notified, and an officer would come down to investigate. Mostly, it’s just false alarms, like a neighbor's dog knocking down a trashcan that made someone think a burglar was outside. Lame, I know, but it provides the community with a sense of security.

The signs are standard traffic dimensions, sometimes smaller, that hang attached to lamp posts or whatever can be in public view next to the street. It features a seemingly sinister figure, its silhouette covered by the red “cross out” marker, and below it details the mission and the course of action the Neighborhood Watch will pursue if an unwelcome guest were to cause a disturbance. Unfortunately, little to no action that required the Neighborhood Watch to act ever happened. So jittery reports of, what they viewed as, suspicious behavior dropped to one or two calls a week, compared to the previous record of three or five. That is when tragedy struck.

Mr. Phillips was an elderly neighbor who lived up the street with his wife, Edna Phillips. One night, a burglar had broken in and entered through their living room. Despite his old age, his status as a military veteran sprung Mr. Phillips into action. He came downstairs, armed with a baseball bat, and approached the unwelcome visitor. Shocked, the visitor shot Mr. Phillips, and stole whatever he could before the cops arrived. Mr. Phillips didn’t make it. The bullet had entered his body and passed through his liver. Despite the efforts of the surgeons that tried desperately to save him, nothing could be done.

Mr. Phillips was a friend to everyone in the neighborhood, and we all attended his funeral. Edna decided to not bury him in Arlington National Cemetery, despite his veteran status. Instead, she had him buried at the local cemetery, in the lot they previously purchased for when they would be interned there. The service was nice and the reception had a lot of food, so I was a little more cheered up. As we watched his casket being lowered into the ground, Edna had tossed in some of his mementos, such as patches from his service or a rose. As we left, Edna remained; alone. She was stoic throughout the whole ordeal, and I assumed she was about to release the dam of tears she was holding back. I watched from our car, curious as to why she still watched the casket. It all seemed…strange. She seemed to be saying something, and a dark liquid dripped from her hands. I couldn’t see more, as our car passed a thicket, obstructing my view.

When we arrived home, my parents left their front porch light on, as did everyone else on the street, as a vigil for Edna and the late Mr. Phillips. We ate, as usual, and tried to avoid the subject of Mr. Phillips’ passing. Alas, we couldn’t. Death became the subject of the night; its implications, its cause, its effect on loved ones. It became late, and I went upstairs to go to bed. My bedroom provides a view of the street below, interrupted by a street lamp that sits directly in the middle of my window view. As I dressed for bed, I heard a whining noise. Not a noise like an animal, but a mechanical whine, like a car with bad brakes. I looked to see a station wagon, the driver’s face and form obscured by black cloth and shadow. He or she, no, it had to be a man, his gait and stride was too heavy for a woman. Walking in the direction of Edna’s house, he approached cautiously, thrown off by the front porches now ablaze with electric light. With the last police guard having left days before, Edna was now vulnerable, and he knew it. I wanted to run to my parents, to scream, to yell. But my mind flashed me memories of how Mr. Phillips had been killed by this man, this monster who would prey on a recent widow and I froze. An old, defenseless, widow, who was suffering from arthritis in her hips and showing early signs of dementia; at least that’s what my dad said. Fear conquered my thoughts, drawing back to the dinner conversation I had with my parents.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sudden flicker of light, as all the lights that I could see dimmed temporarily and regained their previous brightness. A scream, one that still chills me, pierced the air and I saw the man who robbed the Phillips’ and attempted to tonight fly with extreme force into the windshield of the station wagon he had arrived in. Shattering the glass, he sat, as if dazed or dizzy. I assumed he was regaining his vision before fleeing. But he just sat there, unmoving. I realized the dark liquid pooling beneath his car wasn’t brake fluid or gas, but his blood.

When the body was reported the next day, the story the police speculated was that he was discovered trespassing and confronted, in which he attacked the defender. A brawl ensued, and the perpetrator lost his footing and was slammed hard into the windshield, giving him several broken ribs and lacerations due to glass. No one knew who the defender was, and no one claimed to be or place the honor on another. Later, we found out who the defender was. It was Edna. It was revealed to the neighborhood during a resident’s meeting by Edna. She told us, in a shaky, old voice, that she came from a long line of witches, and the blood of the witch was just as strong in her as it was in the first of her line. When she had married Mr. Phillips, she explained, it seemed as though his charm and wit strengthened her ability. She summoned creatures; beings with which she had do her bidding. She was skilled enough that she could essentially make a double of herself. One neighbor, Mr. Scott, scoffed and arose to leave. As he opened the door, there stood Edna, blocking his path. Several gasps came to breath, and many heads swiveled back and forth to try and look past this seeming illusion. When nothing cleared the air occupied by the Edna Mr. Scott stopped before, everyone seemed to calm. Concerned, of course, but the atmosphere seemed to be less skeptical, less tense.

“When that filth had taken my husband from me,” the new Edna spoke in a voice not at all matching that of the real Edna, “I took it upon myself to avenge his death, and to prevent anything that may cause harm to anyone else.” The clone Edna motioned for Mr. Scott to sit. Embarrassed, he resumed his seat.

“But why tell us now?” My father asked the question that must have been residing on everyone’s mind.

“Because with this new information, there are a few conditions. In exchange for unconditional protection, there must be a sacrifice, committed in honor to the creature for him to continue our benefit. It can be of any animal or person, but I hope it doesn’t come to people. It must be presented weekly. At worst, daily, but only in the most extreme cases is it necessary,” Edna spoke, seemingly youthful by this new conviction.

“But why do you need the animal? What sick purpose do you have for them?” a voice I didn’t immediately recognize inquired. Edna chuckled slightly.

“You misunderstand. I don’t control this being. I merely summon it and it resides within my home, existing yet not sharing any space with me or my possessions. It needs the blood of others to protect those who summon it. That is the nature of a demon, my kind sir,” she answered. Loud protests from the more religious neighbors arose to answer her reply, but Edna merely looked at them intensely. The neighbors, as if under a trance, sat down without uttering a word.

“It is an evil, yes. But it is a necessary evil,” Edna continued. “Mr. Phillips is no longer with us, and we need a protector. We need an avenger. We need the very embodiment of unbridled aggression that will help us sleep at night. That is why we need it.” With every word, she looked and sounded younger, but at the end of her rant, she resumed her feeble frame. There was a brief, whispered discussion between the neighbors. The kids were left out of it, but I could tell by their faces that the general attitude was leaning towards Edna’s proposition. Mr. Scott, the former skeptic, stood up and faced Edna.

“We’ll go with this plan,” Mr. Scott said in a flat voice that betrayed a hint of worry. Edna smiled.

“Wise choice. There is one more condition, and this is not one placed on by the demon. This is my precaution. I suggest you have all porch lights on and operable at night. It won’t act as a total shield, but it will give it second thoughts. The doors are its target as it does seem to follow a sense of polite niceties for reason yet unknown. Front and rear porch. Oh, and do not leave your house at night. This is absolutely unconditional. For your sake, do not do it,” she finished.

“What about our protection tonight?” Dad asked.

“What makes you think I was talking to you?” Edna answered, her voice suddenly deep and sinister. Several people came from her basement, sharing Edna’s physique and appearance. There were about thirty-five of them, the same amount of people around me.

The lights immediately burst, casting us all into darkness. Aside from the neighbors that suddenly rose around me, I could feel a presence. One that didn’t seem natural. A scream pierced the air, then another, then another. We tried to find the door, but when we did, the knob was hot to the touch, scorching my palm at the touch of it. The air was pierced by another scream, but this one was closer. My mother’s grip on my shoulder no longer had pressure upon my arm. I turned to see her disappear, as if into the maw of a great creature, blood and organs dripping from its mouth. My father froze in place, a silent scream upon his lips. The creature made short work of him, severing his torso from his legs. His legs shortly thereafter followed suit.

Strangely, I didn’t cry or scream. Despite the lack of vision, I could feel the presence of it inches from my face. It stank of death and various viscera it just gorged itself on. I could hear and feel the hot breath as it came toward me, opening it to devour me. I smiled. This is the price of protection, and I was willing to pay it. Death at the hands of the Neighborhood Watch was better than death at the hands of anything else.