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Archive for the ‘Horror Fiction’ Category

20115

 

The realtor enters first, staring in fascination at the outdated furniture and décor.  The air feels heavy with dust and it tickles the back of his throat.

Awkwardly, he remembers and steps aside to let the other man in.

The buyer steps inside after the realtor and, like him, stops to take it all in.  He scans the room, absorbing the old furniture, the layer of dust covering everything like a shroud. The dust in the air is heavy and gives his throat a dry tickle that makes him want to cough.

With a distracted nod to the realtor, he steps further into the house, feeling a momentary pang of regret for not taking his shoes off. “You are supposed to take your shoes off when you enter someone’s home,” he thinks.  He looks around taking it all in.

“It’s eerie how the house feels like the family just left it moments ago, like they are about to come back at any time.  The house looks lived in, except for the thirty years of dust coating everything and the vague feeling of abandonment.”

The mostly green cover of a comic book left laying open on the floor catches his eye.  He picks up the comic book and looks at it, trying not to disturb too much of the dust clinging to it.  It’s unavoidable, his fingers rub smudges in the dust coating the old comic book.  The Thing, an orange blocky comic book creation made of stone, part monster and all hero.  On the cover, The Thing appears to be battling a many-armed green wall, the green arms surrounding him in a barrage of punching fists.  Marvel Comics, The Thing issue #21 dated March 1985.  The price on it is sixty cents.

The top front corner is curled from a boy’s rough handling.

He puts it down with a frown, wondering if it’s worth anything on the collectors’ market.  He can’t take it, though.  It belongs to the municipality, along with the property and its contents.  At least until after the auction.  He hopes the realtor didn’t notice it.

“How often do realtors scoop up gems like this without anyone ever knowing?” he wonders.

Against the wall on a stand, a tube T.V. with its faux wood exterior box, two front dials, and bent rabbit ears poking up from the top at the back, sits darkly silent, a haze of dust coating every surface.

He walks through the house, past a pair of socks discarded on the floor, and into the kitchen.

“Did you say they still lived here after the boys vanished?” he called to the realtor in the other room.

The realtor is studying the spines of books in a bookcase on one wall.  It’s made of the old particleboard that expands and crumbles when it absorbs moisture, which it inevitably does over time.  The shelves have some warping and bubbling, crumbled on some edges.

“Yes, I don’t know how long.  They lived here while the search for the boys was going, and for some time after the search was given up.”

“And the husband moved out, leaving the mother alone?”

“Yeah.”

“How long?”

“I don’t know. Months? Years? They locked the place when they took her away. Like I said, we’re the first to set foot in the house since they institutionalized her.”

He leaves the bookshelf and starts for the kitchen.

In the kitchen, the buyer walks around, taking in the two tea towels carefully hung on the oven door handle, yellowed and rotting with age.  The teakettle on the stovetop. On the countertop, a measuring cup sits next to a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Two bags he guesses are flour and sugar bags sit next them. The bags are faded and stained with age, the paper brittle with age, and even the larger print words hard to read.

“Looks like someone was going to make a cake.”

He turns away, circling the table, studying the place settings set with care.

An old tan rotary dial phone hangs on the wall not far from the kitchen table, where the person on the phone can sit down at the table while they talk, the coiled cord stretched from them to the phone on the wall.

The realtor walks in and looks around, his footprints in the dust coating the kitchen floor joining those following the buyer’s trail across the room.  “Weird, the table is set for four.”

“For her family.” It is said with a dull gravity that makes the realtor turn and stare at him.

He breaks the awkward moment.

“I’ll show you the bedrooms.  There’s three bedrooms, I think.”

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11985

 

The boys burst into the house, hurriedly kicking off their boots at the back door before going any further.  Everything looks exactly like it did when they went out to play.

It’s 1985 and the furniture and décor are a clash of pieces mostly from the sixties and seventies, some bought new, some second hand, and some are hand-me-downs.  Nothing has been upgraded in the past ten years, a testament of thoughtful care and financial mediocrity.  The worn couch and dented coffee table, victims of having two rambunctious growing boys in the house, are overdue to be replaced.  A comic book lays discarded on the floor, open as if it is trying to fly away, The Thing is caught forever in an epic battle against a green monster that looks like a rough tree bark wall with many arms surrounding The Thing with flailing punching fists.  The television, an ancient tube set, sits dark and quiet on its stand.  A pair of discarded boy’s socks are tossed carelessly on the floor, and the latest edition of TV Guide sits on the coffee table.

“Mom!” Jesse looks around.

The house is dead silent except for their own breathing.

“Mom?”

Kevin stands there, looking around.

The house is exactly as they left it before they went outside to play.  How long has that been?  An hour?

But not quite.

Everything seems a little muted.  Off.

And more dusty than he remembers.

Jesse runs into the kitchen.  After a pause of a few heartbeats, Kevin follows.

“Mom?” Jesse pauses just inside the doorway, looking expectantly for their mother.

The teakettle still sits on the stovetop, two tea towels hang from the oven door handle where they were hung to dry after washing dishes in the sink, and the table is set for dinner with places for four.

Flour and sugar bags sit on the countertop next to a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon and measuring cup, pulled out in preparation of baking a cake.

Their mother is not there.

They run through the house calling, “Mom! Mom! Mom!”  They end their search back in the living room, out of breath.

“She’s not here.”

“Where could she be?”

“Next door, maybe?”

“Let’s go see.”

They pull their boots back on and rush out the door into the backyard, trained not to use the front door because that would somehow make more cleaning work for their mother, and around the side of the house to the front.

They stop, staring around wide-eyed, and turn to stare at each other, their faces full of fear and confusion.

They are standing in the woods next to that old stump.

“What the hell?”

“Don’t cuss,” Jesse says automatically.  There is hell to pay if their mom ever hears them use bad language.  Hell is one of many forbidden words.

Kevin turns to him, appalled.

“Seriously?  You’re worried about me cussing? We are back in the woods! How?  This is impossible!”

He stops.

“Jesse.”

“What?” Jesse is sulking now.

“The grass.”

“What about it?”

“Wasn’t there grass in the yard?”

“Yeah, so?  There’s always been grass in the yard.”

Kevin narrows his eyes, wondering if Jesse is just being dumb or is messing with him.

“It’s early spring.  Look around.  There’s still snow everywhere.”

“Yeah, so?” Jesse isn’t getting it.

Kevin’s shoulders sag with the futility of it.  Do I even bother? He sighs.

“Jesse, do you remember what the yard looked like? Just now, when we went back to the house.”

“Yeah, your bike was laying on the grass. I almost tripped on it.”

“Where was the snow?”

They both just stare at each other.

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20115

 

The key jams in the lock, not wanting to go in.

The realtor looks at him nervously and smiles.

“It’ll go in.  The key works.”  His grimace gives face to the lie.  He isn’t so sure it will work.

He fiddles and struggles with the key for too long before the rusting lock mechanism finally unwillingly gives and allows them access.

His smile is almost sickly with relief.

He turns to the prospective buyer, hoping yet again that this is not a big waste of his time.  His commission is going to depend on how much the house actually sells for.  It’s not the usual commission deal.  He is getting more than the average commission percentage, an unusual agreement made with the municipal office that wants only to unload the property and get it off their books, doubtful anyone will bother to bid on it.

This guy is the only person who has shown an interest.  He could bid a dollar, the lowest bid allowed, and walk away with the property for nothing, less than the price of a cup of coffee.

He tries the door, hoping it opens easily.  A warped door can turn off a buyer before they see anything else.

The door sticks in the frame and, after he puts some weight into it, gives with the dull sound of two pieces of swollen wood pressed against each other giving up the fight to hold together.

They enter the house and step back thirty years in time.

 

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The Woods 2-Thirty Years Later.jpg

Two men are standing in the backyard of a small rundown house in an older middle-class neighborhood. One, wearing a cheap suit and shoes not suited to traipsing through grass, is looking at the house with a mix of uncertainty and mild remorse.  He had hoped the house would be in better shape.  The other, in jeans, shirt, and runners, is studying the trees and bushes bordering the back property line.

“I heard a couple of boys vanished in these woods years ago.” He doesn’t turn around to look at the man in the suit, his attention fixed on the trees.

“It’s a local legend.  Brothers, Kevin and Jesse. They were playing in their yard and vanished.”  The man in the suit turns around to look at the trees too.

“This yard?  They lived in this house?”  The man in jeans looks around at the leafy jumble of trees bordering the yard and stretching out past the neighboring yards.  You can’t see through them or tell how far they go.

“Yes.  To be honest, I was going to leave that bit of background out.  It’s not exactly a selling point.”

“How does anyone know they went in the woods?”

“They found one of the boys’ shoes next to an old tree stump.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.  No other sign of the boys was ever found.”

“And the house?”

“Abandoned.  Left to rot.”

“The family just left it?”

“The boys’ mother went crazy, I heard.  The husband wanted to sell the house and move, get away from the memories I guess.  She refused to sell.  She kept insisting the boys were still here. From what I heard she was obsessed with keeping the house exactly the way it was the day they vanished too.”

“Crazy.”

“Yeah, crazy.”

“So, the house is selling pretty cheap.  It wasn’t looked after?”

“The husband left both her and the house.  Walked away and never looked back.  She stayed in the house for a while, until she was committed.  As far as I know, no one has set foot in the house since.  It’s going to be in pretty rough shape.”

“You make one hell of a real estate agent, you know that, right?”

“Ha-ha, yeah, I guess I do.”

“Can I take a look inside?”

“Sure, let’s go.  I have to warn you, this will be the first time anyone has set foot inside that house in thirty years.  I don’t know what we’ll find.”

The house is an average lower middle-class family home.  Smallish, but not quite as small as the low-income homes across the way.  The windows are hazy with the grime of thirty years of neglect and the paint long ago cracked and much of it worn away by the weather.  The windowsills sag with rot, half eaten by time. The shingles are cracking and peeling up and back on themselves like over-cooked sliced potatoes, browned rather than charred and entirely inedible.  The long grass of the yard had recently been clumsily hacked down, hastily driven over by a municipal riding mower, the charge tacked onto the growing bill of unpaid municipal fees owed, including property taxes and the other inevitable costs of home ownership.  It is one of the unasked for services visited on negligent homeowners.

It is these unpaid fees which are the reason the home is for sale now.  The bank had tried to foreclose on the unpaid mortgage almost thirty years ago, only to find themselves tied up in legal purgatory pitted against the municipality trying to seize the home for unpaid taxes.

Lacking much interest on both sides, the issue dragged out and dragged on, court proceedings repeatedly pushed back, and finally slipped through the cracks of forgotten paperwork.  Until, close to thirty years later, when a bored clerk cleaning out the desk of a deceased co-worker took pause to read a page of paper among the stacks being shoved into the shredding bin, and accidentally stumbled on the outstanding unfinished business of this house.

The long forgotten house by the woods.

The bank had long ago written it off, a small piece of millions in bad debts, and the municipal office was granted free title without being aware of it.

Now the house is up for auction to collect the unpaid property taxes and municipal fees owed.

With most of the records from thirty years ago gone, and no one keeping track of this forgotten property, the best anyone could piece together and confirm owed on the property is the cost of the most recent grass cuttings.  The whopping price of fifty-six dollars.  Less than the price of a song and a dance. They don’t know when the taxes stopped being paid. Any taxes owed are moot. Nearly thirty years of taxes adds up to more than the run down property is likely worth, and ownership by the owners was given up long ago.

The place is a steal.

And in this condition, its value is in the land it sits on.  Any buyer would tear the house down and rebuild.

They reach the door and the realtor fumbles with the key safe looped around the doorknob, trying to remember the combination to open it.  It’s a rectangular box-shaped device locked over the skinny part of the knob like a padlock, housing the key to the door.

Finally, he opens it and releases its treasure, a worn looking house key with the color rubbing off and marred with bits of rust in the teeth.

 

*** Watch for the full-length novel ***

 

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