Fiction Friday: The Empty House (July 30 2010)

Jamie was a little obsessed with the house. He must have walked past it a thousand times, or more, on his way to and from school. Every morning he tried to think up a new reason for it to have been abandoned before anyone ever moved in. Perhaps the owners had been murdered before they could move in and it was haunted by their ghosts. Maybe it was a secret government facility, or a base for aliens! His imagination knew no bounds and he would daydream about it while he was supposed to be learning about geology or French or fractions.

This particular morning he stood on the pavement, as usual, and stared intently at the house, hoping to see something, anything that was different. The house must have been white once, but now looked beige with dirt. It was big, almost a mansion, with large windows that were mostly boarded over, except where the wood had fallen down over time. The grass that surrounded the house was almost as tall as an eight-year old like his brother Timmy. Their local council mowed the grass once every six months, for safety reasons, but the grass grew so fast that it was only a matter of weeks before it was back to this height. Jamie shaded his eyes against the sun and peered into the grass. No ghouls grinned at him, nor were there sly and fierce creatures peeping out at him. In his mind, though, Jamie was sure they were there. He drew them, sometimes, on the margins of his page at school, or lying on his bed at night. Creepy monsters and demons, the stuff of an almost-teenage boy’s imagination.

Today, again, there was no movement. Only a slight breeze moved the grass, and Jamie sighed. He needed to get to school, but the dreariness of classes held no excitement for him. Slowly he turned and shuffled towards his school. He cast one last glance at the brooding house, silent and empty beneath the clear azure sky, and continued on.

School passed in a boring haze. He was reprimanded for inattention in English and a drawing confiscated. He was seething as it was one of his best portrayals of a grass ghoul. Big staring eyes looked out of a wrinkled snarling face with sharp needle-like teeth, and the hunched body was small and ugly. His English teacher, Mr Mathers, had shuddered in disgust when he saw it and muttered about sick minds. Jamie hated Mr Mathers. He didn’t much like adults at all. Or other kids, for that matter. He didn’t have any real friends, just his dreams and his drawings. When the bell rang at last he departed with relief and hurried back to the house.

It stood just as he’d left it. This time, however, it felt different. Jamie tilted his head and gazed quizzically at the house, trying to pinpoint the difference. It didn’t feel empty anymore. It still looked like a rundown, unloved house, but for the first time in years, he sensed that it had company.

A crow cawed from a tree above his head and he jumped. Heart beating rapidly he looked around the street but saw no one, apart from a few older schoolgirls walking in a giggling gang towards the shopping centre. They ignored him, of course. The house beckoned to him. Never before had he felt such an urge to enter the house; it was forbidden of course, and his mum had told him it would be trespassing if he ever did and the police might take him away. The open stretch of grass that lay between him and the house seemed like miles. There might be snakes. Or worse. Still it called to him.

Shouldering his bag, he stepped off the path and into the grass. It itched his arms as he waded into it. He felt claustrophic, even though he was taller than it by a good foot and a bit. A rustling sound to his left made him stop, as he looked frantically for the source of the noise. He saw nothing, of course. Eventually he reached the stairs, but then he decided it might be better to go around the back. He fought his way through the grass at the side of the house; it was much longer and full of seeds that clung to his clothes. A cat meowed in alarm and streaked off through the grass. As he rounded the corner he saw a wooden door that hung slightly off its hinges. Breathing heavily he sidled up to it and pulled at the handle. It broke off in his hand but the door swung outwards a bit, leaning towards him. Gazing around in fear that someone would see him he stepped inside.

The house was warm and musty. Mould grew on the ceilings and walls. There was no furniture at all. There was no carpet, only concrete and it was dark, the light filtered by the boards on the windows. He quickly checked the rooms on the ground level before ascending the stairs. They creaked alarmingly but held under his weight. He tried to remember how long his mother had said the house had been here, perhaps thirty years? It seemed like a long time for a house to lie empty and abandoned.

The top floor yielded nothing of interest. Just as he was about to go back down he spied a trapdoor in the ceiling. Perhaps it was an attic? How could he get up there? There were no chairs, no furniture he could climb on. Annoyed Jamie sat down on the cold floor. “There must be a way” he said to himself. “They wouldn’t have built a trapdoor without there being a way to get up there!” His twelve-year old brain refused to accept there being any logic in that. If there was a trapdoor, there must be a way to get through it. He stood up excitedly and started hunting through cupboards. He threw open what would probably have been the linen closet if anyone had ever lived there and to his delight discovered a metal extendable ladder. It looked to be in good condition. He dragged it out and set it up, struggling with the awkward length of it. Without pausing to think of safety he climbed quickly up and unlatched the trapdoor. He pushed it upwards and scrambled through the hole.

It was an attic. Giving a whoop of triumph he stood up straight and looked around. Immediately his gaze fell upon the only thing in the attic. It was a book, an old, dusty book. Curious, he crossed the floor and knelt down in front of it. It was bound with leather and seemed to beg him to open it. He reached out a hand and brushed the dust off the cover, but there was no writing or image. It was blank and mysterious. Trembling a little, he opened the cover.

In front of his eyes were images. Images like his grass ghoul. Snarling, terrifying little demons and monsters. Frowning, he hunted through his school bag for his sketchbook and flipped it open. The drawing style was almost exactly the same as his own. Jamie was completely confused. The book was old, and the pages brittle and yellow. Yet it looked like his own drawings. “What the?” he asked the air. The air didn’t answer. He put his sketchbook back in the bag and hesitantly picked up the book, finding it was heavier than he expected. Something banged on a window downstairs and he dropped the book in fright. There was a small partially boarded round window to his right and he hurried over and stared out. The grass around the house was crawling with ghouls and demons and monsters, seemingly conjured up by his fantasies and brought to life by the book. It appeared as though the house was under siege. Gasping in horror, Jamie wondered how on earth he was ever going to explain this—or if he would ever get the chance.

——-

Prompt: A covert trip into an attic reveals something unexpected.

This week I wanted to leave the ending up to the reader’s interpretation. There is no one right way to read the ending. It could be that the book and the monsters were in Jamie’s mind, or maybe Jamie unleashed Hell on his town. Perhaps he just unleashed his own private demons upon himself. Maybe the house was an elaborate trap so the demons get fed every now and then, or the book a gateway to an alternate universe. I’m curious how people interpreted the ending, would love it if you could share! I really loved this week’s prompt and was inspired by a house that is fairly close to me that was built but no one ever moved into it.

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