Disclaimer: The following story is based on true events. In certain cases, incidents, characters and timelines have been changed for dramatic purposes. Barring the occasional tweak, the incidents detailed are actual occurrences and to the best of the author’s knowledge, as true as the diary that details the dates.
The rusty gate creaks as I push it open. The driveway is littered with leaves, remnants of early autumn now waiting for winter. The evening wind is frigid; I button up my coat. I walk up to the porch, taking care not to step on the dead leaves. Why don’t I step on the leaves? I don’t know. Everything is exactly as I had remembered. The blackened trees, the broken window panes, the half-burnt roof. The mournful wind. The malevolent eyes that seem to glare at me from the shadows.
As I stand in the empty driveway on an October evening, I wait for a sign to tell me what to do. I wait for the door to turn on its hinges and open slowly. I listen for the creaking of the floorboards, even as there is no living creature to walk across them. I wait for a branch overhead to sway and break, the loud crash breaking the silence of the evening. The quiet monotony of the moment grinds into my bones as I wait with bated breath for a sign of life from the shadowy house.
There is not even a whisper of life from the trees and the house. The porch is as silent as ever. I am all alone here, just the way it was so many years ago.
I cannot bear the suspense any longer. I wish to throw away my bag by the side of the road and walk up to the door, I wish to push the door open and walk inside and know once and for all the truth of what hides behind those dark doors. That is what I want to do. That is what I came here for. But I cannot find the will to walk any further down the lonely driveway, across the dead leaves. It is inconceivable that I am still afraid of dreams and visions of the past, yet some buried memory warns me from walking any closer to the dusty porch, some unexplainable instinct wants me to hold tight my bag and return the way I came.
I stand on the lonely driveway looking up at the gloomy porch, trying to peer through the murky windows, the burnt-down husk of the house on Avenue 22 looming over me and I feel the goosebumps on my arms shrieking in alarm. The unhappy memory wins over me as I turn around slowly, carefully and walk back to the gate. I give up.
With my bag gripped firmly in my hand and my coat buttoned tight I walk back to the creaky, rusty gate. I care not for the whispered protests of the leaves as I crush them underfoot, nor for the wind as it crescendoes into a taunting howl. The gate slams shut behind me and without looking back, I walk away as fast as I can.
Nothing has changed, in all these years, nothing! Even as a grown man of forty, I cannot find the courage in my heart to face that demonic place that has haunted me for all of these years! It does not matter how long I had prepared for this moment, but once again I cannot walk up to that cursed house.
The long-late storm finally arrives, heralded by the rumble of thunder in the sky. The clouds ride the windy carpet and with a flash of lightning and another clap of thunder, it starts to rain.
Everyone seemed to be talking only about the fire. The fire that had destroyed the house on Avenue 22 last night. After all, it was the biggest accident in the history of the town – a town where there are not enough stories as there are storytellers. The house itself was a mystery, and the unusual circumstances of its demise called for the immediate revival of tons of half-forgotten rumors and whispered conjectures, all of which was eagerly lapped up by excited ears and trained tongues.
I too listened just as carefully and shamelessly, to the tales and stories surrounding the old house. I cared not for the fire; it was not half as interesting to thirteen-year-old me as the house itself.
Ever since I could remember, the house on the end of Avenue 22 had always been uninhabited. All the houses on Avenue 22 were the official living quarters of the professors of the nearby University. They had been built in the early colonial British fashion, with sloping roofs and a long lawn with a driveway up front. All the houses were built almost identical but did not remain so for long. Some of them were soon turned into bright and colorful homes, with lovely flower-gardens, while others were more somber and plainer, but just as welcome.
But the house in the corner of the street was the odd one out. It seemed to be the most dilapidated, the most depressingly haunting house one could ever live in, and it seemed to have been built that way.
The house had belonged to an old man who had lived there for a few years, before falling prey to his age. Since his death, it had passed on to his son. His son worked abroad, and rarely visited the house, never staying there for any longer than a couple of nights. It served him only as a storage shed, where he would sometimes send his unwanted goods. Eventually, he stopped doing that, until the old man’s furniture was the only living proof that the house had ever been inhabited. Nobody ever cared to occupy it again; even the real estate agents who came to check up on it couldn’t hope for much profit from it, and they too ignored it.
And so, it remained, forgotten and unkempt. Unkempt and forgotten. The locals stringently avoided the lonely corner, and even the domesticated animals steered clear of their larger forest kin, which would often stray into the house. The dark forest shadows crept through the fences and slowly claimed the house as a part of their realm.
Yesterday had been no different. There had been no people there. The sole constable who visited the scene had pronounced the cause of the fire as an electrical short circuit. The small fire caused by the short circuit had spread to the gas cylinders kept in the back, and those had been the explosions we had heard.
The day after, the son visited. He walked around the campus for some time, looking at the damages. Talked to the neighbors a bit. Repairing the house was out of the question, he confirmed. He left. A moving van arrived later and carried away a couple of the undamaged beds and some smaller knick-knacks.
The house remained a suitable topic of conversation for a few more weeks. Then came others, and like the house itself, the inferno that had gutted it too was soon forgotten. A scandal at the University, a lottery winner from down the street. The public imagination was quick to arousal and just as short; and soon, just like the existence of the house on the corner of Avenue 22 had always been, it’s destruction soon faded away from the minds of the people. The forest came back into its own, and the foxes chased away any dogs that had dared to take shelter under the half-burnt rooves. The house remained as it had ever been, uninviting and dark, and its shadow loomed over the corner, menacing as always. The dead windows softly gazed out through the darkness and waited patiently, foreboding and as forgotten as always.