There is a loud rumble in the sky. Thunder. The wind outside is so strong my fingers are nearly crushed as the window slams shut vengefully while I try to close it.
I am pulled by a strange desire to go outside and roam in the storm. Maybe it’s because I recently watched that movie about the intrepid storm chasers and their adventures.
Ma won’t be coming back from work for hours. My brother will be at college until two. I have three hours all to myself. I quickly ran around the house, making sure all the windows and doors are closed, and then grabbing an umbrella, I ran outside to enjoy the stormy, gray afternoon.
Being outdoors was a rarity to me. Usually, my storybooks and comic kept me company in the snug safety of my bed. Every time I have been out, I was always accompanied by my brother at my side. The freedom I felt today, untroubled by his stern warnings, was a totally new feeling to me, and soon I had completely forgotten about going back home early.
The wind was less violent now, but the sky was just as dark. There is the occasional distant growl in the sky. I am not worried; I have my umbrella with me.
I wandered aimlessly, wondering how best to enjoy my freedom today. I tried to think of the best places to explore on my own, and instantly the house on Avenue 22 jumped up in my mind.
We, my brother and I, had avoided the house on Avenue 22 for as long as I could remember. I remember asking my brother why we never go there, but I don’t remember his answer. Mentioning the house seemed to scare him and make him angry, so I never asked him about it much. I remember asking my mother about the house, but she never gets angry. She says, it is just an empty house, but there are wild animals that will hurt you if you go there. My father warned me about getting hurt in a house as old and abandoned as that one.
I didn’t care much for their threats – after all, I knew my parents were making stories up, and even if they weren’t, everyone knows foxes don’t hurt people, they run from you.
So, I decided to take advantage of my one day of uninhibited freedom, and started walking towards Avenue 22, excited about the prospect of scaring any foxes away with my umbrella. Soon, I saw the row of identical houses, and my destination at the end of the row.
The approaching storm ensured the street was deserted. The woods next to the house seemed to be talking and whispering in the wind. I looked around for any foxes that might be hiding behind the bushes, but I couldn’t see any. The excitement I was feeling gradually quietened down as I approached the end of the street, and I gripped my umbrella tighter in my hand. The air was suffocating and hot, and the wind had completely died down. I couldn’t help staring at the dark forest, as I reached the end of the street and looked up at the old, forgotten house.
The rusty gate creaks as I push it open. The driveway is littered with leaves, remnants of late autumn now hurriedly making way for winter. The sky is almost completely black now, and I wish to myself I had brought a flashlight along with me. A soft, chilly breeze picks up the leaves and freezes me to my bones.
I walk up to the porch, skipping over the scattered leaves. The breeze continues to blow, making them dance around my shoes.
The porch is ankle-deep with leaves and twigs, the parapet layered with dust. My fingers and shoes leave distinct prints as I walk up to the door.
There’s a window by the door. I try to peek through it. The panes are so dust-thick that I see nothing at all. I give up and walk back to the door. I see a big brass knocker, but I wonder if I should knock. Something tells me I should be as quiet as possible. I leave the locker alone and stare at the door.
There’s a sudden gust of wind and the door opens. A thin crack. Was it unlocked all this time? It slams shut again with a soft thud.
I push at it, haltingly, wondering if it really is unlocked. It is. It opens. Slowly, creaking. I stand in front of the open door, scared to go inside. The house is cloaked in darkness. The wind blows the leaves inside, and as soon as they go in, they vanish from my sight. It seems almost as if the leaves are devoured by the shadows inside the house.
I wonder if that is what will happen to me as well.
The wind is now screaming up quite a racket outside the house. The sky is so dark it looks almost like night. I jam my umbrella into the door frame to make sure it doesn’t close again; I have seen enough horror movies to know I don’t want to be locked inside the house. A voice inside me laughs and says there’s nothing to worry about, the house is empty. It has always been empty. I try to believe that voice as I step inside the empty house.
The darkness almost feels like a physical screen, pushing against me. My heart is racing, and I feel a chill run down my spine. I tell myself, it’s just an empty house. I walk further into the darkness, followed closely by the leaves dancing past my feet.
My eyes slowly adjust to the dark. I can make out a living room bathed in shadow and dust. The floorboards creak as I walk further in. I can see a corridor now, lined with portraits on the walls. Dusty as they are, they seem to have been hung up with painstaking effort, and the howling wind barely even rattles them.
I walk down the corridor until I reach a bedroom to the right. I look back at the half-opened door. I don’t want to lose sight of the evening outside, I don’t want to walk out of sight of the street. I don’t want to walk into the bedroom, but I can’t seem to walk away from it. My hands are cold and numb.
The floorboards creak again. But this time, I did not move. I stand still, my ears tense…Did I really hear the creaking? Was it a loose floorboard from the porch?
Outside, the wind shrieks in agony again. For a few seconds, I cannot hear anything inside the house. It dies down to a freezing breeze, and there is silence inside the house again. I try to breathe quieter, straining to hear anything. The breeze blows a crumbly old newspaper to the ground.
I feel like there’s someone watching me. I cannot turn around, but I know the portraits are watching me. I cannot turn around, but I feel the weight of those eyes crawl up my spine and grab hold of my hands. I cannot turn around and I cannot look away, all I can see is the pitch-black room in front of me. I scream silently, frantically in protest as my half-blinded eyes are slowly drawn across the room, forced to look. I crawl past a sinister cupboard veiled in black, past a sprawling bed, I crawl around the room, unable to step away, unable to look away. My eyes meet another set of gleaming eyes! A face in the darkness! The terror strikes me dumb before I can realize I am looking at a mirror and I drag my eyes away from the Stygian horror before I am drawn any further into it.
There is a sudden scream! Outside?! Human and bestial, prolonged and painful, a scream that instantly slices through the silence and brings me crashing back to reality. Startled and terrified, I force myself to turn around and run across the corridor to a window in the room.
With another inhumane shout filled with malice and anger, a bough seems almost to touch the ground. With a final throaty rattle and a loud crack, it finally breaks free of the tree and crashes heavily to the ground. The wind roars in approval and the window crashes shut, almost crushing my fingers.
My hands are as cold as ice and my throat as coarse as sandpaper. I decide I have had enough of this house. In the faint grey square of light by the window I turn around and look around the living room. The dark corridor sings to me again.
I wonder if it is only my imagination, but the shadows seem to be moving across the floor. Slowly creeping inch by inch, the darkness seems to move closer to me; just like the leaves from the porch, it seems almost as if in the shadow’s oath is slowly wrenched into the black. I hear the wind whisper faintly through the cracks in the walls and I hear the house whisper back in reply. The eyes on my neck are back again; I feel the house shudder in excitement, almost as if someone wants me to stay, as if someone is happy to see me there today. I feel the longing in the air, an expectant longing, almost physical, the way a snake looks at the dying rat struggling to escape. With a groan of creaking and crashing the trees outside join in the symphony of the howling wind and the house shudders and shivers in anticipation. It is happy that I am here, it has waited long for this moment, and it wants me to stay, to stay here for long.
All of these flashes across my mind as I stand by the window, watching the hypnotic dance of the shadows across the floor. I feel something cradle my neck and a scream bubbles up to my throat. My frozen heart shrieks internally, tells me not to move lest it break, but my hands move of their own accord, slapping at my neck, slapping away the touch of the… nothing! The darkness glides over my hands, slips through my fingers and I feel the icy touch on my neck again. I feel the shadows at my feet slowly come alive. They climb up the sides of my shoes, climb up my legs, slowly, softly they slip across my clothes, numbing them, freezing them.
With a start I realize I have been standing in the exact same spot all this time, waiting for something to happen. But the window is not at my back now… I can see it across the room. Did I somehow walk to the other side of the room? I cannot see the door; the darkness blots out all the light.
Some part of me is crying out in alarm. I need to go; I need to run. I need to get out of this darkness as fast as I can!
There is a loud crash! Somewhere in the depths of the darkness, a door crashes open. I hear the distinct, heavy creaking of the floorboards! There is another crash as yet another door is thrown open! My wits return to me and I realize I need to run!
My shoes are nailed to the floor! I can’t move! I am tied to the walls! Something grabs my feet and refuses to let go! I feel my mouth go dry, my throat clenches in panic. I scream and I hear nothing! The wind rises to a crescendo to drown out my scream! I can’t hear my own voice! I can’t move! In crazed fear, I flail and kick around madly, unable to move and trying to move.
Suddenly my feet are loose! I can move again! My bonds are gone! I run towards the open door and the shadows come alive to grab me! Screaming insanely, I thrash away from them and I’m outside the house! I’m outside, I keep running, I don’t stop running. The gate screams in protest as I throw it open. I keep running. I keep running. I don’t look back.
With a bang, the door of the house on Avenue 22 will slam shut. My umbrella will be crushed, and the floorboards will settle down into their malicious anticipation again. The darkness will slowly once again reclaim what was its own. The house once more will be… empty again.
I don’t look back at the house. I don’t look back.