by Tegan Day
The window is smashed but nobody is brave enough to go in and fix it. The town is not filled with cowards, just ordinary people, but ordinary people know better than to go inside. The house, as you are looking at it, stands by itself and was once a good house on a good street. Some hundred years have passed since then, and it is now an empty house on a bad street. It has a creaking mouth with rusty hinges, and a soot-black face and wrought-iron claws and, now, one broken glass eye. It watches you as you walk past. You think perhaps there is another way through this part of town but you never look for it. You are on a bad street, but that does not make it a bad house, after all. It is just empty, and while it is empty nothing bad can happen. Sometimes you walk past the house when the sky is dark and the streetlamps are on, and once you thought you saw a light in one of the windows—a light like a lit candle in a darkened room. You know you can’t have seen it because the house is empty.
You still don’t understand why you take this route through town the first time you stop at the gate of the house. It was certainly a fine house in its day. It would have had staff, surely, serving the ladies and the gentlemen fine foods on fine crockery with polished silver.
The second time you stop at the gate you wonder what happened to the staff and the ladies and the gentlemen. You wonder when they left, and how long the empty house has been empty. You realize you are standing on the stone doorstep but you can’t remember opening the gate. You don’t like to turn your back on the house but you do as you leave, and you see the glass shards glint in the overgrown weeds—shards from the broken glass eye of the house.
You say sorry, out loud, as you slam the gate in your hurry to leave.
The third time you stop by the house you are upset that you let yourself come this way again, and you are shaking as you press your palm to the peeling wood of the front door. You don’t understand why you don’t leave now, but you know you must go inside.
The hall is dark, the panelling is stained wood and the paper which may once have been navy or crimson or emerald has forgotten how to be anything but gray.
‘Hello.’ You say. The empty house is not empty anymore. First, you find a drawing room, from which you can see the road, and then you move deeper into the house. It is a strange house, and just as grand as you expected. You find a kitchen, and from it passages that reach all kinds of room but are hidden away in the walls. Passages for the staff, you understand. You spend some time in a luxurious master bedroom, graying with dust, and later you lie in an empty clawfoot bathtub with cracked enamel, pretending you can feel hot water and steam on your skin and you shiver, because you are, you suppose, a little cold.
The house must be much larger than you guessed from the street because no matter how far go, you never open a door to a room you have already visited. You do not mind this. In fact, you are impressed. The more you see of the house, the more beautiful you find it. You know you cannot hope to keep track of where you’ve been, because although you do not know exactly how long you’ve been inside, you do know that too much time has passed to retrace your steps.
The house is so wonderful that it is overwhelming, and it becomes too much. You know you do not belong there and in your confusion you begin to run. You knock a small mirror from the wall. You pick up the pieces of glass and golden frame, intending to throw them from the next window you find. You are horrified that you have broken it, and you know you must get rid of the evidence. You find yourself standing behind the broken glass eye of the house. You throw the broken pieces through it and are relived when you hear them break apart on the ground below. You become very tired for a time. You wander through the halls, and the carpets seem more threadbare than they did when you arrived. Just as you think you cannot go on, the fatigue lifts like a dense fog. The house makes more sense after that, and begins to feel familiar in the way that a distantly remembered childhood home would.
After a time, you emerge from one of the staff passages onto a carpeted landing. You are surprised to see a figure in the sunken chaise longue, and then you notice that it is you. Your face is not as you remember it. You move closer and you see that your cheeks are hollow, your hands skeletal. Your clothes are gathering dust, as is your hair. The expression set into your sallow face is admiration, wonder and joy all at once. It exposes your dry teeth in a euphoric smile and your eyes—glassy and wide—seem black, the pupils are dilated so much.
If you think hard about it, you do remember resting here in the midst of the fatigue. You are not surprised anymore though, and you are not upset. It is a good house to rest in. You take the next staircase you come to and you end up back in the drawing room you came to first of all. It’s still a little cold and you move to the window to draw the curtains, only to find there are none. The sky outside is dark. In the circle of a streetlamp you see someone standing by the fence, staring up at the house. You smile. You reach into a desk drawer to find what you need, and you light a candle.
Tegan Day is a gap year student from the UK and is looking to study English Literature at uni in 2015. Writing is a hobby for her at the moment and in her free time she runs a dry and humourless poetry and literature analysis blog which can be found here: http://committedchameleon.wordpress.com/ She’s new to flash fiction writing, but so far thinks it’s pretty cool.
Tegan writes, “I wrote this story on a delayed midnight train home. My hope is that it’s unsettling rather than outright scary—that approach always makes a much greater impact on me.”