Inside the HouseMature

I resumed picking my way through the plants defending the house from exposure. A tree clinging to the side of the house shed white blossom, showering me with delicate white petals, drifting like snow flakes in the twilight. I brushed them impatiently from my shoulders. The darkness was really gathering now, and stars were beginning to appear in the velvet night sky. It seemed almost foolish to be doing this at night, but it also seemed irrational to turn back now and try to find my way back to the village across five miles of countryside fields, where every tree looked the same in the dark. Luckily I had come prepared for this.

I shrugged the bag off my shoulders and opened it, taking out a flashlight and hanging it from my arm by the wrist strap. I had brought more than enough extra batteries, knowing that in situations where something - anything - could go wrong, it usually would. Or maybe it was just my misfortune.

I zipped the bag closed again and turned the torch on. I had reached the bottom of the porch steps and its yellow light probed the blackness beyond. I felt myself relax as I shone the torch into the corners, sweeping the surroundings with its beam. I hadn’t even realised that I had been tense. I must have subconsciously been afraid of entering this dark patch of the house, prepared for something to leap at me from the shadows. I smiled at my easily-provoked fear - or overactive imagination - as I examined the porch. The wooden boards of the floor were rotten; they creaked in protest underfoot. It was semi-circular, curving with the rounded roof edge in alignment with the small tower above. A few clusters of weeds had succeeded in scaling the low wooden porch rails and tumbling down on this side. In a few weeks they would be creeping treacherously across the floor, waiting to ensnare the feet of any visitors.

According to the villagers, the house had had no visitors since a farmer found it in 1933 and it had been briefly investigated by the police. There had been no details on file as to the results of their explorations for me to peruse before I set out to explore the house for myself. I knew there had been no sign of life nor trace of the farmer who had called from the house earlier that day, and from that the rumours had begun to circulate. Apart from that little knowledge about the house, I was as in the dark about it as I was literally that very moment.

I glanced up at the crescent moon glimmering, a white sliver in the sky, before summoning my resolve and reaching out for the door. It was bolted across at the top but didn’t seem to be locked. The keyhole itself was hidden by a swinging gold cover which matched the doorknocker. It seemed incredibly old-fashioned to have a doorknocker, and too clichéd for it to be in the shape of a lion’s head, but there it was. I scrutinised it more closely, fixing the circle of torchlight on it, and discovered that it looked more like a wolf than a lion, or perhaps a bear. In any case it had tarnished too much over the years for the more detailed features to be entirely discernible. The bolt had also rusted in the more than seventy years since it had last been drawn across and I almost skinned my fingers trying to tug it back, balancing the torch uncomfortably between my head and shoulder so I could see what I was doing as I stretched up. When I eventually succeeded several rust-coloured flakes of paint fluttered down. The whole door’s covering of faded vermilion paint was gradually peeling off, revealing the walnut wood underneath. I doubted the house’s secrets would be that easy to uncover.

I turned the handle and pushed lightly against the door until it swung inwards in a slow arc, hinges creaking ominously, until it came to a stop at a right angle from the door frame. I wasn’t quick enough to stop myself from thinking, just enough for someone to be hiding behind it. I squashed the irrational worry down and stepped inside, holding the torch in front of me almost like a weapon, though it would be very ineffectual as one. The room beyond was large; the torchlight aimed directly in front did not hit the opposite wall. Instead it caught the curve of a black wooden spiral staircase ascending through the ceiling into what I assumed could only be the tower. Another sweep of the room revealed a sorry-looking couch, once a shade of white but now grey with ingrained dust. The surface of the low table in front of it was coated in it. I traced a line through it with one finger, leaving a trail of unmarked wood visible which gleamed dully in the dim light.

The End

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