Interior Doesn’t Mean Decorating

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The current Writers Co-op Show Case prompt is Interior. This story is my contribution. Please visit Writers Co-op and read them all. Maybe submit your own piece for the next Show Case. The easy-going guidelines are: any genre, approximately 6-1,000 words, emailed to stranscht@sbcglobal.net by Monday, February 7, 2022. The next prompt is:

Jangling

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The House

by S.T. Ranscht

I don’t know why I come here. 

Every time Shannon found herself on the front walk that was more cracks than pavement, staring up at the three-story Victorian, she had no idea how she’d gotten there, either. If she’d driven, she couldn’t see where her car or the road she must have taken might be. It was as though the house had materialized in front of her. Or maybe she had materialized in front of the house.

There were no other buildings among the gangly trees huddled in thirsty tangles leaning toward the decayed fence that was almost half as tall as the house. Long ago, the fence must have surrounded a vibrant landscape of flower gardens and vegetable patches separated by expansive lawns crossed by gravel paths. There must have been twittering birds flitting from branch to branch. Now, nettles and scraggly bushes snarled together to choke the path and scrabble up the walls. Silence hung from the trees.

Even with its faded yellow paint peeling like a three-day-old sunburn, the house looked friendly — almost welcoming. Although she didn’t remember ever opening the front door, Shannon knew this house. Things might be rearranged or in slightly different condition from the last time she was inside, but she knew its secrets. She felt their weight.

Closing her eyes, she thought, I should leave.

As had happened so many times before, when she opened her eyes, she was in the living room. Age-darkened wallpaper might have boasted cabbage roses and scissor-tailed swallows. Or maybe brain corals and sea monsters lurked just below the grime. Plaster above picture rails mapped the ceiling with hairline fractures and the floor with crumbles and dust.

Her feet carried her across the scuffed, worn boards to the fireplace, where a thick blanket of cold ash, dead evidence of a living past, lay beneath the grate. Pressing her shoulder against the wall beside the mantle, a narrow gap opened. She squeezed into the space behind the fireplace, and the gap vanished. Relief swaddled her. She was safe here, but she couldn’t stay. She faced the decrepit lengths of wood nailed into the hidden wall, a cockeyed mockery of ladder rungs.

A whisper of dread woke something in her brain, but she wasn’t sure if it was a memory or her imagination. She climbed.

Halfway up the wall, she paused at a window overlooking the backyard. Beyond the broken-down fence, a chain of shadows advanced among the trees. They were coming. They came every time she was here, and she never welcomed them.

Would they get in this time? 

Did I bolt the front door?

She wanted to go back and check, but somehow she was in the garret at the top of the house, watching the invaders push through the fence into the yard. They didn’t always get that far. Her heartbeat pulsed behind her eyes. Could she get to the door before they did?

Her rush to the stairs skidded to a stop. The top step hung above the wreckage of the others on the floor fifteen feet below. Panic-tinged confusion swirled around her as she spun searching for a way down.

The lift! She ran back to the garret. There, in the corner. More a dumbwaiter than an elevator, it allowed her to fold herself into it and lower the box to the ground.

Extricating herself, she raced to the front of the house. Unknown people, lips pressed straight, eyes hooded, crowded past the window next to the door. Before she could reach the knob, it turned. The door creaked inward.

NO!

Shannon threw herself against the door and twisted the deadbolt latch. Outside, commotion surged forward calling her name, banging on the door, the walls, the windows. She fled to the fireplace and pushed next to the mantle, escaping into the gap.

She would stay there until silence returned.

~~~

Shannon’s mother wept from exhaustion and fear that her daughter was no longer within reach. Every day for a year, she had come to sit beside her bed, reading out loud, telling her about her family and friends, what they were doing, how much they missed her. Today, for the first time, the doctor suggested they start considering “alternatives” to life support.

She knew in her heart there was only one alternative.

End