Storytime: The Old House

Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less.

The first time I went to this place, I was guided by a friend. He grabbed knowingly at my hand, gently catching around my wrist as he started running down the road. He stopped at a fence, impossibly high for my small legs to climb. I remember my shoes catching in the links of the fence, nearly kicking off. I remember stumbling backwards once from above my height, landing unceremoniously on the ground with the wind pushing its way out of my mouth. Cough catching in my throat. He looked down at me from his towering height in the darkness and taunted me until I sat at the top of the fence and marveled at the sinking house, appearing across the field like a mirage adrift in time and decay.

But I am alone this time so there is no climbing. Instead I crawl like an animal along the twisted posts. A blinking light at the edge of the gate leads me through a carefully clipped open rabbit hole. Even from this distance the smell would come on unmistakably strong: curdling paint mixing with the perfume-like sweetness of flowers in the nighttime summer air. The damp and moldy smells of the wooden door soaked through with midday rain would only intensifying with each step eventually overtaking any smell of the summer, of the flowers, or the forest.

Once I’m on the porch I snake my thin hand inside the window box, pushing past glass, past a second screen. I am careful to avoid the broken remnants and I twist and push the heavy lock with my whole palm until it finally clicks. I climb gingerly in the frame of the door, ducking fragments of wood and glass and memory. On the near wall, an old alarm system is forever blinking on, off, on with its red light. I am trespassing but I don’t think of it this way, I think of it as intruding. Encroaching on the world of others. I already know the alarm system is no longer attached to anything as no one ever comes. It’s a relic who lights can only ineffectually wink at me, goading me on. The pieces of glass cascade around me as I move through the threshold.

I think this house was built in the 1800s with no mind that it would last for me to be standing in its empty frame. It was built of sweat and tears. It was built for the rich on the backs of the poor. I think I can feel their mangled, angry spirits trying to reclaim this house that was probably once a home. Now it is a death trap. A crumbling fossil with thick, peeling leaded paint lining its carcass. It is a whale that has swallowed me whole. Bones and all.

I stand on the pink carpet in the hall for too long thinking of past times in this place with other people. My memories replay and they cross in front of me and then disappeared within dozens of rooms. Wafting in and out of these empty spaces. Footsteps turning into creaks and moans and wails. Each step only serves to remind of time passing around me and through me.

I walk into the hallway directly next to me. Its claustrophobic walls now slanting and squeezing as its ceiling beginning to sag. It is melting and any moment now threatens to press me to the floor – pining me like a butterfly, trapped forever in its maze. The paint smell is now completely permeating my being, filling up my nostrils and my imagination alike. It is too hard to tell where I end and the house begins. Stairs ascend to my right and a ballroom opens up on the left. Inside the ballroom is a single chandler leaning on its side in the middle of the room. Crashed to the ground with such force that beads and glass are scattered along the floor as if flung in a tantrum.

Ghosts flicker behind my eyes. They dance wildly through the room. The creaking inside the walls begin to sound like laughter and music. I can’t tell the past from the present for a moment, but I want to feel wild and fun at a ball. I want to move in time with music and smile with my eyes as someone whirls me in a circle. I step forward in beat with the illusory music, hips swaying freely. A bead cracks sharply under my shoe, slamming me back into my body. The music stops. The wall groans again but the music never starts back up.

When I go upstairs, investigating now in place of imagining, I feel the desolation. Everything is empty. Everything is as it would seem. Rooms laying fallow with nothing but garish, thick carpet over the cracking wooden floorboards. Rooms with posters and books and broken bits of furniture. Broken toilet. Cracked mirror. Hastily removed walls. A sledgehammer sunken in the floor. Damaged bed frame. Ripped papers on the floor, torn pieces of fabric, souvenirs of habitation. One room is drenched in the stench of alcohol, violated by my invisible peers. There is so much to be said about the contrasts in this house. I don’t know a before, only that now that there is ruddy red-brown blood on the wall, arranged in a vile slogan.

I am possessed for a moment in a room with a fully broken window and a half broken chair. I fall to my knees and grip at the dingy blue carpet, it is soft and yielding. With my meager strength I rip up the edge by the door to find trapped time underneath it. I dig down through the layers, trying to reverse the spell, but I can’t find any trace of the world left there save some old rotted wood and a soft white paste where it was melded together.

The downstairs is not better. Knives, dulled by time, line the drawers of the kitchen. Wallpaper peeling in dramatic horror house fashion. Paint in cans so old they smell more of rot than rust. There are curious pink and green smells wafting up from the basement but it’s too dark to see anything. I already know there is nothing to see but dirt and the wet, growing masses on the wall. The side of the kitchen is lined with wooden boxes pushed in front of a passageway to the attic that can’t be climbed. The stairs there are sharp and dangerous as they crumble at the edges but somehow their collapse comforts me.

I dream this place now but back then I knew it like an old friend.  A stout house placed nowhere in particular. Made of glass and paint and memories. I allowed myself to get lost in all its rooms filled with foul deeds and even fouler smells. A house broken and collapsing slowly to the damaging march of time.

I cut my hand on it.

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