Monday, 20 August 2007

The House on the Corner: Short Fiction

It was not made of gingerbread. Icing did not mortar its walls, nor did flat slabs of chocolate compose the walk to the porch. Dutch lquorice door knobs did not sit in a raisin-oatmeal foor. Neither did mint ivy cover candy cane posts and a gumdrop-tiled roof.

It had no turrets. The sky above it was not stormy, nor did a pale full moon illuminate it. Bats may have lurked in its eaves, but none chose to dine on human blood. Tombstones did not decorate the yard, and that yard was not fanced by iron fate nor sinister hedge.

But there was a cat.

I heard that charities were a good way to meet people. Girls, actually, were the people charities were good for meeting, but I was not looking to meet girls, or that is what I told myself.

Lei and I were assigned as partners. She had been quiet, but she opened once we got away from the group and on our own. I had noticed the way her jeans fit, and the way her black hair hung. She was a little too enthusiastic.

We were given a section of the surrounding residential area to canvas. It was poor, and proceeds to the Green Corridor Raffle were lower than we desired. One older woman in an older home had taken care to keep the paint new and the roses blooming. The pines shading the porch were dignified. She bought the first two tickets. Most houses had yellow signs warning of large angry dogs, or proclamations that the inhabitants did not wish to be disturbed: Ye who solicit here, abandon all hope. My partner cooed and bubbled anyway.

It was late in the afternoon, and we had just been turned away from another door. I was ready to return home. Lei smiled before I could suggest it, though, and bet me dinner that the next one would buy a ticket. We walked on.

And there it crouched: the last house on the street. My first thought was that it deserved to be on some southern plantation, an old dead house left to moulder in the swamp. Its windows were glazed with yellow cataracts of curtains, set it tea-stained siding. The steps lolled from the veranda. Set back in the throat of the porch was the battered, screened door. The garden was not cultvated by any rational mind; thick stalks filled the soil, which they seemed to have won out of sheer ferocity.

I would have been cheered by the thought of Nature reclaiming its own had it not seemed so ruthless about it.

Lei and I looked at each other.

"It's creepy," she said.

"It is," I agreed.

A pause.

One of us moved forward first, but I cannot remember which.

We walked together up the splintered rocks of the path, stepping more carefully than necessary. I glanced past her into the trees clumped in the middle of the yard. Perhaps there would be squirrels shuffling in the grass, or sparrows quarrelling over breadcrumbs left by children. A cream-winged skipper flouncing across the breeze would have livened the scene a little, but there was no life.

"Look," Lei cried softly, pointing.

Lying on the bent stems of the flowerbed, was a cat. She frisked her tail at the tio, and stared at us. One ear flicked. She did not blink.

I smiled and stretched my arm out, half-bent at the knees. The cat responded with only another flick of the tail. She stared. Eventually, I turned my eyes away.

We continued to the porch, the familiar watching us all the while. Lei was the first to mount the steps, and I followed her up. Something smelled like it was rotting. I looked first to the flowerpots, but they were brimming with crazy, dangling spider plants. As I traveled the length of the porch, I saw from the corner of my eye that the window curtains did not fit tightly; in the gaps at the edges and the bottom, the rooms moved as though following my progress.

I held open the screen door, and Lei knocked on the chipped wooden one behind it.

Somehow I doubted the door would open. Images came unbidden to my mind: an old woman, collapsed on the floor inside her house. Her nightgown hitched oddly about her knees; one red plaid slipper clinging on and one fallen off. The rest of her was obscured in my imagination, entombed by the presence of the house.

Then another image: a woman opening the door, friendly and confused. A sweet little lady with an open purse and willing heart.

And then a coupling of the two, some grotesque chimaera: a dead woman opening the door, buzzing with flies and offering not a donation, but hellish knowledge.

I prayed that the door would stay closed.

Lei looked uncertainly my way.

I turned again to the windows, with some pretence of seeing if anyone was home. Either fear or prudence kept me from looking past the curtains and into the room, but I did examine what was placed on the sill. Bottles and jars of all kinds nested together. Some were corked, and others left open. Some had fancy paper labels, and others clothes only by tacky residue. One was filled with stale water; another, a festering plant; another, a few fly carcasses. Thick drifts of dust banked against them, and they were draped with cobwebs from departed and beneficent spiders.

"No one's answering," Lei finally said.

I nodded. "Let's go."

We turned, and I could feel her eye on our backs, gazing from the peep hole. I could feel her gawking from the windows, wondering how we would taste all fattened up, wondering what infernal secrets would drive us mad, wondering how many years the Devil would give her for our souls.

Down the steps we went, out from under the roof of that porch. The cat was there again, still looking, not blinking. She did not mew; perhaps she had sold her voice for the chance to go outdoors, except that it was the cat who stole children's tongues. She continued to spy for her mistress.

As we walked down the path, I noticed the scent of sulfur fade from the air, and perceived the attention from the house weaken. From the sidewalk, I turned and met the house's eye. She glared back.

"Maybe we should go get dinner," said Lei.

I wrote this for a class once. If anyone happens to recall the particular event on which this is based, I'm sure that person will understand the artistic liberties I took with this are exactly that--artistic. They mean nothing.

1 comment:

Cait said...

it's interesting. Nice imagery

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