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You are here: Home --> Forum Home --> Creativity Forum --> Personal Creations --> Short Story - The Return
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postima prolifica
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691 Posts

Short Story - The Return

So for the last few days I've been stuck without internet unable to check things on the inn, thus unable to work on posts for... well anything. *grumbles*

In my forced absence I had this idea come to me. I'm still not happy with the ending and I'm not even really sure what kind of story one would call this... I'd like opinions on it. Unfortunately my muse vacated the premises once I fell asleep that night.

Though the rest of the houses on the block showed the years, the house on the corner, with its iron gate and oak door, still looked as it had the day he had left. Sixty years hadn't so much as stripped away the last clinging bits of yellowed paint. It was two floors high with a great many windows, each with its own little curled ironwork decoration. There was a pile of old shingles at one corner where they had slid off the roof and laid moldering, barely recognizable as more than a pile of moss. The third step to the porch sagged on the left side and the top of the railing was splintered from where a tree branch had fallen on it during a storm. Everything was exactly how he remembered it. Strangely, he had known it would be. Somehow this place never changed. If he still believed in magic, he might have accredited the everlasting bad condition of the house to that, but he had dropped such silly notions long ago.

A pair of rotting leather shoes sat just inside the gate and it brought a smile to his face. The voices of his childhood playmates drifted through his mind.
“You have to take your shoes off before you get to the porch. There's a ghost inside that doesn't like you tracking in dirt.” Of the three iron clad rules, this was the one most often ignored. Some kids just had tender feet, others were afraid of injury. Bryant Clark had stepped on a nail poking up through a floorboard in what was once the kitchen and the rest of the gang had worn shoes for weeks afterward. “You have to leave your hat at the door, she doesn't allow hats inside.” This they chalked up to good old fashioned manners. The hats were left on the porch.
“and you can't go to the second floor.” The ghost lived on the second floor. It was hers and hers alone, or so they were told. No one ever went up to check that theory. The thought of coming face to face with her or simply being banished from the house by the older boys in the group was enough to keep them in line.

The rules of their secret clubhouse, for it had to be secret lest their mothers discover that they were spending their time in a derelict old house that could fall around their ears at any moment, were supposedly laid down and enforced by the second floor ghost. He had never seen said ghost nor had he ever noticed any sign that anyone other than he and his friends visited the old home, let alone occupied it full time. He had always suspected that the rules had been created by the older boys as safeguards against mothers noticing cobwebs on hats and to keep the younger ones from falling through the termite eaten floorboards of the second floor of the house, but had sensibly kept quiet. No one wanted to point out that the ghost nonsense was in fact just nonsense set down to keep the younger boys in their place, as this would result in not being allowed to play in the house.

Now being in his advanced seventies he decided against removing his shoes, his feet were not as tough as they once had been, but out of respect for his old fellows he removed his hat and hung it on the porch bannister. “I can see tomorrow's headlines... Old Man Found Dead In Old House,” he muttered as he pushed the door open and stepped inside. He immediately started coughing, clutching his chest and covering his mouth. He ignored the crimson drops as he pulled his hand away, cursing quietly about dust and mildew.

While the outside had remained timeless the inside certainly had been altered. Where there once had been an old couch, ratty mattresses had been pushed against the wall and he could hazard a guess as to their purpose, though he certainly could think of classier places for the act. Most of the old furniture had been removed, probably tossed into the yard to clear the room for teenage parties.

Graffiti covered the walls, serving as a guest book for the delinquent adolescent mob that had inherited it after his generation had long vacated it. He supposed the adults of his time would have called him a delinquent as well for flouting his mother's orders and spending time where he shouldn't have been. He studied the walls, marveling in the years of love stories, derogatory remarks and artistic endeavors that spanned the ancient wood. He smiled as he softly brushed his fingers against one of the boards, the dry cracked wood rough under his time wrinkled skin. “MS plus HF forever, eh? Wonder if they're still together,” he mused aloud, chuckling before exploding into another round of harsh coughs. He wiped his hand on his pants, feeling for a moment very much like a young lad again. If his mother were still around she'd flay him alive for wiping his hands on his pants, though they were dark and showed few stains. “Sorry ma, I'll pop them in the wash when I get home,” he promised with an aging mischievous grin.

Further exploration revealed the old kitchen too damaged to enter. Apparently at some point someone had caught part of the place on fire as there was a circle of charred floorboards in the center of the room and half the old dining table that had once occupied the space leaned against the wall, robbed of all but one leg. Dried algae several inches thick coated the crumbling remains of a wash basin and the rusty iron stove seemed to be the home to several generations of mice. “You're probably feeding several generations of feral cats, though I haven't seen any yet.” He told the scurrying rodents as one scampered across his shoe. He was suddenly immeasurably glad he had opted to leave them on.

He drifted throughout the house, a bit ghostlike himself he thought with a soft smile. Most of the rooms had been demolished much like the kitchen with the garish colors of spray paint informing him of the less than latest gossip. “MS loves JR... now are you the same MS as before? What happened to forever with the other person?” He grinned, making his way to the door that hid the stairs to the second floor. He doubted the steps would be intact enough to allow him to finally see what was up there, but some part of him needed to know. He hadn't thought of it often but since his boyhood on occasion he had wondered what he had missed. He knew some of the other boys had slipped up the steps, too curious to follow the rules and willing to risk the consequences, whatever they might have been. Every so often these years past he would contemplate making the trip back to see what it was like, but something had always stopped him. Then one day, released from the hospital with the doctor's admonition to take it easy and there wasn't much else they could do except make him comfortable, the need to know had engulfed him.

Abruptly, there it was before him and what he saw made goosebumps crawl across his skin. In bright red paint, as though written in fresh blood it stated clear as day.
Hats off. No shoes. Stay away from second floor.
He wasn't sure why, but seeing it there frightened him. Shakily he turned to leave, realizing he really had no business being here. The place was condemned and he wasn't a spry young boy anymore. A fall down some rickety old stairs could end his life. A coughing fit overtook him and he leaned against the wall as the rough barking coughs ripped from his lungs. The room began to spin and he felt himself sliding down the wall, vision going fuzzy as his mind went blank.

It was dark when he came to, still sitting on the floor. He was sore all over, every joint felt as though encased in cement and his muscles felt like they were taking turns being on fire one moment then frozen the next. He wasn't sure how long he had been there, and as time passed he began to wonder if he really was going to die here.

“Never go to the second floor. That's where she lives.”
“No one has ever been up there and came back to tell the tale.”
“No one is allowed up there.”

Those childhood voices began to taunt him again. He needed to know. An inexplicable need, a desire he couldn't articulate. It was like it was calling him, the past was leaping forward all these years, the boyhood version of himself telling him he was still just a coward too scared to climb some steps and prove everyone wrong.

Even in the dark he could make out the red letters, appearing like they were still dripping though they had obviously dried years ago. He shakily reached down and untied his shoes, trembling fingers fumbling with the thin laces. Once he had removed them he climbed slowly to his knees then used to wall to drag himself to his feet. He reached out for the door handle. The rusty scratched against his palm as he turned the knob, the ominous creak only making his already taxed heart slam harder against his ribs.

Nothing more than simple stairs, old and rickety looking, but just steps. He wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed. No screeching banshee woman telling him he wasn't allowed upstairs, no blood dripping from the ceiling or bugs pouring our from under the steps... just twenty or so stairs.

He nearly turned to leave. The anti-climatic opening of the door had ruined his desire to go on.

“Excuse me, sir? Are you okay?” The voice nearly made him jump out of his skin and he clutched his chest as his heart slammed about inside his ribs. He turned to see a young woman, twenty-five or so in age, wearing a paint splotched apron. She was slender, fine boned with delicate features and doe-like eyes that seemed to be endless pools in the dim light, her face framed by waist long tresses of dark hair. “Sir?” Her brow wrinkled in concern as she reached out and put her cool hand on his shoulder.

“Yes, you just startled me, young miss,” he assured her. “I didn't mean to cause anyone to come looking for me. I just had a little spell and needed to rest. Thank you for your worry,” with that he nodded at her and started down the hall back towards the exit.

As he glanced over his shoulder he saw her disappear up the stairs and he frowned. “Miss?” he shuffled back to the bottom of the steps and looked up, peering into the darkness for any sign of the young woman. “Miss?” He called again louder and started coughing again. “It's dangerous up there, you really shouldn't go exploring in the dark.”

The first few steps were very hard for him. He could barely get his old knees to bend the way they needed to and his hands ached as he gripped the railing. The wood under his bare feet felt dusty but not like they were going to give. They didn't even creak under his weight. The tenth step felt oddly easy to him, like his body had given in and decided they were going and there was nothing it could do about it except go along. By the time he reached the landing he was out of breath, tired and coughing a bit, but he didn't feel as bad as he had at the bottom.

The sight that met him took his breath away. The room was lit by candles, on window ledges and in sconces on the wall. Every inch of the walls save for two doors was covered in paintings of the town. Every building captured on canvas, every detail of the town from the flowers in front of city hall to the flag snapping merrily in the breeze in the school yard. The woman stood at an easel and jumped when she noticed him. “Oh sir, goodness, you didn't have to follow me up here,” she protested and stepped away from her work. “This is just the only place I have room to put my pieces...”

“This is amaz...” he was interrupted by another rough round of coughing and gratefully took the seat she offered. When he seemed to calm down a little she offered him a bottle of water.

“Did you used to come here to play as a child?” she asked suddenly, returning to her canvas. “There were once a lot of children that came and played here.”

He simply nodded, unable to catch his words. He didn't dare open his mouth for fear he'd start coughing again.

Watching him she picked up the brush and started painting again. “I watched lots of kids play here, but eventually they all stopped coming... so I started keeping my paintings up here.”

“Why not put them in a gallery?” he managed to ask.

“Because they're mine... they're so I can always remember how things were... I don't want just anyone looking at them. Not everyone would be able to appreciate them,” she eyed him oddly for a moment and he suddenly felt very much like he shouldn't be here. Like he'd walked into someplace very private and personal. He mumbled an apology and started to get up. “May I paint you, sir? Since you used to play here?”

Taken aback by the request but secretly little delighted he nodded. “Of course my dear. If you would like. When should I come sit for it?”

“Why right now, if you don't mind. If you're too tired it can wait,” her smile was soft and inviting but her eyes seemed to peer further into him than he was comfortable.

He burst into another round of coughing and the river of blood that dripped through his fingers made up his mind for him. “I'm afraid I don't know how long I have, my dear. It would be best if we did indeed do it right now. Age has weakened me and cancer eats at my lungs.”

She pointed to an upholstered chair in the corner that he hadn't noticed before and offered him a blanket. “Get comfortable,” she suggested. “This will take a few hours.” he took her advice and got himself situated in the chair and draped the blanket over his lap. He fingered the edges, feeling oddly nostalgic looking at it.

“My mother knitted me a blanket this color once, when I was a lad and was sick for a week... she sat and knitted all day, keeping me company in my bed....” he trailed off as he looked around the room. He snapped back to attention however when she gently reminded him she was trying to paint him.

Her brush moved silently around the canvas and he sat silently, not noticing as his aches eased. He wasn't sure how long she had been working when she began speaking. It was then that he noticed he hadn't had a coughing fit since he sat down, the longest he had been without one in over a year. As she spoke he felt his eyelids growing heavy and he began to wonder if she would mind him taking a little nap, surely she would understand.

“The children used to come and play here. I've seen scraped knee and slashed elbows, bloodied noses and blacked eyes. I've seen the tender buds of first love blossom. I've seen boys mature to manhood and never cross through my doors again.. I've seen shy young girls become mischievous vixens luring boy after boy here telling each one he was her one and only... So very few follow the rules. I like obedient children.”

The old man struggled to answer her odd monologue, unable to make his lips form words. He could barely make her out through the sleepy fog as her brush finally came to a stop and she looked up at him, a strange smile on her face. She set the brush down as his eyes finally slid closed, his chest becoming still and body relaxing into the chair.

She stood, taking the canvas to one of the doors and opening it. Inside was a neat row of paintings, each a portrait of a child. “They say there are ghosts on the second floor...” she cooed as she hung the painting new painting, smiling as the small group of children crowded around her to greet their newest playmate.

Posted on 2012-05-05 at 22:36:10.
Edited on 2012-05-05 at 22:41:04 by Kriea

Cheshire Cad
Karma: 102/3
1179 Posts

*fades in*

I definitely enjoyed the read. +1


Posted on 2012-05-05 at 23:50:21.

Karma: 138/3
1049 Posts

me too!

I enjoyed it quite a bit! Loved your description of the building and the rooms ~ it was very easy for me to imagine it. ^_^

Posted on 2012-05-05 at 23:58:47.

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