As my dangling keys clank against one another, they sound like rusty chains. My fumbling hands miss the door lock again, and it feels like a much more devastating failure than it appears. Eventually, I jam it in with enough force I think I could have just pushed the door down instead. This is the same key my mother once used, but it doesn’t seem to fit, not as well. The door opens anyway, and I step inside to the entryway. I shut the door quickly behind me, and as it closes, the light of the evening sun disappears behind the distressed wood, leaving me and the rest of the home in familiar darkness.
There are plenty of windows; my mother used to leave them open in the spring and autumn, letting the cool breeze and sweet smells waft in from the outside, soaking into the walls. Now, only a few are visible behind thick curtains that have been drawn shut in her absence. Soft and thin streams of light filter through cracks between the inadequate panels of fabric, evidence the sun is fading fast, and will soon be absent altogether. They illuminate the dust suspended in the air, the thin layer of dust coating nearly every surface: furniture, art, and knickknacks, stagnant and stale. I need to clean. Maybe tomorrow. I can’t right now. I’m just too tired.
I used to leave the curtains open like she did, but they always seemed to fall back to obscuring the light on their own. I stopped trying. At least like this, I don’t have to see the flowers she planted in the garden or her old station wagon deteriorating in the driveway. The dark isn’t as bad as I’d imagined. It’s mostly empty.
I shrug my coat off and toss it to the ground by the door. I don’t see where it lands. I’m alone here, and no one will care. I reach for the nearest light switch and flick it on, a brass lamp coming to life. It blinks. It flickers. It burns out, and I’m returned to the realm of shadows. I can’t keep the lights on. This house always used to be so bright.
I rub my hands against themselves, against the cold, as I start my arduous trek up the staircase. The boards creak under my feet in loud groans, and the moaning continues long after I’ve finished. As I pass door after door, my hand trails along the wall, against the gaudy wallpaper she had loved, and I had always hated, and against the discolored outlines adorning it. They were left by photos that once hung there. Faintly deeper colors than the rest of the wall that had faded with exposure, these empty spaces will soon fade as well until it is all equally dull. The photos have been disappearing from the walls, like everything else. One by one, photographs, trinkets, and memories have vanished. Leaving behind only bones, small disruptions in the omnipresent dust tell me anything was ever there. Her home is decaying.
I pass a room with an open door (there are not many anymore) and gasp, the air in my throat escaping and dissipating with a chill. In the darkness, I can barely make out the silhouette of a woman. She is unnervingly thin and pale, and she stands still, gawking at me with an open mouth and sunken eyes. She reminded me of her when she was young. It’s wrong. I’m frozen in place. I blink. Again. I reach in with a shaking hand and turn on the light switch. I’m left staring at a mirror.
I float from room to room like I am barely there, invisible and inconsequential, an unwanted visitor and shadow of who had once walked these halls. I arrive and open the door. I don’t bother turning on the light. My hands ache under the weight of the mirror as I bring it inside and lay it amongst the other forgotten things that crowd the room: family photos, books she loved to read, crafts she made, a painting I once painted for her, the television she watched her soap operas on, and her favorite chair from the kitchen table; all the things I can no longer stand to look at. The room fills with whispers. I absently brush away, welling tears from my sore eyes and shut the door. I lock it.
My mother’s house is haunted.
Victoria Lane is a graduating senior at Lindenwood, completing her degree with majors in Game Design, Digital and Web Design, and Art History. She plans to continue her education through Lindenwood’s Writing MFA, where she intends to write more original fiction and poetry. She loves to read comic books, collect action figures, watch films, play video games, make art, and yes, write.
Portfolio – victoriamlane.com
Instagram – @victoriamadilynlanee