It was him. It was the house. It was us. There was something wrong in the air, and each storm that rolled through the valley touched nothing inside our dilapidated fence lines. A perfectly unbothered acre of what a happy farmhouse becomes once it’s left alone too long.
The house was never empty, but it was always neglected.
We were never alone, but we had a hard time staying together. In our minds and with ourselves.
The day we finally found the house, we’d been searching for it ever since the world fell apart 17 days ago. Our faces were covered in dirt, ash and blood. We were so much less than we had been, from the starvation, the brutality, and the difficult travel. Halfway over the Appalachians, we almost gave up. But he kept telling me about his uncle’s farmhouse. The man’s home was ready for what had happened last month - he was a Prepper.
So, yes, the journey was difficult, but the surety of safety the rural, weapon-filled, bunker nature of this destination was going to be worth it. He promised me, when, in the grand scheme of things, nowhere was safe anymore.
When we finally came upon the house, we sat stood at the broken, sunken front gate, staring at a building that looked like merely a breath could topple it.
We looked at each other, reached for our knives, and proceeded through the front yard. Only a few knocks on the front door revealed the only inhabitant that would be surprised by our visit was a panicked raccoon. No other sounds. So, turning to each other once again, we decided he would call out for his uncle, just to make sure he wasn’t planning to Vietnam-style sniper us from somewhere on the property.
Once. Twice. Three times. Nothing. We went to the bunker entrance. It was unlocked, so there was no point on calling here, but we did anyway. Nothing.
That couldn’t be it. So we split up and searched the house. The sagging stairs, the ivy that had taken up residence along the ceiling in the foyer, made me wonder how long ago the story of this Prepper uncle had ended. Or if it had ever been true.
I came to a den near the back of the house and noticed a bookshelf tilted outward from the wall. Keeping my wits about me and my knife in front, I crept around the side of the bookshelf to find a door. With 3 deadbolts. And 2 padlocks. And keypad entry.
What in the actual fuck.
Just then, my partner called for me, and I called him back over to where I was, in what was apparently The Fucking Library of Mysteries. He didn’t understand what my face was about, and then he saw the door. Crudely reinforced, patched wood and all those locks that had been mounted and remounted over time. There was one corresponding repair on the back of the bookshelf, as if someone had once managed to break out from whatever was behind The Locked Door.
We looked at each other again. And that is the last day I remember feeling truly salient.
Waking up on a bed we had made of old pillows and blankets gathered from parts of the house, I felt like a squatter. Things had fallen apart so rapidly, that even three weeks out from Day 0, I still woke up every day wondering if it was all a delusion.
But the ivy on the walls, the mice in the floors, the fallen plaster in the halls - it was still The Farmhouse.
How many days?
My partner isn’t sleeping next to me. For the last two… three… I don’t know - several mornings, he’d be gone when I’d wake up. I’d find that he’d made a pot of coffee and took a mug to the den to just sit and stare at The Locked Door. So, rubbing my eyes awake, I walked back to the den. I gave him a good morning kiss and asked him what he was doing. But he didn’t kiss me back, and he didn’t answer. I asked him if he was okay. He shrugged. I asked him if he knew how many days we’d been here. All I got back was a gravelly, “7.”
There was a hammer on the floor next to him. His knuckles were bloody, and so were parts of the door frame.
He’s sleeping in the den now, too; I brought him blankets two nights ago. We tally days on the back of the open bookshelf now, but I could swear to you we only got here a couple days ago. We didn’t. It’s been 31 days since Day 0. That means 2 weeks in The Farmhouse.
Sometimes, I sit next to him for parts of the day. But I still have to take care of us - someone’s got to keep food and water in the house. Something I am having trouble understanding in this new reality where we live in a magic haunted swamp house, is how it goes that each time I step out the front door to hunt a rabbit or a fox, one just appears at the broken front yard gate. And just stands there.
Outside of the house, no birds live in or mount on any trees within the fence line. Nor have I seen a live creature - bug, newt, bunny - nothing within the fence line. It almost seemed as a fortress mound of tangled barbed wire, rotted wood and mossy overgrowth that kept everything outside. Or everything in.
I go to the den to show my partner the fox that let me kill it. Suggested he come out of the den tonight and make stew with me. For just a moment, he looked up at the fox, and then into my eyes for the first time in so many days. And in a split moment, I saw him remember who we were and how much he loved me.
And then it was gone.
When I finally convinced him to leave the den and help me cook dinner, it seemed as if there was only a shadow of a man following me. Something was wrong. But something was wrong with me, too. Then I saw him notice the deep, oozing scratches up and down my neck and arms.
Something has been in my skin for days, and I can’t get it out.
For just one more moment, I saw him see me, and he took me in his arms and pressed his cold, starved body into my dirt-and-blood-covered frame. And that was the last time we were anything of who we were.
It’s been 47 days since everything changed, and a month since this house began to consume us. All I know is the tallies. And the tallies turned to blood 6 days ago. Something is under my skin; if I keep my face open and bleeding, it can’t keep growing inside of me.
He stopped sitting in the den 3 days ago, when he realized something. I don’t know what it was; I just saw him suddenly stand from where he was and lunge at The Locked Door with the weight of his body and the full force of the hammer that had been at his side all these weeks of watching. The guttural sound he made as he moved - it wasn’t someone I recognized. It wasn’t something I recognized.
Now he just claws at the door. Sometimes slowly, sometimes angrily. He never speaks to me anymore. He broke his left thumb and forefinger yesterday. He stopped for a second before slamming the same fist back into the door. Like it was nothing.
Sat on the step in the doorway to the den, I couldn’t stop feeling the things crawling under my skin anymore. I took my knife out.
He smelled the blood that had begun to pool at my feet, and he turned to me and asked me what I thought was behind The Locked Door. It was the first time he’d spoken an entire sentence to me in weeks. For a moment, the incessant crawling feeling all over my flesh stopped. I looked up at him, surprised I even recognized his voice anymore. He wasn’t someone I recognized. He wasn’t something I recognized.
We weren’t something I recognized.
And then in less than one moment, The Locked Door flew off its hinges and across the room as a gust of the coldest air I’ve ever felt filled the space. In the same moment, the creature that used to be the man I love embraced me and pressed his body into mine. And it felt too warm. Blood poured down our legs from between us, out of the wound in my gut where he had just plunged his knife.
The room behind The Locked Door screamed in all its inhabited emptiness, and then, just as quickly as it had opened, it slammed shut, and all the locks re-engaged on their own. At that point, the only sound was my heavy breathing as I tried to lower myself back to the step in the doorway.
He didn’t help me; he just let me fall and try to hold myself up.
My SKIN. Keeping one hand on the knife wound, I began to use the other to open up the skin on my face. Even my eyes now - it was in my eyes. I looked down at the knife. And thought for a moment.
But then he was running across the room, towards the fireplace mantel. Full speed. And he struck the corner of it, forcefully, right on the side of his head. And that’s the last thing I remember ever knowing.