Gravel and Glass

Written in response to: Set your story in a haunted house.... view prompt


Fiction Suspense

The house is closed most of the year. Spring summons a torrent of bugs and great gusts of pollen, in the summer the smothering heat keeps any potential visitors at bay, and in winter, though the barren tree limbs lend a picturesque tinge of desolation, the cold invades every room and wall until it becomes colder than the land itself.

But autumn, that much awaited and all-too short season, brings out the best in the old brick house, a cornucopia of seasonal delights that always tempts lonely travelers to explore the dilapidated and unkempt place. 

The wrought-iron fence is the first hint of the house’s existence. It encircles the land’s perimeter and neither limb, bush, nor vine touch this stalwart barrier, some trees even leaning away as if blown by unnatural winds warning away any living thing that dared creep closer. As one drives beside it, the anticipation mounts as you await the arrival of what must be a truly magnificent entrance. And there, just as you begin to wonder how long this iron barrier could possibly continue, you see it: a set of gates flanked by stone statues, these stone pillars vaguely human but so worn by the years you can’t say for certain who they might be or even from what century.

It does not matter. The gates stand open and you, curious and a little bored, slowly pass between them, shivering as a gust of wind sends another cascade of leaves to the driveway, the dead castoffs swirling in lazy circles before resting in the still-lush grass.

Large oak trees border the gravel driveway and you listen to the crunching rocks beneath your feet—isn’t that a lovely sound?—and the gentle rustle of tree limbs as they prepare to shed the last of their leaves. The cool air and distant scent of woodsmoke are your only other companions as you stroll up the winding drive.

Who owns this place? you wonder, stooping to pick up a stray acorn off the drive; its perfect shape is too irresistible and you put it in your pocket. Some distant relative of the original owners? You recall seeing a library back in town and you decide to peruse the land deeds when you leave.

The trees end and you stand before the house. Your head tilts back as you take in the three stories of brick and mortar, the façade peppered with over a dozen windows, their frames rotten beyond the point of function, most of the glass panes missing or mere shards, some openings only a gaping maw to the dark interior. A few over-eager rose bushes have clambered over the windowsills and even now a smattering of late blooms can be seen, the small bursts of creamy white a stark contrast to the brick and thorns.

No other structures are in sight and you walk toward the house, its shadow falling over you as the sun disappears behind the building. The front door still hangs by both hinges and, after checking for any warnings or other posted signs, you turn the dull brass handle and push open the door.

Your boots scuff across the black and white checkered floor of the foyer, the tiles cracked and pitted as if a hailstorm fell upon it. Piles of decomposing leaves fill each corner of the room, darkening an already gloomy setting. The smell is as you’d expect: damp, musty, and decaying. The wind entering the destroyed windows snatches away that enclosed scent of disuse, but in its stead are strange fungal odors and more than one animal’s droppings.

“Hello?” Your voice barely leaves your throat and you clear it to try again, hesitating when you hear the gritty crunch of someone stepping on glass.

Before you can talk yourself out of it, you march toward the half open door to the left, your mind flipping through all the possible causes for the sound. When you push open the door you’re startled to find…nothing, not even a vagrant, your top choice.

This room is one of the places the roses invaded and spindly vines cover the floor in front of the windows, hiding what glass might still be there. The rest of the space is empty save for a solitary chair on its side, the cushion eaten by mice and the backrest gnawed in several places. You move toward the chair and carefully set it upright.

It’s an old house. You have a vivid imagination. Of course you’d hear danger where there is none.

You spy a slim door tucked in the back corner of the room, its empty window frame showing a sliver of a stone fountain. Taking a step toward it, your coat snags on the chair and you just manage to stop the chair from crashing to the floor, deliberately making sure it no longer clings to you before straightening. The sound of the front door opening again startles you and you rush across the buckling floor to pull open this side door, the window’s glass crunching under your feet as you step outside, closing the door behind you once more.

The fountain, dry and cracked, with moss, leaves and other debris filling its pools, sits at the entrance to a hedge maze—the once orderly greenery is now wild and branching, the original pathways overgrown. Your hands itch to grab some clippers and carve a trail to the center; it’s a large area, it must be hiding something.

The sun peaks out from behind a cloud and you’re reminded of the late hour.

Trudging across the thick grass bordering the gravel yard, you reach the front of the house again. The door is open. The person behind you must’ve walked up the drive too, for there’s no vehicle in sight. You’d rather not meet them; it might be some ghost chaser.

The walk back to the gate is pleasant and along the way you find and pocket another acorn. Perhaps you might plant them both. That faint scent of woodsmoke comes again and with it a feeling of contentment.

Your feet stutter to a stop and your head slowly tilts back. The trees have ended and you stand once more before the brick house.

September 15, 2023 18:28

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