Insurance Investigator

Written in response to: Start your story with the whistle of a kettle.... view prompt


Contemporary Horror Suspense

I think the whistle of the kettle should have been a sign that things were soon going to go terribly wrong. 

The house was a time capsule, a time the former occupants rather forget. That is probably why, for the better part of twenty years, it was abandoned. Well, abandoned is hyperbole in this situation. No building is truly abandoned, ghosts inhabit overlooked corners all the time. But, for all they cared, the house was a shell. A shell that the entire consciousness of the neighborhood waited to burst into flames.

I think it only stood out of spite, but my opinion hardly matters.

Now for these types of things, a reader’s only concern is who the narrator is. I apologize for being so blunt on the matter, but, I am hardly one to beat around the bush. My name is not important, give me whatever name you think suits me. Have fun with it, give me yours. But if you lack imagination or a name of your own, you can refer to me as my occupation. I am the Insurance Inspector. 

Approaching the house was anticlimactic, it looked like any other two-story made in the seventies. Hardly worth the stories told about it. I could see how such a house could acquire such a policy, my employers were happy with the arrangement. Despite this, my work had just begun.

Rotting apples scattered the lawn, one even having the theatric timing to fall right as I was crossing the threshold of the gate. The tree from which it fell seemed older than the red bricks that made up the structure. Its leaves blotted out the sky with their might.  The air was intoxicating, the fermenting fruit surely having a hand in this, but the tobacco-stained every breath from years of small flames being lit. All the windows were blacked out from thick curtains or were sun damaged now making them closer to sand than glass. The door stood heavy, a thin screen door protected it. A doorbell was the only way to communicate between the two worlds. 

I could hear the sound of the chime threw the door, I had a key but this was a formality. There was no reason to frighten the ghosts. 

Oddly enough the inside offered comfort, it had a suffocating nature that tricked you into feeling swaddled. The shag carpet had seen many dinner parties and muddy shoes in its day, though now a thin layer of dust shrouded anywhere an eye could look.

According to the file the prior family had sold this place to some developers who wanted to tear it down and build some condos. Unfortunately for them, this house is in a rather precarious spot, if I correctly heard it was something about a gas line, regardless tearing it down would be worth more than the trouble. So, to settle they have instead decided to split the house in half. Get some quick cash from the poor souls who will soon be bled dry, then when the red tape fades they will get the bulldozer. Business as usual. But until then, they wanted me to make sure no one would die upon entry. Something that I did with each step.

Despite the size, the house itself had few rooms; but the furniture was still there. A maximalist style of congesting walls that were closing in. I will say though, that the velvet wallpaper is a nice touch, I hope that makes a comeback. But I digress, and I start taking notes. Insignificant to the plot, I promise, me counting windows and pulling at the bars welding them shut is no event. But, if you are curious, there are five windows on the main floor. See, absolutely riveting. My work brought me around each corner, creaking wood revealing my path with every step. I did not mind this, made me feel like I had some company.

Out of a habit I flicked on the light switch, of course, this did not work, the power was cut long before my arrival. However, it was not a complete waste of action, electrical fires are always lurking in houses like these. The flashlight lit the way. Mirrors that could swallow me whole watched me from the walls, my presence repeated over and over again. What struck me was how frozen everything was, like at some point there was life here then, gone. Haunting really, the prior owners never said why they felt the need to sell. I never did talk to them, I only spoke to the current owners who live in apartments that cut clouds. Well to be even more specific, I spoke to their lawyers.

I should stop interrupting myself with such mundane topics, if I do not stop myself now, I will start going on tangents that could lull a thunderstorm to sleep. I would not want to do that to you, you seem like a good person. Anyhow, I will continue.

The stairs were the most concerning part of the house, the smell of rot permeated through the floorboards. The doors were all closed to the second level, the flashlight hardly pushing through the congealed darkness. The rooms that were hidden revealed little, this must have been the children’s rooms because there were the least personal. If the house was a snapshot, it was clear that they were never quite in focus. Each room was identical in theme, with enough religious iconography to make a sinner flammable. But other than that, the fact that a life was lived here seemed like such a foreign concept.

The lace curtains seemed shocked when I opened the window, fluttering like they were trying to run away. The cold air of September crept in like it was not supposed to be there. I opened more doors, the eyes of a crucified Jesus had a frozen face of contentment. That gaze crawled up my spine as I turned to leave. The bottom of the stairs is where I saw it. Well, saw it is a little bit of a reach. I saw something dart in the kitchen. I ignored it, my glasses sometimes get smudged. I could turn my head too fast and trick myself into thinking that I am in a room full of dissolving people.

But, to be honest, I think I did not panic because I was not panicked by the possibility. Seeing old houses in various states can make a person question the things we often overlook in our day-to-day lives. The home is one of those things, I am sure you are sitting in yours right now, if you are not then you must wish you were. However, if you were going to be honest with yourself, how well do you know your own home? My job lets me have a peak into those small worlds, worlds that have been forgotten, anticipating for an eternity. You can see that only so many times before it loses its mysticism. Time turns a home into a house.

I noted any potential hazards, nothing beyond some power outlets that were due for replacement. A suspicious stain long faded across the ceiling, water damage is the culprit I assume; other than the black tracing its edges a quick fix. And you can officially add two more windows to the total. The bottom step creaked, I did not even look down. Older houses do that sort of thing, boards of wood like to talk to each other. Even though I had not even put my weight on the top step yet. What did capture my attention was how one of the vents had an entire roll of paper towels shoved in there. It had a putrid smell to it, and though I could have pulled it out I determined that it was, in fact, not my business. It was safe to assume it was keeping something out, something that seemed to be rotting. An exterminator would need to be called.

The basement was next, I was told it was forever being renovated. I was greeted by the main floor on my way there, nothing had shifted too much. Those mirrors make the room look infinite, the copies of myself twisted over each other. As I walked towards the stairway heading to the basement, some of them lagged to catch up. I got to the door, a brass lock kept anyone too short to unlock it. More stairs greeted me, and just like the ones leading to the heavens, the ones leading to hell also delivered darkness. Poured concrete and a light fixture missing a bulb were as exciting as the décor got. Sheets were used as attempts to protect what little discarded possessions were left down hear. The heater was original from when the house was built, it was clear that the beast was long since dead. Something to note, there was one sliver of a window with newspaper slapped on it. And what looked like to be a laundry room that was stripped of all appliances, must have been worth something, other than more outlets and paper towels soaking up the decay.

Dead flies crunched under my feet. The sound of my breath echoed against those barren walls, each breath I took disturbing a decade of dust. Some of the cold air from outside finally trickled its way down into the stagnant pool I was exploring. That was when the batteries failed me. Go figure.

I smacked the flashlight against my palm, a flickering light was its only response. A light that soon went out. I could feel the walls taking the opportunity and inched closer, just by a hair. This is why I like to do these sorts of things during the day. Could you imagine if this was a dark and stormy night?

The musty smell followed me up, the darkness snapping at my heels. I went over my notes, it seemed that I had only one room left. The kitchen.

This room seemed the most worn down, the vinyl was nearly dissolved, sagging in the middle, making the table unstable. That was something to report back, there was also a hole over the sink, I think it was supposed to be a window. Now it was all boarded up. Some of the light from the other windows crept up behind me, it grew my shadow to make it look like it was ready to gulp me down whole. I took a step in, not sure if the wrong one would land me back in the basement again. Despite the condition of the floor, I did not hear a peep from it.  This room was perfectly quiet, I could however hear a pounding in my neck—at a rate I found rather alarming.

It was not the kind of reaction one gets when they are afraid, no, no this is different. Even now when I am telling you about what happened I still cannot find the words, maybe there are no words for that feeling. That sensation of waiting for something terrible to happen, but dread would be too forward.

The cabinet doors were torn off, a gaping hole where a fridge should have been. More vents stuffed shut. I took note of it all, my hand smudged the ink. I’m sure it will wash off.

I steadied my breathing, it was like lifting an anvil with my lungs. Somehow, the pounding dissipated, it washed over me leaving a thin layer of sweat behind. Old houses can sometimes spark that in a person, though I have mostly overcome such excess of emotions, sometimes it can throw me off. I am only human. I scribble down as much as I can without getting too close.

There seemed to have been an electrical fire near one of the outlets, probably the reason for the missing fridge. Without much light, it was hard to get many details. However, looking to the right of the room there was the oven. It looked to be white at some point, now it just waited. Waiting for something I never thought to ask, because talking to ovens is not something normal people do. I apologize for the jokes, it helps me separate myself from what is happening. I moved slightly to let some sunlight crawl over to it, something sat on top of it, a round ceramic on the burner. A mossy green with a cream colour floral pattern clinging to the spout, a tea kettle a relic of the times. It looked to be in a rather good condition, maybe it was the distance between us, but there did not seem to be that same veil of dust that graced every other surface in this house.    

Tempted to walk closer I took my chances, carefully putting my weight on spots that seemed somewhat functional. There were a couple of times my ankles quivered under the pressure, but reaching for the counter added some stability. Even if it was just emotional stability. The handle looked well worn, but the rest could pass for a showroom display. I was shocked no one had taken it with the rest of the valuables, I think my great aunt had one like this—hers was baby blue. The nostalgia of that thought made me reach for it, just to see if it still carried all those memories.

I wish I had not.

Because it was scalding, the handle not even giving protection, as a line on my palm was sure to scar. I jumped back, nearly falling into the dip, catching myself on that topsy table. Maybe there was a squatter here, I did not see any signs of life, but they could just be well hidden. That must be it, I tried to call out to them.

“Look, I am just here with the insurance company. I am not with the police.” Nursing my hand, I waited to hear something, even the sound of someone shuffling around. “Just let me know you are here” the silence continued. Snaping my neck back and forth I saw no one, not a soul in sight. I was not sure what my next move should be, I have dealt with squatters before but there were at least some clues. Candy wrappers, cots, and patched electricity; I saw none of that. Unless maybe they had patched the electricity for the stove, I mean that cannot be that hot if they somehow did not get the power on. So, I just had to find the light switch and prove that there was in fact electricity in this room…and none of the others.

All the bulbs were gone from the room, and with most of the outlets fried I could not even risk plugging in a phone charger without seeing an early grave. There must have been another way to check, someone with experience in the area will read this and wonder how I was so stupid. I went back to the oven, looking under the ventilation hood. It was blocked off with another roll of paper towel. A light bulb was there though, a switch was a relieving sight. So, I flicked it on. Then I flicked it off, then on again, each switch more frantic than the last. The light bulb was not turning on.

Maybe the bulb was burnt out, that is a real possibility, maybe there was someone scheduled to come and replace them all. But part of me knew that was not the case. My eyes glided down to the kettle, it was just sitting there, I pulled down the sleeve to my jacket and picked it up; with my bare hand I hovered it over the burner. It was stone cold, my fingers traced the spirals in disbelief. I put the kettle back down and started to walk out of the room.

This is where our story began. When I turned my head and I heard that kettle cry out. Steam rocketing out, earl grey choked out the room and I ran. I had no interest in having tea, I do not think I ever will. I rocketed out of the house, passing the mirrors now steamed over, slamming the door on my way out.

Falling to my knees when I got to the parking lot, I could not help but look back at the house. It looked so insignificant, underserving of the rumors that clung to its siding. What caught my eye however was the open windows on the top floor. My terror made me forget to close them, I watched as the curtains fluttered, swirling white fabric; fabric that seem to separate from their rods, and shut the windows.

No one believed me at the office, they said it was probably a gas leak, I said I was willing to go back if someone came with me. But I was laughed into a mandatory mental health break. That is why I am writing this dear reader, I am too embarrassed to have my name attached to this; if I do not write this down and have someone read it I think I will convince myself that it never happened. I am not a talented writer, if I was then maybe you would think I was lying—I would never lie about this. There is one fact I neglected, during my escape, my notebook must have fallen out of my hands. I had made peace with that, I did not even need it anymore, that house was burnt into my mind. However, yesterday I went to my mailbox, and there it was.       

August 26, 2022 23:57

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