Contest #144 shortlist ⭐️

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Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Start your story with somebody taking a photo.... view prompt

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Fiction Contemporary

“Huh, what’s this?” I wonder aloud to myself over the rush of the waves.

The third level of the observation tower groans as I step forward and put my hands on the rusted railing. I look into the fog beyond the breakwater toward an inlet I hadn’t noticed before. As I focus my gaze, I see an elaborately built house, complete with gables and towers, just behind the misty curtain.

I zoom my phone’s camera in and take a picture portrait and then landscape. It’s like something out of one of those “it was a dark and stormy night” stories. With a swipe of my sleeve over the droplets of water on my glasses, I pull up my photo app to take a better look at the house.

The house that isn’t there.

“What the–?”

I close the app and reopen it. Sure as the wind blows, there is nothing but the sea and the breakwater in the photo. Strange. The house sits obliviously ahead.

I open the camera again and try one more photo.

Nothing.

With another sleeve swipe at my glasses, I put my phone in my pocket and turn to descend the stairs. The cold metal railing feels rough and bumpy in places under my hand, but my attention is fixed on the house invisible to smart phones.

After a fifteen-minute walk, I find myself standing where the trail meets the pathway leading to the house. Sure as the sky threatens rain, the house stands just ahead. I pull out my phone once more in case the photo was a trick of light and fog, but no. Once again, there is nothing in the picture but the water. Not even the pathway or weedy grass.

I narrow my eyes and study the house.

Ahead is a charcoal gray Victorian style house complete with black wrought iron accents. A swollen, sagging covered porch surrounds the outside of the house with charcoal posts and trim that was once a clean shade of white. Set just ahead of the rest of the front, the door has been painted to match the trim on the porch and a semicircle of glass pie slices was built into the door toward the top. One of the slices has a spidery crack.

I put my hand on the rail and set one foot on a step. It doesn’t make a sound thanks to the wood saturated by the sea air. Despite this, it feels sturdy enough. I climb and stand inches from the once-white door. Before trying to open it, I cup my hands and look in one of the windows. The house looks abandoned. Pity. It is lovely in an eerie sort of way.

Through the dirty windows, I see furniture covered in sheets, dull wooden floors, and peeling wallpaper. Whatever this house was, it is no longer. Its owners left it in one way or another, and it seems to have been promptly forgotten.

With a short couple of steps, I find myself before the door again. I consider my options, though I know full well I will try the door and go in if it were unlocked.

And that’s just what happens.

The brass knob is surprisingly unmarred by the elements that had gone to work on the observation tower, and it is warm to the touch. Well, by warm I mean it is less cold than everything else around me. I twist it and give it a light push.

It doesn’t open.

I twist the knob again and give the door a harder push. It jostles. I put my shoulder into it. As the door opens, it emits a long, low groan as though pulled from a deep slumber. The dusty clutter I spied through the window is firmly fixed in my mind, and I don’t expect what my eyes behold.

The hallway ahead of me and the floors I see from the open doorway gleam from a recent polish. Light pink and white flowers dot the unblemished wallpaper, and couches and chairs of deep green and tables of rich mahogany decorate the living room straight ahead.

I lift my foot to take a step inside, but it feels as though an unseen hand is pushing me back.

“Keep out,” it tells me.

But I have to see what else waits inside.

I brush the invisible barrier aside and enter the house. My shoes make pleasant echoing thunks as I walk along the hallway passing sconces and crystal adorned tables. I stop at the first doorway, the entrance to another living room. It smells of potpourri and tea, and I feel as though I can hear the din of multiple conversations as the host holds court among friends and lavish furnishings.

On the far wall hangs a collage of photographs in sparkling silver frames. I am surprised to see the array of men and women in the pictures. Any type of person my mind could conjure is represented on that wall. I find myself wondering what their connection is as I turn to walk out of the room.

I climb the nearby stairs and walk toward the first open door. In the room is another wall of photographs, even larger and more diverse than the first. As I step closer, a breeze passes through the room and sends a chill down my spine. A single sheet of paper drifts from a credenza onto the floor and I pick it up.

“Welcome home” is written in large, scrawling ink letters.

Welcome home? I consider the note a moment and set the paper back on the polished wooden surface. I scratch the back of my neck. The breeze coming in the room rustles the hair that has come loose from my ponytail and is tickling me. I step back from the credenza and look around for the window letting the air in.

The culprit is a window near the corner of the room. The lace curtain dances softly toward the bottom where the window is open a crack.

I brush the white lace aside and peer through the glass as I slide the window shut. In this part of the house, there should be a beautiful view of the ocean. But there isn’t.

The thick fog is all I see. It’s as though that fog is all that exists. I opened the window and stuck my head out. I could hear the water whooshing below, but I couldn’t see it. I angle my neck and body to look in the direction of the observation tower. It, too, is gone– somewhere behind the increasingly oppressive miasma outside.

Even without the creepy contrast between the interior and exterior of the house and the strange note in the abandoned house, the worsening fog is an indication it’s time to leave.

I descend the stairs and feel rough wood under my hand when I touch the rail. I look down to find stairs slightly warped from the moisture in the air. Beside me is peeling wallpaper over crumbling walls. On the first floor, sits covered furniture and dull floors– just like I saw when I looked in the window from the porch.

Without thinking, I turn and ran back up the stairs. What I see causes goosebumps to radiate on my skin and chaotic butterflies whirl in my stomach. 

The room I visited before is now decorated with covered furniture, yellowed lace curtains, and windows swollen shut. All that’s left from before is the polished credenza with the note reading “Welcome home” in that antique-style scrawling handwriting.

I hurry back down the softening stairs and fling open the door. Just as when I entered the house, I feel a hand stopping me. Rather than pushing me away, it pulls me back. I turn to the side as though to slide through the door, but again, I am pulled away.

Am I trapped?

I pull my phone out of my pocket to call for help, but drop it when I see the screen.

My photo gallery is up, and the first picture is a large Victorian house surrounded by fog. With clammy hands, I retrieve the phone and zoom in. My breath catches. The front door is ajar just enough for me to see someone peering out.

Through the fog, I see a figure approaching the house. I wave to get his attention and assistance. He doesn’t respond. Instead, he raises his phone. I see a flash followed by a familiar confusion when the man looks at his screen. He doesn’t see me wave to him, and he probably won’t hear me speaking, but I call to him anyway. The man turns this way and that searching for the source of whatever he just heard.

He doesn’t see me trying to step over the threshold and out onto the rotting wooden steps.

The man takes one step and another toward the house.

The next person to find the house probably won’t see either of us.

At least we all get the photo we were looking for.

May 05, 2022 03:53

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11 comments

L. Maddison
07:55 May 14, 2022

Exquisite detail- the glass pane with the spidery crack, the smell of potpourri and tea, the loose hair at your neck-what a feast for the senses. This is a great ghost story, Jamie.

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Jamie Gogocha
18:59 May 14, 2022

Thank you so much! I appreciate your comments & am glad you enjoyed the story.

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:17 May 17, 2022

Simple, straight and easy to comprehend.

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Jamie Gogocha
01:15 May 19, 2022

Thank you!

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Philip Ebuluofor
06:19 May 21, 2022

Pleasure

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Andrea Doig
06:27 May 15, 2022

I loved the story! Just up my alley. Creepy and cool. Good concept. I just noticed the tenses changing now and then. Otherwise… loved it. A great story to continue on with. Looking forward to chapter 2 😉

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Jamie Gogocha
16:51 May 15, 2022

Thank you!

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Faith Ogedegbe
08:59 May 14, 2022

Nice story

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Jamie Gogocha
18:59 May 14, 2022

Thanks!

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03:08 May 14, 2022

I loved reading this! I had chills and just HAD to get to the end to see what was going to happen. I also loved the last sentence and how this story ended.

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Jamie Gogocha
18:58 May 14, 2022

Thank you so much! I'm happy you enjoyed it.

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