You walk over to the gate, run your hand over the rough, cold metal, rusted with age and weathering. You give it a push, it sticks, you push harder. It gives way with a grating sound, like nails on a chalkboard. You remember your grade four English teacher doing the same to get the classes attention. You wince at memory more than the sound that caused it.
You go through the gate and the trees suddenly fold in around you into yet another tunnel. You follow the path, twisting left and right, but this tunnel isn’t as dark – the leaves seem to shimmer, iridescent, ethereal. Your body feels lighter now, as if the glow is seeping under your skin, infusing you with the same luminous quality of the leaves.
The tunnel opens abruptly into another clearing, but this time the empty space is taken up by an imposing black structure. It’s three stories high with blacked out windows and ivy twisting up the precipices, choking the weathered sideboards.
A rock drops into your stomach. You don’t need to look at the book to know that this is what you were looking for. The sweet stench that has lingered ever since you step foot near the gate becomes stronger here, as though it was being forced out of the house itself. At least you don’t hear the windchimes. You don’t hear much at all.
You aren’t really sure what you’re supposed to do now. The book weighs heavy in your bag, and your skin turns clammy because you have no plan, no guidance other than this book. You are thoroughly unprepared. Why are you even here? You’re trespassing, even if it looks deserted. The tabby sits beside you, patient, waiting.
You feel your wallet in your pocket and remember the missing photo of your children. Who takes a photo of your children and not your phone, your keys, your credit cards? Your mind slips involuntarily, unconsciously, to the images in the book. Odd, deformed creatures, many only children, none are smiling. Were they natural wonders, or experiments gone wrong?
Your eyes scan the windows of the house, notice movement towards the top of it. Your eyes swing back to it – what did you think you saw? – but nothing is there now. You carefully check every window, but all is still.
You realize you’ve been holding your breath, so you let it out. The sound startles you – it’s raw, human. Will you find more humans in this house? Will you find anything in this house? You realize you’re actually considering going inside.
A chill creeps over your skin at the thought of what you’ll see in there. Vague, half formed possibilities flit across your mind, but you push them away. The hero in you wants to save the day, whatever that means. The coward in you wants to find nothing at all.
You don’t want to go in this house. You want to turn around, follow the paths, return to the alleys, and make your way home. You want to see your children. You want to pretend that this day never happened, but you’ve gone too far now, haven’t you? This is where your journey has led you, and you can’t stop now. It’s not over yet.
Tune in next Thursday for the next chapter. Previous chapters can be found here.