Welcome to the new Wednesday Fiction series, Abby the Hero. I feel a few words are due before we dig into this one. I began the Wednesday Fiction series for two purposes: one, to give my fiction readers something more to read in between my releases and two, to experiment with genres, ideas, characters, and plots. This is why the stories have bounced between topics and genres so wildly. In the process of digging these stories out of my subconscious, I’ve discovered a few things: I’m more comfortable writing with a female protagonist for whatever reason (I suspect because my earliest stories featured them – 24 years of habit can really wear a groove into the mind), I’m fascinated with undiscovered and hidden things that most people might not notice, and that, at present, I’m fascinated with the dichotomy between what someone believes themselves to be and what they actually are.
I’ll talk some more about this with the next entry. For now, enjoy the story.
The sun had just begun its descent over the sea when Abby arrived at the house on the ridge. A seasoned urban explorer at all of 16 years old, she knew that exploring this house at twilight might not be the smartest (or safest) idea, but…
Calculated risk, she thought. A calculated risk with potentially enormous emotional payoff. Something in her soul, the same part that drew her to these abandoned places, insisted on seeing destitution in this light. Like it or not, this house practically breathed the dark smoke of the road poet, and her emotions responded in kind.
So teen angst, she thought, but she loved it anyway. She had spotted the place a few weeks ago on one of her trips through the forest, riding her scooter on the way to one of the abandoned coastal towns to the north. The town had made for great exploration, enough to fill an album of photographs, but it had been spoiled by the presence of the house on the ridge, lurking just beyond her consciousness.
Now she stood at the top of that ridge, facing the house at last, drinking in the atmosphere. She fiddled in her messenger bag, withdrawing her tiny black camera. This was, after all, the entire reason for being here: the hunt. The photographs.
She fingered the sides of the camera and gazed at it, thinking of the places that they had conquered together. Old theme parks. Abandoned houses. Empty light houses. Trudy, she called the camera, and though she knew quite well how strange it might be to name your camera, it made perfect sense to her. After all, the thing had been her only constant companion for these treks.
She snapped two shots of the house, ensuring that this view – the house in this light, framed so perfectly – would endure.
She reviewed the images and grinned. Excellent. Just what I needed, she thought, and took a few steps toward the house, gazing up at the second floor and the dark windows that floated just above the elaborate wainscoting of the porch roof. As she stood there, she heard the beginning of a song in the back of her head.
She cocked her head and tried to take hold of the words that floated through her head, to ride that melody to its logical end, but the song slipped out of reach every time she got close.
She took another step, and now she stood at the foot of the stairs that led up onto the wraparound porch. The song in her head grew louder, asking her to go forward, to come home. She put her foot on the first stair and the voices exploded, becoming a warmth that spread downwards from the roots of her blond hair, ending somewhere around her toes.
Her head swam, the world tilting and spinning. She closed her eyes, stilling her mind. She would do this. She had to do this. The voices insisted.
At last she took that final step up onto the porch, grabbing one of the wooden columns for support. As she did so, her mind stopped spinning. She opened her eyes and found herself in the center of a calm spot, a light breeze blowing through her hair. A gull cried somewhere in the distance.
She went toward the door and paused as something crunched underfoot. She looked down and discovered that broken glass covered this side of the porch. It took only a moment to figure out the source of the glass: the main picture window on the first floor had been completely blown out, as if someone had flung something heavy through it.
Wasn’t that whole just a minute ago?
She searched her memory. She couldn’t be sure. Nothing had been clear with those voices in her head. She brought the camera up and adjusted it, studying the broken glass through the viewfinder. She tried to imagine the people that once looked out through this window. Had they ever pictured a world where the glass had been destroyed, the paint peeling, the floorboards claimed by the local flora?
Maybe. Maybe one or two of them. But not all of them.
That was the kind of thing that drew her forward.
She raised the camera, pointing it through the window. She had hoped to catch a glimpse of the interior through the gently flapping, rotting white curtains, but it had already grown too dark inside the house. She pulled the camera away from her eye and briefly considered using her night vision attachment, but she thought there just might be enough lighting to give this shot the mood she wanted.
Two snaps, and she went to the door. She raised the camera again, studying the texture of the dark wood through the lens. Something seemed off about this wood. Too dark…charred maybe? She lowered the camera and cocked her head, studying the frame surrounding the door. She saw no hints of scorch marks there.
She snapped a few more pictures of the door and then sized it up again. Time to go inside. Confusion overwhelmed her; she usually felt a rush of anticipation and joy at these moments, wondering at the treasures that might wait inside. She had found so many fascinating things over the last few months – abandoned toys, meals left forever uneaten, beds full of bones. Relics of the forgotten world.
She had expected this house to make the sensation even greater. It had, after all, called her name for these last few weeks. Now, though? It made her want to turn tail and run. Scurry away and hide. The thing practically radiated a dark energy that repelled her from up close, despite the voices calling her forward.
She wondered if that might be part of its power, that it both compelled her and terrified her. Maybe. Probably. That certainly had a lot to do with her exploration in general.
She sighed and touched the doorknob. She went to turn it, but hesitated as a wave of emotion washed over her. Sadness. Pain. Fear. Somebody died here.
No, she had no idea whether that was true. A guess, right? A hunch?
This feeling – this absolute certainty – turned the trip into something more than a simple exploration. It transformed a fun, if simple, trip to a place of power into a dark, forbidden step over the threshold of a much larger world. It became the kind of place where even adults would be a little uneasy.
And it was all hers.
It overcame any hesitation that she might have felt. She turned the doorknob and walked in, feeling like an empowered woman and not a scared little girl.
The inside felt close, claustrophobic; she could see that it had not been lived in for years, like many of the other houses that she had visited. Those, however, had felt dead, just places – this house felt very much alive, and very much aware of her presence. For a terrible moment the floral-print walls seemed to breathe inward, closing in on her.
She cried out and took a step backward, watching as the walls receded, moving for another slow breath.
Okay, that’s enough of that, she thought, and turned, grabbing the doorknob.
She couldn’t turn it, let alone wrench the door open.
“Oh, no. Oh, no,” she said.
Stay calm. There must be a back door, she thought, and gazed through the back of the dark house, wondering what might lie back there. A kitchen? A living room? The portal to hell?
It occurred to her that the house, or its unseen occupants, might be funneling her in that direction.
That’s when she heard a sound at the top of the stairs. She froze in place, cocking her head, trying to piece together what she had heard.
A voice. That had been a voice, and a familiar one at that, but like the song outside, she couldn’t quite grasp why it felt so familiar, or even what it said. It occurred to her that this might be the true person – or thing – drawing her forward. The intelligence behind the house.
Abby turned to her right and started up the stairs.
You can read Part Two here.