The path, overgrown with weeds and bushes, wound its way around the house and stopped at crumbling concrete steps leading up to a solid wood door. I stood before it, trying to reconcile what I was seeing with what I knew to be true. Habit and propriety compelled me to knock though I knew no one would answer. My knuckles rapped lightly against the wood, but the sound of it echoed around me, louder in the silence than it should have been. When, as suspected, no one answered, I tried the door handle and found it unlocked. With a loud creak, the door swung open into a large kitchen. The smell of mold mixed with something rotting hit me hard and made my stomach turn violently. I covered my mouth and nose with my hand to keep from throwing up. Pregnancy had made my stomach even weaker than it usually was and I found it hard to keep from throwing up even on good days.
Soft damp leaves covered the floor but an unsettling crunching sounded beneath my feet like I was treading on the bones of tiny dead animals and each step forward made me cringe. Dull light filtered in through the greyed and torn lace curtains covering the windows, barely lighting the space enough to see that the kitchen was filthy and had been taken over by animals. Beneath the dirt and debris though, I could see that it was once very loved and cared for - the room was tidy, everything in its place, but the odd thing was that it appeared as though the family that lived there was about to sit down to dinner one night and instead decided to walk out the door and never return.
A large table surrounded by six empty chairs dominated the dining area to the right. Before each chair was a place setting, complete with everything needed for a meal - a placemat that was once made of thick dark cloth topped with a dinner plate, framed with cutlery and a water glass. In the middle of the table sat various dishes that obviously once held the meal these people were about to eat, but all that was left was dried remains of whatever animals hadn’t gotten to.
A cool wind blew in through the open back door, easing the smell enough that I was able to move forward through a dark, narrow hall that connected the kitchen to the living room. Gone was the beautiful room I had sat in before. The room was basically as I remembered, though now covered in rotten leaves, dirt and the remnants of animals just as the kitchen was. The two couches still faced each other but one was knocked backwards and the upholstery on both of them was torn in multiple places and the wood beneath rotted and chewed through. The wallpaper, once inlaid with thin blue stripes, was badly stained a sinister dark brown in multiple places along the floor and peeling in thick strips all over.
Over the empty fireplace, the mantel was still filled with family photographs - dusty and yellow with age. I rubbed the sleeve of my dress over the glass to remove the grime and reveal the same family posed over and over again for the same photo. A mother. A father. A young girl with a dark braid and a very young boy with hair so light, it was almost white and eyes so blue that they were bright even in the black and white photographs.
In all the photos the family smiled and looked happy, but as I cleared photo after photo I noticed that the mother was always looking just slightly away from the photographer. In every single photo, even though her smile was pointed at the camera or at her family, her eyes were focused on something in the distance. Each photo was taken outside with the house framing the scene behind them. With one of the photos in hand, I opened the front door and immediately knew where she was looking - the tree - clearly visible just down the hill from the house. I knew that it was what commanded her attention all those times, in all those photographs. How many times did it hold her that weren’t captured and preserved on paper? Did she know, as I did, what it was and what it meant?
I looked back into the dark, lifeless house with a new and complete certainty that not only was something was wrong with me, but that something was also just…wrong. This house proved it. This photo proved it. Most of all, the gaping whole in my chest proved it. My legs, suddenly weak, shook and I sank down to the floor, despair filling me to the top. When I glanced at the mother in the photo once more, I instead saw myself staring back from behind the glass as the little boy with blue eyes haunted me.
The frame hit the wall, shattering the glass and the silence and the voices.