Abandoned~ an excerpt
June 5th~ 6:30pm.
It took Casey over an hour to find her house.
She had walked back as quickly as she could towards the clearing. After standing for a while to work out where she was, a bit weak kneed and shocked, she had noticed another path not as trodden down and used, which seemed to curve around the clearing and lead her back in the general direction of the house. She must have taken the wrong path, but admittedly she had never noticed this one before. Not really caring about details at this point and feeling very hungry, she had almost run until she reached home. Everything had been as it was when she left. No snake chain on the gate and no burned out bricks. A bit puzzled but just relieved to be back, she was now lying on her bed staring at Eliza. That doll was just a raggy old thing made of cloth. Limp legs that were not even the same length, a smile that was stitched and then painted over with acrylics and those over-sized punk eyes.
No. She hadn’t moved. She had just imagined it all.
She sat up and pulled her mud splattered boots off, throwing them into the corner. She felt calmer after eating a hefty dinner with her mum downstairs. They had even managed a conversation without biting each other’s heads off, which was a miracle. Even when Mum had mentioned going round to introduce herself to Lee and his sister, Casey had managed to bite her lip.
She laced her fingers together behind her head and lay back staring at the ceiling. He had really annoyed her and those baggy jeans were hideous, but there was something about him. Could she imagine herself friends with him? His girlfriend? No. She liked long haired rockers who played guitar not skateboarders who listened to the pop charts in their back garden. It was a real shame though, because he was deliciously cute.
Suddenly, huge blobs of water could be seen dripping listlessly down her window pane. She slid off the bed and pressed her nose against the coolness of the glass. She loved looking out through the distorted lines of dancing water at the trees that took on bizarre and sometimes scary shapes, making them shrink and stretch. She wanted to be outside and more to the point, exploring that derelict house, but there was no way in this lifetime that her parents would let her go out in this weather. She would have to climb out her back window and risk breaking her neck while struggling to climb down that dead tree. Dad was probably still in the dining room and would see her as she slid down the slimy trunk that, unluckily for her, was in full view of the dining room window.
But was he? It was Thursday, wasn’t it? Mum and Dad had said they’d be working late at the surgery on Thursdays. So that was what Mum had shouted up to say. They must have already left. She wouldn’t have to risk her life; she could simply use the back door!
Pulling open her wardrobe door, she frantically searched for her hooded jacket and found it stuffed at the bottom underneath a pile of old school books. Her boots were snatched from the corner and her scarf was retrieved from under her dressing table. After falling over her own feet twice in an attempt to put them on too fast, she grabbed her bag and glanced outside again. Excellent, it was pouring!
Outside, the back yard was rapidly becoming waterlogged and she could barely see in front of her the rain was pelting down so hard. It was making a constant tap, tap, tap noise on her hood and had already started to drip down onto her nose. As she walked through the gate, she smiled as she smelled that lovely earthy aroma of wet leaves. She was excited without really knowing why. She leapt into a few puddles on the way to find the path to the derelict house, sending muddy water splashing against her knees. Her slightly dark and haunting music playing on her MP3 created a ghostly atmosphere through the woods as the twilight chased her softly towards her clearing.
She didn’t really know where she was going. She had been so pre-occupied with getting home earlier that afternoon that she hadn’t thought about the weirdness of the path that had mysteriously appeared. She thought she had explored the woodland quite well since she arrived, having been insanely bored and fed up most days it had been her only pleasure. So where was it now? It had taken her around the other side of the clearing before changing direction. She was sure she should be able to see it from where she was standing, but no. There was only this path, the normal path going back home. What was going on? Was she actually insane?
Stepping off the path she knew, she decided to take a closer look and rummage around in some hedgerow and thickets. Maybe the path began somewhere hidden away. After about ten minutes, she was about to give up when she trod on something slippery and had to grab a branch to get her balance. She stepped back and gave it a prod with her drenched boot. It looked like an old sign post. She tried to lift it up and drag it out of the tangle of branches but ended up kicking it as it was too slimy to grab. There was some writing on it. Mould had eaten most of the letters away but she could make out where someone had scrawled ‘Public Footpath’.
What public footpath? She said out loud. It was then she realised she had found it.
There was a path of some kind right there where she had kicked the rotten wood. Slightly confused but feeling ready for new discoveries, she followed the muddy path. The wood was peaceful and evening had almost fallen, creating dancing shadows that seemed to taunt Casey and spur her on. The rain had only just stopped but curiously the ground wasn’t damp at all. She continued, focusing her eyes on the distance, getting ready to see the gate with the snake chain wrapped around it. A few seconds later, there it was.
A fresh breeze tickled her face as she stepped into the clearing that lead up to the gate. It was very similar to the clearing that lead up to her house but there was something different here, something disturbing that she couldn’t place. As she put our her hand to test the chain again, she noticed that her breathing was shallow as if the oxygen had been sucked out of the air.
I hope I don’t get that headache again, she thought as she remembered almost fainting earlier that afternoon.
It was then she noticed the gate was open.
The chain was there but the bolt that had locked it was gone. Good. She wouldn’t have to climb up over that gate to get in. It would be easy!
Ok, I’ll just go inside then, she told herself. Someone else has been in so it must be safe.
Pulling at her scarf and burying her face in it for comfort, she began walking towards the back door. It was a sad sight hanging there lifelessly, the occasional breeze causing it to sway and groan like an old man. She felt light headed, but put that down to excitement. She loved exploring derelict places even though she knew it was dangerous. Glass crunched under her feet. She remembered it was from those kitchen windows but couldn’t bring herself to look up at them. It was then she realised she was actually a bit scared.
Keeping clam, she approached slowly. As the breeze shifted the door as if to entice her in, she smelt something unusual coming from inside. There was the old, mouldy, stuffy odour that she was used to that always seemed to hang around these places. And something else. It was almost undetectable, but it was there.
She swallowed and almost gagged as her throat tightened. Feeling shaky, she put out her hand, steadied the swaying wood, and squeezed inside. Beyond the door it was pitch black. Just like her house, she was in the small hallway where mum kept the umbrellas, gardening gloves and rain coats. It had no window. Then she realised something that made her stamp her foot in frustration. She had forgotten to bring her torch.
After a few seconds of contemplation, she decided to brave it and continue without it. Cautiously putting her hands out to guide herself along the narrow wall, she shuffled her feet forward slowly in case she banged into something and went flying on her face. She had been in other buildings before where there had been dead animals, rotting furniture and in a lot of cases, broken glass strewn in front of her. Falling over onto anything like that in the dark was not an option.
The silence was too loud in her head, like when she kept her ear phones in after the whole album had finished playing. She often woke up in the middle of the night thinking she had gone deaf, then realising she had fallen asleep listening to music that had finished hours before, the ear phones blocking out all sound. Even the wind.
‘Hello?’ She shouted into the black void all around her. ‘Is there anyone here?’
The sensation that she was deaf as well as blind unnerved her. She wanted to see something, anything. She knew the kitchen should be on the right hand side and she strained her eyes in the dark to see any sign of light. The door was obviously firmly closed because there was nothing visible. Just a black void.
The scorched smell was overbearing and she stopped a few times to pull her scarf back up over her nose and mouth. What was that scuffling noise? Had she really heard that, or had it been the amplified sound of her boots scraping against something underfoot? She shook her head to rid herself of it and moved along.
Slowly, her eyes became accustomed to the dark. She noticed the outline of the kitchen door behind her, like a tall foreboding figure silently stalking her. She had come to the large square hallway which had adjoining doors to the living room, dining room and study. There was enough light here to see that it was exactly the same layout as her house because the huge oak front door was slightly ajar and the arch windows that looked down on her majestically from the high walls were not all bordered up. Casey glanced around in awe as her artistic eye drank in the morbid, gothic scene in front of her and all around her. Instead of the bright, cheerful décor of her mum’s pastel palette, she was astounded by the mottled greys and burned sienna shades of peeling wallpaper, contrasting with the occasional patch of blue where the fire hadn’t quite reached. The windows, exposing their antique frames appeared menacing without the gentleness of the velvet curtains to frame them. Splintered planks of wood had been hammered over the top of the glass panes, some like weave, letting thin rays of the evening dusk light fall like lasers into the vast space below. She rummaged around in her bag hoping upon hope that she had brought her mobile phone to take a shot. She took three pictures and stuffed the phone into her pocket, plunging her hands deeper inside. She didn’t want to touch the walls now that she had seen how parched and fragile they looked. In fact, the whole building seemed as if it could just crumble any second, the potency of the smell enough to rot away the naked walls and corrode the bricks.
She crept passed the dining room and lounge doors. They were mostly charred black, but in her mind she had flashes of bright white as they were in her house. Mum had painted them. They had taken ages to dry and every time she had gone within five meters of either of them, her mum had shouted at her to watch her clothes. Getting really sick and tired of it, she had mischievously scraped a peace sign into the paint with her nail. Mum still hadn’t noticed it.
Everything suddenly seemed smaller as if the walls had shrunk and shrivelled. The charcoal smell was so strong it felt like it was scraping away at her brain from the inside. Her eyes were watering and she felt sick, but she really wanted to see if this owner had had an attic room like hers. Well, it was more like an attic apartment really as it spread across most of the top of the house with a large sloped ceiling in the bedroom area, a small bathroom and a circular cove place where she did her art work and her homework. She liked it mostly because of its dim ambience. It only had three windows; one half circular shaped one opposite the bed (that was her favourite because it was similar to the one in the attic of the Amityville house), one right in the corner of her study area where the big dead tree acted as a ladder of escape, and one in the bathroom. That was tiny and had cool little coloured flowers along the bottom like a mini stained glass window. She was sure that room was haunted and had often tried to contact the spirit that she knew lingered there.
It was a pain to have to climb three flights of stairs to get up there. She loved the little narrow steps that lead up to her attic but the rest of it was awful. Mum had spoiled its old, spooky, sketchy feel by painting it all pastel colours and getting hideous cream carpets put down everywhere. Casey would have left it alone, left it for the ghosts to feel at home in. She really wanted to see this attic but despite her usual gutsiness, she felt really anxious approaching the stairs. Staring up into the darkness, into that unknown void just beyond where the stairs curled round and disappeared, she felt that icy finger again. She knew that she would certainly regret not checking it out once she was safely tucked up in bed later on, kicking herself for being such a chicken. She took a deep breath, regretted it immediately as the acidity bit the back of her throat, and took the first step.
The stairs were in a bad shape. Some of the banister was missing and splintered black stubs of wood stuck out in all directions like bad teeth. The stairs themselves felt strong, but she would have to double check each as she let them take her weight. It was hard to balance when stepping so gingerly and with nothing to hold on to. The creaking noise that the second step made caused her to scream out, her ears having long ago become used to the dead silence. She hadn’t yet felt comfortable looking up as she had been preoccupied with where her feet were going, but she glanced up to check that the next steps were all intact. It was then that she saw something.
She almost fell back down the stairs as her heart jumped and stopped for a few agonising seconds. She thought she had seen Eliza sitting on the decorative wooden post at the top of the stairs. Staring down at her boots, not knowing what to do, she froze. She could also make out very faint sniffing noises as if someone was crying. Casey considered making a break and just legging it out of that front door. She couldn’t bring herself to look up. That can’t have been Eliza! And who was crying? She gripped the banister, forgetting that it could collapse at any moment, and forced herself to look up into the darkness.
Please don’t be there, please not Eliza, she thought trying to get a grip.
Her eyes focused. A dark back cloth of shadows. The banister. The post. Eliza.
And Eliza was crying.
Casey was horrified. She stared at her face, unable to comprehend how this was happening. How could she be here? How could she have tears? No.
Without thinking, she took three steps at a time, oblivious to the possibility of falling straight through rotting wood, grabbed Eliza by the hair and stuffed her into her bag. She didn’t want to see that face, that ugly turned down mouth and those tears painted on her face!
Every cell in Casey’s body was screaming out at her to get out. Glad the front door was slightly open she hurled herself at it, knocking the breath right out of her. She staggered breathlessly out into the fresh evening air and blindly continued running. Heading in the direction of the back gate, her boots touched gravel and amidst her panic and fear she felt something flapping against her ankle. Stopping and resting her hands on her knees to get her breath back, she noticed a piece of sketchbook paper stuck to her boot. Almost in tears by now, she ripped it off and stuffed it in the bag as well.
Fighting back waves of pure shock, she ran out into the woods. She didn’t notice the rain again as it fell on her hair and dripped down her nose. She didn’t notice Lee as she ran past his house, watching her sadly from his bedroom window as she disappeared into the woods and out of sight.