The House That Was a Home

Dylan Stuflick, Editor-in-Chief

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It was impossible now to put a date, an age, to the sprawling house she stood in front of. It had sat there and watched for years. For most people it was simply there, a footnote at the end of their history books.

Some would’ve called it a colonial home when it could’ve been called a home, but now it was merely an old house, left to whatever forces might wreak havoc on it.

She remembered before rot and decay had claimed it. The paint had been white before she had left but now nature’s leprosy had claimed the walls, leaving swathes of wood exposed to the outside world. The window shutters had been replaced by rotting boards, making it impossible to see the state of the windows beneath. A few straggling shutters still hung on by barely a hinge, but soon they would join the fate of those scattered about the lawn.

The grounds had flourished in their own way; no longer held back by little trimmers and careful extermination, they grew and left behind the mark their keepers had tried to make. The vines climbed the walls of the house, finally taking back what was theirs from before the house had ever stood there.

Ellie’s eyes returned to the gate, its rusting hinges barring her from entry, reminding her that this was hers no longer. The intricate designs that once danced across her memories, flitting into her mind when she least expected them, reminding her not to forget, were barely distinguishable on the gate now.

Just for a moment she thought she could see a little girl flitting between rooms. The paint was fresh and the shutters still stood sentinel about the windows. The gates were polished and gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. Laughter and music flowed from the halls of her memories.

She settled herself, gathering her thoughts, and pushed open the front gate. It slid open without a creak. She stepped inside cautiously, almost expecting something to change once she had finally made the decision. The only difference was a slight breeze blowing fallen leaves across her ankles. She didn’t know quite what she had expected. Perhaps a flash of lightning crackling through the clear blue sky would’ve been appropriate.

The path that once was well-trimmed and paved with whitewashed steps now lay there cracked and dying from years of summer sun and winter ice. She stepped carefully down the path, trying her best not to disturb the uncomfortably peaceful atmosphere. It should have been different.

There were cracks in the steps leading up to the front door. Gaping reminders of the time she had spent away from home.

Ellie hesitated at the top of the steps. Her hand paused an inch away from the door, and she couldn’t bring herself to open the door and face the remnants of her past she had left behind.

She had come here for a reason, though. How could she let her past keep controlling her? It had been twenty years and still it followed her relentlessly. The house had fallen to ruin and yet still it played on her emotions and thoughts, never leaving her alone.

And so she took a deep breath, and as she let it out, turned the knob and faced the remnants of a house once so great and a past once so filled with joy.

She stood there, perfectly still as she contemplated what she might find inside. Revelations? Conclusion? She feared that she might not find anything at all.

The sunlight cast a cone of light into the spacious front hall. A chandelier caught some of the light, sparkling as the sun approached evening. Most of the old light fixture laid on the ground, a small minefield of glass and metal. The dust around it, cast into the air by her violent intrusion into the home’s untouched peace spun in the air, circled, and spun again before falling to the ground.

She expected the remains of something. Some sign that others had made use of the shelter, but there was nothing to show that there had been visitors. Untouched was perhaps not the correct word to use though. Time had touched these halls, but man had left it be.

She stepped around the debris, walking around to the stairs on the other side of the hall. They curved up and around the back corner, heading to the second floor balcony that teetered over the back wall. Ellie followed old paths up the stairs, avoiding the holes and rotting planks without looking down.

She knew her old home.

Where once the wood was warped from damage, the planks had rotted away and just like she had as a child, she avoided them with barely a thought to their presence. She was caught up in the memories, pulled towards her room, that epicenter of her younger life, with no option but to experience.

She saw a young girl, her hair a mess of tangled knots and split ends, the lack of care intentional to the point of fault. The girl ran down the hall to her left, trailing a concerned mother shouting Elizabeth to her unrepentant ears.

She followed quietly, witness to a past she had let fade to distant memory long ago.

She turned a corner and there, just running into her room, was another girl. This time she was older, maybe twelve. This time too she ran from someone calling her name. Finding refuge in her room from angry shouts.

She knew, as one looking back now knews, that the room could only provide refuge for so long before it too would fall and the home she had lived in for so long, became a house to flee from, an prison to escape.

Walking through the door frame, she pushed forward. She pushed through the barrier of regret, shoving it to the side for some far-fetched idea of healing. She had run away for too long now. Moving from house to house, trying to find something that gave her the comfort she had once lost here wasn’t working anymore.

She crept into the room and the memories swept away the grimy present. Another girl, almost a woman now sat on the bed, seething with anger while tears streamed down her face. Ellie stepped to the side as someone slammed on the door shouting her name. But the girl sat there, merely crying harder than before, cowering into the folds of the blanket.

The booming continued, growing louder and louder until the door slammed open, pieces of the doorframe scattered throughout the bedroom, her shelter invaded. The tears reached a crescendo, the conflict reaching a point she never thought would ever occur.

She fled, crawling and scrambling back as far from him as possible like a bug in the shadow of a boot. She knocked things over as she fled, careless, desperate in the face of an anger so much greater than her own.

Things flew about the room as he raged. Papers, pencils, a computer, all fell like chaff before a sickle, almost welcoming its fate. She sat there and watched, cowed at last from fear that she would be one of the items thrown to the side and cast off, broken like the rest.

She had pushed for too long and finally she had found his limit and in doing so found her own.

Soon his attention turned to her again and she froze, the tears on her face stopped as they both realized what was to come next.

She was the first to move, scrambling to her feet, trying to reach the door. She had only a moment, but it was enough for her to get out the doorway first.

This was the only chance she had to escape. Escape forever. To be free of him. To be free to write and run and think without struggling against him at every turn.

She fled down the hallway, tripping and catching herself as she ran down the steps.  He followed, knowing what she ran for and hating her for it. Murder lay in one’s eyes, hope in the other.

But hope drove her faster and as he reached the bottom of the steps, the door slammed shut ahead of him.

Now in the ruined house, she almost thought she could imagine, could see, the guilt creep into his facade, like the climbing vines that now consumed the house.

She had known her parents had left the house soon after she had run away, but never before had the pieces seem to fit together so smoothly. The realization crashed into her and pushed her to her knees.

She knelt there and cried, knowing somehow that her father had done this before as the nightmare their house had become tumbled around the both of them. For her, her old home would no longer haunt her dreams. For him, she could only imagine how long he had suffered under the terrible weight of guilt and shame, unable to pass it on, to give it up.

Instead of fear or anger towards him for what he had done, Ellie felt only pity and shame for all she had put him through. She refused to let the guilt dwell on her, she knew the damage that could do now, she knew it all too well. Guilt had ruined both her memories and her home. She, at least, could move on now. 

 

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