The house at the end up his street stood vacant and condemned for as long as he could remember. The neighbors had tried to keep it nice, mowing the lawns, replacing broken windows, and painting over graffiti, until they felt the pinch of the times and left. One managed to get a short sale done before leaving and the other was forced out by the Sheriff several months after being foreclosed upon. Since then, while the banks owning the deeds to the neighboring homes did some minimal wrk to keep them looking nice, the one between them, the one at the very center of the cul-de-sac, had very quickly descended into a state of disrepair.
None of the remaining home owners on the block were surprised when the authorities came out and nailed the “Condemned” and “Do Not Enter” signs about the windows and doors. The white boards and brilliant red lettering stood out in sharp contrast for only a few months before they faded into the dingy gray and black background that had swallowed the rest of the house. Everyone knew the signs were still there but you couldn’t see them anymore when you hurriedly swept your gaze across its frontage. The weeds had overtaken the lawn, gone to flower, and died off so many times that the front yard had turned into a miniature tangled forest.
As the eldest of four siblings, it had been Colin’s job to ensure that his younger brother (Arnie) and sisters (Beth and Ruth) knew all the terrible stories concerning the abandoned house. Some of the stories he passed on he had heard from other kids on the block and some were bits of imagination he had crafted just to torture them with. It was his duty, his responsibility, to scare them into staying far, far, away. And, if he got a little enjoyment out of seeing them wide-eyed in terror, what of it? Wasn’t that also part of being the first-born?
The stories became local legends. The adults had even picked them up and passed them along at their own local gatherings. As the children would meet up, on their bikes and boards on the corner under the grand elm that guarded the entrance to their cul-de-sac to swap stories, baseball cards, comic books, and jokes, so too would the adults meet up in the evenings in this house or that to do their own swapping over a glass of wine and a fine cheese plate.
However, while the adults talked of figuring out a way to get it torn down by the city or pooling some resources to work on restoring it themselves, the children eventually got around to daring one another to breach the wrought-iron gate, march up to the front door, and knock three times to see who, or what, was still inside. It took several years for that dare to finally get accomplished, but Jake, two doors down and a year younger, had risen to the challenge.
Colin, not one to be outdone by someone younger than him, and not wanting his image of toughest kid on the street to be tarnished, let alone to think that Arnie, Ruth and Beth could look up to someone other than him, decided on a course of action. He would not only prove his bravery, regain his crown as toughest kid, but he would also make it impossible for anyone to ever top him again.
With a bag packed, and a note left for his parents that he was spending the night down the block at Jake’s house, he walked up the street towards the decaying building. The graffiti had returned shortly after the neighbors had moved out but it, like the signs added by the city, had faded into the building. Almost all of the windows had been smashed by a rock or a missile fired from a slingshot or pellet gun. Only two remained intact, one on either side of the front door. They looked like eyes watching him as he steadily approached the gate.
His feet wanted to stop his progress but he couldn’t let any fear show. He tried to convince himself that he didn’t believe any of the ghost stories he had told about the place. He knew he had made up half of them anyway. But, he had told them all some many times he had grown to believe them too. He was worried that he spoken them into being.
Enough of his mind didn’t believe that was possible to give him the will to keep walking towards the place, the house of his brother and sisters’ nightmares, the vacant home that haunted their street. His will was strong enough to carry him all the way to the black gate.
The roof was missing shingles in places. The yard was a mess. There were visible cracks across the crumbling walls. The whole thing seemed to lean towards the front. Then he saw movement behind one of the broken windows upstairs. The fluttering of a drape caught his eye and he snapped his view quickly up to it. His knees nearly buckled when he realized there was no drape hanging behind the cracked and shattered glass.
A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that every kid on the block was either in front of their homes or standing behind a front window. He could see his little brother, Arnie, clutching his blanket with one hand, and clinging to the hem of Ruth’s dress with the other.
He squeezed through the iron bars of the gate and waded through the sea of dead weeds. He reached the door faster than he was happy about, turned the knob (and cringed internally) when it allowed him to open the door and swing it inward. He felt, more than heard, the collective intake of breath from everyone watching his progress. He didn’t dare turn around and see them again.
Colin stepped across the threshold and the door closed behind him.
Word Count: 1,000
Written in response to “Open Ended” – this week’s Flash Fiction Friday writing challenge.
You’ve still got some time left to submit something of your own. All you have to do is create a tense scene with an open ending that leaves us wanting to know what happens next.