the return home...chapter one...just a start

“What the hell do you want?” slurred the raspy voice, screeching like a prehistoric bird from behind the rusted metal door. The door was standing loosely in its twisted frame; barely attached to its crumbling hinges but somehow managing to remain a part of the house that was beyond disrepair. The house looked as though it could collapse at any moment. Though a perfect location for squatting, it could not possibly be suitable for staying permanently. The exterior boards were falling down or eaten away by rodents and various insects or simply rotting. The windows were broken and what once held the screens in place were twisted back from the weight of the house falling and settling. I’d not seen the house in years, almost a decade if not more. It was never perfect but it was livable in my youth. Now the bushes were towering above the roofline or dead and the smell of rotting vegetation permeated the air.  The scent of fecal remains of rodents lingered near the door along with the unmistakable odor of feline territorial musk. This could not be the same house I grew up in.


The world had changed drastically over the past ten years since the collapse of the long standing government was momentarily replaced by an irrational military sovereignty that disappeared almost as quickly as it had risen to power; those in brief power had lost to themselves and there were not enough concerned citizens left to support a weak demonstration of any sort. Everyone was out for themselves. History was repeating itself. Small villages and tribal groups had assimilated in the more rural areas when most fled the larger cities. Those that remained in the cities were more often than not rogue by nature and not to be trusted. So much still looked the same, nature not having taken over everything yet, but this house was almost unrecognizable.


I could hear shuffling and banging just beyond that door and what sounded like an earthquake of books and papers falling. I was almost afraid that the door could somehow be a portal to another place. What was beyond that door could not be worse than what was outside. Surely no one would live in these conditions of their own accord. I stood watching cautiously; listening.


“I asked you…what the hell do you want?” came that horridly thick voice that was unmistakably the result of years of smoking, drinking and misery, this time much closer than before.


“I’m looking for someone,” I answered firmly but not too aggressively.  I was looking for my mother, Mara Keegan, not a fight and from the unsettling appearance of the dwellings I was not sure what might make its way across the threshold once the door opened. I’d come this far. I wasn’t going to give in to fear this time. There were so many free roaming thieves or worse hiding in places just like this. With the collapse of civilization came fear and distrust for anything or anyone. The only person a man could trust was himself no matter the time of day. Criminals didn’t have to hide in the dark. It was dark now and somewhat safe but I kept my guard up.


As my heart began thumping harder I tried to control my breathing, my voice feeling stuck in my throat as the door opened. The obviously unnecessary locks turned and the door was pried away from the frame by a pair of pale white hands with long unkempt yet clean nails. The long boney fingers curled around the edge or the door. I could only see as far as the arms to the wrist of the creature on the other side. Inside the house was dark, no light or candles lit. I could not make out the figure just standing inside the doorway. A face leaned closer only revealing its left eye, a large gray-blue eye in a pale face. It was a face that had been hidden from the sun for years or possibly a lifetime.


“Who are you and whom are you looking for?” the voice came again much softer, deeper but still a voice that was imbedded in a soul that suffered through years of self-abuse.


The vague expression of the face that was visible was a mix of curiosity and anxiety. Fear seemed to be close behind. I had searched for so long and didn’t want to appear a threat while seeking answers to the many questions that had been haunting me for the past several years.


“I’m looking for someone who used to live here,” I tried to answer as pleasantly as I could while trying to not gag from the stench of mildew and filth that was seeping and oozing from just inside the door.


            “There’s been no one here but me. No one else,” the voice trailed off painfully as the eye disappeared in the shadows followed by a clumsy scuffling sound as the creature disappeared.


The door stood ajar in the open early dusk, the mosquitoes and moths buzzing and flying about. I remained still, standing on the stoop as the rush of foul smells continued to pour out from within. I didn’t want to give up. Finding my mother and the answers as to why she left me, her only son, with my father in such a reckless state was a task weighing too heavily upon me to not push on. My left hand pressed upon the edge of the door I slowly pushed it open. The dark and dank interior was riddled with piles of books and papers and endless mountains of miscellaneous debris and items that once were treasured collectibles now tossed about with little care given. My eyes adjusted to the dimming light and I could see somewhat across the room the French doors to the back of the house were open if not completely removed. I quietly removed my rucksack I’d been carrying and leaned it against the wall by the door too avoid making any more unnecessary noise. It contained all my supplies and memories. All in one bag; the only physical reminders of what my life used to be.


I closed my eyes for a moment to remember the home I’d once played in, laughed in, and took refuge in. The bitter sting of disappointment welled up inside me as the memories of my childhood flooded to the forefront of my mind. To see the room lit up, and colorfully decorated in what my mother could afford or what someone else threw away that would become a new prized piece of furniture. It was warm and inviting but always cluttered. The poor woman could cook, clean, repair anything and make use out of just about any piece of junk but was never much for organizing.


The sounds of my mother laughing, and singing along with various and random songs blasting loudly with little concern for the neighbors momentarily filled my ears. My childhood pets, dogs and sometimes cats, running through this living room or lounging on the couch and the smell of my mother’s perfume and cigarettes all fond memories. The spicy and smoky smell used to fragrantly fill this now rotting mess of a den. Chanel and Marlboros. An odd combination but she was an odd character; witty and astoundingly intelligent but cared little for socializing or mainstream festivities. Too often she was consumed by some bizarre research for her personal interests or tending her permanently broken heart to care what the rest of the world was up to. Granted she was firm in her belief that I become educated and resourceful. But I never knew what made her suddenly turn her back on me and leave me with a father that was barely a man, no more than just an old overgrown child. I could understand fully why my mother had refused to marry him. I knew there was more to that part of her life than she would ever divulge to me but I had my ideas as to what happened between the two.


With my thoughts turned bitter I slowly let myself come back to reality, letting the memories of the past fade away. I carefully and silently made my way around the piles of junk towards the back entrance of the house. I could feel the damp muggy air flowing in from the backyard. Summers in the south never seemed to end even when the sun went down. I did not see or hear anything but the symphony of crickets and the wind swirling through the limbs of the juniper trees. It was as though the house was now void of life save for possible wildlife taking up residence. The smell was putridly unbearable. I stepped out into the darkness of the backyard and breathed in the hot humid air.


The yard was bathed in almost complete darkness but for the almost full moon hiding just behind the tops of the trees. Not even the street lamps worked. No lights from any of the abandoned houses along the streets were available to guide me. There was only the memory of the yard, the patio and the fence. I almost felt a sense of peace. As quickly as the sense of peace filled me it was gone. I realized I was not alone. There was something else lurking in the dark shadows along the fence. Hiding and watching me. I could not hear it but feel its gaze from two glowing yellow orbs. Fear caught in my throat and unable to move I could feel every hair on my body stand on end. The gaze was piercing, menacing. I stepped back trying to find my way back into the house and escape the threatening stare. I stumbled on the steps at the door and slipped hitting my head on the threshold. I looked up as the pain seared through my head and every point my body made contact with the steps and pavement. The dark figure was hovering above me, staring. I tried to move, to speak, but there was nothing. Nothing but silence and darkness.


I woke up to the sound of a crow cawing and the midday sun bearing down upon me. My head was throbbing with an unimaginable intensity. I rolled over realizing where I was as the sour sickness foamed from my mouth as I retched. My body felt as if I’d been a wrecking ball used to tear down what was left of this house. I could feel the fever clinging to my body and the cramping of my body still holding the shape of the steps where I’d been left. I stood up trying to steady myself against the soft rotting beams on the back of the house. As my thoughts cleared I began to remember the prior evening’s events. The memory of those eyes made me shudder. Before I could give it much more thought a noise from inside the house startled me. It was a quiet scuffle followed by a large object falling inside. I waited a moment and heard nothing else. I peered inside letting my eyes adjust to the dimmer light. My fears and curiosity were put to rest as a large gray tabby ran past my feet towards the furthest corner of the backyard. The large tomcat had knocked over a large box sending papers flying along with the sort of insects that swarm into dampness.


I walked into the den that appeared much worse by day than night. The stench seemed to have lost some of its potency. I was amazed by the piles and piles of junk hoarded away over what must have been years. I walked through the rest of the house looking for the creature that answered the door. There was not a sign or sound of any such thing. I found my rucksack and all of its contents strewn across the floor. At a glance nothing appeared to be missing. I replaced everything carefully, one piece at a time taking a mental inventory as I did every time I packed it. The only thing missing was the last picture I had of my mother. The only visual reminder I had of her was gone. I felt the tears well up in my eyes at the very thought I’d not remember her face. It was a picture of her smiling at me as she taught me how to use a digital camera she’d given me for my birthday. It was one of the rarer moments she didn’t lose her patience with my lack of focus and inattention. I was too interested in the camera to ask the series of “what if” questions I was known for. Now the picture was gone. The memory was almost as clear as if it had been yesterday. I tried to hold onto that thought as I looked around my eyes taking in the wondrous heaps and piles. It was an overwhelming sight to behold.


I walked though the mess and down the hallway and entered my old bedroom after shoving back the rotting door that had even been difficult to open when I was a child. My room had been untouched by little else than dust, insects and possibly the tomcat. My bed still left unmade. The shelves still cluttered by books and toys. The trunks of toys I refused to part with as a child were all still here with my name “Kyle” painted on the sides in faded red tempra paint. Some of my old clothes still hung in the closet, moth eaten and tattered. I felt my heart sink as I walked back down the hallway to the den wondering if my mother had managed to come back. 


Finding myself completely alone again I began to sift through the years of debris in the den. It was such a bittersweet sensation touching the things that had once belonged to my mother. The books she cherished, the poems she wrote, her piles of notes and research and her altar. I’d forgotten about her altar and her rituals. My father and his family, the O’Sullivans, tried to erase her pagan ways from my memory by force feeding me their Catholic beliefs and dogma. It never felt natural or clean to join them. It always felt dirty and wrong but I played along just enough to avoid the lectures and rants. I especially tried to avoid the hypocritical and irresponsible garbage that had a tendency to spew from the mouth of my father. My mother used to insist that Catholics like many other believers in the dead god were not at fault for what they believed and had been taught essentially if they were not open spiritually or knew of nothing else. She was taught the Catholic ways as a child but felt alien and awkward, unable to believe the harsh fire and brimstone and misogynist teachings. She did believe the last devout and righteous Catholic had been Mother Teresa. She was one who not only talked the talk but walked the walk every day of every week not just on Sundays.


As far as my father’s family, they were all gone now. My grandparents, Francis and Gabe, gave into old age and the sicknesses that follow and my father, Ethan, was killed by a looter he foolishly tried to stop in a drunken stupor. It was only liquor the guy was after but my father wouldn’t let it go and lost his life in the scuffle as I was told by the dingbat of a redneck woman he’d shacked up with. I think her name was Candy or Tammy. It was too difficult to listen to her hillbilly droll to find out what her name really was. My father had so many trampy women take advantage of him. There wasn’t a lady amongst them. The last one was the same as the rest. Hollow eyes and a hunger for booze and drugs and no remorse for getting them however she could. She’d lost a few teeth and never had much as far as looks were concerned. I think my father was too drunk to care or notice. She ballooned in size from eating everything we’d hoarded while he withered away from the consumption of nothing but cheap liquor. It was a horrid situation to witness. It was not surprising the tramp was gone before he was buried. After the burial I tried to find my mother’s family the Keegans before I headed north from Charleston. There was no trace of them further inland. I exhausted all efforts and found no way to track them down. Her family had always been scattered about and now it was as if they’d never existed.


Looking more closely at the altar I realized it was possibly the only thing kept clean or cared for. The candles were newer as were the offerings of dried flowers and dirt. The alter cloth was still the same; a goddess figure in lace over black satin. I felt a sense of hope returning. Maybe she did frequent this dilapidated old house. All I could do was sift through the piles of junk and wait. All I had was time.


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Novel / Novella
writing Jeckysa
There is a fine line between liberated and destroyed...
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