The Way Home, by Maria Kelly
This story was previously published in Something Dark in the Doorway by Static Movement.
Michelle sat under the crumbling gray eaves of the old house and waited.
She supposed she was waiting for the woman to come back. But the woman, her ‘mother,’ had been gone a long, long while now. The house had been white when the woman last left it, and there had been doors which opened, and stairs and floors. Now, if there were doors at all, the hinges were rusted shut and they were impossible to open. The stairs had long since rotted away and the second story had collapsed and was now just piles of decayed rubble in the rooms of the first floor. None of this troubled Michelle.
The house was an empty shell without a middle. Michelle thought this was just fine, because she was an empty middle without a shell. In this way, she and the house complimented each other. She had no great love for the house, however.
She came to the house in the morning, and returned to her place down by the creek at dusk. She spent all of her moments from dawn to dusk at the old house, waiting.
She was also searching.
She sat on the sagging porch, or went inside the house and drifted like a pale shadow from room-to-room and dug a deep well in what passed for her memory, each day trying to dig a little deeper.
Sometimes she found objects in the house that triggered memories. Like the poker by the fireplace, for instance. And the old blood stain on the kitchen floor.
But the precise memory she was looking for had no attachment to the house, or her time spent here. She was trying to go back to the time before. Before coming to the house. Before the outbursts of an ill-tempered woman. Before the violence of fists and pokers.
She was digging deep in the well today, tracing time backwards (there was only backwards-time now, no more going forward for her). She was in a car. Crying. Playing with a dirt-smudged dolly. It was raining. The woman was shouting at her. “SHUT UP” screamed in time with the thudding windshield wipers. A stinging slap. The first of countless other blows.
Before that…dimly…another woman, and a man. She tried to dig deep enough to see their faces. It was all silver mists and shadows. She tried to see in her mind’s eye the house…the other one…the one she’d been in before the woman had picked her up at school.
“I’m your Aunt Sally. No, you’ve never met me before now. I just got into town. C’mon, I’m here to take you home,” she’d said.
Of course, they hadn’t gone home. They’d come here.
Michelle was sixteen years old when it happened.
By that time a part of her had come to believe the woman really was her mother. But another part of her rebelled at the idea…a vision of a red-brick townhouse swirling in the mists of memory, something of pink hydrangea and a foggy image of a blond-haired man and woman. Hair as blond as hers.
When the argument escalated (Michelle had wanted to go on her first date with Bobby Allen, but her ‘mother’, always overly protective, said ‘no.’) the mists cleared for a moment and she’d voiced her suspicion.
“You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my real mother! You’re not even my Aunt Sally!” She’d stomped angrily off to her room. She’d crossed the line, she knew it, and she waited fearfully for the woman’s footfalls on the stairs. The reprisal. It didn’t come that night.
In the morning, she went downstairs to a quiet house and entered the kitchen in search of breakfast.
She caught a split-second glimpse of the swinging poker in the corner of her eye, a dull CRACK! and she saw no more.
She woke up on the creek bank. She could hear the woman somewhere nearby.
Michelle stood up and when she turned around, saw herself lying on the ground.
“I’m dead,” was all she could think.
The woman was digging her grave.
She did not stay to watch her burial. Instead, she strolled along the creek bank, watched autumn leaves floating in the current and marveled at the way the sunlight made everything it touched look like liquid amber, and wondered why she never noticed these things when she’d been living.
She returned to the house the next morning, consumed with rage. She devoted all her ghostly energy into tormenting the woman. Her favorite was walking through her, causing her sudden chills. She rapped on doors and windows and made loud noises at night, keeping the woman awake and terrified. This made Michelle very happy, to see her former tormenter propped up in bed, lights on, teeth chattering with fear, with the pouchy gray bags of sleeplessness under her eyes. Finally, the woman moved out, leaving Michelle alone. Other people lived in the house over the years, but they never stayed long. It was devoid of living dwellers for over fifty years now, left to fall into its current state of disrepair.
It’s the memory of that car trip she most longs to recover from her deep well. But she’d spent most of it crying. She has snippets, though…hydrangea bushes…a turnpike…a long bridge over a wide river…but then the vision grows hazy and the mist closes in. She keeps trying, though. Every day she glides through peeling walls and digs desperately for each new vision along the road…and when she finally has it…the mists will part and there she will see it…
Like a signpost…pointing the way home.
Maria Kelly is an author, caffeine-drenched college student, and the editor of The Were-Traveler. You can read about her writer ninja adventures and her plans for world domination on her personal blog at http://mariakellyauthor.com.