I can’t say how long I walked. I never got hungry or tired.
I just kept walking and the pictures rolled around me. They filled the grey with light and noise and colors before fading away again. Sometimes they felt so real that I thought I could reach out and touch the walls or even the boy James. But I notice that when the pictures were showing, I couldn’t see myself anymore.
The grayness shifted and I could hear birds chirping and the wind rustling in the bushes. I looked around eager to see what new scene would show me. I could tell James was excited. He skipped across the back yard. The air was warm and the sun just rising. It was early enough that his parents were still asleep. His mom was sleeping more and more these days because of the baby and his father was often working late.
As James walked across the backyard, I could hear his thoughts, not the exact words, but the feelings. He was thinking about the baby that was coming and wasn’t sure he wanted a baby sister or brother. Up till now, it had been fine being just him. He took a deep breath and ran forward the last few steps, holding his nose and jumped into the cold water.
I watched, eager to hear the splash. The pool was new. Just a few scenes back James’ parents had bought it and had a big pool party. It had been a lot of fun to watch, everyone jumping around and talking and swimming. I’d never been jealous of James before, but when I’d saw him swimming around in the water, I knew more than anything that was where I wanted to be.
James hit the water. He had told his dad just the other day that he wanted to be a professional swimmer when he grew up. His father had laughed and said he thought that was possible, if he practiced enough. His dad was an athlete, so both James and I figured he probably knew what he was talking about. James had been in the pool everyday since they’d gotten it. Swimming laps and splashing.
Except James wasn’t swimming.
The scene faded as did the sound of lapping water. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened. James was – surely, James was okay. He’d been saved, right? There had been that man at the very end. He would have saved James and gotten him out of the pool. It had to be okay. My head ached.
But as I continued to walk, I realized that no more pictures were coming. No more James. I walked and once again, I was alone. Just me and the darkness.
It was then I saw the door.
I stopped. It was so out of place. A door. Just sitting there in the middle of the nothingness. I looked around but I couldn’t see anything else. The horizon stretched everywhere in every direction and the darkness rushing back in until all that remained was me and the door. It reminded me of the door in James’ bedroom. It was the same shape and color.
I tried the handle. It was unlocked. What was on the other side? I opened the door and stepped through.
The house was worn, tired, and in need of a hell of a lot more than just a coat of paint.
Hank Pigglewiggle was glad no one else had wanted the house. As cheap as it was, he had been certain a someone was going to swoop in and start a bidding war. It was already cheaper than anything else on the block and larger too. A full three bedroom, two bath and with a giant backyard. The realtor had sounded nervous when he’d asked why no one else wanted it. Ghosts. Hank snorted. He was happy to benefits from others’ superstitions.
He pushed open the front door, wincing as the hinges protested loudly. It wasn’t in any worse shape than when the realtor had shown him. But his memories had sort of minimized the damage. Seeing it afresh, the worn floors and pealing walls, heavy with mold not to mention the broken dust covered furniture, Hank was reminded exactly much work he’d just signed up for.
Upstairs was better. The walls had already mostly been stripped. According to the realtor, a landlord had bought the place five years back but had decided it was too much hassle to update when they couldn’t get any renters. He thought it would only take a bit more work to make the upstairs livable. The best room he claimed for himself.
Hank dubbed it the “master bedroom” as it was the largest of the three rooms. He’d left most of his furniture in storage for now. No reason to bring it here and get dust all over it. He would be living a little rough for now. He got to work on his bedroom, bringing in the cleaning supplies from his truck. Once he’d swept the floors for loose screws and sharp objects, he blew up the air mattress. Having a bed there almost made the place look homey.
Almost. He headed back outside to get away from the dust he’d swept into the air cleaning. The summer air was a much needed relief to his nose and eyes. Inside everything was so grey and cold. But outside was blue and green and vibrant.
The backyard was the main reason he’d wanted this house. It was perfect. Sure the fence needed repair and there were more weeds than grass, but with the little pond and the remains of a once lush garden, Hank knew it had potential. He found a spot near the house to set up the carpenters bench and shower. The thought of showering in either of the bathrooms inside before they had a thorough scrubbing made him shudder.
His carpentry skills weren’t quite up to replacing entire walls yet, but he knew it would be much cheaper if he did most of the work. He’d have to learn as he went and hope the housing inspectors were lenient. Technically he wasn’t even supposed to be living in the house until it passed inspection. But he fell under the “working on site” rules. That meant as long as he was building the house, he could pitch his tent…or air mattress anywhere.
Despite being exhausted from all his work, Hank slept uneasily that night. He was kept awake by the unfamiliar street sounds, the creaking of the old house settling, and the squeakiness of his air mattress every time he shifted in his sleep.