After a beat, he swallowed his regret and allowed himself to drink in the rest of the sight. The driveway was short and rose at a slight angle toward the house. The surface had long been washed away. The earth it had covered was rutted, battered by season upon season of torrential Southern thunderstorms. Graham could see a hint of the path that once upon a time was a hard-compacted trail of reddish-orange Tennessee chert. Peppered here and there along it were footprints and more than a few meandering pawprints, the former from the local teen nightlife and the latter left by the local Lost Hollow wildlife no doubt. A few more years of neglect and the driveway would end up entirely reclaimed by nature. It already bore patches of overgrown clumps of Kentucky fescue that had turned brown and bent over in the wake of autumn’s arrival.
The quarter-acre plot of land surrounding the old home had once been a neatly kept Eden, at least in his childhood memories. The grass had been evenly trimmed under a mini-forest of enormous shade trees. Near the back of the lot had stood a swing set from which he’d spent many a summer afternoon pumping his legs until he’d climbed so high in the sky he thought he might just loop the loop. Thirty years on, the yard had become a pale greenish yellow field of grass and armpit-high cattails, many of them drooping or collapsed from the weight of their own overgrown heads. Some of the shade trees still loomed there, but they looked smaller now, dwarfed by the overgrowth. One of them was split in half by what must have been a lightning strike. The swing set was long gone. He had no idea what had happened to it. Probably stolen and carted off for scrap metal at some point over the years. Graham made a mental note to hire someone to bush-hog the place. He might also make next spring the one in which he bought a lawnmower.
The house itself put the final touches on the creepy vision before him. Straight out of The Addams Family, the two-story Victorian Gothic farmhouse towered over the surrounding landscape, its clapboard siding flecked and blotchy from years of unmaintained wear. The front door stood half open under the front porch gable, revealing a darkened interior that might as well have been a hole straight into the vacuum of space. Graham blinked and, for a second, thought he caught sight of a figure peering out at him from beyond the threshold. Then it was gone. Tired, he thought. Just tired. That’s all.
Three of the four evenly spaced rectangular windows that lined the first floor bore spidery cracks and jagged holes, no doubt the work of some kid bored out of his mind by living along this stretch of barren country road. The fourth window had been gutted almost entirely. Only a single vicious looking spike jutted upward from its frame.
The second floor, by contrast, sported three cathedral-shaped windows, two symmetrically positioned on each side of the gable above the front porch and one directly in the center. Ghostly white linen sheers still hung in those windows, even after all these years of empty abandonment. Their tops were stretched across the width of each window. The center window’s drape flowed straight down, shutting out the view. One side of each sheer on the outside windows was tied all the way back at the vertical center of the window frame. The effect that it created was of a pair of jack o’lantern eyes cut to the left over the triangle nose of the gable and the gaping, ragged toothed maw formed by the windows and door on the first floor. Graham thought it was an appropriate look for the place given the season. The sheer in the right window fluttered and settled as he watched, as if something had brushed past it.
Indeed, he thought, the house looked like a screaming kind of place. No less so because it happened to be the abandoned childhood home of one Graham Gordon, the newly elected constable of a sleepy little Southern burg known as Lost Hollow. Graham hitched up the waistband of his town issue beige, braved the stroll through what remained of the old driveway, and placed a hand on the rough wood of the weather-beaten front door. The gable windows had not looked broken. He doubted the wind had moved that sheer. Maybe someone was inside after all.
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