Friday, 18 December 2020

#fridayflash: Regrets (excerpt) from #homegroan: A #nutmag anthology

Home Groan: A NutMag Anthology cover

Catherine Chong stood in the middle of the road on Puncak Bukit Mutiara and stared at the house in front of her. It was a squat, blocky thing that didn’t look like much from the outside—standing at road level, it appeared to be a very small single-storey house with a tiny front porch.

She frowned at it, then checked the address again.

It was the right house…

But it wasn’t what she’d expected to see, not with the vague memories she still held of this place. It was supposed to be huge, palatial. Three-storeys high, a wonderland she and Julia had roamed, going from room to ever larger room, conquering balconies that overlooked the sea, snuggling in the white wicker swing.

Maybe it’s bigger on the inside. Catherine snorted as she stepped off the road and approached carefully. It’s not a Tardis.

Walls spread out on both sides, blocking the rest of the house and its grounds from sight. That, at least, felt right. 

She knocked on the door. A minute later, Catherine slapped her forehead. Obviously, no one was going to answer because no one was currently living there. She had the keys in her pocket. Still, her school friends had once told her it was courtesy to knock anyway, to let any spirits living in there know you were entering. Catherine wasn’t sure if she believed in spirits, or if that rule applied to anything other than hotel rooms. She dug in her pockets and pulled out the keys.

A soft “hello” still slipped off her tongue as the door creaked open to a mid-sized room with sagging racks and shelves. For a moment, she was transported back into the past, a seven-year-old clinging to her mother’s hand as she visited a new school friend for the first time. Julia had been sitting in the wicker swing, her twin, James, perched somehow on its rounded back, both staring with identical large, brown eyes.

She blinked.

The swing now lay on the floor, the sad, rusty chain dangling from the ceiling.

Catherine stepped in without taking off her shoes or closing the door. Despite the still-bright daylight, the interior of the house was rather dark. She fumbled along the wall until she found the light switch. There was a faint fizzle and then nothing. With a sigh, she pulled out her phone from her pocket and turned on the torch.

The room didn’t open out to a bigger living room; it led instead to a circular stairway heading downwards.

Of course, you dummy.

She’d remembered the three floors right, just not the direction. The house went downwards, not up.

Catherine hesitated at the top of the stairs, looking down into the dark hole that gaped before her. She glanced at her phone. It was already six in the evening. If the house was already this dark now, she didn’t want to be inside when the sun set without a proper torch, or working lights. She made her way back out of the house, turned off the phone torch, then locked up.

“I’ll be back,” she said aloud, though she wasn’t sure who she was speaking to—herself or the house. Maybe both.

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