The house feels haunted. As soon as I step inside, the screen door swings closed behind me. I jump, my heartbeat accelerating wildly. Then I remember that the screen door always closed that loudly. Funny, I wouldn't have remembered that if I'd never come back here. I'll probably forget it as soon as I leave.
It's sad how our minds erase the little details like that––the sound the doors make when they close, which steps on the staircase creak the most, the way you have to jiggle the handle on the toilet just the right way in order to make it flush. You always find yourself adjusting to a new place, forgetting all the rituals that kept you alive in your old habitat.
I walk in a slow circle around the abandoned living room. My sneakers squeak against the wooden floor. I look out the window, and the sight outside is so familiar and yet so alien. It makes my chest ache. I try to picture the room furnished again––couch here, coffee table over there. But I can't picture it right, no matter how I try. No, no. Maybe the couch was over here. I don't know. Maybe we moved the couch a few times.
I sit down in the middle of the floor. Shivers shoot up my spine. “This is mad creepy,” I mutter to myself. My voice sounds strange in the stillness. Immediately, I feel like the shadows are closing in around me, strangling me, hissing at me.
You shouldn't be here. You shouldn't speak here.
I eventually get up, and I make my way through the other rooms, a ghost in my own old home. I run my fingers over the peeling wallpaper. I crouch on the floor and draw swirls in the dust with my fingertips. The living room, the dining room, the kitchen. They all throw memories at me in all directions. Every scrap of my history comes back, thrown together in a pile. I'm not sure where all the pieces fit––whether they're real, or whether someone told me a story about my childhood so many times that I believed it to be true. I hastily sew together the truths and the untruths and the maybe-truths, and in the end I'm left with a messy quilt.
I decide that it's time to go upstairs. I hesitate at the bottom, gazing up into the darkness. Something rattles inside my chest––like a penny bouncing around inside a tin can, trying to find somewhere to rest in the hollow area, clanking against the thin barriers surrounding it. The stairway is a tunnel, and it seems to go up and up for miles.
I begin to climb. The steps creak, and I cringe each time I hear the noise. I glance over my shoulder, more than once, to make sure there is no one there to hear. I still feel like I'm not alone, like the ghosts are following me everywhere.
At the top of the stairs, I stop. It's dark, even darker than it was on the first floor. I know where the hallway's light switch is. I could reach out now, flick it on. But it probably wouldn't work. There wouldn't be any power, right? And anyway, it feels wrong. The shadows belong here. Here they have stayed for the past two years, and I have no right to take away their kingdom. I'm an intruder.
I move through the dark hall, and I swear I can hear the sound of my heartbeats, bouncing off the walls. My breathing becomes shallow as I reach my bedroom door. I place a hand against it, and my fingers are trembling. My knees are weak. I want to slide down to the floor.
But I stay upright. I put some pressure into my hand, push against the door …
No, I can't do it. I can't look. I've made it through the rest of the house, but this is different. As soon as I see my bedroom, dead and empty, it will really hit me. I can't do this to myself. But what if I don't look? I know that if I don't look, then I'll always wonder. I'll always regret that I had one last chance to take a look, and I wasted it.
“Fine,” I mutter to myself. I wince, and I open the door.
As I predicted, it's a painful sight. Right away, I recognize the shape of the room––the four walls, the window on one wall, the other window on the other wall, the way part of the ceiling is slanted because it's right beneath the roof. It used to seem smaller, but I guess that's because my furniture took up the space. There's a darker square in the wood where my dresser used to sit, and another similar dark rectangle where my bed used to be. I walk over to the bed-rectangle, and I stand at its center. I turn around, drawing in my breath, blinking away the sting in my eyes.
I walk over to the closest wall, and I reach out slowly. I imagine my fingers passing through it. I'll realize that I'm a ghost. I'm not real. None of this is real. But the wall I touch is solid. It doesn't give way under my fingers. I press my palm against it. It is cold, hard, dead.
I rest the side of my head against the wall. I used to do this often, when I was a kid. I don't know why, but I found it comforting. I could hear everything––the strange hum, the sound of my parents' voices. It was like the whole house was alive and breathing. But now there is only silence. It's like trying to listen to a grave.
I return to the bed-rectangle. I sit down. I remember the way my mattress used to feel underneath me––springy but firm, always there to support me. I remember my guitar in my arms, how I held it like it was a friend who could protect me. I remember the way it sang to me and drove out all the unwanted noises.
I remember you. I remember you sitting next to me, sitting across from me, sitting by the window looking out at the stars. I bend over, press my hands against the floor, like I'm searching for something. But all that's left is dust.
I close my eyes and I lie down on the ground, right where the bed used to be. The floor is hard underneath me, unwelcoming.
I'm the only living thing in the house, the only heart beating.
It's true. I am an outcast. This house, this whole town, all of it … None of it is a part of me anymore. It's like I've died, this world is dead. If anyone else saw this room, they would never know that it belonged to me. They would never know that it was a part of my life, or that I was a part of its life.
That's the weird thing. We move through phases of our lives so quickly, and we don't hesitate about leaving each of those phases behind. Places fade away, and we leave them to rot and dust over like they never meant anything special. And what's strangest of all is, we don't realize those places are special until after they're gone. By the time we realize how much they mean to us, it's too late to get them back to the way they used to be.
I keep my eyes shut, watching the shapes move and twirl, emerge and evaporate as quickly as the years pass … until there is nothing left but the darkness, and it swallows me whole.