After long days of dirty dishes and smelly laundry, piles of pet hair clinging to every surface and equally frustrating piles of bills, the weekend couldn’t arrive fast enough.
Before the sun rose on that summer Saturday morning, she was dressed and packed. The night before she filled a cooler with bottled water and Gatorade. After a quick stop at the corner convenience store for a bag of ice and a full gas tank, she was off.
She had spent her free time during the week online, searching for hiking trails within an easy drive. A few hours of fresh air, and physical activity that didn’t involve vacuums or mops, would be a welcome change of pace.
Armed with her camera, and an Aussie-voiced GPS, she pulled through the gate of the nature area eager to get started on her photo hike. The visitor’s kiosk at the trail head was decorated with maps and photos of area wildlife. A lack of other cars in the parking lot was a good sign. It meant she would have the woods to herself.
Her pack, filled with extra batteries and lenses, insect repellent and bottled water, was slung over one shoulder, her camera strap looped over her neck. The only thing left was to plug her earbuds into the MP3 player in her pack’s outer pocket and set her playlist.
The clearly marked trail led her deep into the scrub. The sun was rising higher and hotter when she stopped for a drink at a split in the path. The right fork led into the cool cover of the oak canopy. Turning onto the shaded route, the temperature immediately dropped.
Tugging out her earbuds, she listened to the sounds of woods, smiling at the music of nature. The further along the path she went, the more dense the woods became, and more sunlight was crowded out darkening the shadows around her.
She lifted her camera, aiming into the woods, hoping to capture an errant shaft of light or shy forest creature. As the auto focus twisted and turned, an unexpected image sharpened. Lowering the eyepiece, she squinted into the darkness finally making out the dim outline of an abandoned house.
Dropping her pack and camera, she left the trail, wending her way through the thick bramble. As she got closer to the house, her skin began to tingle, the hairs on her arms and back of her neck standing on end. Breaking through tangle of trees, she stepping into an unnaturally quiet clearing. All forest sounds ceased, the air stilled.
The windows, opaque with grime and age, gave away no secrets. The paint, once a vibrant orange was now a weak ochre, peeling in random patches. Drawn to the house, she took measured steps toward the front door,
The air around her crackling with anticipation, she reached for the latch, sparks jumping between her fingertips and the tarnished brass knob. Stiff from lack of use, the knob resisted her efforts to turn. Finally giving way, stale air rustled the dried leaves and dust at her feet, the hinges groaned their annoyance at being disturbed. Bracing her shoulder against the wood, she pushed her way into the house, the door slamming shut behind her.
The young couple walking along the trail were bundled against the cold wind. A mound of pine needles the man nearly tripped over turned out to be an old backpack. Rummaging through the pack, they found a weather-worn driver’s license. The woman recognized the name from the news. A local woman was reported missing the previous summer. Having gone out for a hike with her camera, she never made it home.
When they turned the pack into local authorities, neither mentioned seeing a faint light glowing in the windows of an abandoned house deep in the woods.
For Story Dam, an online writing community offering weekly and monthly writing prompts. This week’s theme is: What lies on the other side of the door