I am super excited to a have my short story “The House that Wasn’t There” published by Terror House Press Magazine. Thank you, Terror House Press Matt Forney.
The House that Wasn’t There
Tekla loved her name. It was steeped in her ethnic tradition, and meant “God’s Glory.” She inherited it from her great-aunt, from Eastern Poland. She also inherited her great-aunt’s stunning green eyes, caramel colored hair, height, and physical strength. Tekla loved all things old, as did her great-aunt. She adored vintage clothes and furnishings. There was something spiritual about holding on to the past. Tekla was sure that her ancestors were always with her, guiding and protecting her.
Tekla was thrilled when her mother dug out her old Polaroid Instant Camera from the 1960’s. She held the black and gray box in her hands and excitedly turned it over, examining every inch of it. What a marvel for its day, considering the first one was invented in 1948. It felt so big and heavy compared to the compact cameras and cellphones of today. There was something magical about the way it gave you instant images that you could hold in your hand wherever you were, instead of having to download pictures on to your computer. Tekla was even more thrilled when she found out that you could still buy film for the old cameras. Of course, you needed to go online and purchase it through the Internet – not her favorite means of making purchases. She was definitely an old-fashioned hands-on type of person. But she would do what she needed to do to procure her precious film.
One of Tekla’s favorite hobbies was to wander through old houses and buildings, taking photographs, then later turning them into beautiful pieces of framed art. She would always bring her Polaroid along to take preliminary images, then when she felt the angle and lighting was just right, she pulled out her professional quality film camera. She loved developing her own film. She detested digital cameras. “Too Easy. No Challenge. Anyone can use them. Where is the craft in that?”
Tekla rode her bicycle wherever she could, but when needed, she drove an older model car. She had a silver-gray Subaru Leone sedan, that she kept in tip-top shape. It not only ran beautifully, but its body was in perfect condition thanks to her friend Josh, who was also her mechanic. One beautiful autumn day, Tekla decided to go exploring the outskirts of a not-too-distant town. If there was an abandoned house to be found, it usually was in less populated areas, or the rural areas. She packed up her car with her cameras, tripod, and a hearty bagged lunch. Then she donned a light sweater, and threw a medium-weight jacket in the back seat, in case it got chilly by evening. Her roommate Barbara, came out when she saw Tekla loading the car. Inquisitively, Barbara raised her left eyebrow and asked, “So, where are you off to today?” Tekla was full of anticipation when she replied, “There is a small town about 50 miles north of here that might be a good place to find an interesting old house or two. I saw an article about it in a photography magazine last week. I thought I might give that a try. I should be home by evening, but I will call you if I am running late.”
So, Tekla energetically dashed off on her great adventure. Although all adventures were great to her. She smiled and sang old folk songs as she drove along towards her destination. The scenery was stunning in mid-November. All the trees were showing brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red in the late morning sun. The fields of golden-brown grasses and grains were dancing in the breeze. It was a perfect day, and Tekla’s heart was full of happiness. The one-and-a-half-hour drive flew by quickly. She was delighted to see that the town was quaint, like in a charming painting. Exactly what she had hoped for. She stopped at a scenic picnic table along the side of the road to have her sandwich and an apple. She pulled out one of her many note books and started to write down observations, and plans for the day. After she finished, she decided to drive to the far side of town and start her exploring. People driving by stared at her older car, and then they stared at her. It wasn’t every day that they saw a working model car from 1981, and a girl in clothes right out of the 1940’s.
When Tekla got to the other end of town, she parked her car, grabbed her gear bag, and started to walk. She walked up and down the small streets and lanes that led off the main street. After about a half-hour she noticed it, standing there in all its old glory. The house had to be over one hundred years old, if not older. It must have been magnificent in its day. It was three stories high with a wrap-around porch, and tall pillars at the front door. It was originally painted a Wedgewood blue with cream color trim, now faded and peeling from age and neglect. “This is perfect,” Tekla exclaimed out loud! The rusted iron gate was not locked, so she let herself into the front yard. Most of the windows were still intact, but cracked and covered with thick grime. She tried peeking in, but could not see anything, so she tried the front door. It was locked or stuck tight. She gingerly walked around the porch making sure not to step on any rotted boards. She started to take photographs of the outside, as she imagined all the wonderful afternoon teas that must have been held on that marvelous porch, and the children who must have played in the yard. It was a house that had known love, she was sure of that.
Arriving at the side of the house, she noticed that the door to the kitchen was ajar, so she tried to open it. It was rusted at the hinges. Grunting and groaning while exerting great effort, she managed to get it open enough to squeeze through. “Thank you, Great-Aunt Tekla, for your strength that I inherited,” she muttered under her breath. The kitchen was covered in soot, with cobwebs draping from the ceiling and doorways. The old metal stove was a monster. It was off-white enamel with green trim. She immediately pulled out her Polaroid and started to take photographs. She examined each Polaroid before deciding how to set up her tripod and take her professional photos. She took both color and black and white photos, so that she could decide later which she liked best. After exploring as much of the house as she could manage, she noticed that she had been there over three hours, and it would start to get dusk soon. She packed everything back up and returned to her car. She promised herself that she would return in a week or so, after developing the film that she already had.
On her way out of town Tekla decided to stop at a little diner to grab a quick meal, and to ask one of the locals if they knew the history of the old house she just explored. It was starting to get chilly, and Tekla was glad that she had thrown her jacket into the back of the car. When she entered the diner, all eyes were on her. She must have looked strange in her vintage attire, like someone who just walked out of the last century. She sat down at the counter and picked up the menu. When the waitress came over, she ordered an omelet and cup of coffee. Like most small diners, it offered breakfast all day long. When the waitress came to pour the coffee, Tekla asked, “Do you happen to know anything about that grand old mansion on Laurel Lane? I believe the number on the gate was 17.” The Waitress looked at her with total surprise and almost spilled the coffee. “Darling, there has not been a house there for over fifty years now. It started to decay and the horrific storm that came through in 1970 took it right down to the ground. The town government had all the material removed the year after the house collapsed.” Tekla gasped and replied, “No! It can’t be. I have Polaroid photos right here. Let me show you.” When Tekla took the packet of photos out of her bag to display them, they were all blank gray. Not one of the photos had any images of a house or even an empty lot. Tekla cried, “This just can’t be. I was there all afternoon. I must go back and see what is going on.” The waitress stood there shaking her head, “Poor child, she must be batty or something.”
Tekla rushed to her car and drove back to where the house was. “There it is, I knew I was right,” she said out loud to herself. Then she ran back inside and started to take more pictures. “I must get a few before it gets completely dark, I must have proof. After about an hour, Tekla started growing tired and decided to rest on the old couch in the main living room. She looked lovingly at the huge stone fireplace and dreamed of a warm roaring fire. Tekla stretched out. Closing her eyes, she soon dozed off, and ended up spending the entire night in the old house.
When Tekla did not come home that evening, Barbara tried calling her cellphone. It was the one begrudgingly modern convenience that Tekla felt she needed to have. No one answered. It was too soon to call the police. Barbara figured that Tekla just got carried away as she usually did, and ended up renting a motel room for the night. She would wait until morning then go looking for Tekla herself. The next morning, Barbara called into work to say she needed the day off for personal business. She checked Tekla’s notes and figured out where the town was that Tekla was so excited to explore.
When Barbara arrived in the small town, she thought it best to stop at the local diner to see if there was a motel nearby, and if maybe they had seen Tekla. The waitress told Barbara that Tekla had stopped in to eat, and she told her the address where the old house once stood. Then, with a concerned look on her face, the waitress mentioned that Tekla was acting strange, insisting that the old house was still there, and that she even had photographs of it. Upset, Barbara ran to her car and drove as fast as she could. Once at the address, she parked behind Tekla’s car. She looked inside the car for Tekla, but only saw her equipment in the back seat. Then she carefully opened the old iron gate. It had a large red sign that read “Private Property – Keep Out” on it. There in the middle of a debris filled plot of land, was Tekla’s old Polaroid camera. The next day, Barbara filed a missing person report. The police searched for Tekla over the next few days, but no one ever saw or heard from her again. Barbara was distraught. Tears ran down her cheeks, whenever she tried to imagine what might have happened to her dear friend Tekla.
Once home again, Barbara decided to do a little digging of her own. She visited the library and searched tirelessly through old books and newspaper articles about the small town to the north of her. After almost a month of searching, Barbara found an old newspaper article from the 1940’s. There on the front page was a big black and white photograph of the stately house at 17 Laurel Lane. In the photograph were several people sitting on the front porch in whicker rocking chairs. Upon closer examination, it became quite clear that the young woman in the middle rocker was her Tekla, dressed exactly as she had been the day she left to explore. Barbara froze for a moment, then smiled a huge grin. “Well, my dear friend, you finally managed to find a way to live in the era you always dreamed of, didn’t you?”