by Emma Lane
The rusted hinges creaked and resisted when she pushed against it. Her sister poked around outside the old cottage, stooping to pick flowers in the abandoned garden.
“This cottage won’t be around in a couple of years. It doesn’t take long in this humidity to melt a dwelling back into the earth from which it came.” She could hear her sister’s voice grow fainter as she pushed through, entered the front room and looked around. Dust motes shimmered in the air, glowing from the sun which found a crack in the window shade. The room was darken by the green shades on two of the windows. The third was broken and sagging with the glass shattered.
There was a smell of old—mildew maybe, but more than that. She wasn’t certain what. Something vaguely familiar. The furniture was filled with dust. Perhaps…she sneezed as she passed a small rocking chair. It rocked slightly. Had she touched it?
Probably her sweater had brushed by it. This was no time to get spooked. She wanted to take pictures of the inside of the house. Her mother said distant relatives had lived in it at one time, but moved away long ago.
There was a small painting on the wall almost hidden by the many cobwebs that clung to it. She brushed them away. Just a pastoral scene after all. Nothing interesting. A large spider hurried by, obviously annoyed by her interference. She peered closely at it wondering if it was a brown recluse. She’d never seen one, although she could spot several black widows lurking in the corners. They loved dark places like this.
“You don’t bother me and I won’t mess up your webs, okay ladies?” She paused to adjust her camera and captured several scenes of the couch, table and the rocking chair which… Why was it still rocking? She stared at it for a moment, but felt a slight breeze from the open window and thought this must be the answer.
A burlap curtain hung limply over a door way. She pushed it aside and sneezed again for her trouble as the dust flew thick around her. Cobwebs were streaming from the ceiling and corners. Gingerly she pushed them aside, then stifled a screech when she saw the tail of a huge black snake curled around a rusted canister on the counter top. It moved sluggishly toward a hole in the window. She could see a lump in its middle where it had recently eaten. A black snake, she reassured herself. They eat rodents and are not of the poisonous variety. She hoped.
Strange. There were two plates sitting on the kitchen table. Utensils were leaning against them as if someone had just finished eating. She thought the owners had moved away. Wonder who had had a last meal here? She aimed her camera.
In the front bedroom a tattered cover filled with debris gave testimony that a tidy housekeeper had made the bed that day. What day? Why did they just walk away? Wouldn’t they have moved their possessions? She began to feel a tingle on the back of her neck. Something wasn’t right here. Mom had said the old place was haunted. Was it?
She backed out of the room and walked down the hall. There was a closed door to what she presumed was another bedroom.
“Millie? Where are you?” She heard the squeak of the old hinges as her sister entered the front of the cottage. She slowly turned the knob on the closed door wondering if she ought to wait until her sister joined her. It was silly to feel anxious like this. It was just an old house that had been abandoned. This door opened with no noise as if it had been recently used. Okay, some tramp had used it for shelter recently. Although the cobwebs were pretty old. Still it was possible. What would there be in this room to be afraid of? Mice?
She stepped into the room, took one look and screamed as loud as she could. Her hand on the door gripped the knob with force. She dug her fingernails into the wood.
“Millie! What is the matter? Are you okay?” Her sister pushed against her back in an effort to look into the room. Millie moved to one side, but remained rigid and sobbing in the back of her throat.
Over on the bed two skeletons were intertwined. Their arms were wrapped around each other and their fleshless heads were frozen in a perpetual grimace of death. Tattered clothes with holes still clung to the corpses. A rotting quilt was pulled halfway up over them. Several large snakes were curled around and into the bones that lay white against the mattress. The snakes hissed and slithered restlessly appearing and disappearing into the cavity of the corpses. One dropped to the floor and crawled quickly underneath the bed.
Still staring and trying her best to sort through the information of this horrible site, Millie reached for her sister’s hand. She had identified the small of death. Old, but still recognizable as that of human remains. Her sister was mute with shock. “Let’s get out of here,” she finally managed to grind out through clenched teeth.
Millie plugged her camera into her computer. After they called the sheriff, she and her sister had left the site, more than willing to turn over their find to the authorities. She had no idea who had died in that cottage and why they had died in each other’s arms. It was a strange thing to find.
She flipped through snapshot after snapshot smiling as her young nephew grinned at her on the screen, his gapped front teeth in a parody of a jack-o-lantern. Then the scenes from the old cottage appeared on her screen. Dirty dusty living room. Weird kitchen table. She almost called for another scene when something in the corner near the back door caught her eye. Clearly and distinctly she could see the shadowy outline of a couple standing there smiling at her and waving. Chills raced across her back and she felt a coldness pass through her.
She deleted the scene. No one would believe her anyway.