Friday, 18 July 2008
The Old House
He came upon the old house at the edge of the wood.
The many paths through Birn Woods seemed to twist and split at junctions such that it seemed impossible to make the same journey twice.
David had never managed to find the house, nor even heard of it before. Yet, here it stood right before him. Ramshackle but firm, its windows long since lost to well-placed stones thrown by boys much younger than he; its curtains still tugging and torn.
For a moment he just stood at the edge of the brambles and nettles, growing a natural defence for the property. Stood and wondered. Then he strove through, his jeans coping with the needles and stings of the plants, until he reached man-made defences, a metal fence.
He stopped here and listened. The breeze was silent through the floors of the old house, though the curtains still moved in each corner of his vision, causing him to glance quickly from side to side as if a human shape had moved by one of the open windows.
He stepped carefully over loose stones and thick weeds gathered at the perimeter of the house. He eyed the fence for a weakpoint, grabbed and shook it to see if it would easily come down.
A curtain flickered again out through the broken main window of the second floor and his eyes flicked up towards it. A woman was standing there, watching him.
David froze, his hands resting where they lay, upon the metal of the fence. The woman had one arm folded across her waist and the other stroking her chin. She was a pretty, middle-aged woman and she eyed him with a cool smile.
Her dress was plain and as drab as the curtains, but she leaned coquettishly against the window frame and seemed to invite David onwards with her posture and intense gaze.
He was fighting twin urges; one to vault the fence he was gripping so tightly, and the other to turn and run back into the woods.
One urge won, and he felt his legs slipping and flailing, trying to clamber up over the fence. The woman above smiled still, unmoving, not breaking her gaze.
David caught a foothold in a small hole in the metal lattice and moved to lever himself up over the fence. His jeans snagged then and his foot wouldn't release from the hole in the fence. He fell backwards, crashing into patches of dirt and sparse grasses, badly turning his ankle and shouting out in pain.
And then, the face at the window was gone. He scanned others for her and thought he caught sight of her dress flowing past one. Scrambling to his feet, he turned and limped with gritted teeth back into the woods.
He soon found the path and then the duck pond beyond, and the children laughing, and the ice-creams melting, and the parents watching, and David felt safe again.