The Exchange

For Round Five of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

A door lit from behind. iStockphoto.com
iStockphoto.com

Some people swore that the house was haunted.  But, perhaps that's because the house asked more of them than they were willing to give.  Its location in the center of the block was unavoidable.  Every day people walked past it, their heads lowered, dogs in tow.  Sometimes, when I visited, I watched them.

Neighbors never complained to the city that its dead grass be mowed, or that a paint job was past due.  It was avoided.  It existed only when others wanted it; a reminder of what they were not.  Of course, the house remained empty most of the year, its original owners all dead now.  It was unclear to me why it hadn't been sold or torn down.  As far as I knew I had the last key.  I visited to remind myself I had been a part of it.  The family that once occupied the house were my neighbors.  Their children, Tyler and Matilde, were my only friends, and most of my childhood consisted of us inside their house making rooms out of rooms.  My own home became secondary to theirs.  It appeared to promise things with its long, dimly lit halls, ceilings that seemed to rise and rise, and fireplaces like charred, hungry mouths.

My visits to the house began with Tyler.  He brought me there to show me how limitless it was, how the rest of the world stopped when you crossed its threshold.  Three stories of space in which to hide, rooms that went unchecked.  I became as intimate with it as Tyler allowed me.  I soon learned that parts of it had been divided into territories.  It was unspoken but Matilde kept her distance, and I rarely saw them share the same domain for longer than a few minutes.

I never questioned this as long as I was allowed to be near Tyler; he lived disconnected, reckless.  Proximity to him pulled at something in my gut.  It seemed that he knew this, but pretended otherwise.  The night he called for me I went over immediately.  The front door was left unlocked.  I entered and took the stairs two at a time until I reached his floor.  I knocked on his bedroom door and waited.  He opened it a fraction, his room barely lit behind him.  His smile exposed caution as if he were checking to make sure nothing had changed.  Tyler leaned forward and  kissed me.  He pulled back fast leaving the inside of my bottom lip raw.  I didn't move but wanted him to do it again.  I believe he anticipated this, and he let the door fall open so I could see inside the room.  On his bed lay Matilde, face down, dark red pouring along folds in the sheets from under her neck.  In the orange light of his desk lamp sat an open straight razor.

"Help me," said Tyler.

He ran a finger across the back of my neck then gestured at Matilde, unmoving.  It was an extension of the kiss.  I understood what he wanted me to do, what was expected.  It occurred to me that the kiss at the door was now a kind of currency.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.

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