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>Home- it’s been 13 years since I was last there. After my father passed away, I had no reason to go. My mother had gone missing more than two decades ago, and although my father held hope, everyone said she was dead. I think, ultimately, that’s what killed my father. Not the smoking, or the drinking, or the sleepless days and nights. He died a lonely, broken-hearted old man.

But, I received a phone call the other day. It was creepy, to say the very least. I came home from work around seven, and turned all the lights on in my flat. I threw my keys in to my bowl, put my bag in my closet, hung my coat up, and proceeded towards the kitchen. I kicked my boots off, made some toast, and collapsed in to my leather couch. My eyes drifted to my answering machine, which blinked “02” at me. With my spare hand, I pressed the magic button.

You have two new messages.” The first one was my girlfriend saying she had to cancel our dinner reservations because her work needed her to stay late. She works in a nursery and it was some student-teacher night. I scrawled “Cancel dinner res.” on to the pad next to the phone. A short beep sounded, and it moved on to playing the next message.

It was just static, mainly. I paused, mid-bite, and glanced over. I reached for the delete button, but I heard a woman’s voice mumble. Though the crunching sound was too much to hear any real words, I got the first letters of each word: C, H and S. After that, a wimper, and it cut off with a sudden inhalation of breath. I work as a sound technician at a local music studio, so in my bedroom I have a little studio of my own so I can work on tracks in my spare time. It took a moment to register, but I realized I could remove some (but not all) of the white noise and see if I could enhance the voice. So I snatched the machine and ran to my bedroom door.

It only took about twenty minutes, but I managed to remove most of the static. I still couldn’t make out the voice though, so I boosted the treble on the equaliser in hopes of hearing what she had to say. A lot of thoughts were running through my head at that time. I leant back in my leather chair and slapped the space bar with my middle and fore-finger. There was still a low crackle, but it was never going to be perfect. The voice, and the tone of the words, still haunts me to this day. It began with light breathing. Then the woman stumbled over her words:

Come ... home ... son.”

My first reaction was that it was a sick joke. I thought I could hear laughing in the background. I was about to turn it off when it occurred to me that it was a man crying.

She continued:

Your father misses you.”

I felt sick. The breathing got heavy, she gasped, and then it stopped. I sat there staring at the screen. There was a mixture of emotions; disgust, disbelief, shock, and intense fear. I felt a cold sweat slip down my neck. My hands were shaking. I kept replaying the file. The more I heard it, the more I thought it sounded like my mother.

I looked at the clock on my taskbar. 01:48, it read. I decided to try and sleep on it, see what I thought in the morning. You can tell yourself something so much that you can start to believe it. So I hit my computer in to sleep mode and crawled out of my chair. On the walk over to my bed, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked pale and worn out. There were black rings around my eyes like I was wearing eye shadow. I rubbed my eyes the way a tired person does, looked back, and I seemed normal.

Shaking my head like a wet dog, I slithered in to bed. That night I lay staring at the ceiling, listening to “Come ... home ... son.” in my head, over and over. At one point I almost wept. I had no idea what to do. Was it really my mother? Who was crying behind her? Why was she breathing like that? If my mother were alive, she’d be 56 by now. But she still sounded 31. I thought about the last thing she ever said to me. I was only 10 at the time. We were stood in the living room, getting ready to go to the doctors because I had a cold.

She put her hands on her knees and bent down to be on the same level as me, and said, “Be a dear and get your mother her cigarettes from the kitchen.”

As I turned around to get them, she stroked my hair. When I came back out, she was gone. She hadn’t taken any bags. The door was still on the chain. The back door was unlocked but that was too loud for me to ignore it. My dad got home from work at 6 to find me sat all alone on the couch, crying my little eyes out. I’ll never forget the date- July 18th, 1987.

Four weeks passed, and the voice still plagued my mind. Eventually, I decided to give in and go home. I told my girlfriend I was going to pay respects to my father. I told my boss that my mother had fallen ill. And I told my landlord that I was going to Malta. So I packed four days worth of clothes, took a copy of the voice, threw a few books in there, and slid my suitcase in to the back of my car. I spent one more night in my bed, and set off as the sun rose.

It was a 50 mile ride to my home town. Or should I say where my home town used to be. It turns out that over three quarters of the entire town has been levelled. I kept driving along the streets I used to play on searching for a sign of life. On the edge of town sat a gas station. Tony’s, the sign read. So I pulled in to that, filled my car up, and headed in to the kiosk to pay. The man behind the counter, presumably Tony, looked out of his window, then back at me, and in a thick Southern accent said, “That’ll be straight up seventy.”

(Although it came out dat ul bay trayt ap seventee.) I asked him what happened to the town, and he informed me that there was a series of disappearances (dissuhpeeransez) about 25 years ago and most people ended up leaving. I opened my mouth to ask another question, but buttoned my lips shut when I saw the stop-talking-and-just-pay look in his eyes. I walked back to my car, sat down in the driver’s seat, and thought about what he told me.

I only stayed with my father for a year after my mother left. He was too depressed to take care of me, so I was sent to live with my aunt upstate. I hated my father for that, and it took his death for me to realize that he did it for my own good. And of all my life, that’s my biggest regret. I started choking just thinking of it. So I started my engine and drove off. I couldn’t stop hearing my mother’s voice.

Come ... home ... son.” The road layout was the same, and I still sort of knew my way around here. I felt my hand hit my indicator, and then it lead me back in to town. Towards the estate I used to live.

Unsurprisingly, my house was gone. But there was an odd feature that none of the other houses had. There was a staircase off the side of where my house was that led down to a basement I didn’t know we had. The 11 years I was there, I never saw this staircase. My dad didn’t do anything to the house in the year I spent with him, and nothing would motivate him to build an entire basement. He was a very hands-on guy, I’ll give him that. If a job needed doing, he’d do it himself. But after my mother went, he just sat around and moped.

They used to send carers round to see him. He didn’t even cook himself anything. I pulled up and got out by the staircase. There was an old wooden door at the bottom. Made of cheap picnic table wood, you know the kind. An intimidating padlock hung above the handle, but if I just pulled I knew it would come off. With no roof over, the door had become mouldy and useless. So that’s exactly what I did.

The door rattled as I yanked the lock off. It opened enough for a belch of cold, dead air to pour out. I leant back as if it smelt like tuna, but it really smelt like an old loft. The dust was unbelievable, I’m glad I remembered to bring my inhaler. My frightened fingers folded around the rusty door handle, and with a little tug, it opened fully. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was completely pitch black. I had a torch in the car, so I left the door open as I headed up to get it. I slipped the padlock in to my pocket. The torch was under the passenger seat, because it had rolled under there just to inconvenience me. While I was scraping towards the handle of it, something caught my eye.

From the hole in the floor that led to the basement, I swear to God some of the darkness escaped. This figure swooped up and over the hole, but as my eyes focused, there was nothing there. I stood staring for a while, blinked harshly a couple times, and then reached back under for the torch. I exclaimed “Yes!” as I managed to grasp it, and then looked around to see if anyone had heard me. I waved the torch next to my head with an embarrassed smile on my head, as if someone was watching me. I kicked the car door shut, and proceeded down the stairs.

With a slight click, the basement became illuminated. It was grey, damp, and very cramped. The walls looked like they’d been carved out with a spoon. It seemed more of a cavern than a basement. I scanned the walls with the beam of light, and came across something that really chilled me. There was a second door to my left, painted black, but in big, bold, blood-red letters read:

HOME

The closer I got to the door, the louder I could hear the crackle from the tape. I slowly placed my ear right in the middle of the O. There was a light sobbing behind the noise. I shuddered. I shook my head and turned to leave, after I realized I was about to be sick. I really didn’t want to know what was in that room. But as I turned to head up the stairs, the darkness came back. I only caught a glimpse of it, but I know I saw it. It was standing between me and the stairs. And it slammed the picnic table door shut.

“No!” I screamed as I collided with the door. I stood there punching the wood, sticking splinters in my hands as I did so, until I realized I was heavily crying. I slid down the back of the door and wept.

Come ... home ... son” ran through my head when I looked at the door. The static was louder with the door shut. I rolled my head from looking at the roof to look at the door, and realized it was slightly open. As I leaned forward in horror, it slammed shut. I could feel my heart beating in my throat. “What do you want with me?” I managed to choke out.

“Please come home.” emerged from behind the door.

“Why? Who are you?” I spat back.

“Your father misses you.”

“My dad’s dead, you insensitive fuck.”

“Please come home.”

“Are they the only fucking words you can say? Who the fuck are you?” I could hear the anger pouring out of me.

“Your father misses you.” I stood up and marched over to the door. It’s a funny thing, adrenaline. My hand slammed down on the door handle, but before I could turn it, the door swung open on me.

I can’t remember what happened after that. I think back as hard as I can, but I can never see it. The door knocked me back, and that’s it. Just darkness after that. I must have been down there for a while though, my girlfriend eventually got worried about me and she called the police. She told them I’d come to this town to see my father, and they saw my car on the way to what used to be the cemetery. I read that the police found the basement padlocked from the outside. The doctors say I’ll always have the three scars on my chest, and that my mind probably blocked out what happened because of stress or shock. I don’t ever listen to the tape anymore. But sometimes, when I’m lying in bed, I can hear the static. And one time, I swear I heard a voice, as clear as day. You know what it said?

“Welcome home.”

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