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This would be the second house tonight. He knew Cory would be angry, sure – the man was always trying to stick to his “rule book,” and the first Law of Cory was to avoid same night hits – but they were running low on pretty much everything. Harry wasn’t about to starve because of a stupid rule made over whiskey shots and a little pot; besides, pissing off an already-touchy brother was just the cherry on top.
It wasn’t a big risk anyway. He wasn’t across the city, teasing the suburbs. This was Canvastown! If he pissed on a station wagon’s hubcaps, he would probably get little more than a few cheers. Once, back in their more exhilarated days, he and Cory had found a whole briefcase of tiny coke baggies down here – easy pickings. Then again, Cory hadn’t stopped checking the windows for two weeks afterwards, whispering about “the dealers” in his damn sleep. Jumpy little fucker, he was.
Now Harry stood in front of the most rundown house he could find that still had a number on it. He was on Miller Street, a dumpy lot of half-vacant “homes.” (If you bothered to name them.) As he stepped out of the faltering streetlight and down the weedy, nearly nonexistent front sidewalk, barely worried about his surroundings this far from downtown, he peered vainly between the molded boards covering the front bay window. If this shack is completely empty, he thought, I might as well head back. On the flip side, it could be filled with merry crack heads; that was a risk he had to take.
There was something special about this house, however. Occupying the front window was a small cardboard sign, meager yet significant. He could see some of its washed print through a gap in the wood. “Al’s… Care.” Harry could also make out a handwritten “registered” seal of approval poking out in the corner. There was a dull piece of rainbow topping the seal; it gave him the fucking creeps.
Harry watched his footing carefully as he climbed the creaking front steps, avoiding patches of fallen concrete. The dips in the stone looked like they would devour his leg if possible, biting down with rusty foundation wires. He laughed, glancing at the entranceway’s absent doorbell slot, and considered knocking on the door. Easy pickings.
The door opened before he could touch the knob, swinging with a press of his shoulder. The ease took him by surprise, and Harry reached for a crumbling barrier as he stumbled forward. The floor inside was completely collapsed, black except for a few stabbing lengths of smashed floorboard.
Who leaves a pothole in their front entrance way? Even the slummiest of idiots usually threw a board or two over gaping holes in their house. The pit did not reveal its depth, but it was certainly dark enough; as he bent down in an attempt to see past the blackness, a thick waft of putrid scent slapped him in the face – a dead rodent, he guessed. Suddenly, his hand itched for the doorway behind him. There might be something worth his time in here… but man, this place… smelled.
The house reeked of inactivity. Moonlight was Harry’s only guide as he tiptoed across the rotting wood, dodging more fallen floors and strange pits. Dust, thick and ancient, filled his nose as he gasped in the kitchen’s doorway – a massive rat stood up in the sink it was nosing around in and scattered, leaving a trail of decomposing casserole behind it. He gagged as he stepped over another pitfall, holding his right arm to his nose as his left acted as a leading companion. He noticed a glint, approached it, and found nothing but assorted silverware. Then, after a moment of near puking, he turned right around and quickly made his way back to the foyer. The kitchen was rancid.
Now he caught himself looking longingly at the hanging front door, glancing at the fresh air outside. He shook his head, scolding himself for being such a coward. This house wasn’t so different from some of the others he had been in – a little smell wasn’t going to drive him home with his tail between his legs. Cory would never stop laughing.
He changed direction and walked down the right hallway instead, checking each darkened room as he passed by. Thankfully, the floor seemed to be intact here. Harry began to get excited. He was starting to see some positive signs – objects that might mean goodies.
The first room belong to a little girl or maybe a young teen. The walls were painted a dull, sick pink that flaked off like dying bark. He could see a couple still-coherent stuffed bears, a remnant pile of old books, and a TV dinner tray rotting beside an old dresser. In the center of the room, the largest hole yet spread its dark jaws under a bladeless ceiling fan. Across the room, rusted metal bars wrapped around the inside of a small window. Harry knew that the neighborhood was bad, but still uttered a low chuckle at the bars.
The next room was like the first one with a few key differences; the similarity poked at his stomach, though he wasn’t sure why. Instead of pink, a cold blue painted the walls. Matching bars covered an identically tiny window, and the same bears stuffed the room. There was a hole in this room as well, but the pit was off-center and to the right instead. In the middle of the room lay at least ten crammed cots, each one molded over and riddled with insects. How many damn kids did these idiots have? He stared at the black pit for a while longer before continuing down the hall.
The last couple of doors had to be kicked open; the last one did not exist. The room at the end of the hallway was so plain that it stood out – its walls seemed to be plastered and unpainted, and its floor contained no hole. A single, neatly folded bed sat in the corner, seemingly untouched by the house’s atmosphere. Harry checked the room for any valuables, but found nothing – there was nothing really to search. No dresser, no bedside table… not even a closet or chest. He frowned and left, heading back into the blue room next door.
The room seemed even more eerie from the inside. The bears watched him sadly as he stood in the center of the room, his feet next to one of the moldy cots. In a way, he almost felt trapped – it was as if the bars on the window were taunting him with their very presence. Then he saw it. The whole room was covered with the weeping blue paint – everything but the edges of the window. There, it had been scraped off. Claw marks stretched outwards on either side with half-chipped paint bordering each scratch and blood creasing in between.
Suddenly, the house didn’t seem worth it.
Before Harry could turn around, the door slammed. He screamed and turned, bolting for the wood and slamming his fists against it. The lock had been snapped when he kicked the door in, and now someone was holding it shut against him – he could feel it give way a little bit with each hit before slamming back against its frame.
“HEY!” he bellowed, now attempting to shoulder in the door. There was no answer – only a whispered clicking as the door held back with impossible strength. “I’LL KILL YOU!” he screamed.
“Naughty, naughty,” a voice whispered from the other side of the wood, breathing deeply with each slam against the wood. “You haven’t learned your lesson… Timeout isn’t over yet.” The voice gave Harry chills, and he pressed harder than ever.
“Let… me… OUT!”
“Can’t do that, door must stay locked. Timeout isn’t over yet. Not ’til you learn your lesson.”
Harry took a heavy step back, preparing himself to full-out tackle the door. His foot collapsed into the ground. Motion became a blur and pain ripped at his legs as he found himself falling, collapsing through the rotted ground into darkness.
He passed out.
When Harry opened his eyes, the first thing he did was whip out his lighter. Angry and desperate, he flicked three times before the casino device divulged its flame. He wished it hadn’t.
He was in some kind of basement. There were no windows, no doors… all he could see beyond the shadows were odd shapes and piles of wood. He tried to turn, twisting his body to search his surroundings, only to find that his legs were unwilling to cooperate. One leg was severely displaced, a smooth white bit of his femur poking its curious face out of one side, while the other was penetrated by a sharp piece of floorboard or something… he couldn’t look long enough to tell. Harry moaned and turned to his belly, sliding the lighter around as he moved.
Above, he could see the original hole from the boys’ room. Below it laid the shadowy outline of an obtuse mound – a pile of little, barely composed bodies. The boys seemed to stare at him, their empty sockets pleading him to end their punishment… to finally let them out of the room decomposing around them. Harry whimpered and turned away, unable to look anymore – he could now see the second pile of bodies, just under the faint outline of the girls’ room’s hole.
“Now, now, you can’t come out… you haven’t learned your lesson."
From above, the man’s faint voice broke out again. Its delicate, routine charm echoed throughout Harry’s new abyss as the sound of a door slowly swinging shut punctuated his dialogue.
“Timeout isn’t over yet.”