No one really knows how it started, but by that summer the house had been completely covered in tangling vines and ivy. Like something out of a fairy tale, the dark greens and browns had crept over the vacant house. Whatever was left inside would surely sleep for 100 years now. I had just turned 13. My brother Bobby and I used to ride our bikes past that house, daring each other to go through the rickety gate and up to the front door. We'd convince ourselves that we'd seen someone in the windows and we'd tear through the neighborhood, laughing and falling into a joyous fit on the plush lawn. My mother would call us in for lemonade and cookies and give us stern looks if we told her our secret. Yes, we'd been by that creepy old house again.
"I wish y'all wouldn't go over there" she scolded halfheartedly, more out of concern than anger. "Who knows what those people did to make the house get run over like that. All those weeds--just disgusting. You'ns stay on this block from now on. Ya hear? Promise me, Anne. Promise!"
"Awwww. But you know Bobby and I don't ever go on the property. We just ride our bikes around, that's all. It's not like anyone lives there anyway. Except for the eEeeEeevil BOOGEYMAN!" With that I pounced at Bobby and we had another hearty laugh. Momma even joined in.
Bobby was always looking out for me--I remember the time I broke three dishes playing ball in the house. He told Momma he did it just so I could still go to the Dairy Queen with Susie that Saturday. His legs were red from the whoopin', but not nearly like mine would have been. I think Momma sort of knew he was covering for me. Even though he was 5 years younger than me, Bobby and I were inseparable.
As the days got longer, my curiosity grew stronger. This sounds odd, but I swear I could feel that house pulling at me, begging me to come closer. Bobby was the only reason I never did. I'd stand on my bike, with my feet on the ground and stare into the windows. Sometimes whole minutes would go by. It scared him, I think, so he'd say my name and shake me gently to get my attention. I was transfixed.
That day I was so dazed he had to yell to get me back. His scream seemed to reverberate through the entire area, almost bellowing; the door of the old house even rattled. When I looked up at him, I saw a flash of fear across his face that slowly melted away into relief. We rode home double-time, like something was chasing us.
After supper, Momma asked us to go with her to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up some things. Bobby knew we'd drive past the house. Rather than see me worked up, he insisted I stay home and plan our next fishing trip, while he went with Momma. Bobby hated to shop, but that's how much he loved me.
After they left, I bubbled with excitement about the trip. We didn't often get to go to the creek by ourselves; especially since it meant getting up before dawn and staying out until sunset. I was about to head out to the yard to dig up some worms when the telephone rang. Sherriff Walker told me about the wreck. Then he came by the house and took me straight to the hospital. My mother was all bandaged and bloody, sobbing hysterically about it coming out of nowhere. But Bobby--I couldn't see him. They told me he was in surgery, even though I could see the lie on the nurse's face. They wheeled his body down the hall, stiff under a blood-soaked, once-white linen cloth. My heart sank. Bobby was my world, and he was gone.
Blurred. There's whole days I'm missing. A flash of tears, my grandma pleading with me to eat, a dark blue funeral and a bright red rage and a sick, black hollow that filled my chest. Sorrow poured through our lives like a dense fog, smothering us. My mother slowly got to her feet again but was somehow looking through me. Bobby wasn't the only one who had died.
I had to get out of there. My mind was swimming, saturated in grief. I needed to run it out of my system, to run so fast that time would move backwards and I could have my brother back. I hopped down the stairs and ran out the back porch to my bike. It hadn't moved in over a week, but I was on it and racing down the hill before the screen door slammed. My grandma's voice wafted over the dry summer air; what she said is a mystery to me still.
I didn't care. Bobby, why did you have to leave me? Why couldn't you have just stayed home? Faster and faster I pedalled, my legs pumping until they felt like rubber. His laughter echoed in my head. I could still hear him calling me. Hey Raggedy Anne! Last one to the bottom of the hill is a rotten egg!
Tears gushed from my face, I yelled and screamed and pushed the bike faster. After what seemed like ages, my feet--and my tears--stopped short. I slammed the pedals backward and came to a dusty halt right in front of it. Only today there was something different, something out of place. Like a word on the tip of my tongue, I couldn't quite find what I was searching for. What was so fundamentally wrong here? The bandana in my back pocket was dirty, but I wiped my wet face with it distractedly. As I pulled the worn cloth away from my eyes, I knew.
The front door was open.
My red Schwinn fell away from my hands as I propped it against the fence. Creaking the gate open, I slowly made my way down the stone path, overgrown with weeds. The trance that had once glued me to the street was now reeling me in. There was no Bobby to stop it.
The faint breeze that had been blowing suddenly seemed to disappear, the air around me growing thicker, muggier--almost unbearably so. My worn Chucks padded down the path and made their way to the mouth of the house, stepping on dried vines and leaves as they went. Some of the vines hadn't reached the top; they had shriveled and died, forever frozen in their attempt to reach the sun. Some of the vines seemed to be growing right then, alive and almost buzzing against the solid architecture. I imagined them tangling and writhing around on the house like snakes. In my mind's eye, the house morphed into a face--my face--and howled in terror from beneath the veil of slithering poison. I think I might have screamed aloud.
My mind slammed back into focus, thousands of colors inundating my eyes as if I was seeing for the first time. When the picture came back together again, I was at the front door. Before--I was almost certain--it had been still. In fact, thinking on it now, that's what made the house seem so peculiar. There had been a breeze, but the door had remained stiff. Now the breeze was gone, and the door seemed to rock gently. Had I watched it a bit longer, I might have lost myself again. My dry throat swallowing nervously, I took the doorknob in my hand and pushed myself inside.
Momma doesn't know I'm here. Neither does Grandma. No one does.
The house knows you're here, Anne.
I could die here and they'd never find me.
They wouldn't care anyway, Anne.
They used to. So did Bobby.
But that was before, Anne. You know things are different now.
Yes, they are. Everything is just so--so very confusing. I mean I'd like to say that I'll be fine and--
But you know that's not true. Don't you, Anne.
Yes. God, yes. It's wrong. It's all a lie. And I hate them for it. I hate the way adults lie. They tell you to stay out of trouble and be good and everything will be okay but it's not. I just want Bobby to come back, and I want to be happy again. I want to be outside on my bike and--
You mean like her?
I turned and peered out of the doorway I'd just crossed through. Outside in the street were two children, a boy and a girl, on their bikes. The girl's eyes seemed to be looking straight through mine. I opened my mouth to scream to them--to make them hear me. I wanted to tell them to go back now, to stay together, and never think about this house again. My mouth opened, but it wasn't my scream that came out. It was Bobby's. The door slammed shut.