03 Sep On The Short Walk
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"On The Short Walk"Written by
Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
My house doesn’t have a garage. Instead, it has an undercover car port. The front door is at the opposite end of my house to the car port. Once I park my car it’s a short walk from the car port to the front door. On the short walk, because my house sits on a slight hill, I have a view of the property across the street. It’s been vacant for a while now. Last night, though, on the short walk, I saw a light on inside.
This morning, on the short walk from my front door to my car, I quickly took stock of the house. It appeared to be vacant. There were no cars parked in the car port or on the street outside. The tall, neglected grass swayed in the gentle morning wind and the brown, paint-chipped picket fence had a precarious lean, as if it would topple if the gentle gust graduated to anything greater. As for the house, a single-storey brick with sun-faded orange roof tiles, it studied me with its four eyes, the blinds drawn on each, as I studied it. It was like one of those paintings where the eyes are on you wherever you are in the room. Its four eyes followed me the whole way on the short walk but there didn’t appear to be any life behind them.
That night I parked my car and began the short walk to the door with my mind still at work. It wasn’t until I was halfway through my journey that I realized the light flickering behind one of the windows. This time I realized the flicker, as if the source was fire rather than a lightbulb. As I moved closer to the front door I tried to recall if the light I’d seen last night had flickered the same way. I couldn’t recall. I hadn’t paid close enough attention. As I entered my house, I heard the muffled sound of a hammer at work across the street. I figured that I did have new neighbors.
The next morning the house looked exactly as it had the previous day. As I walked the short walk, looking over at the property, I saw one of the window blinds move. It looked like someone had bumped into it. They slowly rocked for a few seconds before becoming still once more. By this time I’d reached my car and I drove to work.
When I got home that night my mind hadn’t been left at work. I’d begun thinking about the house across the street on the drive home, wondering if the flickering light would be on behind one of the windows. I saw, on the short walk, that the light was on. However, the light flickered behind every window. It was brighter behind the two centre windows and grew dimmer in the outer windows, as if the house had just one source of light. As I put my key in the front door I once again heard the muffled sound of construction across the road. The sound of my footsteps on the short walk had masked the soft sounds of labor. I didn’t look over my shoulder. I’m not the overly-nosey-neighbor type. I went inside and locked the door.
The next morning I realized that the blinds were gone. Their disappearance didn’t provide a passerby with a peek inside because the windows had been painted a dark maroon. On the short walk I also noticed a mound of dirt beside the house. A shovel stuck out of the ground next to it. I got in my car and drove to work.
That night I saw, on the short walk, a sign of life and not just a hint. A red truck sat on the street outside the house with its cabin raised. A figure hidden by the darkness was working on the engine. The streetlight on that side of the street was out but the one outside of my house was working fine. The figure working on the truck was wearing protective goggles. He looked up at me and the fluorescent beam of the streetlight hit them and bounced off in my direction. It was like a nocturnal animal studying me. I raised my hand in a polite wave and the figure just continued to watch me. It then went back to working on the engine without even a nod of acknowledgement. I quickly went inside, glad to be out of sight.
The next morning the truck was gone and so was the mound of dirt. The dilapidated fence had been replaced with a sturdy chain-link deterrence, double the height of the old one. The house watched me with its four empty eye sockets all the way to my car.
When I got home from work the truck was back and the streetlight still hadn’t been fixed. As I neared my front door I heard the sound of a basketball bouncing on the hard surface of the road. I looked over my shoulder and saw a group of streetwalkers, their age hidden by the night. I didn’t hang around outside to see if they were coming or going because my neighborhood wasn’t the safest. As I retreated inside I heard one of them shake a spray can.
The next morning the truck was parked in the same spot as the night before. Across the back of the trailer, sprayed in blue paint, was: ‘PIG FU’. The next letter was half completed but it was pretty easy to tell that the artist had intended it to be a C. But the artist had been stopped halfway and they’d left their spray can behind. It lay on its side against the truck’s back wheel. My imagination offered me an explanation involving the streetwalkers and the figure that I’d seen working on the truck. I turned my mind to work and got in my car.
When I returned home that night, as I pulled into my driveway, I saw that the truck’s cabin was raised again. On the short walk I tried to see if the figure was working on the engine. Movement at the back of the truck caught my eye and the figure appeared. I looked away but could still see the streetlight reflected on his goggles. Then, as I moved closer to my front door, I noticed the figure moving across the street to my house. I fastened my walk when I saw the long wrench in his hand shimmer when it caught the light. I kept the approaching figure in the corner of my eye but made sure not to look directly at them. I fumbled with my keys at the door, praying not to hear the tap of shoes walking up the path behind me. I got inside and closed the door behind me. I waited for a knock that didn’t come. My curiosity bested my fear and I peeked through the eyehole. There was no sign of anyone on the street.
The next morning I was a little reluctant to leave the safety of my house and make the short walk to my car. But it was day time and that convinced me that I wouldn’t see anything unsettling across the street. With this assuring thought I stepped out of the house and began the short walk to the car. As much as I didn’t want to look, my curiosity was like a fishhook and the fisherman was standing across the street slowly reeling in the line, making my head turn slowly in the house’s direction. As if the figure had been waiting for me to look over, the front door opened as soon as my eyes fell on it and they emerged from within. I knew it was the figure I’d seen working on the truck because of the goggles. The sun reflected off the lenses and, like the streetlight, didn’t allow me to make eye contact. There was no way to tell what gender they were because the top of their head was covered by a black engineer’s cap, the goggles obscured their eyes and their lower-face was covered by the large collar of the thick black overcoat that hid the rest of their body, the bottom disappearing into the long grass. They raised a hand and directed my attention to the open front door, offering for me to come inside. I tapped my watch. signaling that I was running late and quickly walked to my car. They dropped their hands and just stood there in the long grass. Like the house, they watched me all the way to the car.
I thought about the morning’s short walk all day at work. When it was time to go home, I contemplated not going home. I thought about it for quite some time in the car park of my office building before deciding to go home. I had nowhere else to go. Besides, home was safe. It was that short walk from the car to the door where I was vulnerable. If anything happened involving the engineer – I’d gotten to calling them the engineer because of the hat – I’d get inside and call the police. It sounded like a good plan.
I pulled into the driveway that night and looked over my shoulder at the house across the street, making sure the engineer didn’t have a head start on me. If I’d seen him out on the street, I would have turned the car back on and gotten out of there. I took a deep breath, got my house key ready in my hand so as not to waste a second at the door finding it, and started the short walk. I kept the corner of my eye peeled for any movement. When I reached my front door and nothing out of the ordinary had happened, I felt, strangely, let down. I’d been so sure that something was going to happen. I’d felt it in my gut. The hairs on the back of my neck had stood up for no reason. I looked over at the house across the street and it appeared as it had on the first morning after I’d seen a light on in one of the windows. The property seemed to be devoid of life. Even the red truck was gone. I inserted the key into my front door and unlocked it. As I pushed it open, I looked over my shoulder to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, I turned back as I stepped inside and collided with the engineer.
The engineer stood just inside the doorway and my nose touched one of the lenses of his goggles. When the realization set in, that I had an intruder inside my house, fright threw me back and I tripped over the doorsill. I landed on the pathway outside and looked up at the engineer as he emerged from my house. In the glow cast by my front light, I saw what the goggles were protecting: nothing. There was just darkness behind the lenses. I crawled backwards for a few meters as the thing that wasn’t human moved towards me. I picked myself up off the ground and turned for my car.
A glow caught the attention of my peripheral vision and my curiosity turned my head towards it as I ran. The door to the house across the street was wide open and the flicker of a flame danced just inside. I should have continued running to my car but I stopped. I changed my course and began walking towards the open door. I wanted to get in my car and drive away but the want to see inside the house was stronger. The engineer stepped up beside me as we crossed the road and I felt a supportive hand on my back. It didn’t say anything; I’m not too sure if it could. It guided me past the chain-link fence, through the long grass and to the door. I discovered that the flickering light was a large chandelier holding numerous wax candles.
I could feel the engineer pushing me on the back slightly but not hard enough to force me inside. He wanted me to step inside but when I saw the pit I didn’t want to. The house was just a shell hiding the pit beyond its walls. But I don’t think that ‘pit’ is the right word because a pit has a visible bottom. I couldn’t see the bottom but I could see hundreds of shimmering eyes catching the flame of the chandelier. When I think back on it now, I think they were goggles, not eyes.
Suddenly the want to drive away was stronger than my curiosity. But the engineer had his hand on my back and the force behind it was getting stronger. Before it could push me inside I pushed back on the doorframe. The force behind both our efforts grew until it was an aggressive battle. Then I had an idea that saved my life that night from the pit. I purposely fell straight to the ground, catching the engineer off balance and he toppled through the doorway and into the pit. The want to get in my car and never return was greater than the want to look over into the pit to see if the engineer was gone. So, I ran to my car and drove away.
The next morning, in the early hours, a sinkhole swallowed the entire street. My coworkers were shocked when I showed up to work in the clothes I’d been wearing the day before. I’d had nowhere else to go. I explained that a night out drinking had saved my life. It wasn’t a lie. I had spent the rest of the night drinking. They were interested by my story for only minutes because special coverage of the sinkhole was playing out on the morning news and had all their interests grabbed.
I spent the morning in my cubicle browsing for apartments to rent. I couldn’t bring myself to work. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone the truth because they wouldn’t believe me.
On the short walk from my cubicle to he water cooler I pass the lunch room. Through the window I can see the TV. At the moment it’s on and showing an aerial shot of the sinkhole. The large black eye watches me as I watch it, wondering. Did the engineer create the hole or did the hole create the engineer? I’m curious to know. I’ll continue to peek on the updates every time I go to get a drink. Though, if I see something I don’t like, I’ll run.
Until then I’ll just watch.
Credit To – satawks