The place looks like a tomb.
It’s a strange thing to think about a building. Let alone a house. But it’s true. Sitting vacant, dormant, at the end of a street in this half-empty estate, with the majority of street lights long-since stopped working, no sign of life or light from any of its windows…it looks like a place the dead might go to sleep.
I shiver. Not really needing the atmosphere of the area to make goosebumps break out across my skin, given what I already think I know. Still, it certainly adds to the sense of unease as I reluctantly venture forward, and make my way round to the back of the property, wading through uncut grass about three times higher than it ought to be, my breath fogging in front of me in the cold of the evening air. I’m not sure what I expect to find around here, why I imagine I’ll have any easier access from the back than I would from the front. Still, something, some instinct, drives me forward, and when I look at the door and see it hanging slightly open, creaking in the light breeze, I somehow don’t feel all that surprised. It’s as though it’s beckoning, inviting me inside. Calling me to come in and discover its secrets. If I have the courage.
I decide that I do. For now.
I step forward. And walk inside.
I don’t close the door behind me. Somehow, it feels safer to leave it lying open like that, letting something of the outside in, a sort of buffer to the sense of darkness and foreboding that immediately hits me when I’m inside the kitchen. Dust coated over every surface, every chair, every patch of floor, every unused utensil. The very handles of the cupboards blanketed with it. I dread to think how long this place has been left to decay. It sets every part of me on edge, looking at it.
I straighten myself up and move ahead into the depths of the house, climbing the staircase in the grimy hallway up to the landing, and staring up above me towards the roof space. Again, I’m not surprised to find the door hanging open, ladder half-lowered in what could theoretically have been the result of the whole house shuddering from a particularly violent storm some night, but which feels instantly like a message. Instruction for me about where to go next. I swallow. And pull the rest of the ladder down to the floor, grabbing hold of it and beginning to climb my way up before reason can get the better of me.
If the rest of the house is strewn with dust and age, the attic feels like a lair apt for Miss Havisham. Cobwebs drape every available corner, and it wouldn’t do for an arachnophobe to venture up here. I look around, eyes keenly searching for any sign of a storage box, before quickly locating one a few feet to the right, illuminated just enough by the moonlight streaming in through the filth-coated window.
It’s in there. It must be. Some proof, some confirmation about my parents. My birth parents. Confirmation, or refutal, of the horror I think I’ve discovered through my own initial research. The awful notion that one of the people who gave life to me could somehow have harmed the other. Robbed me of a chance to ever get to know them. I swallow again and reach into the box, more dust going flying from the cardboard as I grasp inside.
My fingers close around the frame of something, and I lift out a photograph. An old, portrait-style photograph, colour leeched out of it so that the image looks almost Victorian. A young woman, beautiful, kind face, eyes shining with what at the time must have been great love and affection for whoever was taking the shot. I know those eyes. I’ve seen them every day in the mirror my entire life.
How could he have done it, I find myself thinking. No matter how twisted, how warped, how corrupted by life, how could any man have done what they did to this radiant, angelic-looking woman staring back at me out of the photo? I can hardly fathom a complete stranger wanting to harm her. Let alone…
My eyes catch something from the corner then, and I glance quickly to the side, into the shadows, into the very depths of the room, and what I see there is gone almost as quickly as I manage to focus on it. But I do see it. Just for a second. A face, pale, staring at me from the darkness, eyes boring into my flesh before quickly vanishing from view. And it’s enough. Enough for me to know, in the space of that second, that it’s him. And that it’s true. That all of it, every horrible rumour, every whispered suggestion, every gut instinct I’ve been trying to deny… It’s true. He did what they all say he did.
Because the only thing in those eyes, in complete contrast to the woman in the photo, is pure, undiluted evil.