By Danielle Riddell
Her destination was number two-hundred and it was close; maybe at the very corner of the block, where it turned in on itself. House two-hundred, the third last to the corner, was a two-story house with a driveway and an assortment of old kids’ toys littering the front garden. Things left and aged and forgotten about. Lena eyed them with an odd, tight feeling in her chest and then forced her attention back to the house.
She thought that maybe if no ghosts were here, then something else might have moved in instead. It would not have surprised her to find that Lucas, who had sent her the initial story, was messing with her deliberately. It would not be unlike him to have lied about whispers which had reached even his supernatural-sceptic ears. That he hadn’t bothered to meet her on time was a sure sign. Maybe he lay in wait, hiding in an old cupboard ready to spring free and scare her half to death.
The curtains were open on the bottom floor and she considered peeking inside; first, she thought she ought to call Lucas first. See if he really was inside hoping to spook her, or at the very least, to see if he was coming at all.
The sky hung overhead, black and purple like a thick, dense blanket. The clouds had all but covered the stars and what little moonlight could peek through was spread thinly over abandoned cars, reflecting off onto the pavement and derelict houses. The air was strange: not heavy, but it seemed to take each sound and stifle it until there was nothing left. Lena had seen abandoned streets before in her travels. Tales of ghosts often went hand in hand with places like Park Road.
A gas leak had emptied this part of New York out, as did the ensuing fire. The other connecting blocks were still blacked out all these years later, the buildings charred and left to rot. Things had been left in haste, even the cars and even the things inside. Material possessions, Lena had learned, often meant nothing when it meant getting out alive.
She walked the pathway while drafting her message and then sidestepped to the grass and towards the window. She hit send, waited a moment and then began to inch closer until she could press her hands against the glass and peer inside. An old living room awaited her. Two sofas and a TV; on the floor it seemed like there were more kids’ toys and maybe some shoes and other things which had been left in a hurry. Blankets lined the couches and she supposed someone had been making use of them when the nights turned cold and the streets became unwelcoming. There were plenty of houses, after all, and no one was using them.
It was not all so terrible, however. A few blocks over, demolition crews had begun moving in, dismantling the houses and towering apartment blocks. Money had come from somewhere and now it was time to wash the rot away, piece by piece. They had done the same not far from Park Road; downtown all the slums had been destroyed five years before and, in their place, tall, expensive apartment blocks and odd hipster cafés now stood. It was hard to imagine this part of the city looking the same, what with the echoes of what was still lingering.
Park Road was last on the demolition list she imagined. It was the least affected: the streets now were used as a free parking lot while the houses sat empty husks, the windows ghostly eyes peering back. Any tales of howling spectres often came from stressed workmen after too many after-work beers, she had managed to deduce from online reports. The real ghosts, if there were any, lay in the destruction zone, watching from burned down houses and demolished bricks and wood. The only ghosts on Park Road were squatters and opportunists haunting the backyards and old bedrooms left unattended. There was nothing here for Lena at all, but with no access beyond Park Road’s eerie streets, she had nothing but part of a ghost town to investigate.
“You know,” a voice said from behind her, flat and soft. “For a private investigator, you’ve got terrible reflexes.”
Lena hissed out through her teeth, her whole body swerving as she threw her arm out, aiming directly for Lucas’ head. It was him of course, dodging her arm, frowning as if it were nothing but an inconvenience. And it was, probably: Lena was half a foot shorter than him and only made up the difference with the height of her hair. “Do not do that!”
“I’ve been following you since you got off the bus. Are you sure you’re not a ghost? Hard to believe nobody’s taken a shot at you with how you go about, not paying attention.”
There was much that she wanted to say in response. Sometimes she thought Lucas was a ghost himself, given his ability to appear anywhere, unheard and unseen. She breathed in through her nose sharply instead and offered, haughtily: “I’m not a private investigator. We’ve been over this. I’m a supernatural investigator. I don’t care about old, white guys affairs.”
The corners of Lucas’ mouth turned upwards. “Right,” he said, and Lena felt suspicious that he sounded fond. She turned back towards the window with a frown, she peered back inside. Lucas remained where he was, quite patient. “The house isn’t haunted,” he admitted, after a moment, not sounding the least bit guilty. “But the kid that used to live here went to my high school.”
Lena glanced at him over her shoulder. “So?”
Lucas shrugged. “He said they didn’t move out because of a gas leak.” He inched closer, until he was side by side, peering into the house himself. “He said people kept going missing and then turning up in bits and pieces. Like an animal tore them apart. People started moving because they thought there was a cougar or something -”
“You don’t get cougars this far in the suburbs,” Lena interrupted.
“Something or someone. Quit interrupting.”
Lena frowned. “Plenty of serial killers chop people up, Lucas.”
“Sure.” Lucas glanced at her, his mouth curved upwards. In the light – or lack thereof – his smile seemed strange on his pale face. Crooked. Lucas had, for the entire eight months that Lena had known him, always been sort of pale and weird looking. Lena couldn’t remember seeing him smile before. Something about him had always seemed sullen; like he hadn’t grown out of his teen-angst.
She hesitated, glancing between him and the window and then, with a sigh, she turned around and scrubbed a hand over her face. “I hate you,” she said, as her imagination began to run wild: wendigo’s and cannibals and old-fashioned revenants. Plenty of things which could hunt and tear people apart. He knew her weakness. “Which house was first?” Lucas’ smile had some teeth now; sharp and white. “We can start at this one.”
A Glasgow based writer who, after taking some considerable time off, is now currently back at University studying English & Creative Writing (with Journalism). Has a preference for weird fiction, specifically supernatural fiction which can appear domestically normal on the surface. Has only one literary fear: the overuse of epithets. Currently writes for the campus newspaper and is working on an independent collection of short stories.