I feel it as I cross the empty street, walking past a parked truck with rusted rims for tires. I feel a pair of icy eyes crawl along on the back of my neck, eyes unblinking as the sun begins to fall beneath the tops of the pines.
A congregation of trees that surrounds the derelict house, ever-green and ever-bowing together with the wind, prostrating themselves before a hollow home.
The base of my skull grows cold, and I feel icy fingers stretching through thick shadows that cut across the street. Thin fingers with sharp fingernails that scrape lightly just above the surface of my skin, pulling at the fine hairs on my neck.
I stop at the edge of the street, holding my camera against my chest. I turn my head, feet still planted in place. The home stands silent, sunk slightly into the earth. A mute echo of lives lived. Windows as black as the night sky, void of any human gaze. I bring the camera to my eye, adjusting the shutter speed for the dying sunlight. The lens slaps open for a fraction of a second. A thin slice of time now tucked safely away, protected from the oblivion of the past as it constantly consumes the present.
I turn forward, scratching heavily at the back of my neck. A few jagged rocks grind and roll against the cracked sidewalk under my shuffling feet. “No one was there,” I say out loud, shaking my head with a nervous smile, letting the camera dangle from my neck.
Well. Not anymore, an anxious voice in my head replies. But what if someone was watching before you turned around?
I shuffle away faster. The abandoned house slowly sinks beneath the clamor of the city. The siren of an ambulance slithers its way between the rows of homes, most of them nested behind tall weeds that spill out onto the sidewalk, knocking at my knees.
I pass under street lights that lean precariously over the street, only a few turning on their yellow gaze to the face of a growing dusk. “No one was there,” I say out loud, staring up at a sky quickly turning blue to black.
A sharp breeze kicks up the first dead leaves of autumn, a vortex of amber, red, and brown rises at my ankles. I stomp my feet to wake them from the cold.
“It’s just all in my head,” I say out loud, thrusting out my arms and dancing inside that leafy, swirling saffron as my camera swings wildly from my chest.
The laptop is the only light in my room, as I scan through photos that flash across the screen, the night sky seeping in through windows that face the edge of town. In the distance, an unseen mountain range rises into the universe, swallowed up by an obsidian sky with a few stars burning through the city’s amber glow.
I take a sip of black coffee that almost burns my tongue as I examine the snapshots I took of the abandoned house. Those walls once housed fathers reading bedtime stories or mothers kissing scratches on chubby arms.
Now those walls are naked, peppered with holes made by angry fists. Windows with cracked glass ready to slice open your arm. A dead rat curled up in the middle of an empty bedroom, the rat’s open stomach swimming with maggots.
These photos are f*cking creepy, the anxious voice in my head says. And what’s with the eerie graffiti messages?
“I’m not sure,” I reply, scratching the back of my neck. Probably some bored kids having a bit of fun. Pretty cool, I think. These shots turned out really nice. I wonder what that means. My father is not a cloud?
Sure. Let’s run with that, the anxious voice replies. It’s just some kids. You have absolutely nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about at all.
I flip through the rest of the photos, looking closely at each picture. I really don’t have anything to worry about. No pair of glowing eyes in the corner of one of the windows staring back at me. No unexplained shadows slinking along empty hallways strewn with wrinkled cigarette butts. No dead children with black eyes standing in the corner of a poorly-lit room. Just some weird graffiti messages.
“It was all just in my head,” I say to myself.
All in your head? The anxious voice asks. But you felt something crawling on your…
“I’m tired,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “I don’t have the energy to argue with my anxiety. I need to eat. I need to shower. I need to masturbate and get some sleep.”
Wait a minute, the anxious voice replies. I look up at the screen and scroll back to the picture of the freezer. Didn’t you open it?
It’s then that I feel it again, those icy fingernails lightly scratching at the back of my neck, pulling at the hairs.
“But there was nothing in the freezer,” I say out loud.
The laptop suddenly slams shut and the entire room goes dark. I try to jump from my chair, but a pair of heavy hands clamp onto my shoulders, pushing me back down. I hear a voice whisper into my ear, Get outta of my house.
Photos and words by Mike Yost