Rhea squeezed through the chain link fence through a circular hole in the metal. The gap was crude; the hanging steel wire punctured her down jacket so that when she moved her sleeve down to drag herself forward across the ground, a feather leaked out. Her destination loomed in front of her: an abandoned building that was a tacky pastiche of Victorian and Italianate styles, yellow and grey bricks on its façade crumbing, porch railing splintered and rotten.
She reached into her pocket, pulling out her Android and snapping a hasty picture. Chipped, purple nails typed hurriedly: Great place to spend a Saturday afternoon. #urbex #spooky #probablyhaunted #2spooky4me.
Getting in through the front door was impossible: it was locked and probably had long since rusted that way. Rhea circled around the back of the house, trying a side door. It was locked, too.
Just then, she saw a basement window, boarded up with flimsy wood pulp. A few attempts at prying the boards off the window and it was wide open and ready for her to crawl inside.
The basement was damp, foul-smelling, and cloaked in darkness. Rhea walked cautiously, wary of stepping on a nail or getting a splinter in her hand as she felt her way through the room. Laughing at herself, she turned on her phone flashlight and looked around.
Beside piles of old chairs, a wooden staircase sat, and, even though she was unsure if it would hold her weight, Rhea climbed it to the open door at the top.
Once she was on the ground floor, a flash of colour caught her eye. There was a fleece blanket on the floor; it had a Tweety Bird pattern printed on its surface. The blanket sat next to a rumpled sleeping bag, a few empty chip bags, and a pile of picture books. Rhea blinked, at first not comprehending what she was seeing.
She spent a few seconds thinking about who could have left that stuff there. A feeling of unease took hold of her, but she kept walking, too unwilling to miss a perfect opportunity. One picture—or, better yet, a photo album—that was what Raquel had said. Their agreement appeared in her mind’s eye: white text in a blue bubble sent late at night.
Funny, Rhea had never talked to Raquel in person. She didn’t know the other girl’s favourite colour or how she took her coffee. She certainly didn’t know any of the important things: family, significant others, values, even pets. Their communication consisted of stupid jokes, memes, and questions about superficial things. Maybe today would be enough to change that: they would each bring something back from an abandoned house and bond over trespassing and breaking and entering.
The photo album was easy to find; an entire row of shelving held several volumes. Rhea snapped a picture of the albums, still neatly in a row. There: she had proof. She snatched an album at random hurried outside.
Rhea had been hoping to see something freakish in the album, but it was just a bunch of ordinary family photos from the 1980s. That night, she sent the pictures to Raquel, who told her that their agreement had been meant as a joke (I can’t believe you actually did it! LMAO). Along with the pictures of the photo album, Rhea sent Raquel some images of the Tweety Bird blanket, and the junk surrounding it. If someone’s living there, Raquel wrote, they were probably watching you.
The next Saturday, Rhea went for a long, wandering walk. After some hours, she found herself back at that old house; she intended to get more souvenirs—this time only for herself.
She thought of the fleece blanket.
The boards she had pulled off the basement window were still leaning against the outer wall where she’d left them. The basement was a familiar sight (and smell). The stairs felt as unsteady as last time.
At the top of the stairs, she paused. The blanket and the sleeping bag were gone, though the empty chip bags and piles of picture books remained.
Whoever was here, she thought, they’ve moved on. Maybe I should move on, too.
She leafed through some of the old photo albums but left them there, feeling a small twinge that was like a muscle cramp.
Rhea didn’t go back to the old house for two months. When she returned, it was gone. All that remained were the walls of the basement and a few scant piles of debris. It was late November, a fine powder of snow coated the ground, and she hadn’t dressed for the weather.
Maybe whoever had been living within those musty walls was in a better place; literally or figuratively, she didn’t know. Maybe, she thought, the unknown people who left the photo albums would mourn the loss of their old house. The ghosts of their memories lingered like an unanswerable question, their names a string of letters she couldn’t predict or decipher.
She wondered if anyone would come for those old albums, those worn books. If they did, she wished that she could find them, if only to give back the one she had taken. Maybe then, the twinge she’d been feeling for two months would go away.