We couldn’t have been walking long, but the sweat from my brow was already making its way down my face, stinging when it hit my eyes. I stopped and set the cases of Modelo down to wipe my face, and tapped at my pockets to make sure my wallet and baggy of weed were still in there. Rich got off easy, carrying just a few bags of chips and our sandwiches. The sweaty triangle on his back showed that the heat was getting to him, too, and he either didn’t notice I had stopped, or just didn’t feel like slowing down.
I picked the cases up and sped up a little. The greasy-looking bouncer outside The Admiral grunted to us as we passed, slicking his shiny hair into the small ponytail forming at the back of his head. Rich crossed the street a few blocks up, right in front of an old Civic, forcing it to come to a quick stop. The driver was pissed, so I gave him an apologetic nod and stumbled my way across the street as fast as I could. I followed Rich as he walked down one of the shadier side streets, and enjoyed feeling the cool wind as it washed against my sweaty skin.
We walked down a few blocks, but I noticed that we hadn’t passed the house with the old Winnebago in the driveway that I always saw on our way to his place.
“Hey, Rich,” I said, “Did your neighbors finally get that RV fixed up?” “Damn, we went down the wrong street,” he groaned. “All the one-way streets look the same to me.”
He slowed down a little, so I set the cases down again, and as I wiped my face he said “Oh shit, check it out!”
I lowered my arm down to see what was getting him excited. It was an older house, that looked similar to a lot of the others on the block, except extremely dilapidated. It had boarded up windows, a piece of plywood where a door used to be, and a few missing stairs.
“Dude, you want to just hang out here for a bit?”
I said we should go for it; I was tired of walking and the heat was kicking my ass. His face lit up, and he started making his way up the steps. I followed him up, peeking around the cases of beer to make sure I was avoiding the nails jutting out of the wood.
Rich looked around from the porch, probably checking to make sure no one around was watching us. I could tell he was as nervous as I was, we hadn’t really done anything like this since we were kids walking through the sewer tunnels. I don’t know when we grew out of our curiosity; we used to love walking around for hours down there, somehow ignoring the smell of shit that stuck around on our shoes for weeks afterward.
He pushed at the side of the plywood barricade, carefully wedging out the nails and industrial-strength staples that held it to the frame. I made eye contact with a man driving an older SUV as he slowly drove by. He didn’t look too concerned about us being there, mostly just confused.
Rich had finally pried the doorway wide enough to squeeze through, so I handed him the cases one at a time and started to get myself through the opening. The staples just brushed against my arm, and once I was fully inside, I felt the familiar adrenaline rush that I hadn’t had in years.
The inside of the house was in even worse condition. The staircase was splintering and bare. There was no carpeting, only piss-colored wood that looked as if it would give way under our weight, littered with human waste. The walls were covered in graffiti, both gang tags and teenage-drawn Swastikas and profanity.
“Jesus, it’s so cool in here,” Rich said from the other room.
“Yeah, I mean except for the smell. It looks like bums have just been shitting all over in here.”
“Quit complaining, man, it’s better than just sitting at home.”
I pulled a beer out of one of the cases that he had set on the frayed, yellowing couch. It looked wet, so I didn’t bother sitting on it. I walked to where Rich was at, in what used to be the kitchen, and kicked a few soup cans out of the way to lean against the counter.
He was looking through drawers and cabinets, but they were all mostly empty aside from some old dust-covered cleaning sprays under the sink.
He opened the fridge, dropping out a partially decomposed raccoon. A rancid, brown bile leaked its way out onto the stained up tile, making it hard to choke down the warm beer.
“Quit opening shit, this place is gross.” I stepped out to breathe in some fresh air, and Rich came out holding a beer. “Jesus, even the yard looks like shit.” He was right. There were just a few patches of dead grass, small accents to the barren view of dirt and broken bottles. We stood there for a while, taking quiet sips and looking down at the mess. The yard was enclosed by a short chain-link fence, with bright green grass on either side. Rich was getting restless outside, so he went back in to look around some other rooms. I gently leaned against the rotting banister of the deck and stared at the walls of the house, for a few minutes until I finished my beer. I tossed the bottle into the yard and headed back in.
I went to the front room to grab another beer, and heard the ceiling creaking above me
“Anything cool up there, Rich?” I called out.
He didn’t respond, so I started up the stairs to check it out myself.
Each stair wavered under my shoes, forcing me to slow my steps. When I reached the top, I was looking down a hallway, lit up by just the cracks between the boards blocking the windows.
“Rich? Where are you at?”
Again, no response. I had lost the adventurous feeling at this point, and just wanted to find Rich and leave.
I opened the door to my left, but it was too dark to see anything. I pulled out my phone to use it as a flashlight, and found just a water heater and a small collection of piss-covered newspapers. The door to the bathroom was partly opened, so I pushed it the rest of the way, rattling a few hypodermic needles out from under it.
I felt a pit in my stomach.
“Come on man, quit fucking around. This place sucks.”
The only door left to try was at the end of the hall. Light was seeping through the doorway, which made me feel a strange relief. I walked up to it and turned the knob, but the door was stuck.
I put some weight behind it and pushed a little harder, and it flew open, flooding the hall with light. I immediately froze up.
Rich was sprawled out on the floor, in a collection of broken glass and newspaper.
His blood was brightly illuminated by the light pouring in the window, spilling out and collecting in the puddles of piss and dust that covered the floor.
I stumbled back into the wall, struggling to catch my breath. I turned from the room and darted to the stairs.
The door slammed behind me when I reached the end of the hall, blocking out the light once more. I blindly reached for the rail, but lost my footing and slipped on the first step. My head slammed against the wood, and my vision went white.
I tried to move, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. My ears were ringing and my heart was pounding. I tried to call for help, but could only get a few pained grunts out before losing consciousness.
“House” — Anthony Cooper