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The House Across the Way

From the first day that she and her husband moved into their Prague flat overlooking the botanical gardens and the Vyšehrad Chapel, she was drawn to the abandoned building across the way, with its back side facing their picture windows. First, it began as a mild interest. She would smoke her cigarette out the window and peer curiously at the house, thinking it almost reminded her of a cartoon elephant, benign face peering from across the gardens. At night, it would appear  there were lights in the strangely placed windows which, in the beginning, didn’t bother her one bit. Soon enough, those lights would become a violent obsession.

 

In a city like Prague, known for its seven distinct types of architecture, this building was oddly non-descript, like at some point it was meant to be cubist, with it’s strange angles and skewed windows, but someone lost interest along the way. It appeared that renovations had begun on that five-story apartment complex: The roof was newly shingled in an unsettling contrast to the peeling façade that peered into her living room with its unrelenting gaze.

 

The nights were the worst. She would stare back at those slanted windows, trying to discern whether the lights were mere reflections or something else entirely. She used the zoom on the camera to see inside, but the closer it got the more it became clear there were no lights in the building. Yet, pulling the camera away from her face, there indeed were lights shining, sometimes brightly, sometimes thickly, sometimes with a red pallor that made her skin crawl.

 

She began to close the curtains at night, sure that something in the building was watching her. Or worse yet, the building itself was keeping tabs on her with its lopsided and falling down sneer, biding its time while she drank her wine, unable to sleep otherwise. 

 

One day she found herself walking towards the house. She didn’t mean to, she hated the way its street looked when she went by on the tram. Unnaturally dark even in the sun, a cloud living over that corner of the sidewalk blocking out all light and goodness. She couldn’t stop herself. She stood on the street, took a deep and shaky breath, began walking towards it. The front side was completely destroyed. Each window was blown out, as if individual explosions had taken place in each room while still maintaining the dividers between sections and apartments. Where the paint on the backside was merely peeling and caking off, the front of the building was only cement. There was no evidence of paint, only the gray of cement and black stains that could have been fire-related, could have simply been years accumulation of dirt and grime. From the front the building no longer looked like a face, it looked like an open mouth.

 

Shuddering with fear and breaking out into a clammy sweat, she was pulled forward. She could no more control herself than a bulimic at a dessert tray. The front door hung on a hinge. With shaking hands, she pushed it creakily forward and squeezed through. Voices in her head exploded into a cacophony of mad warnings and memories so loud she clutched her head and closed her eyes.

 

Go back, stupid girl.

What do you hope to find?

This won’t bring her back.

Leave. Leave.

This won’t bring her back.

You won’t find her here.

There’s nothing for you here.

Go home. Go home.

Leave.

 

“I’m going upstairs,” she insisted in a little girl’s voice. “I don’t care what you say.”

 

Up the broken down stairs she went. The empty building hummed around her. She kept waiting to turn a corner and find a toothless homeless guy leering towards her or junkies having heroin sex in a corner, lazily looking up at her and closing their eyes with too much enjoyment already on their side. But nothing. Every corner, she held her breath and braced herself for something. But nothing. She was almost to the top, she could feel how much colder it was. Her skin broke out in gooseflesh, then hives. She had the urge to run, to turn back, to flee, to leave this house, this city, this country, find another home another where to inhabit. But already it was too late.

 

The hives began bleeding, her eyes itched, her nails were falling off one by one. The more she told her feet to turn back the faster they moved forward. Tears streaked red down her face and spattered onto the dusty floor and her yellow shirt. The taste of blood filled her mouth and she felt that awkward unhinging sensation when the dentist has numbed your mouth and pulls out a tooth. She looked at her hands to see her skin was beginning to split, pus running out in cloudy rivers.

 

I told you, stupid girl.

I gave you a chance.

You already knew what you’d find here.

Now you’ve found it.

Not her.

You know what you’ve found.

Say your goodbyes. Say your prayers.

Too late now.

 

Her feet pulled her forward. She could barely see, but saw the doorway that had held such fascination from her apartment across the way. The doorway where lights twinkled at night and where she would close the curtains against to hide from its scrutinising gaze. She turned to see what it was that had been beckoning her all these months. That voice, the look that she couldn’t escape. She turned, bleeding, oozing. When her revolution was complete, she stood, as her teeth continued to dislodge and her skin peeled back.

 

Seeing could not describe the horror she found there, in that building across the way. Feeling could not describe the monstrousness of the presence. Her eyes exploded her vision into a burst of red, and then, nothing. It sauntered over, ate a fallen nail and tooth. Sniffed her blood and began to lick with its sandpaper tongue across her bare arms. And the girl died screaming as the thing devoured her, leaving not even a remnant of a bone.

 

From the apartment, across the way, her husband looked out the window, wondering why she wasn’t at home and where she could be. He heard vague screams and wished the neighbours would stop playing their television so loud.