~ Sean Moore
An ochre haze filters up from the tree-lined horizon. The sky is large here; the earth bends on the horizon and strains to hold it. The sparse sounds of animals, wild and tame, flow out from nearby woods. Titters, chirps, and tap-taps issue from the trees; a feral growl and a few barks join them. The scorched grass surrounding the trees takes on the morning colors, and remains silent. Nearby, on the slightest incline by the tire-marked dirt road, a white-washed house with warped wood and chipped paint stands still and solitary as a sentinel. Its small rise of land has no grass, not even burned, and if the grass is quiet, then the dirt surrounding this home is quieter yet. It stands flat, one floor, with windows that resist the dawn. Anyone passing by would see a mailbox, half-bent to the ground, heading off a broken-stone walkway to a dirt-encircled wreck that seems more like two shacks together than a real house. They may pity this sight; but the place envelopes itself in silence, and the windows are dark by night, and filled with glare by day, and so only the mailman braves the area long enough, daily, to deposit some token pieces of junk mail. The fliers and the pre-approved loans and the credit card offers are gone the following day. From this evidence, he imagines someone lives there. But he just imagines.
In the little pocket town known as Etna, Nevada, forebears built every house along one road: Great Basin. Just the Road, to the locals. Children walk the Road to school every morning during the year, and during the summer they walk this same Road to get to the one general store slash gas station slash restaurant in town. And they throw rocks and play baseball. It’s what kids everywhere do. Some children in Etna play baseball with rocks because everything’s kind of a commodity when your town population numbers in the low hundreds. Shortage of baseballs, yes, but no shortage of rocks. And, more importantly, children can be cruel. Few targets are more enticing than the silent ones, because silence can be seen as weakness; but 1044 Great Basin Road is not weak in its silence. No children throw rocks through its shining windows, and baseballs that land near it are never recovered, nor seen again.
No footsteps lay in the dirt. No shadows darken the slim line beneath the front door. No men or women enter this home, nor do any leave. No food leaves the only grocery slash bank slash bar in town and subsequently finds itself stowed at this address. No geological surveyors come by to find out why this one spot seems a bit higher this year than last year, this one spot that bears the weight of this one house, in the singular town of Etna, Nevada, which didn’t exist until some nameless wanderers shambled out of history and into the great West in search of respite from the complications of the East. No one has a care for these things, strange as they seem, and no one seems strange enough to care, because it’s a small town and everyone knows everyone.
Maybe the mailman would talk with his coworkers about the way the house shimmers in the distance as he pulls up and shoves off, like a living subject of an Impressionist’s vision. He might do this, if he had coworkers. He’s the only postal worker here. And maybe the children would steal away at night and bring their binoculars out with them so that they could watch the windows and witness some sign of life, some hideous and decadent hermit shuffling about in perpetuity, marching in stride with a bulbous girth hanging below his belt, back and forth between two windows in accordance with a draconian schedule drilled by his father, who lived before him, who never left the house in life or death – maybe the children would steal away and see this, but they don’t dare. They simply do not. And still, the adults might call it the Boo Radley house and share a hearty laugh about the “poor sap” who lives within, the “poor sod” who let his lawn burn away, the “poor, shameless fellow” who doesn’t even come to the Christmas church service, the (they might not laugh about this) “poor, closeted pederast” who was clearly responsible for the disappearance of the Harron boy despite the fact that Rodney Harron, age nine and three quarters, clearly drowned himself in a creek when he dove head first after some frog that evaded his unkindly advances and subsequently knocked himself out – the adults might do all of this, but they really just don’t care. They really don’t. Iniquity and justice make famous neighbors, but neither resides at 1044 Great Basin Road.
It’s six in the morning, and somewhere in Etna, Nevada, the sun rises on a silent house on a silent rise of barren earth, and that house refuses to be shined upon. It’s six in the morning on August 9th, 1995 in Etna, Nevada, and the front door of 1044 Great Basin Road hangs open. A wind tumbles in from the west, and the door does not move. Perfectly perpendicular. Open. Inside, a corridor beckons.
A man drives along the Road. His black pickup appears more brown than black; the windows are scratched and pitted. Age has erased any distinctive marking on it, and age permits this man to not give a damn. His face carries the lines of laughing and grieving; he is rent with wrinkles, and two marble-blue eyes sit placidly in sunken sockets beneath a single, thick brow. He has a mustache, and the hair on his head resembles parched crabgrass while the hair on his face might well be filaments of coal. Flinty pupils scan the horizon calmly, and his thin-lipped mouth bears a rictus frown. As he drives by the house, he notices the anomaly. He studies it, and stops to look closer, and then pulls over, and gets out, and puts his hands on his hips, and then hooks his fingers through the empty belt-loops on his jeans after undoing the single button on his work shirt.
Some fellow left his front door wide open, he thinks. And being a good neighbor, he obliges the obvious course.
As he approaches the door, his step gains a spring. His eyes perk up, and he takes a moment to take in the vision of the house as a whole. Halfway up the broken-rock path he turns back to look at the mailbox.
Could fix it, he thinks.
He takes a step forward.
“Got the tools right in the truck,” he murmurs.
He takes another step forward. And another. Another. And another.
He tries to turn back to look at this truck, but his neck stiffens. His eyes bug out briefly, before relaxing once again. His flint pupils dilate. He steps into the house, and stands face to face with a wooden wall marred by manifold cuts, thin and shallow. The corridor goes left, and it goes right; as he turns to go left, he finds that his feet are turned right, and he follows them.
In the bedroom, a queen-sized bed sits bracketed by two end tables, both with their own lamps. A compliment of towels lay on the edge of the bed; two pillows, pink, adorn the head; and covers match, untouched by creases. Floral shades darken the windows and a still of abstract paisley flowers hangs on the wall. A chair. An extra pillow. A light socket with nothing plugged into it. Picture frames without pictures. Extra blankets. Extra sheets. Clothing. He sees a bedroom; it is complete. But those lamps are on, and their light casts no shadow.
His feet seem to turning him around, and he follows them. He heads back through the corridor, where the marks on the wall seem higher than before, slightly, and the door no longer stands open. His arm spasms; it reaches for something, and falls back to his side. His chest feels naked; his shirt hangs in tatters.
He stumbles forward, and finds himself looking at a leather couch, cream colored. It stretches around the pink-walled room, the white trim hidden except in corners. A brown table sits between the couch and the kitty-cornered television set. A tiny bowl sits perfectly in the center, and tiny white-and-red candies gleam in little plastic slips. The bowl, too, has a fine paisley pattern on it. An ivory statuette of a woman, nude, stands on an end table at the far side of the couch. Ridges and rifts run all over it. A prominent red flaw runs along her belly. Snow pulses on the TV screen; the snow, too, is pink.
Swiveling without meaning to, he faces the corridor leading out of parlor and into a yellow-walled space. His neck twitches and a tear drips past his nose. His neck twitches again, more violently, and he sees two red splotches on the floor beneath him. He cannot feel the straw-scratch of the hair on his head. He cannot feel. For one ephemeral moment, he pitches his face forward, and looks on the ruined stumps of his legs, threshed to the ankle.
The yellow-walled space seems far away. He falls forward on his face; the rug is pink. Pink, and white, so finely white, and so finely moving; a rug, and yet it moves. His eyes sink into his skull; he dimly feels the nibbling of tiny incisors on his cheeks and lips. His face is hairless, now.
The rug bears him forward. Teeth, feelers – all one track. He enters the yellow-walled room. The walls are sandy. Stony. They have a hue that resembles something between bile and urine. A strange silt lines the ceiling and leaks a clear fluid, which sluices off into a half-formed stove top. A smooth, pink faucet-shape seems to be growing out of the quivering mass. White striations marble its form; giblets hang from what should be knobs. The cutting board is also pink and white. The counters are pink and white, and the floor, and the cabinets, and the table and chairs – all pink and white. And there’s a rug in the kitchen, and the room lacks a wall. Another space – a breathing, pulsing space – opens up behind the table. Some rank odor wafts in from red-shaded depths. Calcified growths outline a stairwell leading down, an ivory stairwell leading down into the clutches of a – muscle – a writhing, whirling muscle – a thing of meat and sinew. As it turns, steps appear beneath the bony scaffold, and the stairway takes for. A brown oil bubbles up from dime-sized pores; an acrid smoke rises from everything it contacts. For a brief moment, he feels the house shudder and shiver. The great muscle stops and stands statuesque while the tremor passes, and when it does, work continues.
His eyes are failing now. Tiny, sharp assailants chew into his eyelids; a retinue of feelers bear him further along. Though his vision is dimming on its own, he perceives a real darkness ahead of him – a pit, half open and raw-red. The pit beneath the table opens up with a thwuck. Jagged, white appendages briefly appear before collapsing into the parting floor. His body moves slowly, so slowly, toward that maw, and he tips over into it. The sounds of mastication – gnashing, grating, and grinding – echo underneath him, but deeper than he has ever heard. All the pigments of his flesh and bowels drain out of his body as he falls. Unseen razors flense him into a skinless wound. His humors and his hair rejoin him in a turbid eddy of gore under the house, where a slurry of leavings – human, animal, and otherwise – greet his last seeing moments.
Outside, a more-brown-than-black pickup truck sinks into the great basin beneath the Road. The mailbox vomits out its contents, and the ground protrudes and splits wide to suck down each fluttering paper. A tiny dust cloud appears on the horizon; the mailbox bends to its crooked angle and stills. When the car passes by, cruising at a speed not safe in any jurisdiction, the ground rumbles and rises just slightly.
It might have been a burp.
~ Sean Moore