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DoorQ.Com | "Homecoming, Part One: Departure" (Part 1)
 
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"Homecoming, Part One: Departure" (Part 1)

It was dark and it was cold. The starless sky stretched from horizon to horizon like a velvet sheet, and although a full moon hung halfway between sky and ground, its pale light seemed weak against the thick curtain of night. Behind him stood a wide swathe of forest, so drenched in shadow it looked like a construction paper cutout. There was no approaching that vast wall of darkness – it was more of a barrier than foot-thick steel. Ahead, across a perfectly manicured lawn, stood a two-story house of aching familiarity. Its walls were a shocking white in the dim light, with three windows sunken into the second floor that glared pit black. Below these, a pair of sliding glass doors yawned over a small, neat, concrete back patio. Fuzzy round bushes and tall evergreens, tinted by the strange half-light of the moon, surrounded the house like a pack of wolves, bristling with jagged shadows. A path of loose gravel, barely visible, snaked from the lawn at the left side of the house to a driveway out front.

 

He moved forward, feeling the evening wetness of the grass cling to his bare feet as he approached the house. The shuffling sound of grass brushing against his legs seemed loud in the still night, and he briefly wondered where all the crickets and frogs and evening insects had gone. It was the silence that stopped him. Something was wrong.

 

The patio doors stood a scant twenty yards away, tall and dark, and he could see a tiny patch of moonlit carpet beyond its glassy surface. He started toward them, then stopped, eyeing the tall clusters of trees and bushes to either side of the small patio. They stood closer than he remembered, and he felt a sudden impression that more than shadows waited within them. A chill ran down his chest and settled uncomfortably into his gut.

He couldn’t go in through the back – the doors would be locked at this hour, anyway. He reached into the pockets of his pajama pants and discovered his keys at the bottom. They felt solid, substantial in his hands, and he drew them out, careful not to let them jingle. As it was, he had made too much noise already.

 

Keys in hand, he cut a wide clockwise circle toward the brick path at the left side of the house. He didn’t like the idea of crunching across the top of the gravel, but there was no avoiding it to reach the front of the house. Although it was only a quick dash across the ten or so yards, he knew, instinctively, that running would be a bad idea. Gritting his teeth, he danced burglar steps across the middle of the brick path, giving the trees to his left side a wide berth. Only when he reached the front yard did he realize how hard he was breathing, or how slippery his keys felt clenched in his hands.

 

The front door stood beneath an awning, behind a wide porch roughly three feet deep that stretched across the front of the house. A pair of windows hung on either side of the door, curtains drawn to hide the interior. The ubiquitous mass of trees and shrubs curved around the front porch, leaving only a small pass to the door, but through them he could glimpse a rocking chair benignly sitting on the right side of the porch. Some yards beyond the front lawn sat the mirror-smooth waters of a small lake, the pale orb of the moon hanging just beneath its surface. And around everything, the abyssal blackness of that seemingly endless forest.

 

He hesitated on the front lawn as he slid the individual keys around in his hand, looking for the one to the front door. He would have to turn his back on the trees that surrounded the house to unlock the door, and there wasn’t enough room for him to feel safe doing so. He clenched his teeth, listening to his heart thumping in his ears, feeling the hard edges of his keys slide in the dampness of his palm. It would take less than ten seconds to stride to the door, unlock it, and go in. Ten seconds, and only a tiny fragment of eternity.

 

Steeling himself, he walked toward the front door, eyes fixed rigidly upon the lock. Fifteen paces. Hairs prickled at the back of his neck, and he knew something was watching from the darkness underneath the trees. Ten paces. Terror gnawed at him, sending icy waves coursing down his legs, making it a fight simply to keep putting one leg in front of the other. Five paces. He crossed onto the front porch, walking less than an arm’s span from the bushes to either side, and swallowed the aching constriction in his throat as he kept his gaze fixated on the lock. A few more steps and he stood at the door; his hands were shaking so badly he scraped the key across the lock with a metallic rattle. He swore in a whisper, inhaled deeply, and deliberately pressed the key into the lock. He turned the key and heard the deadbolt click.

 

The bushes behind him rustled.

 

Twisting the doorknob, he flung himself into the house and slammed the door shut, flicking the deadbolt with his other hand in one fluid motion. Something thumped against the door, once, rattling it slightly against its hinges, and then fell silent.

 

He stared at the door for a few long seconds, not daring to breathe, but no more sounds came from outside. It took him a moment more to realize that it was no longer quiet in the room. He turned.

 

Stairs stood a scant three feet in front of him, rising sharply upwards into the shadowy corridors of the second floor. To his immediate right, a doorway yawned into the gaping blackness of the dining room, and he could just barely see the outline of a chandelier hanging over a long table. The living room lay through a doorway to his left. A black velvet sectional sofa squatted in the center of the room, huddled around a clear glass coffee table and facing the tall, angular corners of a television cabinet set against the nearest wall. Another coffee table sat behind the sectional, its sole occupant a large china lamp decorated with pale pink flowers. The TV was on, sending a spray of dim, grayish light across the room and causing shadows to writhe across the far wall. The sound of static filled the room like rushing hurricane winds, and he knew he wasn’t alone inside the house.

 

He reached with his left hand for the light switch and flipped it on. A floor lamp in the far corner began to glow with a dim orange light, barely visible against the swimming snow of the television. Cursing under his breath, he strode across the living room to another lamp and twisted the switch. The lamp shade filled with a murky yellow light – just enough to illuminate the table on which it sat. He cursed again, louder this time as panic began setting in, and tore the lamp shade off its base. The bare bulb was clear and he could see the filament burning through its clear surface, scarcely as bright as a candle flame. Not enough light by far.

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Almost screaming in frustration, he swung around and started for the dining room.

Something stood in the doorway, tall and black and ragged like a shred of night, its features invisible save for the hint of an awful smile.

 

"Welcome home…"

 

And then it was upon him. 

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