The House on Maple Lane
A short story by Parker Anne Devine copyright © 2019 Parker Anne Devine
“GPS signal lost” an electronic voice informed me. My mom looked at me from the driver’s seat of her 2016 Subaru.
“Would you pull out the map from the back seat?” She asked. The car slowed down as Mom looked for a street sign indicating where we were.
“It’s not my fault the navigation system doesn’t know this town!” I complained, reaching into the back seat searching for the map. “Why do I have to read the map?”
“Because I’m driving.” My mom said matter of factly. I sighed loudly, unfolding the map so violently that it popped open straight into my mom’s face, blocking her view of the road. “Misty!” She yelled at me, “Get that thing out of my face!”
“You told me to look at it!” I pointed out, attempting to return the map to its original shape.
“I meant to look at it on that side of the car.”
“Really?” I could tell she was getting frustrated now. She swerved to the side of the road.
“Give me that.”
She took the map out of my hands and folded it back up into a perfect little rectangle. I looked around at where we had stopped. We were on the side of the street in an adorable neighborhood. The house beside us looked like it had been cut out of a movie, baby blue paint and all. We were pretty far down the street and I could see similar houses all around us. I wondered what our new house would look like. Probably like the other ones. My mind wandered off to our old street, the one with all of my friends and the ice cream shop just down the road. As I glanced around I noticed two ladies sitting on a porch not to far up the road.
“Mom,” I said tearing her attention away from the map and the broken navigation system. “I could ask those ladies where the house is.”
“Where?” Mom asked.
I pointed behind us, “There,” I said, “They are on the porch of that white house.”
She kept her eyes fixed on the map. “You go, I’ll stay and see if I can get this GPS to work.”
I stepped out of the car, shuffling my feet, watching a loose stone from the sidewalk skitter forward as it came in contact with my foot. I looked up. The two ladies that I had seen earlier were gone. I glanced around, just to be sure I was looking at the right house. The porches around me were equally empty. I looked back at the white house where the ladies had sat only moments before. The only things on the porch were two old rocking chairs, swaying slightly in the breeze.
I shook my head. I couldn’t have just imagined that. Even if I did I wouldn’t admit that to my mom.
I hurried back to the car and climbed in. My mom glanced up from the GPS settings display she had been looking at. “That was fast.” She said eyeing me. “Did you get directions?”
“I didn’t ask.” I mumbled, “I think the ladies went inside when they saw me get out of the car.” I lied.
“You need to learn to be confident enough to ask for what you want, Misty!”
“I’m serious, Mom. They weren’t there.” I’m not even sure if they were there at all.
“Misty, I am tired of you chickening out all the time. You hardly talk to anyone but me.”
“Did you make any progress with the GPS?” I snapped changing the subject. Mom gave me a look that said, ‘we will talk about this later, young lady’, before pointing at a cluster of streets on the map.
“This is Maple Lane.” She said pointing at one of the little lines. “Which is where we are right now. And according to this,” she turned the map a different direction, “Oak Street should be one street over.”
She started the car and pulled into the street. As we drove by, I looked back at the white house where the two ladies were. There they were again, sitting on the porch, drinking out of teacups. We turned the corner onto a new street. The houses here were different, more like the ones I was used to in the cookie-cutter neighborhoods back home. We pulled to the end of the street where a little house sat back at the end of a cul de sac.
“Here’s the house.” Mom said pulling into the driveway slowly. “Our new home.” She said, turning off the car.
And that’s when the rain started.
Mom sighed and unlocked the car doors, mumbling something about an umbrella. Thunder boomed overhead. She fumbled around in the back seat for her purse, and then pulling it out, she said, “Last one to the front door has to unload the trunk.” All anger and stiffness had evaporated, leaving just Mom. The way she always was.
“You’re on.” I stumbled to open the car door and sprinted to the front steps rain soaking my hair and my clothes. Mom was right beside me the whole time laughing as her braided hair got heavy with water.
It wasn’t until the next day that the moving truck came. It was big and yellow and came rumbling down the street like a giant monster, cutting a sunshiny hole in the grey rain.
After we had unloaded the truck, there was a break in the rain, so I asked Mom if I could go on a walk around the neighborhood. I was half hoping to see some kids my age, though it’s not like I would introduce myself if I did. It was humid outside and the clouds overhead made it feel later than usual. The sun peeked out sheepishly from under the blanket of clouds, casting a strange bright gray light over the houses, making me feel like I was in a dream.
I walked past up Oak Street and it’s cookie-cutter houses, and before long, I found myself on Maple Lane, the street that Mom and I had pulled over on before. The street seemed more alive than it had yesterday. There was a family playing in the front yard in front of a lavender purple house that looked like it had just been painted yesterday. A father tossed a ball for his daughter. They had the same red hair, that made them look like they were on fire as it caught the light. A dark-haired lady watched, smiling from the lavender front porch. They laughed and spoke with each other happily as I passed.
I wasn’t quite sure how far into the street I had gone before I got a prickly feeling on the back of my neck.
The feeling of being watched.
Next to me was a white house with two ladies sitting on the front porch. Though I hadn’t gotten that close to them yesterday, I recognized them immediately. One was tall and lean with short brown hair trimmed just below her collar bone. She sat in the left rocking chair, a newspaper in her hand. The other was leaning up against the railing, grey hair up in a tight bun, a cup of tea firmly in her right hand. Instrumental music flowed from somewhere behind the screen door which was cracked open, revealing a formal sitting room inside. The ladies weren’t looking at each other, or at the items in their hands. Instead, their gaze was set straight on me. I glanced down quickly and kept walking at a quicker pace. I felt their eyes follow me until I closed my own front door and locked it, running up the stairs and into my room as fast as my feet would carry me.
I didn’t have another run-in with the Front Porch Ladies, as I’d begun to call them, until the first day of school. There was only one bus stop for the majority of the surrounding streets and I had to pass the white house on my way home. I got a weird feeling every time I stepped onto Maple Lane. It was the same feeling like I was being watched, mixed with something else. Fear. I was scared of the street. Something about the two ladies unbreakable stares unsettled me.
It was raining, again. The inside of the school bus was dull and grey like the clouds above, making the circles under everyone’s eyes more pronounced. It was like riding a bus full of corpses. The bus came to a squeaking stop at the end of Maple Lane, the double doors at the front opening. I was the only one that got off. I pulled my raincoat around me, attempting to shield the rain away with the fabric. It didn’t help. By the time I got to the lavender house where I had seen the family playing before, I was soaked through and shaking. The house looked dark and lonely in the rain. The perfect purple dotted with water droplets. I wrung out my hair and kept walking, watching out of the corner of my eye for the white house. When I got there the front porch was empty, but the sound of instrumental music came from the screen door. The back of my neck prickled. There was a light in one of the second story windows. I glanced up at it. Two pairs of eyes stared down at me, a pair of familiar faces filled the window, gazes set on my drenched figure on the sidewalk below. I looked down quickly and ran the rest of the way home.
“Have you met the neighbors?” I asked my mom as I came in the door.
“Hi, Misty. My day was great, thank you so much for asking.” She glanced up at me from the soup she was stirring.
“Answer the question.”
She glared at me. “What’s bothering you? I don’t like this attitude.”
“I asked if you’ve met any of the neighbors.”
She sighed. “Some of them, why?”
“What do you know about the two ladies we saw when we were first moving here? ”
“The ones that you were too shy to ask directions to?” Mom glanced at me over the counter. I could tell that she thought I had imagined them.
“I wasn’t too shy.” I looked her in the eyes. “They… went inside before I could ask.”
“Of course they did.” Mom said turning back to the stove.
“Have you met them?” I asked walking over to stand behind her.
“No.” She said, stirring the soup.
“But you saw them that first day right?”
“What’s all of this about, Misty?”
“There’s something weird about them.”
“Look, I don’t want to hear about your imaginary neighbors. What are you trying to do? I already know you hate it here. You don’t have to make things worse. No matter what you say, we aren’t moving back-”
“They aren’t imaginary!”
She paused, slowly turning back to her soup. “Of course then aren’t.”
“Why don’t you believe me!” I slammed my hand down onto the counter.
“You never believe me.” I continued. “Do you know how that makes me feel? It makes me feel crazy, like I’m losing my mind!”
“Misty-” She turned away from the soup. “Stop yelling.”
“There are people in that house, I’ve seen them.”
“Misty. You aren’t making any sense.” She locked eyes with me.
“Why don’t you believe me!” Anger clouded my thoughts. I threw the lid of the pot onto the tile floor.
“Misty! Help me understand!”
“You won’t.” I said running out of the kitchen.
“Misty! I don’t want you to be afraid to walk around your own street!” My mom called, but I was already halfway up the stairs.
It was pouring even harder by the time I got to my room. The rain hit my window like it wanted to come in and flood my room and take me with it. I wouldn’t have minded. I cracked the window, just enough so that the rain would land on the window sill. I held my hand outside, letting the water pool in my palm. Behind the gray curtain, I could just make out the shapes of the houses across the street, and the ones behind them. I blinked. Behind the early two thousands family home across the street from us was a white victorian style house with a long porch in the front. It was the same house that I had feared walking past everyday. I looked around warily. A few houses down from it was the lavender house, and a few paces up from that was the bus stop.
“I had no idea I could see all of this from here.” I whispered under my breath. There was a light on in the white house. Yet through the rain it almost looked like it wasn’t really there, but rather seemed to be projected. The light grew brighter, cutting through the rain like a lighthouse’s light. I leaned in closer to the window, pressing my face against the cool glass. When I did, I noticed that the light seemed to be moving, like a flame on a candle. A flame. I thought, rubbing my eyes. It almost looked like the light was coming from a flame. It was like the room behind the window was on fire.
Because it was.
The rain lightened and I could see the angry red flames, growing and licking the window of the white house. I rubbed my eyes to be sure I had seen it correctly, but when I looked back up, the flames were gone and there was no light coming from the white house.
My mom’s words played back in my head. Those houses are covered in fire damage. They’re unlivable.
I wasn’t just going to sit here and wonder. It wasn’t hard to sneak out. I watched through the crack in my door until I saw my mom turn out the light in her room. Carefully, I turned out my own light and then slowly opened my door and krept down the stairs. It was raining again, and I pulled my raincoat as tight as I could around me. When I got to Maple Lane, a familiar tingling traveled up the back of my neck. The rain hardened.
You are crazy, I thought to myself. You’re not actually considering breaking into the house. “I’ll only go in if the door is unlocked.” I said, stepping up the front steps. I could here the porch chair creaking as I walked up, as if it was yelling at me to turn back and go home. Creak. Creak. Creak.
I reached forward and grasped the door knob. It turned easily in my hand. I stepped inside, my footsteps echoing through the building. When I looked up I was faced with an empty room. The wood floor had no rug and the white walls had no paintings. I slowly continued through the house and every room was like this, empty, blank, and unlivable.
“What do you think you are doing?” Said a voice from behind me. I jumped and turned to see both of the ladies standing in the doorway of the house, blocking my only exit.
“You shouldn’t have come here, Misty.” The tall dark haired one reached out for me, cold fingers brushing through my shoulders. The second one hung back in the doorway. The light from outside seemed to flow through her as she slammed the door shut behind her.
I backed away from them, closing my eyes and bracing for a blow, or a gunshot, or something. But the room was eerily quiet, and when I opened my eyes the two ladies were gone. The room was growing hot around me, and I could feel my face flushing. Behind me, there was a cracking sound, like wood splintering. I whirled around. The wall was burning. Red fire slowly destroying it from top to bottom and spreading. Fast. It was getting hotter by the minute.
I had to get out of here.
The fire had spread to the wall around the door, licking the molding. I reached for the doorknob. I pulled my hand away quickly as the hot metal burned my skin. I tried to turn the handle again, but it stuck to its position. It was locked. I rushed to one of the front windows next, trying to avoid the fire threatening to burn through the soles of my shoes. I fumbled with the window, trying desperately to get it to open. It wouldn’t budge. My eyes stung from the smoky air. I scanned the floor for something I could use to break the window. I couldn’t see anything besides the red flames getting closer and closer to my feet. The fire had spread to the ceiling now and the smoke was getting harder to handle. I punched the window, trying to break the glass with my bare hands. My eyes were watering so hard I couldn’t keep them open. Everything seemed to slow down for just a second as leaned against the window and closed my eyes, fighting for just a moment of relief from the toxic air. I could no longer feel the heat or hear the flames around me. It was quiet, peaceful almost.
I opened my eyes to the bright light of the morning sun streaming through the window. I blinked the sleep out of my eyes and looked around. I was curled up against the wall of an empty room. I got up, the world spinning around me. Then everything came rushing back. My head spun and I braced myself against the window sill, looking at the street on the other side of the glass. I watched as the school bus drove by, stopping at the corner of the street, where I usually got on in the mornings. No one got on at my stop. The front door of the house was propped open, and I ran out onto the all to familiar porch, the door slamming behind me with a telltale click.
I ran down the front steps of the house, waving my arms above my head. The bus kept moving. I tried to run onto the sidewalk where the bus driver would be more likely to see me, but I found myself stuck in place. I spun around, my vision blurry. I stumbled back up the steps, heading towards the door. Maybe if I just go back to sleep, I’ll realize that this was all some kind of crazy nightmare. I reached for the door handle, but my hand went straight through it. The back of my neck grew cold, and with it the familiar tingling feeling of being watched.
“Get used to it, sweetheart.” A voice said behind me. Two familiar ladies sat on the porch furniture, smiling at me with no more than their mouths. Their eyes were fixed on me, heads slightly tilted. They broke their smiles to speak in unison. “You’ll be on this porch for a long time.”