The coolness of fall swept over the plains, and the overcast sky left everything beneath gray and sickly-looking. As the cows mooed in the distance, a ghostly call lost on the breeze, my friend and I trudged up the rocky path to the House at the End of the Lot.
“This house has been abandoned for years now, but me and my sister think there might be a squatter living here.” My friend seemed fearless as we approached the worn-down farmhouse. A chipped, painted Texas flag creaked with the fenceposts that acted as its canvas.
We approach from the front door. I try the handle. The door swings open to reveal a checkerboard tile floor, covered in a thick layer of dirt and leaves, but the lights are on overhead.
“Are you sure no one’s renting this house?” I ask.
“It’s on our property, so mom says they should be paying us the rent, and we haven’t got any.”
We take careful steps into the room and our heels click on the tiles. The more we notice about the space, the less comfortable my friend becomes.
“We should go,” she whispers.
I feel emboldened by her fear. We must get to the bottom of this mystery no matter what. I meet with certainty in my heart that no threat awaits us.
“Is there a basement?”
She nods and leads me to the door. It opens with a creak, revealing a deep, descending dark, and there’s no light switch in sight.
“I can’t see anything. Isn’t there a light?”
“A few steps down, I think.”
My friend makes no sign that she’s going to be the one to find the switch, so I take my first step onto the wooden stairs that lead into the stinking, dusty air. I try and cling to my bravery, but as it gets darker, my soaring heart rate causes my hands and knees to shake. I begin to frantically search the walls for the switch.
A minute in darkness before, Click. The light surges on and a wave of relief washes over me.
I take a careful look around. Boxes and cans litter the floor. “Should we go any further? Looks like your sister might be right about the squatter.”
I take a step without waiting for an answer. I hear and feel the squish under my foot.
The moment, as if unbound by the rules of time, stretches around me. My head leans slowly to look and my vision alights on the sight of blood. I lift my foot.
The three, freshly-killed chicks, yellow down marred by blood, were laid carefully on the step as if to create a barrier against intruders, to call a curse down on any that touched their tiny, warded bodies.
The light held no more power against the fear, then. We turned and ran and never spoke of the House at the End of the Lot again.