1013 Baker Street
By McKenzie Swenson
Look away, close your eyes, run back to the graveyard.
Don’t pay any attention to the chilly breeze and the sour stench of ozone. It rained last night, and the dirt is clinging to your sneakers in sticky clumps. Avert your eyes so you can’t see through the filthy kitchen window. You spotted the dingy house from across the cemetery. Its siding used to be white, but now it’s covered in grime and bird droppings. Inky black crows perch on the gutter of the roof, staring down at you with their beady eyes, like gargoyles. Shingles are twisted upward, trying to break free and fly away into the gray clouds of morning. It probably won’t rain again, so you don’t need to take shelter here. If you’re truly worried about getting wet, you should go get the umbrella out of the back seat of your car.
You really shouldn’t open the door. It’s old and cracked with a handle that’s so loose, it jiggles if you even think about touching it. The people who turned the handle before you were too rough. The woman slammed the door in the middle of the night and didn’t come home until morning. The man pushed and pulled and kicked the door whenever the woman locked him out. All of the neighbors turned the door knob in vain a week after the bickering ceased. So you see? You couldn’t go in even if you wanted to. The door’s been locked ever since.
You could enter through one of the broken windows on the first floor, but that would be a mistake. Shards of glass stick out at odd angles just waiting for a nosy someone like you to slip. If you make it inside unscathed, you’ll step on broken beer bottles, burnt out cigarettes, mangled soda cans, and all kinds of wrappers. They were left by the local teenagers, who dared each other to spend the night inside the creepy house on Baker Street. Don’t think that gives you an excuse to go poking around, though. If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you follow them? And don’t say it depends on how high the bridge is.
You should do what you came here to do. Go back to the cemetery. Find the headstone with your grandmother’s name, plant the yellow tulips, say a prayer. Don’t linger here. A cemetery is no place for anyone with a pulse. The dead have a way of keeping this domain their own. Don’t believe me? I would suggest that you find the man and the woman who used to live here and ask them yourself, but I won’t because you shouldn’t.
You should drive into town instead, and leave this place. Go to browse at the Red Corner Book Store on 115th Avenue. After that you should visit the bakery just down the road. I recommend the Snow Ball Cookies. They’re messy though, so grab a napkin. Indulge yourself at one of the gift shops. In a small town like this, they’re everywhere. Sure you could ask around about that old house, I can’t stop you.
The couple who runs the book store doesn’t have much to say, since they’ve only lived in town for about five months. They’re young, probably in their early thirties, with one daughter and another child on the way. The woman smiles as she talks to you, one hand resting on her belly, and tells you that Red Corner Books was previously a family store. The man who owned it last decided to retire a year ago. Not having any relatives willing to take up the mantle, he reluctantly agreed to sell his store to her and her husband. It was a blessing actually, since they were planning on moving into a house with more space anyway. She goes on then to describe to you all the difficulties and benefits of small town life, until you kindly interrupt and say that you must be going.
The two elderly sisters who own the bakery tell you that the man and woman were good customers. The couple always bought their bread from them, and a basket of Double Chocolate Fudge Cookies if the woman was shopping. They didn’t usually shop together. The sisters exchange a suspicious look after that and politely change the subject to the weather.
When your grandmother was alive, she knew the man and the woman too. She lived just down the street, and would often peer through her curtains curiously. Don’t think that she was a busybody, though. All the residents on Baker’s Street began looking over their fences and started whispering to each other the day that the man and the woman moved in. Your grandmother invited them over to her home several times. In the beginning, the woman would sometimes accept her offer of a delectable, homemade dinner. Eventually, the woman stopped taking your grandmother’s phone calls.
If you think carefully, you might remember seeing the woman at your grandmother’s funeral. She stood apart from the crowd as the coffin was lowered into the ground. The man was absent from her side, as usual the locals will tell you. She stood stationary while the other mourners dispersed. You actually brushed her shoulder briefly as you were leaving. If you had been paying attention, you would have noticed the man sitting in his car. He was hunched over in the driver’s seat, waiting impatiently for the woman to pay her respects. But you were too busy thinking about the funeral costs to truly notice any of this.
The teenagers at the park are much more willing to spin you a wild tale. Almost everyone believes that the house is haunted. One girl swears she saw a pale, dark haired woman staring out the second story window long after the house had been abandoned. A boy stamps out his cigarette and claims he and a few of his buddies snuck in a few nights ago and heard maniacal laughter wafting up from the musty basement. You would like to believe them, but judging by the fevered glint in their eyes and the jerking twitch of their hands, you doubt they’ve ever been there when they weren’t scared, drunk, or high.
Sometimes at Charlie’s Bar & Grill, people talk about 1013 Baker Street. Only after they’ve had one too many beers, though. They remember that this bar used to be the man’s favorite place to eat and drink. The woman never came into the bar, and that was what the man liked most about it. A few of the regulars recall that the man was a talkative drunk. Until one day he wasn’t. They sober up when they talk about the day the man went quiet. He just sat in a dark corner, his tired eyes were fixed on the door across the room. Soon after, both the man and the woman disappeared as abruptly as when they had rolled into town.
You could go around asking about that house, but I wouldn’t if I were in your shoes. It’s a small town, and no one knows you yet. Make a fresh start while you can. Don’t go digging up the past. Some secrets should stay six feet under.
You’re still here, sitting on the splintered porch and clutching this paper in your clammy palms. Haven’t you been listening? Go somewhere else, anywhere else! Look, even the crows have spread their wings and fled. Follow their lead. Go find your car, get inside, and drive.
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