The sun set behind the mountain and spilled orange rays over the clouds; his childhood home a dark silhouette against the sky. The bus sputtered away as William watched the sun dip into the horizon until the final burst of orange and red stained the sky pink, and blue shadows spread over the land.
A tiny fleck of light appeared in the shadowy, gothic mass of stone and William’s heart flipped for joy of coming home. He lifted his bag and walked the rest of the way, trudging down the path he knew so well and lit only by the blue light of evening. The noises of the day yielded to the sounds of night; an owl hooted in the trees and the soft cry of crickets followed him home.
William approached the ancestral house in darkness and frowned.
“There was a light, and it wasn’t the evening star,” he mumbled and crossed his arms.
The night fell silent and an odd presentiment crept up William’s spine, a chill as powerful as the dark silence. An owl alighted on a nearby ledge and hooted.
William stepped to the tall oak door, its ancient gargoyle knocker ghastly in the eerie darkness, and turned the knob. The door creaked open with a spectral groan that resounded through the silent building. He crossed the threshold and, though he tiptoed, his footsteps pounded in his ears and tore apart the unbearable silence. With a tumultuous flutter, the owl darted past his head and disappeared into the darkness.
William crept through the dead house lit only by the moon. The stone walls smelled dank and moldy. He discerned the ghostly figures of blanketed furniture and the glittering snarls of cobwebs, while stalactite bats hung from the high rafters. Dust particles danced in the moonlight streaming through the dirty windows.
This was not the house of his childhood, warm and cozy and full of life. This was a dead house, a ghost house whose walls moaned with tragedy as an ominous waft blew through it. William hugged himself, cold and apprehensive. Every muscle and tendon screamed something was wrong.
He stepped into the dining room and his heart jolted. A life-size painting hung on the wall where the smiling portraits of his grandparents should be. It showed a family, the parents solemn while playful children hugged a young man dressed in black. Black trousers, black coat with tails, black waistcoat and a black shirt with a stiff, high collar. The moonlight shone on the young man’s pale face with bluish lips and dead eyes that stared out into the world beyond the painting. None of the family members wore black and William understood the young man was dead. The artist had depicted him with his family in a living pose, yet after death. The happy expressions of the children frightened William. It’s like they’re playing with a ghost, he thought.
There was something familiar about the young man and, as William drew close, his heart fell to his knees. He was looking at his own face! He was the young man!
Startled, William stepped back and felt the soft squish of flesh underfoot; a rat screeched and scurried away while wings flapped above and the owl swooped down and caught the rat. William screamed and ran. He plunged out into the moonlit world and dashed though the trees whose branches scratched his arms and face.
He never saw the rock, only the ground drawing near. A kerplunk and a flash of pain and William knew no more.
He was at the bus stop as the sun set behind the mountains and outlined his house in the distance. A fleck of light amid blue shadows appeared and William grabbed his bag. He flung it over his shoulder and set off towards his home.
He arrived at the ancient manor with the moon bright above and the night silent. An owl hooted from a nearby ledge. The big front door with the gargoyle knocker creaked open and William stepped through the threshold.
“Surprise!” A thunderous roar lit the house and a sea of arms, faces and hair engulfed William. Through the whirlwind he glimpsed into the dining room and smiled at the portraits of his grandparents hanging on the wall.