Home, Sweet Home
© 2007 Kyt Dotson
The man’s cell phone rang again. This had to be the third time
in the last ten minutes that phone chirped to life. Vex decided that she still
didn’t like the ring tone.
The guy would have fit in well with the usual fares she
picked up out in Scottsdale. He was clean shaven, tucked pertly into a
button-down shirt, and wore a bola tie sporting a garish turquoise and silver
pendant. A white cowboy hat with exaggerated curves sat on his head, slightly
off-center, and finely curled hairs poked out from beneath the rim—here and
there, a grey hair peeked between the brown. He completed his outfit with blue
jeans and shit-kicker boots with silver plated toes.
Vex figured this guy was either a pimp with a fetish for western
fashion or he was in real estate. His pants lacked a giant belt buckle, so she
guessed the latter was probably closer to the truth.
The conversation seemed to start out fine, it sounded like
a continuation of the three previous calls from the tone of his voice. Except
that after a few long pauses—probably waiting for someone to come to the
phone—his strained, but jovial attitude took a frustrated nose-dive.
“Wait-wait-wait, say that again. They backed out?” he
said. His expression tightened even further. Vex wondered if his face was on
the verge of falling off. “No. No… I understand.
“I told them and they seemed okay with—“
The cab rolled to a stop at a red light and he tapped on
the separator grating as to get her attention. She flicked her eyes to glance
into the rear-view window; his crystal blue eyes looked intently back and he
held up a finger: Just a moment.
“Har—Harry. No, listen. I’ll handle this,” he said into
the phone, leaning heavily on the grating now. He gestured for her to pull
The light changed. Vex crossed the street and turned into a
“Fine.” He closed the phone and hung his head in defeat.
She put the cab in neutral. “Rough day at work?”
“Oh, you don’t know the half of it… I hate that place. I
swear, they gave it to me just to spite me.”
The man lifted his head and leaned back into his seat. “Do
you believe in ghost stories?”
“More than you know,” she said and put her hands in her
lap. You’ve come to the right cab, my good sir. “Lay it on me.”
“Well, there is this supposed haunted property.” He spoke
slowly at first, as if testing the water. When Vex didn’t react, the rest of
the story came out in a gush. “It’s this colonial, down in Mesa, really
picturesque—but nobody will live there. It’s been almost two years and we
haven’t been able to unload the place. Apparently, it’s been passed around like
a hot potato for years now. I don’t know why they don’t just knock it down and
build a park there. Got to make money somehow, I guess.
“Anyway, I'm new with the firm, and from the looks of this
history on this place nobody can sell it. So, of course, they give it to me. I
swear, if I hear another—
“I am going to punch Baker in the teeth.”
“Baker?” Vex asked.
“My boss,” the man explained. “Hey, mind a change of plans?”
“It’s your dime. Where to?”
“Same haunted house,” he said. “I have to take down the
The house sprang up, red and obvious amongst the march of
ranch-style houses that marked the subdivision. Vex could see its frosted white
roof even before she left Main St. and turned into the winding streets within. It
didn’t take long to navigate the neighborhood and soon she was pulling over in
front of the house.
“In the market?” the realtor asked as he stepped out of
Up close, it looked even more out of place. It was two
stories tall, not an uncommon height for a peppering of the other houses, but they
lacked the historical sensibilities and quiet nobility of the haunted house. It
towered over its neighbors with its head up high.
A white temple-like entrance, with an elaborate pediment
supported by carved columns, poked out between green bushes and vine plants.
The vines climbed the symmetrical, red brick façade and limned the white
trimmed windows with falling blue flowers. A tall, brick chimney grew from the
frosted gable roof, casting an ever lengthening shadow. To Vex, the house
seemed tired; its double-hung, shuddered windows drooped in the deepening
Picturesque struck her as an understated description for
the solemn and beautiful house.
“Sorry,” she said. “I can only barely afford my apartment
on a hack’s salary.”
“I’ll give you a tour anyway,” he said. “Oh, by the way, my
name is Blake Macintyre. Please, call me Blake.”
“Nice to meet you, Blake,” she said. “Vex.”
She walked along the front and peered in one of the
windows while Blake rattled with the keys at the front door. Inside, the rooms
were bare, but no dust had settled on the wood floors. Every wall, as far as
she could see, had artwork painted on it. From floor to ceiling, murals in oil
paints, small squares of sketches done in pencil and charcoal; complicated and
refined carvings covered every wooden surface from the doorframes to the wooden
supports set into the walls.
“Strange, the key doesn’t work.”
Further rattling followed as he tried again.
“This place has been on our books for almost twenty years
and it’s never been sold,” he went on. “The records, I think, mentioned that it
has been traded between several different real estate companies, sometimes
people move in, but they don’t stay long.”
“The house doesn’t want to let us in,” Vex said.
Blake kicked the door. The arch shook. “Don’t be
ridiculous. I know that I said this place was haunted, but I don’t actually
believe that. Did you know that we have to tell people who are buying
these places that they’re haunted? Like they have termites or bad
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I don’t need a tour…”
“Yeah, fine.” Blake didn’t sound fine about it. “If you
like, I’ll give you my card and a brochure for the place. They’re in by
Vex shaded her eyes from the sunlight and looked at the
somber face of the house again.
“Say, who owned this place before your company did?”
Blake shrugged. “Hell if I know.” He sighed as he unhooked
the sold plaque from where it hung
beneath the realtor’s sign.
“How would I go about finding that out?”
“The County Records Office, I think. You could probably
ask around at the Phoenix Public Library; they have access to a lot of
government things, probably including deed records.”
“Thanks,” Vex said. “I think I’ll do that.”
Vex always wondered if they’d deliberately built the Phoenix
Public Library to feel like the capstone to a catacomb. The structure itself
rose up above the dusty desert and parking lot with a squat grandeur, but that
was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The insides of the first level
expanded out into a vast, vaulted room, entered from two sides by square
tunnels that felt as if they were cut from living rock. When really, they were
forged out of concrete, the effect remained the same: dim shadows and chilly
Ignoring the brightly lit lobby entirely, she flounced her
way to the elevators under the hollow gazes of the greeters behind the desk and
a tired looking security guard lounging against a glass wall. When the elevator
arrived, she pressed the button for the bottommost floor. As the elevator
descended, Vex mused about how archives and basements seemed to go
hand-in-hand. As if someone had decreed that in the earth old books would be
interred—a sepulture for old documents, the dusty lovelorn pages of memory.
With a ding, the elevator doors sprang open.
The threadbare carpet clicked audibly beneath Vex’s boot
heels as she made her way through the small antechamber lobby and out into the
cool recesses of the archive stacks. Baking powder smells emanated from the
carpet where it had been recently vacuumed and mixed with the subterranean
chill air. The desk at the front had been left unattended, computers with green
letters hummed quietly against one wall, and a doorway in the opposite
direction opened into a room furnished with microfiche machines.
Pressing further in, she moved between some haphazardly
stacked boxes of microfilm and precariously teetering piles of books. Several
of the lights, here and there, were burnt out, casting a cavernous glow onto
the shelves of newspapers, microfilm, and three-ring-binders. Sounds of
rustling pages and shuffling feet echoed through the marching aisles of shelves
as Vex walked confidently between them, navigating the labyrinth with veteran
experience. Unerring in her route, she came upon the only other person down in
the Archives that day.
Andrew Cane could not be called a short man by anyone of
less height than six-feet-three; with his stature and long arms he could reach
the highest shelves without difficulty and pressed this as an advantage on many
occasions—seldom would one find a footstool in the Archives, although for the
extended sections long, rolling ladders were supplied. His pale and severe face
with its hollow cheeks, bespectacled eyes, and short orange beard was shoved
into the leaves of a three-ring-binder when Vex approached.
“Andrew,” Vex said.
He looked up and closed the binder slowly. “You must walk
like a cat,” he said. “You mustn’t sneak up on me so, could give me an attack.”
His manner, however, belied any sort of surprise.
Vex rolled her eyes. “I must,” she said, and then shook
her head, cocking it towards the door. “You knew I’d come in the moment I
walked out of the elevator. You made me walk all this way to find you.”
“Hmph and nonsense, young lady,” he said. “But, now
that you are here. I have something you might be interested in. As you well
known there are quite a few failed mines here in Arizona, and none too few
produce stories about why they closed. Well, I have discovered the provenance
of one such story out of Jerome, involves a phantom locomotive. You might want
“Not today,” Vex said. “I need something else: deed
He adjusted his glasses. “Ah if only I was younger—housing
deeds and titles? Old ones, I hope…”
“How does about twenty years back do you?” she asked.
“Not quite as old as I was hoping, we have records that go
back to the founding of Phoenix in here.” Andrew hmmed under his breath
and started moving; Vex followed at his heels. “Twenty, twenty, where is the
Andrew hmmed again and slid behind the welcoming
desk, the computer screen displayed stars flying past like a sci-fi movie
flying through space. He ignored the computer completely and pulled out a thick
logbook; prying it open, he flipped around and held his hand out to Vex. In his
hand, she deposited the card that Blake had given her earlier and Andrew looked
“That’s an old district,” he said, scanning the lines of
the book while flipping through pages. “Haunted?”
“Would you expect any less?”
A smile crept across his lips. “Excellent,” he said. “Record,
record, record, no. Deed, no. Titles, no.” He frowned and turned over a few
more pages while glancing back and forth between the logbook and the address.
He reached under the desk again and withdrew another large
binder, dust flurried up from the counter when he dropped it down. The pages,
while laden with dust, were completely laminated and exhibited indelicate
handwriting in various colors of pen and varieties of penmanship.
“I see,” he said after a few moments of rumination,
stroking his manicured and spare beard as he did so.
“What is it?”
“It burned down about twenty years ago, destroyed in a
fire, but there’s still a deed on file—that’s really strange. Ordinarily there
would only be a title for the land.” He closed the dusty binder with a whap
and glanced up. “Wait here, I’ll get you what you need.”
Without another word, he rose, trod away into the
deepening gloom of the archive shelves, and left Vex to wait.
The clock on the far wall ticked. The sounds of muted
voices and motion filtered down from the library level above. Somewhere a light
buzzed. By the time Andrew returned, Vex had grown weary and settled herself
down in his chair. There she discovered that while the computer was on, and
worked, he had never touched it—the keyboard was covered with a very fine,
undisturbed layer of dust.
“Here you go.” Andrew set a bound folder on the table and
atop it two microfiche plates. “I included some extra reference material that
you should probably look at before you decide how to proceed.” He yawned. “It’s
getting time to close up, so I’m going to head home. You still have your key?”
“You go ahead and lock up, then.” He pressed a hat onto
his head and tucked a set of folders under one arm; then turned back and
addressed her again while through pushing the door to the elevator antechamber.
“You should take the back way out so that you don’t irritate security.”
“Thanks for your help.”
“Anytime... And good luck.”
Straightaway, Vex headed to the microfiche room—the
lighting in there appeared much brighter and better than even in the welcome
area. One of the tables, which had naturally become hers from constant use. A
carefully etched sigil on the underside caused people to pass it by and seek a
different station if one was open; this made certain she always had an
available microfiche machine if she arrived during a busy time.
Inside of the folder were almost a dozen sheets of paper,
all of them photocopies. Several of them were transfers of ownership, and two
deeds of ownership. The dates on them were quite old and some of the signatures
were invisible in the copies. Though, at long discernment, there were two
stranger documents in the mix: one of them was an affidavit of insurance pay
out for fire damage, the other an inspection notice by a Fire Chief Inspector
which deemed the house habitable and safe. The inspection notice had been
submitted two years after the affidavit, which attested that indeed the house
had been utterly destroyed by the fire—the very words on the
The microfiche glittered in the buzzing fluorescent lights
as Vex lifted each plate and examined the markings curiously. Each of them was
labeled The Phoenix Gazette and listed dates from the early 1970s. A
sticky note on top of the first offered a date: July 12th, 1973. The day after the insurance affidavit had marked the house having been destroyed in
With practiced fingers, Vex took the plate out of its
cover and slid it onto the machine. The index page appeared glowing on the
frosted screen. After picking up the proper region to check, she slid the plate
around until a front page article loomed on the screen: Tragedy strikes neighborhood; fire destroys twelve houses.
The accompanying image displayed the smoldering remains of
many houses, and the text mentioned the region where the house Blake had shown
her. Except, judging by the photograph, that same house would have been smack
dab in the middle of the destruction. That area of the photograph was almost
entirely obscured by boiling smoke. The article went on to say the origin of
the fire had never been determined and that arson was not suspected, but that
those twelve families were displaced. No mention of any deaths, in fact, the
article rejoiced that even with all the destruction no lives were lost.
This factor felt strange to Vex; most haunting emanated
from the loss of life, the ghosts of the deceased, or other powerful spirits. Somebody
died in that house when it burned down. Perhaps Andrew had thought to provide a
hint with the next microfiche slide. There was no sticky-note on it, so Vex
simply placed it into the machine and scanned the index.
On the screen, a perfect replication of the haunted house
glimmered in degraded sepia—the microfiche film for this one seemed to not just
be old itself, but the newspaper in it was even older, and not entirely intact.
Entire pages were missing, some were damaged, worn-out, or torn and
disheveled. It wasn’t a standard edition of the Gazette, but instead a
real estate news supplement.
Vex scraped through her pockets for the brochure she’d
received from Blake. The image on the glowing screen and the picture matched
with perfect symmetry.
Von Appeldorn Estate
titled the article, a small blurb about prices blurred into unreadability but
mentioned the wealth of the family and their welcome to the community.
After a moment of gazing, Vex hit the print button.
Late morning light streamed through the curtains of Vex’s
apartment’s windows. With her hair still dripping from the shower and freshly
applied makeup drying on her cheeks, she lifted her phone from the receiver and
“Painted Sky Realty. This is Blake Macintyre.”
“Hey, Blake,” she said. “This is Vex. I gave you a ride in
my cab yesterday.”
“Haunted house girl, what can I do you for?”
“Exactly that, actually. Do you know much about why that
place is considered haunted? As far as I can tell nobody died there.”
There was a short pause, a rustle of papers. “I don’t know
much about it, I’m afraid, it has to do with the condition that the house is
in. The, ah, lack of a paint-job mostly.”
“The drawings on the walls?”
“Yep,” he said. “I’m told that every time someone paints
the interior, wallpapers, or tries to renovate the drawings magically reappear.
Sometimes months later, but they always come back. Some of the artwork is
actually pretty good. But I don’t need to worry about that anymore. My boss took
the case off of my hands.”
“You’ve been officially initiated?”
“Looks to be that way. Oh, did you find the original
owners? Why are you so interested in that house anyway? You into things like
that or something?”
“You could say that,” Vex said. “Apparently a famous
family lived there back in the nineteen-thirties, the Von Appeldorns. I’ve
never heard of them.”
“I have,” Blake replied.
“There was an article in the Republic yesterday
about Katrina von Appeldorn. She’s a fairly famous artist who lives in Scottsdale.
She paints desert scenes, my wife happens to have a print of hers hanging in
our dining room. Window Rock, I think. Maybe she’s related.”
“With a name like that, I don’t doubt it.”
“Hey, I have a client coming in right now. I’ve gotta scram.
If you’re ever in the market…”
“If I ever am, you’ll be the first I call. Goodbye.”
“Ciao,” he said and hung up the phone.
Vex set the phone back on its cradle, shrugged on her
coat, and set out looking for a copy of yesterday’s Arizona Republic.
Hot, dusty desert air blew over Vex as she stepped out of her
cab and shut the door. When Blake had mentioned Scottsdale, he hadn’t mentioned
exactly where in Scottsdale the house was situated. The dark and gravelly
curves of the McDowell mountains rose up behind the white adobe house like
looming colossal giants, sleeping underneath the blanket of the too-blue
afternoon Arizona sky. Shielding her eyes against the glare, she could see the
reddening rocks of Red Mountain jutting up from the mostly flat landscape,
surrounded by the hot waver of a puddling mirage.
Katrina von Appeldorn’s house stuck out of the dark, bush
dotted land like a diamond in the rough—stark white adobe pocked with hollow
black windows and doors. It seemed to be put together in blocks that barely
hung together in a planned accord. Redwood verandas and walkways sprouted
between them, following the contours of the tan and grey rocks. Vex mused that
Frank Lloyd Wright obviously had some hand in the inspiration for the
She passed under an eave held up by two pillars, garishly
designed to mimic copper saguaro cactuses, and rapped on the door.
At first blush, Katrina von Appeldorn looked like a girl
aged into a woman’s body. She wore a loose-fitting shirt that dripped over her
features and sweatpants that revealed extremely pale bare feet. The woman’s
face sculpted around her broad smile and large eyes, an effect accentuated by a
bit of blue paint that smudged across the bridge of her nose and onto a cheek.
The hand that opened the door had its fair share of various colors of paint
splattered on it.
“Hello?” the woman at the door said.
Her voice sounded breathless, as if she had been caught in
the middle of calisthenics.
“I’m Vex Harrow,” the cabbie said. “We spoke on the phone
just a few hours or so ago. I wanted to ask you about your childhood home?”
The woman blinked once, twice, and stood woodenly for a
moment, like a statue. It took a few seconds before her features melted into
the semblance of recognition and emotion. Surprise lifted the corners of her
mouth. “I didn’t expect you to come,” she said. She noticed the paint on her
hand and started to try to wipe them off on her sweats. “Please, come in.”
The indoors bore a remarkable resemblance to the outdoors.
Mostly in that the ceiling was painted sky blue, with wispy white clouds
delicately brushed onto them; the walls also depicted a vast, panoramic desert
scene, replete with red rock mountains, cactus, and distant horizons. The
hardwood floors displayed carvings of various animals, glossed over with
lacquer, etched detailed enough to look lifelike.
Katrina swept over all this without notice. A large
covered canvas lay against the far wall, looking almost incongruous against the
desert scene. Next to it a large sheet of paper rested on the floor, covered
with dollops of various colors of paint, paintbrushes, and cups of water. Obviously
a work in progress.
“I almost thought I had dreamed you,” she said, swishing
past, betraying an elegance of motion that her outfit belied. “I guess I don’t
invite many people to my home on a whim, but you said you had pictures of my
parents’ house? Why, it burned down so long ago, I’ll bet they must be daguerreotypes.
You do you sound a genuine sort, Mrs. Harrow, so can I see them?”
Stunned by the amount of work that had been poured into
this room alone, Vex stood bemused for a moment before realizing that Katrina’s
large, dark eyes were on her.
“Oh,” she said. “Of course… Did you do all of this
yourself?” She indicated the walls and ceiling.
“Every brush stroke,” Katrina replied. “It took me the
better part of a year to finish this entire room. I’m pretty much that way
about anywhere I live. I guess that a place just doesn’t feel like it’s mine
until I’ve made my mark.”
The brochure had come along with several Polaroids
paper-clipped to it. Katrina took them from Vex’s hands with a muffled noise of
“This is the house I remember,” she said, “but these
photos are modern. And… I don’t remember these houses.”
“They’re modern because they were taken sometime this
year,” Vex said. “I’ve seen the house in person. I visited there
yesterday—which is why I’m here. You mentioned it burned down? Well, I read
some newspaper articles saying basically the same thing, but…”
“It still looks exactly the same?” Katrina frowned and
flipped through the photographs. “Exactly as I remember it. I was a very young
girl when it burned down. To the ground, the insurance company told my parents.
An inferno, they said, destroyed it down to the iron nails used to pin the
boards together. We were in Florida at the time. My parents made our vacation
home into our primary residence and I never thought about it again.”
Vex glanced at the panoramic mural painted across the
nearby wall. “The interior of the house is covered with artwork.”
“I painted every inch of that house. I couldn’t stop
myself,” she said, her voice lost in memory. “My mother would scold me for
using crayon on the wall, and she would make me scrub it clean—wasn’t
presentable, she would say. But my father, he indulged me, secretly at first,
with paints, pencils, and all manner of other artly tools. Eventually he
convinced my mother to let me paint the kitchen. I think with a diamond ring.
“Free from fear of punishment, I blew through there like
an April storm. My mother loved daffodils, so I painted the kitchen. Covered it
with them: green stalks, yellow flowers, and the blue of the sky. Mother didn’t
let it show, but I think she was impressed.”
Katrina nodded to herself, Vex listened.
“I think it broke my heart when I heard the house had
burned down…” She took a deep breath; her eyes lingered for a long moment on
the covered canvas. “Actually, I have another reason that I invited you, even
after such a brief phone call.”
She beckoned and trotted across the room to the canvas; upon
reaching it she grasped the covering and threw it aside in the manner of a
person flinging curtains open to greet the day. The image beneath depicted a
wide sky of brilliant, cloudless blue, a swath of emerald green grass and
several small trees, and in the middle a house—a house that looked almost
unerringly like the one in Mesa.
“I’ve been having dreams,” she said. “Dreams about my
childhood home. And then you come to me. I was painting the sky when you
knocked. I thought you were my agent.”
“It’s beautiful,” Vex said. “It looks almost exactly like
what I saw yesterday.”
“I must go there,” Katrina said. “Would you take me? I’ll
pay you for your time, Mrs. Harrow.”
“It would be my pleasure, and you don’t need to pay me.”
Vex grinned and gestured to the door. “My lady, your coach awaits… Also, please
call me Vex.”
When the cab stopped in front of the Appeldorn’s house that
second time something about it seemed to have changed. Perhaps just the play of
light and shadow bringing more definition to the windows like twinkling eyes;
maybe from the different position of the sun shining down from the pale blue
sky, casting banners of light like the Arizona flag. Whatever it was, Vex felt
like the house looked more open, inviting.
Unsurprisingly, the door wasn’t locked and swung inward
On the trip from Scottsdale to the house Katrina had taken
directly to nostalgia about her old abode and began a verbal tour of the house
that she now led in astonished silence. “It’s really… It’s really here.” Those
were the only words that escaped her lips before she crossed the threshold and
set foot into the interior, and then the strange woman seemed to change before Vex’s
very eyes—childlike wonder rejuvenated her movements, lent grace and tender
familiarity to her gentle fingers, and an amazed glee to her round lips.
As Katrina had mentioned, the kitchen was filled with
daffodils. They covered every cupboard from floor to ceiling and spread out
across the green painted floor like brilliant yellow, star-petal autumn leaves.
The living room became an elaborate forest generated by crayon drawings of tree
trunks, replete with strangling vines, Spanish moss, and intimately carved
gnarling wood textures. Even with no furniture in the room, it still felt
filled with life—some of the crayoned trees appeared so perfectly rendered that
their leaves seemed to shiver in an unseen wind. Vex extended her fingers to
touch a shadowy hollow in the foliage, half expecting the timidly glimmering
eyes painted there to vanish when she did.
In contemplative quiet, Katrina touched everything she
passed. As they moved through the house, Vex recalled her description of life
there. “Every room became my canvas,” she had explained. “And my escape. The
dining room is where I started, but without a plan. I hit the room like a
typhoon, picking a bit here, a patch there—my mother only asked that I be
subtle about it. She perceived that digestion was a delicate thing and couldn’t
suffer too much distraction.” So the images painted on the walls of the dining
room were subdued, carefully brushed oil paints. Their real splendor glistened
when Katrina slowly dimmed the lights with the switch on the wall. In the
shallow radiance the interplay of shadows brought out a kaleidoscopic chiaroscuro
on the walls and made the room feel larger than it was—as if with the dimming
of the light, the walls fell away and revealed the dining room really rested
upon a small island in a grotto. “I painted the walls with oils and matte
charcoal so that candles on the dining room table would look like ocean water
and the ceiling so it would look like stars.” Vex looked up and was greeted by
the telltale twinkle of small glints of light that winked as she moved around
Every room in the house had been touched by Katrina’s
creative force, bent, molded, painted, scraped, carved, and nurtured into
artworks of spectacular variety and dedication. Not a single flat surface or
nook remained unaltered; it was like watching a carefully designed art museum
unfold in front of her as Vex followed Katrina up the stairs and into the
attic. The stairs themselves had footprints painted onto them and faux
paintings—designed to look like real paintings complete with metallic frames—had
been delicately brushed onto the walls. Even the bars of the guard rail had
been carved meticulously with swirling patterns and tiny frolicking animals.
Paper and canvas blanketed every surface of the attic. Artwork
of all variants and maturity surrounded the two in a maelstrom of color and
shape: crayon, charcoal, pencil, oil, pastel, carvings, crumpled newspaper
collages, photographs… The floor crinkled with Katrina’s each ginger footstep
as she slowly circled the room. At every wall, she paused, as if following the
steps of a dance, paying notice to her memory.
After a time, she passed by Vex again barely seeing her,
spirited down the steps, and stopped at the bottom. Vex smiled at Katrina,
wondering what thoughts were passing through the woman’s mind then, what it
must be like to visit home again—a home she had put so much energy and
childhood wonder into.
“I’m amazed that all of this survived the fire,” Katrina
said, finally breaking her silence.
“I don’t believe it did.”
“This house,” Vex said. All of the indications were there,
they were impossible to miss. She extended her arms as if to embrace the truth
of it. “It did burn down—it didn’t make it. This house died in that fire. What
we’re seeing is its last dying wish. The most powerful force on Earth: the every
passion and love of a young girl. Your passion. Infused into these walls such
will that they remain even through its destruction.”
Katrina knelt down next to the bottom of the stairs, there
brilliant sunlight punched through the open door and cast a stark streamer of
white across a relatively barren portion of the wall.
“I never thought that I’d see any of my work ever again. I
thought I’d lost this forever.”
“I think I know why it brought you back.”
“So that you could say goodbye,” Vex said. “When this
house burned down, your family was on vacation, you said. When someone puts so
much effort, so much of themselves into something, they leave a lasting
impression on the world. Those impressions don’t just vanish because they were
destroyed—things only vanish when they’re forgotten.”
Katrina placed her hand on the wall and closed her eyes.
“I will never forget.”
“I think that you did forget something, in fact. Something
very important. Your art is unfinished.”
The artists eyes flashed up and stared at Vex, daring her
to criticize her childhood work.
“We have been through every room in this house. There’s a
lot of your life here. It’s amazing. But I think that when this place burned
down, it lacked the one thing that makes every artwork complete—in every room
we’ve been through, I haven’t seen your name written even once—you never had a
chance to sign it.”
“I see,” Katrina said. “All these years, the lifework of
my childhood self has gone orphaned.” She canted her head again and closed her
eyes, speaking to the house. “It was good to see you again, old friend, but I
understand if you desire to rest.”
From a hidden pocket, she produced a large silver pen. The
room trembled when she pressed the tip to the wall. Like a fluid exhalation,
she swept the pen across the paneling and wrote her name with an elegant and
controlled script, the leg of the ‘K’ broadly slicing beneath her first name.
And, when the last bold stroke was placed, something
sighed. The very air seemed to shiver, boards creaked, glass rattled, wood
crunched. Both Vex and Katrina fled from the house then, rushing out onto the
lawn as the entire structure began to quiver in a terrible fashion. The very
foundation quaked as it bent into itself. The windows were the first to go,
swallowed up into nothing. As they watched, the house crumpled into itself with
an upwards motion, the foundation uprooted from the ground, the temple-entrance
and the pediment folded up like the doors on a bus, and it all twirled inwards
like a tornado.
As quickly as it started, the commotion ended. Abrupt like
a smack to the face, the column of light and collapsing materials crashed back
onto the raw dirt where the foundation once stood. A deafening roar exploded
from the vicinity and it threw up a huge cloud of dust that billowed in a
rolling fog of white and grey.
When the dust cleared the house was gone, completely
vanished, but what remained in its stead brought a smile to their lips.
Piled there, in the midst of the lot, was a mountain of
picture frames. Each one displayed different aspects of the house that Vex had
seen within. Not a single bit of artwork had been forgotten. And, on every one,
the brilliant signature of Katrina’s sliver penned name leapt out like a
banner, declaring her as the artist.