Behind The House
Original concept & Imagery by Matt Lee
Words by Tye Briggs
Seven is usually thought of a lucky number, but it isn't always. They knew their seventh visit, this time, the second one by themselves, would be their last. They couldn't have predicted however, that it would end quite the way it did. The summer house was bought because of it's remoteness, it was initially part of the charm. At least an hour by car from the nearest town, at least 30 minutes from the closest cottage and a 10 minute drive down a long dirt road from the half paved road that led to it from the highway. That cottage 30 minutes away might contain retired couple Rich and Bonnie Stewart if it were July and August. But it was late October and Bonnie had long ago packed up the inside and Rich had long ago, bolted up the outside. Being alone in the summer house in October meant being truly and totally alone.
Everything seemed against it, or at least it all seemed to come together to ensure they were alone, completely alone at the house. The storm that cut the electricity, the tree's ridding the old dirt road may entering and exiting treacherous. The final complication, the car's transmission dying, made leaving impossible. Thankfully it waited to take it's last breath just a 20 minute walk from the house. It was 2014 but cell service could still not be counted on at the house. Occasionally, if you stood in the right spot, on the top floor, on a sunny day, you might get a bar or two on your phone. Enough make a quick call... but definitely not tonight. There was no one to call anyway.
The plan had been to spent just 12 hours in the house, arrive around 6pm, pack up the last of their things and leave at 6am in the morning, packing up the house up for the new owners who were due to take possession in the New Year. That plan...was now shot to hell. The 20 minute walk from the car turned to 50 minutes, with the pouring rain and total darkness. The flash lights of course, were sitting ready for use... but in the kitchen drawer in the house. The lightening, usually unwanted, actually provided the walkers only light as they headed alone up the path towards what should have been safety. With each mile, each of the last six years at the house were replayed in their mind, starting with the first.
It was just three days after the ceremony, a road trip they had decided. Finding that house the second, even the third year, had proved difficult, almost impossible with directions and a map. That first year though, after the ceremony, they stumbled upon it without planning, simply and by accident. A 'for sale' sign' off the main road had pulled them down that long dirt road. When they came upon the house, even before going inside, they fell in love with the stone, the windows and the deep red of the front door. It was falling apart on the outside, and although the inside was nothing to write home about, rustic and unfinished, there was a cozy feel and charm that they were both instantly consumed by. One main room downstairs with a big fire place and an open kitchen. 2 bedrooms and a bath up with a small sitting area. The main selling point though was behind the house. A huge porch running along the entire back of the house. It started at the base of the house with wood, covered and sheltered and moved down onto the property to an opened stoned patio. Anywhere you stood, whether up on on the wood, or down on the stone, the view was the same. Just 50 yards down the hill a huge lake spanned as far as the eye could see. Surrounded by tree's, mostly pine, it was that view from the back was worth the price, worth far more than the house and the property combined.
They bought it right away and the next two summers were, well pretty much perfect. Long walks, naked swims, sex in front of that fire place. Long afternoons, flowing into long evenings on that back poach; staring at the lake, reading, talking, eating and drinking Merlot as the hours flew by. The forth summer was...not so perfect. It had happened earlier in the spring and the wounds was still raw when they arrived that July. They almost didn't come, they really shouldn't have.
That summer was quiet, too quiet. There was still reading, but little talking. A bit of eating and far too much drinking. Long hours on that porch continued, but this time, in shifts. One in the afternoon, then usually, around the 6pm mark, the second shift took over. There was sex, not a lot, but some. It now wasn't stimulated by love or even lust. it was hate based, raw and often mean. They used it to punish rather than nourish one another.
The fifth summer was when it occurred. They again shouldn't have come, it was seen as a last attempt, desperate, but an ultimately they both knew, futile exercise. It was an accident, but not one totally unavoidable. They didn't cause it, unless wishful thinking was a chargeable offence. It was their shift on the porch, just about 6pm, almost time for the switch. By 6:10 pm, they began to wonder, not worry, they would have to care to worry...but wonder. At 6:20 pm they heard the cries for help from the middle of the lake. At 6:33 pm, still planted in their chair on the porch...they heard nothing. They simply continued to sit there, no movement, not even to use the bathroom...even after all the Merlot. At 10:30 they picked up their cell, made eight calls to 911 over the next 60 minutes. There was of course not service, so none went through, they knew that. They would however, later be seen to have been made, that was all that matter, what was seen. The following morning, they drove the hour to town and into the local police station and told a story, not the story, but one just believable enough.
The sixth summer visit was a quick one. They drove up alone the night before, spent the night in a B & B in town and then drove out to the summer house for just an hour. The purpose... to pick up a few things, tidy up and take some pictures of the house and the property. The images were to put on-line. There was confidence the house would not sell to anyone local, but with some great images, someone from another area, another state, maybe even another country, might fall in love as they had those six years earlier. The images of the house were easy to take. Get the windows, the stone, the beautiful red door, the shrubs and flowers they had so carefully chosen and planted around the front yard. The images of the property were a little tougher. Although they had not yet moved to grief, guilt for remaining on that porch had taken up full time residence in the pit of their stomach. With the body never found, it was still somewhere deep within that lake. Most likely in pieces, ravished by time, the water and the fish who had used it as their underwater buffet the last 12 months. As they photographed the lake, the sun glistened upon the ripples skimming across the water. As they clicked the digital camera, they knew, that underneath, he was there, under the water but too deep to see, or feel sun above.
Those images were never used to sell the house, they remained within the camera, left on the kitchen counter as they drove away back towards the paved road. Back to town, then eventually back to the city. They realized the camera was not with them about 45 minutes into that drive, but 45 minutes going back, meant 45 coming back again, far too long a drive to do all over again. The house sold quickly anyway. A simple, but well thought out description, along with one old photo they had taken of had of the front, during their first summer there. The photo did not contain the shrubs and flowers, not the red door or stone. It was just a glimpse of the side of the house and a small piece of an upstairs window. But..prominent in the back ground was the lake, that lake with the sun dancing and rippling over it's surface.
And now back to the seventh, and final visit. The rain of course stopped, pretty much when they arrived at the red door. There was no need for a key, they didn't lock it. The house was so remote they figured anyone who made it out there would just bust their beautiful red door, so they made it easy and left it unlocked. It was pitch black upon entering, but within a minute the flash light from the kitchen drawer was out and 3 candles were lit. The candles should have been scentless white emergency ones, but of course they weren't. They were Yankee Christmas Eve candles, and the smell filled up the kitchen as they made their way around it. Although the electricity was off, the Merlot left in the old fridge was still chilled and given they weren't going anywhere quickly, a tall glass was filled. The camera was still on the counter, exactly where it was left last year. With the camera in one hand, tall glass of Merlot in the other, they walked out to the back porch and sat on one of the wooden chairs, the same one. It still dry, covered on the wooden portion of the porch. As they flicked through the camera, through the images, they didn't at first notice. They saw windows and walls the stone and and shrubs. Then slowly he appeared, in each one of the images, inside the windows, in front of stone, in front of the house. Ghostly, translucent but he was undeniably present within each and every image.
It was not possible of course, he had vanished into the lake a full year earlier. He was there though, now a permanent part of the house. Forever. Had the car been closer, had it been actually working, they may have run toward it, and drove away to never return. It wasn't though. The choices being the long dirt road back, or the short wooded path down to the lake, the decision was easy, so easy it wasn't really a choice at all, not one they made anyway, more one made for them. After one last swig of the Merlot, they headed from the porch, onto the stone, onto the path and down to the lake. This time, there were no cries for help as the body descended, there was really no point. There was no one to hear them, no one to care. No one cared the first time either, not really. But they cared after, like the lake that consumed the body, the decision to remain seated ultimately consumed them. Had it been daylight, had he looked closer, had he not had that Merlot, or been consumed by guilt, he may have noticed. That the man within the images was not the one consumed by the lake two years earlier. The man within the images was the man who did nothing, the man that was currently being pulled down, so deep down as never to see or feel the sun rippling along the lakes surface ever again.