It was pretty much like blasted black earth, with danger and ugliness to top it all off. The ashes were still costic and blew in the wind, making the air smell like dust and burnt toast. We followed the weed infested driveway all the way to the second gate,watched Pat unlock and roll open the gate, and approached the blasted concrete steps. Even they were blackened, and shattered on one side. A large crack went perpendicular through the steps, and the split was a gash of naked concrete. It was hard to visualize the floor of the house that high. Blackened brick was scattered here and there, toppled from the foundation, which was leveled to the soil line. It must have burned hot and high..or exploded.
“What would cause that, you think?” I asked Pat.
He snorted. “You know that chemical air, Kerrie?” he asked.
“Yeah. Smells weird. Why?”
“That’s… processing materials you use to make Meth. I think the charming renters were making meth here. Then some stoned fool lit a roach, and it was all over.”
I balked. “How do you know what meth lab smells like?”
“Honestly, I don’t. It’s a guess. I DO know what cleaning chemicals smell like, when you mix them together wrong. That can be flammable too. But that doesn’t smell like this. Avery, the Deputy’s son told me that that is what this was. He thought the first break-in was folks trying to destroy evidence, then it became a party. Then it became a tradition. A legend.”
“I suppose they already collected evidence, so it’s moot right?” I asked.
“Nope. Never bothered. This ain’t a case. Or so they say.” Pat said.
“Well, hopefully we won’t find anything.”
There was no roof. There was just a big gaping hole with lots of ashy fringe. The floor was still there, in amongst the ashy remnants… a wood parquet flooring that was nice at one time. It was pitted and ground in with grime, and had an odd melty texture which told me that the heat had it’s way with the deck coating. It pooled in places, and flamed into crunchy bits of charred wood in others. I stepped on something and nearly fell- thankfully Pat caught me in time. I looked and discovered it was a pool of white wax, strangely pristine in the pool of endless heather black.
Falling in here could be deadly– or at least lead to a long unpleasant stay in a hospital. There wasn’t much, save corpses of hulking boxes of ash and tangles of wire and strange hunks of things that did not burn. Having clawing frayed edges of wall towering around you with a cheerful blue sky above your head is a treat you will want to miss. A cool breeze blew through, kicking up dust, and reanimating the old smoke that had once risen here before. Pat led us through what was once the living room down to a place where the walls were so solid that there was even some roof over our head. I saw someone had put up some 2x4s to keep it steady. Well at least THAT wasn’t going to collapse.
Pat pulled out a set of keys and opened a blackened and battered wood door. It was still heavy and solid, but the hinges shrieked like a banshee quartette.
The carpet on the stairs was singed– and still a livid burnt orange. Burnt in more ways than one– it sounded crunchy underfoot, like walking on indoor outdoor carpet, except what nap was left turned into powder under your feet. The stairs had already been crushed somewhat, but I managed to find a way to step on the freshly burned.
This place was starting to drive me nuts. The smell of smoke was worse than a smoking room at a Marlborough convention. My eyes were still watering, but at least my nose stopped working after a while. Weirdly breathing wasn’t as hard as I expected. I heard skittering which put most of my other worries to bed. There were…things living in what was left here. I guess it beat a hole in the ground.
Just as I was plowing through the door into the basement (not my idea!) I nearly stomped all over something that gleamed white in the beam of my flashlight. It stood out like white teeth… but on closer inspection, there were a small tiles on the ground that made a mosaic trail that snaked around in pale bone like arcs. The tiles had an iridescent sheen that seemed to glow under the glare of our flashlights. OUtside of that, we found some blasted tables with melted bits of glassware, scatterings of beer-cans, condoms and rags of discarded clothing. It was like two worlds had collided. What, did Detroit have to stalk me everywhere I went?
“How much of this was here before?” I asked.
“Well, the tile work is new. Those burned sticks stuck into the ground are new, too.”
“Do I see wax?” Ken asked.
“Kind of amazing it didn’t go up again. This place still smells flammable. And that wax.” Pat said.
“IS that black or red? Well, there’s some white over here.” I said to Kendra.
There was something else in the far corner. A room we hadn’t seen. Next to a swamp crater and abstract sculpture that used to be the hot water heater. I called it “studies in psycho anger.” Modern art for the masses, right here in the Irish Hills.
But we found a door that was stained with streaks of ash but was mostly intact.
Something felt… wrong about it. I was starting to doubt my sanity. Yeah, I know. Starting.
“So you think anyone’s been near here?” I asked.
“Shoe prints. Who knows how fresh they are, but they’re different. Like slippers. And a tennis shoe. Doesn’t look like the others. They were pretty interested in what is over here.” Kendra said shakily. Her face looked green in the odd light.
Oh yea, I’d just been plowing through like a tourist. I had no idea we’d been trying to preserve evidence.
“Um. There’s a lock. Shiny. New. On the outside of this door.”I said. I’d seen a house like that once. Bad things had happened there. You didn’t put locks on the outside of closets for normal reasons.
Also, there were weird smudges, like smeared oil all over the door. Two blobs of wax were on either side of the door. Okay, so the creepy ritual thing extended over here.
Pat snorted. “Do you think they are satanists? Santeria?”
Kendra glared at Pat. The first rift between them I’d seen.
“I don’t think so. They… tend to announce themselves with upside own crosses and stuff. Santeria is a whole different thing, and I have never heard of an evil one. Could happen, I guess, but this doesn’t look right. Besides, most ritualists, period would not like the vibes down here. And…they’d clean up the crap. IT’s filthy down here. Someone put this pattern down over here. It’s facing west. So… they were trying to go somewhere. Ancestors, or the past? Metaphysically speaking, at least.”
I laughed. “Maybe they are trying to figure out what happened.” I snarked.
Ken shrugged. “That’s a good guess, actually. Maybe they wanted to know who started the fire.”
“So are we going to open this door or not?” Ken asked.
I held up a finger. I pulled out a plastic food mit left over from feeding the dogs. I put it on, picked up a plastic cup, and used some sanitizer in my purse, and smeared it all over. After I’d wiped it off with a napkin, I pressed it against the wood of the door and held my breath.
I’d hoped I could at least hear breathing. If someone was there.
I dropped the plastic glass. “May as well.” I said.
Pat gave me a disturbed look. “What happened to you when you weren’t up here?” he asked.
“You don’t want to know.” I told him. “Besides, I don’t remember most of it.”
Kendra nodded shortly, and took out a multi-tool from her pocket.
Pat held the flashlight steady. I made sure the shadows did not jump us. In other words, the third wheel.
I was startled, but this time, Pat did not seem surprised. He looked embarrassed. “I left mine in the cab.” He said.
I sighed. Ken slowly worked the anchoring screws around the lock. It was a padlock, and we had no bolt cutters. I was afraid of what we’d find. I paced back and forth, mincing steps through the detritus.
“What if it”s drugs?” I asked to no one in particular.
“We hand it off to the cops.” Pat answered, almost rolling his eyes.
“Won’t they jail us for having it?” I asked.
No one dignified that with a reply. Then with a rattle and snap, half the locking mechanism fell off, only to be caught by the other side. The bolt thudded against the door jam, which rung hollowly. Still no noise.
We opened the door with a feeling of dread.