Coming Home Part 1
I stood on the front porch of the run-down ranch style home, staring at the front door as if at any moment if would swing open and swallow me whole. I had inherited the place after my mother passed. A four-bedroom, two-bath with a galley kitchen, and enough bad memories to help my psychiatrist pay his kid’s way through college. I had done everything I could to escape this place when I was a kid. Now here I am forty years later, staring down the front door like its some childhood boogieman, keys and deed in one hand and toolbox in the other.
Come on, get it together. It’s just a house. Just an empty shell of crumbling brick and rotting drywall. It can’t hurt you. She’s dead. It can’t hurt you. She’d dead...
Mantra still chanting away in my head, I put the key in the deadbolt and turn. The sound of the tumblers clicking into place makes the hollow feeling in my gut do a sickening flop. Swallowing down the bile threatening to come up my throat, I creak open the door and step into my new/old home.
The place hadn’t changed at all since I had last seen it. Same shaggy carpet, same faded wallpaper in its mustard yellows and olive greens. The old brown sofa with its cigarette burned arms sagged against the dark paneling of the living room, a cobweb-covered sunburst clock hanging above it. The small TV with its bent, foil-covered rabbit-ears still stood in the far corner with its rack full of ancient TV Guides. With a shaky breath, I turn away from the judgmental glares of the cast of Dallas to go check out the kitchen.
I never did understand my mother’s love for mustard yellow and olive green. The color combo covered every inch of the house. If it wasn’t covered in dark wood paneling it was that damn dated yellow and green. Thanks to the large windows looking out to the backyard, and the fact that Mother smoked at least two packs a day, the wallpaper in the kitchen had darkened to a strange yellow-tinged brown. Everything was covered in a layer of golden ochre, most likely from dust soaked in tobacco tar and nicotine. The whole place reeked of stale cigarettes, mothballs, and White Diamonds.
I’m going to be sick.
The thought barely registers in my head before I find myself violently puking into the kitchen sink. Thanking whatever gods were listening that the water hadn’t been turned off yet, I rinse the sick out of my mouth. Grabbing a towel out of one of the drawers, I soak it and wipe the damp cloth on my face, making sure nothing was left in my beard. The cool cloth gave some relief to my feverish skin, but my nerves were still doing a number on my poor gut.
Looking up from the sink I see that the wallpaper above it is slightly lighter in spots than the rest. I step back and stare at it for a bit before it dawns on me. Mother’s giant tin rooster use to hang right there. She had bought it at a flea market decades ago, saying no kitchen is complete without a rooster. It had been there most of my childhood, its bright red and blue plumes in stark contrast to the dull greens and yellows of the rest of the room. It had hung in that spot until my late teens when my mother had walked in on me one night. In a fit of rage, she had tossed it out along with my porn stash and every bottle of hand lotion in the house. Maybe she thought me growing up staring at a giant cock on the wall was why I was the way I was. Honestly, her Tom Selleck pin-ups did far more for me than that damn metal chicken. After that night the only images of men allowed in the house were of Jesus. Sure mother, replace the giant chicken with a hot, long-haired hippy in a bathrobe and sandals. That will work. With a groan I rub my palms across my face, willing my stinging eyes to cooperate. That night hadn’t been the start of my torturous childhood, but it had been one of the worst. Having your mother screaming at you that you are a filthy abomination while shooting a load onto a magazine clipping of Kent McCord was not the ideal way to come out.
I decided to throw open every window in the house. The place, along with my poor sinuses and battered psyche, could use a good airing out. It was going to take a lot of work to get this place fixed up enough to sell. But that’s what I did, fix things. Being a handy-man came naturally to me. Dealing with leaky pipes and faulty wiring was far easier than dealing with people. That was always a big complaint with my last boyfriend. His preferred way to wind down after a long day was to hit up the clubs and dance and drink and talk up strangers until the wee hours. Not me. I preferred to sit in front of the TV with a cold beer and binge-watch American Horror Story. Sure I liked to go out and dance with him sometimes, but I hated the loud noise and the crowds of people. All the blaring bass and flashing lights made my teeth itch. Given the option, I’ll pick Netflix-and-chill over the club scene any day.
While the inside was airing out I figured it would be a good idea to check out the backyard. The Texas heat had killed most of the grass in the front, leaving the whole yard a patchy mess of cracked black clay and weeds. The front had been bad. The back was a nightmare. Mother’s prized garden had become a jungle of overgrown weeds. Wild vines had choked out most of her flowering shrubs, and the vegetable garden was overrun with dandelions and clover. The tops of giant ant beds peeked out here and there from the knee-high grass. The backyard, with its manicured gardens and flowerbed, had been my mother’s pride and joy. Seeing it like this put a small smile on my face. She had spent all of her free time pruning, weeding, and controlling every aspect of this place and now Mother Nature was flipping her the bird and doing whatever the fuck she wanted.
Beautiful as this chaos was, I knew I was going to have to get the yard under control if I hoped to sell this place. Being careful not to trip over any ant beds, I make my way to the shed to see what tools I had to work with. Throwing open the door I’m greeted with the sight of a cobweb-covered mower, a trimmer, a workbench covered in gardening tools of all kinds, and shelves upon shelves of garden gnomes. Mother had been a collector of the creepy little devils, and the yard had once displayed quite a number of them. She had them standing proud around the trunks of her elm trees, peeking out from behind her yellow roses or hawthorn bushes. It was strange to find them all stored away in the shed instead of littering the yard like they normally did. Not that I mind really. The things always gave me the creeps. Having them hidden away in here was far better than out in the open.
Finding the mower still in working order, I start on cutting down the dead grass. Once that and the edging is done I throw out some ant killer over the yard then put on some gloves and begin tending to the weeds in the flowerbeds. It's backbreaking work, but it keeps me busy enough that my more depressing thoughts stay to the back corners of my mind.
The sun was starting to set by the time I was finishing up the last flowerbed. The drought had turned the rose bushes here into nothing but a pile of twisting, thorny vines, but that didn’t deter the weeds one bit. Blisters were forming on my hands, and I could tell I was getting a nasty sunburn on the back of my neck, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop. It would be too dark to see soon, but if I stopped I would have to go inside and that was the last thing I wanted to do. If I went inside that house every negative thought would just come rushing up to the surface. I wasn’t ready to face that yet. Pulling weeds from sun-baked black dirt with blistered fingers was less painful than a noggin full of bad memories. So I kept going and going, like the Energizer Bunny on crack, just so I could avoid the inevitable.
I woke up to the sound of crickets chirping, surrounded by piles of dollar weed and clover. Groggy, with bits of dried grass and dirt covering half my face, I pull my phone out of my back pocket to check the time. Three in the morning. I had been passed out in my dead mother’s garden for at least six hours. I haven’t done anything even close to that since my college drinking days. With a groan, I dust myself off and make my way to the shed.
I creak open the shed door and flip on the light. Well, try to anyway. I get a nice click sound but that’s it. Probably bad wiring. A rat probably got to one of the cords or something. One more task to add to the ever-growing list. I shrug it off and go inside, using my cell to help light my way. Setting my phone down on the workbench, I put the garden tools back where I found them. I pull off my leather work gloves, shaking them free of dirt and burrs as I do so. That’s when I hear it. A shuffling sound coming from directly behind me. I whip around and shine my phone towards the direction I heard the noise. Nothing, nada, zip. Thinking it’s probably the same rat responsible for my lack of electricity, I make a mental note to pick up some traps at the store later today. Beat from a full day’s work, I make my way to the shed door with the intent of taking a long shower then catching a few winks before starting the next project.
I’m startled out of my thoughts by the shed door slamming in my face. There is no wind, no neighbors for miles that could be playing a prank on me, and yet the large door made of two-by-fours and corrugated steel slams with enough force that it shakes the shed walls. When the dust settles, and my heart stops trying to beat through my chest, I try my luck with the door. I give the heavy door a push, then a shake, then another push. I throw my weight against it, using my shoulder to try and nudge it loose. Nothing. The damn door is locked from the outside.
Then I hear it. Some little shit cackling at my expense. I beat on the door, demanding that they let me out, that their joke wasn’t the least bit funny. The laughter continues and the lock holds fast. Apparently the little asshole didn’t agree with me. I could hear the shuffling sound coming from behind me again, followed by more creepy cackling. I realize then that the laughter was coming from inside the shed.
The hair stands up on the back of my arms and neck as my blood that was once burning with rage drastically begins to run cold. The little fucker is in here with me? Why would they lock themselves inside with me? What in the ever-loving fuck prank-
I see the tip of a red pointy hat dart behind my mother’s lawnmower.
Blinking into the dark a few times, I stare hard at the mower, knowing what I saw yet not really believing it. Then I hear laughing again from my right. I whirl around to catch a glimpse of a pointy blue hat darting behind one of the shovels hanging on the shed wall. The cackling and shuffling seem to be coming from all sides now. I shine my phone towards the shelves I saw earlier and to my horror, they are completely empty.
There is a clinking sound, like something ceramic hitting a hard surface, then I’m knocked flat on my back. The wind is knocked out of me, and I lay on the shed’s dirt floor struggling to breathe. Something small and heavy climbs onto my chest and looms over me.
“Look ’ear boys. Sonny boy has come home!”
The eerie laughter grows louder as I am surrounded by sapient lawn ornaments. I start to kick and flail wildly in an attempt to get my ass off the floor and to the first reachable blunt object. My fist hits something hard, causing my knuckles to crack and a sharp pain to radiate up my arm. There is a high pitched shriek, followed shortly by the sound of terracotta shattering against the shed wall. My small victory is short-lived. With the destruction of one of their own the laughter dies, only to be replaced by angry shouts and shrieks.
The one standing on my chest kicks me hard in the chin, “You’ll pay for that, Nancy! Your mother was right to call you filth!”
The others were quick to follow their leader, pummeling my body with their fist and boots while calling me every foul name in the book.
Great! Just fucking great! I’m being assaulted by homophobic garden decor! My life couldn’t possibly get any more fucked up-
There is a low, rumbling growl, followed by a loud bang against the shed door. The gnomes don’t seem to hear it, to busy beating the living shit out of me. There is another growl, then the sound of metal straining as it is ripped apart. That got the little fuckers’ attention. They all stop mid punch to stare at the looming shadow where the shed door use to be.
Now being just under six feet and weighing around two hundred pounds of muscle from years of working in construction and the like, I’ve never considered myself small by any means. This creature made me feel completely, insignificantly tiny. A flyspeck before a towering, enraged, ancient god. The gnomes around me began to shake with fear, their ceramic bodies clinking together like wind-chimes caught in a storm. The beast’s glowing yellow eyes lock onto mine for a brief moment before it lunges forward. I see a massive, fanged jaw snap above me right before everything goes black.