little brother was afraid of the house on the corner, the one with the round
attic window that followed him like an eye. Neighborhood kids stopped to heckle
the house every day on their way to school.
-They say it’s haunted, my brother told me.
-Because nobody seems to live there. We ring the doorbell, and nothing happens.
And sometimes lights go on in the empty rooms. We can see them turning off and
on through the windows.
-Aren’t the kids scared? Why don’t they
-Nobody wants to be a chicken, he said. They’d rather be bullies.
day he came home shaking.
-What is it?
-The guys were throwing soda cans and dirt at the house, trying to smoke out
who or what’s in there with firecrackers. Burns and dents and stains all over
-Better remind them that kids get arrested for stuff like that these days.
few days later he came in so upset he could hardly get his words out.
-The ivy outside the house climbed up overnight, all the way to the attic. Now
it’s covering nearly half the front of the house.
had to be a logical explanation for the speedy growth. No living mass could
swallow a whole house so fast.
Then I thought of how quickly a cut brings its edges together. Not the same,
not the same, I whispered.
brother had to pass the house to get to school, so I looked for other routes
for him to take. There weren’t any. I expected the other kids would lose their
false bravado, admit they were afraid, and stop over-compensating. Stay away.
Any sane person would, right?
-I’ll walk with you to school tomorrow, I said that night. I was the elder, and
before our parents left us, they had taught me to be responsible enough to
protect my baby brother.
My brother and I walked to the school together the next morning; my idea was to
ignore the haunted house, not give it a glance. But my little brother suddenly
stood stock still in front of it and, tugging my hand, gestured at the house. I
looked and saw what he saw: a face in the round attic window, someone waving. I
let go of his hand and started to run in the other direction, stranding him on
the sidewalk with his fear.
Of course I turned back, but by then I knew I too was capable of abandonment.
Snell’s books include several poetry collections and
the novels of her Bombay Trilogy. Her latest series is called Intricate
Things in their Fringed Peripheries. Most recently her writing has
appeared in Gone Lawn, Sleet Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Pure
Slush, and other journals. A classical pianist, she lives in Maryland with
her husband, a mathematical engineer.