Consequences Part 15

December 2nd, 2011 by Wordsman

The door to the old Hamlin place creaked open, seeming to move almost of its own accord.  A strange sound rang out from some distant inner room—it could have been laughter, and if it was, it definitely wasn’t someone laughing with you.  A thick layer of dust coated the floor; no one had crossed that threshold in decades, except . . . were those footprints?  Hoofprints? A small shadow darted past the open door.  It was probably just a cat.  That’s it, just a cat.  Please let it just be a cat . . .

It would be difficult to explain why exactly Peter envisioned his return home—something he did almost every week—as though he had been triple dog dared to step inside the rotting mansion on the hill at the outskirts of town.  Suffice it to say, his imagination was running wild.  Thinking realistically hadn’t served him all that well so far that day.

The door did creak a little, but it certainly didn’t move of its own accord.  Peter had to put his shoulder into it, just as he had done every summer for as long as he could remember.  He stutter-stepped, hopped automatically over the three or four pairs of shoes that were inevitably lying right in the middle of the entryway, and skidded to a halt just before crashing into the inconveniently positioned coat tree.  It wasn’t the most subtle entrance, but Peter was pretty sure that no one was home, much more sure than he would have been if he was really walking into a house where no one had lived for generations.

Mom and Dad both started work early and left early, so on any other day of the week they would either already be back or be arriving shortly.  But Friday was Mom’s grocery shopping day, and she was one of those people who refused to buy anything premade and insisted on inspecting every purchase thoroughly, so it was a very time-consuming activity (often involving multiple stores).  Dad stayed late at work for extra-curricular activities.  Dizzy, being a teenager, was never in the house unless she was contractually obligated to be, especially during the summer.

So Peter was alone, and he was quite glad to be.  He sure as hell didn’t want to try to explain why he wasn’t at work.

Well, not entirely alone.  Shortly after regaining his balance, he was greeted by Sourdough, the more sociable of their two cats.  He rubbed up against his leg, consented to be petted for a few seconds, and then returned to his windowsill perch to get back to more important matters: scanning the backyard for birds, chipmunks, and other dangerous invaders.  Peter assumed that Cicero was down in the basement, because Cicero was always down in the basement.  Cicero only emerged at feeding time, when guests who were allergic to cats came over, or during thunderstorms—though in the last case she only came up so she could hide under his parents’ bed.  Mom liked to say that she was so shy because she was a girl who had been given a boy’s name, but Dad stubbornly insisted that they had agreed to each name one of the cats, and he wasn’t about to change anything now.  If the cat couldn’t handle being named after one of history’s greatest orators, well, that was his problem.  Err, her problem.

But Peter was not there to get reacquainted with his pets.  He was on a mission.  It comforted him to think of it as a mission, because the alternative was admitting that he was running silly errands for a crazy homeless woman in order to avoid joining her in madness because of an annoying song.  Yes, “mission” was definitely the better option.

He had told the old woman that he wasn’t sure where the flute was, but really, he could think of only one place it could possibly be.  Peter made his way to the master bedroom, hesitating only slightly to enter a place that for so many years of his life had been presented as the domain of his parents, well beyond the realm of children.  Of course, Mom and Dad did still sleep in the room, but Peter was too old to feel nervous just because of that . . . right?

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