Climbing out of the back of the SUV and finally touching the ground, I yawn and stretch my tight muscles. The sky was dark following our long travel day, but the yellowing porch lights illuminate the small house. I stand there, taking in the sight of a place I haven’t set foot in since I was eight years old. It is desperate for a remodel. The white paint is beyond chipped, fully exposing the rotting wood foundation of the house. Overgrown patches of some type of weed flood the gravel walkway up to the porch steps. The multiple broken shutters catch my eye, and I question if anybody even still lives here. The golden lights on in the kitchen are enough to answer my question.
“Mom,” I say apprehensively, taking a step forward so I’m in line with her. “I know Grandma and Grampy are getting older, but this? The house looks especially sad.”
Finally looking over at her, she nods and stops to look at the house too. A sigh escapes from her mouth.
“I know, honey, but they, they don’t want our help. They’re perfectly content living in a house looking like this. You remember the last time we talked with them, don’t you?”
Ah, yes. The last time we spoke with my grandparents before yesterday. All hell broke loose. Screaming and fighting about nursing homes, caring versus not caring about the lives of their grandchildren, and just overall chaos. But, of course, now that I happen to be a senior in high school, my mom decided I get the pleasure of staying with them. For the entire weekend. Alone. God.
I give my mom a shrug, and she begins to usher me toward the house. Throwing my duffle bag over my shoulder, I drag my feet as slow as they could go until we hit the porch stairs. Stepping over the pile of unopened newspapers thrown at the doorstep, we reach the red door. My mom, apparently excited to drop me off and get right out of there, readily knocks her knuckles against the door. No response. She knocks again. After a moment, something that sounds like a chair scrapes against the old floor, there’s some shuffling, some unintelligible words, and the rusted gold doorknob turns.
Grampy opens the door. Huh, he doesn’t look much older than the last time I saw him. Well, good for him. At least something in this house isn’t rotting away. Grandma waddles her way over to the door to greet us as well.
“Oh how excited we are to see you, my darling Lillian. We are so happy you are joining us for the weekend,” Grandma says, squeezing me into a tight hug. Her perfume is strong. Grampy pats my shoulder and smiles as they welcome us both inside. The worn outside look of the house does not creep through the walls. In fact, the interior looks almost unlived-in. Perfect, yet untouched, as if it were a room in a museum. The cold feeling of my grandfather’s hand lingers on my body.
Her parents pull my mom into an obvious adults-only chat, which grants me free range of the home. I make my way into the dining room, right off the foyer. The low murmur of their voices seeps from room to room, but I find it hard to make out their conversation. The abundance of wall art catches my attention. Dozens upon dozens of different-sized gold frames with nondescript, high-contrast art pieces. I find it hard to make out a single thing depicted here; so much art not saying much at all. Didn’t know they were weird abstract art snobs. The real attention grabber, though, is the huge mirror opposite the china cabinet. Spanning almost as wide as the room itself, the mirror stands out among the art, almost glowing.
I step toward the mirror, mesmerized.
Not mesmerized enough to miss the front door slam shut, though.
“Hey,” I call out from the other room. “What was that?”
Receiving no response, I walk back to the foyer. My mom’s gone. I make a confused motion toward the door but Grandma intercepts me.
“Don’t worry, darling. Your mom had to run, it was getting late,” she states, sheepishly. Grandma looks away for a second and then gasps. Her wrinkled hands reach for my wrists and she looks at me with an unfamiliar golden spark in her eye. Another cold touch.
“You, my dear, go run along and get your pajamas on. Grampy will have a movie on for us when you return!”
I force a smile and turn away, heading to the guest bedroom down the hall. I’m just confused. Why was Mom in such a rush to leave? And why didn’t she say goodbye? Whatever. Let’s just get this movie over with so I can go to bed.
I lug my duffle onto the bed with a grunt and start unpacking, retrieving my cotton pajama pants from the bottom of my hastily packed bag. The guest bedroom is cold but pristine, just like the rest of the house. Perfectly made bed, obsessively clean desk, and not a speck of dust on the dresser. No sign of life. Putting my second leg through the leg hole, a speck of gold catches the corner of my eye. Ah. A smaller version of the mirror from the dining room. Once again, almost glowing in the dimly lit room.
After changing, I walk down the hall toward what I think is the living room. Deciding to suck it up and enjoy the time with my grandparents, I ask a question as I turn the corner.
“So, what movie did you decide on, Grampy?”
I gasp. My grandparents’ corpses lie on the ground. Standing over their bodies are the doppelgängers I have been talking with all night. Their eyes are glazed over, black. Teeth elongated into tiny razorblade-type canines.
“We are so happy you are joining us, Lillian,” they say. Their now-demonic voices ring out in unison, sending chills down my spine. Gears turn in my head. I take a deep breath and spin toward the front door. Holy shit.
“Oh darling, don’t run away. We were just about to watch a movie.” They screech, once again in unison.
I scream. Shock, fear, and dread fill my system. My feet aren’t moving nearly as fast as I need them to. I make my way out of the living room, pass the dining room, and approach the front door. Maybe I can make it out of here unscathed. Unfortunately, my demon grandparents are right on my tail. With shaking hands, I grab the gold doorknob and twist.
The sight before me stops my feet from moving another inch. My breath hitches in my throat. Mom. Her body lies there crumpled up on the steps. Discarded, left to rot just 20 minutes earlier.
The mirror from the dining room glows.
Julianna Ceddia is 18 and a senior at Hopkinton High School. This story is her first published piece.