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A detached period property built in approximately 1860. To left of the entrance hall is the living room, which faces east and receives an abundance of natural light. Go to the windows, now, and look outside. It is a beautiful spring day. Your childhood dog is still alive. Your mother is making breakfast. The world is quiet and simple and good, and every leaf on every tree is green.
To the right of the entrance hall is the family room.
At the far end of the entrance hall is the kitchen. You thought you’d find your mother here, but the room is empty. There is a plate of freshly buttered toast on the counter-top and coffee percolating in the percolator. Underneath the toast-and-coffee smell your mother’s perfume is lingering, as if she’s just slipped away into the next room.
You step back out into the hallway, shutting the kitchen door behind you, and it is dark. Night has happened in the space between the opening and closing of a door. A knotted rope lies at your feet, running along the floor and up the stairs.
BEDROOM 1 features an adjoining en suite. These rooms are familiar, but now they open on to other rooms that you do not recognise. They are pieces of a puzzle that never quite fit together.
BEDROOM 2 features an original fireplace with mint-green tiling. Above the fireplace is the mummified corpse of a pigeon, wedged high up in the chimney flue.
The BATHROOM was refitted five years ago, but the water stains on the ceiling are already showing through. Your reflection in the steamed-over mirror is nameless and blurred, like a photograph of a stranger.
BEDROOM 3 is located to the rear of the property. The door is closed. Behind it, someone is pacing. When you walk past the footsteps come to a halt, as though the person on the other side is listening for you.
The door to BEDROOM 4 is also closed. Something is creaking in there, quick rhythmic creaks. Light the colour of old wax spills out from the narrow gap between door and carpet. The rope disappears into that gap, and its frayed fibres cast shadows like spiderlegs.
This house has eaten you alive. It is warm as blood, and as many-chambered as a heart. All you can do is keep walking. Keep opening doors. Keep holding on to the rope.
Everything here is dead.
A guttering candle. Dusty floorboards worn bare. A high lonely ceiling, painted off-white. And there, at the far end of the room, a rocking horse, the end of the rope knotted around its wooden neck like a hangman’s noose. It creaks back and forth, glass eyes staring.
The world shrinks to the size of a pinhole, and terror comes washing up and over you like a vast black sea. All the worst things that have ever happened to you are happening again. There is no one around to help; the other houses on the street are all deserted.
And then a light goes on. It shudders to life inside the building directly opposite, on the other side of the street, and it illuminates a figure. Somebody is standing at the window, looking back at you.
The house breathes. A clock chimes hollowly. The person in the other house remains utterly still. The two of you stand there, motionless, watching one another in silence, and around you the night keeps on growing, expanding, until it swallows up the room.