The edges of the paper still looked sharp, but crumbled when I tested the theory. I'd heard stories about the old family house, somwhere down in Georgia I think, or maybe Tennessee. If it's still standing, it's hiding itself well. The stories linger, passed down generation by generation, the horrors and joys of the old ivy covered house, buried somewhere--elsewhere--in a faerie tale wilderness.
A gatehouse they called it, those who stayed. The rest of the family fled, and those who returned found only an empty wilderness, marked by the ancient road that had been there since before the family existed.
My sister used to call it an obsession, a figment of a borderline OCD personality, whatever that means.
She disappeared the day after my 19th birthday, said she would let me know when she found it. I still remember that party, the way she stood back in a corner and watched, as if she had already dissociated herself from our world.
I hadn't known about the photo.
I laid it gently on the side of the desk, carefully lining up the edges, leaving precisely half an inch of dark wood visible.
The desk came from the old house, according to family legend, and there I'd found the old photograph, tucked back in a corner.
Again I rifled through the drawers, looking for more photgraphs or other memorabilia, but they were empty.
The hard part was not knowing if she'd ever made it. Had she ever walked up onto that weathered porch, peered through the broken and boarded up windows? Was there more to be seen beyond the sepia dreams of another era?
To the left of the porch something moved. I closed my eyes against it, looked again. A faint shadow, a man perhaps, half obscured by the undergrowth, his head turned toward the house. The old paper didn't hold the image well, not even well enough to know whether the odd shadow was anything more.
The old stories told of this as well, the old caretaker who appeared when he felt like it, who the family had tried to fire so many times that he'd become legend in himself.
Now the shadow had its head turned toward me, bright eyes visible against the shadows, the ancient gnarled piece of wood that had been leaning against the porch in his hand.
I stroked a hand over the picture, wondering at the colors seeping from my hand into the photograph, as if the sunset outside echoed against the old house.
Each generation there are those who feel the pull of the Other, a need that nothing else can fill.
We belong to the House, to the Caretaker. We are the Family, and even the least of us are drawn back toward an old road that leads nowhere, to a sepia darkness that hides and holds both horror and joy.
The sunset beckoned, staining the ancient oak floors with red and gold and blue. Leaving the photograph lying on the desk I followed the pull to the front door and stepped out onto an old ivy-covered porch, the rainbow toned sunset just fading.
I glanced back, caught between worlds. The room behind me faded, like an old photograph found in an ancient desk. The computer blinked complacently at me, and I stepped onto the porch.
We belong to the house.