Hero Of War (Part 8)

Sophie turned eighteen a week after Christmas that year.

I walked over to her house with a box full of antique knick knacks I thought she’d like (she’d started a collection a few years ago and was constantly dragging me antique shopping). The sun reflected lightly on my short blond hair, keeping me warm but not hot. Trees cast shade over my path, leaving dollops of sunshine scattered over the ground. Emerald leaves dusted my head as the grass at the edge of the sidewalk tickled my ankles.

Birds flew high up in the sky, soaring beneath the sparing white clouds. The street was so silent I could almost hear the flapping of their wings. A few tweets and caws cut through the whisper of the wind.

Most of the homes on our street looked the same: short and square with burgundy roof shingles. They had three equidistant windows on the second floor and two on the bottom with a large front door in the middle. The only thing that separated them from one another was the patio decorations and occasionally the color of the walls or the type of door if the owner had seen fit to change something.

We lived five houses apart but we spend more time together than apart so it felt like we each had two homes and two families. Even our parents were close friends.

When I got to her front door, I let myself in with the key she’d given me. The door creaked open slowly, like one from a creepy haunted house in a horror movie. The air pushed its way past me from inside, as though it was in a rush to escape.

I should have turned back. It was far too quiet for eleven o’clock on a Saturday morning. The ticking of the grandfather clock sliced through the air, leaving deep cracks where more silence could force its way in.

I let the door shut behind me. Sunlight spilled in around me from a window beside the door where the white lace curtains had been pulled back.

The hardwood beneath my feet creaked as I inched my way to the living room, casting a quick glance into the kitchen as I passed its open doorway. The white marble countertops were spotless. There wasn’t a single dish in the sink. The aroma of food was missing.

Another warning bell should have gone off in my head at that moment but I was in a daze.

I still believed the world was a normal, happy place.

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