By Andy Shipley
“Wardo’s House of Oddities”
That is what the sign said, faded and withered on the old boarded up house. Karleen had passed by this house thousands of times on her way to a cornucopia of daily adventures: on her way to school, on outings to the grocery store, excruciatingly boring journeys to her dumb brother’s soccer games, pilgrimages to church, her expeditions to violin lessons, or excursions to her favorite café she often went to with her mother.
“Has it always looked so awful?” Karleen mumbled to herself quietly. The house had two stories and was medium sized. It sat at the center of an acre and a half plot of land covered with trees and dead yellow grass. The plot was surrounded by a bronze ornate fence with a large gate padlocked three times. The gate, the long forgotten and underappreciated guardian of this land, protected a dark driveway that had long ago been cracked and overrun with weeds. The house itself was an odd shade of pink with chips of paint slowly peeling away, revealing the light-colored wood below. There was a hole in the gate where two bars were bent opposite of each other. The hole was just big enough that Karleen could slip through.
She walked up the driveway, angry at her mean brother for stealing her doll. He wouldn’t return it unless she went to that awful house and found a baseball he and his friends had accidentally thrown through the window. At the end of the driveway, she arrived on a large porch with one of those swinging benches. The front door was partially boarded up, but it was incomplete; there were only two boards on the top of the doorway and one at the bottom. Whoever had done this was in a rush, and as result, the door had been left ajar. In front of Karleen was a staircase that led to the second floor. To the left of the staircase was a long dark hallway with floral pattern wallpaper peeling off the wall, and to the left of that a family room. To the right of the staircase was dining room that had been left in shambles and behind it a dim lit kitchen. It was easy to see what window the ball had gone through since there was only one window not completely boarded up. Karleen could instantly see the hole in the window her awful brother had made with his baseball to the right of the dining room table. Everything around her was covered in dust and cobwebs. The carpet was a disgusting dark shade of brown. As she made her way over to the table she could see piles of unpaid bills and promotional posters that had slogans such as “Come Solve the Mystery,” or “See the Eighth Wonder of the World.” The floor was filthy and covered in broken glass, but she got on her hands and knees searching for her disgusting brother’s baseball. She did not find it in the dining room, or the kitchen. So, she went to look in the family room and sure enough, she found it hiding under a coffee table. But, as soon as she had the ball in hand, a loud terrible screech, like a thousand awful, dark crows all screaming the highest possible audible pitch at once, came from somewhere in the house. Being a sensible person and being scared of all manner of creature and monster that could produce such a sound, Karleen ran from the house as fast as she could with her cowardly brother’s ball in hand.
The next day Karleen was not interested in staying home and playing with the doll she had gotten back from her lazy brother. She was intrigued by the old abandoned home she had explored yesterday. What exactly is a ‘house of oddities?’ she wondered to herself. After three excruciating hours of sitting idly, she lost an internal battle, and her curiosity put her on auto pilot. She left her home and walked down the street. She went through the fence and up the driveway with more speed and purpose than the day before. When she got in the house she looked for the area that made the sound yesterday. She didn’t find any open doors on the first floor, but when she checked the second floor, she found one door wide open. Sure enough, when she tested the door it made the same terrible sound as yesterday. The room behind the door was completely empty except for the blue paint on the walls, the hardwood on the floor, and the same dry, dusty air that filled the rest of the house. Karleen stepped into the room to try to see what caused the door to open yesterday. As soon as she stepped inside, the door slammed shut. Slowly at first then faster, like a carnival ride turning on after fifty years of abandonment, Karleen started to float until it seemed as if gravity abandoned her. Karleen was stuck to the wall opposite the door, near the top of the room. She kicked off from the ceiling and floated to the door. She tried to twist the doorknob and as soon as it moved a fraction of an inch, she fell back to Earth with a low, ungraceful thud. Karleen suddenly knew the nature of this “House of Oddities”.
She immediately got up and opened the door to the next room with a new kind of excitement, like she had never felt before. It looked exactly the same as the other room, only this time she was transported somewhere that definitely was not in the house. She was standing on a cloud, with the great, big, blue sky above her. When she looked below, she could see the abandoned house in the same poor condition she had left it. If she looked a little farther she could see her house and her insignificant brother and his friends, about the size of ants, playing basketball in her backyard. The irony of this pleased Karleen as rude brother had always made fun of her small stature. She decided she would never let her self-entitled brother ever enter this house. The house was hers now, and she refused to share it. It was a part of her and she a part of it. If her brother saw it through his eyes everything she experienced would surely be destroyed. She would make up any story, tell any tale, create any excuse, lock any door, or block any sun, but her snobbish brother would not step one foot in this house. She looked at the vibrant reds oranges and pinks on the horizon and she realized she had to go home for the day. Suddenly, a door materialized behind her, and shortly after, she was back on the ground walking home.
The next day, she had just barely eaten her breakfast before rushing off to the abandoned house. She tried as many rooms as she could. She made a rule for herself: “only ten minutes per room, so that way you can see them all”. One was a botanical garden, with hundreds of different flowers, and what seemed like thousands of different butterflies. Another had no floor, but rather a pool filled with oatmeal, and another seemed to have nothing different about it except that it smelled of fresh baked cookies.
Who has been watching over this place? she asked herself, someone must be caring for those flowers, and that oatmeal had looked as if it had been cooked just this morning. I’m sure no one has baked cookies in that kitchen for at least thirty years, so then why do all these rooms have these things?
One of her favorite rooms was one that took her to the Grand Canyon. The room didn’t simply take her to the rim of the canyon, no, it floated right above the large crack in the earth. This room was one of the few that had windows; she could lean out the window and see the beautiful geological formation from above. Except it was not the Grand Canyon. At first to her it looked like the pictures she had seen but the longer she was there she realized that the geological formations were like the spires of a medieval building, nothing like the pictures she’d seen of the Grand Canyon. In fact she was not even sure if what she was looking at could be considered a canyon. Not to mention it had too much water to exist in the arid and hot Arizona she’d learned about in school.. This realization did not change her love of the room and in fact made it more unique. It was a canyon that likely only she would get to see, it was hers; the Canyon of Karleen, Karleen County, The United Counties of Karland.
This is not possible, she thought to herself there is no way this could be here, yet here I am. She could see people on the rim of the canyon coming to visit just as she was, but when she waved and called to them, it was as if they couldn’t see or hear her. In fact, it seemed as if they couldn’t even see the canyon right in front of them.
She checked her watch, she had broken her rule by twenty minutes: If she wanted to see all the rooms today, she would have to leave this room right now. Angrily she submitted to her rule She continued to sample rooms until she got to the last one on the second floor. She was about to open it when she noticed a sign on the door that said:
“DO NOT OPEN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. CUSTOMERS, EMPLOYEES, AND WARDO ARE TO REMAIN AT LEAST THREE FEET FROM DOOR AT ALL TIMES. EMPLOYEES ARE TO WASH HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK. – Wardo.”
Karleen figured it was almost sundown anyway; she might as well investigate this door tomorrow to see if it was safe. She walked down the stairs and was about to exit the house when she saw her invasive brother and his friends walking up the driveway.
“No!” Karleen yelled at them from the threshold of the front door “ You shouldn’t be here! What do you want? This is my place and you can’t have it. I won’t let you spoil this place before I can see it all.” She ran up the stairs, leaping two at a time. She ran all the way to the end of the hallway and threw open the last door. The room was filled with fire. The fire spread rapidly, and Karleen ran all the way to the stairs but the fire beat her there. She was completely surrounded by flame. The smoke was choking. The flame was inches away she could feel the heat and the flames were bright. She fell to the ground and then there was darkness.
Karleen awoke with a scream. She heard footsteps as someone ran to check on her. The door opened to reveal her mother.
“Oh, there you are,” her mother said with relief. “We were looking everywhere for you. Your brother was walking up to the awful abandoned house and it caught on fire. He swore he saw you run into it right before it erupted into flame. I came back here to look for you. We couldn’t find you and we were so worried, I’m just so glad you’re safe. You look sick. Are you alright?”
“I’m fine” Karleen responded, “I just had a nightmare, I’ll be alright.”
Karleen got up and went to the bathroom to splash water onto her face, but when she looked up into the mirror, she noticed soot in her hair.
“You said there was a fire at the abandoned house?” Karleen shouted at her mother from across the house.
“Yes, a big one, there’s almost nothing left of it, the firefighters are almost done. You could go watch them finish up if you like,” her mother responded.
“I’ll be back before sunset” Karleen shouted through the house hoping her words would reach her mother as she left her house. Karleen ran down the hallway, out of the front door, and down the street past her irresponsible brother. Why would he walk up to a flaming building, he’s older than me he should be more responsible she thought to herself. The firefighters were wrapping up their hoses, preparing to leave. The house was a large, unruly pile of ashes; the only distinguishable features were parts of the staircase and a couple of doorways black, burnt, and barely standing. A large piece of paper fell from the sky that had at one point been ravished by flame. Karleen snatched it out of the air. Only part of the front was legible. Karleen could make out: “CIRCUMSTANCES”, “ARE TO REMAIN”, “AT ALL TIMES”,” HANDS BEFORE”, and “-Wardo”. On the other side it had one phrase written over and over in several different fonts and sizes, appearing in what seemed like no particular pattern or shape.
“For Grand Finale use only.”