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WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS by Courtney Button
July 15, 2014  Short stories   

His backpack sways lightly on his back as he walks, the worn straps hanging low from his shoulders. He can feel the few items knocking against him with each step, a constant reminder of the bag’s emptiness. His breathing echoes loudly inside of his gas mask, his hot breath reflecting back on to his skin. He clutches the hammer in his right hand, his calloused palm gripping its eroded rubber handle. The muscles in his wrist ache from the swinging weighted end of the tool. He flexes his hand around it as he reaches the turning for the street. The sun burns down, toasting his exposed arms.

The street lies in ruin, a scattered collection of destroyed cars, discarded clothing and possessions. The houses look on with a sense of surrender. Their once proud surfaces are now boarded up, chipped away, overgrown and splattered with stains. The sunlight shines on the destruction, giving the scene a mocking glow of warmth. His throat burns as he swallows stringy saliva. The heat makes the inside of his mask suffocatingly hot. He looks out of the tinted plastic and takes in the view, one that now appears on every street. Out of this new reality, hints of an old familiarity come biting at him. The large tree that squats in the front garden two houses away, its thick trunk burrowing into the ground. Tendrils of roots piercing out from below the grass. He looks around and sees the old porch swing on the house opposite, its once white paint now dulled and chipped to a patchwork grey. He scans the street for movement, any shuffling or a hint of clothing ducking behind the discarded items of life. Something catches his eye, a rustle or a flicker. He turns to look, his grip on the hammer tightening. The hem of a dress flutters in the wind, its once blue and white dotted fabric now stained by violence and rot.

He starts to walk towards it, his shadow splaying out behind him. A shape starts to emerge and the recognition of a distorted acquaintance picks at him again. The fabric rises and falls across a mangled shape, clinging and dropping. The form seems to be sinking into the ground, indentations and ridges creating a gnarled mockery of a body. He looks down at the desiccated corpse, the skin now grey and tight, the bones and tendons pushing up from underneath. The face looks up in a frozen shout of agony, the long jagged teeth exposed to the sky, the eye sockets black holes revealing the inside of the skull. He looks back up and steps over the body, continuing on down the street. He walks past broken and immolated cars, past split open bags and discarded clothing, over smashed mobile phones and a child’s teddy bear.

He picks his way past the former signs of life, now discarded and forgotten, with no owner to keep hold of them, their use rapidly disappearing into the distance of another time. His eyes scan the surroundings, looking for any other movement, any sign of danger. The road gently curves round before revealing a house at the end. It stands proudly, its high windows gazing over the destruction before it. He comes to a stop when he sees it, feeling the weight of its presence. It projects a lingering image of security, a pretence of happiness and safety that was shattered in his mind long before everything changed. He had never consciously decided to come back here. It felt like he was always coming here, but he hadn’t known until he’d noticed the stained street sign.

He steps closer, his weary muscles dragging him forwards. They burn in his thighs and his feet ache, trapped in the stuffy confines of his shoes. His laboured breath echoes loudly inside his mask, whispering his own weakness to himself. A gentle breeze brushes through the overgrown grass in the garden in front of the house and cools the sweat on the back of his exposed neck. A car sits in the driveway, covered in old leaves and a thin, pale layer of dust, its tyres deflated, the rubber seeming to melt on to the concrete driveway. A dull white, low wooden fence rings the front garden. Smashed and rotten planks reveal holes ruining the once sought after illusion of land ownership. He feels anger threatening to rise up in him. A pain. A fear. This house scares him more than any other and it stands ready to swallow him. The house had always sat inconspicuously, blending in with the gentle ideal of the surrounding street, projecting a façade of happiness and security. But nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors.

A movement in the corner of his eye, breaks the trance of the house, and he turns quickly, raising the hammer. The scrawny form of a dog pads towards him, its flesh clinging to its emaciated body. The ribs push against its pink, rashed skin which is a patchwork of matted fur and old wounds. The dog sniffs at the tarmac, its tongue lapping out from between sagging lips. He watches as it takes two tentative steps before it catches his scent. Its head snaps up and its lips peel back to bare vicious teeth. He sees the jagged yellow outcrops, protruding from dull pink, receding gums. Spit bubbles at the edges of its mouth. The dog’s dark eyes stare at him, narrowing. Hungry. Crazed. A bead of sweat rolls down the side of his face before settling at the rubber bottom of his mask. They stand locked in a duel, neither human nor animal willing to give an inch or drop their guard.

Suddenly a howl fills the air, followed by a scratched groaning. They both turn, their eyes darting back down the street, trying to see the ghoul through the wreckage. He see’s nothing but knows hey cannot be far away. He turns back to see the scrawny tail of the dog disappearing into the back garden of an adjacent house. He lowers his hammer, the weight suddenly feeling so much heavier. The dog was the first truly living thing he’d seen in days. He turns back to the house and opens the gate. He closes it, putting down the latch and heads towards the front door. As he climbs the two small steps up to the porch the memory of his last visit comes back to him, the heavy bang of the door closing behind him as he’d stomped down the two steps, powered across the carefully maintained lawn and slammed the thin gate behind him. When he’d been old enough to leave, he’d never looked back. The large metal door knocker still hangs in the centre of the door, waiting to call out to those inside.

He tests the front door, gently pushing, but it does not move. He tries a little harder, but it will not yield. Defeated, he walks back down to the garden and goes to the side of the house. He walks round until he sees the kitchen window, the pane already smashed. He tentatively looks in, checking the room. It lies in disarray, smashed crockery and displaced pans, the normally always pristine floor spattered with dirt and stains. He reaches a hand through the hole in the glass, taking care not to cut himself, undoes the latch and pulls open the window. It squeaks slightly as the unused hinges labour against each other. He pauses, continuing to assess the inside and, finding it to his satisfaction, he shakily hauls himself in.

He slides to the floor and squats, scanning the room and doorways. Confident he is safe, he stands up and looks around the kitchen. The flooring seems different though he can’t be sure. The cabinets definitely look different, he can’t remember them being wooden. He walks to the cupboards hanging on the wall and starts opening the stained wooden doors, searching through for any food or items he can make use of. They already look like they’ve been cleaned out, but he manages to find two cans, one of sweetcorn and the other with its label torn off. He checks the rest of the cupboards, but finds nothing more of use. He gives up the search and walks into the living room.

The sun pours through the large windows, bathing the ransacked room in a bright light. He feels an unexpected sense of shock and confusion. He has been in countless houses just like this one, all of them ransacked, dirty, rotting and messy, but this one sets him back. Its familiarity pokes through under the layer of grime and neglect. The old record player his father used to play worn Beatles vinyl on, the sound clicking as the needle picked up tiny imperfections. The last book his mother was reading left open and face down on the coffee table. Their collection of films, mixing both the terrible and classic, most of them still on the shelf. Two picture frames, both of them holding fond pictures of them. He can’t see the ones that he used to appear in. He imagines they were taken down before it all changed. The house was always kept spotless, rarely a thing out of place. There is no reason why this house should be in a different state than all the others, but still, a part of him expected it to be unchanged. He almost expected them to still be sitting there, their faces a mix of surprise and anger as he walked in. Instead he looks upon an empty and disordered room, robbed of its soul and purpose.

He nudges himself onwards. After food comes water. He walks through the living room to the bottom of the stairs. He slowly ascends them, one hand on the bannister, the other clutching the hammer, ready to strike. His worn shoes pad against the wood of the steps. Reaching the top, he gives a quick glance down the corridor. It sits in a sullen gloom, snatches of light from under doors and between doorways, dulled by the plastic visor of his gas mask. All seems quiet and still. He sets his eyes on the hanging string of the attic door. As he walks down the hallways he glances to his side and catches a glimpse of a room through a small gap in the open doorway. He stops and stares inside. The room where he’d hidden so many times, where he’d sought sanctuary and tried to forget about the rest of the house and everything that engulfed him.

His old belongings sit exactly where he had left them, all abandoned long ago. The bed where he’d spent so many nights, where he’d cried himself to sleep, where he’d had his first clandestine sexual experiences. The duvet is pulled back and the fabric ruffled but it is still the same bedding that he’d slept his last night there in. The room seems alien to him, like a memory from another life, like it is someone else’s. This hasn’t been his for so long. It feels like it could have been a friend’s, like the details could have been told to him through a story. He walks to a mirror that hangs on the wall. He wipes the layer of dust from it, his scarred fingers leaving lines through the dirt. He stares at a monstrous face, with its large cylindrical mouths and gaping, black reflective eyes. He pulls up the mask and feels the sweet relief of cool air on his face. Opening his eyes he looks into the mirror again. The face looking back seems just as monstrous. Bloodshot eyes sit in dark circles. His chin and cheeks are covered in wiry facial hair and streaks of dirt. An old stain of blood dribbles from one of his nostrils. Tiny cuts and scars cross their way across his skin. He pulls back his lips to reveal yellow and black teeth, some of them missing small chips. His eyebrows are almost completely bare. An acrid smell creeps up his nostrils and slides like tar down his throat. He pulls the mask back down and his breath fills his ears again.

He turns his back on the room, and closes the door behind him. He walks to the end of the corridor and tugs at the hanging cord, releasing the door and stairs up to the attic. The torch rattles as he pulls it from his backpack and ascends the stairs. The white beam from the illuminated bulb pierces the darkness of the attic, sweeping over carefully stacked cardboard boxes, each with their own handwritten labels. Linen. Photos. Crockery. Books.

He walks through the attic, careful not to tread on any exposed ceiling of the rooms below, to the water tank at the back. He opens it up and shines the light in, it catching on the swirls and waves of the full tank. He pulls out a flask, unscrews the cap and plunges it in before pulling back his mask and drinking deeply. It stings his cracked lips and dry throat. It tastes old and dusty, but he drinks anyway, feeling its coolness flow through his body. He dips the flask again and screws the top back on, before filling two other plastic bottles. He secures their lids, stores them back in his rucksack and starts to walk back across the attic. That’s when his knee fails and, with a shot of pain, gives way under him. He goes down hard, missing most of the hard flooring and slipping between two beams, through the insulation and the thin ceiling into their bedroom. Something cracks as he hits the floor. Pain shoots through his body, screaming at every nerve ending. He tries to move but his muscles refuse to obey. That’s when he hears the scratched breath and harsh groan, the movement of bodies against fabric and then the laboured slow padding and dragging of feet across the carpet. He sees them loom in to view. His father, his face a contortion of anger that he’d seen a hundred times before. His teeth exposed through ripped lips, grinding together, his skin tight across his jagged skull. His eyes black and staring, filled with hate. His mother, her hair grey and thinning, one ear missing, the other pierced through with a single gold earring. Her face divided by a long gash, the blood dried and crusted, a small flap of skin wobbling as she moves. Her eyes a soft blue standing out against the grey of her skin.

Slowly they come towards him. Their hands reach out for his body, for his soft flesh. He feels their fingers reach him, feels their grip, feels them tearing through his ragged clothing. He feels their nails start to dig in and wrench. He watches as their faces creep towards him, their mouths opening.

He always knew it would end this way. He always knew his parents would tear him apart.





  1. Good story, Courtney. Very smooth. I hope we see more from you in the future.

    Comment by Justin Dunne on July 15, 2014 @ 10:40 pm

  2. ^^ want more.

    Comment by gunldesnapper on July 16, 2014 @ 6:50 am

  3. Such intensive description and detail! This is a marvellously meticulous story and really captures the protagonists POV superbly.

    Comment by Craig Y on July 17, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

  4. Lovely detail and tension built up to a great climax, Courtney. This would make a great short film noir. Keep em coming 🙂

    Comment by Fin Gray on July 18, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

  5. Nice little slice of life story.

    I think the narration is a touch overwrought. I would suggest paring down some of the more florid descriptions.

    Comment by Brettagher on July 23, 2014 @ 10:47 am

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