The day was just beginning to cook. June was on its way out making way for July and already the heat was oppressive. Randy Miles stepped up to the door and rang the bell. Mrs Harlan’s house was a two-story arts and crafts home that was once quite a nice little number. He hoped she had air conditioning. He was not feeling super great about those hopes.
Years of neglect showed the signs of weathering and rot. Randy cast his gaze around the wide porch that spanned the entire front of the house. The poor house seemed to shrug under the weight of its own impending demise. Overgrown garden beds that once contained cheery flowers now gave way to the bold invasion of alien-like weeds and crawling vines. Paint was peeling from the porch ceiling. Here and there, porch rungs were broken or missing like the sad smile of some drunken hobo. By the looks of the decay, he guessed that Mrs Harlan lived alone. Probably a widower. The main entrance was adorned with a battered sheet metal-gray storm door that had seen it’s fair share of kicks and slams over the years. A metal mailbox covered in a patina of rust hung lopsided beneath the doorbell. A faded flowered welcome mat read “Blessed Be This Home.” The wood beneath it spoke to the contrary as it creaked from Randy’s boots. The tongue and groove floor boards were splintered and warping and-
Randy’s eyes froze on something that littered the floor. Little brown pellets.
Rat droppings. And quite a bit. Mrs Harlan’s rat problem was bigger than he anticipated. Hot damn, he thought. Business is good!
He rung the doorbell once and then again after a few minutes with no response. Maybe the old broad was hard of hearing. Or worse, napping. The last thing he wanted to deal with was a granny in a see-through night-gown. He rocked on his heels impatiently, staring at his watch. As he shoe gazed his eyes caught something he’d missed before. There was a hole in the bottom corner of the dilapidated storm door. At first glance, he simply thought it was damage from years and years of rough treatment. Upon closer inspection Randy knew that wasn’t the case. To the layman’s untrained eye, the hole appeared to be the result of blunt force. Damage from something heavy like a couch or an appliance being moved through the entryway. But Randy had the eye of a trained professional. He thought that if he examined the damage closer he’d see scratches and indents around the two-and-a-half inch hole.
Randy crouched down on his haunches with a grunt resting his hands on his knees for balance. After a moment of study he retrieved a small MagLite from his belt and illuminated the hole. The fresh gashes in the sheet metal of the storm door glinted off the light. The edges around the damage were jagged and fresh.
“Bingo,” he said, dragging the word out dramatically. Bingoooooooo.
He’d located a primary breach location. Randy smiled. He already had a leg up on whatever pests were invading Mrs Harlan’s home. What concerned him was the boldness of this breach. Rodents were timid by nature for the most part. They avoided human contact. They didn’t walk up to your front door and all but rap on the knocker.
No, something was off.
Maybe the doorbell was on the fritz. He pulled open the screen door to knock on the inside door. A wheezy gasp escaped his lips before he could stifle it. The entire bottom corner of the inside door was gone. Chiseled away by something sharp and small. This hole in comparison dwarfed the one on the storm door. Randy thought he could roll a basketball through it. Nothin’ but net.
He crouched down, aiming the flashlight on the damaged front door. The LED light gleamed off of jagged edges. He let out a long whistle in admiration of the work. Some guys whistle at Corvette convertibles. Some at that girls who shake it for money down at The Trough. Randy whistled at pest damage. And this was some fine work. Very impressive. There was something strange about the tooth patterns in the wood.
He travelled the light around the entire hole in the door hoping for the inspiration that eluded him. Something just felt wrong. But what? He was missing something but couldn’t put his finger on it. That hazy hung over brain of his was refusing to operate on all four cylinders. As the beam took another slow pass at the wounded entranceway the light caught something just inside the door.
“What the shit,” he said muttered and crouched closer to the hole for a better look. Stunted white fingers reached out from the gloom. Short and fat and somehow brittle and discolored with yellowish nails that were ragged and angry.
“Jesus,” Randy blurted and fell back onto his butt with a thud. The dilapidated porch groaned in protest as his MagLight hit the deck with a thud and rolled in a semi-circle. Startled, Randy half crab walked and half flailed backwards away from Mrs Harlan’s front door.
He frantically felt around the porch floor for his flashlight, never taking his eyes off the twisted flesh on the other side of the door. Randy’s mind raced to understand what he was seeing. Trying to make sense of the object that was reaching out from the gloom in side the house.
“Is that a… Is that a fucking baby hand?” He asked incredulously to no one in particular.
His searching hand finally fell on the flashlight. He whipped it out in front of him like a rookie cop responding to his first liquor store robbery, hoping that the light would somehow prove lethal. Its beam quaked from the fear that sent tremors down his arms. His mouth moved absently, muttering shit over and over again. A trickle of sweat ran down his neck and between his pock-marked shoulder blades as he waited for something… anything to happen. As his heart slowed down to a less death-inducing rate his eyes focused on what he originally thought was a gruesome infant hand. His fear turned to alarm as the flashlight shed light on what he was truly looking at.
A foot. A very old, bluish-gray foot.
Randy rose to his feet as quickly as his over-sized carriage would allow and rapped on the door.
“Mrs Harlan,” He called as he knocked frantically. “Mrs Harlan, are you okay?” He was pretty damn sure she was far from okay. His guess was that she was at room temperature and stiff as a jailhouse bunk. He rummaged in his pockets for his phone and then stepped off the porch when he realized he’d left it in his van. His mind raced on who to call.
He opened the passenger door and reached over to the console, grabbing his phone. He was considering calling in an anonymous tip when the neighbor’s house across the street exploded in a deafening fireball of glass and wood and major appliances.