She was on the couch when we found her.
The house had a long history of occupation by unstable women. Dorothy was the latest tenant and, from what I knew, very few of the house's former occupants turned up dead in the living room. My parents certainly hadn't found any stiffs since turning the place into a rental property.
A few days prior, one of the neighbors contacted my mother regarding strange behavior on Dorothy's part. Allegedly, she had been silently wandering between lawns every night for a week or so, so the neighbor decided to do the logical thing and call the landlords.
My mother registered the complaint out of courtesy and relayed the information to my father, who filed it away with the rest of the things he couldn't care less about. Three days later, the neighbor rang again to inform my mother that whatever she said had worked; Dorothy hadn't been seen outside since.
My parents were naturally concerned, but still not enough to actually bother investigating. Since I was home for the weekend, I was dispatched to the scene. Reminiscing briefly about my days in the neighborhood, I got out of the car and walked up to the door.
Knock knock knock.
As I waited for a response, I noticed that the house itself seemed dead...no, not dead. Dormant. I knocked again and waited before trying the doorbell and waiting again. I contemplated talking to the neighbors, but decided against it.
Finally, I took the set of keys my mother gave me and unlocked the door. I was barely inside when I noticed the smell. It was vaguely metallic, like iron, with a hint of what could have been ammonia. Undeterred, I pushed the door open and immediately realized why Dorothy didn't get up to let me in.
She was strewn out on the couch wearing a sweat suit, her head hanging off the side so that it hovered above a dry pile of vomit. Urine stained the white fabric and her forearms were posed almost unnaturally, as if she wanted to exhibit the jagged, vertical slashes on either wrist.
Dried blood was caked along her arms and dark trails of it led from the couch into the next room with a few thin, haphazard lines which made me imagine that she was swinging her arms. The coffee table had been kicked askew, knocking over an empty handle of vodka and two bottles of hydrocodone.
She couldn't have been dead for more than thirty-six hours.
As could be expected, I was a little taken aback by the grim scene. However, a morbid curiosity told me to stick around.
Opposite the mess was the television. It was on, the screen showing "No Signal". On a shelf under the TV set, she had a VCR; it was old and predated the VHS/DVD combo thing. Something compelled me to press the eject button and, with an unhealthy-sounding whir, the machine spit out a VHS tape: "Silence of the Lambs".
Following the strings of blood on the carpet, I proceeded into the next room. It was empty save for a setup for her computer. It was tremendously outdated - a bulky, khaki-colored monitor perched on a very plain wooden desk, with an equally cumbersome keyboard flecked with blood.
I noticed there was no chair in the room but, in spite of this, there were indents in the carpet. One appeared as a white square in a circle of brownish-red, suggesting that her wrist was against the chair leg as she sat.
It was clear that she died via overdose, but why she'd been walking around so much after such grievous self-injury was lost on me...and I had a good amount of experience with suicide and self-destruction.
Sparser paths of dark stains on the carpet led down the miniscule hallway into a spare bedroom. Curiously, there was a separate unpleasant stench in the room.
I pulled the top of my shirt over my nose and glanced around. Nothing. Well, nothing except for a tiny cage. It was the kind one would use to take cats or small dogs to the vet. There was some newspaper around the cage, but no sign of whatever animal it held. As I turned to leave, there was a sudden scratching from the closet. I took a moment to recover from my miniature heart attack and stepped over, tentatively sliding the closet door open.
A small dog - a dachshund - was cowering in the corner. The opposite corner contained a pile of dachshund shit. Immediately the little dog ran from the closet and into the cage. After about a minute spent trying to coax it out, I'd had about enough of that house. I strode back down the hallway to the living room, trying my hardest not to look at Dorothy, and headed out the front.
I phoned the proper authorities and told them about the grisly scene inside, the dog included.
A week later my mother contacted me at college, telling me to come home again for the weekend so that I could help her and my brother remove the blood-stained, shit-streaked carpet. During the process, I made a few off-hand remarks about the nature of the situation. I mentioned the dog in the closet, the missing chair, and Silence of the Lambs. My brother thought it was a little weird, but my mother remained stoic until the job was finished.
That following week, I returned to the house of my own accord to walk around and try to remember any specific events from when my family lived there. Unfortunately, though, even with my photographic memory, it was difficult to dredge up things that happened when I was two years old.
Certain rooms did trigger certain memories, though. I remembered being in first grade, playing with some toys as my mother showed the place to a potential tenant. I shuddered, realizing I had been in the same exact spot of Dorothy's missing chair, but another thought soon popped into my head.
I remembered who moved in after that: an absentminded French woman named Marie. Who the hell was renting before her, though, and why did they leave?
Unable to assemble a timeline in my head, I was reabsorbed into my memory. I had been playing primarily with X-Men action figures, imagining some story involving a giant spider, when Ice Man's arm broke off at the elbow.
It was upsetting.
Walking through to the kitchen, I found myself nineteen years gone, listening to my mother speak on the phone with someone: a lawyer.
My dog at the time had bitten a neighbor. It was strange, as I remembered him being very warm and affectionate. Any display of violence was out of character. As I brought myself back to the present, something troubling dawned on me: I had no memories of the dog from that time period. Every memory took place at my current residence.
Immediately, I connected the dog's behavior to his location.
Come to think of it, I had a cat then, too. He was old, possibly fifteen when I was born, but even as he got older he was a fighter. He was fearless. However, at the new house... My father once related a story of a sudden thudding noise that scared the cat out of the house for an entire three days.
I cleared my head of the Stephen King-style sentient house theories and left the kitchen. A walk down the hallway failed to summon any memories, but I nonetheless progressed toward the bedrooms.
At the threshold of the room where I found the dachshund, my mind glitched.
Any knowledge that remained of the house's floor plan had fled my mind and the layout suddenly seemed very labyrinthine. Most unsettling of all, I no longer had any memories of living there, only a hazy sense of familiarity like the fragments of some distant dream.
The space past the door frame was dizzying to the point of vertigo. I looked back down the hallway, the way I came. It had changed in the same outlandish manner as the room before me and as I gazed past opened doors leading to the kitchen, I felt as if I was looking over the side of a building, judging the distance between me and the ground.
Move. Walk. Just lift one foot and put it in front of the other. Focusing on the top of my shoe, I raised my right foot from the ground. With some effort, I took a step forward, bringing me through the threshold and into the room in front of me.
Just as startlingly as it changed, the environment shifted back to normal. I was still staring at my feet and noticed a dark stain on the wood of the floor, previously hidden by the suicide-soiled carpet. It was relatively small, but its presence was annoying. That, and it could have signified a mold problem.
My eyes were fixed on the spot for a second as I imagined my mother bitching to me about mold in the wood. Soon enough, though, I noticed another blemish on the hardwood...then another. I finally brought my head up, my vision following the stains. They formed a line with a distinctive pattern: the pattern of footsteps.
I tracked the source of the dark blots to the private bathroom, which was notably adjacent to the sliding closet where Dorothy had apparently stashed her dog. With no door-stopper, the wood ended abruptly, jarringly, into the tiled floor of the bathroom. Sure enough, there was a splotch a few inches onto the tile.
When I caught sight of it, my hand involuntarily shot to my mouth and I took a step backward.
My suspicions had been confirmed: the stains were actually footprints. An infant's footprints. Tiny soles with baby toes. The ball and heel of certain prints were inconsistent, fading inward as they proceeded. I supposed it would make sense if the child was tracking in some kind of liquid.
Disturbingly, the prints continued forward into the shower, circled around one side of the tub, then finally stopped as they led directly into the drain.
I knelt down and scraped at one of them with my fingernail, but the mark might as well have been burned into the surface. I reached toward the faucet to turn the ater on. The pipes coughed and sputtered like a dying automobile, paused for a second, and began unsystematically spitting rusty water. Predictably, the water did nothing. I turned the faucet back to the off position. This time it made a sickly gurgling noise. After another short delay, the murky spray stopped.
As I watched the liquid form into little whirlpools around the drain, I had a vision of myself in the same spot, perhaps twenty years prior when I was an infant. With so many other mysteries accumulating, I was unwilling to dismiss this as a coincidence. I pulled myself away from the tub and cleared out from the bathroom. A quick walk into the other bedroom produced nothing interesting, meaning there was only one place I hadn't revisited: the basement.
Before I had both feet back in the hallway, my determination to investigate the basement was cut short. Something was wrong. The old house didn't have a basement, did it?
This house had no answers. Only questions upon questions.
Finally, I gave in and returned to my family's current residence to see if my mother could provide any insight. As it happened, her knowledge of the house's history was rudimentary at best, but she had a mental record of every tenant since my family had moved, including the reasons they'd left.
My first thought was to ask about the woman who was renting right before Marie. The answer left me somewhat shaken. The woman's name was Mary-Anne and she lived there for about a year, up until the accidental death of her infant daughter. My mother was able to speak to Mary-Anne briefly after it happened, but Mary-Anne was almost catatonic and continually repeating "She had just taken her first steps."
According to the police, the daughter drowned in the bathtub.
My second question was in regards to Dorothy and my mother informed me that there was an update on the case. Very shortly before her estimated time of death, Dorothy had sent an email to her parents, apologizing for what she was about to do. It went on to explain that she secretly had an abortion and was wracked with guilt to the point where she was having hallucinations of a baby girl giggling and playing in one of the bedrooms.
After finally hearing this, there were only two major things that continued to bug me:
1. I still had no idea where Dorothy's chair had gone.
2. I could faintly remember taking a bath in the old house, probably about six years before Mary-Anne moved in. There were already footprints in the bathtub.