I pushed the button on the camera and heard the shutter snap. I captured my son midway through his pirouette in the field, in the field in front of the old farmhouse.
Something caught my eye just as the mirror flipped up in the camera. Something in the farmhouse.
I lowered the Pentax slowly from my head, keeping my eyes on the house. Whatever it was…well, it was probably nothing.
My son turned toward the high shrubs, toward the house.
“Brian,” I said. “No, don’t go over there. It’s not our house.”
“But, Dad, nobody lives there!” he said with honesty, and he was right.
“Doesn’t matter, it’s not our property. Come on, let’s go find some berries.”
We walked away. After two steps, I stopped and turned to the house. Brian was already intent on messing up a milkweed pod. I looked at the house. We called it “John Tumbledown’s House” when we spoke about it. It was just at the edge of the property line of my father’s thirty acre wood lot. The place had been abandoned for quite a few years. There was some story about the old place, but no one I talked to could provide any details. Something about the man we had begun calling John Tumbledown. Something about how and when and where he died.
We found a berry patch alongside the wood lot, at the edge of an old field. Was this John Tumbledown’s cornfield? I sat and stared at the old wooden frame, the weathered wood, the sun-burned roof, the bleached siding, the broken steps and the pane less windows frames. A bird flew out of an upstairs window. A shutter banged against the outside wall when a slight breeze passed. The season was early Autumn. The trees were leafless. The high clouds made the sky milky. The air was cool…perhaps chilly.
I thought about fear. I thought about why the house made me uncomfortable. I thought about why the house didn’t seem to have any effect on Brian. You hear stories that children (and dogs and cats for that matter) often exhibit a sixth sense sometimes. Young people have less clutter, less static in their brains than we adults. A child sees and hears things we don’t.
But that wasn’t happening here. Brian felt totally at ease. I, on the other hand, felt odd and off-balance. Disturbed. Worried. Wary. Protective.
Something about the house…something about John Tumbledown.
The shadows grew longer. The air turned colder. It was time to leave.
Only when I had the film developed did I notice something. Was this what caught my eye when I snapped the picture? There, on the first floor…there is something standing there…in the doorway.
Do you see it?