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The Portrait

'You're welcome to stay. I've been awaiting you.'

For so long, the house had intrigued her.

Why she was so drawn to it, she had no idea, but she had to see it...She had to go inside.

“Haunted,” whispered the town busybodies. 

“Stay away,” whispered authorities...and the kids...well, the kids loved to double dog dare, betcha, and play every other manner of who's the bravest they could think of in order to scare the life out of each other and claim the title of not being chicken.

For her...the large No Trespassing sign had been enough to keep her away. But that was about to change.

Now she stood, at the rickety, rusted, and misshapen gate, its once glorious splendor lost to time, the elements, vandals, and even a couple of drunk drivers. One had been fatally impaled by the cast iron spear-like heads atop each thin shaft. That, was when the playful jokes about the “demon house” had begun to take off.

First, there were the kids and the rotted porch floor, resulting in a broken leg, then the homeless man cut to ribbons by a window that came crashing down on him as he tried to leave, then the calls on Halloween of a woman staring out the window and a candle burning in the lantern hanging by the front door.

But through it all, she remained drawn to the magnificent and rotting hulk of architectural genius. Such a shame to allow it to simply rot to the ground.

She glanced over her left shoulder, then her right. All was clear, so she squeezed through the cast iron barricade and felt a chill as she carefully maneuvered the broken walkway to the old stone steps leading to the porch.

Whispers seemed to greet her, encircle, and surround her as she dared her way up and onto the porch.

What was left of the regal and windowed stained glass door (a swan perhaps it'd once been?) threw colorful prisms along the decay of the wooden planks.

Despite the missing glass that made entry easy, she pushed open what was left of the door and walked in, head held high, and jaw set with a confidence she didn't feel.

The mansion was much brighter than she thought it would be, but missing portions of the ceiling, large cracks in the walls, and broken windows really gave the interior no chance at privacy.

She inched her way further into the ghostly home and was drawn to a cozy sitting room to the left of the doorway. This was where the woman had been reported seen. This, was where she would quench her curiosity, once and for all.

MHer eyes slowly scanned the room and her breath caught. On the wall, eyes lazily regarding her, not entirely unwelcoming but more, aptly...apathetic.

She wasn't sure what she'd expected...maybe the woman herself? But her excitement dimmed as she realized the “woman at the window,” had obviously been nothing more than people's eyes playing tricks on them.

She was clearly on the wall, fading paint, behind cracked glass, entombed in a rotting, grandiose frame.

Not at the window.

She turned to leave…

“You're welcome to stay. I've been awaiting you.”

She slowly turned to see the portrait...nothing more...just the forlorn portrait still hanging on the tattered wall.

But then she caught the eyes. They were no longer lazily regarding her...the eyes, hollow and almost pleading, were fixated on her.

“I get so few visitors...visitors with a purpose other than dares and scares.”

She wanted to be terrified, she should have been terrified, but she wasn't. She walked toward the painting...brilliant light suddenly engulfing her.

“Join me. You belong here. This is your home now...you've always been here, you just didn't realize it until today.”

Her skin burned, her eyes melted away, leaving her as dust, floating on the dank air.

She was home...finally home…

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