The House On The Corner Of Westminster Road

Jack Biggs


There was a letter on my doorstep when I got home today.

The house beyond the steps isn’t mine, with its mouldering red roofs and its boarded-up windows, but every night when the world stops and the moon shines overhead, I’m there on the steps. I don’t know how I get there or why I stay until the first car groans to life again, just that it’s every night. There’s never been anything else on my doorstep than the occasional cat, certainly never a letter and never one addressed to the house itself. As I ascend the five stone steps, I can see a sliver of amber light in the crack between the board and the glassless sunrise window above the door. The door no longer has a handle that I can turn, it too was long-since hidden behind a thick wooden board like the windows. I’ve never thought to go inside the house, as odd as it may sound. Something has always told me in the back of my mind that it isn’t a wise idea. But the letter was addressed to it, and it deserved to hear it.

In the brambles that ramble all around the house, there’s an old spade with a wooden handle slowly fading into the ground next to the mouldering timbers that once held the brambles back in a neat rectangle. Its tip is blunted and rusted, but it’s still good enough for prying. Back up the steps I go, muddy spade in muddy hand, and I angle it until it finds a crack big enough between the door surrounds and the board to slip between. A groan echoes through the still world, and I can’t tell if it’s my spade, the board, or the house. The age-greyed wooden handle of my spade splinters at the same time as the nails pull out from the rotting white wood of the door’s surrounds, and I can pull the board off one side and swing it out of the way as if it too is now a door. The real door behind the board is still red, though its dark paint is peeling off in flakes that reveal the spotted rotting wood beneath. Why is this house abandoned? In my mind’s eye, it looks so beautiful I find myself staring up at its gables and sobbing for its loneliness, for my own. It’s a castle, I tell myself every time, and I its faithful keeper. 

The red door needs no key. Its fittings have long since loosened with time and damp-expanded wood and it scrapes on the chipped terrazzo tiles as I push it slowly open. The house pulls at the back of my mind, pulling me towards the first room on the west of the hall from where I now stood. There’s a bay window seat in that room, beyond the French doors, and behind the boards I can now see those windows are made of stained glass, leadlit and each panel gently rippled. There’s a secretaire desk in the middle of the room, its wood still beautiful if you brush off the dust that cakes its waxed surface, and all around the walls are bookshelves, each book neatly pushed into a mosaic of reference, fiction, and poetry as if each were selected for the way they fit rather than for what they contained. The small brass keys are still in the desk’s drawers, dull with time, but when I turn them, all the dust of the room disappears as the room is flooded with amber light from the oil lamps on the floor. They’re in a circle around me, and I wonder now how I hadn’t noticed them when I came in. 

From somewhere else in the room, a needle skips softly as it’s placed on a record, and the whispery silence of the record’s beginning fades into what I can only describe as a gothic cowboy waltz. I look around the room for its source, and my eyes fall on the gramophone on one of the bookshelves, painted to look like a stack of leather-bound encyclopaedias. A spectre stands in front of it, watching the record as if making sure it plays. When she too turns to see me, I see her face illuminated by the light of the lamps and I’m sure I’ve seen it before. I hold out the hand that holds the letter.

“Is this for you?” I ask, and my own words shock me. 

It’s been so long since I’ve talked out loud, and my voice sounds tinny in my own ears. The spectre just shakes her head slowly, and pushes the letter and my hand gently back to me. She has kind eyes. I don’t know why that, of all her features, is what sticks in my mind. She walks towards the secretaire, her long skirts rustling on the ground, and she knocks over one of the oil lamps. The hem of her dress catches fire like dry tinder on a hot day, climbing up her legs fast with an acrid smell, but she doesn’t seem to notice. The floorboards too around her are soon up in smoke, but even though I’m so close to the fire it doesn’t even feel the slightest bit warm. The spectre is writing at that desk now, dipping the end of a fountain pen into an inkwell and scratching away at a thick piece of parchment not yet yellowed by time. 

As she continues to write, unfazed even by the mystery she poses as she’s turned into a towering pillar of flame while the desk and her letter are untouched, I pick up another of the oil lamps and hold my letter to its light. In it, I can just about make out the first few lines and when I compare them with those the spectre still furiously writes, I see that they are the exact same. No longer blessed with hands or those kind eyes, she’s nothing more than a fire of a thousand colours in the centre of the room, the pen still somehow spilling words out in the same way it’d spill ink when overfull. I set the oil lamp down on the top of the secretaire and open the letter. Another’s voice echoes in my ears as I read each word. I think it might have been the voice that belonged to the spectre when she was alive—if she was ever alive—but she sounds so much like I did when I was young. I read the very last line as the pen writes it.

The circle is broken now. It’s time to let go.

I can feel the house tugging at the back of my mind again and my hand, like a marionette’s, moves through the fire to the brass keys again, in this time bright and untarnished. In the light of the fire, I can see that inside my hands aren’t bones but the wooden ball-jointed fingers of a doll’s hand. Somehow that doesn’t seem to faze me, and I wonder if I’m the same sort of creature the spectre was. The keys are cold in my doll hands, and turn with the same ease they did before. I blink, and the dust returns. The oil lamps are still there, one smashed and one on the secretaire, but they’re cold and haven’t been lit in years. Both letters are gone now, and with a start I realise so is the pull in the back of my mind. I find my way back to the red door, and step out into the early morning sunlight like I never left my seat on the steps. A cat rubs up against my legs and runs off into the brambles when I start to move away from the door. Cars amble down the road and businesspeople wander down to the train station, morning coffees in hand, and I leave my doorstep for another night, wondering if I’ll ever be back again.

Jack is an emerging queer writer and digital artist in his last year of a BFA in Creative Writing. When not editing, writing, or daydreaming about his first novel, he can be found drawing art for it, which can be found on his Instagram (@jack.eli.fletcher).