THE HOUSE OWNED THEM by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas
first-place winner in Magical Muse Moments flash fiction contest ending April 12, 2020. The challenge: write a story of less than 500 words about the photo by Watson Brown. His photo was borrowed with permission from his Instagram account.
On the wall by the door, one could clearly see where the picture had hung. The sizzling Caribbean sun poured through the antique windows, casting half-baked shadows of spiderwebs, dirt and vines that laced the outside, much like the way the hand-crocheted curtains that hung with pride inside once had.
Everything within the empty room echoed of the past – from the Delft-blue walls to the rotting paneled doors. Hints of luxury, of opulence could be found by eyes trained to seek out what once was. Those eyes saw the hand-hewn floorboards; each expertly fitted one beside the other. Over a hundred years old and still they held tight and strong with nary a squeak. They, also, quickly noted that while someone had at some point in the past painted the woodwork white – a crime that should be punishable by law to some folks belief – bits of the original, rich, dark mahogany still peeked through, like a bride behind her ivory colored veil.
From the middle of the room, ghosts of past owners could be felt. Their pride of possession palpable. However, one immediately got the sense that they never really “owned” the house. No, the house owned them. They, the humans who had inhabited these rooms, who sat, ate, slept, birthed and died under this roof, were no more than pets to this great dame of a building.
Now, abandoned like some old coat that had lost style and grace, she molded in the heat and humidity of tropical breezes. The one saving grace was the picture – a painting made on a day when the windows opened to the scent of jasmine and salt air. That picture, painted by hands that cast spells of water and color that bewitch all who gazed upon the canvas, was of this very room, but back years ago, when all was as new as the tiny babe from that time, who cooed and cried in the nursery just one floor above. Rumors of the painting’s charm had filtered through time but had long since become another island legend.
The young couple had found the beguiling painting in a tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop with a sign that looked like it had been created by the conquistadors, who once overran the island. There was something mysterious about it; something that pulled them into the dark, cool interior.
After a few moments of blindness, their eyes adjusted to the light. Or, was it the painting that seemed to radiate a light of its own? For, as sure as the sun sets west of the white sand beach they had just visited, the only thing they could see was the painting of the room.
In the process of purchasing it, the story was woven, the address given and the words of caution cast upon deaf ears. Intoxicated by what once was, the young couple headed for the house, the room and their destiny.