He walks under the billboard through the long dead grass. A house sits on a small hill in a sea of grass. Some trees sit close on the hill, dead leaves still clinging to the branches. Focusing on his feet to avoid the tangled clumps it is slow going more akin to climbing than walking. At a rocky outcrop the progress is easier and he takes some time to look at the house in detail. The walls are stone and solid, stubbornly resisting the progress into decay. Other materials had not fared so well. The once open verandah where he could imagine plant pots, a chair and table with steaming tea, freshly made jam and maybe a bowl of fruit was now partially collapsed. You could still see the tangled remnants of the chair under the weight of one of the main beams. Windows that once surveyed an orchard down towards the river were now glassless and partly boarded. Turning towards the orchard he glazed across the blackened and lifeless rows of twisted stumps. The rows remained distinct exaggerating the perspective towards the river bank.
Pushing on again head bowed he made his slow progress upwards. It was close now. A bent and armless clothes line marked the remnants of a backyard with an open pit left of what must have been the septic system. An old bath against the back wall this time held brackish water which he collected for boiling later in the day. Any water was better than the contents of the river.
Pausing at the door he took a deep breath and prepared for the unexpected. Being slightly ajar made it easier to move in, silently and slowly he moved through the gap into dark emptiness of the first room. Darkness pressed against his eyes while he waited for them to adjust. Not too long as the external light through the door helped to penetrate the gloom. Gaps in the boarded windows provided pin prick highlights to the space. Apart from a thick layer of dust mixed with ash the room was empty. An opening at the far end lead to a traditional hall dividing the house like a spine with rooms attached either side. In the hall darkness filled every corner and this time it took much longer for eyes to make out any detail. While waiting his ears strain to pick out sounds hidden in the darkness. Out of the corner of his eye a face slowly emerges from the inky depths.
Standing frozen the details form before his eyes. Nose, eyes, mouth, heart beating it connects to the wall forming an arch. Heart slows, his breathing starts to even as the hall extends connecting doors hiding rooms beyond. He briefly smiles. Through the darkness in one of these rooms he kicks through the ashes of a fireplace. Is this the sitting room? Once a fire burned low, high backed chairs faced the warmth, the mantle covered in small framed photographs of distant relatives. Burnt in the fire for warmth? Out of the ash the remnants of a frame, the last memories of a lost time. Whiteness forms deeper in the black remains. Bones. A last meal or something more recent?
The next room holds a surprise. An old mattress in the corner, rugs on either side, a stool has white runs of wax along the top to frozen drops around the edge and to the floor. He runs his hand along the mattress. Expecting warmth there is only cold and a layer of dust. How long? Weeks or years? It is hard to tell. A battle in his mind – oh to feel the comfort of a soft bed, life held few pleasures.