THE WILLOW HOUSE
There lies a house by the edge of a lake enclaved by willow trees. These willows grow in plenty and obscure nearly all vision of the home to the outside eye. Their branches droop heavy with the thick overcoat of leaves and it seems like a miracle that the wind ever manages to sway their branches. It had never been clear how the trees came to be, or at least how they became so overgrown. All that has ever been known was that after the last brick was cemented, the trees began growing.
Few believed that the very first homeowners wanted an unusual amount of privacy and decided to plant a wall of mother nature’s willows. Others argued the house was built on spiritual land, that it was cursed by witches, that the inhabitants practiced black magic, that there were bodies nourishing the trees buried beneath the yard, etcetera etcetera… However, one thing everyone agrees on is this, those willows are no coincidence. Everyone has their own version of the tale, but there has never been a single soul who believed all those trees simply grew out of nowhere.
As a kid, I used to ride my bike near that house and every time I did, I always felt a sense of foreboding dread. I could not explain it, but it was eerie passing by that house, knowing the stories people had told. You see, school was only a bike ride down the street, so I rarely took the bus. I would pass by that place day after day and I will say this, it never got easier. In fact, the more I rode by, the more I would notice certain things such as how the trees sounded like they were weeping as the breeze brushed them or how it seemed like there was never a single decaying willow.
I remember one evening I was riding home after soccer practice; there was a downpour but not even that could cloud my vision. Through some empty spacing between the branches of the willows, I saw a flickering lantern held by a dark robed figure roaming between the trees. Their hood obscured the wearer’s face and I cannot say for certain, but at that moment, I was damn sure the figure was staring back. It must have been a few seconds, but the first glimpse of any life around that place seemed to have lasted an eternity. Once the wind hit the branches, any sign of the figure was gone. After that, I sort of just stood there, drenched as the rain poured down. What exactly did I see? Who was that mysterious figure? Why were they roaming around in the woods with a kerosene lantern? What were they wearing exactly? I once thought this moment would be the closest encounter I would have with the Willow House, though I was never prepared for what would happen ten years later…
I had just return home after my first year in college and thought this summer would be a time to relax and destress, but I was gravely incorrect. It was that same night where I would enter the Willow House.
Dinner had ended and I decided to walk it off as my parents cleaned up. I took my music player and headphones in hand and left out the front door for a stroll around the block. The sun had yet to fully set and still casted its amber glow as it slowly descended. I passed by the houses where my childhood friends used to live, the park where my cousins and I used to visit, my old high school down the road, just to end up back at the one place I never thought I would see again, the Willow House. I stopped dead in my tracks for a sight that never changed, a horde of willow trees, alive and well.
At this point, I said, “Fuck it.” I do not know whether it was my overbearing sense of curiosity or my sheer stupidity, but something in me had to know the secret of the willows, of the house they seemed to guard. I replayed the memory of the hooded figure in my head over and over, and now was the time I learned the mystery behind the Willow House.
My hands were full of sweat and my heart began beating harder and harder against my chest. I was afraid, though my fear could not overtake my curiosity. After a deep breath, I took off my headphones and walked along the driveway in front of me, its gravel surface crunching loudly under the soles of my shoes. I could not tell you for certain how long I walked as the trees went on and on. The further I managed to walk only got darker once the sun finally set. I was lucky that the trees did not completely block the moonlight as that became my only guide in this forsaken place.
After I finally made it down what felt like a mile-long stretch of a driveway, I was surprised to find an absence of cars, not an unusual sight but a peculiar one for a place like this. I did not contemplate it for too long since the main reason for my visit stood before me. It was a three-story Victorian gothic styled house void of any light inside. I took another long breath and walked up the steps until I stood right before the front door. I was at a loss for what to do next as I had never thought I would get this far. I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” From utter compulsion and instinct, I reached for the doorknob and twisted. To my surprise, it was unlocked. I pulled forward and opened the door.
My eyes only saw an abyss of darkness, one where not even moonlight could touch. I became so eager to know more that I stepped into the unknown. The eerie part after entering was that I still could not make out a single object. So, I slowly shuffled forward in the void until I saw a lit outline of another door. I thought perhaps this was the answer and like a fool, I opened it and stepped through.
Maybe I had hallucinated but what I witnessed could not have been true. Opening that door led me to the front yard of that house, yet I distinctly remember only walking forward with no chance in circling around. Though what made matters even stranger was the fact it was daytime outside with the thickest fog coating the yard. I could vaguely make out the willows, but they were for sure there.
It was quiet, like a quiet I could never imagine. I could hear absolutely nothing except my own breath…that is until the breeze came through. It brushed against the trees until I was surrounded by the sounds of weeping. The hairs on the back of my neck stood erect and I was frozen. It became hard to swallow and I began to have the feeling like I was being watched. My eyes shifted around in their sockets only to observe the swaying silhouette of the willows within the fog. I continued to look around until I noticed what seemed like the remnants of a familiar hood in front of my feet.
I knelt to pick it up and just like that, the breeze died yet the weeping pursued. I then tried my hardest to remain still making absolutely no sound. The weeping slowly subsided and before I could feel relief, it turned to faint disembodied growls…Something knew I was here.
The ground began to vibrate as though something large started to move within the fog. I slowly retreated until my hand felt the doorknob behind me. I gripped it with my life and opened the door. Before I stepped through, I took one last look at the fog and noticed distant willow trees rising, trunk and all, as if they were attached to something beneath. At that point, I shut the door and walked back through the void with haste.
I braced myself as I opened the front door of the house. Only met with more darkness, I reluctantly walked through to the sight of…the sidewalk and street I had originally been strolling through. I was back. I was home.
I rustled in my pocket and pulled out my phone to find that only a minute passed since I left this spot. The sun had yet to fully descend. I could not believe it. How could that be? I almost thought I had merely drifted off until I felt I was still gripping something in my left hand, the remnants of the hood. I slowly opened my hand to the sight of a worn and torn hood with an obscure and faded marking. As I unfolded it, I felt something solid roll in my palm, a pendant. It was cold to the touch and had the same marking as the hood except full and complete this time. Upon closer inspection, it resembled what looked like an obscure pagan rune.
I quickly stashed it in my pocket. I then turned around to face the willow trees one last time, but as I did so, emptiness greeted my eyes. What stood before me was an empty field. No willow trees, no gothic house. The one place I had passed by for years was gone without a trace.
After that encounter, I was left with more questions than answers. What was that house exactly? What was the significance of that pendant? How did it disappear without a single trace within the span of a minute?
What kind of hell did I step into?