Hope you enjoy this somewhat hastily-written yet fun-to-write gothic short story! More creative writing coming at you in the future.
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, or so it seemed. David Chelmsford was out driving his Chevy in the pitch black of night, navigating unfamiliar and muddy terrain as huge raindrops broke across his windshield. His headlights only penetrated a mere few feet in front of him and it was too dim to read his paper map, so, as a result, he strained his neck to search for street signs that might guide him home––home, that is, if you could call home a place he hadn’t heard of nor visited in nearly three decades. Chelmsford was fairly certain nothing had changed since he left; the secluded townspeople couldn’t care less about the outside world, nor did the outside world care about the town. In fact, he had quite nearly forgotten about the town himself until his brother texted, hinting that it might be due time to pay the parents a last visit.
It follows, of course, that Chelmsford had never been close with his parents. Both he and his brother had felt during their childhood that the small town was stifling: everyone followed routine, never breaking from the norm, and half the population had been over fifty. Apart from Mary, the family dog, there had never been anyone to play with, and the older generations spent the better half of their time trying to preserve their life as much as possible. Not, if you can imagine, something an eight-year-old wants to do. So Chelmsford and brother darted from the town as soon as they were able, neither looking back. Chelmsford dabbled with chicken farming before settling down as an organic artichoke farmer in Manhattan (Kansas), while his brother went on to pursue greater things–namely, to contribute to Stanford’s biomedical research lab. One brother off creating artificial hearts and saving lives and the other creating artichoke hearts and ending lives each harvest season, the two grew distant. Chelmsford looked forward to the coming reunion.
The familiar plastic sign reading “Glensdale” flashed in front of the car, and Chelmsford veered right onto a gravel road surrounded by overgrown thickets. A half hour later, a touch of dawn brimmed over the horizon and Chelmsford was surveying his childhood town: there was Main Street lined with crisp, cookie-cutter homes, still featuring the pool that had long been filled with algae, and there was the old theater that, for the longest time, played Gone with the Wind on repeat like a broken record. It looked like the theater was still playing it––or Gone ith t e Wi d for that matter. A few early birds idled on the sidewalk or shuffled by, paying little attention to the newcomer.
Home, specifically, for Chelmsford, was at the end of Main Street, second to last on the left. He pulled up to the driveway and noted the porch lamp was on, its cheery glow of warmth welcoming. His mother sat beneath the lamp, rocking a wicker chair as always.
“Hiya, ma,” Chelmsford greeted. Mrs. Chelmsford waved stiffly as the corners of her mouth lifted. “Apple pie’s in the oven,” she replied, gesturing inside.
Chelmsford nodded, ducking inside. A part of him withered just a bit. No hello after all these years? And after such a long journey? Surely his parents loved him. Surely his homecoming warranted a peach cobbler, at the very least.
He entered the kitchen just in time to hear the timer go off. “Ma, I’ll get it!” he yelled, bending down to open the oven. She didn’t answer. Sheesh. The delicious aroma of cinnamon spice and apples filled the room, and he wondered if his father and brother would be home soon to enjoy such mouth-watering goodness. When it seemed like no one was in a hurry to get a slice, Chelmsford decided to cut himself a piece. It was the least he could do to make himself feel at home, what with not being welcomed or anything. Then he heard footsteps. Heavy, a bit different now, but unmistakably his father’s. He saw the sturdy, tall frame of his father fill the doorway; his plaid shirt and Levi jeans the same as ever and, as usual, paired with a wristwatch. His round, rosy face seemed not a year older than the day he left. It was almost as if… No, that would be impossible. He couldn’t help but think that he was in some episode of the Twilight Zone, though. Stuck in some time warp, some unescapable loop that ran as if he had never left. But this was the real world, and things like that just didn’t––couldn’t––happen.
“Hey Dave,” his father boomed just a bit too mechanically. “Cut me a slice of that pie, will you?” Mary bounded in, barking excitedly in response. Chelmsford cut a slice of pie, slopped it onto a plate, and held the plate out for his father. As his father reached for the pie, Chelmsford stopped. His father wasn’t wearing a watch. He always wore a watch on his right hand. He checked the other wrist. Nope. The pockets? Nope. With a gut-wrenching feeling, Chelmsford realized, a little too late, that the ticking was coming from within his father. Behind his father’s eyes he could see the workings of a machine––a real machine. The gears whirled underneath his father’s skin, contorting his mouth into a forced, dead smile. Indeed, the daisies outside had seemed a bit too fake, the town too quiet, the neighbors too robotic. The unsettling silence blanketed the town more like death than peaceful serenity, and for once he appreciated the simple sweetness of human touch, human baking, human routine. The visions of the welcome he had imagined—and, admittedly, looked forward to—evaporated.
Chelmsford swiveled to find a human face staring intently at him. His brother chuckled, scalpel in hand. “Don’t worry,” his brother said. “They’ll welcome you home…forever.”
x steph kayla