That August, stomping deep through the forest, my friend Jason and I found an abandoned farmhouse. Like a corpse given up by the earth, all bones and sinew and wide, hollow sockets. Two stories tall, learning hard to the left, as if the trees on that side were whispering secrets. And though we could see nail heads embedded deep into lumber, could see shingles stacked in aggregate layers, the house felt less like it’d been built and more like it’d been born. Like something that had long ago lost its way and had settled here, in the wilderness, just to die.
The front door might have creaked – if there’d been one. The windows, if not shattered, might have reflected our thin, dirty faces. Sunlight blazed through gaps in the roof, tapping our heads as we tiptoed our way across aching floorboards. Room after room, an abundance of nothing – no furniture forsaken, no heirlooms forgotten. Whoever and whatever had existed in this place had turned their backs long ago. Nonetheless, a presence remained. From the cracks in the plaster and the grime that we breathed, a tangible pressure of memory bore into us, as if the farmhouse, so battered by time, were pushing its final thoughts into ours. “Don’t stop,” it told us. “Keep looking, keep looking.”
Up a moldering staircase, into a sinking bedroom. The light that’d touched us in slivers below showered us now as we snooped through the room. Planks of sunbeams engulfed us so thoroughly it was as if we’d set foot in a star. And there, affixed to the walls, we saw them – a patchwork of ancient newspaper clippings. Each one, as we brought our faces mere inches away, an obituary. We ran the brittle strips through our fingers. We squinted up close at the weather-worn pictures. Mostly, we noticed a year scrawled at the top of each clipping. The year, we reasoned, each person had died.
“This has to mean something,” we’d said, still caught in the house’s tangible pressure, still drunk on our elaborate boyhood inventions. These clips, whoever cut them, whoever had written these long-ago dates – they were telling us something.
The sun pulled the shadows away from our bodies as we scoured every legible sentence and picture. Here, a woman’s obituary from 1965. And here, a man, 1959. Considering these endless histories of death, it was impossible not to consider our own. Had the fading daylight not forced us to stop, if the dark and the creep hadn’t ultimately panicked us back out the front door, would we have discovered a place on the walls where the obituaries were scrawled with the years of our passing? Was there an obituary labeled “1992,” just seven years from that bright summer day, with Jason’s sun-bleached name and picture? He’d be killed in these woods, in that year, after all. Less than a mile away from this farmhouse, in the meanest, thickest heat of the summer.
Twilight brushed its hands on our backs as the house slowly grew distant behind us. In the darkness, the wilderness trembled with life. Shoulder to shoulder, Jason and I trembled the same. No time anymore for rotting floorboards and decaying strips of paper. No time anymore to consider anything ending. Just the dizzying blush of our youth as we barged through the forest and into our future, into what we believed would be days without end, into our self-assured life everlasting.
Will McMillan is queer author born and raised within untamed wild of the Pacific Northwest. To date, his essays have been featured in the Sun, Hobart, Hippocampus, and Cheap Pop literary journals, among many others.