Stolen Property by Alayna Cole

The untrampled leaves made it apparent that only the most light-footed of creatures had ventured near the house in years. The hint of a path still remained, leading to what was left of the front door, but the stepping-stones, stolen, polished and placed here years ago, were cracking in the harsh sunlight and sinking into the earth.

Dancing strands of overgrown grass did not discriminate, twisting themselves around the house’s supports just as they did the trunks of the surrounding trees. The dirty green paint on the panels was flaking away to reveal the brown hardwood beneath; in places the wood was splitting and splintering as the trees of the forest showed the house its quiet, patient rage at how many of their kin were destroyed for its construction.
The house’s camouflage was near-flawless, making it impossible to determine exactly where the edges of the house met the thick boughs of the surrounding trees. The undergrowth continued beyond the rotting walls, dusting the hardwood floors with damp leaves. Saplings shot up from the flurries of soil that gathered in the corners. People had deserted this house and the forest had moved in.

It felt disrespectful to disturb the new owners of this old house, so you walked a wide circle to where the backyard struggled to separate itself from its undomesticated surrounds. Patches of the long-forgotten lawn stretched high, scratching at your legs, begging for your attention. You tried to tread lightly, breathe shallowly, the forest evoking a sense of reverence within you that was unparalleled.

If you squinted, you could almost see where the boundaries of the backyard once lay, but the square of grass had been conquered by exposed roots, the swing set was beginning to crumble under the relentless force of the weather and the forest had cultivated a beautiful, wild garden in the sandbox. An abandoned book lay between the beams of the collapsing veranda, half of its leaves scattered across the surrounding soil and those that remained fluttering in the breeze like an injured moth.

You wished to examine the book more closely. You took careful steps towards it, tiptoeing over the branches strewn across the ground; you tried to remain invisible as you trespassed on the forest’s property. Each time the breeze picked up, shaking the canopy, you flinched, hearing whispers cautioning you to stop, to turn, to leave.

The paper was crumpled by dried rainwater and unmarked by ink, the forest’s words expressed through smeared dirt and decomposing leaves. You longed to reach out and touch the crackling pages; you longed to feel them, all weathered and worn, against your aching skin. The day was warm and humid, and yet you shivered.

Beyond the book and the broken beams of the veranda lay what was once the backdoor of the house, now fallen to the ground, the hinges rusted and the paint so faded that it was impossible to determine what colour it once was. Now it was just brown, indistinguishable from the trees that encircled the house but for the fact that the forest was breathing and this door, made of stolen wood, could not.

The trees called louder as gusts of bracing wind rattled the walls of the house and made the ceiling creak ominously. You heeded the wordless warning and retreated from the crumbling remains, back into the comforting arms of the dense forest’s embrace. The silence was immediate, like plunging underwater, and the humidity pressed against your skin. You turned back to look at the house, one last glance at the forgotten abode, but you were too late; the wood and stone had become part of the landscape once again.