Inkblood, written by Niki Cluff and Kerry Barney
Returning home from studying abroad Evie finds her family is missing. Following journals & puzzles left in the rooms of her family’s home, Evie will piece together the memories to find what happened while she was away & where her family has gone.
They forgot me.
I sat at the airport watching vehicles zip by and listening to airplanes land and take off. Each passing vehicle caused me to deflate a bit more and sent a thrill of worry through my chest. Beside me sat two years’ worth of luggage. Souvenirs from my time spent in Japan, clothing, makeup, school books. My entire life stuffed into four suitcases. It was all I had left of the life I had before I decided to become a foreign exchange student. Before my father was offered a new job and moved halfway across the country to Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. I didn’t know exactly when they’d moved. Just noted the return address on the physical mail I received. Sometimes I wondered if they left out the information intentionally, like they hadn’t wanted me to come home once my two years were up, but that’s impossible. At only seventeen, I still had another year before I could legally be out on my own.
Not that my parents were the kind of people who wanted to be rid of their children. I hoped.
I hefted my purse onto my lap and dug through the contents. It contained all the things a girl’s purse ought, cell phone, books, wallet, various lipsticks, chap sticks, and tampons. There were other odds and ends I’d stuffed in there over time. Receipts from my favorite ramen shop, clothing store receipts, gaming tickets, but I ignored them. They were useless here. I took out my wallet and looked over the cash I’d removed from my account.
Over time I’d noticed that small amounts of money were disappearing from my bank account. My parents and the school filled it once a month with enough money for me to buy the essentials and have a bit of fun throughout the school year, and most of the money I didn’t really need. So it started to add up. The host family I lived with had been the best an American transplant could ask for. But my last month of school I pulled out a large sum of money after noting small portions going missing. Money that I was pretty sure I’d need returning home. Days later someone drained the account. I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure who to accuse even if I had said something. So, I let it go.
I pulled out the cell phone, searched for an Uber and hesitated. I wasn’t sure how far Philadelphia International Airport was from Lower Gwynedd, but I had money for a good portion of the trip at least. So, I dialed the number and waited for someone to come pick me up. And then I waited. Sweat dripped down my back and beaded across my forehead. I’d already been seated in front of the airport for the last three hours, but I figured a few minutes more in the starting humidity of summer wouldn’t be a huge deal. So, I waited some more.
I wrung my hands together watching cars and trees zip past sitting in the back of an older Chevy Cavalier. The trip only lasted thirty some odd minutes. Far less than I’d expected. The house sat just off the road and the driver pulled around a curved driveway that formed a square in front of the entrance of the house. Only, it wasn’t a house. It was a mansion to say the least. I didn’t know what type of job my father had taken when they’d moved to Pennsylvania, only that he was offered the position a year before which caused the move.
I handed the driver his money and a tip using most of my remaining funds and turned to take in the manor in front of me. From a distance the house had a tan appearance in the late afternoon sun, but up close I could see the stones were varying shades of a rust color, tan, off-white, and soft gray. Four large columns that belonged more at the coliseum held up a gabled awning over steps leading to the front door.
It was massive, and I was struck with awe and an inability to move. I’d never seen anything so luxurious and grand in my entire life except for TV shows and movies. This was not a life for someone like me. This was the life of a trust fund heiress.
The driver unloaded my luggage, four almost black they were such a deep blue rectangular cases, and set them beside me on the asphalt that formed the square drop off. There were windows everywhere on the house. Large ornate windows rimmed with white trim. Around me everything was green. Like an alien world compared to the deserts of Arizona I’d grown up in. Trimmed bushes lined the exterior of the house and grass the shade of a bright emerald stretched toward the asphalt. Beyond the house were trees. Large trees that reached for the graying sky past the blue-gray roof with big leaves and I wondered if they would turn orange, red, and yellow in the fall. I tried to picture this house with brightly colored leaves bordering it and a chill in the air. It was too much, yet cozy at the same time.
Leaving my luggage where they sat, I made my way up the stairs. Cream colored stairs that formed a half circle like white water spreading from the landing. Curved white railing lined both sides made of a rot iron with twisted bars holding the rails up. I passed through the two middle columns and made my way to the heavy oak doors. There were two doors, tall enough to admit a giant, or a dinosaur. A half-circle of glass sat above the doors, too high up for anyone to see out of but big enough to let a fair amount of light into the building.
I swallowed looking at the looming doors. They seemed ominous, foreboding and I wondered if there was anyone inside to let me in. If someone had left a key beneath the mat the way Mom used to when we lived in a two-story house in Anthem. Of course, those were modest times. The times before I went away. I wasn’t sure what kind of people my family were now. Sure, I’d seen them off and on throughout the year. We’d had an unusually large amount of deaths in the family recently and my summer months I was able to come home, but I’d still spent my time in the house at Anthem.
This place was intimidating. Back home we lived comfortably in a smaller, more welcoming house. One with only four bedrooms and an office. Mom spent her time as a 911 Dispatcher and Dad was a technological genius. As a kid I never knew what exactly he made. Just that he invented things that made the world faster, smarter, run better. This was the type of place someone with a trust fund and legendary family wealth lived in. The type that belonged to heiresses and heirs that would inherit the family fortune after the death of their parents. A thrill of worry ran through me. My parents seemed the same on the phone and through emails, but were they so different that a house this size could be considered comfortable in their minds?
Beside the door was a button. A door chime. I pressed it and listened to the sound move through the house. An echo in the spacious building. Anticipation built in my chest and I swallowed. I didn’t fit in here with my jean shorts, tank top, and flip flops. I dressed the way I would have returning home to Arizona. Except Arizona had a dry heat. One that caused sweating but didn’t make you perspire through every layer of clothing you owned. It was a strange feeling being surrounded by so much water in the air. I already decided I wasn’t going to enjoy the summers outdoors here.
When no one came to the door, I pressed the button again and again the chime echoed throughout the house. Back home, my brother and sister could be heard shouting through the house as they ran down the stairs to be the first to open the door. Here, the building must have been so cavernous inside that I couldn’t hear any noise at all. A doormat sat out front with the words Welcome written across it. A small indication that my mother lived somewhere inside. At least that part of her remained the same.
I pushed back the corner of the mat, and then another. When I didn’t see anything sitting beneath it, I lifted the mat allowing the dust and other debris to shift into the air. I coughed and waved the puff of dust away before setting the mat back down. Nothing. Mom hadn’t left keys beneath the mat the way she used to back home. My chest constricted, and I was left with an overwhelming sense of fear. What if they hadn’t moved here? I had assumed they had since the packages were being returned to this address. When I sent them, Mom always sent me an email thanking me for the candies and whatever else I’d sent. So, I knew she way getting them. But what if they were back home in Arizona? What if I’d mistakenly assumed that they were here full time? Had they sold the Anthem house? I had no way of knowing. Mom didn’t tell me, and I’d been too wrapped up in my life in Nagoya to ask.
I dug my cell phone out of my purse and brought up Mom’s number. I pressed send and waited as the phone dialed. And then it rang.
When it went to her voicemail, I hung up and tried Dad’s phone. More ringing. I called the landline to our house in Arizona. Mom insisted on keeping one though most people relied on cellphones these days. She said it was smart to have a phone outside of a cellphone incase something happened to the cell towers, or whatever. She was always planning for the end of the world to happen.
The landline had been disconnected.
I slid the phone back into my purse and looked at the doors. Big doors. Heavy doors. Two round brass knobs sat side by side close to where both doors met. They weren’t ornate or grand by any means and held wear marks from years of use. Dark stains that looked like tarnish. Hands twisting the knobs over and over. I lifted my hand toward one of the knobs. My arm trembled. I didn’t know what to do after this. Neither of my grandparents were living. I’d used the remainder of my money on the plane trip out here and the Uber to the house. There wasn’t anywhere else for me to go. If I couldn’t get into this house, I would be homeless.
The knob felt surprisingly cool in the shade to my fingers. I let the sensation soak into my skin as I wrapped my hand around it. It twisted with ease, the mechanism making little noise as it pulled into its chamber. I gently pressed on the surface of the door knowing very well that the door may be locked, but it opened, the hinges creaking with annoyance. I wondered how often the front doors were used. Were they just to receive guests? Or did everyone come in through the front entrance? And why were the doors unlocked? Mom never left anything open. She had a fear of murderers and rapists like that.
A burst of cold air greeted me as the door swung open. I stopped the door before it could hit the wall behind it. This house made me want to be careful. To treat it like a museum, look but don’t touch. I closed my eyes letting the chilled breeze of the air conditioning soak into my skin and took a step inside. Tan and white tiles, only slightly variant in colors, stretched throughout the half circle room. The tiles met a gold painted wall and stairs that arched around the room and up into a second story landing. A table stood in the middle of the room made of deep cherry colored wood with a clawed foot base and a round glass top. A vase of lilies sat in the middle of the table, fresh not dead with enough water that I figured they must have been watered that morning. On each side of the stairs sat a chair, rounded and deep cushioned with gold armrests, joints that reminded me of balls, and wine-colored upholstery. I wanted to sit in the chairs. See how soft they were, but I didn’t. I was covered in sweat and dirt from sitting and watching cars all day and the chairs were too nice. Old, but pristine.
I soaked in the cool air a bit longer before turning back to the doors and my luggage. My bags weren’t particularly heavy, but heavy enough to be difficult for me to lift up the steps. By the time I’d managed to get all four bags inside, I was dripping with sweat again. I pushed the door closed behind me and leaned against the cool wood.
“Mom?” I shouted. My voice echoed around me, cold and alone. “Dad?”
When the sound of my voice stopped moving through the house, I paused waiting for a response. I wasn’t sure how many floors there were to this mansion. From this room I could see a single opening between the two sets of stairs and the landing on the second story. But the walls made it so that I couldn’t see what lived beyond the foyer. Foyer? Is that what a receiving room in a house this size was called? I had no idea. No one I knew lived in houses that looked like this. I wasn’t even sure mansions existed in Northern Arizona.
After waiting for a sufficient amount of time, my stomach growled. I’d had very little to eat before my flight. My plane left early in the morning, well before the sun was up and breakfast was the last thing on my mind. I’d wanted more sleep. On the plane I’d eaten small packages of cookies that the stewardess gave me out of pity. When I’d landed, I’d assumed that I would be picked up and taken to a grand welcome home dinner and would stuff my face until I couldn’t eat any more, but none of those things happened.
I pursed my lips gathering the impression that ghosts probably lived here, and people were watching me through creepy peepholes in the walls and monsters lived in the basement of a building this old, but I shook off the feeling. I knew none of those things were real. But the house was so empty, my feet making too much noise as my flipflops slapped the tile, and there was too much silence for my taste. I wanted to turn on a TV somewhere or blare music throughout the house, but I didn’t know where to find those devices.
To my right sat an open archway to a formal dining area painted the same wine color as the chairs. The end of a dark wood table peaked into the archway, the wood frame of the dining chair matching the same dark wood with wine colored upholstery a slightly lighter shade than the walls.
To my left sat what must be some sort of sitting room. A table sat between two chairs a crystal decanter half filled with amber colored liquid and two matching glasses rested on the gleaming surface of the table beside a black leather bound journal. Neither of these rooms were appealing to me. They didn’t strike me as the types of rooms that would house food, a shower, or a bed. All three of which I was in desperate need of at the moment.
Ahead of me opened another archway. Comfy chairs and a couch sat in the middle of the room and I made my way in that direction. The floors transitioned from the sandy colored tile to a hardwood flooring in a geometric triangular patter of light and dark woods. I made my way into the room eyeing a large crystal chandelier hanging from the foyer as I went.
The living area looked like a living room, but formal. Too formal for a family to live in. A white, almost silver rug sat in the middle of the room in front of a fireplace beneath a deep brown leather couch. End tables in dark wood with a lighter wood circular top rimmed in gold sat on either side of the couch with candelabras and long tapirs sitting on each. It faced the fireplace, the white mantle so clean that I was positive it would make it through a white glove inspection first try. Urns sat on both ends of the mantle, but I wasn’t sure if they were filled with ash or not and whose they were. I didn’t want to know either. A large mirror lined the wall above the mantle reaching up to the ceiling. For the first time I caught sight of my disheveled appearance.
My nearly black hair hung out of its ponytail, most of it still held by the rubber band, but some of it pulled out forming what looked like a hairy bubble near my left ear. The rest hung over my shoulder and down toward my waist. I pulled out the ponytail and let my hair fall freely around my shoulders eyeing the crease with disdain.
I hadn’t worn much makeup, definitely not any eyeliner for the plane ride. It had been too early in the morning and I’d known that I would be sleeping on the plane. It didn’t seem smart to wear makeup that would smear and rub off throughout the day. But what little makeup I had worn had smeared during sleep anyway leaving puddles of black in the corners of my eyes. I turned away from the mirror and rolled my eyes. I wanted a shower.
Behind the first sofa sat two more loveseats sitting across from each other. They rested on their own rug, this one a midnight blue with pink flowers spread across the surface. An oval shaped table with a deep brown leather journal rested between the loveseats, the one to my left facing a large window allowing for a view of the side yard, the one to the right facing an archway leading into another dining room. Across from the first sofa sat a bookshelf built into the wall. The type that reached up to the ceiling but held more plants and knickknacks than books on its shelves.
I turned away from the French doors that lead onto the patio and into the second dining room. It was smaller than the first and a paler shade of the same wine color. There wasn’t nearly the ornamentation of the first room, but that may have been because the room hadn’t held my attention. In front of me sat the entrance to the kitchen and my stomach rumbled with delight.