Most of the time, Tate watched the changing seasons through the attic window, occasionally rolling the ball across the lumpy floor towards Beau when he was feeling charitable, at least until the slither of chains and his childlike huffs and gurgles got too much, and then he’d simply put himself on the floor and curl a little around his knees, facing the wall until he felt able to move again.
He knew that.
As a child, and later through his teens, the toxic mix of his mothers hand and the house, this house, had moulded him into something monster like. How many others had been forced to live with voices day after day, to watch the house's inhabitants play out their lives in front of him when no one else could see it.
The house had broken full grown men in mere days, and it had slipped into the child Tate’s head and dug in until the only thing that would quiet it was a line or two of coke, a few slugs of Jack, but even then it was temporary.
It’s no way to live, It’s no way to live… I gotta make it better, I gotta make it so no one has to come here and stay… and… fuck …
He’d whispered and groaned to himself while gathering his arsenal, planning to save them, although who they were was never very clear, the only clear thing in his head was that he had to get back home after, he had to get back to his room, and wait for death to follow him up the sweeping stairs.
After, when he realized the house had kept him, he’d been little more than a suggestion of energy, all pent up rage, and sorrow that exploded violently and bloodily.
But then Violet came.
The frantic black twisting center of his soul had shifted, slowed, lessened his grip, like she was slowly pulling a trapped bug from the silky stickiness of a web, by degrees it felt like the insides of his ribs became clean, his spine free’d up, the last painful wrench around his heart as it shrank back as far as it could.
Only, in the end, she didn’t want him.
He did everything for her, he angered the house for her, but he was too tainted by his actions from before.
He could have been angry, he could have hated her, even when she suggested it might be ok, that she might forgive him, simply to let the kid escape before drawing away from him for good, he couldn’t be angry. Not with her.
Never with her.
Instead, he watched, he waited.
He saw her when her guard was down, when she wasn’t actively hiding, he saw her with her family and envied what she had.
A Mom and Dad, her baby brother.
“Perpetual fucking Hallmark movie.” Hayden sneered when she caught him watching, but he only ignored her, left her to skulk off and find alternative fun.
He was no fun for her, stoic and silent for the most part.
Although Violet refused to entertain the fact that he cared, although she, for the most part, kept herself hidden from him, refused to acknowledge his very existence, it didn’t stop him looking out for her, didn’t stop him helping her run potential buyers out before they fell prey to the house's charms.
He scared them stupid, but never harmed anyone again, and maybe she saw that, maybe she didn’t, in a way it didn’t matter, what mattered was he helped, and he liked that it made him feel a little cleaner every time.
They dug up the yard first, finding the remains of Moira and Hayden, who both vanished the moment their bones left in the back of the coroner's van.
The house became uneasy.
He had to work hard to stop it from killing the men and women who moved through it, marking areas with spray paint and tape, because in the en, it wasn’t their fault, they were just doing their job, they weren’t to know what would happen.
While the house was demolished he sat in the crawl space under the basement, his hand pushed into the bleached bones of Violets, curling his fingers around the hard smooth knobs of her knuckles and joints, thinking that he could take this comfort at least, from the Violet who had once lived and maybe loved him.
The house was leveled, leaving a parking lot in it’s place, a rest stop, a small playground to the side where the garden had once stood. During the day parents would pull over on their way in or out of the city to grab a McDonalds or Wendys, let the kids play on the dusty swing set while they ate on the graffiti covered benches.
He liked to watch them, the families, how they interacted with each other, a hug or kiss or momentary reprimand for some minor misdemeanor, he liked it all.
He envied them.
Sometimes he thought he caught a glimpse of Beau playing behind the dumpsters, but then he’d convince himself it was only a trick of the light, or a raccoon.
His brother was gone.
He was alone.
He was lonely.
He wondered why the house had seen fit to make him stay when it had let everyone else go.
Every Halloween he wandered the neighbouring streets, watching the kids running up and down the side walks hand in hand, dressed up traditionally for the most part, witches and devils and ghosts, some cartoon character he’d never seen before sometimes, clutching their buckets of candy tight while bored parents trailed after them, heads down as they watched their phones instead of their kids and he wanted to grab their shoulders and yell in their faces, Don’t you see what you’re missing? Don’t you see how fleeting it all is?
But he never did.
The MacDonalds closed, they boarded it up and took down the signs, grass grew through the cracks in the parking lot and no one drove in anymore.
Tate sat on the swing, pushing himself back and forth with his feet, the chain creaking painfully, his sneakers making deep indentations in the dirt under them.
He didn’t bother to leave on Halloween anymore, didn’t see the point.
Maybe he’d just fade away one day, wink out of existence like a snuffed flame, like he’d never even been there at all.
Even now, after all this time, her voice was enough to make him shiver, like someone was running an ice cube along hot skin.
He risked looking up, and saw her stood in front of him.
Decades had passed but she was still seventeen, but then, so was he, only there was a oldness in her eyes he didn’t remember, a knowing slant to her mouth.
For a moment he couldn’t say anything, then he slowly stood up, brushing down the front of his pants before letting one hand creep across his opposite arm, slowly running it up and down, a nervous tic he’d never got rid of.
“But everyone else is gone? I thought… I thought you would be too.”
She shrugged, raising her own hand to smooth her hair where it lay in a section over her shoulder.
“Guess I wasn’t ready to move on just yet.”
He just stared at her, his heart aching, wanting to reach out and touch her, just touch her, even if it was only once, so he could say he’d touched her one last time, so he could press his fingertips to his mouth and nose and close his eyes and pretend she’d touched him too.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered finally. “I did so many terrible things…. I hurt so many people… I hurt you… I’m so sorry.”
“I know.” She whispered back, and this time, he wasn’t full of childish anger and sorrow, he wasn’t demanding that she fix him and love him, he wasn’t weeping at the unfairness of it all, he was simply sorry, and it was all she’d been waiting for.
Stepping forwards she put her arms around him, felt him envelope her in his as he pushed his nose into the crook of her neck, and she told him how she’d watched too.
How she’d seen him quieten and put his anger down like a box he’d been forced to carry his whole life, how she‘d watched him make choices, to help, to look out for others without gain, how he’d ignored the goading of other housemates to simply pick up where he’d left off, to join them in an orgy of death and blood and sex.
She’d changed too.
She wasn’t afraid, she wasn’t the girl who hid or ran to give her problems the slip.
She watched and she learned and she grew softer with wisdom, and saw what he could have been, away from the house, away from Constance.
Who he could have been.
Who he was now.
When she pulled back from his embrace, she smiled at him, then reached up to kiss him softly, his breath still tasting like the cigarettes he hadn’t been able to touch for decades, it was simply a part of him, like the minty gum taste that stayed on her tongue as well.
“Please don’t go again.” He breathed against her lips, tightening his arms around her, and she shook her head, kissing him again.
“You waited forever… I’m not going anywhere.”
Along Westchester Place, there’s a parking lot, flanked with elderly palms in what used to be a residential area, but now houses nothing but stip malls and take out resturants.
There’s a boarded up McDonald's and a little further down a Wendy's that’s only weeks away from meeting the same fate, and at the back of the lot is a playpark, long abandoned, because no sensible parent would let their child walk miles into an industrial area and scale the high chain link fence the contractors had put around it to stop thieves from stealing the copper piping under the buildings.
Sometimes someone driving past might see a boy and a girl hanging out on the swings together, or sat in the middle of the roundabout, their arms around each other laughing as the ride slowly spun them in the dark.
Or they might see them on one of the benches, slowly kissing in that way kids do when they’re so into each other nothing else in the world matters.
And maybe it doesn’t.
The world doesn’t matter at all.