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The House Across The Way

On any other day, at any other time in the last twenty-seven years, Hoorwod Crescent was a horse-shoe ring of 20 houses that edged onto a small park. On this particular Thursday morning when George Butler laced up his shoes, put on his long coat and stepped out into the mist there was something different about that horse-shoe crescent. As he walked out toward the park, he noticed a building through the haze. A building where there hadn’t been one previously. At least, he was sure that it hadn’t been there yesterday when he got home. A house certainly wasn’t the sort of thing that could be thrown up overnight, without any warning or disturbance. And so it was quite remarkable that, as George stood staring up at the building in the fog, he couldn’t recall ever noticing its construction.

George’s surprise was such that he never made it to work that day. The apparition rumbled in the back of his mind as he ambled towards his office. So much so, in fact, that he circled back to find himself where he had started. The fog had cleared now and the house seemed somewhat familiar as he stood staring up at it. Birds chirped in the trees, families walked with their children through the park, and an autumn wind swept up leaves only to quickly drop them again without warning. To begin with, the lack of concern from passers-by made George Butler worry for his sanity. Did nobody else realise that this house had appeared overnight? Then people began to gather on all sides of the house. Dogs on leashes whined, babies cried, and disgruntled neighbours murmured and muttered. Many pointed at him because he had been standing, completely lost, in front of the house for several hours. Had he done this? Was this a practical joke of magnificent proportions? Nobody had stepped out to claim the building but, at the same time, it seemed that nobody had been brave enough to raise the brass knocker on the door and summon the tenants. It dawned on George that someone might be living inside. After all, there was a light on upstairs and there were ornaments on the right-hand windowsill. He put down his briefcase. Quite a crowd had amassed and the babble of speculation died down has George walked through the gate and up the steps to the front door. He turned and looked at all the people. Just the rustle of leaves as blank and bewildered faces stared back at him. Thud. Thud. Thud. The brass knocker was laid to rest as he waited for a response. George listened intently for any movement inside the house but heard nothing. It was at this moment, as the on-lookers’ conversation returned, that he noticed something particularly peculiar. George Butler had lived at his comfortable and fairly modern house on Hoorwood Crescent for the last eight years. He remembered receiving his first letter to this address and reading the front of that letter aloud.

“Mr. G. Butler. Number 17, Hoorwood Crescent, Chislehurst, Kent. BR7 6AH.” Nothing had filled him with more pride.

Now, he stood stunned, staring at the faded numbers on the front of this phantom house. Not for the first time today, he wondered whether he was losing his mind. It seemed that in some bizarre way, this house was directly linked to his own. On the front of the door, in the same brass-gold as the knocker, was the number seventeen.

Throughout the afternoon, George suffered a number of unwelcome visitors. Of course, you should be aware that none of these visitors were made to feel unwelcome, it’s just that George was the sort of man that liked to ponder an issue of these proportions in private. The first was a rather disgruntled groundsman who George had met several times over the last eight years. He wanted to know just what the hell George was playing at constructing a house in the park like that without letting anybody know. The very least he could have done was let someone from the council know. What would his colleagues from the office think when they heard about this? And George barely had the chance to invite him inside before he was huffing and spluttering back towards the park. The second (and third, if you’re going to be pedantic about it) were a wife and husband that lived at number four, across the Crescent. He didn’t say anything, just stood there with his arms crossed looking vaguely fed up. She was full of questions. What on earth has gotten into you, building another number seventeen in the park? What gives you the right? It’s people like you that got us into that mess with Germany a few years back. At this point she looked particularly morose, but perked up when George bought them both a cup of tea. This time, he apologised profusely and tried to assure her that he was nothing like the men she was talking about. They made their way back home after some small talk about the curiousness of the other house. The final visitor was just the postman, enquiring as to whether George wanted his post delivered to the new number seventeen or the old one. Though George was tempted to kick him off his doorstep, he just sighed and asked that nothing change for now, thank you.

George Butler returned to work the next day as if nothing had changed. People greeted him as normal, and to his relief he was more than capable of getting to work without bizarrely appearing back outside the house in the park. Over the course of the week, whenever he wasn’t at work, he attempted to investigate. He came to realise that not only did this building share his house’s number, it appeared to be completely identical. The same ornaments on the window sill, matching scuffs on the front door. He couldn’t get his key in the lock and he couldn’t smash any of the windows, but as far as he could tell this was a replica of his home.

Resolving to just do nothing, George ignored the house and people just stopped asking about it. Unfortunately, it still bothered the groundsman, who spread word in the right circles and saw to it that George lost his job. Though George was adamant the building was nothing to do with him, many people believed he had simply lost his mind.

For many, I suspect, this ending isn’t enough. George Butler could get another job, or sell his property on Hoorwood Crescent and move away, I hear you say. That may be, but I’m afraid I’m not in the business of fabricating stories. George Butler became a recluse. He hid away in the original number seventeen and nobody really ever heard from him again. It was only when I went to visit him over a year later that people realised he had gone. I had let myself into his house and there was no sign of him. Disappointed, I had turned and left by way of the house in the park that had haunted him so. Perhaps he had moved here instead? I knocked and tried the handle, to no avail. It was as if the place was sealed shut. Before I gave up and headed back to the station I pressed my face against the window and peered inside the house one last time. To this day I could swear I saw him standing there, frozen inside his phantom house. But you and I both know that's not possible.

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