The air was thick as it choked around Alice’s neck, creeping its way up her spine until the heat flushed her cheeks making her entire body feel as if she was being stifled with a hot towel. She was returning from her recent getaway to the mountains; now that she had come back, the once warm and soft Florida air now felt sticky and smothering. It’s odd how much this town had changed and yet everything was completely unaltered. The sky was dim but clear as the grey horizon signaled that it was now dusk. Walking home from the bus stop, the trees that lined the streets now looked like black blobs looming in the darkness; the crickets chirped unseen as if counting down the time she had left. Just a few more minutes now, patience patience. The wind leaped from between the leafy branches crying out, mocking her, laughing. And all at once, as if in a dream, it stood in front of her. What once would have looked like a courtly white estate had now grown ashy from age and neglect. Dismembered blue shingles hung lazily from the roof of the two story dwelling, while the formerly welcoming oak doors were now sealed shut damning Alice’s ghost to ever roam the barren hallways. The door handles had rusted while the few windows that were still intact were permanently clouded over. The house looked more peaceful then ever under the ominous looking sky, the skeleton of a black fence stood crookedly outlining the boarders of the house, while thin ivy strangled the gutters. Alice did not know why she had had to come back to this place. There was a wickedness here that had been melded into the walls of the ancient manor. The shrieks from the rope suddenly filled Alice’s ears as if it was being pulled too tight. Perhaps bearing a weight that was too much for it to hold. It was not as if Alice had chosen this life style, ever since she was a kid she had been able to hear a man, see him; stalking around the house at night, his bright eyes peering at her through the mirrors. She could see him now sitting on the glossy black piano bench downstairs or leaning under the shadow of the mahogany spiral stairs This house was like her drug, it did not do her any good but she always had to come back, especially at times when she felt lost or alone. Being around the house always make Alice feel as though someone was there with her. Standing at the bottom of the hill looking up at it Alice felt an eerie calm wash over her, as if it was against her will, a false sense of security. She was paralyzed standing there. Alice wanted to move closer, or maybe she wanted to move away. She wasn’t certain, but either way it felt as though two massive hands were pushing down on her shoulders almost crushing her into the broken concrete ground. All too soon a screech erupted from somewhere behind Alice, breaking the enchantment the manor had cast over her and throwing her out of the dreamy trance. All at once thoughts came rushing back into her head telling her it was time to leave. Alice could not shake the thought that someone was watching her, hiding just out of view in the corners of the massive house. Putting it in the back of her head, she turned and briskly walked back up the street cursing herself for staying so long this time. So discreetly the man Alice had seen in her mirror all those years ago stepped out from his hiding spot. Before turning the corner Alice unknowingly took her final look back at the white estate. A moment later a bird perched on a desolate tree rising to the second story window, heard the scream of a young woman who had just taken her last breath as it fluttered onto the shoulder of its bright-eyed master.