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Failing Inspection

Flipping the folder open; the first thing she looked at was the small photo of a black and white house. Adol gave a little sigh as she picked it up and took a closer look. Two stories, four bedrooms and a small backyard. It was run down and had chipped paint from the looks of it. Rubbing her temples, she placed the picture down and picked up the report. Adol’s job was to go in and inspect the building to see what needed to be done to make it livable again. It was common for people to buy, flip, and sell old houses that were abandoned. Being an agent who travelled across the states, it was an excellent opportunity to see unique and out-of-fashion models of homes that were built throughout the ages.

She didn’t mind the work and loved what she did; the only thing she despised was the flights. Just as she finished reading the reports of the owners who bought it, the plane hit a hard patch of turbulence. The lights flickered as the captain announced the strong winds and that it will be over shortly. Adol nearly dropped the file as she clung to the arms of the chair near the aisle. Closing her eyes, she prayed internally, hoping the measly bolted chair would give protection. The plane dipped drastically and caused tremors before stabilizing out again. Taking a few minutes, Adol eventually let out her breath, not realizing she had been holding it for some time. Grabbing the bottled water she had beside her, she downed the whole thing and gasped after the final drop.

Calming down her breath, she stared at the back of the headrest in front of her. Why on earth people thought it was a good idea to pay to climb inside a flying metal death trap was beyond her. Not that cars or trains were any better, she tried not to let her technological phobia get in the way of her work. Letting go of the chair arms, she reached for the file that badly flopped from the small little table to the floor. Collecting it together, she looked once more at the old photo. Things she loved about looking at buildings were the simplicity that they had. They were sturdy and dependable, being that they were made of mostly wood or bricks. They don’t break down the way a car or cellphone would, and repair them if one faulty piece failed. No, instead, they still stand even when one room is out of order, and the only real flaw was if the electrical wiring set the house on fire. The only piece of technology she kept around her was a pager. She couldn’t be bothered to carry a cellphone since they died so quickly or you would lose reception, rendering it useless anyway. The problem with the world was that they relied too heavily on technology to carry us day by day.

Even though she was in her twenties, this deep-rooted belief probably came from her grandma. She smiled a little at the memory of her and how she would constantly yell at the phone when it cut off or at the computer when she couldn’t log into it. Her grandma spent hours telling her as a little girl how important it was never to trust it, that it was going to rule the world over man someday. Adol chuckled as she filed the photo away once more, placing the file back into her briefcase. With a small pat, she leaned back to close her eyes once more before they would land. Thoughts of her grandma put her to ease as she drifted to sleep.

*****

Pulling up in her rental car, Adol let out a small whistle. The shape of the house was in worse condition than the photo revealed. Turning off the car, she pocketed them and reached for her briefcase. Getting out of the car, she slung the straps over her shoulder and strolled up the driveway. Taking mental notes of the chipped paint, plants growing out of the rain catchers and decaying planks of wood around the window ledges, Adol took in a deep breath. Her work was more than cut out for her as she reached into the briefcase and pulled out a checklist. Walking along the side of the house, she checked off several boxes. With a tsk, she looked around the base of the house and wrote a note at the bottom of the page.

“Erosion of dirt around the house that exposed the foundation of the building was a big problem for the future. Recommend releveling dirt.” She clicked the pen and scanned the rest of the house before moving around to the back.

The backyard was in worse of a state than the front. It was overgrown, and the fence had rotted away. She had reckoned that it was already in bad shape before the place was abandoned. Frantic scribbles, she continued to note things when she looked at the base again. Crouching, she noted the ground level was much higher and where it should have been. Looking at the small steps up to the background and the state of the backyard, she shrugged it off. It could have been the cause of storms and wind that came from the north side of the building. Years of constant wind blowing down along the side could have affected the soil. She glanced once more around the side as she walked back up to the front. There were several trees near the path, and the grass had been visibly worn down or even patchy. Stopping, she knelt down and noticed a slight dip. If she had not done this as a professional for years, she would almost not have noticed the subtle difference. Standing up, Adol raised her eyebrows and frowned. Not her problem; she was just here to take notes and pass them along to her employer.

If she had been the one to look at this house, she knew it was going to be a costly fix even before walking inside. She walked up the steps of the front porch and looked under the mat. She had arranged with the owners ahead of time and knew that they were not going to be available at the time she was to arrive. This was preferred in her books since it meant she could work uninterrupted. Nothing irritated her more than owners asking persistent questions while she was evaluating the house before she could submit the report. Liability stopped her from being able to comment on anything until the job was finished. Sticking the lock-in, she struggled a little as it was sticking. With a hard tug, the door budged and flung open, almost knocking to her backside. With a tsk, she clicked her pen and wrote down the notes, speaking them out as she did.

“House shift may have affected door frame.”

Clicking the pen again, she stuck it to the top of the clipboard and entered the house. The smell of dust and rot was strong as she looked around the front entrance. Even though the owners said they had cleaned most of the rooms out in case of spiderwebs and possible mouse turds, the smell still lingered. Adol looked at the stairs just in front of her and to the door immediately to her left. Taking a few steps into the echoey house, she saw the hall just to the left of the staircase that led to what looked like the kitchen. Shoving the clipboard under her arm, she pulled off the file from her briefcase. The layout of the house was in the back of the notes as she pulled it out and clipped it to the board, placing the file back inside again. Even though she studied it several times, she still wanted to keep it out. Upstairs were the three bedrooms, the living room was to her left, and the kitchen was at the end of the hall. The forth room was to the left of the kitchen in the far back.

Turning around, she closed the door and placed the key on a small table near the steps as she ascended up them. Starting top to bottom, she reached the top step and examined the floorboards carefully. They were creaky but seemed to be in good condition, least enough not to send her plummeting to the ground floor. Scanning the roof, she found the access hatch to the attic. Upon request, the owners did leave a small latter for her to reach the small hole to have a look. Opening the latter, she managed to reach the small hatch and popped it open, taking a quick glance around. Spotting several issues, she waited till she closed the hatch and stepped down before clicking her pen.

“Leaky roof, replace. Insulation needs replacement. Smell of mild mould.” Finding checkboxes, she whispered “Check” each one she marked.

Routinely she went to each room, numbering them one through three from farthest from the stairs to closest. They seemed fine until she reached the third room, where the roof leak was obvious as the wall damage showed against the wall. Using her pen, she dug it into the stain as it crumbled the drywall beneath the paint. With a frown, she wiped the pen off before making a note of the damage, moving out of the room as she did. With the top floor complete, she made her way back down. Just as her foot tapped the floor in the front entrance, the sound of her pager had gone off. Clicking her pen, she clipped it on top of the clipboard, then placed them both on the table. She opened her briefcase in search of the pager and pulled it out to look at the message as it flashed across the small screen.

“IMPORTANT. CALL OFFICE.”

Adol scoffed. Did she need to stop and take this when she was already close to finishing? It would mean she would have to drive back into town and call from a payphone or at the hotel she was staying at for the night. Being that it had already been a long day with the plane ride, she sighed heavily as she looked back at the clipboard. It would be a waste to stop now and leave. It would require coming back tomorrow and risking missing the flight to return home in the afternoon. The house wasn’t far from town, but it would still be a hassle. Adol decided to shove the pager back into her bag, turning to pick up the clipboard again. A loud crash made her jump as she looked towards the closed door in front of her. She waited a moment before taking a few steps towards the door, grabbing inside the briefcase once more to pull out a flashlight. There was still daylight leaking in from the windows all around, but just in case it didn’t have as much lighting, she wanted that extra security. She flicked it on before turning the knob and pushing the door inward. The room was wider than she expected as she looked around to see where the noise had come from. A few items were still in the room from the original owners as she saw an old lamp, a small coffee table, and in the far back corner a painting laying flat on the floor.

Taking a deep breath in, she relaxed a little as she guessed the noise was from the picture falling over. Walking over, she scanned the floor and walls to see what evidence had contributed to knocking it over. The frame looked large and heavy as she kneeled down to lift it up. Straightening it up and leaning it against the wall, she saw that the frame was an antique. Plaster carved swirls and flowers embroidered the picture of what looked like to be a painting of an old family. Adol took a step back to admire it with awe and quickly to find what looked like a now dead mouse at the bottom of the frame. With a grunt of disgust, she turned away from the flattened body. The mouse had been smooshed against the floor and picture frame. It wasn’t a surprise to see that mice have taken up home in an old building like this. Looking around the floor again, she looked to see if he had friends when the flashlight flickered off.

Scoffing, Adol hit the side of the flashlight to bump the battery, turning it back on again. The untrusted flashlight of hers always seemed to die quickly, and each time she forgot to replace it.

“Oh well. It’s the best I have for now.”

While in the room, she did a quick inspection taking a mental note of all the things to mark down on her clipboard. She turned the light off as she returned back to the front foyer, placing it in the briefcase. She placed her hands on her hips as she looked down at the clipboard, wondering how the owners were going to afford to fix this property up when she noticed something odd. The clipboard sat where she left it alone on the table, her pen missing. She picked the clipboard up and looked around the floor for the missing pen, checking the table once more to see it empty. Scratching her head, she patted her pockets to see if maybe she had placed it in her pocket.

“Odd,” she thought, “I was sure I placed it on the clipboard.”

Taking her briefcase off her shoulder, she placed it on top of the table to look for another pen. A gnawing thought tickled the back of her brain as she felt as if she forgot something while she searched her bag for a pen. Eventually finding one, she cheered for herself as she clicked it. Turning back to the clipboard again, she jotted the notes down from the living room before she forgot. Feeling a small victory, she smiled at her efficiency as she decided to leave the bag for the last two rooms. Pulling out the flashlight, she placed it in her back pocket before walking down the hall. Scanning the roof and the baseboards, she felt a sudden shiver down her spine. Turning around, she looked back at the door to see nothing. Adol chuckled out loud as she turned back towards the kitchen.

“Man, I am getting jumpy. Silly mice, getting me all scared.” Convincing herself, she pretended not to feel like the shiver was from being watched. Old buildings always gave off creepy vibes, and she wasn’t going to let it interfere with her work. Superstitions were a waste of time and not to be believed, for she had seen many abandoned buildings and never believed in ghosts. She inspected the kitchen, finding a few issues and turned to look at the small opening around the door to the last bedroom. She noticed it extended a little further out past the kitchen and that the floor did seem newer, just past the line of where it extended. Was this an addition later to the house? It might have explained the dip in the soil outside. She didn’t look far enough into the backyard to have noticed that the kitchen was shorter. Adding this note to her clipboard, she felt a small chill as a breeze grazed her arm.

Adol shot her head up towards the back door. “Wait, a breeze?”

She turned around to look at the front door as well and saw that it was still shut. From how much time she spent in the front entrance, if there were a breeze, she would have noticed that right away. She walked over to the back door and felt around the edges. Nothing seemed to seep in from the outside, and as she checked the knob of the door, it was sealed tight. This definitely was a new addition to the original house as it was newer than the front door and had a slightly different design. Adol checked the blueprints of the house design again. Something about this wasn’t adding up. In the original files she read on the plane, nothing was mentioned about any updates made to the house. So either the blueprints were wrong, or the original owners made illegal changes to the house without a permit. The room was part of the floor plan as she turned to open the last room. Pulling out her flashlight, she scanned the roof, floor and walls to check the age. The roof was still part of the original look, but the floor was definitely newer. She turned to look out the window that gave a view of the overgrown yard.

“I’ll have to report this for sure. They might need to double-check the wiring…” A faint sound came from outside the bedroom. Adol paused and listened as she heard faint footsteps walking. Turning around, she walked back out into the kitchen and to the hall. Maybe the owners were able to make it? Was that what her boss wanted to let her know? She looked at the front door and was met once again with an empty house. Looking all around her, Adol tried to calm herself down. Footsteps, loud crashes, her missing pen; things weren’t adding up. Was she actually alone, or was someone playing a trick on her? Maybe she should just take her things and lock up the house and… All of a sudden, it dawned on her.

“The keys.”

When she was in the front after inspecting the upstairs, she could have sworn she left the keys on the small table. She remembered when her pen was missing that the only thing left was her clipboard. Tapping her pockets, she felt that they were empty.

Adol was determined as she took several steps towards the front door. She was going to check the table for the house keys when she felt the breeze again; this time, it was stronger. The light from outside was dimming as she knew it was well getting into the evening. She needed to leave soon and had been here much longer than needed. Worse off, the owners had no power in the building yet since they needed her approval first. Cursing under her breath, she knew that this might be a big problem that she needed to add to her notes. Leaking roofs and mild mould are easy fixes, but a draft in the middle of the house? That would not look good on her if she missed any details like this one. Using her flashlight, she ran her hand along the walls against the stairs. Maybe there was a gap from when they added the wall under the stairs. It was strange that there wouldn’t be a storage space placed here since it was common to have one under the staircases.

A small thought came to mind as she questioned it. Maybe since there were already alterations to the house that aren’t on the blueprint, that they might have done a poor job of covering the old closet. The wall was made of a wood-like panel that ran from the front to the kitchen entrance. As Adol checked it closely, she found what looked like a small opening. Her hand hovered over it as a confirming breeze pushed against her hand. She traced along the crack and found a small hole near the top that allowed her to grab the inner ledge. With her fast-beating heart, she pulled open a small door that blended perfectly with the wall. As it opened fully, Adol was greeted with an old web-covered entrance that led downstairs by brittle-looking stairs. Her mouth was agape as she looked at her clipboard with shaky hands.

“A hidden basement. They managed to hide a hidden basement this whole time.”

This was an amazing discovery. Never had she ever found something as wondrous as a hidden passageway or room like this. Adol stood in the hall conflicted as she swallowed hard. The smell suddenly arising from the breeze, almost made her gag. It was the same smell from when she first entered, yet there was something dark and damp along with it. She could hardly dispel the idea of dead animals that had been trapped down there and died, maybe even rot, as the stairs looked barely sturdy. This new dilemma now posed a serious question. Should she inspect it or just call it a night and let the owners know in the morning? The light had now just passed the horizon as twilight had dimmed in the halls. The only source of light now the one in her hand. With one final glance at the clipboard with her flashlight, she looked down the stairs with a stern look.

“It’s my job to do a complete check. I can’t back out now.”

Even with every fibre in her being telling her to leave, Adol pressed, stepping down into the small entrance. The air of the small space was damp and awful as she covered her mouth with the clipboard as a guard. With small, timid steps on the creaky steps, she made her way slowly down into the pitch black. The walls were made of cement; moss had grown thick along the sides further down into the hole as she descended. Just as she made the last few steps, she slipped and fell forward into the ground, dropping both the clipboard and flashlight. Expecting a hard floor, she was surprised as she landed in soft soil. In a scramble, she reached for the flashlight as it started to flicker. Adol’s breath was laboured as she slammed her hand into the light to get a steady beam. Dust from the soil flew around her as she clung to the only thing giving her sanity. Forcibly she calmed her breathing and looked around. The whole room was much shorter than it should be for a standard basement. The walls were dirty and covered as she glanced over it quickly, not getting a good look at what it was before seeing a wooden pole sticking out of the dirt. Focusing on the pole, she ascertained it to be a handle to a shovel as she stood up.

Almost hitting her head on the low-hanging ceiling, she walked over to the shovel. With her free hand, she grabbed it and pulled it out to look at the other end of it, only to yelp in terror. The tip of the tool was covered in dirt, blood and what looked like fresh guts. Before Adol could think, a sudden slam came from the top of the stairs as the door was closed shut. Dropping the shovel, she backed up towards the far wall in terror, just as her flashlight started to flicker once more. In a desperate panic, she slammed her hand against the flashlight to no avail as the light shut off. In the pitch-black silence, all she could hear was the clicking of her pen. Adol screamed.



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