An old house, covered in vines

Short Story Challenge Week 13: Oak House

Writing can be challenging, but it can also be a lot of fun at a creative level. That’s absolutely the case for this week’s short story.

So, there’s nobody making me write these but me, and in any given week that can mean that I’m jotting down ideas (either on keyboard or the back of my mind) early in the week, while other weeks it’s been a genuine Sunday scramble to meet my self-imposed, slightly silly deadline.

That’s somewhat been the case this week, but then it’s been a very busy one for a variety of dull, mostly work-related reasons.

It’s sometimes said that the best stories come about when the author lets the characters dictate the narrative, and that’s precisely what’s happened here. I sat down with an incredibly loose idea, mostly built around a mind’s eye picture of an old house, dropped a character in there, and let her tell the story.

I rather like it. I hope you do too.

Oak House

An old house, covered in vines

The house stood, as it had long done, down the end of the winding, rocky path.

The drive up had been a bumpy one along the muddy, rutted path.

Finally after numerous spine-rattling minutes, with a turn of a steering wheel and the towering oaks sliding out of view, the house could be seen.

Vines trailled down from the roof — or were they ones that had grown up from the ground?

Sally couldn’t be sure, but either way, they had wound their way over most of the windows, and seemingly through a few of them.

From underneath massively overgrown greenery she could just make out the remnants of a few terracotta pots whose inhabitants had long since outgrown their confines.

Sally swung the car door open, wincing with the grating noise of metal on metal as she did so.

There was just no money for a new car, and wouldn’t be for a while, she figured, so while it wasn’t classy to get around in dad’s old jeep that was more rust than metal, it would have to do.

It had at least managed that hellacious driveway without breaking down.

Getting out of the car, Sally started to think about the times she’d been here before.

Once, she thought, when she was a very little girl, back when the professor had owned it.

He never seemed to have a name, or at least one that was told to a little girl. He was just “the professor”, and Oak House was his grand and magical home.

It had all seemed so much bigger, so much more magical back then, its long windows glistening with lights from within while she had played out in the garden.

It was just after her birthday, and she had been given a special bag of shiny marbles that were her constant companion at the time.

The garden was an ideal place for marbles, she remembered with a smile.

So many pots to flick them around, little hollows for them to roll into, and even a few lizards to cheekily scare away with a shiny rolling projectile.

There was a water tower at the back of the house that had seemed to climb up into the clouds to young Sally back then.

No sign of it now.

Had it been torn down?

Had it collapsed?

She walked around the right side of the house to check.

Thick brambles and branches lay across the back garden, with greenery winding up the obviously rotting base posts of the water tower, but there was no actual tower to be seen. Sally was just thankful it hadn’t crashed into the house.

She remembered at the end of the night that she had sat quite still for a few minutes, just counting the marbles to make sure she hadn’t left any behind, before realising that one was missing.

She had howled all the way home, and Dad was not happy.

Over time, that marble bag had become smaller and smaller, less important to her as they rolled away, got lost in washing machines or were traded to friends for other toys that seemed more important at the time.

Sally had still kept the bag, because it was a nice leather pouch that had lasted, although it was always a little odd explaining to guests why the green tea was stored in a bag with MARBLES embossed on the side.

Sally couldn’t remember why Dad had business with the professor that day, and the two of them had never returned together.

The next time would have been, what, a full ten years later? No, it must have been twelve, or maybe thirteen years. Must have been, because it was a fresher party at Uni, and somehow, inexplicably, Gary had ended up renting Oak House to live in.

“Well, we gotta have a house warmin’ party, don’t we?” he’d said to Sally in his thick cockney accent.

Sally couldn’t recall whether the professor had sold up and moved on, or passed away. From what she could recall of his face, he must have been pretty old.

Either way, it was then up for rental very cheap, because it wasn’t in town where all the pricey and desirable accommodation was.

The driveway must have been in better condition in those days, Sally thought, because she could recall speeding down it in the back of Maureen’s tiny little Mazda, the doors rattling as they sang and laughed. That Mazda would have crashed and burned on the driveway as it was now.

That party had been quite the night, with so many of her friends gathering and, in Gary’s words, “MAKING AS MUCH FUCKING NOISE AS WE LIKE, BECAUSE THERE AIN’T NO NEIGHBOURS, ARE THERE?”

There still weren’t any neighbours.

The thick oak trees that gave the house its name were now protected, so while the town had expanded out with new estates to the north, south and west, Oak House’s place in the east was assured.

Sally could dimly remember waking up the next morning on… it must have been the kitchen floor.

She had crawled to the fridge only to discover it wasn’t plugged in, and that the only non-alcoholic thing to drink in the entire house were Gary’s energy drinks.

Sally hated energy drinks, but her hangover demanded some form of payment. She had quickly downed one before the taste could properly hit her, just for the fluids.

Maureen had joked that they could always try drawing some water up from the well if they fancied a little “natural water with light aftertaste of the bubonic plague”.

The well was around the left side of the house, Sally recalled. She walked around that side just to check if it was covered. It was hard to make out through the overgrowth, but it looked like there were still a few timbers over its obvious base.

Maureen had gone the whole hog, drawing up a bucket of water and miming drinking from it before “dropping dead” from doing so. Then she went and threw the contents over Gary, unconscious in his bed “for a laugh”.

Gary hadn’t been that happy about it, but everyone else thought it was dead funny.

God, it must be two or three years since she’d last called Maureen. Was she still living in Paris, working for that bank? Put that one on the old to-do list for later, Sally mused.

Gary had only lasted a couple of months at Oak House, because, as usual he’d not bothered with difficult things like “paying the rent”.

He hadn’t even lasted the end of the year at university either, because he was just as flippant about lectures and exams too.

Sally wasn’t sure what had happened to Gary at all. He’d sent a few postcards to Bruce, his best mate saying he was travelling through Africa, and then… nothing.

Well, there was no putting it off any further. Time to get out the keys and see what the inside of Oak House looked like after all this time.

With a smile, Sally walked up towards the front door.

“Well, then, old girl. You’ve seen some things. And now you’re mine — and I’d better get to fixing you up if I’m going to live here.”

Just before the front steps, Sally’s foot slipped, and she tumbled to the ground. Checking herself for bruises, and her skirt for tears, she looked down to see what she’d slipped on.

It was dusty, and one side was cracked, but it was obvious what it was.

A single, solitary, no longer lost marble.


Enjoyed this story?

It’s week 12 of my challenge, and that means there’s already 12 others to choose from.

Maybe more if you’re reading this even later down the track (you could check the short story challenge tag to be sure), but at the time of writing, 12 others is your lot.

Short Story Challenge Week 1: Before The War

Short Story Challenge Week 2: Apples Cannot Scream

Short Story Challenge Week 3: Blankets

Short Story Challenge Week 4: Charles Leadworth

Short Story Challenge Week 5: Cloud Running

Short Story Challenge Week 6: The Bowl

Short Story Challenge Week 7: Mr Breckinridge

Short Story Challenge Week 8: Inspiration

Short Story Challenge Week 9: FreeDog

Short Story Challenge Week 10: Black Dog

Short Story Challenge Week 11: I Don’t Know What To Do

Short Story Challenge Week 12: Sacrifice


The last time I did this, I ended up with enough short stories to fill an eBook. An eBook called Fifty Two, to be precise:


Buy Fifty Two through Amazon for your Kindle e-reader here.

Buy Fifty Two through Apple for your iPad or iOS devices/Macs here.

Buy Fifty Two through Smashwords for any other e-reader format here.


And if you want something entirely different, there’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like:

Buy Sharksplosion for Amazon Kindle

Buy Sharksplosion for iBooks (iPhone, iPad, etc)

Buy Sharksplosion for all other e-readers through Smashwords


About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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