The Furnace Room
I pass by the same tree everyday. An empty field about a mile back from my house surrounds it. I always take the back way so no one sees me leaving for the day. I have to keep going further and further because I’ve already been in all of the abandoned buildings and houses around me.
I go through the same pattern every time. I walk back and forth in front of the house twice to make sure no one’s watching me. Then I have to move fast. If the doors are shut tight I take the crowbar out of my bag and pry it open. If it’s loose, I just kick it in. I quickly shut the door behind me and listen. If a person or animal is in there they would definitely be making noise either when hiding or trying to get out. If there’s no noise, I know I’m fine. Most of the time the copper is already gone. I go for the more unique older items: antique tools, car parts, toys, artwork, anything that someone might buy. I try to move fast so I don’t get caught. I pack up all my findings, and then sneak out.
This is my everyday.
After my dad died I stopped going to school. He died nine years ago, which would be first grade. My mom has always been useless. From morning to night she watches television, chain smoking and only getting up to use the bathroom. She knows I stopped going to school, but she doesn’t say anything. It wasn’t my choice. After dad passed she spent all of the money we got in two months on an assortment of knick-knacks and shit. We survived off of welfare for five years until they realized my mom wasn’t trying to change her situation. After the third eviction notice is when I started breaking into places and selling the stuff I found.
I know the town hoarders (other than my mom). I usually make up some history behind whatever I have and they give me a few bucks. I can cycle between them without them getting suspicious of how I get what I’m selling. After the food and rent is taken care of, I have a little left for myself.
My favorite thing to do is go to the movies. I don’t have any friends, so going to the theater is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. The local theater plays only classics and foreign films.
My mom hates old movies.
I didn’t find much yesterday so I left a little bit earlier today. There’s an old school house in the middle of nowhere, probably about a hundred years old. It’s been abandoned as long as I remember. The door has already been broken in, not a good sign for finding anything good. I walk through the main room and just find a couple pieces of copper in the walls. I head down to the cellar. The cellar is a lot darker than the rest of the school. The only light being let in is through a hole in the foundation. I follow the light with my eyes. In the furnace room is a shoe sticking out. I walk closer. The shoe is connected to a leg. I walk closer. The legs are connected to a torso. I walk closer.
There’s a dead body.
I sprint home.
My mom is watching infomercials trying to find the perfect weight loss pill. I bust in the door and scream at her about what I saw. She tells me to quiet down, she’s trying to find out how to be healthier. I tell her everything.
She mutes the television.
“Did you take the wallet?”
“What’s the use of money to a dead body? We should have it.”
“I don’t think…”
“Yeah. Yeah, go get the wallet. But first make me lunch.”
I get back to the schoolhouse and sneak in the back this time. I don’t want there to be any chance I could be seen. He was probably in his late twenties. There was blood coming out of his nose and mouth, and he was pale. I search him as carefully as possible trying not to touch him much. His wallet is in his back pocket. He has sixty-four dollars, some coupons, and his license.
His name is Isaac Murray, born on December 4, and is an organ donor.
Mom used the money to buy her pills. She said she’s going to get more guys than she did in her twenties, and I start seeing Isaac everywhere. His face plasters the ticket booth at the movies. He looks at me from light posts. His voice talks to me over the radio. I tell him I’m sorry.
Each house has a history. Every building contains some baggage. Everything I take feels like a personal attack to the previous owner. I go back to the schoolhouse. I didn’t know what I would do when I got there; it just felt like something I needed to do. I go down the stairs and look into the furnace room. He’s gone.
The posters start disappearing, and I do too.
I say goodbye to my mom and she tells me to go get her some more cigarettes. I say I will when I come back so I won’t be lying. I have a couple sandwiches packed, some water, our last Coke, and the rest of our money. I grab my bag, and I leave.
more by TYLER CLIFTON
photograph by Jay Mantri