“Meeting Place” by Eliza Dreger

Eliza Dreger

Coming to this place was like muscle memory to me. It was in an obscure area, not easily within walking distance of my house, but my bike made it work. Relief filled my lungs as I shoved my bike pedals up the steep dirt hill, seeing the familiar trees past the forgotten farmland. My bike plowed as much as it could through the overgrown pathway leading up to the decaying building, kicking up pebbles behind me. I leaned the bike against the usual tree and caught my breath. The air here always felt much clearer than in town. It wasn’t stuffed with the voices and clutter of people or the sounds and smells of shops and cars, but rather it was crisp with the smell of wildflowers and grass.

Even the mildew-y and musty inside of the great abandoned house was comforting enough for me to enjoy. It seemed like each time we came, the house looked a little bit different. Some days it would have new animals living inside, some days it would have new trash strewn about in the grass, which we would always pick up and take home in a plastic grocery bag to throw out. Hayden and I had come to this place since we were both 6 years old. We discovered it by accident during a bike race that eventually led us to the farm roads, and we were immediately intrigued by it. Ever since then we have both had a knack for exploring forgotten places, finding comfort in places most others would feel unsettled in.

We treated the house as our own personal clubhouse. Our parents wouldn’t bat an eye if we told them we explore it now, but 11 years ago they would’ve went straight crazy. Most summers were spent rooting through the belongings of the previous owners, being careful not to move anything too much as to preserve it. Occasionally one of us might take an old photograph or an old piece of jewelry or two, but we were always careful. One day, Hayden pulled out a dusty, faded pink box from underneath the bed in the old daughter’s room. It was labeled in neat calligraphy: Photographs. We curiously sifted through them, learning more and more about the old family the more we saw. Our curiosity peaked, and we took a few significant ones home to do our own research. The family was nothing too special. Nothing most people would expect from an abandoned home’s past. Most people expected murders, suicides, or other dark occurrences. ‘The Lears’, as they were called, were about as average as it gets, but that didn’t stop the home from being mesmerizing to explore.

Taking in the view and unbothered by the harsh sun, I leaned against the same tree as my bike. After a few moments, I heard the familiar crunching of bike tires on dirt, and turned to see Hayden making his way down the path.

“Hey,” he said, smiling at me. The sun cut through the leaves and speckled onto his face.

“Hey,” I replied.