This Week’s Prompt: 95. Horrible Colonial farmhouse and overgrown garden on city hillside—overtaken by growth. Verse “The House” as basis of story.
The Prior Research:The House on the Hill.
I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for the rain.
The rain started on the third day. A light drizzle, something to mutter and grumble about. George complained a bit about spoiling the clothes he’d brought. I shrugged it off. The two of them looked like they could find a dry cleaners easy, and a little rain wouldn’t damage much. The woman, Lisa, was quieter about it, but she’d been quiet the whole trip.
The drizzle grew insistent and heavy. The clouds turned dark overhead and slowly rumbled. The sky was ready to burst down. I looked around for shelter then. The hard ground meant a flood was almost guaranteed. A flash flood like that was dangerous for me—exceptionally dangerous for these two. High ground was better. Of course, at the top was the best yet.
I sighed as I saw the old house.
“You sure no one lives there?” Lisa asked as we hiked up a bit, nearly tripping on some stones.
“I’ve made this trip dozens of times—never seen a car parked or a light on.” I said. Well. I had seen a light on. But if there’s an abandoned building that teenagers or homeless folks won’t repurpose for a night, well. I haven’t heard of it. It being so…unused meant there was probably a reason for that.
“Seems…fishy.” George said, looking at the old building. More whining. The distant rumble of thunder overhead settled the matter, however. In we went.
The house wasn’t well kept. I mean it was better than I’d expected—most of the wall paper still there, and only a few holes someone had punched in, probably a vain attempt to find copper wire—a house like this thought? I’d be surprised if electricity ever ran through it. The stairs were intact. Still smelled like mold, even in a dustbowl like this.
As I went upstairs to find some blankets, tossing George a lighter to start a fire, the down pour began. There was a sigh on the wind and then a roar from the ceiling. Upstairs there were about…five rooms. I did a quick check, make sure we hadn’t walked into someone’s business. There was dripping from one of the rooms. A leak to keep an eye out for, but there wasn’t a real bed in there so it didn’t matter.
As I paced back across to check another room, I heard them muttering down stairs.
“I’m just not sure—I mean, I love you, but your sure your cousin can set us up?” Liza murmured.
“Of course he can. I sent him that letter ages ago.” George said. I heard the frustrated clicking of the lighter and then the sharp inhale of a flame.
“That’s…that’s true. Do you have the one he sent back?”
“Don’t worry about it.” George muttered. I stepped carefully across the hall, forcing open an old locked door.
“I’d just feel better if—”
“Don’t worry about it.”
No one inside, but some pictures. Most worn down, with rusting metal frames and cracked glass covers. Someone had smashed it maybe—I don’t know how time breaks glass. Family of three it seemed. Must have been well off folks, with portraits like these. As I fold the old sheets, I noticed something a little odd. The pictures weren’t of the same folks in the room. I mean, I guess they were family. There’s never been a grove like that. Never been a field like that since well—well, I guess the house was old. Risky, leaving well off relatives behind to hit off on your own.
I thudded down the stairs, and could feel the silence between George and Lisa. I hated bringing over eloping kids and newlyweds. Making it across isn’t fun or easy, and slapping young love’s euphoria in the face makes them either unbearably happy or utterly miserable.
“Alright, bundle up at least.” I said, walking in. George was sitting on the floor, prodding a dim fire. Lisa was sitting on the couch, looking out the window. The storm was battering away, but the walls muffled the roaring. There was another boom of thunder, and a flash of lighting. The spiderweb cracks on the glass were sprayed back by the light.
I tossed Lisa the blanket and through the sheets over the window. Block out the rumbling as much as we could.
“We should get some shut eye.” I said, looking over at George, who grunted in reply.
“Shouldn’t someone keep watch? I mean, in case someone comes looking or—”
“No one’s coming in this weather.” George said, cutting Lisa off, and standing up. “Worst we have to worry about is the roof caving in or something. And I didn’t see any tree—”
There was a loud thud above us. We all stared at the ceiling, waiting and watching. Another thump, a bit softer this time. Then a crashing sound.
“I’ll go check it.” George said, holding a hand up to Liza. “Since I’m apparently so reckless.”
“George that’s not what—” Lisa said, sitting up a bit.
“No, no, it’s fine. Probably just a possum or something.” He grumbled, grabbing an iron poker and walking up the stairs. I glanced at Lisa nervously. But I held my tongue. No need to pry. Lisa was looking at the fire, pulling the blanket close. There was another clatter, and I took the opportunity to escape the silence.
George was digging through the room with the dripping sound—looked like a small cupboard, with tin foods and such. Frontier house like this, must have been striking out new ground. George was kicking a box to the side—some smashed plates next to it. He sighed a bit, looking at the rest.
“Not even a cat. Wind must have shaken it all down.” He said. “Damn. A stray might have been worth it.”
“Its not far to the other side.” I said, shrugging. “No need to worry yet, everything’s in order. I know a few guys who can make sure you two get across and—”
“Yeah, no need to tell me that.” George said waving his hand as pushed past. “I know we’ll be fine. Worst case, Joe didn’t get my letter—and that’s a really bad worst case—and I’m sure he’ll be happy to lend a hand. This isn’t the first time this happened. She’s just…” George waved it off again. “Is there like… a proper bed or something in here?”
“Uh, sort of.” I said, gesturing towards the bedroom. Later, I realized the dripping had stopped in the cupboard—never found out what it was. Maybe some dust had sealed the leak or something. The wind was picking up a bit.
The rain clattered against the bedroom walls as we paced about. George found the bed felt…wrong. Layers of dust and the occasional tear from an animal—one long set running down that I noticed scratched down the floor. We lingered on the pictures some, the families.
“Bet these are hers.” George said, running his fingers along the edges. “They’ve got the same eyes, same hair. There are more of them. Probably worried about her…moving so far away, from all the green and coasts and such. Give anyone a fright.”
I shrugged. Never was one for sympathy with the dead you never met.
“Wonder why they left these behind.” George said, looking around. “It’s a nice house…You’d think they’d take it with them.”
“Not worth staying up here.” I said, looking around. No need to frighten folks with old stories of old houses. “The roof giving in could be a problem and…well, I guess if there’s an attic, this isn’t literally the worst place.”
“Can’t build basements out here.” I said, heading back to the hall. “Ground’s too hard—won’t give that easy.”
Down stairs, we found Lisa staring at the curtains, frowning and still bundled tight. The feeble glow of the fire barely reached her face. There was something in that room, unseen and for now unspoken. There was something tugging at us, something wrapped around my throat. Soemthing numbing and full of panic.
We didn’t sleep that night. I don’t remember much else from it—I sat alert in a rocking chair, watching the fire. I know they fought again, with a few barbed words. But honestly, that place was so loud. The rain was shaking the entire place, and even as it muted and muffled the thunder’s booming…That house was maddening. The wind and rattling metal—I heard arguing upstairs, shouting and smashing. Its no wonder no one stays long in that old house.
We left the next morning, not talking or stopping for breakfast. Not a word about last night. I made sure we left everything behind—there had to be a reason no one had stripped the pictures of silver frames. I didn’t want to know why.
This story was…well. I like some of the ideas, but I think more strangeness at the house was warranted. I don’t think I had enough interaction to build a mood of hostility and dread and discomfort that would substitute the actual presence of ghosts. Perhaps more screen time to the couple, and cutting the third member? Using the remains of the building to reflect on the difficulties of the relationship or heighten tensions…aw well.
Next week, back to hills and dales! Come and see, the strange fires over yonder!
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