-- The House on the Hill

David Macintyre --

The circumstances came as something of a surpise to each of us. On the morning of January the third we received a letter from my aging half- uncle Gregory, a man with whom I shared many fond memories of summers long past, of days at the lake and in the hills, searching for any kind of spontaneous adventure that our excursions would lead us to.
I had not heard from Gregory in three winters; although more than one attempt to establish a rendez-vous or any salvageable correspondence had been made, all were greeted with ill fate.
So naturally, I, my wife Sara, and Hans (my apprentice in my various journalistic adventures, scarcely twenty) were all but taken aback by this sudden fluctuation. Of course, within hours I had made the necessary preparations to meet Gregory on Rhode Island as he had requested in his letter, and my wife and Hans soon followed suit.
The letter, which I re-examined numerous times en route to my father's former estate in a quiet township near Providence, inquired that my companions and I come immediately to Rhode Island in order to speak with half-uncle Gregory about a matter of pressing importance. It seemed that the occupant of my father's Victorian-era home had very recently fallen dead under mysterious circumstances, and Gregory, as executor of his affairs, had summoned us to the purpose of discussing the redistribution of my father's belongings.
Upon arriving at the aged mansion, situated on the top of one of the hills I spoke of before, I felt a definite rush of cool air sweep through myself and almost, I daresay, my insides; as I shivered from the chilly draught the doors of the mansion swung open where I then saw my half-uncle Gregory come out to greet us.
Gregory had changed in the three winters since our last real contact; he bore the air of an old, greying man, weary with the pressures of man's world and wisened to the unseen aspects of our nature. After exchanging pleasantries and apologies, Gregory told me the story of his reclusive undertakings.
It seemed, Gregory told us over a mug of Earl Grey, that since our last meeting he ad suddenly, and without good notice, become stricken with an incomparable illness, the likes of which no manner of exceptionally skilled-- and highly priced-- physician could diagnose. It began as a benign sore throat; however, within the proceedings of a single month, it had developed into what he described as 'weak knees; could barely stand for more than a minute at a time, much less walk anywhere; couldn't see right all the time, couldn't read, started to hear things and couldn't get my head together. Thought I was going insane,' he described, before making mention of a number of physical afflictions which he deemed too unspeakable for my faint hearted spouse to hear.
Fearing the worst, he retreated to a vacation home in Greece to slowly live out his final, overshowed afternoons; but, one week in December, he found himself almost miraulously relieved of his terminal incumberance. Within another month he was back on Rhode Island, to find that the well-bred gentlemen to whom the estate had been bequeathed was no little more than a pile of ineffectual bones.
Exhausted with reliving the gruesome details of his would-be final moments, Gregory abandoned the conversation, leaving us to settle into our all but extravagant dwellings. My wife and I shared a bedroom, a splendid arrangement of fine mahogany furniture with marble fittings and four poster bed, velvet sheets. My apprentice Hans spent most of the afternoon exploring the nearby township with my half-uncles Welsh corgi, Dolan, before moving his effects into a more humble setting, furnished with oak and a basic double bed. My half-uncle, although the tranquil view of the nearby lake and almost sinfully comfortable appearance of his dwellings in the master bedroom, occupied himself during most of the nights we spent at the estate restlessly wandering the corridors of the home, unshelving secret passageways in the library, and desecrating, led only by his instinct and a dim lantern, the stone-walled catacombs that intertwined the foundations of the mansion.
I know this because of the events following a fateful afternoon three days after our arrival; I awoke one morning to hear Gregory's strained utterances of despair as he paced the hallway outside the door to our chambers. Hans had just informed him with heavy sentiment that Dolan, Gregory's Welsh corgi of seven years, was deceased.
There were no signs of injury, and had been no signs of illness preceding the event; it semeed Dolan had simply dropped dead between midnight and seven o' clock, whether it be through a weary rejection of the dog's prosaic life of sub-servitude or some other unseen circumstance.
Gregory requested solitude as he buried Dolan under a great oak tree in the aft courtyard. It wasn't until sometime past the wtiching hour that night that anybody caught sight of him again. That somebody was me, as I lay awake quietly reviewing my father's legalities. Gregory, with his silver hair and great bristly moustache, crept haggardly into my room and disturbed me. I enquired as to his business as quietly as I could, as not to wake Sarah; he beckoned me follow him and I did, as he shewed me to a dark, dusty corner of the old library at the east wing of the house. In the library I felt that same unmistakeable draught of cool air chill my soul.
His beady eyes flickered with a paranoid rage as he related to me, in an irate whisper, that a horrible black force had befallen the house, and that he and I must act as quickly to put a stop to it as we could.
I thought that perhaps his ravings were a side effect of the anger that still held from the demise of his doted canine, or perhaps a phantasm remaining from the instability of his mind a month before; however, on hearing these thoughts, he took it upon himself to educate me to the truth.
Drawing my attention to a line of scuffed hardwood on the floor, he pressed against a section of the wall and revealed to me an exceptionally hidden door. Behind the door, a stone passageway, lit with the occasional iron bracket precariously supporting a torch, led down into the basement level of the dwelling. I followed Gregory down these steps, humoring him, sure that this sudden obsession with a dark presence... a curse on the house was merely the illness that had gripped him a month before still tampering with the delicate workings of his tired conscience.
Upon reaching the bottom of the flight of stairs, Gregory threw back a blackened curtain that hid from view a chamber of sizeable girth, filled with wooden shelves that held a disgusting array of unspeakable things, things which no sane man should ever have to lay eyes upon. Samples of animal parts; twisted, idolistic arrangements of bones still clutching scraps of human flesh; most notably a shelf full of books on the occult, some scarred with burn marks, others containing drawings of nightmarish creatures which I feel too faint to describe in detail. One in particular was bound in the flesh of a man, imprinted with a satanic ritual and bound by a forcible lock. I could never in my life have imagined that I would see such terrible things in close detail; from the benign appearance of Gregory's expression, however, it seemed that he had seen these things a number of times. I was shocked.
Gregory brought my attention to a gruesome idol, depicting some kind of horrible occult deity with four arms resting on its gnarled, wolf-like legs, that sat in a heavily locked and chained box next to one of the limestone walls. He seemed to dare not touch it; when I reached out to feel its mysterious surface, the hard material of which I had never seen, he wrenched my hand forcibly away.
He explained to me that this deity was the voodoo priestess Chl'urta, and that the idol had been turned over to him when it was found by the previous occupant of the mansion, after it had been found concealed under a loose floorboard in the derelict attic. Gregory related that this idol, him having touched it, was the cause of his terminal illness, and the reason for the previous occupant's untimely demise; that any benign contact with it brought onto your soul a horrible presence, one which could and would surely claim your life if left to its own devices. Gregory had narrowly escaped its wrath with his life, the exorcism ritual which saved him taking place in Greece among the knowledgable people of an indigenous mountain tribe; and he had immediately returned to Rhode Island in order to destroy the idol as swiftly as he humanly could.
Finding that he knew of no way to eliminate the horrible thing and afraid to lay hands on it again, he had summoned me to aid him in any way that he could conceive over the course of our visit. I asked him with indignance if he intended that I bring the curse upon myself; he declined that he had any such motive, but through what he suspected to be the furious rage of Chl'urta, vengeful at his escape from her dark intentions, the dark influence had now spread across the house, and claimed first and foremost his Welsh corgi.
Too horrified to hear any more, I asked that he let me return to my chambers; whether or not he insisted that I stay, I maintained that I would have no part in this disgusting charade. Upon leaving the terrible museum beneath the house and returning to my room, I found that I had unfortunately become stricken with insomnia, and I used the time to try and ease my thoughts while packing my effects in preparation for the return home.
The next morning brought a pit of incorrigible dismay to the very core of my being; overnight a formidable storm had seized the house on the hill and the township surrounding it. With all channels off of Rhode Island cut off and the indignant mass of overstaying travellers now occupying every room in any affordable hotel, we were forced to remain in the house indefinitely until the maelstrom had run its course.
I did not tell Hans or Sarah of the events the night before; it would surely afflict their minds too awfully for me to want to feel responsible for. I spent the entire afternoon confined to our bedroom, be it halfheartedly reading a novel I had finished months before-- any time I stepped into the library an agonizing mental strain would grip me so hard that I insisted on leaving, and twice I felt that same rush of cool air that chilled me to the center of my being-- or staring out the window longing in vain for any recognizable signs of the storm letting up. There were no such signs, and if anything it was pouring even harder by nightfall.
I found later that evening that the presence of any other person brought an overpowering feeling of repugnance to me, and so I quietly crept out of bed that night, leaving Sarah to slumber peacefully in the warm sheets. I paced across the hallway and soon found myself sitting, very alert, in an old leather armchair on the far end of the foyer from the library, staring unrelenting at the huge wooden door that led into that damned lobby, as though expecting someone-- perhaps Gregory, or some unspeakable beast-- to come out of it.
No such person came; however, I soon heard a rapping at the front door, and turned quickly to see it creaking open. The first thing I saw step inside from that torrential downpour was a bloody pair of hands, holding the mangled remains of a Welsh corgy, and of due course these hands belonged to my half-uncle Gregory, his face pale and body quivering from the frigid air outside. Once again I felt that cool air and began to become quite distressed by it.
He approached me with a livid air of desperation in his eyes, showing me the gnarled, twisted remains of Dolan's body, which he informed me had been dug out of its resting place under the oak tree and ripped apart by some horrible creature. I suspected that the rain, heavy as it was, had softened the earth around Dolan's corpse and allowed wild animals, perhaps wolves, to tear it from the ground and feast on it the way you would expect them to. Gregory informed me indignantly that there were no such wild animals in the area, and that my false attempts at rationalization would only get me so far before I would have to acknowledge the circumstances and act accordingly.
I asked him what he expected me to do about this idol of his, and why he had asked for me and my loved ones to accompany him in this horrible escapade; he told me he didn't know exactly at the time what he expected of me but he was sure that soon enough he could find a use for me.
I expressed my anger about his take on the situation; that he would merely keep me in the mansion under a false impression while he thought of some suitable chore for me to perform, and possibly get myself killed in the process.
Gregory left then, without a word; I waited in the foyer for some sign of his return and sure enough several minutes later he emerged from behind the large wooden door of the library, carrying in his spotted hands a pair of Colt revolvers.
He handed me one, a burlap pouch filled with ammunition, and began to teach me the necessary skills for a quick reloading; he told me to take it for protection against whatever kind of entity we faced that was unfortunate enough to have a corporeal, and vulnerable, form. I was shocked by this behavior; Gregory had always been a very peaceful fellow, and I had never imagined him armed with anything other than his ivy-league education; now he was showing me the knack for swiftly reloading a pistol, and proved to be far faster than myself, a reasonable marksman since my days in college.
I could naught but stare after him in shock as he left the room, presumably to return to that disgusting room; after he left I gathered my wits and hid it in a dresser drawer by the windowsill, honestly doubting that the time to use it would ever arrive.
The next morning I rose much earlier than the rest of my company, and found that, for the first time I had ever encountered, wanted to be away from my half-uncle. I dressed myself in the warmest clothes I could find in my suitcase and covered myself in a heavy slicker hanging on the coat rack by the doorway. Stepping out into the torrent of rain I clutched the sides of the slicker tightly, cursing to myself as I wandered down the hill to the township. It surprised me to no end that the rain still had not let up, and in fact had probably only gotten stronger. The wind whipped at me as I walked, forcing me to struggle to stay on balance. I began to wonder if we were suffering from an exceptionally large hurricane.
Once at the town, I was horrified to find that what houses were not laying in sorry piles on the ground were hanging precariously on the verge of destruction. Several fell as I passed as if cued by a stage manager to do so. I searched relentlessly and found no signs of human life anywhere; whoever hadn't perished in the destruction of the town, I found, had escaped via boat. The port was eerily empty, and there was no town or city for far more distance from the place than I was willing to walk.
And yet, I thought to myself, the mansion on the hill stood firm as if being pelted by a mild summer shower. It was scarcely even colder inside, and in my experience such a storm would cause a horrendous drop in the warmth of the house's interior.
As I made my way, with some difficulty, back up the hill to that wretched Victorian pile, I could not help but wonder if this had anything to do with my half-uncle's grotesque idol, and his yarn about the curse. I threw open the immense door and slammed it behind me as tightly as I could, making sure to lock it well. I pulled off the slicker, wishing immediately that I had left it on for a few moments longer as I felt that familiar rush of cool air. I set the slicker on the rack and was greeted instantly by Sarah, who informed me that Hans had gone missing in my absence. I fancied that perhaps he had gone out as I had, perhaps to inspect Dolan's grave. He had apparently done no such thing; he had simply gone to explore the west wing of the mansion, and had not returned since. All efforts to locate him had failed. Gregory, peering down from the foyer balcony, informed me that if Hans had gone out into the storm he would likely have a problem getting back.
Waiting until sometime later in the evening, when I was far away from Sarah, Gregory approached me from behind to ask me if I had any more musings as to the whereabouts of my apprentice. I replied in the negative, but I maintained that he would probably return before the hour for bed came. Gregory laughed in a dismal manner and then proceeded to inquire as to whether I had yet made any connection between the sudden death and mauling of his pet corgi, the disappearance of Hans, the destruction of the town while the mansion still stood tall, and indeed if I had noticed the periodic rushes of cool air throughout the house. I replied that I had, but stuck to my foolish insistence that this was merely coincidence. Again he laughed, darkly amused at my naïvete, and telling me I'd be lucky to see Hans alive again. He explained that until 'that accursed bloody thing in the basement' had been effectively dealt with, the rain would continue to pour and Chl'urta's anger would claim each of us one by one.
I began to think that he may have been onto something with his ramblings. Indeed, if the entire township below had fallen underneath the icy rain and wind, why had the highest in the area remained untouched? What of Dolan's demise, and what sort of wolves would be out sniffing out corpses in the ground in such weather when fresh meat would be holed up in its burrow ready for eating? Hans' disappearance? And what of these infernal blasts of cool air?
That night I felt inspired to find my own answers to this blasted affair, taking the lamp from the bedside table and recovering Gregory's revolver from the dresser in the foyer. Aiming it cautiously forward and holding the lamp in the other hand to light my way through any lampless rooms or dark basement corridors I might come across, I set out toward the door leading to the west wing of the house.
Opening the door to the previously unexplored west wing, I felt that same familiar blast of cool air whip by me as the dark halls greeted me. This time, however, the chill remained, hanging permanently in the air of the wing, and I shivered to myself as I stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind me.
Wandering through the chilled corridors, I found a number of well furnished small rooms, among them a study adorned with brass light fixtures and leather-bound journals, a bedroom fitted with a king-sized bed and more mahogany furniture, and a washroom with a fine marble floor and mirror that I personally admired for its radiance, reminiscent of moonlight. This was hardly the time for petty doting, however. Having searched the entire west wing and come up with nothing to show for it, I sat down in the study to gather my thoughts.
While there, I picked up a leather-bound journal from the shelf and opened it to find it was an account of my great grandfather's travels to Africa sometime in the previous century. I skimmed the table of contents for anything I might find about a voodoo deity named Chl'urta, and finding nothing as I had suspected I would, I set it back on the shelf.
While doing this, something about the shelf caught my eye. Looking next to it, I saw a thin, scarcely visible scuff line running up the wall from the floor to the low ceiling. I thought it could be a mark from a previous shifting of the bookcase, but upon examination, I found that by tracing my finger along its length, I found a supressable panel in the wall that, when pressed, caused the whole section of the wall to start shifting to the right as if on invisible wheels. Behind it, a hidden corridor not unlike the one that Gregory had shown me in the library.
I knew that I would in all likelihood dread greatly what I would find at the other end, but I steeled myself and made sure my revolver was appropriately angled before setting off into the dark stone hall.
The corridor was barren for the first few minutes of my walk; mostly straight, accounting for a few twists and bends every fifty steps or so, I found nothing of any value or interest. I was preparing to turn around and go back to the study when I was suddenly struck with a horrible odour, wafting from someplace not far in front of my position. Compelled to find its source, I followed the smell, lamenting my choice as it grew stronger the closer I got to its origin.
I found, not several minutes later, that my feelings of apprehension had not been unfounded; for there, against the wall and held in place by some undescribable, disgusting adhesive substance reminiscent of pus, was Hans. His body had been ripped to pieces, and head hung limply with no eyes and mouth open. All orifices, old and new, were teeming with cockroaches, which occasionally buzzed or fluttered as they moved from one to the other; all but the massive open tear in his chest that revealed internal organs and scraps of flesh, where the legion of cockroaches simply stood motionless as if waiting for a command from their insane master.
It wasn't until I collected myself at the entrance to the stone hallway that I realized I had dropped my lamp then, shortly before running as fast I could from that cursed place, my screams dying into maniacal laughter.
The laughter stopped shortly after I returned to the study and swiftly shut the entrance to that corridor, vowing never again to set foot in there; I made sure the Colt was properly loaded and immediately set out for the foyer, rushing to the library in the east wing to find Gregory and tell him what had happened. I ran my hand against the wall he had used to open the door, searching for the panel; not long afterward the way into his museum was open again, and I quickly made my way down the stairs. Again, that damned cool air!
Every artifact of Gregory's collection seemed to leer at me with a haunting amusement as I called out for him several times, finding nothing. Fancying he was in some other corridor, but knowing that at some point he would return to this room, I waited impatiently, scanning the shelves and alcoves for any sign of his presence.
I found one; a desk with an open journal, a pen laying draped across a half-written page with ink still dripping from it. The candle burned softly and lent light to the journalist. I sat down at the desk and studied the most recent pages, finding writings of the previous few days, of findings concerning Gregory's quest for the destruction of the accursed idol. There were incoherent babblings of strangely shaped rooms and ceilings dripping with moisture, the kind of notes only one with the special brand of obsession such as the kind that had seized Gregory could connect. I turned to the page which he had been writing on before I arrived, and found, to my utter horror, an account written by someone who had surely lost their mind; he wrote of how he was slowly at first, but very quickly now, losing his mind to the idol's horrible disease. The last few lines were sketched illegibly, but I could, with effort, make out his final warning to anybody who came across the page; 'Get out now'.
I felt that blast of cool air grip me again and this time was compelled to turn around quickly, and see Gregory, mad-eyed and clutching a blood-drenched broadsword in both hands, approaching me and snarling with a great fury. I stood up quickly from the desk and pointed the Colt at him as a warning; still he walked towards me, preparing to swing the broadsword and end my misery for good.
I had no other choice. As he swung the sword with all his might towards my neck, I fired the revolver directly into his forehead, stopping his swing and sending him stumbling dead to the cold, stone floor.
I'm sure I went mad then. With Hans dead and surrounded with demonic slime, the revolver in my hand that I used to kill my loving half-uncle where he stood, and the blood on the sword he had been carrying surely that of my wife Sarah, I had nowhere else to go and noone to turn to. I could not leave now, much as I wanted to; for I found, when I reached the top of the stairs, that Gregory had closed the door behind him, and after trying everything I could, had no conceivable means of escaping the damned dungeon.
There was nothing else left to do but to try and finish Gregory's work any way that I could. The contents of the museum continued their darkly amused staring as I took the bloody broadsword from his dead hands, and I was sure I could hear them laughing at my futile efforts at salvation.
With no further regard for his warnings, I opened the chest which contained Chl'urta's likeness and removed it. I placed it on the ground and proceeded to strike insanely at it with the broadsword with all my strength; after what felt like a hundred strikes, it still held intact, in fact I don't even think I knocked it over once in that entire fit of destructive rage.
I was abysmally disappointed, to say the least; now, if Gregory's warnings had held any basis, I was now cursed with the same darkness that he had been. Seeing no other options, I decided to skim through the tomes and examine the artifacts on the shelves; I turned up with nothing. I was hasty at first, chanting any ineffective incantation which I could competently translate, but soon, as the reality that whether or not I managed to destroy the idol I was still trapped in that horrid dungeon set in, I started to read through them more carefully, taking my time to translate and relate their effects to my cause. This took several weeks, I can only imagine from the feeling in my body, as I've no way of keeping time; at one point I finally, and with reluctance, resorted to carving pieces from my half-uncle for food, imagining them as the courses of the elegant and extravagant banquet which I would have among my friends and family when I finally destroyed that damned infernal statue and escaped.
That day never did arrive, and it never will; all I can do now, having exhausted every book in this basement and struck at the idol with every item of Gregory's shelves to no avail, is wait. Wait and listen to the faint rapping of the endless rain upon the roof of the mansion, wait until I either starve to death or whatever terrible agent of Chl'urta comes here to claim me. And that is exactly what I am doing now, as I write in the blank pages of my half-uncle's journal, the idol safely locked away in the chest in which I found it. I am writing this so that anybody, anybody at all, with a conceivable notion and the necessary curiosity to find this basement-- be you a lawyer, a relative, a new occupant of this damned mansion, anybody-- might find it before they open the chest four feet away from this desk, and to ask that they collect all of their important belongings and leave this place immediately. Your life and your knowledge are far more important than this rotting old house.
That is, of course, anybody ever comes here; I've lost track of time and that rain hasn't let up at all.
I feel an exceptionally strong blast of freezing cold air rush through the chamber and turn around to see a tall... thing leering over me. Surely I don't have the time to describe its horrible, twisted appearance to you in detail; what is important is that I know it is here for me. In fact I think I hear it reaching for me right n

-- ©2003 David Macintyre