The House on the Hill
For as long as I can remember, there have always been stories about that house on the hill.
Some say that a deranged old woman lives there; an old hag who talks to her cats and only appears once a month to buy groceries at midnight. Others claim that the house is home to a beautiful, yet malevolent goddess. They believe she rests on a bed of leaves and sleeps in the company of skulls, only waking to lure handsome men into her lair so that she may devour their souls and stay forever young.
As the years went by, some people even claimed to have heard music drifting out from behind the curtains of the house. They say the melody is a haunting spell that echoes of sorrow and long forgotten dreams, conjuring up images of lost cities of sand and bone. It is something they hear in the dead of the night, when reality sleeps and nightmares lurk in the shadows.
I have never believed in these tales. To me, the house on the hill was just a house on a hill. However, as much as I told myself to forget about those empty black windows of cold ice, the house always fascinated me.
Maybe this is why I'm standing outside the house right now, being pressured into doing something unbelievably insane.
"Come on Mia! Don't be such a coward. You don't want to be a loser for the rest of your life do you? Just go into the house and stay there for ten minutes."
I don't move. I find myself wondering what I was doing and why I was letting myself get pushed around by girls I don't even like. Why is it that peer pressure and schoolyard status matter so much? Why is it that I care about what everyone thinks, to the point where I am forced to do something that goes against my every instinct? I know that a small part of it is a result of the society in which we are all brought up in. We are conditioned to want to fit in, to be like everyone else, yet still expected to stand out as individuals.
A girl pushes me and with a deep breath, I take one quivering step towards the building. It was old and neglected, the maroon paint peeling off the planks of splintering, termite infested wood. The roof was a dull, faded green; marks of the passing seasons evident through the patchiness of the colour. It was the huge windows that drew me in though, like a voice beckoning through the still afternoon air.
I pass the front gate. I could stop now. I could do something crazy and turn my back on the girls; to not conform. Yet as I approach the house, and that huge ornate door gets closer and closer, I know there's no going back.
My hand closes around the tarnished silver doorknob. I turn the cold, stiff metal. I hear a click and the thick wooden door swings open with a creak.
I step onto the landing, expecting squeaky floorboards and the door to slam shut and lock behind me, trapping me inside just like one of those corny teen horror movies.
Nothing happens. I'm greeted with darkness and the smell of mould and rotting wood.
I don't know what to do. Any moment now, some crazy cat lady or a demonic goddess may come out and attack me.
With a shudder, I walk down the corridor. Gas lamps cast dim light over the green moss coloured carpet, soft and damp against my bare feet.
The shadows grow along the walls, and portraits of long forgotten men and women peer at me through the gloom. Faint eerie music drifts towards me from above the staircase.
My heart begins to race. I should just stay at the entrance. Then again, if I stay in one spot, it would be easier for whoever owned this house to find me.
I glance at the open door. As long as it remains open and obstruction free, I'm safe.
I jump as I hear a noise.
I start to sweat, my hands go clammy and I tremble against the cold draft that wafts through the hallway.
I come to the kitchen…or at least what I think is the kitchen. It smells terrible. The once white tiles are yellow and caked with dust and dirt. There are cobwebs everywhere and, to my disgust, there are fly covered plates of food on a grime encrusted wooden table.
Sitting in the corner, on a large rocking chair, is a woman. She must have been beautiful once upon a time. However, now her face is dirty and covered in red marks. Tears create rivulets down her cheeks and her pale blonde hair is tied back in a messy bun. Her wide blue eyes are unfocused as she rocks back and forth, and her small pale hands clench and unclench the cream fabric of her long dress. She raises her fingers and, with dirty nails, begins to scratch at her face.
She doesn't appear to see me.
"They made me do it…" she gasps, smiling through her madness, her teeth yellow and broken. "They forced me to do it…They didn't understand…He hurt me but they still made me marry him…they said it was what was acceptable..."
Her voice begins to amplify and shake, her hands digging into her hair.
"They said that it was what was expected…he'd make a good husband they said…good…good… good…came from a good family…lovely manners…said it was a good and proper match."
Her voice gets louder and louder until she's shrieking, long nails tearing at her face, her hair…
"HE HURT ME! HE DIDN'T CARE!" she screeches. "SO I HURT HIM! I MADE HIM PAY!"
Pale flesh rips as deep red blossoms beneath sharp gritty nails. She starts screaming, her high pitched voice rising as tears fall from her face.
I take a step back. My heart freezes. She was mad. She was crazy. She was completely out of her mind. And yet, I understand. Like me, she was pressured into doing something that she didn't want to do. Like me, she put herself into a compromising and perilous situation as a result of people who claimed to have her best interests at heart. She may be insane, but it is the fault of society that she truly became mad, bad and possibly dangerous to know.
She begins to giggle and her blood covered face relaxes as she stares straight ahead.
Then her head turns almost mechanically and she looks right into my eyes.
"You hungry, dearie?"
My eyes drift to the table and, to my horror, I see that underneath the mountain of buzzing flies is a human eye.
She killed him. She killed her husband; the husband who had hurt her.
"They told me to marry him."
I take another step back. I'm filled with repulsion. This wasn't right.
"They said it was good for family business."
I see a human finger. Sickened, I stumble out of the kitchen.
"They knew what he did to me! They didn't care!"
I run down the corridor, past the gas lamps and old portraits.
"I had to do it! I'm glad I did it!"
I burst out the door and slam it shut behind me, putting an end to her manic laughter.
"Just in time Mia. Ten minutes is up." The girls call to me. I stagger towards them.
"Wow you actually did it! Maybe you're not such a lame geek after all."
They laugh and I stare back, my eyes blank.
As we walk away, I look back at the house on the hill. The huge empty windows seemed to watch me as I leave.