House On The Hill - Part I
The house on the hill was empty. It had been unoccupied - no, deserted, neglected - since that incident in the late fall of 1897 when a gang of bandits had swarmed through Spooltown, taking whatever they wanted, terrifying the children, ravaging the women, commandeering the house as their headquarters and creating general havoc. The oldtimers avoid even talking about it now unless pressed to do so, though a few of the men have sometimes been seen hanging around the outside of the house on the hill, but no one has dared investigate.
Relatives were frightened by the actions of their oldtimers when they were found near the house, which was occasionally - at or about the anniversary of that bandit invasion. On these inauspicious occasions, the oldtimers seemed preoccupied, - if not driven by some kind of invisible force or impetus. On at least one occasion, the oldtimers seemed to be caught up in a wierd dance. Other times, they could not be prevailed upon to so much as take a spin at the weekly Friday Frolic at the school, at which they were always asked to chaperone and usually ended up snoozing in the teachers’ lounge after the hour of 10PM. On and near the dreadful anniversaries, though, they were subdued, speaking only to each other in hushed voices, almost not their own, exhibiting only aberrant behaviours which set their loved ones to crying and praying for their safety and sanity, possibly their own as much as their old folks'! These were only some of the strangeness that had been created and left in the wake of that past tragic, mindless attack on the townspeople. The overall veil of mystery and unsettling fear simply lingered through the years, into the nights and nightmares of the residents of the town and its countryside.
All in all, speculation continuously ran rampant about the house up there, but even more especially around the same time of the year. Spooltown had become a “ghost of its former self”, in fact. The Drugstore on the corner had closed its fountain bar and lunch booths, and now employed only one person, a pharmacist to fill prescriptions,- the few given out by the one remaining physician in town, Dr. Ideis. He’d never been the best doctor in town, but now that he was the sole doctor, people either consulted with him or drove over to Nathyncity where there now was, besides the older doctor whom people had always trusted, a recently graduated physician from the state University, getting his start under the wing of old Dr. Hawthorne. But no one could afford much in the way of medical care anyway, and superfluous doctor visits were virtually unheard of. Mothers tended to their children's scrapes, bruises and sniffles with time-honored home remedies. Under no circumstances would psychological disorders have merited a visit to a physician - even if there had been one specializing in that branch of the profession within driving distance. So grownups scoffed at the idea that kids had "psyches" and infirmities of the elderly involving mental aberrations were summarily dismissed as imaginary, as well.
Whatever lingering fears, unfounded or otherwise, the townsfolk harboured were simply "stuffed" with only more physical aspects of that dreaded event even discussed.
But then, considering that in Spooltown there were few major events to discuss, the subject of and curiosity about “The House”, which pervaded the aura of the town like the stench from a nearby slaughter-house, often arose at social gatherings and ladies’ quilting bees, for want of more stimulating topics, perhaps. Its precedence had become so firmly ingrained, in fact, that there was hardly room for other topics, had any arisen. Perhaps Halloween was as close as the folks came to being diverted, and that was but a slight change of pace!
The ladies’ concepts of the happenings at the house fading into the past, and the ongoing mystery of what they really were and what now resulted always had a more occult character than those of the men at Scotty's Barber Shop, though. Perhaps the coziness of the colorful warm quilts and tea and cookies created an atmosphere into which the stab of horror was less unsettling. Slicing razors and chopping scissors with human parts being severed, - though only hair - may have been more ominous to begin with. But they all, members of both genders, sometimes talked about driving up there and just looking around the premises for themselves, in wild moments of bravado and desire to resolve the mysteries once and for all.
A few men (other than those inexplicable sojourns by some of the old-timers) had stood just a short distance on the ascending path, merely a few steps up the hill, from which they retreated. No woman had been so much as a step near investigating since the bandit attack. Mrs. Newsome was sometimes the boldest and sounded the most eager to investigate but more timid heads prevailed as they entreated her to forget whatever the connections she seemed to have to the incident, - which, to steady heads, seemed the epitome of folly, especially if there were any connections! No one knew whether there might have been.
No, no one entertained a thought of setting out up the hill, especially alone. No one dared.
Oh, please do not misunderstand. Spooltown commerce was not totally dead. Had not some businesses struggled to survive the depressing economy and the town's aura of horror, the farmers in the area would have needed to travel distances to get a plough repaired or replaced, to have the horses’ hooves shoed, to get a newspaper or to find a bottle of corn-husker’s lotion for their poor work-worn hands much less a bottle of some other product of corn to soothe their aching bodies and harried minds. Mr. Tiviet, the pharmacist, kept a few bottles of corn liquor under the cabinet to fill such needs, provided a fellow had the half-dollar to acquire the 'medication'.
Otherwise, it was perhaps not beyond credibility to suppose some basement cisterns were used to set up home distilleries. But that is beyond the scope of this story. Suffice it to know that Mr. Tiviet was a supplier for a steep price during those tough times of the early 20th century.
There was a little blacksmith’s shop, a barber shop, and a small hardware store, all grouped around a courthouse building which served as court room, town meeting hall, jail and provided quarters for the filling of any and sundry other legalistic municipal purposes.
Happily, the little general store still had some attractive displays, including its barrels of apples for six cents apiece.
Mrs. Newsome swept into the store when the quilting bee was done to buy a basket of the ripe red fruits with the idea of making some candied apples for the children in the school. There was now only the one teacher for all the primary grades. Miss Claudia Bell had to keep restless youngsters for five grades occupied while she taught the few in the the sixth one. They rotated for an hour per grade during these lengthening Autumn days. The grade who recited stood during their hour of classes while the others in the small schoolroom remained in their seats, reading, drawing or doing homework, at their level. Any change in the routine was a welcome one!
At the store where Mrs. Newsome was looking over the apples, selecting the prettiest two dozen of them for her project, there were slabs of salt pork in the glassed display case, a few bottles of milk and cartons of eggs in the little "icebox" case where the iceman from the plant beside the railroad tracks placed ice he made and delivered to customers. It was one of the few luxuries in summertime and served to keep perishables longer during all seasons.
Of course, the store displayed the mandatory colorful sticks of twisted candy in a Mason jar on the counter next to the old-fashioned cash register. A huge jar of oversize pickles on the floor by the apple barrels were tempting at a nickel apiece.
Certainly there was no concern about the transference of "germs" from grimey hands dipping into the jar of pickles, ignoring the tongs provided for retrievals. Nor was there a need for concern about pesticides lingering on the bright surfaces of the apples, though common sense should suggest rinsing one before biting into it, in the offhand chance that some crawly thing might have investigated the crimson globe and left any kind of sticky residue upon it.
Old Mr. Pierson Stamps still ran the store and the tiny post office in the back. On some days, as a bonus of her own home baking, Mrs. Stamps sent over a few loaves of wondrously warm bread and slices of apple pie to be sold. A whole loaf went for a quarter, encouraging thrift, since a half-loaf would be 13 cents, as though a simple knife cut were worth a half-cent! Outrageous. The cut pie @ a dime per slice, however, seemed a bargain, given its reputation for succulent goodness!
When telephones came out in the town, kids loved to call the store and would ask Pierson, while they snickered audibly into the mouthpiece, whether he had any Stamps for sale. Then, of course, the kids burst into hysterical laughter at their own cleverness and hung up in poor old Pierson’s bad ear! He’d walk off shaking his head of floppy white hair and resume arranging the several Mason jars of canned tomatoes and peppers which the missus deigned to spare from her own stash. He's smile a little smile as he gazed out the store window, pondering the phone call, but chalking it up to bad connections, since he hadn't heard a thing beyond answering its raucous ring!
Those same store windows inevitably would be “soaped” Halloween night with messages such as “Get your heart Pierced and your life Stamped out here!” Parents didn’t dare hide the soap, either. It was well-nigh impossible to get the little rascals to wash up as it was!
So the inevitable Halloween pranks would be played. Pierson knew HIS windows would be clean and shining for Thankgiving in November after he had scrubbed off the soapy epitaphs. He did it in good humor. Halloween was, after all, kids' time.
So Mr. Stamps and other store owners whose businesses may have fallen victim to some pranks went along with it gracefully and in good humor. It was only once a year. And there was little choice in the matter.
The mothers were making costumes, trying valiantly to fit their skills and limited materials to the children's visions of how they wanted to look to go out trick or treating. Some had ideas of beautiful princesses and many had thoughts of spooks and goblins. Sometimes mothers tried to steer the spookier ideas into just as imaginative but less disturbing imagery. Even snakes and spiders were better than gruesome raiders empowered by dangerous minds. The realities of the siege, the reign of terror and the reminder of that by the very presence of the House On The Hill were enough to send undulating waves of horror into grown mothers' heads without helping their babies mimic those perpetrators!
A Sinister Setting
When it stormed, the House up there seemed more ominous, gloomier than ever. As lighning flashed behind the hill on which it rested, its windows glowed with an awful light.
It was raining. Lightning was flashing and the deluge blocked the view even no further than the lower end of Main Street, where a row of shabby, rundown houses furnished home to the 30 or so Spooltown residents. It was a Friday, a day when most of the folks who worked in nearby Nathyncity were getting off early and getting home for the weekend and this Friday, the Spooltown General City Council was scheduled to conduct their monthly meeting in the one-story City Building facing Main Street on the block down from the general store.
Miss Bell’s school was letting out for another week. The candy apples had delighted the children. Mrs. Newsome had cleared up the sticky plates and napkins to take home and wash. It was a bit of trouble, of course, to do these little extras for the children, but having none of her own, it gave her great pleasure. She felt a particular affinity for one little boy, Justin, who had such a dear little face in spite of his lame little right leg. It had been injured in a playground mishap and had never been properly treated, resulting in his dragging it along as he walked. Reasons for the original accident are shrouded in mystery and rumour, though.
No one else had been present in the immediate vicinity when little Justin was brought down, until he had been discovered writhing on the ground near the merry-go-round, which was slowing to a stop - with no one else around. People wondered but there was a sinister aura to it and no one ventured to search the area for any maldoing. A strange hush settled over the town for the time. Mrs. Newsome felt deep empathy for the poor little fellow.
As a girl, she herself had suffered an accident which left her no permanent injury - except the misty memory of what had happened on that early evening as she’d been romping with her playmates. None of them remembered anything, either. But Mrs. N- whose given name is Nancy - was found similarly writhing by the same merry-go-round in the same autumnal season of that earlier year, and suffering with an injured right leg.
But times had been more favorable and she was rushed to the best of the doctors in town who set the leg and stayed the bleeding, doctoring the wound which might have led to infection and might have taken a much more serious toll.
That mystery haunted Nancy Newsome from that day forward. Why, she often wondered - could she not recall anything that had happened - something which caused her a serious injury which easily might have left her as maimed as poor little Justin.
So she never passed up a chance to offer him a ride home. It was a laborious walk for him on that leg. He lived on a small farm with his parents and an old grandfather, who had been a young man when the bandit incident occurred in the old house on the hill.
Mrs. Newsome pulled her carriage up to Justin’s house and helped the little fellow down out of the carriage and watched him till he disappeared inside the door, where his grandfather was standing awaiting him. The old man waved a withered hand at Nancy as he shut the door behind Justin. She saw the boy's little face at the curtained window nearest the door - peering out at her and silently communicating with the kindred spirit of this kind lady. No other human outside of his own mother had ever shown the least notice of him, much less such kindness as Mrs. Newsome. Perhaps he questioned it, but mostly he simply reveled in it.
Nancy was now alone on a deserted country path beyond Spooltown’s city limits. The local farmers would be busy working the field till dark this Friday evening and would be up and working early Saturday. They’d be racing to get in the harvest, piling orange pumpkins up to haul to Nathyncity’s Farmers Market. If they had any luck with the corn crop, those would be harvested and hauled to the city, as well.
They would take off from the fields during daylight hours only on Sundays for Church meeting, looking forward to a homey pitch-in lunch afterward in the church’s only other room, reserved as a gathering room for such events. The sanctuary itself was only big enough for the 20 or so faithful who attended. The congregation could not afford to support a regular preacher so some apprentice ministerial student from the University in Nathyncity was invited each week to take his turn donating a Sunday practice sermon to Spooltown Baptist.
The meager collection from the congregation was usually being counted and recorded during the sermon. If it netted enough to cover the light bill, it was a pretty good week and a light could be left burning for any wanderer who might need refuge or spiritual comfort during the week when the deserted building would be left unlocked.
The building had been there since the early settlers had built it themselves in the 1800s, so there was no rent or mortgage due on it. When repairs were needed, the local members were called upon to donate their time to attending to them. The ladies kept the cobwebs out and swept up after the service and the after-service lunch. Any special decorations were also donated. There was a fall wreath of colorful leaves, nuts and berries on the front door and a potted chrysanthemum on the floor at the end of the aisle in front of the pulpit. Mrs. Woodbridge had donated the wreath and her daughter, Bessie Nobum, brought the potted plant. The congregation worried about taxes only when they came due, when, in fact, some talk had arisen about declaring the building an Iowa State Heritage House and charging small fees for sightseeing. No one had ever found the time to write requesting the status, though. Every year the idea of sightseeing tours they could advertise in slick-paper magazines invariably arose.
There also had been serious discussions about the house on the hill. It too, dated back to the early 1800s. The City Council made no bones about interest in the project.
Rumor had it that there was a sub-basement that had been dug into the solid rock of the hill with just the damp stone itself serving as walls and floor. It had been used as a cellar for storing root vegetables and home-canned goods, they say. But speculation had it that the bandits had hidden contraband and possibly even bodies down there. No one had ever investigated. There was also an eerie-looking attic, and turrets with strange little round windows featuring stained glass panels illustrating local natural flora and fauna. At sunset, the light filtered through and across the turrets briefly lighting up the stained glass panes.
But no one remembered anyone being in the house or living there since the siege of the bandits. The oldtimers’ parents had told them about the bandits but they had been youngsters themselves, so their stories’ veracities were suspect. The tales may have grown to fit the imagination of the tellers, as often happens!
But there had been sightings of apparitions appearing to be peering out of the windows, silhouetted against the light of a setting sun in the west beyond the hill. Strange faraway sounds like moans and even slightly musical sounds which seemed to be from a distant planet had also been reported. The reports were never verified; they merely flourished in the vacuum of not knowing the facts.
Councilman Teddy Blaylock raised one unanswerable question: Who among them was going to actually go in there and check it out? Stairs inside might be so rickety and decrepit that they’d be unsafe. For that matter, the floors were likely to be rotted out! Wouldn’t State require a safety check and declaration? That expense alone would wipe out any moneys generated by the tours!
Everyone looked around at everyone else and remained silent. It WAS their only untapped source of revenue, virtually their only hope. Perhaps it would rectify the damage done by the bandits, in fact. Once set into motion, the plan could fund the town’s treasury for years to come! After all, it WAS a treasure, perhaps even a national one!
No one wanted to do the dirty work, however. Maybe they could get the ball rolling and persuade National Heritage Society to do the dirty work! Problem there would be they’d want to pocket the revenue themselves. Might as well just let the house alone till it imploded into its own basement from its own gases.
But their hourlong council meeting was up so they donned their ballcaps and jackets and headed for the parking lot. Needed to get the cars off there before the kids came to use the lot for the Friday evening football game with Lukaluk High’s team. They couldn’t play after dark. The lot had no lighting.
Every councilman went home preoccupied with ideas thrown up and out during the meeting.
Oh! What to do? What to do?
House On The Hill is . . . .
House On the Hill Part II by Nellieanna
Copyright © Nellieanna H. Hay, 2010. All Rights Reserved. Kindly do not copy, in whole or in part, without express permission.
Right now ~ you can continue to the. . . .
The Halloween Challenge. . . .
When asked to share our spookiest stories, these hubbers took the challenge and delivered! So - lock your door and make sure your phone is working and your medications are current! . . .
You're here now, so that means that you've found mine. Now, then - please just sit back and enjoy checking out the rest of these great scary story links:
A Scary Love Story by SilentReed
A Cabin in the Woods by Wayne Brown
When Evil Comes by akirchner
House On the Hill by Nellieanna
House On the Hill Part II by Nellieanna
House On the Hill Part III by Nellieanna
House on the Hill Part IV
House on the Hill Part V by Nellieanna
How to Quit Smoking for Halloween by Austinstar