Lots of communities have an old house on the corner, or an old house at the end of the street, or an old house down a lonely country road. It’s always an old house; usually with an unkept and overgrown front yard; its backyard fenced in, and if a ball is accidentally thrown over, well that ball is just lost forever. The old house’s occupants, if there are any, are almost always quite old themselves, and they’re often shut-ins that are only seen outside once or twice a year; if no one lives there then it’s a house full of ghosts, or Bloody Mary, or the boogeyman.
In the small town of Paris, Kentucky, it’s known as the old house on the hill. The hill is on the south side of the little country town. It’s not the only hill in Paris, but it is the only hill with a straight road. The road that runs up the hill coming out-of-town is straight as an arrow, and when the snow comes each winter so do the children with their sleds. None of them go all the way to the top though, because at the top of the hill is where the old house sets. There’s a large yard around the old house, but not many trees, and on clear nights when the moon is full the old house gives off an eerie glow.
The old house was just that, built well over a hundred years ago it was home first to the manager of a horse ranch that raised plow horses for the farms in the area. The ranch shutdown long ago, the land sold off to local farms, the area around the house on the hill bought by the ranch manager himself who took his own try at farming and was not at all unsuccessful. His grandchildren though had their own ambitions, and sold the land to a developer that wanted to build houses for people who prefered to commute to nearby Lexington.
The ranch manager’s great-granddaughter was given the house when the land surrounding it was sold off. She was a widow of thirty something at a time when no man of any real prospect would take a woman of that age for a new wife. Childless, it was thought that the house would be sold and most probably demolished when the spinster finally passed away. However, some years later she had a child, and there was much speculation as to who the father could possibly be. The rumors were quite harsh, some saying she had taken a liking to the town drunk, and others saying she had conjured a demon to father her child; mostly the women of Paris did not want to admit to themselves that it was likely one of their own husbands that had stepped out to visit the widow lady.
The truth was the woman had taken to renting out rooms to travelers, and it was one of these men that she had spent a passionate night with as he made his way from Ohio to Georgia. She never saw the man again, and now treated as even more of an outcast she raised her fatherless daughter mostly in seclusion.
It was when the old spinster died, and her recluse daughter inherited the house that the gossip of what went on there became the subject matter for not just the sewing circles, but the town’s children too. The old house’s new owner carried on her mother’s business of renting out rooms to make ends meet. But small towns never trust outsiders, and that’s what these travellers were.
The stories the children came up with were quite fanciful, full of bank robbers, murderers, and mobsters from the big cities up north on the run from the law. The gossip of the town’s women was probably more accurate. That the daughter had not only taken up the business of renting out rooms, but of also spending the night with the various men that passed through. This seemed especially true since the woman ended up having three children of her own, despite never marrying.
The woman’s three children wanted no part of small town living though, and they all left Paris the first chance that they got. None of them caring that their mother was getting older, and sicker, and was all alone in the old house on the hill. It was the woman’s granddaughter Avery that returned to care for her in those final years, the daughter of her youngest child.
By day Avery worked as a waitress in a small diner downtown, after which she would return to the old house on the hill to feed and bath her grandmother, and help her into bed. There were not many people who stopped to rent a room for the night at the old house anymore, but when there was Avery would prepare a dinner and clean up after them as well. There was no TV in the old house, so most nights Avery would read to her grandmother until the old woman fell asleep, and then retire to her own small room in the back of the house.
This routine went on until one morning when the old woman did not wake up. Avery sat next to her grandmother’s bed that morning and finished reading the last few chapters of the book they had been sharing together, before shedding a single tear and calling the police. She knew her grandmother’s time was drawing to an end, and Avery was thankful that she passed away peacefully as she slept, but she already felt a hole in her existence knowing that this chapter of her life was over before she was ready to have it end.
It came as a shock to everyone when the woman’s three children returned to Paris for the first time in many years to hear the will read to find that their mother had secretly changed the document, and left her entire estate to Avery. The old lady didn’t have much, mostly just the old, run-down house on the hill, which the three greedy siblings had all hoped to sell and split the money from like they had won some sort of morbid lottery.
Avery was not at all surprised when her aunt, and uncle left town without saying goodbye; but she was taken aback when her own mother left too, and wouldn’t return her calls.
Unsure of what else to do Avery returned to work at the diner during the day. She spent her evenings tidying up her grandmother’s house, and sitting in the rocking chair next to her grandmother’s bed to read before retiring to her small room at the back of the house. At night she would lay in bed and wait for sleep to overcome her as she thought about Colin, the strapping, dark-haired mechanic at the shop across from the diner. She wondered if he could really be the man of her dreams. Someone funny, and smart, and that hopefully knew his way around a tool belt.
Everyday Colin would cross the street, sit at her counter, and do his best to make her smile as he ate his grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate shake. And each day she would smile, and flirt with him, but tell him that she had her grandmother to care for. Today, two weeks after her grandmother’s passing, Colin asked her out again, this time she was able to say yes.
Avery was giddy the rest of the afternoon, she knew the stories in town about her grandmother’s house, and she had no desire to become known as the next old spinster to live on the hill, or worse to be known as some witch that ate children’s souls for breakfast. There was even a lightness in her step that night as she danced around the house, dusting her grandmother’s old knickknacks and wondering just what to do with this house full of stuff.
“Coming.” Avery called out to the knock at the door, as she swung the door open she still had a smile beaming across her face, “Hello.”
“Hello, I was wondering if I could get a room for the night.” The man on the other side of the door was middle-aged, lean and at around six-foot tall much taller than Avery, he had steel-blue eyes, and his mostly dark hair was just beginning to show hints of grey. He wore a trench coat over an expensive looking suit, carried a briefcase in one hand, and had a backpack slung over the other shoulder.
“I’m sorry, we don’t rent rooms anymore.” Avery apologized, she felt uneasy around this man for some reason and couldn’t bring herself to look away from his eyes. “There’s a really nice hotel in town though.”
“Are you sure, I was told you rent rooms, and I’m willing to pay cash.” The man took a half step forward.
“I’m positive.” Avery gripped the knob of the door she stood half behind tighter, “I’m sorry for the confusion, goodnight.” Avery began to shut the door, but before she could the man stuck his foot inside.
“Please, my grandfather told me about this place. He said he rented a room for a couple of nights on the second floor, and that if I ever found myself in this part of the country I owed it to myself to stop by.”
“I don’t care who told you what. If you don’t leave now I’m calling the police.”
“Now that’s the one thing you shouldn’t have said.” and with that the man threw his shoulder into the door knocking Avery backwards and onto floor of the foyer.
Avery got up to run for the kitchen, and the only phone in the house, but before she could take the first step her head was yanked backwards as the man grabbed a handful of her wavy blonde hair and pulled her back down from behind. Her head hit hard against the floor when she fell, and everything almost went dark as she heard the door slam shut behind her.
“Now, now. Where do you think you’re going?” the man playfully asked as he grabbed a handful of Avery’s hair once again and began to drag her up the stairs backwards.
Avery clawed at the intruder’s wrist and arm, but couldn’t do any damage through the thick trench coat. The back of her head was on fire with pain as she felt like her scalp was going to be pulled off. She kicked her feet wildly trying to keep up as she was being pulled along.
When they reached the top of the stairs the man yanked Avery to her feet and shoved her through the first doorway on the right. Avery stumbled forward into the bedroom that, until recently, had been used for decades as the room to house travelers. He dropped the backpack he had been carrying onto the floor as he stepped in behind her. Avery spun and tried to run out of the room past him; as she did he punched her hard in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her, and pushing her back to collapse on the bed in horror.
“You know, I was really hoping we could do this the easy way.” he told her, “I didn’t come here intending to hurt you. I really didn’t. But you haven’t been giving me much choice.” The man opened the backpack and pulled out a length of rope as he was talking.
“Please, don’t do this.” Avery begged as she tried to regain her breath, and watched in terror as the man stood up holding the rope and came to stand in front of her.
“Please believe me, I really don’t want to. But you’ve brought this on yourself.”
The man grabbed Avery’s right wrist and flipped her over on the bed before pulling her arm behind her. Being much stronger than the girl, who was only half his size, he was able to quickly get her other arm pinned behind her back as well where he tied her wrists together, before rolling her onto her back once more.
The man who had just minutes ago pushed his way into Avery’s home now had his face just inches from her own. “Now, you’re going to do exactly as I say, or I’m going to have to hurt you. Do you understand.”
Avery was to frightened by what she thought was coming next to answer, and as the tears began to stream down her cheeks she was only able to manage a slight nod.
“Good.” The man told her as he pulled her up off of the bed, and sat her in the corner on the floor. “You stay very still, and very quiet, and this will be over before you know it.”
The man returned to his backpack, and this time pulled out a short crowbar. He then went back to the bed, and pushed it from the middle of the room all the way against the far wall. He then started counting floor boards until he reached a place that would have been under the bed’s original position. He counted a second time, and then kneeled down in the floor and used the crowbar to pry up a loose floor board. It took him no time at all to remove the board, and he had several more were pulled out before he was done. With the boards out of the way, he reached into the space below the floor, and with a big smile on his face began to pull out stacks of rubberbanded one hundred-dollar bills. When he finished there were ten stacks in all, each about four inches tall.
“Just where Grandpa said he left it.” the man proclaimed in triumph. “I left my briefcase downstairs, I’ll be right back. Don’t you go anywhere.”
But before the man could get out of the room there was a knock at the front door. “Shhh.” the man hissed at Avery as he held his index finger in front of his pursed lips. The knock came a second time. “Who is that?”
“Untie me, and I’ll go check.”
They heard the door creak open, “Avery.” the voice downstairs called out.
Avery recognized it immediately, “Colin! I’m upstairs! There’s a man that bro….” The man backhanded her hard across the face splitting her lip before he made his way out of the room and headed for the stairs.
Colin wasn’t supposed to pick Avery up for their first date until tomorrow night, but he couldn’t wait, and had decided to drop by and bring her flowers as a surprise. Colin was the one surprised though as he watched a man charging down the stairs with a crowbar in his hand.
“You picked the wrong night to come by Romeo.” the man said as he reached the bottom of the stairs and began to draw back with the crowbar.
Colin wasted no time though, and quickly swung the bouquet of flowers at the man’s face; its pedals exploding off in every direction as they smacked into the man’s head. The force of the blow wasn’t hard enough to do any real damage, but it did cause him to pause briefly; which was all the time Colin needed to pick up the briefcase he had seen setting in the floor and use it as his second weapon. As the man blinked off the flower attack, his eyes went wide just as his own briefcase was reaching the side of his head. This blow was much more devastating, and sent the man toppling backwards. The hit was also hard enough to knock the briefcase open, sending the papers inside scattering everywhere, but it was the thud that caught Colin’s attention. Colin couldn’t believe his eyes as he spotted the gun that had fallen to the floor.
Colin had swung the briefcase like he was trying to hit a home run, and when it slammed into the left side of the intruders head, catching him flush on the temple and ear, it made the man’s eyes roll back in his head. Time seemed to briefly slow after the impact, and he dropped the crowbar as he stumbled back a few steps, instinctively grabbing the side of his now injured head with one hand, and blindly trying to wave off anymore attacks with the other. The house was almost completely silent during this lull in the fight, except for the sound of something hard hitting the floor, which caused the man to shake the cobwebs from his head. The intruder found himself frozen as he spotted the gun on the floor between himself and Colin.
The two men went for the gun at the same time, reaching the spot where it laid simultaneously they grappled with each other. The intruder tried ducking down to grab the weapon, but before he could Colin managed to kick it away across the room. As the man stood back up Colin caught him with a right hook to the jaw, and then he hit the man a couple of more times for good measure before he went to retrieve the gun himself.
The scream that came from behind Colin was the yell of a wild man, and he was able to turn around just in time to see that the intruder was charging him before the man’s shoulder slammed into Colin’s gut and he was driven back into the wall. Colin laid dazed on the floor as the man straddled him at the waist and once again wielded the crowbar. The man had a delirious look in his eyes as he raised the metal bar high above his head with both hands, ready to end this fight once and for all.
All Colin heard before the warm spray of blood covered his face was a pop, and then two more, he had closed his eyes tightly after the first noise, but as everything in the house went still and silent again he slowly reopened them. The crazed look in the man’s eyes was gone, replaced with a blank expression, the crowbar dropped harmlessly from the man’s hand to the floor beside Colin, before the intruder’s body went limp and slumped to the floor.
The man gasped in one last breath, looked at Avery standing there holding his pistol, the smoke still curling up out of the barrel, and with his dyeing words warned her, “This isn’t over…I’m not the only one…looking for…”
Colin rushed to Avery who was still holding the gun in outstretched shaking arms. “Are you okay?” he asked.
She nodded silently, then looked from the dead man’s body to Colin’s warm loving eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“I came by to surprise you.”
“He surprised me more.”
Colin wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her in close to him. Avery dropped the gun to floor and slid her arms around his waist. Their lips met as they shared their first deep, lustful kiss, and then she buried her face into his chest, wanting to just melt into him.
“Who was he?” Colin asked.
“I don’t know. He said he wanted to rent a room for the night, but I told him no. Then he broke in and took me upstairs, said something about his grandfather, and started digging money out from under the floor boards.” Avery explained.
“We should call the police.”
“He said he’s not the only one.” Avery pushed back from Colins embrace, and looked up at him, fear in her eyes.
“They can protect us.” He tried to sound as reassuring as possible.
“Or we could just leave.”
“We could take the money and go.”
“I’ve always wondered what the real Paris is like.”
written for: Good Reads – Week 198
photo by: nineblind