The house was not at all what Jamie had expected it to be. When he’d spoken with the realtor, not once but several times, he’d been very clear that he wanted somewhere small, somewhere easy to maintain, and somewhere that was surrounded by other people. In his mind’s eye, he had imagined a compact townhouse, maybe with families living on either side, people that would be welcoming and approachable, people that he could become friends with.
It was clear now, that the realtor had ignored all his instructions and then some. The house that he stood in front of was not small, it was not easy to maintain, and there were no other houses even remotely close by.
Jamie pressed his lips into a tight line as he considered that. He looked down at the shadowed, winding road that his old truck had wheezed its way up. The road, flanked by tall trees on either side, even canopied in some places, went on for many miles. It led to the small town that was nestled in the valley below. Down there was where all the townhouses were, all the families, all the life.
But up here? Jamie shook his head as he turned to look back at the house. It stood, like some kind of sentry, alone on the hill, surrounded on three sides by more of the tall, thick trees. Huge, leafy bushes jostled for space with the trunks of those trees, covering the ground in patches of brown and green.
The house was three stories high, and even from this position, head on, Jamie counted seventeen windows. The windows were, in the main, ridiculously large, but were made up of hundreds of small panes surrounded by squares of wood that were peeling white paint. The front door, the only door that Jamie could see, was big enough to allow two or three people through at once. It had once been painted a deep, dark charcoal but that had peeled and faded now to something more like a muted gray. Only on the edges could Jamie see the color as it had once been. A huge, triangular overhang—a muted gray also—framed the weathered door, trying, Jamie thought, to welcome him in.
Jamie did not feel welcome.
If anything, Jamie felt vaguely uncomfortable.
He looked back at his truck. Stuffed inside of it, taking up all the space but that of the driver’s side, were Jamie’s possessions. They were held in large bags, backpacks, and even some in grocery sacks. There was no method to how Jamie had packed them. The moment he had decided to leave, that defining moment, he had simply stuffed everything that he thought he might need into any bag that was close by.
The rest of his things? They were still in his apartment back in the city. An apartment that Jamie had lived in for almost a decade. An apartment that, he knew, without a doubt, he could never live in again.
But could he live here?
Jamie let out a long exhale at that thought. He eyed the truck again before turning back to the house. As he did so, he wondered where the realtor was. It was past midday and she, Elizabeth, had promised to meet him at twelve sharp. She would give him the tour, she had said, show him where everything was. Jamie frowned as he recalled her jaunty voice, her gurgling laugh, and her lack of any offer to send through photographs of the new home she had found him.
In fairness, she had offered once before, many weeks ago, but Jamie had refused. He didn’t want pictures of his new home, he didn’t even want the address. She was to find him somewhere, take care of all the paperwork, and let him know when it was done. Only then would she give him the address, only then would Jamie make a decision on whether to set out or not.
Jamie’s frown deepened.
Because he was a fool, that was why.
Because he was following a stupid fantasy that had been dead for many years.
Because he should know better.
He closed his eyes. The breeze, stronger up here than it had been in the valley below, feathered over the skin of his face and his bare arms. The sun was weak this time of the year, but it still warmed him ever so slightly. A bird called out in the distance. The branches of the tall trees moved languidly in the breeze. One of them creaked against something. One of the many windows perhaps. He would have to cut that branch down if he was to stay here. It would keep him awake otherwise.
Jamie snapped his eyes open.
Was he really considering staying in this…horror house?
Was there any other word for it? Jamie had watched enough slasher movies over the years to know that they always started in places that looked like this. Old houses, houses on hills, houses surrounded by trees, houses miles away from civilization.
And yet, Jamie wasn’t frightened by that possibility. He wasn’t frightened of anything that might physically happen to him. But mentally? Emotionally? Jamie shivered. The whole point of coming here, to this town, to this new life, was to fix that part of him. He had imagined a community, people, friends, something that he hadn’t had for more years than he cared to count.
There was no community up here.
Just as there had been for so very long.
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