“The house on the hill had been empty as long as anyone could remember,” she hissed hotly into my ear, while her sticky palm wrapped its way around my forearm. She was leading me through the wet leaves and sticks cloaking the mud underfoot through our backyard and into the sparse woods that dipped and rose along the creek behind our house.
Victoria had always been fascinated by the ghoulish, the old, the dilapidated, while I preferred to pick field poppies and weave them into a peasant’s crown or imagine animal shapes from the clouds. She was intent on exploration of the dark and dangerous, which only increased with the further budding of our breasts and longer looks from boys.
From the creek bed bounded Jeremy. Thin, gangly Jeremy who always wore muddy red sneakers, dark jeans, and the same t-shirt but in different colors. Hair that was never combed swept over his eyes and he repeatedly, constantly, and annoyingly swung it with a neck jerk while he talked to you. His green-gray eyes could lock on you with a surprising directness and warmth in these short bursts of revelation; a direct contrast to his goofy, messy outer appearance. This time, his eyes searched Victoria, her short black pageboy, her lash-fringed eyes, her delicate, hairy arms that she scratched when she was nervous or deep in thought.
“Whachya’ll up to?”, spittled Jeremy. I recoiled slightly after spotting an unidentified substance crusted along his mouth and up his left cheek.
Beginning a slow arm scratch, Victoria glanced at Jeremy and quickly looked beyond him to the Thomas House on the hill.
“You wanna go for a ride in my dad’s Mustang? He still hasn’t come home from work and we can look at the trees and their leaves or something.”
“Sure.” Victorica broke her far-off stare to smile shyly at Jeremy and to give me a sly side glance. She grabbed my arm. “Don’t tell Mom and don’t go home until I come back for you.”
“Fine,” I said as I pulled my oversized hoodie tighter around my arms.
“Meet me behind the shed and we’ll go in the house together.”
As I sat at the edge of the creek, pulling up weeds and searching for pussywillows, the sky became a velvety purple and indigo. I heard tires screeching on road.
“Hey, Margaret! Get in the car! We’re going up to the Thomas House!” I heard in a stage whisper. Victoria was leaning over the back seat trying to swing the door open. I dropped my foliage collection and threw my hood over my head, zipping up tighter.
Once I reached the car, Jeremy and Victoria were breathless, excited.
“Jeremy is going to take us up to the Thomas House.”
“What about your dad, Jeremy? Isn’t he expecting his car back at any minute?”
“Don’t worry about that, darlin’. Let’s go for a ride.”
We swayed and lumbered up the hill as quickly as the tires on the car could handle gripping the wet winding road. I dug my fingers into my thighs with excitement and nervousness. Soon, the Thomas House peeked out behind the trees lining the road, its eaves and gables jutting in different directions, almost haphazardly. The clapboard siding hanging in pieces and its front porch sagging from moisture and years of neglect. We were all holding our breath as we got closer and closer. Jeremy shut off the headlights as we crept in the dark along the circular driveway. We got out of the car slowly, almost ceremoniously and I instinctively reached for Victoria’s hand. Our palms were cold but sweat began to seal them together.
We reached the front porch and carefully stepped around the most rotten pieces. The house must have been so beautiful in its earlier days. There were stained glass windows framing the door, an old wooden porch swing hanging from one chain where I imagined young lovers stealing a few moments before twilight. The peeling paint must have been a gleaming white that shone during a sunny day. Now, it was old, creaking, abandoned, with holes where mice and other critters chewed through.
Jeremy rammed his shoulder against the front door and it gave way easily, with a wet, sad sound of defeat. Particle dust dropped through the air. The door opened to a grand staircase with matted carpet, which had almost completely collapsed. At the top of the stairs, a beautiful but dingy stained glass window of a woman in a flapper dress and cloche hat with a Japanese paper umbrella open at her feet.
Victoria finally exhaled her breath.
“I feel wrong being here, like we are disturbing the dead.”
I could only nod. She pulled me along by my hand.
“Let’s go. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“But don’t you want to explore?” whined Jeremy childishly.
“No. No I don’t. Take me home. Take me and my sister home.”
Victoria pulled me back to the car, while Jeremy tried to gently close the front door, but it kept swinging open in the wind.
“Just LEAVE it, Jeremy. Let’s GO.”
We were all silent on the way back. Pulled up in front of our parent’s house was Jeremy’s mom’s Cadillac.
“Great,” hissed Jeremy under his breath.
We all go out of the car slowly. Jeremy’s mom ran out of the house and immediately slapped him across the face. He didn’t even look surprised as the final realization came to him. He said softly, “So sorry about your missed car appointment.”