The Old House on a Hill

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
When Jane told her boss about having an appointment with the owner of the old house next to a Chinese cemetery, she had hoped that the real-estate manager would tell her not to waste her time there. But she was wrong.

Submitted: June 03, 2010

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 03, 2010



What a mess.  Jane couldn't think right that morning.  First her boss had jumped on her and asked for her work schedule for the day.  He was back a day early from Singapore, so she had to cook up some hogwash tale about visiting the old grey house on top of a low hill next to the Chinese Cemetery.  Maybe she can get the owner to consider selling her expensive real-estate to the agency.

John was, of course, ecstatic.  "Well done girl.  So the old lady finally gave in huh?"

"She had only agreed to meet with me." Creepy old woman.  "I can't promise anything for you."  Horror of horrors, she didn't know that her boss had been eyeing the place for two years.  She had hoped he would say she was stupid to consider the peeling-paint house and tell her to redo her schedule.

"Well, it's a start.  If she won't sell, at least find out why.  Sometimes it could be as simple as not having another place to live in.  We can then sell her one of our more modern houses." One of those expensive, single-storey semi-detached at market price, he thought before saying, "She'd like that. Should be a lot easier to take care of compared to that old place."

There was no way out of it.  Jane picked up her handbag and an official looking file that thankfully John had not asked to see, and walked out the front door.

It was all she could do not to run back upstairs and begged him to stop her from going.  Her hand shook as she tried to fit her key into the lock, and when she sank into the driver's seat, the car creaked louder than usual, as though the fear that quacked her had added its own weight upon her frame. She prayed that the battery would stall, no such luck, as the engine coughed and wheezed to life.

Jane had never driven so slow in her life: Bicycles overtook her, late morning joggers looked back at her and a hundred cars swerved pass at angry speeds.  Block after block of moss-stained old shop houses were soon followed by two mechanic shops overflowing with rusting cars. A terrace hill lined with Chinese tombstones loomed into view. She took a deep breath, made a left turn and came face to face with a rusty wrought iron gate.

Maybe she could go back and tell John that the old lady was not home? She peered up the low slope and saw that the cropped lawn had patches of exposed ground and that the clay driveway did not appear to be well-used.

A dark shape stepped in front of the gate.  "Yes?" a kindly looking old lady asked.  She was dressed in a black printed Chinese blouse and grey pants.

Think of something, think of something.  Jane wound down her car window.  "Oh hello, I'm Jane.  I've just arrived in Kuching and I'm lost.  Would you mind if I use your phone to call a friend."

"Oh, poor thing.  Of course you should come in."  The old woman fished out a key from her trouser pocket and opened the padlock.  The gate creaked, sending shivers up and down Jane's spine.  As she drove up, she heard it creaked again.  She stopped the car and waited.

"Why don't you get in my car?  It's quite a distance to walk all the way up there."

"Thank you.  You are very kind."  The passenger door opened and the old lady stepped in lightly.  The car absorber barely budged.

Jane parked by the side of the two-storey house and was surprise to see a run-down car in the backyard.  The model was only three years old and far newer than her ancient Mazda.

She studied the house: It was magnificent, and even the peeling paint couldn't hide that fact.  A cat howled from an upstairs window.  Jane jumped back and it hissed as it reached down with a large orange paw.

"Bad Ginger, bad girl.  She is a guest coming in for a bit of tea with Ah Ma.  Settle down now and I will give you something special for dinner."

On realizing that this was just an ordinary house with an ordinary old lady, Jane began to calm down.  All her aunts had cats living with them.  Nothing wrong with that, though the fellow upstairs sounded a little meaner than most she'd met.  Maybe it had been spayed because she heard that cats tend to be bigger and meaner after such procedures.

Jane pretended to make a call in the living room. There was no tone, but she did not mind because she had been invited in for tea.

Old fashion bathroom tiles lined the kitchen floor, and though the place smelled of mothballs, it was sparkling clean. Two large refrigerators stood against one wall next to a sink that was half the size of a bathtub.  Even the cooking stove was the largest Jane had ever seen.  A moss-covered log, that appeared to have been sliced in half and covered back again, lay behind an open doorway.  The floor under it was covered in yellow and black slime.

The old woman poured steaming water into a teapot.  She smiled at Jane's wondering eyes.  "There used to be a lot of people living in this old place.  My children started working outstation and they took their family with them.  Now there is only myself and my husband."

"This house is large. I can't imagine how you both manage. Why don't you get a smaller place?"

"Well, this is my family home. My husband is also very attached to the place. He won't leave it for anything."

"It must be expensive to get people to do repairs."

"Oh no, not at all. My husband takes care of that himself."  She turned to an empty chair, patted the table in front of it and said, "Don't you dear?"

Jane's breath caught in her throat. The old woman walked to a cabinet and took out three cups and saucers.  She poured tea and passed a cup to Jane.  Then she placed the second cup in front of the empty seat.

"Don't mind my husband. He is not much of a talker, but he is very reliable."

Jane smiled weakly and tried not to make the cup clatter as she picked up the saucer.

"Don't you want sugar or cream with your tea?"

"Oh no," Jane stammered, "I usually take my tea plain." She sipped and almost gagged, for the tea was thick and bitter. At least she now has a story for John. The old lady was loony and she didn't want to sell the place because her invincible dead husband wouldn't let her.

An awful screech followed by a heavy thump right above her head made Jane jump.

"Ginger. Stop that awful noise."

"She sounds large."

"She is. She almost starved to death though, when my husband started sleeping downstairs." She pointed to the side room.  Jane gulped. Mothballs, why was there so much mothballs in the kitchen?

"But as with all animals, you only need to find out what will make them eat. I tried all kinds of food and I found out that she likes raw meat best."

Jane's tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. The mothballs were overpowering. She could taste it and feel it vaporize out of her stomach as she burped. Her stomach felt cramp and she took another mouthful of tea to un-stick her tongue.  Now her mouth felt full of tongue, as though it had swelled like a balloon. The teacup dropped from her hand and she fell down after it.  She looked up. The old woman shook her head and finger, as though scolding a naughty child. So much like her own grandmother, so much like ....

John looked across the office, where was Jane?  She didn't come back yesterday and she had not come in that morning. He tried calling her mobile phone, again a voicemail.  He strode towards her desk and flipped through her Rolodex but realized that she didn't have a number for the old house.

He pocketed his car keys and turned to his secretary. "Tina, I'm going to that old house next to the cemetery.  Call me if Jane turns up.  Tell her I want to talk with her."  God help her if she doesn't have a good reason for this behaviour.

Fifteen minutes later, John stared at the same iron gate and honked; once, twice, thrice.  An old woman appeared from a side doorway.  She walked down the driveway hesitantly.  John drummed his fingers on the steering wheel: What else did he expect, she was too old to run down the path like some lusty teenager.

Two yards from the gate she stopped. John raised both hands skywards then with an impatient sigh he stepped out of the car. He leaned his arm against the iron gate.

"Yes?" the old lady asked.

"I'm really sorry to bother you like this.  One of my staff was suppose to visit this place yesterday.  Her name is Jane, did she drop by?  It should be in the morning."

"Nobody came yesterday. The grocer only comes on Friday and my shop tenant brings the rent money on the seventh.  Nobody else comes."

John seethed - Jane had lied to him again. So typical of her.  He should have question her in more detail, that was how he always caught her lies, but yesterday he was so excited about prospecting the house he didn't bother.No point taking it out on the old lady, so he cracked a smile and took out a business card from his shirt pocket.

"I am a real estate agent.  If you ever plan to move away from your house, please give me a call."

The old lady stayed her ground. Swallowing his frustration, he turned towards a sun-bleached mailbox and slipped in the card.  Again he waved and got into his car.  Dammed, there was rust on the arm of his shirt. He will make Jane pay the laundry bill.

© Copyright 2018 GoldaMowe. All rights reserved.

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