The gates had been locked ever since Nina had moved into the neighbourhood as a child.
The Reyes’s had fallen in love with Sycamore Hill the first time they had laid eyes on it, and why not? If one were to look up ‘ideal area for raising families’ on the internet, then Sycamore Hill would have pride of place on the first page of results. Or so Nina assumed – she had never actually tested her theory out.
And Sycamore Hill was an ideal family area...if you ignored the brooding house located right at the top of the hill that gave the area its name. The house with the permanently locked gates and the owners that no one was sure even existed, because not a single person had ever been seen coming in or out of the house. Ever.
“But somebody has to live there!” This was Paul, one of Nina’s friends. His family had moved here not long after Nina’s, and of such things friendships are made of.
“Mom thinks it’s just some kind of summer house,” Nina said, with great scepticism.
They were standing at the bend in the road leading up to the house. Above them, the house itself crouched like a dark, hulking predator waiting to spring.
Nina, Paul and some of the other kids in the street had spent the past several summers daring each other to scale the wall surrounding the perimeter of the house. Once into the garden, they were to creep over to the house itself and peek in the windows. Just a peek, mind. If vampires or witches or Mafioso’s lived in there, none of them wanted to linger too long.
But in the end...they’d all chickened out.
Not this time, Nina thought fiercely. This time I’m going over that damn wall!
The reason for her bravado was simple: Nina didn’t think there was anybody living there. The fanciful tales that they would tell other at sleep-overs were fun and all, but when nobody was ever seen going in or out it didn’t exactly take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the house was empty. Some place inherited by a rich guy who had homes dotted all over the world already or something, and thus had no need of a new one.
Still, every time she approached that large hulk of a building, a shiver of very real and utterly illogical fear shot through her. Paul too, although he’d deny to his dying day.
“You won’t do it,” Paul sneered, leading Nina to once again ask herself exactly why she was friends with this jerk.
Because he’s okay most of the time.
Which was true enough. And he was only sneering at her because he himself was scared.
The gates loomed in front of them. Nina placed a restraining hand on Paul’s arm.
“Don’t get too close,” she said in a low voice, even though they were unlikely to be heard even if someone did live there.
Paul shrugged her off, irritated. “Why not?”
“‘Cause they might see us,” Nina said, although she still highly doubted that there was any “they” for them to worry about. In four years she had never seen a single curtain twitch.
For all his bluster, Paul insisted upon hanging back as Nina stepped towards the gate, squaring her small shoulders determinedly.
Then she faltered, noticing something that had escaped her attention until just now.
The padlock on the gate was shiny and new. Someone had changed it recently, very recently in fact.
So what? There’s no one in there now!
“Chic-ken!” Paul howled from somewhere behind her. Pretty rich, that. Nevertheless, the taunt spurred her forward.
Climbing the gate was out of the question, but the wall was another matter. It was old, the stone riddled with cracks and uneven surfaces from being battered by time and the elements. These could easily be used as hand-holds. Just like rock-climbing, easy-as-can-beezy.
Yeah, right. All the rock climbing you’ve ever done was on the junior wall at Creepy Crawlies.
“Still counts,” she muttered as she slid a hand inside one of the cracks and tested her weight on it. Solid.
She withdrew the hand and it came free easily. No risk of being trapped.
Next she found a foothold and another hand-hold.
Nina reached the top of the wall at last. It might as well have been the top of the world. From here she could observe the entire town, which suddenly looked a whole hell of a lot smaller than she had always thought it was.
Spotting Paul a way down the hill, she waved her arms, feeling victorious. It was a stupid move if anyone really did live there, but since no one had cracked a window open to holler at her by now, Nina felt it was a risk worth taking.
Paul yelled back an acknowledgement, complimentary or insulting she couldn’t tell, and Nina turned back to the task at hand, satisfied. Hunkering down, she began to pick a route down to the weed-infested garden below.
The garden presented another mystery. The padlock on the gate suggested somebody had been by recently, but if that were the case it didn’t appear that they had actually gone through the gates. The garden was a veritable jungle.
She landed cat-like into the tall grass and was startled when she straightened up and the grass nearly came up to her chin. They took care of the gates but not the garden? That didn’t scan.
Nina crept forward through the long grass, feeling an awful lot like a burglar. Which was stupid. She was here to take a look, not to steal anything.
The windows were clean. Sparkling even. Nina couldn’t even begin to process what that meant. So whoever owned this house was the sort of weirdo who looked after the inside only? Unless they were really old or something, that didn’t make much sense to her. But she was, after all, only nine-years-old and aware that she didn’t know everything.
It made her head ache to think about it. Taking a deep breath, she shaded her eyes with her hand and peered inside the window. Might as well do what she came here to...
There was nothing inside the house. Not in the sense of an abandoned house, but literally nothing at all. Or so it seemed at first.
She blinked. The nothingness took shape and form. It was a vast, flat grey void that rippled and eddied like...like...
“Water,” she whispered. The house was full of grey water.
Except that it looked nothing like any kind of water Nina had ever –
Nina blinked. She was standing outside the gate. What had she been thinking about, standing here and staring at nothing? Oh, that’s right. The house was deserted, just as she had always suspected. She recalled clearly how she had peered in through the dusty window and had seen nothing but empty rooms and peeling, yellow wallpaper. All those years of speculation and dares for nothing.
With a shrug, she started back down the road to where Paul was waiting for her, already making plans for the rest of the afternoon. They could play hangman. Nina liked that idea.
She always kicked his ass at hangman.
OBSERVATION POST #A231
Young child found loitering outside. Memory wiped successfully. Would suggest having activity take place around building some time in the future. Locals appear increasingly suspicious.
- Alan Thorne,
N.B. Suggested action to be taken later in the year.
Created: Jul 21, 2012Emma-Conner Document Media