For those of you who make the mistake of moving to a small, close-knit town surrounded by nothing but corn fields as far as the eye can see, and who wish to be known as something other than 'the newcomer' or 'the outsider', here's a little bit of advice for you. Go to the grocery store, and introduce yourself to everyone and anyone you meet (remember to buy groceries though, and don't be overly friendly, because those two things combined with make people think you are 'on the spectrum', a label worse than death in small towns). Why? Because in towns with a population of five thousand or less, everyone passes through the doors of the grocery store at least once every week. Not to mention that the worst (or the best, depending on your view) gossips tend to hang around there, looking for a fresh tidbit of news.
Trust me on this, I know what I'm talking about. Having moved to eight different cities in my life, five of which were small farming towns, I consider myself a bit on an expect on the matter. Go in, stock up on enough groceries to last a year, and make small talk with people who approach you (which will probably be everyone). Tell them your name, what your hobbies and interests are, and exactly what your business in their town is. Don't make stuff up, don't avoid questions, and always stay polite.
Trust me on this, I know what I'm talking about. Having moved to eight different cities in my life, five of which were small farming towns, I consider myself a bit on an expect on the matter. Go in, stock up on enough groceries to last a year, and make small talk with people who approach you (which will probably be everyone). Tell them your name, what your hobbies and interests are, and exactly what your business in their town is. Don't make stuff up, don't avoid questions, and always stay polite. Name: Lydia Brown. Occupation...well, that one is a bit harder to answer. By day I'm a journalist and a part-time novelist who had come to Crossburg to write the biography of a stuffity, rich elderly woman, Mrs. Randell, who's family had become extremely wealthy fifty or so years ago when the demand for apples (of all things) increased drastically. My colleagues had thought I was best suited to the job, so I packed up my bags and drove down to Crossburg (I also lost when we drew straws back in the office in Sunset Valley). For the next year, I would spend the better part of every day interviewing Mrs. Randell, and then trying to find a way to turn what she told me into a compelling and interesting novel, a feat that filled me with dread whenever I thought of it.
However, I'm not just a journalist, because by night, my job takes a turn towards the supernatural. Ever since I was ten years old, the year my mother passed away, I have been able to see ghosts. What's more, I can communicate with them, and, if push comes to shove, exterminate them (because not all ghost are friendly). But such a skill makes people regard you as different, unusual, weird, or even, if they've never had a run-in with ghosts themselves, crazy. So my ability with ghosts is something that I usually keep under wraps. My drive to Crossburg had been simple and pain-free, but once I arrived there, I was faced with a problem. Crotchety Mrs. Randell hadn't given even one thought to where I would stay while writing her biography, although she made it perfectly clear that under no uncertain terms would I be staying in her house. Which meant that I was on my own for finding a place to stay, a place that would offer more comforts than a mere motel room, but wouldn't be as expensive as renting a house.
Unfortunately, the locals weren't able to assist me very well with my problem, and by the time I had checked out with my groceries, I was bitterly resigning myself to spending the next year or so living in a cheap motel room. But as I was leaving, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and said those magic words. "I know somewhere that you might be able to stay." And so Agnes Jasper entered my life, the local celebrity known for having never married, and being a bit of a hippie back in her younger days. "There's a house a mile or so out of town, owned by the Kingsleys." Agnes wrinkled her nose when she spoke the name, and I got the impression she didn't think too highly of them. "Their house used to be the shining glory of this town, but...well, time went by and money got tight. I heard they're renting out a room this year. It's not something that I would choose, but if you have no other choice..." Thanking Agnes for her advice, and promising that someday soon I would stop by for tea, I hailed a taxi, and gave him the address that Agnes had passed along to me. "The House At The Top of the Hill, please!" I said, and shrugged sheepishly when the driver turned to stare at me, his much-chewed toothpick in danger of falling out his mouth. As a rule, I don't involve myself in small-town politics, because when you're only living in a place for a year or so, the last thing you need is more trouble. But it looked like this time, I had unconsciously landed myself in a big mess, if Agnes's and the driver's reactions towards Kingsley family and house were anything to go by.
Still, as Agnes had said, I didn't really have a choice, and I've always been good at making friends and adapting to new situations. My taxi driver was taciturn and unfriendly, so we spent the drive to the Kingsley house in uncomfortable silence. And it may have just been a mile or so out of town, but after only a couple blocks, the houses stopped, leaving endless fields on corn on one side and steep green hills on the other. Pretty, peaceful scenery, but to a city-girl like myself, it was a bit unnerving. "Excuse me, sir." I said, leaning forward. "But why aren't there any houses out here?"
The driver looked at me briefly in the mirror before allowing his gaze to return to the road. "Farming land." He mumbled by way of an answer. "No good for building houses." When we pulled up in front of the house, I could only gape at it in amazement. The house was in disarray and was not being keep up, that much was clear. The paint was peeling off the walls, the yard was unkept and full of weeds, and the windows were grey from dust and grime. And yet, the two fenced-off gardens were tidy enough, and a sprinkler (albeit a rusty one) sat in the yard. Clearly people were still living here, and despite everything, the house still managed to maintain a bit of it's grandness. And what an unusual looking house it was. Clearly, the architect had tried to make it a Victorian-styled house. But it also looked as if the builder hadn't been able to resist throwing in a couple more modern flares here and there, just for kicks.
The result was a architectual mess, but not entirely unpleasant. And I could understand why the house would demand a certain amount of respect, even if it was no longer the largest or the grandest house around. There was this aura to it, something just couldn't put into words. "Thanks!" I cheerfully told my driver, handing him the amount of money due and pulling my bags out of the car. He merely grunted in response, and tore off down the road, leaving me standing on the sidewalk with my two suitecases in hand, and a buzz of excitement coursing through my veins. I loved meeting new people, and I loved learning the history of things, the stories that most people didn't even bother with. With a little luck, I would soon have a chance to both meet new friends, and dig up some old tales (a house like this had to have some deliciously secret story behind it, right?).
Through the dirty window, I could see an angelic-looking little boy, eyes glued to the screen of an ancient computer. I couldn't imagine living up here, so removed from the rest of the town. Didn't he get lonely? My eyes returned to the screen that the boy's attention was focused on. Then again, maybe not. The internet was a wonderful thing, after all. The door opened, and a teenage girl walked out, eying me suspiciously with a pair of startlingly blue eyes. Her full, strong features seemed almost too big and heavy for her face, but even so, I could tell than in a couple years, she would grow up to be 'a real beauty'. Smiling broadly, I stuck out my hand for her to shake, trying to remain unfazed when she merely stared down at it. "Hi! I'm Lydia Brown; new in town. Someone told me that your family was renting out a room. I'm looking for a place to stay for a year or so, nothing fancy, just somewhere to sleep and eat that is hopefully better than a hotel. Is the room still open?"
The girl raised an eyebrow at me, and pouted her overly-glossy purple lips. "Queenie Kingsley." I had to smile at that. Whoever named this girl must have had a good sense of humor. "About the room-" But before she could continue, the blond-haired boy that I had seen playing on the computer skipped out through the door, nearly running into me. "Hey Queenie, who are you talking to? Is it Elizabeth?" His grey eyes landed on me, and grew as large as dinner-plates. "Woah! A visitor! We never get any of those." He folded his arms across his chest importantly. "Daddy says it's 'cause our house is too far away from anyone, and that they don't come up here 'cause they're jealous that we have this awesome house and they don't!" He smiled up at me, and I couldn't help but return it. Oh the innocence of young children.
"Christopher!" Queenie scolded sternly. "You interrupted us! And no, Mrs. Brown is not just a visitor. She's thinking about moving into the free room. Now please apologize for being so rude." So Queenie got stuck with being the mother to her little brother. Can't have been a very fun job.
"Sorry." Christopher apologized, blinking up at me sweetly. I smiled first at him, then at Queenie. I could see that this prickly front she put up was really all for show, and knew that, like most teenage girls, she would warm right up to me with a little kindness and flattery. "Really, it's alright. I have a little brother who's only a few years older than you, Christopher, so I'm used to not being able to get a word into conversations. And please, call me Lydia." That last part was directed to Queenie, who looked slightly surprised at first, but shrugged."Now, is there anything I need to sign, like an agreement form, or a contract or something of the likes?"
Queenie shook her head. "I don't know. You'll have to talk about that with Daddy when he gets home from work."
I felt someone tug on my skirt, and turned back to Christopher, who was practically quivering with happiness. "I'm so excited you're going to be staying with us! You seem nice; there aren't many nice adults in around here, 'cept for Daddy. All the others treat us weird." Here he frowned slightly, but quickly as his frown had come, it turned back into a smile. "But you won't treat us weird! I can tell. Come inside; Queenie and I can give you a tour."
The House On The Hill
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