2 | House on the Hill
I wake up in a panic, disoriented.
How long have I been out? I jostle my eyes open, rubbing a hand to my forehead. My nose and throat feel dry. My skull aches, my skin tingles. Dawn is arriving, the room fiery orange from the rising sun. I do not recognize my setting.
I’ve been abducted.
I sit up slowly and the bed I’m placed on squeaks. I wince. I’m still tired and I have to fight off the urge to go back to sleep. My heart is racing but even my rapidly pumping blood does not ward off my sluggishness. Where am I? Whose room is this?
The walls are painted a dark indigo which makes the space feel smaller than it is. A wide rectangular window hovers above the bed, covered by translucent white half-curtains. In front of the bed, pressed to the wall, is an oak dresser with a tall mirror that casts my dishevelled reflection back at me.
There are two oak end-tables, one placed against each side of the headboard, that have touch-lamps with frosted shades. An alarm clock, a classic model, is on the end-table opposite of me. I lean over and read the time. Six-thirty. I’ve been out for nine hours. I’ve missed my flight. Is Beth alright?
There’s a wooden door tucked into the left side of the wall in front of me, next to the dresser. To my right, in the middle of the wall, is another door. I assume it is the latter door I notice that leads outside of the bedroom. I want to investigate where the other door leads to but I’m too afraid to move.
I fist the bedding, patterned to be white and grey marble, and my vision begins to tunnel. I rub the base of my neck, panic suffocating me. Where am I? Where is Beth? Has someone found her yet? If they have, has she called the police? Is someone looking for me already?
I feel my jacket pocket, thankful to find my wallet still inside. I want to scream. Pressure builds in my chest. Am I alone in this foreign place? Where are the men who have taken me? I don’t know what to think, how to feel. Everything has happened so quickly.
I do a once-over of the room again, chewing my lip to prevent myself from crying out. I’m trembling, eyes watering. I meet my reflection in the mirror again, taking in my unkempt hair, my pallid complexion. I look away but my eyes are pulled back by an invisible thread. I’m the only thing I recognize, my mind subconsciously trying to find comfort in this fact.
I’m stiff as a corpse when I hear male voices from somewhere outside of the room. I hold my breath, ears pricked, honing in on the cadences of my abductors. One guffaws loudly enough to stir the dead, startling me further than I’m already startled.
Then there are heavy footsteps. I listen for a few moments until I’m certain they are approaching the room that contains me. I think it’s only one of the men but I’m no less afraid.
I look around, desperately trying to find something to use as a weapon, but my quick search proves to be fruitless. I consider trying to hide somewhere but that seems counterproductive. I fist my hair, nails digging into my scalp, face twisted in a silent scream as the doorknob begins to turn.
Before the door opens, however, I lay back down in the same position I woke up in.
I try to relax but my muscles lock. My heartbeat is in my ears. My thoughts race a million miles a minute. I close my eyes, trying my best not to clench them. Everything seems like such a feat as footsteps enter the room. They’re hushed, less abrasive, but no less frightening.
A second pair of footsteps resonate outside of the room, causing my anxiety to spike. My skin feels hot, sweat beads by my hairline. I try to regulate my breathing as I hear whoever has entered the room open a drawer in their dresser. They begin to rummage, sending me further into distress as I struggle to pretend I’m unconscious.
I hear footsteps stop in the threshold.
“She still out?”
The man rummaging slams the drawer shut. I manage to stop myself from jolting.
“It seems that way.”
“Is she supposed to be knocked out still?” Asks the other man in the threshold. “How’s her breathing?”
There’s a moment of silence. The man in the room says, “shallow. But that’s normal.”
“You think she’ll wake up soon?”
There’s a sound of fabric rustling. I assume that whoever is in the room has taken off their shirt and replaced it. There are more footsteps as the door on the left side of the front wall is opened and shut.
“Soon,” He says thoughtfully.
“How do you think she’s going to react?” The man in the threshold asks.
Footsteps begin to approach the side of the bed I’m placed on. My pulse picks up dramatically.
The man in the room stops right beside my faux-unconscious body. Feigning calm becomes my greatest testament, especially when a knuckle caresses my cheekbone. Chills circulate through my entire being despite his touch being warm. I successfully suppress a reaction but only by the skin of my teeth. When I hear his footsteps withdraw from the bed I feel myself begin to truly relax. I’ve passed.
The man in the threshold asks, just as the man in the room exits, “are you going to keep checking on her?”
“Every half-hour or so,” He says, then I hear the door close.
I wait to move until I hear their footsteps retreating from the room. They’re talking to one another but no longer can I understand what they’re saying. I let out a deep, strangled breath, clenching my eyes before opening them. I stare up at the ceiling for a few seconds, gathering myself before I sit up again.
I gingerly lower my foot onto the floor, then the other. I stand, the room spinning briefly, my knees wobbling. I grab onto the end-table as I once again scope my surroundings. Once I feel stable enough to walk I do, straight to the door next to the dresser.
When I open the door, I’m greeted with an en-suite bathroom. There’s a hamper right by the threshold with only one discarded shirt inside. I glance around, finding this room of little importance, before shutting the door as quietly as I can. I cannot use anything in there as a weapon against two men.
I rest my back against the door, noticing the way a plastic handle peeks out from beneath the bed. I furrow my brows, approaching it, crouching down. I pull on the handle and a red suitcase, my suitcase, slides out. I unzip it, already knowing I will find it empty. I lay on my knees, looking under the bed, finding my other suitcase. I pull it out, feeling that it is empty too, but I unzip it anyway.
I look under the bed again for my carry-on bag but I do not see it.
Chewing on my lip I close and slide my empty suitcases back under the bed before standing to my feet. My phone is in my carry-on bag. If I can find it then I can call the police.
I look in the drawers of the end-tables first. In the end-table on the side of the bed I woke up on are my books, socks, bras and underwear. I cringe, shuddering when I realize one of my abductors has sorted through them.
The other end-table proves fruitless, only boxers and socks. I tip-toe to the dresser, looking through all of the drawers, in sets of three, seeing that my clothes occupy the bottom row. My abductor has began to move me in. It heightens my sense of urgency. Especially when there is still no carry-on bag.
I decide to investigate the bathroom again. When I walk in I open the mirror cabinet above the sink, discovering my toiletries have been mixed in with the toiletries of the other person who inhabits the bathroom. I check the sink cabinet, the drawers. I check the wicker dresser adjacent to the glass shower but only find clean towels.
I leave the bathroom, shutting the door behind me. I’ve looked everywhere but still no carry-on bag.
Again I rest my back to the door before honing in on the window above the bed. My curiosity is piqued as I walk over, standing on the mattress, careless of my shoes, peeking out, drawing back the curtains. Straight ahead, on the other side of a gravel road, are a motley of birch and pine trees that sway in the wind. I’m in the country.
Below, however, is an elevated deck that, if I can get out of the window, I can easily lower myself onto. I waste no time in trying.
The window is crank-operated, so I twist the handle until I can twist it no more. It is not opened wide, but it is wide enough for me to squeeze through. I wonder how much time has passed. Ten minutes, fifteen maybe?
A screen separates me from my freedom. I poke through a corner with my thumbnail and I’m able to peel the screen away from its frame. Once I’ve peeled enough for me to climb through, I do just that. I boost myself off of the headboard and I make my escape.
Once I’m on the deck I notice another large window that leads into the living room, proven by the way a sofa is pressed up against it. This window extends from a few inches above the deck to a few inches below the roof. It must be just under six feet wide. If someone looks out of the window they will see me.
Someone sits on the sofa, craning their neck back and closing their eyes. For a moment I’m struck by a feeling of familiarity, believing I recognize the face. Inky hair is slicked back, styled in an undercut. Jaw is shaven, no stubble to speak of. I know him from somewhere...
He opens his eyes and I know I have to duck under the living room window or he’ll see me. But as I go to do so, it’s already too late. He has spotted me. He looks stunned for a second as we stare at each other but he snaps into action quickly. In my panic, so do I.
I sprint across the deck, spotting the front steps that lead down to a gravel driveway. In the distance, on top of a hill, is a house.
I have to run across the front door to reach the stairs. Just as I’m about to pass it, it is thrown open. I can’t help but scream as the man in the window reaches out to grab me, barely missing me as I manage to duck out of the way. I can hear his footsteps behind me, matching my speed. I must use only one step before I begin racing across the driveway.
I run like I’ve never run before. And I don’t look back once.
“She’s out,” My youngest brother, Spencer, says as he rushes to his feet.
I look out of the window just as Blythe runs past. I can’t help the small smile that tugs at my lips. Crafty little thing she is.
Spencer throws the door open and I hear her scream. I expect that he’s grabbed her, dragging her back inside, but through the threshold I see she’s eluded him and instead makes her way down the stairs. She must leap down them because I blink and suddenly she’s on the driveway, sprinting.
I jog over to the door, seeing that Spencer is in hot pursuit. He’s just reached the bottom step when I step outside.
“Leave her,” I demand.
Spencer looks back at me, squinting from the sun. “She’s getting away!”
“No she’s not,” I chuckle. She follows a path, sprinting towards the house she sees in the distance. She doesn’t know that the house is not friend, but foe. It belongs to my other brother, Lawrence; the middle child. “She’s running into a trap.”
Spencer stomps a foot to the ground. He’s frustrated, running a hand through his hair. He turns back to Blythe, watching her leave the driveway and enter the field of fresh-cut grass. Her honey-blonde curls whip wildly behind her.
“Fuck. She’s fast. I almost had her.”
“But you don’t.”
I watch her run across the field, energy seemingly endless, fueled only by adrenaline. Spencer is grunting obscenities under his breath, leaving me as he goes back inside. He brushes his shoulder into mine. I smack the back of his head and he rubs it, glaring at me, but says nothing.
I watch her until she’s the size of an ant and I follow Spencer back inside. I close the door and grab my cellphone, calling Lawrence. He picks up on the third ring. His voice is gruff. I’ve woken him up. He’s not on high-alert like Spencer and I.
“Hey,” He says.
“Blythe has escaped. She’s on her way to your place right now. Do you still have that vial in your truck?”
She won’t get the chance to recognize his truck. He keeps it in his garage.
“Oh, shit,” I can tell by his voice he’s woken up a bit. “How long until she gets here?”
“You can see her from your window. Go look.”
I can hear him shuffling around, probably getting out of bed. He wrestles with his blinds.
“She’ll be here soon. Shit, she’s fast. When did she escape?”
“Ten minutes ago.”
"Shit,” Lawrence says. “Isn’t it cruel to knock her out again? I can just take her back.”
“She’ll put up a struggle,” I think back to last night. My back is still sore from falling onto the gravel on the side of the road. “It’s easier to put her to sleep.”
There’s a moment of pause. I know Lawrence finds this inhumane and it is. It took days of steady convincing for him to participate in last night. But it’s business. Our business, however, doesn’t often involve kidnapping women. Last night was a first for all three of us.
A deal is a deal.
“Kay. I’m getting prepared now. I’ll be back with her soon,” Before I can respond he hangs up. He’s not pleased with his involvement in this scheme, but we’re brothers. We’re all in the same business. We’re all in the same world of shit. It is what it is.
Now I wait for him to bring her back.
Lawrence pulls up the driveway. As soon as he’s parked I come outside. I don’t want him handling her more than he has to.
Lawrence gets out of the vehicle and looks at me as I descend the steps.
“I got her from here,” I tell him.
He doesn’t argue, closing the driver door and leaning against it. I open the back door and find Blythe sprawled out on the floor, the seats still pulled up. Traces of white powder stains one of her nostrils. I relive last night, envisioning her wiping it away with the back of her hand.
Before I grab her I turn to Lawrence. “How did she react to you? Did she recognize you?”
“I didn’t give her the chance. I blindsided her,” he shrugs. “I didn’t want to have a repeat of last night.”
“I owe you one.”
“You owe me two, actually,” He says. It’s not malicious, but it’s bitter. He offers me a smile, but it’s not meant to be kind. I take it as my cue to retrieve Blythe and fuck off.
I reach into the vehicle. From this position it’s easiest to throw her over my shoulder, so I do. Once she’s in place I step back and kick the door shut, wrapping my arm around her thighs. Lawrence eyes me, unsound with the situation, but I still show my respect by dipping my chin to him. I don’t take it personally when he does not do the same.
He gets into his truck as I ascend the stairs and he’s pulling out of my driveway by the time I’m inside my house. Spencer sits on the couch, smirking up at me.
“Did Lawrence say if she put up a struggle or not?”
Spencer, clearly, is more of a willing participant in this plot than Lawrence. He seems to enjoy this situation even more than I, and it is not even he that benefits from it. I can imagine it is exciting for him. It’s different, unusual, something out of our scope of expertise.
It doesn’t help that Blythe is beautiful. Strikingly so. I can tell he’s attracted to her. Time has treated her well. At twenty-two she is ethereal.
I walk past him.
“She didn’t get the chance.”
I enter my bedroom and the first thing I notice is the open window and the torn screen. Again I chuckle. She was willing to try just about anything to escape. But again, she has lost.
I carefully drop Blythe where she had been laying before. Her honeyed hair splays onto the pillow, her lips part slightly. I wipe the white powder away from her nose and again I caress her cheekbone. I stare at her, admiring her. It still feels surreal seeing her in my bed. I want to hold her, have her fall asleep in my arms.
But it is still too soon for that.
Without looking away I reach over her, cranking the window shut. Sunlight bathes her and it makes her look angelic. I want to kiss her, but again it is still too soon for that. I have to step away because the longer I stand there the harder it becomes to resist.
Spencer leans in the threshold, focused in on Blythe. I don’t like the way he leers at her. He’s fantasizing.
When I reach the threshold he steps aside. I close the door behind me, meeting his eyes with a silent warning—stay away. He challenges my stare, smirking, trying to goad me into reacting. But I’m not like Spencer that way. I do not encourage violence. I only enable it.
“Go downstairs,” I order.
He lives downstairs in my above-ground basement. It’s more for my comfort than for his. I can keep a close watch on him. There’s always been something off about him, something not quite right. He’s the kind of man that needs some sort of supervision, some sort of constant, to prevent him from falling off the deep end.
Smugly he does what I say, but not without making the notion to leer at my door one final time.