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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The House on the Hill
by Topali

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The house had looked out over the same valley for nearly three centuries. Halfway up the highest peak, standing in a large clearing in the pine forest, it commanded all the lower terrain. The fields, the densely overgrown foothills, the narrow creek that cut through the valley-floor; this was the world the house had always known.

Much had changed in this world. When it was built, the house had shared the valley with a few homesteads, dotted along the course of the creek. The house had been proud then, the only stone structure in the valley. But as the house grew of age, the valley changed. Many houses were built and more men lived in them. A church steeple made of red bricks rose above what was now a town, criss-crossed by earthen roads and cartpaths. And still more men came. The house too, was filled with ever more life. Men were born, spent their lives in its spacious rooms and found their resting-place in the shadow of its peaked roof. Some men were good, others were not. But always the house looked on, the grime of many years silently accumulating.

After three hundred years of watching the world of men replace the original life of the valley, the house was old. Its timbers were rotten to the core and broken windows had not been refitted for many years. It would not be long before it too went the way of the generations it had provided with comfort and shelter. The house did not mind; it was tired.

Then new men came to the valley. They were soldiers, but different from the countless soldiers the house had seen pass by. They had always been scared and anxious to go home. The new soldiers were different. They smiled evil smiles and stayed in the valley. And they took over the house. It was sorry to see the last descendent of its family go; he was a good man, but he could not stand up to the smiling soldiers.

Soon more of the men came and they changed the house. Rotten wood was replaced by concrete beams, priceless paintings replaced the crumbling sideboards and mouldy paper on its walls. When it was finished, the house was larger and more luxurious than it had ever been.

Many other things changed as well. Now, when men came to the house, they were excited or scared. And smoke always filled the horizon, smoke from fires burning in far-off places. A man had taken possession of the house, a special man. The house had seen many men come and go, some strong, some weak, but none like this one. His presence filled the house and lay like a blanket over the entire valley and beyond. The other men with the evil smiles feared him, and tried to please him. The house did not like this man. He was like the slow corruption that had spread through its timbers for two hundred years, living off the life and strength of others and leaving only decay. Where once the house had heard the laughter and tears of people living their lives, there was now something much darker. Fear lay around the house and filled its halls.

The house became old beyond its days, and corrupted by the atrocities the man and others committed within its walls. Others came from distant lands to pay respect to the man, their hearts filled with fear. And never did they find comfort in the house, whose hearth had once warmed the hands and faces of loving families. It no longer looked like a home; it no longer was a home. It had become terror to all that knew it.

Then servants of the man dug up the roots of the house and poured more concrete into the gaping hole they left. The last foothold of the original house vanished forever, along with the bones of the man who had once built it. For the first and the last time in the life of the house, it let out a sob that was heard in every room and in every basement; and a sickness spread throughout. Slowly something withered and died in the heart of the house. Behind its decorated walls, through its hardened concrete pillars first small fractures crept, then larger and larger cracks. None of the men noticed. Day after day the house crumbled, until only the outer walls and the roof remained untouched. Still, the men did not notice.

Then, one day, many men came to worship the one who now lived in the house. With them came the smell of more fear, the fear of a faraway people about to be trampled by iron-shod boots and evil smiles. Their footsteps ringing through the halls sent a tangible shiver throughout the house, widening every crack. Now suddenly, the dilapidation around them was revealed to the men, and they were afraid. But it was too late. With a sigh that was not quite soundless, the house collapsed. And of that place, that had seen the world pass by for many lives of man, nothing remained but rubble and silence. All the evil men were gone too, bringing many changes to the valley once again. But the house was no longer there to see it. All that remained was the clearing and the valley, as empty as they had been when the house was first built.

Human voices were no longer heard in the clearing. And for many, many years, it never rained on that spot and no plants grew. For such is the way of things and places that have seen too much.

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