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From Inside the Flap
The house appeared as the copse of trees to the right thinned, revealing a circular paved drive. The clear, cool Saturday seven days before Halloween had delivered for Chase Lawrence a peaceful drive, but he was still anxious. He knew this was his last chance. Instantly embarrassed by his Camry with its peeling clear-coat and his missing passenger-side mirror, he parked next to a black Bentley and a dark Escalade, which stood pretentiously against his path. A fourth vehicle, a red late-model pickup, appeared as out of place as his car. Leaves rained down, brown and yellow and red. Chase got out and stared up at the house, squinting in the bright sunlight till the lenses of his glasses turned dark.
The two-story house squatted fat and tall, the crown of the hilltop, a pitched roof bookended by round towers, each topped with conical peaks; it resembled a medieval castle built of area limestone. He focused on the covered porch with concrete steps facing front, and a ramp to the right leading down to the drive.
The oak double doors swung open soundlessly. A buzzing wheelchair carried out an old man, his legs buried beneath an afghan blanket, as his right hand toggled the Atari-like joystick tightly, jerking the chair. He wheeled down the ramp as the wind tousled the few strands of thin white hair left on his vein-scarred scalp.
Chase had a wild thought that the wind would topple the chair just as the man rolled onto the drive, like a Monty Python or a Jackass skit. He forced down a nervous laugh as the chair came to a stop at his feet and gray-blue eyes set out from pale wrinkles examined him. Chase had heard asthmatic breathing when the old man was on the ramp; now he saw the effort, the cheeks deflating and filling back up with air, the old head bobbing in time.
"You have a beautiful view, Mr. Devlin."
"Look behind you, Mister Lawrence." The old man's voice sounded as though mucus had settled as concrete into his throat years ago. Still, there was business in the tone that suggested time was not to be wasted.
Chase looked back over his shoulder, then turned around completely when the scene fully grabbed him. An old French-Gothic hotel topped a nearby hill, and everyone knew that the owners profited now from the hotel's sordid and macabre history. The Christ of the Ozarks statue loomed over the trees of the opposite hill, arms spread wide as though to give the old hotel a hug. Downtown rooftops and a few peaks of the Victorian homes jutted through the treetops. All this amid a sea of yellow and red and green as a harsh wind cut through the valley, whipping the trees between the two hilltop forces, thrashing them to and fro and making the whole town look like it was in in the throes of a great tug-of-war.
"They can't see us. Up here. The people in the hotel. The people looking at the statue. The people downtown. They can't see us. But we can see them. Did you know that?"
"No sir." Christ it was cold. Every Ozark crosswind seemed to meet at this plateau.
"They can't see us. But we can see them. I'm used to that. Seeing others when they can't see me. That is why I bought this hill. So I can look at the hotel. I can look at the statue. I can see the town. I know about you. Mister Lawrence. I can see all."
Chase stood in direct sunlight and the transition lenses of his glasses had turned very dark now, but still he squinted. "I have nothing to hide, Mr. Devlin." He'd met stranger people in the Ozark hills, but not many.
"You want a job, Mr. Lawrence. That is why the agency sent you. Your credentials."
Chase cleared his throat and mentally gathered his resume. "I have a BA in English and a minor-nearly enough for a double major-in education. I have a master's in teaching from the U of A, and I've taught high school English for ten years in Fayetteville." Woo-Pig-Sooie he felt like adding but didn't. That was it. A man in his thirties with so much education didn't have that much more to talk about in way of relevant experience. "I've lived in the area my entire life and was valedictorian of my high school class and carried one of the highest GPA's of my graduating class from the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences."
The old man waved his hand and said, "Bah!" like people still said that. "Why do you want this job, Mr. Lawrence? I have one boy to teach. He is a good lad. One boy. Time is growing short."
Chase shrugged, fondled the keys in his pocket with his right hand and the loose change in the other with his left. "I need this job," he said. His throat felt thick. He stared out over the hills. Fall was pretty death.
"Robin researched you," Robert Devlin said. "On his computer. He said you'd be good. He's a good fellow."
Chase nodded. "Yessir." He tried for the cool exterior while inside he panicked. His last chance. He offered a smile but with quivering lips, calling into question what Robin had researched exactly, and how much the boy, and so Devlin knew. So desperate for this job, Chase had yet to do his homework on Devlin, but he made a mental note to google the man once he got home.
"I'll hire you, Mr. Lawrence. But there are conditions. First. Tell me two things. What is your curriculum? How much is the company paying you?"
Chase sighed, a great momentous thing that lifted off his hunched shoulders the unbearably oppressive weight of months of worry and ever-reaching poverty. It took him a moment to speak, after the shiver had raced up his spine shaking off the last of the stiffness of fear. "It will have a strong liberal arts base. I've yet to work out the details, but I do have an idea. No hard sciences-biology or chemistry or physics-but scientific principles that may dabble in the various studies. We'll focus on literature, philosophy, language, history, social sciences, and some scientific theory. No math, at least nothing too advanced. You'll need a different tutor for anything more complex than algebra."
"Religion?" The old man's eyes widened. Chase couldn't help but smile and nod and he said yes, that he could include religion.
"As to the second part of your question, they're paying me twenty dollars an hour to tutor your grandson. That's to include my drive from Fayetteville, of course."
The old man stroked his bare wrinkly chin with osseous digits. When he looked at Chase his eyes were narrower. He looked as though he were plotting something.
"That's an hour's drive. Yes?"
Robert Devlin studied Chase for a moment. "But. You don't want to stay there? Not after all that's happened. You don't want to go back there at night?" The old man breathed as though he had to take in the world's free supply of oxygen at every natural pause.
"It's no problem. Really." This house on this hill wasn't high enough for Devlin to see in his house, couldn't be. But it was in the eyes, Chase could see; the old man knew. Outwardly he maintained that smile, but his eyes had widened to saucers with fear that he was as exposed as a naked baby in front of this crippled old man, and he was thankful the Transition lenses had peaked at full dark.
"I'll pay you double. Under the table... of course. You won't have to travel. Show up here on Monday morning. Be prepared to stay the length of the contract-the whole twelve weeks. Now for the conditions. I have rules."
Peripheral movement, a leaf or some commotion, drew his attention around with a casual turn of the head so as not to appear inadvertent to the old man's interdictions. Bats fluttered around the steeples of the hotel and off to the west, the sun was dipping behind the hills, painting the white Christ statue golden in the sunset. Chase had not lived in a house with rules since he was in high school, and even then they didn't mean much. He looked back and up to the house, to the twin towers, the pitched roof over the thick central body.
"You cannot go out after dark. You will be within these walls before dusk. Especially on Sow-en-you will stay inside and no one will come in. You will not explore the grounds. Beyond this plateau. No matter the time of day."
Chase translated the Celtic term to English. S-A-M-H-A-I-N it was spelled, though the old man had the pronunciation correct, as near as Chase could tell. It was Halloween. Next Saturday. Chase sighed. These weren't obtrusive rules. He wasn't a teenager anymore, out gallivanting till all hours of the night. These weren't the house rules his mother had requested he uphold back when he was in high school; his father hadn't given a shit.
The word Devlin had used intrigued Chase, as did the old man's last name. Devlin-Irish-he looked up to the house, the Nordic/Northern European influence. Perhaps a hint of the Celtic.
"You said Samhain a moment ago," Chase said. "Not Halloween."
"You are in a safe place, Mr. Lawrence. Well defended. Don't forget that. Whatever you do, don't forget that."
"Can I meet Robin?" Chase asked.
The chair turned away. "Yes," Devlin barked. "Monday."
The old man rolled back up the ramp as the heavy oak doors opened noiselessly, then the house consumed Robert Devlin. Chase stood firm against the hard hilltop breeze as multicolored leaves blew about and assaulted him. His jacket ruffled. Overhead, clouds began to block out the sun and dim the afternoon. The rules didn't matter, Chase thought. He was an adult now. He was an expert in the liberal arts. He had a job. He was going to teach again. This made him smile as he got into his car, despite the strangeness of the encounter.
Blood Moon Publishing is an imprint of Double Dragon Publishing