Pinecones fell to the floor of the creaky wooden porch floor. The thudding noise continued as the objects continued to fall. It was a never-ending sound, broken only by boys’ laughter and jeering as they stopped to pick up more ammo. They were throwing pinecones at the old wooden house on top of the hill.
It was always Friday afternoons at three. The Donaugh boys and some of their friends came up the hill to throw cones at the old wooden house. It was a time old tradition that dated back to their older brother, Tom, who threw the first pinecone at the house in ’83 when he was seven. Tom was twenty-four now and was too old to throw cones at an old house, especially when it was the old house on the hill. It still lived in his memories of his childhood.
There wasn’t much to do in Falls.
The old wooden house had stood there long before the boys were born and would be there long after they died, so the cones didn’t cause much harm to the wooden panels or the boarded-up windows. Legend has it that the house was built by the guy who helped pay a guy to help bail out Henry David Thoreau. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Besides that, the house was haunted. It had lived through several wars, including the civil war. Folks say that they used to take the dying confederate soldiers into that house to give them their last rites. And they didn’t leave after that. That’s all hearsay, though.
Today, the kids in town believe that if you try hard enough, you can see some of the confederate soldiers sitting in the porch and if you can break through a window with the pinecone, the ghosts will appear. So every Friday at three in the afternoon, the children of Falls come out after school to try to awaken the spirits of the dead soldiers. It was more of a dare, a thrill for the kids who couldn't afford video games, which made the majority.
Every time they'd return to the house, the pinecones were gone. They were nowhere.
The children were throwing their pinecones at the old woman’s house again. Same time, same day. It had become a ritual for the last fifteen years. The pinecones would hit the old boarded windows in the front of the house for sometimes up to an hour before the kids ran out of the darned things. The woman made sure that there were never too many lying around for them. She actually tried very hard to keep pinecones from staying in the yard but the children always found them.
Children had been throwing pinecones at her house for decades, ever since the oldest Donaugh boy could climb up the hill. His youngest brother looked just like him at that age.
Strange how some children aspire to be what their predecessor once was rather than create their own image. Maybe that’s why the boy takes after his brother, she thought to herself.
The woman shuffled away from the windows of her small living room and towards the kitchen. One could only tell it was a kitchen by the presence of the fridge, which was covered in all sorts of magnets and loose papers with illegible scribbling. The room didn’t seem to be much like a kitchen at all, otherwise. Papers and pinecones and plenty of pictures littered the counters and walls. In fact, many of the rooms in her house looked like this. Pictures of young and old people were pinned up on the grey wooden walls, some strangers and some old friends who lived long ago or moved away.
The woman was old, but she did not look it. Her hair was a black and pepper mess, cut to the middle of her back with rusted scissors, giving it an uneven appearance. She wore it low in a ponytail with a once bright green scrunchy that had become loose over the years. Her hair looked long in comparison to her height. At six foot five standing with her back hump, she was incredibly clumsy still for her height and age.
Before sitting down at the small circular table in the middle of the room, she rummaged through a hidden drawer and found a pen and two journals. On it, the journals read, “Thoughts of Jeanne Anne: 47” and “The Other Side of Fillmore Street.” She began to write in the first one, which was covered in red leather.
Kids threw pinecones at the house again.
She finished the sentence and set it aside. Not much filled the pages except for those words, occasionally she would describe her trips to the supermarket in the early mornings where the produce man, whom she had known since he was a little boy, would always give her a ride back up the hill because of her bad leg.
However, her black leather-bound book, “The Other Side of Fillmore Street”, was filled with illegible handwriting and printed handwriting and scraps of newspaper taped to the insides of pages. She flipped through half stained pages until she reached the point she had last stopped at. Her dark green eyes surveyed the writing.
Inside, if one could have read her handwriting, they would find a detailed account of the lives of the residents of Falls, Virgina.
For the past thirty years, Jeanne Anne has documented every single person on Falls. Nothing escaped her. When Jerry Phillips forced his girlfriend back in the winter of seventy-two to go through with an abortion, she knew. When Marcy Donalds secretly tried pot in the back of Falls’ elementary baseball field, she knew. When the Mrs. Donaugh cheated on Mr. Donaugh, resulting in at least three of their six boys, she had already known before the babies were born that they weren’t her husband’s. She was there for the good times too, but they seldom compared to that of the secrets. Jenny Cottonfield was the smartest girl to come out of Falls. She was often in the news, what with her winning the science fair and spelling bees. Darrell Hatter saved his drowning sister when he was five thanks to his guppy classes at the pool. He’s in training to be a fireman, nowadays.
Despite knowing everything and everyone in town, Jeane Anne was only known by few, and of those few only a couple had actually spoken to her. Unlike those people, the children of the town had no idea that she even lived in the abandoned house, they had no idea anyone lived there for years.
Sally McAdams looked back up towards the hill as the children ran away. Mark Donaugh tugged at her slender arm, urging her to run alongside him. He stopped. “C’mon, let’s get out of here. We can go get some pizza or watch a movie if you like,” he pleaded, voice cracking from puberty pains.
Sally had decided to follow Mark and his gang today around the neighborhood after school today for the first time. It was her first time witnessing the decade old tradition surrounding the boys of Falls and the house on the hill. Mark thought Sally was cute, so he’d invited her to tag along. Sally came along only because she had yet to really make friends.
She scanned the house with her hazel eyes and brushed back her hair. Mark watched her with curiosity. “I don’t think the house is haunted.”
Mark wrapped his arm around her, his thirteen-going-on-fourteen-year-old bravado shining through as he sighed. “Listen, you’re new here. You just moved here in the summer, right?” She nodded her head yes and shrugged his arm off her shoulders. “So, here’s the story,” he began as the two walked across the street.
“This house is like almost as old as the U.S., probably older honestly. Housed the revolution and the civil war soldiers. It’s not just that it’s old, it’s got like a really bloody history too. Like, during the civil war it housed dead soldiers. It was supposed to be a hospital ‘cause it would be out of harm’s way on a hill but the doctors didn’t think it out enough and so by the time the soldiers got up the hill most of them were dead ‘cause of the whole blood loss thing and it would take a long time to get up the hill cause they didn’t have cars.
So some of the soldiers actually made it up alive up the hill, they just kept the dead bodies next to the other people in the hospital. They didn’t wanna roll the bodies down the hill cause then those damn confeddies would like put them on display or somethin’, I don’t know much about that part. But, okay, so the soldiers who were dead were being wrapped in blankets and just kinda put in one of the rooms while the soldiers who were being nursed and stuff were resting in the other rooms.
My older brother Derick says he swore he saw someone in there one day, but like a ghost someone not a person, and so every Friday we throw cones to see if we can wake one of the soldiers up. A few weeks ago, Tommy said…,” Mark continued but Sally had stopped listening at this point as they walked back to their houses. She had moved in a month and a half ago.
She couldn’t believe that the house was haunted. There were no such things as ghosts, the big city girl told herself. How could so many people just believe this?
“Well, I’ll see you at school on Monday,” Sally rushed to her perfectly trimmed blue house.
The early morning mist surrounded the old woman as she limped down the hill slowly. Dressed in an olive green cardigan and brown loafers, hair in a saggy bun, she huffed down the side of the hill for almost half an hour. The sun was just beginning to appear as she reached town. Her nose was red from the cold Virginia air. She rubbed her hands together through their mitts.
She reached the farmers market as it began to open. There was no hustle and bustle yet, just the few vendors conversing with each other and some of their younger children chasing each other around the stalls. It was serene and peaceful, just like Jeanne Anne liked it.
"Jeanne Anne!" a familiar voice yelled through the stalls.
She turned towards one of the stalls that was selling fresh fruits and vegetables. A dark man in his late twenties was waving his arms towards her. She sheepishly made her way towards him and the stall and smiled at him.
“Mornin’ Jeanne Anne. How are you today? How was the walk down?” He handed her a basket of apples and pears, her favorites.
Very slowly, she responded, “It … was good. Cold out.” She tugged at her thick cardigan for emphasis. “Thank you.” She pointed to the basket. Although Jeanne Anne was a very well written woman, and wrote every day, she had issues communicating with others. She didn’t mind speaking to Daniel, she had known him since was small when he would work with his father who had also been her friend and had passed away years ago.
“Yeah, getting to be that time of year again. Halloween is just around the corner, huh? Are you going to do anything special this year? Maybe hand out candy?”
She shook her head. “Kids … with cones again. I don’t … like them.” She got very upset with this, her smile drooping.
Daniel shook his head. “I’m going to find those kids’ parents one day and speak to them. It’s not right that they do this to you. Here, you can have this for free.” The kind man dug out an organic chocolate bar from the other side of the stall. She smiled again.
“Thanks … How … is your … family?” The two began conversing as she picked out the vegetables she wanted to buy for the week. When she was finished and had paid him, Daniel yelled to one of the vendors to watch his stall as he was about to give Jeanne Anne a ride back up the hill.
They walked together to his white Ford and he began to drive away. As he did, Jeanne Anne pulled out a small Polaroid camera and began snapping pictures of the people in the parking lot.
It only took a few minutes for the truck to stop on the side of Jeanne Anne’s house. She was ready to go back inside and write everything she’d seen at the market. All the conversations she’d heard. He stopped the truck and turned to her.
“Jeanne Anne, I know that I won’t be able to protect you in your house and I know the children and vandals are becoming nuisances so I wanted to give you this,” he reached into the side of his door and pulled out a little brown bag. She looked confused. “This,” he pulled out a silver and black gun, “Is a Smith and Wesson. It’s not loaded right now, so don’t look so frightened. I can show you how to load it. I want to know you can protect yourself up here.”
Jeanne Anne looked at the gun with a terrified curiosity. She had never been this close to an actual weapon. Her parents had been pacifists and she was too. The woman would have rejected the gift, but Daniel’s eyes were so full of worry she whole-heartedly accepted.
“I bet that house isn’t even haunted,” Sally proclaimed for the fifth time. Today she was sitting at the boys table during lunch and arguing with at least half of them. Not only were they excited for it to be Friday, it was also Halloween and before her sat various Power Rangers, excluding the pink one of course.
“Of course it’s haunted, new kid. There’s no way it’s not. I’ve lived on Sycamore my whole life and even my grandpa can tell you that ghosts live there,” a large boy with red hair exclaimed, pizza bits flying here and there. He was dressed in a little-too tight black power ranger shirt with his mask tucked around the folds of his neck.
“Where’s your proof, Donny?” Sally sneered. Donny looked down and continued munching on his pizza, trying to remember. The boys around him began telling stories about their experiences with the house all around.
“There was that one time when Timmy hit the cone on the window and we heard something inside make—.”
“And then remember last Halloween when there was a small light on in the top window? Like it totally looked like some soldiers dead eyes staring at us from-.”
“No, guys, listen. The smoke that comes out of the chimney that once a year,” a petite boy with far too large turtle glasses stood atop the table, “is the proof of ghosts!” He too was a power ranger, the yellow one.
“Jimmy, get down from there or detention for you!” a teacher yelled from across the cafeteria.
“Yes ma’am,” he shouted back and took his seat.
After the table had stopped talking about the old house, they began to talk about their Halloween routes. Sally was about to walk over to throw away her lunch tray when she was stopped by another girl.
“I couldn’t help but overhear you didn’t believe that house was haunted, new girl?” The girl chewed gum and played with her platinum blonde hair. She looked very annoyed.
Sally sighed. She knew this girl and this girl did not like her, she thought it had something to do with Mark’s feelings towards her. “First of all, I’m not really that new. I’ve been here for maybe two months already. Secondly, yeah. That house isn’t haunted.”
She blew a pink bubble and popped it with a crisp, ‘Crack’. “Well, if you think it’s not haunted, I triple dog dare you to go there, midnight tonight.” She smiled a wide, satisfied smile.
The whole cafeteria went silent. The boys at the table watched Sally, waiting for her to answer. She was taken aback by the small town girl’s big bravado and smiled back at her which gave her a second to think about the situation.
“I’ll do it only, and only, if you promise that I’ll get whatever you get for Halloween tonight. That means you, Cynthia Perkins, have to come with me and watch me go into that house,” Sally grinned. She was going to put to rest that annoying myth.
“Fine, I bet you won’t even have the guts to show up. Meet me at 11:40, tonight at the bottom of the hill,” she said and walked away.
Halloween night has fallen on a Friday this year, she scribbled in her journal. She had been writing since the crack of dawn alone in her room. Staring out the windows and telescopes for hours, she documented the traditions of Halloween in Falls. The pumpkin festival was in full swing, the mayor had even managed to show up sober for once. Children were already dotting the streets in the years latest television characters that she would never truly understand. Where are the usual children? Strangely, the children hadn’t yet come by to throw pinecones at her house.
Jeanne Anne decided to take a break from her writing to eat. She had made herself a casserole with the ingredients she had bought from the market this morning. It was rather large and she normally didn’t eat much, so it would last her a good week. As she clambered down the stairs of her house, she realized she would continue her writing from there since she did not have the energy to walk back up.
Before going into the kitchen to eat, she checked her front yard through a peephole in the boards. There were no children, but it was getting dark. They’re probably not coming tonight, which means I don’t have to go and throw away the pinecones today. She shuffled into the kitchen in the back of the house.
“Well, here we are,” Cynthia sighed nervously. It was dark, the moon the only source of lighting. She rubbed her naked elbows. Cynthia wore an incredibly revealing, for the times, pink fairy outfit in the less-than-fifty-degree night. She had disregarded the need to wear her jacket, like her mom had asked her. She wanted Mark to see how cute she looked. She, Sally, Mark and a few other children who managed to escape bed time waited at the bottom of the hill.
The children stared up at the house on the hill, shivering in their costumes. Mark had come dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Sally had come as a suitable for the occasion Nancy Drew, magnifying glass included. The two were both donning tweed jackets to keep warm.
“Alright,” Cynthia looked down at her Barbie Princess glow in the dark hand watch. “It’s almost midnight, get up that hill.”
Sally took a flashlight out of her pocket and started up the hill. She began to walk up when Mark joined her, swinging out his flashlight as well.
“I’m coming with you,” he assured her. She thought it was silly that she needed another person to be there with her, but she was glad she wouldn’t be breaking and entering alone.
Jeanne Anne had fallen asleep on the kitchen table. Papers had stuck themselves to her cheeks and forehead. She’d never had a quiet Friday, so after finishing a small plate of her vegetable casserole, she slowly fell to a slumber on her day’s work.
Thud. Thud. Crack.
Jeanne Anne lifted her head, startled by the noise coming from her front room. Something is terribly wrong. She got up and peaked at the front room from the kitchen entrance. Two lights were shining through large cracks in the boarded windows. She got up from the table and proceeded to run to the other side of the house.
Crack. Crack. Thud.
She knocked down chairs and coffee tables in her haste to get to the stairs that led up to her room. If there were intruders, she needed to get to the landline. She needed to protect herself. She remembered what Daniel had given her. Although she couldn’t stand the idea of having to use it, she needed it.
Jeanne Anne trudged up the stairs, going slower than she would have liked to because of her bad leg. She decided to just drag it, creating a thumping sound every time she went up a stair. On the second floor of her house, she was already fighting tears from the pain of climbing the stairs. Little hysterical noises escaped her as she fought to open her bedroom door.
Thud. Thud. Crack.
The wooden porch creaked beneath their feet as they attempted to look for any sign of breakage in the boarded windows and door. Mark found a loose board on the right side window. Together, Sally and Mark silently pulled apart the wooden boards off of the window. There was a sort of unspoken unity between the two as they both reached for the same boards to pull off.
Crack. Crack. Thud.
It didn’t take long for the boards to come off. The last one fell with a loud bang. Mark was beginning to lift the window for Sally to climb through when they stopped and heard loud crash sounds coming from inside.
“There’s someone in there,” Sally whispered at the same time Mark satisfactorily exclaimed, “Ghosts!”
The two carefully climbed through the glass-less window. Mark jumped in first, aided by Sally and then Mark helped pull Sally inside. They searched the room with their flashlights.
“What…What is this?” Sally breathed. There was something terribly wrong, she thought to herself.
Their flashlights had landed on a wall of loose paper, newspapers (old and recent), and pictures. There were collages of the mayor’s time in office, the pumpkin festival, and other festivities that had happened in the last month and a half. Below that, there were small Polaroids of the children of Falls, including Sally and Mark, which decorated one wall. Mark walked up to the wall and pulled down one of the pictures of him. Behind his photo, there was a picture of his older brother. Rapidly he began to tear down the current pictures only to find more and more photos, each getting older and older as he went. A series of thuds began to sound from somewhere near the back of the house.
“I’ve seen too many horror movies to know that we’re not dealing with a ghost anymore, this is a psychopathic killer plotting his revenge on a good town,” Mark whispered to Sally. She stood there, shocked. She hadn’t believed anything strange was going on in that old abandoned house. Sure, ghosts were one thing but to have a killer on the loose? “It’s a good thing I brought this,” he pulled a gun out of his large tweed jacket. His older brother, as a joke, had given it to him of course. Mark cherished it, had even managed to buy ammo for it, claiming to the gun storeowner it was for his dad.
“Mark no, we have to go to the police first!” Sally backed away, pointing her flashlight at the silver weapon in Mark’s hands. He held it nervously, as if he’d never handled one.
“Wouldn’t you rather be the hero? C’mon, let’s go find them, it sounds like they went upstairs.”
Mark carefully navigated his way towards the back of the house, where he found a set of old and almost broken staircase. He motioned for Sally to follow him. She felt she had no choice, it was either be alone on the first floor of a stranger’s house or follow Mark.
Upstairs, the two found a furnished hallway that lead to two doors. One door was wide open and revealed a dark, untouched room. The other, a closed door. The two kids looked at each other. A ghostly groan came from the closed door.
“It’s the one that’s closed, they’re trying to hide. I bet their weapons are in there,” Mark assumed. Sally followed Mark, she watched the backside as they slowly made it to the door. With the flashlight in his hand, he reached out and pushed the door open.
She had the phone to her ear, it was still ringing as she heard voices downstairs. Her breathing became shallow and quick. What did they want? Why my house?
“Falls’ Police Department line, what is your emergency?” A tranquil sounding woman asked over the phone. The suddenness of it had spooked Jeanne Anne and she took a second to breathe.
“People … in … the house. My house,” she managed to choke out. She was becoming hysterical. Her throat suddenly felt tighter, it was becoming harder for her to breathe.
“Okay, ma’am, stay on the line. Can you tell me what your address is?” The woman on the phone asked, this time with more alertness to her tone.
Jeanne Anne was wheezing. She could hear the voices getting closer, they’re up the stairs by now, she thought. “H … Hill. Hill. Up hill. House hill. Hill house,” she spit out rapidly at the phone. There was only one hill in Falls, Virginia. Everyone who had even lived a month in Falls knew that. In her other hand, she held onto the gun Daniel had given her as a present.
The woman on the phone paused. Few people who had known Jeanne Anne lived in that house. The young telephone operator was not one of them. She had, however, lived in Falls her entire life and knew about the house on the hill. “Stay on the line, police are on their way.”
She clutched the phone tightly in her hand, listening to every sound on the other line. The young woman had started working at the local police station a month ago. She was straight out of college, a two-year college where she had managed to earn an associates in public services. She wanted to be able to save people, but wasn’t too good with science. She was, however, a tremendous listener and believed that being a police department operator would be a perfect fit for her. She wouldn’t have to risk her life, but she would be able to help save them. Up until Halloween night, there had been no serious calls. A man burned his arm on the grill, a little girl got her tongue stuck on a rat trap, and a boy had burned his cheek with a fire-cracker.
She quickly alerted the police to assist the woman on the hill. She had grown up in Falls her entire life and knew that the house on the hill was untouched, or so she thought. The woman on the phone, however, sounded as old as the house. She was scared, and wheezing. She assured the woman that help was on its way and suggested she find shelter in a safe place and if she couldn’t, to stay where she was, on the line.
She heard a creaking sound over the phone.
“Come out wherever you are, you freak!” A male voice sounded over the phone, it was almost pubescent sounding. The elder woman shrieked. There was a thud over the phone.
“P… p … puh … puhl,” the older woman stuttered.
“We know what your plan is. Look, Sally, I guess my hunch was correct” the male voice yelled again. There was another thud over the phone.
“Mark no!” A girl cried out. She sounded young. There were two loud bangs.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“Hello? Ma’am, are you still on the line? Hello? Ma’am? The police are on their way.”