The House on the Hill.

This Week’s Prompt:95. Horrible Colonial farmhouse and overgrown garden on city hillside—overtaken by growth. Verse “The House” as basis of story.

The Resulting Story:The Old House

It’s been a while since we’ve indulged in Mr. Lovecraft’s poetry. The particular poem he references, which will provide a bit more guidance to our research, seems to be one of two by Edward Arlington Robinson. One is “The House on the Hill”:

They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

Edwin Arlington.png

The other is along the same theme, is “The Haunted House”:

Here was a place where none would ever come
For shelter, save as we did from the rain.
We saw no ghost, yet once outside again
Each wondered why the other should be so dumb;
And ruin, and to our vision it was plain
Where thrift, outshivering fear, had let remain
Some chairs that were like skeletons of home.

There were no trackless footsteps on the floor
Above us, and there were no sounds elsewhere.
But there was more than sound; and there was more
Than just an axe that once was in the air
Between us and the chimney, long before
Our time. So townsmen said who found her there.

Both of these stories point us towards our ultimate topic—a haunted house on a hill, overgrown with time, in the United States. The term Colonial is a bit more limiting. I suspect Mr. Lovecraft was thinking of houses in New England in particular, but have expanded my research into the ghostly and and haunted to other house up through the eighteenth century. Not that the Americas have a shortage of haunted homes and houses.

Starting with the northernmost examples I have, we have tales of ghosts from Nova Scotia. A peddler murdered in a half-way house in Halifax haunts its top most room, and sounds of burial can be heard while sleeping there. In Digby, a local doctor’s collection of skeletons are haunted—and disapprove of a worker who set them up like dominoes and knocked them over. A ghost returned to his family, haunting them for three days before a priest compelled him to speak. The ghost then revealed he needed a shave before entering St. Peter’s gates.

In Indiana, there are number of old haunted homes. A number of houses are haunted by coffins not yet buried. A millionaire named Tess preserved the love of his life, even buying a fan to blow her hair and having a private generator keep the blue lights on in the room. Poor Tess seems to have lost his mind, hoarding coffins not only of his loved ones but of cats as well. In Medora, a similar story plays out with one Aseop Wilson, who’s mother insisted he not serve in the civil war. Aesop did, and of course died in battle—his body however was sealed in casket of charcoal at his mothers request, and not buried until a pyschic made contact with him years later. Despite the eventual burial, the delay appears to have attracted unseemly sorts as the house, as white wraiths still appear and moan in the old decaying ruin of the place.

TerreHaute

Downtown Terre Haute, the town home to the Preston House (well. Whats left of it.)

The Preston House has a number of ghosts ascribed to it. One is of a woman, who came with a man from New Orleans. When she refused to divorce him, she went missing on a trip to her family—the servants at the house were convinced she had been buried in the walls. Another group of ghosts came from the Underground Railroad—although the informant claims the railroad was literally underground. As a number of slaves were escaping, the tunnel caved in on both ends. The house’s owners tried their best to excavate the tunnel, but needed to move slowly to not draw the authorities attention. Sadly, all the slaves died—and their spirits still lurk in the house, chains shaking as they wait.

In Koleen, a rotten woman died when her hair caught fire—the product burned fast, and her shouting fed the flames to burn faster. To this day you can see her burn once a year, an event marked by increasingly ominous signs and weather until the day of.

The Hill House of Rockville is probably the most relevant of the houses in Indiana—and perhaps the most humorous. The owner, a wealthy man judging by the size of the house, passed on. And as they say, where there is a will there is a long line of eager relatives. His entire extended family came and spent the night before the funeral there. The next day they awoke and learned that all of their clothes had been removed, and placed in the high branches of the trees outside. Truly a terrifying experience!

The Shoals of Maine provide many haunted ruins as well. A pair of violent drunken pirates argue along the shore, in the burnt ruins of a home. A woman waits still for her husband, who left for the sea ages past. He promised to return, but alas, if legend is believed it was none other then old Teach, Blackbeard himself! She wanders on the shore still, her clothes flowing behind her and mumuring darkly at any movement on the waters. A hanged man walks the shore as well, in a bloody butchers apron and with a long knife. This set is made complete with a monk. The monk, a black robed hooded figure, only appears when the sea growls and the wind blows—a gale is coming, and he prays along the shore for those men who will join him in the here after.

In New York state, we have the Sutton house. This house fits our description almost perfectly, as a shambling house that cannot be seperated from the woods around it. The house was home to a family of three—the mysterious Mr. Sutton, his wife, and his daughter. They lived apart from the rest of the commmunity, and rumors persisted that Mr. Sutton abused his wife. Shortly after their arrival, Mrs. Sutton died of an illness—and had a closed casket funeral. Her daughter vanished, to live with an aunt in England (although others suspected she too had been slain by her father). Mr. Sutton persisted for some time, but he too vanished. The story continues, that as the place fell into ruin, women were seen walking the grounds with their throats slit. On the anniversary of Mrs Sutton’s funeral, Mr. Sutton’s form was seen digging a grave. A distant relation did eventually move into the house after the Revolutionary war. As the day was short, he stuffed all his belongings into a small room and went to bed. On his first night, his sleep was disturbed by the sounds of a great and terrible struggle. It sounded as if china was being shattered in a struggle between a man and a woman—but no damage had been done to his good. He learned, however, from some letters that the room his cookery was in was the room the young Ms. Sutton stayed—and at last the fate of the girl was confirmed.

the Schoharie hills

Schoharie village, from Wikimedia Commons.

In the Schoharie hills, New York, we have other stories of hauntings. One informants mother was asked to watch the house of a suspected murderer. The old man was accused of having done away with several peddlers and others. On her first night, a strange image of a dog appeared. Next one of the man’s victims appeared, headless. He demanded to be buried—his body was under the floor boards—and to see the man hung. This ghost had the decency to make his court date as well, and testify. Another house had a room of such fright, that any animal placed in there fled or perished.

For each of these I’ve mentioned, I’ve ommited about a dozen others. The tales of hauntings are very similar—doors fly open, loud sounds with no origin, sudden bursts of light and fire, strange headless apparitions. Often they are the sight of a heinous crime, other times merely…present. Some even occur before the death of their victims!

So we know what a haunted house looks like, sounds like, feels like. We know that sensation, late at night, on the edge of sleep, and hearing a strange creaking sound not far off. And it isn’t hard to build a story of all sorts around a haunted ruin—places of palatable dread and uncanny, that are somewhere between wild and constructed. That ruins are haunted is nothing new. Sumerian demons dwell in those great collapsed buildings unprotected. But the hill poem asks an interesting question. What makes us stop and pause?

The poem calls out the lack. There are no lights, no specters, no sounds. There is a profound nothing. No one is left, and we don’t even have the nature of these nobodies. Why then do we stop and stray, at this ruin on the hill? An answer might be for treasure buried deep or for thrills. Maybe to find shelter in a storm. There are many reasons to end up in a place we don’t want to be.

This doesn’t feel like a monster story. This doesn’t feel like a story with jump scares and shaking buildings. This is a more atmospheric piece. Perhaps, our narrators are looking for someone, something. Some closure at least. Who knows why one might end up, like the nameless Sutton, in an old family home.

And find no one there.

This reminds me of one other haunting—one I discussed here. I will have to think on it some, to build this one. What stories of the dead places have you heard?

Bibliography

Baker, Ronald L. Hoosier Folk Legends. Indiana University Press. 1982

Beck, Horace Palmer. The Folklore of Maine. J.B. Lippincott. 1957

Garner, Emelyn Elizabeth. Folklore From the Schohaire hills, New York. University of Michigan Press. 1937

Fauset, Arthur. Folklore of Nova Scotia. New York, American Folk-lore society, G.E. Strechet and Co. 1931.

Pryer, Charles. Reminiscences of an old Westchester homestead. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1897.

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Yonster Over Yonder

This Week’s Prompt:93. A place one has been—a beautiful view of a village or farm-dotted valley in the sunset—which one cannot find again or locate in memory.

The Prior Research: Off the Map

I have never been to Yonster, but I know every road by now. Last night I woke up, and could tell you that the library of Yonster is situated on Main Street and Elephant—Elephant has it’s unusual name from a zoo at the end of street and a foolish twentieth century attempt at advertising through civic infrastructure. There have been movements to change the street name but none have managed to get past the current Mayoral family, the Straubs, who find it quaint. And like many things in Yonster, quaint seems to hold it together.

The dreams about Yonster have been going on for a few weeks now. Just bursts of facts and trivia. I know that Ms. Madeline Alba, who is recently widowed, makes her pie with an dash of vanilla with the raspberries to enhance taste. She learned that the local Starbucks did something similar with their hot chocolate, and thought it was a great idea. She has green eyes.

I keep notes on it, figuring it’ll make a great book someday. Yonster seems like a nice place to visit, but a quick search on Google Maps and nothing. I mean I got a few Youngsters and the like, but yeah. No city, no small town with a population of 2000.

I’m not even sure where it would be—the people there speak English I think, but I can’t read in dreams. I’m not even sure what the dreams are. Sometimes, I’ve got this nice little house that’s a far cry from my cramped apartment. It’s been in my family for generations. I work in town, although on what I’m never sure. It requires a suit, but things are old fashioned in Yonster, so that could be anything.

Small Town Maine yonster

Yonster’s architecture is, outside of the city square, fairly old fashioned. I’d call it Parisian, but I’ve never been to Paris. The buildings are all family homes, and a number of them have tile roofs. The streets aren’t built for cars, although a few people have one. I myself prefer to walk, and enjoy the roadways.

The dreams have gotten more common as I’ve been handling my dad’s work. He’s selling his house—which I won’t lie, stings a bit. But with Mom gone…I can’t blame him for wanting to get out. We brought in some people to clean it, and I’ve started going through the stuff to sell. He can’t stand doing it himself. My therapist thinks the dreams are an escape. I can’t really disagree—seems like it, easy to slip somewhere were things never change when your dig through your parents old stuff.

It was while digging through that cardboard maze that I found it though. A old note book, in my dad’s nightstand. Time stood still as I read the first page.

Small Scottish TownGreen.png

“There’s this place called Yonster…”

I was thinking, when I read, that maybe he’d read me stories about it when I was little. But he’d kept dates—small, at the top of the page where I could miss them at first. First one was when he was nineteen. The whole book was filled with details. Bits and pieces, talking about people and places. I didn’t know Alba’ s mother-in-law didn’t trust their marriage. And given what my father said about George, I didn’t blame her. Marriage and father hood really shaped him up. And the bar down third, where the boys played—that had been a church once, but they’d moved into a new building.

There’s only so much coincidental detail that one man can believe is circumstances. I could believe remembering stories of Yonster—I could even believe maybe imaginging some changes. But the swerves were so…mundane. So normal, so bland. No one shipped off to join the army, no one ran for office and was mirred by scandal, no one had any affairs at all. I had no relations either. There were no long lost grandparents who left me an elaborate mansion. If this was the fancies of childhood—where were the fancies?

My father lives on his own, mostly, but he still manages to keep odd hours. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon, after I’d poured over every detail of the books. Coffee made me jittery and sickly as it faded. It burned at my stomach and made my hands shake. It made my neck feel soft and my head heavy, slumping a bit. But it kept me awake, and I didn’t really want to sleep right now. Something seemed sinister about my inherited dreams.

“Yonster…that’s…hm. Was that were Mary ran off to with Ronald? The one who was an architect.” My father said, stopping with two mugs in hand.

“No, no that was Yonkers.”

“Right, Yonkers, Yonkers. No, don’t think I wrote much about Yonkers.” He said, holding one out.

“No, right. I mean, do you remember visting Yonster? Nice place, had a few hills. You might have known the—there was a statue in town. A big one, of three guys on a horse?” I said, scratching my head. It was a monument to some local heroes during the Civil War—I’m not sure what Civil War, but they had horses and sabers, and they were local heroes. Everyone was related or married into their families. I think that limits the time of the Civil War, maybe two centuries ago? Three? Maybe longer—horses and sabers are as old as steel at least.

“Well, three? Like, three on three horses?” He sipped and frowned. “There’s a lot of those down in London. That what your thinking of?”

“No, no, it was one statue—one place thing. With three men on one horse.” I said, breathing deep. “Does any of that sound familiar?”

“…Are you alright, Justin? You seem worked up about this.”

“I’m fine, I just. I just found some writing about it in your place, and was wondering about it. It seemed, you know, familiar.” I said.

My father didn’t know anything else. And the sixth cup of coffee looped back around on me. I felt my bones weaken, and only with force of will got home. I fell onto the couch, and slept. And dreamed.

Small Town Scotland 2Green.png

The sun over Yonster is clearer than anywhere else I’ve seen. The cicadas buzz with the spring’s arrival, and the river runs clear. It’s thinned lately, but winter snow was arriving. It was swelling, and green was growing again. A good time of year, as the rains came in, for drinking tea outside and slipping in doors. The rains are always calming in Yonster.

I figured I had…something, between my memories and my father’s forgotten ones, to place Yonster on a map. Somewhat. The terrain, the style of the saber, the way the buildings looked. The problem wasn’t ‘were’ such a place could be—it was that those places had maps. Yonster looked like it had rolled out of an English Romantic pastoral, but with electric lights.

And England was mapped.

England was mapped. Ireland was mapped. Maine was mapped. And it wasn’t like Yonster was small. I had known a friend in college, who claimed all over the south were unmapped and unmarked farms and villages waiting to take up guns against the federal government. I still think that’s a load of crap, but even those imaginary secret armies were small. But Yonster was…probably a few hundred people.

I narrowed it down over a few day. It was probably an abbreviation—chester became just ‘ster’ over the years, putting it somewhere in the Isles. I even worked out the etymology, although no one in Yonster was impressed—that fortress, or fortress over yonder.

I must have looked bizarre on the train from London. I told people I was hiking out in Scotland for a few days, map in hand and note books in my pack. The landscape looked right for Yonster, and Alba was a Celtic name—shared with a Latin one.

The Scottish countryside feels like a place you could hide things, as you move farther and farther into the highlands. It was a good place to start—even if it wasn’t as known for horses, I don’t think, as Yonster was.

I spent six months walking towards Yonster. I knew that I was getting close, even as I circled back and came around. Even as I started running low on cash, as the leaves changed. I told anyone who asked that I was going back to visit some friends out in Yonster—no one asked much after that, although I had plenty to tell them. I don’t know how I got back every day, every night rain or shine I was there. It was always Spring in Yonster, and the people always patient and kind. It kept me warm on days full of cold, and full when I slept hungry. For six months, I chased the phantom through hills and dales, in valleys and near cliffs.

Small Town Maine yonster

And then I found it—the old road to Yonster. It was smaller than I remembered, but what did that even mean really. The road was dirt, overgrown mostly. The buildings were small and few. There was maybe a dozen old houses, empty houses—no not quiet empty. But no one lived there. It was nothing like I imagined, but it was Yonster. I could feel it in my bones.



This story took some work to come up with an ending for—I wasn’t satisfied with leaving it as utter delusion, or having it really be some paridisal home. So I opted for something in between. On a revisit, I think expanding some of the search would be warranted—or perhaps changing Yonster from a sort of small town idealism to a more fantastic setting like the folklore had.

Next week, we leave the invisible and soar into the heavens! Behold, the Sun!

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