Chapter One - The House Eaters
I found the half-devoured house on our first afternoon in Broughton’s Hollow.
Dad and Mom were busy unpacking, Tabby was in her room being a moody fourteen-year-old, and I was bored. It was day one in Nowhere, Kansas, and my skull was already starting to ache. Okay, the place was officially called Evergreen Estates, and it was a new development, one of those places where people come in and smash old houses or bulldoze nature to make room for new construction. But Dad called the place Broughton’s Hollow because that was the name of the town when he was a kid. He grew up in nearby Springdale, the little town where I’d be a senior in the fall.
I figured the initials B.H. fit the place pretty well. B.H. as in black hole. As in goodbye social life, sorry to see you go, but Nick is stuck in Kansas, and no tornado is going to ferry his sorry butt to Oz.
Officially, we moved because of Mom. Not because she wanted to; she was a city girl, St. Louis born and raised. No, we moved because Mom lost her job with Sprint. Dad was an English teacher, and they couldn’t afford our place in Kansas City. Tabby’s hospital bills still hung over the family, and the ’rents even had not-so-secret conversations about how a move might help her. I overheard them talking about it on more than one occasion even though it was hush-hush. Besides, the new house was cheap. “A steal,” Dad said.
Broughton’s Hollow—Evergreen Estates. Whatever. It was nothing like K.C.
So while everyone was unpacking, I decided to go for a run. After a long day, I was stiff, and I figured I could work in a few laps before dinner. Hitting a pool would be nicer—more my style, but then again anything would be nicer than moving two weeks before my senior year. Who knew if there was a decent lap pool within fifty miles? Evergreen was a new development, just about ten houses—all on a couple newly paved streets. I counted when we pulled in that morning. I wasn’t really paying too much attention, of course. I also had the whole “teenage resistance” thing going on, or so said Mom.
The streets were paved with varying degrees of success. The new streets, like ours, were smooth and black. The county roads and streets that held remnants of older houses surviving from Dad’s childhood lay in cracked stretches, with weeds and grass poking through the gashes. I ran down one of those roads, away from the development, following the county highway around low hills that sort of sheltered the Hollow. My long legs took the broken road in easy strides while I scanned the horizon. Kansas was flat, but mostly out west. In the northeast, little towns like Broughton’s Hollow were tucked away between hills and stands of cottonwood trees, lost amongst green smudges that marked rivers or streams.
I rounded a turn, and something hit me, landed in my gut with the force of a ball of ice. Even though it was July, I shivered. The sun was in hiding all day, resting behind a healthy layer of rain clouds, so it was colder than usual. But that wasn’t it.
I didn’t shiver because of the cold. There, in front of me, burrowed in the side of one of these low hills, rested the ruins of an old house, almost twice the size of our new place. A monster lurking in the shadows. It was a predator, an abomination—the outside walls were mostly smashed, almost peeled off, from a little tower that rose in the middle to the sprawling foundation. The roof was intact, but splinters of graying wood from the torn up siding jutted toward me like broken teeth. The sun peeked out just enough to ignite the front of the House before vanishing into the granite sky and bits of glass glinted like flickering eyes.
For a moment, the House was alive.
I was distracted while running, trying to ignore the stiffness in my legs and thinking about how much suckage I’d have to contend with at Springdale High, but then the House leapt out of nowhere, kind of like it was waiting in the shadows of the hill. With a quick glance to each side, I noticed I was a couple hundred yards from the edge of the development. My brain overcrowded with the feeling that the House was watching me.
I hurried back home. My feet pounded against the ground, and my heart clanged away inside my chest as I ran as fast as I could for the first hundred yards. My paced slowed, and I was almost fully thawed by the time I rounded the last of the highway and saw the old man standing on our porch, talking to Mom.
Instant freeze again.
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