Writing Exercise: Time Shift (Part 2 of 2)

Photo by Kyle Loftus on Unsplash

Below is the second half of a short story, my writing exercise for the day. To read the first half, you can click here.

The man continued, still staring down at the half-empty glass in front of him.

“Three years ago, I spent the summer out in New Mexico, in Albuquerque, working on a farm in the South Valley. It was an internship for my senior year of college, and I was gathering information for a research paper. The paper was for my environmental studies class and detailed acequias and their irrigation benefits throughout the region. I was there from June through August, the hottest parts of the year, working on the farm every day that summer.

It was hard work, too, the hardest physical work I had encountered thus far. I didn’t know many people my age, and so I spent most of my free time exploring the landscape. In the late afternoons when the work was done for the day, I made the half-hour drive up to the eastern border of the city where the Sandia Mountains are. The foothills of these mountains hold countless trailheads, and I took to hiking along these trails each day to catch the sunset. I’d never seen sunsets like that, turning the mountains pink for a few minutes each evening, just like a sandia, a watermelon.”

Here, the man stopped to take a swig of his drink before continuing.

“One of these evenings, I was hiking on a trail that circled around a small mountain’s edge, offering breathtaking views of the city down below. Out there, the land stretches ahead of you for dozens of miles, and you can make out the buildings downtown, and even specific streets. During this hike, I stopped at a gathering of boulders and sat on one of them to wait for the sun to set. It was almost a meditative experience up there for me, with the clear skies and winds blowing down the mountainside, all around me.

I had been there maybe fifteen minutes or so when I heard footsteps behind me. A guy my age was coming up the mountain from the opposite direction from which I had come. He had dark brown hair that was parted neatly along one side and was dressed what I thought was a bit formal, a button up shirt and pants like my grandpa used to wear. The guy waved to me and asked to join me on the group of rocks.

“Of course,” I told him, glad to see someone my age after so many weeks on the farm with older workers.

As he sat down on a nearby boulder, I noticed his shoes – brown, flat, leather ones that looked like they had next to no traction. They must have been slicker than anything on that dusty, crumbly trail.

‘How can you wear those things?’ I asked him. ‘I’m hardly making it up the trail in these hiking shoes.’ I lifted my own foot to show him. He looked puzzled and mildly amused at my own shoes, a pair of sneakers I had used throughout college.

“I don’t have any trouble with these. Those shoes of yours though, I’ve never seen anything like them,” he told me. At the time, I thought that was a strange remark, but he seemed friendly, and I thought nothing more of it. We got to talking more, and I learned his name was Marco. He worked downtown at the drug store and was in medical school at a local university. I told him about my research paper on acequias, and he said he was familiar with them as many of his friends were farmers.

As the sun set, we saw that it was getting late and parted ways; I didn’t think anything more of Marco or our conversation. However, the next day, I ran into him again and so on for the next week or two. We hiked together several times, and one day I ran into him as I was walking up from my car which I always parked in the lot just outside the trailhead. Instead of offering to hike, he invited me to his home where his sister was making an enchilada dinner.

I had grown tired of the farm meals and accepted gladly. I learned that he walked from his house to the trailhead, so we turned away from the trail on foot. I followed him down the street, surprised that I had not noticed there was no sidewalk before; I supposed I was always too hurried to get on the trail to notice each evening.

It was after just a few minutes that I began to feel a little uneasy, kind of like that feeling when you know you’re getting the flu but you don’t have any real symptoms yet. My head had a slight ache and the sun seemed to be beaming down hotter than ever, but Marco didn’t notice. He just chattered on about his sister’s ability to cook anything you asked.

The sun was beginning to sink in the sky, and feeling the dryness in my throat, I thought I might ask him for a glass of water when we reached his house. I found myself wishing we’d taken my car, as we would already have been there by now.

At that moment, I abruptly realized what had unsettled me. Turning back at the trailhead with Marco, I had not seen my own car. Nor the lot that had been filled with so many other vehicles of people visiting the trail. My mind could not recall anything but the dead end of the street opening into grass and a post marking the trail’s entrance.

‘Marco,’ I asked him, ‘Are we nearly there? I’m not feeling well.’ The ground felt uneven below my feet although it looked perfectly flat.

He replied that his house was just around the next street corner, and I could rest there. As we rounded the corner, we came into a neighborhood filled with quaint houses. We were met with what seemed to be an old-fashioned car show, with the vehicles parked along the street and strangely, in people’s driveways.

I remarked on the amount of antique cars in the neighborhood, but Marco didn’t seem to notice and just shrugged my comment off. He led me into the yard of one of the old style houses and opened the front door. The house was immaculate inside, but again, all the furniture seemed to be of a style even my grandmother would have thought out-dated. I followed Marco further into the house and into the kitchen, with the impression that I was on the set of a historical movie.

A woman who I presumed to be his sister was stirring a pot of something on the stove. She wiped her hands on the apron around her waist and turned to greet me. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Although she seemed nice, something about her made me feel ill-at-ease. Her clothes were all wrong, too bulky, too grandmotherly. Her makeup was too dark, eyebrows too thin, like she was dressed in a turn of the century costume.

She extended her hand in greeting, but I found myself only staring, alternately at her and then Marco, the ache in my head getting more intense. My gaze landed on the wall behind the sister’s shoulder. On the wall hung a calendar, and as I read its marking, the floor seemed to fall out from under me. My head was swimming and I lost consciousness, but not before I distinguished the number “1926.”

When I came to, I was lying in the parking lot at the trailhead, beside my car. Neither Marco nor his sister were anywhere in sight. I drove to the farm as fast as I could. That night, I told only a few of the farmers there what had happened, but of course they didn’t believe the story, and they were worried I’d come down with sunstroke.

I went back to the trailhead every day until my internship was over, but I never saw Marco again. When I tried to retrace the path to his house, it was just as I thought. No neighborhood existed near that particular trail.”

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Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House

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Photo by Edan Cohen on Unsplash

*The review below may contain spoilers*

I, like many others I know, have found myself hooked on the recently released Netflix show “The Haunting of Hill House.” As I am fascinated with all things paranormal, it was the down the rabbit hole I went after watching only one episode. I ended up watching all ten episodes in a matter of days, occasionally with every light turned on in my house.

My boyfriend noticed how much I enjoyed the show and bought me a copy of the book it was based on. He actually bought me a very lovely Library of America compilation, which also contains several of Shirley Jackson’s works including The Lottery, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and miscellaneous other short stories. I had previously read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and liked the tone, so I was excited to dive into another one of Jackson’s mysterious stories.

From the beginning, The Haunting of Hill House is very different from the Netflix version. There are few similarities in plot except the overarching theme of a creepy house taking over its inhabitants. The characters’ names overlap as well, but their relationships to one another and their personalities are completely different in the book than their onscreen representations.

Published in 1959, the book follows the character of Eleanor Vance, a thirty-two year old woman who from the start, raises a few eyebrows with the reader. As a child, she was involved in a bizarre event during which rocks fell from the sky onto her family’s house. Due to this prior involvement with the supernatural, she is contacted (in present day) by a paranormal investigator, Dr. Montague. He invites her to take part in a summer study involving supernatural activity at Hill House, a place Eleanor has never heard of. Against the wishes of her sister and brother-in-law, she takes the family car and sets out for the house. Upon her arrival, she meets two others invited by the same paranormal investigator: Theodora, a woman with a history of ESP abilities and Luke, the nephew of Hill House’s owner, and thus the man who will one day inherit the house.

The plot centers around Eleanor and the other three main characters’ experiences as they spend several days in the house. Loud banging on the walls at night, a phantom dog running through the hallways, and a ghost family’s picnic are all the sorts of odd things they encounter. Jackson does a superb job of interweaving the thoughts crossing Eleanor’s increasingly unstable mind with these supernatural events. Eleanor slowly begins to distrust the others around her, especially Theodora. As Eleanor’s thoughts turn more violent and nonsensical, the reader is left to wonder just how many of the strange events in the house are caused by the paranormal and how much of it is actually in Eleanor’s head.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the paranormal or even just the psychology of the human mind. While it doesn’t follow the plot line of the Netflix version, it does capture the sense of dread Hill House gives off. By the end of it, I wasn’t quite sure what really had happened in Hill House, and I think that’s just what Jackson had in mind when she wrote the story.