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What Ever Happened to Sunny Hill?
I am a normal citizen of Pike County. I live, I breathe, I eat. I went to school, I work, I drive, I even read for leisure. Why was I caught in the middle of a time warp and a fist fight with evil? My little crossroads north of town got a slap in the face that strange day I came home from work.
I drive to and from a market 4 miles away 5 days a week. I work there and it’s a great place. Things rarely change. The route between there and my house is the same route I’ve driven since I moved into this house after high school (college is a pretty big - and expensive - deal around here). Gravel road all the way until it meets the new highway about half a mile from the market. Nothing special.
It was a normal day at the market. I got my paycheck from the owner and made my way to the parking lot at 7:00, just like every other 3rd Friday. I saw some pretty odd vehicles in the parking lot but I just figured they belonged to rich tourists. My big dusty truck still looked beautiful to me. I got in and began driving home, but where the highway and gravel met at a T, the gravel was closed. I thought something was wrong so I got out and looked and there was a crew paving the whole road, and they had almost finished! I asked one of the guys there how long they’d been at it and he said about 2 weeks and they were nearing the end.
2 weeks?! I just drove that road that morning! Leaving my confusion behind me, I drove the highway home. I noticed lots of new houses but I didn’t think anything of it because I hadn’t driven that way for such a long time. What I thought was really strange, however, was town. Town looked completely different. There must have been 15 gas stations within sight of the main street! I never knew there was such a need to tear down beautiful homes for gas pumps.
Out of curiosity, I started to drive around and realized that a lot of the places from my childhood were either gone or changed. The estate on the south side of town was replaced by a high school. The old high school is now the junior high. The judge’s house was replaced by a parking lot. The old elementary/junior high school is now empty and its students are in a new building where the high school’s football field used to be. The new football field is behind the new high school. There’s a new subdivision on the east side of town. They tore down a really old house for a new one with a weird angular design. My great aunt’s house is now empty with the danger of being torn down.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had just come to town on Monday and it looked so normal, but now it was almost futuristic. I almost thought I was having a dream about some dystopian world but I knew that that couldn’t be right because I was seeing people and places I knew.
I was afraid to go home. I didn’t want to see anything changed. I didn’t want to see my house gone or empty. I didn’t want to see the schoolhouse or church in any worse shape than I had left them. I didn’t want to see the cemetery vandalized or wiped clean from view. I didn’t want to see my neighbors gone or their houses gone. I just didn’t want to go home, despite my yearning to see it all normal and realize that all I saw in town was just a daydream fabricated by the cold medicine I had taken at lunch.
I took a chance and started my drive home. All seemed well. Some things were different but it was nothing major. I could see the silhouette of my house in the distance with the sun shining on its windows. As I got closer, my heart broke. To my right, the two mysterious tombstones whose names were fading and origin unknown were either gone or covered up by brush. My house was empty, but thankfully not in bad shape. The cemetery looked nice and was fairly well-kept, but the grass was tall and the weeds were scraggly. The schoolhouse and church were sagging but still holding on. The neighbors’ houses were still there but I didn’t dare see if the neighbors I knew were still the ones living there.
I parked in my usual spot and walked around the outside of my house. A window was broken and another was boarded shut. I went up to my front door and was pleased to see that the intricate sunburst carven wooden door with its twin arched windows was still there. Even the stained glass front window was still in the living room. I tried to open the door but it was stuck and I didn’t want to break it. I walked around the house again and saw that the back door was wide open.
I entered cautiously and called for anyone inside and, to my relief, no one answered. I slowly made my way through the home to find that everything was exactly how I remembered, just dusty or broken. I was able to go upstairs and I was immediately comforted by the feeling of the polished oak banister under my hand. When I reached the top, I saw that all three bedroom doors were closed but all the transoms were open.
My bedroom door opened without a bit of resistance. I welcomed myself in and took a deep breath of the smell of my perfume that lingered in the old, stale air. My clothes were just as I had left them on the table, all my furniture was in its place, and my bed still had the quilt my grandma made just weeks before she died neatly laid across it. My wedding dress hung untouched by age on my closet door. The sight of my room all in order was relieving, but the fact that I could see sunlight through my ceiling created a boulder in my stomach. Thankfully, and oddly, there didn’t seem to be any water damage.
I next turned to my upstairs study, more like my own little library. The door didn’t want to open at first, but with some gentle force, it opened right up. All my books were rotten or eaten up. Few looked like they could be picked up without disintegrating. The window was broken and the floor sagged below it. I didn’t dare step any farther in. I could see the dining room underneath my feet through the floor.
I decided I had seen enough. I went outside and stood on the other side of the street, staring in awe at my nearly ruined home. I turned around and looked at the cemetery and noticed a new stone that said Sunny Hill Cemetery on it. I also noticed the peonies on my aunt’s grave had been mowed over. Ironic how the flowers were mowed but the rest of the cemetery looked completely neglected. I continued to look around and shook my head in confusion. How could everything have changed so much since I left for work this morning?
I suddenly heard a very loud vehicle coming my way. Teen boys packed into a small truck making quiet the ruckus. I tried to ignore them, but they stopped right between me and my house in the middle of the road.
“Whatcha doin’, woman? That house ain’t yers!” one bellowed rudely.
“Oh, hush it, ya dim bulb, you! She might need help!” yelled another, sounding rather polite in a hostile kind of way. “Are ya lost, ma’am? Yer truck broke down? Lookin’ for somtin?”
“Actually, yes. You’re going to think I’m crazy for asking this, but what year is it?” The boys looked at me like they were ready to leave me in the dust because I made myself out to be insane. “I just need confirmation of something. I think I’ve gotten confused.”
The same semi-polite one said “Why, it’s 1960, hun. You must really be lost if ya didn’t know that…”
“Lost is a word for it, I suppose. Do you know the last time someone lived in this house?”
“Why...I’m pretty near sure it ‘as around 1930 er somtin like that. I may not be right but my pap’d know. He lives right up there, if you wanna go ask ‘im. That little house there with the goats out in front.”
“Why’d you go an’ tell her that for, ya dunce? She might be lost of a mind and you’re tellin’ her to go bother Mr. Hoos? I don’t care if he is yer crazy ole pap, he doesn’t deserve-”
“Aw, shut it! I’m just bein’ nice! What’s it to ya, anyway? She won’t be botherin’ you, will she?”
The other boys were quiet now. “Thank you very much, young man. If you don’t mind, what’s your name?” I said cautiously. I didn’t want to face another round of fire from the group.
“I’m proudly Terry Hoos III. Some people think it’s cute to call me “The” but I don’t get it. Anyways, if you go see papa Hoos, tell ‘im Terry sent ya. He’ll welcome ya.”
“Thanks again!” I said, waving as the rowdy boys raced off down the road, covering me in dust.
I mustered up all my courage to go talk to Mr. Hoos. I was petrified. I felt like the person who doesn’t want to go to the doctor because he doesn’t want to find out how sick he is. I didn’t want him to tell me that something terrible happened or that I was in a completely different place than I thought or that I was in a whole new universe…
Before I knew it, I was knocking on his door. A raspy, booming, but nice sounding voice rang out. “To whom do I owe the pleasure?” he said, opening the door as he finished speaking.
“Mr. Hoos?” He nodded and smiled sweetly. “I’m…” I paused, not knowing if I should tell him my real name. I scrambled for a name and finally came up with “Martha Curtis.” He could sense my raging nerves.
“Well, Madam Martha, come on in. I’ve just baked some cookies. I call them monster globs because they’re so messy. But they’re so delicious! You aren’t allergic to peanut butter, are you, miss?”
“No, I’m not,” I said smiling. He handed me a cookie and gestured to a chair. “Terry sent me. He said you could answer some questions.”
“Ah, yes. Go ahead and start right in. Don’t be afraid, nothing sounds illogical to my ears when it comes to questions from a sweet young lady.” He bore a toothy grin with with many wrinkles around his mouth and eyes. He had a scraggly beard and long hair, but he was very clean and well-kept. He walked with a slight limp but was sure of every step.
His home was small and simple. Heavy canvas curtains were pulled aside to let the summer sun flood the rooms. His bed was in the corner, a single-person wooden frame that was obviously old but looked shiny and new. Shelves and dressers and cabinets lined every wall where there wasn’t a window or door. There were no pictures anywhere in sight except for a family photo that sat by itself beside Mr. Hoos’s bed of him, his wife, two older couples I assumed to be his and his wife’s parents, and 4 children ages newborn to teen.
Apparently my eyes wandered too long. Mr. Hoos startled me when he spoke: “Yes, that’s my beautiful family. Terrible losses, really. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will tell you that I’m the only one left aside from little Terry. He’s my grandson. The son of Olivia. There she is…” he said longingly as he pointed to the youngest girl in the picture.
“Oh, sir, I’m sure there’s nothing you could say about your family that could bore me. I’m in no hurry at all. Please, if you don’t mind, tell me all about them.” His eyes had a happy fatherly glow to them when he began speaking again.
“They thought they’d lost me in the war. My parents and hers had all passed away before all this happened. Anyway, I was taken prisoner at the very start of the madness in Europe. I was just there studying German language and culture, but I wore an American uniform and studied on a base. Then one day, we were attacked. All the men died but me, so they took me and hid me away. No contact with the real world for 11 years. They wouldn’t even let me have a journal to write down my thoughts. They wouldn’t listen when I spoke, even in their language. I thank God every day that an American spy caught wind of this and told Mr. President to send men to free me. I never felt so blessed in my life.
Mr. Hoos paused for a long moment, resisting the tears that wanted to flow. I handed him a cookie and patted his hands and he looked me straight in the eyes, with tears blurring his own, and said “My dear, you’re just like my wife. Your smile, your eyes. Gosh, even your hair.” He took another moment to gather himself and resumed his story.
“After I was freed and all those soldiers of the devil were sure to be dead, I came back home to an empty house. 11 years without a father really changes a family. No one offered to tell me what happened until I finally had to ask. My best friend is the one who broke the silence. He always started serious conversations with me with: ‘My dear friend, Hosy…’ I could tell he was about tell me something awful.
“He told me that two of my precious children had died trying to find me. My two boys, George and Jacob, enlisted and shipped themselves off to Germany and never came back until they were in coffins. He also told me that my second youngest, Victoria, moved away with her new husband and was never heard from again. No idea where she even went. My youngest, Olivia, died during childbirth. Precious little Terry survived, though. He’s my only piece of her. Her husband disappeared. Terry never knew his father. I refuse to tell him about the coward. He was a drunk and an untrustworthy snake. Olivia deserved better, but she could never find it. As for my wife, Anna...well...she took her own life after all this occurred. She just couldn’t stand having her family in tatters like that. She did the deed with my Winchester. I buried that old thing under the front step. As beautiful as a gun it was, I never wanted to see it again.”
He sat speechless, holding the cookie in his shaking hand, staring at it to keep from crying. He took my hand and said, “My dear Anna wrote me a note. It said: ‘If you ever come back, and if you ever read this, I want you to know that I’m still with you. I’m still your wife. Your love is still in my heart and I hope that mine is still in yours.’” He couldn’t fight the tears anymore. He dropped his cookie on the table and took my hands. I held his hands tight and took my best shot at comforting him.
“I can’t even begin to know how much it must hurt to lose so many people like that. I do know, though, how it feels to be lost and confused without the people you love around you, or even a spouse to tell you everything is okay… I don’t know where I am. I know physically where I am, but I have no idea where I am in the world. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be saying this - I’m sorry about your family.”
Mr. Hoos stood bolt upright and immediately stopped crying. He wiped the tears from his face, patted my hands and let go, then took another bite of his cookie. “Which reminds me: why are you here? You said you needed questions answered. I won’t get off the subject again. Go ahead. Get those questions of yours answered. I’m your man.”
“What do you know about the house up there across from the cemetery? What happened to who used to live there?”
“Tragic story. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
I bit my lips and nodded. I had a feeling this was about when his friend would say, “My dear friend, Hosy…”
“It was a fine young single lady right around the age of 20. She went to work one day and was never seen again. Some people think she wrecked on that road,” he said pointing to the road I traveled every day, “that she used all the time to get back and forth from work. Some people think she was kidnapped. Some even think she killed herself. The real mystery of it is is that her truck was-” Mr. Hoos froze when he looked out the window. “Her truck was never found, either. The exact same truck as yours.” He was white as a ghost. My heart was pounding. I knew he was talking about me. “Martha, you say, right?”
“Well, not truly. My name is Gloria Watson.” His face turned to stone. “The same Gloria Watson that lived in that house. That’s why I came to ask what happened to her. I am her and I have no idea what happened to me.”
“Well, to be completely honest, I know what happened. My dad saw it with his own eyes and wrote it in his diary. He never spoke a word of it to anyone alive.” His voice began to shake. He took a nibble from his cookie and looked out the window at my house. “Is the house how you remember it? Has it changed?”
“It’s just how I left it the morning of Friday, July 18, 1947. Nothing has changed. Aside from the fact that it’s deteriorating, that is. I could see the sky through my bedroom ceiling. I didn’t used to be able to do that.”
“Everything of yours was left untouched because everyone thought you’d come back. My dad was the only one who knew you wouldn't. And why you wouldn’t. Do you want to know the details?” he asked carefully.
“Yes! Please! I’m so confused. I just want to know what happened. And why I jumped from 1932 to 1960…”
“It’s because your last real day was the day you said you thought today should be. I should get the diary. I don’t want to misinform you.” With this, he stood up and gazed thoughtfully at the bookshelf behind me. “Excuse me, miss…” he said reaching for the leather bound diary right behind my shoulder. “Here it is. The facts of your fate. Brace yourself, my dear.
“July 18, 1932. ‘I just witnessed something I never thought I’d have to see. In fact, I’m not even completely sure of what it was. All I know is that it ended with the death of a young woman whose name I don’t know and whose face I’ve seldom seen. I was taking a leisurely walk from my house to the farm market in the next town. It’s a very pleasant evening walk. Perfect amount of time between supper and sunset to get there and back. I was halfway back when I saw a very unusual looking large black truck only inches behind a yellow work truck. The larger truck was forcing the smaller truck to go so fast that it was pumping out black exhaust and the engine sounded atrocious. Then my heart nearly burst out of my chest when the yellow truck made a terrible noise and started slowing down. At this point, the yellow truck had no other choice but to go into the field to avoid being run off the bridge ahead. The black truck followed. I hid behind a tree to keep my distance but I couldn’t remove my eyes from the scene. The trucks came back toward the road and the yellow one had quit working. The woman inside was steering it and as best she could until it stopped moving at the edge of the field. The black truck pushed her into the road right as a freight truck came barreling by. She went spinning and rolling down the bank. I turned to watch to see where she was going. When I lost sight of her, I turned back to see who was driving the black truck. It was gone. Without a sound. I ran as quickly as I could down the bank after the woman’s truck and found it wedged under a fallen tree in the creek. I went right up to the window and saw that the woman was dead. I knew there was no way I could get her out myself. Even if she was dead, she needed to be freed. As I walked away, I couldn’t help but think that I heard her talking to me.’
“July 20, 1932. ‘I went to the sheriff yesterday and told him about what I saw. He didn’t believe me. I suppose he didn’t really think a story about a phantom truck was very believable. If only I could remember what I thought I heard when I went down there after the crash. It seems like there was a name.’” Mr. Hoos looked up at me. I was frozen. I had no words. After a moment, he rose and went to get me another cookie. This time he sat down beside me, laid the cookie on my knee and took my hands. “He told me later on that he remembered what he heard.”
“It was my name. I asked him who was chasing me and I told him my name and to ask the sheriff to come help me. I didn’t know what happened.”
“Yes. My dad also said he went down there any time he thought about it to see if you were still there. He said nothing ever changed except the state of your body and the rust on your truck. He told me where it is but never showed me. I can try to take you there if you want,” he said kindly. I could tell he didn’t know what to say. I didn’t either, so I just nodded and took a nibble out of my cookie.
It was a long, cold walk. The wind was blowing so hard we couldn’t hear each other speak just a foot apart even if we yelled. We didn’t speak much, though. It was mainly talking to ourselves, trying to remember exactly where all this happened. Then we both saw it. The ruts in the bank were still there. The tree his dad used to hide was still there. We started down the least steep-looking area of the bank and it wasn’t long before the truck came into view. I kept thinking that it couldn’t be my truck and that I couldn’t be inside. As I expected, I was wrong.
There was my truck with the same wood plank as a tailgate and the same crack in the back window. There I was inside, falling apart along with the upholstery. There were my purse and paycheck in the passenger seat. And my cup in the makeshift cup holder. And my missing rear-view mirror.
I got closer and tried to open the door. The door was stuck and the windows were all unbroken and closed. I wasn’t going to break any of them just to get closer to my own lifeless skeleton. I looked up at Mr. Hoos and said, “Do you have any idea what was chasing me? I never saw a driver in that truck. I never saw a face or heard a voice.”
“Well, there is a local legend that may provide an explanation. You see that house up there that’s empty? The man who lived there, long before your time even, had a serious problem with women. Especially single and self-sufficient such as yourself. The lore is that he was the one chasing you. People say they’ve seen him in your house like he thinks he owns it or something. So, if that story is true, you were chased down by a ghost.”
I stared longingly at my truck. I refused to look inside any more so I looked in the back. I saw the chain and rope my dad said were always necessary in a work truck. I saw my dad’s license plates under the spare tire. I saw one of the two shoes I wore to the promenade my senior year. Only God knows what happened to the other one. I also saw something that sent chills all over my body and brought tears to my eyes more than seeing my own dead body. I had almost forgotten that was even back there.
“What’s wrong my dear?” Mr. Hoos whispered kindly as he placed a large, warm hand on my shoulder.
I shook my head and pointed at my fiance’s high school letter jacket. He was rich enough that he got a fancy leather one so it was hardly showing any age, even in the back of my wrecked truck. His truck, I should say. “My fiance’s jacket. I used to wear it all the time. He was killed overseas in the military. He couldn’t tell me where he was and no one else would tell me where he was even after he died. I just know they sent him back in an ugly rugged plank box. I was too broke on my own to pay for a nice funeral so I had to beg my parents. His parents wouldn’t help any. They didn’t even want a son. My parents disapproved of me living with him before we were officially married so they only paid the bare minimum and the rest was up to me and the military. The military didn’t even want to pay much. They said he spent too much of his training time writing letters to me.” I leaned into Mr. Hoos and he stretched his strong arms around my shoulders.
“What was his name?”
“Peter Nicholson. He was the best man I ever knew. We were to be wed as soon as he returned. Of course, neither of us knew when that would be. We were ready, anyway. I had a dress, he had a suit, we had formal wear for the family. We had the church set up and they were waiting almost as eagerly as we were. I was going to be perfect.”
We stood in silence as the hot setting sun grew hotter on our faces. Eventually, clouds started to blanket the sky. It grew cool and humid, then started raining gently. I laid down under the tree Mr. Hoos said his dad used to hide from the chase and let the soft shower soak my clothes and hair. Mr. Hoos sat on a fallen tree a few feet away.
“I think it’s time we head back. We don’t need either of us getting sick,” he said with a voice that reminded me more of my dad than anything I had heard him say all day. Dad was deathly afraid of any of us in the family getting sick. Although, he himself never seemed completely healthy. He always had a scary-sounding cough but it never amounted to anything. He always said it was just the air around him.
I nodded but paused. I didn’t want to leave the truck but was starting to get really cold. We started back to the house, walking slowly side by side. When my house came into view, we both stopped immediately. The black truck was next to mine and there was someone walking around upstairs. “You’d better not provoke him. He might get pretty nasty. I wouldn’t even go in if I were you.”
“I’m going in. That is my house. He isn’t welcomed in my house. In the name of God and in the name of Peter and myself, I am going in there and he is leaving. I don’t care how.” I ran with my head down to the back door that I found open earlier. I ran up the stairs and was startled to find no one there. I walked as quietly as I could into each room and didn’t see anyone.
I turned to walk down the stairs when I heard: “You foolish girl. You won’t find me. You may think you’re smart but I promise that I am smarter. What smart woman lives on her own in her own house and has a job that requires the skill only a man possesses.” The voice was evil and condescending. It had a wicked tone and a disgusting manner of hissing each word. It felt like the devil himself was talking to me.
“I have God and my husband on my side. Two men who don’t deserve to be in the presence of a snake like you. They deserve Heaven which is exactly what they have and exactly what you’ll never see!” My blood was rushing so fast that my head was throbbing. I could feel my face getting hot with rage. I hadn’t even seen the man and he was already the worst thing I’ve ever had to encounter. “Come and get me, you coward! You do not and cannot and will not scare me!”
I jumped when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw the surprisingly ordinary face of a man of about 50 years old. At first glance, that is. The longer I looked at him, the more I hated the sight of him. He was so thin that his shirt and coat seemed to hang on his shoulders. He had such an unhealthy color to him that he blended in with the raining sky I saw past him through the broken windows. His eyes were bloodshot and piercingly dark black with a sickly yellow background. His hair was greasy black, almost as dark as his eyes.
“You foolish girl. You’re men are nothing.” My whole body burned with anger at the way he spat the word men. “What exactly is your goal? Do you think you have the authority to rid this house of me? You seem to have forgotten that you are dead too!” He laughed a chilling and shrill laugh that seemed to shake the house.
He raised a large bony fist and stood over me, trying to intimidate me. As soon as his arm moved to hit me, I ducked and tackled him at the legs. I threw him into the nearest room and slammed the door. “Still believe that me and my MEN are powerless?! Just wait!”
He crawled miserably out of the room and stood up before me. I was slowly backing into my room, but not out of fear. I had an idea. Every good little Sunday school kid knows what a demon can look like. His black eyes and terrible voice gave it away to me. I wasn’t Catholic but Peter was. I kept his Rosary on top of my Bible by my bed. Both were still there.
With his fist raised again, he followed me into my bedroom. I leaned against my bedside table and tangled the Rosary around my fingers. This time, I threw the punch. He fell and screamed in pain.
“Noble attempt, foolish girl, but that hasn’t weakened me!”
“Then I guess I’ll have to get something a little more painful.” I stepped back to the table and took my Bible in both hands. “Stand up and face me! God has no mercy on dirty things such as yourself!” As soon as he got within arm’s reach, I beat him with my Bible yelling: “God banish this evil!” He was wailing in agony and slowly growing visibly weaker and smaller. He seemed to be physically disappearing. In about a minute, he was completely gone.
I took a deep breath and said, “Thank you, dear God. You saved what’s left of my life. I know you helped, too, Peter. That punch was from you. I could feel it.” I laid down on my tattered bed and laughed and sang hymns until I fell asleep with the Bible and Rosary still in my hands.
When I woke up, I was in a beautiful bright place. Peter was standing by my side. He took my hand and said, “I’m glad you finally made it.”