It was a long morning. Victor sweltered beneath the unforgiving country sun as he trekked from house to house failing to sell metronomes. Doors slammed in his face, abuse rang in his ears, and guard dogs chased him off properties. An elderly woman invited him into her home, but no business was conducted: she had just mistaken him for a Jehovah’s Witness.
Around midday Victor walked up a steep and deserted street. It appeared more like a giant cemetery. The air was still and silent; not even a bird whistled. Dilapidated houses stood like tombstones, lifeless and neglected, in their rows either side. Every lawn was overgrown, every garden a jungle. Rot and rust had infected every man-made thing. Victor stopped in front of one house and noticed, protruding above some bushes, a For Sale sign bearing a retro design. Another house had the remains of a vintage Ford in the driveway. Evidently the street had been decaying for decades. At the top of the hill Victor crouched and leaned against a short, stone fence to catch his breath. He looked down the other side of the hill and saw the street stretched, barren and abandoned, all the way down and ended at an intersection. From that point life seemed to return: modern houses, mowed lawns, movement and sound. But this one street lay like a corpse. This one street was a ghost town. Every house there was a ruin. Every house but one.
A hack and a splutter startled Victor and he looked up. Across the street an old man shuffled up the hill, leaning on a crooked wooden cane. A felt hat was pulled low over his downcast eyes, and he muttered to himself. When he noticed Victor the old man gave a start and then froze, staring wide-eyed. He crossed himself and then the street. He walked up to Victor as fast as his aged legs would allow.
“Get away,” he wheezed in thick, Eastern European accent. “Don’t touch the fence.”
Victor stood up. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just resting. I didn’t mean to—”
“Stay away,” said the old man. “Don’t touch that fence. You mustn’t be here. You go. You go now.”
“Hey, there’s no need to get like that,” said Victor. “I’m not causing any harm.”
“Danger,” said the old man, raising his cane toward the house to which the fence belonged. “Danger there. You stay away.”
Victor looked round and saw, at the top a long, white gravel driveway, an exquisite mansion. He was surprised he hadn’t noticed it earlier. It was enormous: three storeys high and made of stones big enough to construct a small pyramid. The building was at least a hundred years old, yet despite its age, and the condition of the neighbouring houses, it was immaculate. Its stones were bright, not a tile upon the roof was cracked, and its windows glinted in the sun. Around the house were emerald lawns fit for royalty and gardens to rival Eden. Every colour of flower bloomed throughout the grounds, perfuming the air. Victor was enchanted. The old man coughed again—a rich, phlegm-infused cough—snapping Victor out of his daze.
“Who lives there?” he asked.
“No one live,” said the old man, gravely. “Cursed.”
Victor looked at the old man; the old man nodded. He waved a trembling finger in front of Victor.
“You stay away.”
The old man steadied himself on his cane, adjusted his hat and lowered his eyes. He crossed the street and began his descent of the slope Victor had just climbed. “Stay away,” he called, without looking back.
Victor looked again at the mansion. He weighed the old man’s words, while feeling the weight of unsold metronomes in his briefcase. After a minute’s inner deliberation, Victor continued walking, down the other side of the hill and back into town.
© 2019 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED