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Authors: Tom Llewellyn

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BOOK: The Tilting House
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A few sentences were missing here, chewed away by the rats, which drove Lola crazy. She said Mary must have told Tilton she was in love with him, too. The story continued.

but returned in two months. She stayed at the Winthrop and I dined with her three or four nights a week—never more often than that. On many occasions, I tried to ask her to marry me, but she would put her fingers on my lips and tell me to shush or would silence me with a kiss. I was desperate to spend the rest of my life with her. I was madly in love. Oh, if only I had possessed Hanson’s charms
.

My bliss ended abruptly two months later. A business acquaintance of mine named Hodgson Bennett shared with me the devastating news that the rest of Tacoma society knew already. The reason Mary would see me only three or four nights a week was because she was spending her other evenings with Hanson
.

I was overcome. I felt betrayed by the woman I loved and the friend I trusted. My mind turned dark and, I shamefully admit, thoughts of murder filled my head
.

That evening, while driving to dinner, I confronted Mary. I told her she had made a fool of me. She apologized and said she did indeed love me, but she loved Hanson as well. At the next stoplight, she opened the car door and stepped out into the shadows. I drove home alone, angry and miserable. I lay awake all night
.

In the morning, Mary came to see me at Tilton House. I did not know it then, but it would be the last time I would ever lay eyes on her. She brought a package with her, which she said was something beautiful to remember her by. She had originally purchased it during a trip to

More missing words here.

and many people had remarked how similar they were. She was leaving, she said, because she could not come between Hanson and me. Her final request was that I not hold Hanson responsible for her departure. If I truly loved her, she said, then I would preserve my friendship with Hanson. I hardly heard a word she said. I begged her one last time to become my wife. She refused, kissed me, and left
.

I stood on my porch, lost in sorrow, when Hanson showed up, looking for Mary. I told him about her gift, but it failed to bring us together. Forgetting Mary’s appeal for
peace, the two of us argued heatedly. Hanson struck me in the face. My raging temper, which I had kept in check for so many years, exploded. With all of my might, I struck Hanson back, landing a great blow on the end of his jaw
.

Some sentences were mostly chewed away here. The only part we could read said, “didn’t know what to do with the body.”

That was the end of it. And that was the last I ever saw of him
.

In a single, cursed morning, I had lost my best friend and the woman I loved
.

I walked away from my business. Indeed, I walked away from all parts of my life. What use was the world, with its fickle women, deceitful friends, and level sidewalks? I decided to turn my face from society and spend the rest of my life with my old childhood friends—engineering, chemistry, electricity, mathematics. So I retreated to my house—this house. Indeed, since that very day, I have never left it. Not once. How long has it been? Six decades? Seven? Perhaps more? I have fully lost track of time
.

I am so old now, and so tired. I fear that I will not even finish this page, and I still have so much to tell
.

Have I known happiness since that fateful night? No. But I have known great and secret successes. What have I learned? What have I accomplished? The language of
beasts is now open to me. I have conversed with the vermin—with the rattus rattus inside my home—and taught them to converse with me. I can turn off the visible with a flick of a switch. Passages through time and space lie within these walls. And I have learned to tap the power of
ilex aquifolium,
so that the large and the small are interchangeable, albeit not without great risk
.

Have I recorded all I know? Yes! But not in books. Not on paper. My house is the document of my achievements. All secrets lie within. And my final revenge is that I hope it takes the world as long to uncover my secrets as it did for me to discover them. To learn them all, you will have to live long
.

I am growing wearier than ever. I am so old. My old heart beats weakly. It hurts to breathe
.

As for the body—the result of that fateful night—I buried it at six o’clock, in the crawl space under the house. I have no desire to look upon it, as it only brings back bitter memories
.

F. T. Tilton

The journal ended there. Aaron, Lola, and I sat in silence.

“Do you know what this means?” Lola finally whispered. “It means you’ve got a dead body buried in your crawl space! It means you’re living in the house of a murderer!”

“I want to go downstairs now,” said Aaron in a low whisper.

“But that was only part of it,” I said. “It also means that our house holds all kinds of secrets! Talking to animals! Invisibility! And traveling through time and space! He said it’s all written on the walls! And besides, that murder happened a long time ago.”

“It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened,” Lola said. “A murderer lived here and the guy he killed is under your house. You’re living on top of a murder victim!”

“Shut up, Lola!”

“I want to go downstairs,” repeated Aaron.

“Not yet,” I said. “First you’ve got to promise me you won’t tell Mom or Dad.”

“Why?”

“Because, Aaron, if Mom finds out that someone was murdered in our house and that the dead body is buried in our crawl space, then you know there’s no way she’ll want to stay here.”

“You’d move?” said Lola.

“Mom’s barely put up with this place since we moved in,” I said. “A dead body would be the last straw—I’m sure of it.”

“I don’t think I want to stay here, either,” whimpered Aaron.

“Oh yes, you do. This is our home and we’re staying. There’s still too much to discover. So promise you won’t tell.”

“If I promise, can I go downstairs?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. I promise.”

“You better not say anything either, Lola.”

She glared at me. “Do you actually think I would?”

“No. But don’t.”

I couldn’t eat my dinner that night.

A dead body was buried in our crawl space.

I
WOKE UP
at four the next morning.

The room was dark and still, and my thoughts circled around F. T. Tilton and the murdered man named Hanson who was buried in our crawl space. His body had probably rotted away by now, leaving only the skeleton.

At four thirty, I gave up on sleep. I looked over the side of Aaron’s bed. He was curled up in a tight ball and his blanket and sheets had been kicked off. I shuffled downstairs to watch TV. When I reached the entryway, I realized I was probably standing in the same spot where Tilton had murdered Hanson. I glanced around, wondering if there were any bloodstains still
hidden in the corners. But there were none that I could see. My eyes fell on the equations: more mysteries when what I wanted were answers.

I walked into the living room and switched on the TV. Nothing was on but infomercials. I watched them anyway. At least they kept me from thinking about the dead body.

Aaron stumbled downstairs around six. He gave me a tired, knowing look. He said he’d had a dream about the body. “It was walking up the stairs to our room. It kept coming closer and closer,” he said. “I woke up before it got to me. But just barely. I could feel its breath.”

After breakfast, Aaron and I wandered back into the living room and plopped down on the couch. Mom was digging around in her purse for her car keys so she could drive Grandpa across town to a friend’s house. “Why are you sitting inside on a day like this?” she wanted to know. “Go ride your bikes or something.”

“Can’t.” I said. “Purple Door Man stole our bikes.”

“You don’t know that for sure, Josh.”

“Yes, I do.”

“How?”

“I just know. Everyone knows.”

Mom frowned at me. She set down her purse and walked outside to the Purple Door Man’s house.

Aaron and I pressed our faces against the front window, but the Purple Door Man’s porch was so covered in junk that we couldn’t see anything but the top of Mom’s head. Only a few minutes went by before Mom came stomping back. She slammed the door after her.

“That—man—is—an—oooh!”

“He’s what?” asked Aaron.

“Never mind what he is! Do you know what he said to me when I asked about your bikes? He said I should teach my mangy brats some manners! You’re not mangy! What a complete—oooh!” She grabbed Grandpa by the arm and nearly dragged him to the car.

After Mom left, I told Aaron we should begin studying the walls to see if we could uncover any of Tilton’s instructions for invisibility or time travel. The thought of being able to turn invisible was almost enough to make me forget about the body in the crawl space. Think of the pranks I could pull at school. Think what I could do to the Purple Door Man!

“I don’t want to be in the house when Mom’s gone,” said Aaron. “Can we go outside?”

“Hold on. Look at this,” I said as I reread an entryway wall. “Here’s Tilton’s diagram about amplified bioacoustics. Isn’t that what Mr. Daga said Tilton used to learn how to talk to animals?”

“Josh, can we please get out of here?”

So we went outside. We still had no bikes to ride, no balls to kick, and no skateboards to cruise on, but it was good to be outdoors. It’s harder to worry about dead bodies when the sun is warming your face.

But not for everybody, I guess. “I can’t stop thinking about it,” said Lola, who was sitting next to us on the porch steps.

“You don’t have to live with it,” I said.

“I know. It’s creepy.” She glanced behind her at our front door, then sighed. “But it’s also kind of cool.”

“Cool?”

“Yeah. You’re the only people I know who live in a murderer’s house.”

“And?”

“And what? I’m jealous, okay?”

“Okay.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes.

“This is stupid,” said Lola finally. “I want to do something.”

“Like what?”

“I want to ride bikes.”

“We don’t have any bikes.”

“I know. Because the Purple Door Man can’t keep his hands off our stuff. That’s the stupidest part of the whole thing.” Lola paused. “Did you tell your mom and dad yet?” Lola asked.

“Tell them what?”

“You know. About the … you know.”

“No,” I said, “and we’re not going to tell them. Can you please stop talking about it?”

Just then a car drove slowly past. The driver had the window down and was looking at something in the Purple Door Man’s yard. He parked his car and got out to take a look at the green pickup truck rusting on the grass.

“Owner of this truck live here?” he called to us.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Think he’d consider selling it?”

“Probably. He’s always buying and selling cars.”

A few minutes later, the driver and the Purple Door Man had the hood of the truck open. The Purple Door Man pulled out the old battery from the truck and replaced it with a battery from one of his less junky cars. He climbed inside and turned the key. The truck sputtered and roared to life.

“We can take it for a spin,” shouted the Purple Door Man above the roar of the engine. “She runs real smooth on the highway.” The prospective buyer climbed in and they drove off.

Lola jumped to her feet. “Now’s our chance! Come on!” she yelled.

“Come on where?”


Where?
We’re getting our bikes back!”

Lola told Aaron to stand out in the street and scream as loud as he could if he saw the truck coming back. She grabbed me and pushed me toward the Purple Door Man’s house.

“What are you doing, Lola?” I yelled. “We can’t go in there!”

“Shut up, Josh Peshik! I want my bike!” She pushed me up the front steps and we stumbled into the house.

A green canoe hung from the ceiling in the hallway, and car parts lay all over the floor. A pile of umbrellas was precariously propped against a collection of thermoses. Yellowing newspapers leaned in messy stacks from floor to ceiling.

“Hurry,” said Lola. We ran into what looked like the living room, where a muted twelve-inch TV glowed among the towering stacks of newspapers. A spot had been cleared on the couch for one person to sit. No bikes here.

We squeezed through tight corridors of newspapers until we reached the kitchen. I wondered how the Purple Door Man and his pumpkin belly could fit through all this stuff. The kitchen was nearly buried in cans of food. Most of the labels were faded and crumbling.

A doorway off the kitchen led to the back of the house. Lola pulled it open.

“I found it!” she cried. “It’s the mother lode!”

I followed Lola into the room and saw my bike, right next to Lola’s and Aaron’s and dozens of others I’d never seen before. And balls, too. Soccer balls, basketballs, footballs, playground balls, and hundreds of baseballs. I could see what looked like my skateboard and helmet under the tangle.

BOOK: The Tilting House
10.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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