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Under The House
Under The House
Under The House
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Under The House

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Miranda Lee Mitchell must confront her sordid past when victims of a death row serial killer return from the dead via a mysterious vine that runs under her house. They want revenge, and only she can help them get it.
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Luke McCan, a nine-year-old runaway, was the Hitchcock Hacker's last victim. Nearly ten years after his murder, he has returned from beyond Plexus - an organic afterlife paradise - seeking revenge. But a copycat killer has also come to Hitchcock. Driven by the Hacker's powerful telepathy, he will kill until the Hacker controls Plexus forever.
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Staci Morgan is lured into dual mental states with a killer when she accepts an internship with the agency investigating Copycat murders in Hitchcock. Manipulated by the Hacker's telepathy, she must appease his desire to know the mother who rejected him while she searches for the mother who abandoned her. When she discovers the horrible truths behind the lies, she must race to stop the Copycat before it's too late.

LanguageEnglish
PublisherR. S. Hill
Release dateJun 9, 2014
ISBN9781310104459
Under The House
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Author

R. S. Hill

R. S. Hill was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1964. His passion for storytelling began while listening to his grandfather spin tall tales about gigantic rats, ferocious sharks, and the man who caught a missile in his teeth.Hill lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife and two children.

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    Under The House - R. S. Hill

    Under The House

    By R. S. Hill

    Under The House

    R. S. Hill

    KDP EDITION

    PUBLISHED BY:

    R. S. Hill on Kindle Direct Publishing

    Under the House

    Copyright © 1999, 2002, 2004 Robert S. Hill

    Originally published by 1st Books Library/Author House (ISBN: 1-4033-2999-0) & Martin Maasai (ISBN: 0-9712309-7-8) & Desert Moon Books (10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1)

    This ebook remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed for any commercial or non-commercial use without permission from the author. Quotes used in reviews are the exception. No alteration of content is allowed. If you enjoyed this book, then encourage your friends to download their own copy. Your support and respect for the property of this author is appreciated.

    This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination.

    For Lula, Chita and Becky: The mothers in my life.

    Without your love,

    my world

    would stop

    growing.

    Table of Contents

    About the Author

    1 Whispers

    2 Likely Choice

    3 No Escape

    4 A picture is worth...

    5 Back Home

    6 Mr. Briefcase Man

    7 Nowhere to Run

    8 The Truth

    9 Business as Usual

    10 William’s World

    11 Staying in the Game

    12 Behind Closed Doors

    13 A Worthy Crusade

    14 Back from the Grave

    15 Trust the Guilty

    16 Woman Behind the Mask

    17 The Past Shall Have No Secrets

    18 Some Things Never Change

    19 Secrets Never Die

    20 Crossing the Line

    An Interview with R.S. Hill

    Benny: Resurrection

    About The Author

    Hill's passion for writing began while listening to his grandfather spin tall tales about gigantic rats, ferocious sharks and the man who caught a missile in his teeth. Growing up in a family where he was the second of five children, his craving for solitude eventually cultivated a truly overactive imagination that got him into a lot of trouble. After hearing a sound recording of Poe’s Cask of Amontillado in his junior English class, he knew he wanted write.

    When Hill is not writing, he teaches high school English and creative writing in Tucson, Arizona where he lives with his lovely wife and two children.

    Visit R. S. @ www.readrshill.com

    Reviews

    . . . With a cast of characters you fall in love with, a plot that moves and will entertain you for hours, a writing style comparable to the greats of the genre and humor as sharp as a nail, R. S. Hill has proven he is a writer to watch out for ...

    -Jonathan Reitan, Cemetery Dance Magazine #48

    . . . Horror, mystery, fantasy and suspense-it's all packed in Under the House, a fast-paced and entertaining novel.

    -J.L. Comeau

    1

    Whispers

    It made little sense to believe that an old house could talk or demand the kind of respect a senior citizen deserved. But when things get old their spirits migrate to a place where earthly laws fold and the rules of the game no longer apply. For years, Miranda Lee Mitchell had avoided a certain spot in her home on River Pass. Because of what she had done on that very spot nearly forty years ago, she could not step on it or get too close. To conceal its wicked secrets she covered the spot with an ugly rug she discovered at a yard sale in Marietta. As she moved toward the kitchen on that brisk October morning, the sound of the television roared in the background. Miranda, nudged by what she perceived to be the hand of a young child, stepped on the spot. Like a flash flood the past rushed over the floodwall and drowned her peace of mind with dirty waves from the past. Unwanted memories poured into her from that place deep inside where such things hide. A familiar scent broke through her delirium. It took a moment to recognize, but YES! She smelled licorice. Miranda hoped to escape her past by hiding in the memories pungent black licorice might carry, but the power of the past was too strong. All she could do was clench her fists and hold on to who she was, while the past had its way with her.

    Gasping for air, her heart palpitating to a psychosomatic beat, Miranda collapsed into a dining room chair. She hoped that the worst of her latest episode had passed. Over the years she had learned that avoiding the truth was never really possible. It occurred to Miranda, as she took deep breaths to prevent her heart from blowing a valve, that the spot in her house had been accumulating power. Ever since that rainy night William was away in Chillicothe that spot had been nothing but trouble. Today there seemed to be more connected to it than just bad memories. Unsettling horrors she dared not contemplate had grown up from the very center of that spot like pesky vines. They threatened to smother the future. Somehow they had created a portal in the middle of her house. Through that mysterious doorway they came and went as they pleased. They brought with them the scent of death and a frigid touch that now stroked the back of her arm like a playful yet suspicious lover. Whatever it was—feeling or phantom—sprang back into the portal underneath the throw rug and vanished under the house without a trace.

    Miranda listened carefully. Listening was the only way to know what the house was saying. Quite often those typical noises houses make after years of withstanding weather and rot sounded very much like children playing under the floorboards or in the next room. By now Miranda knew better than to go searching the house for delinquents. Her home had its secrets. When it was ready to share them she would know. Long ago she accepted the fact that what was not supposed to be usually was. Now she did not believe in psychics, but perhaps she was one. All she really knew was that something under the house was alive and growing. Sometimes it sounded like whispering voices or a baby crying. At its worst, it sounded like tiny arms flailing desperately in water; a swishing and rustling noise that gave way to a bubbling and gasping frenzy that forced Miranda to cover her ears and cry. Now those whispers sounded like horrible cries for help. They bombarded her and touched every sense. The victims, three in all, called out. Their pleas bounced from wall to wall. They knew her name, for she had listened to their shameful cries for thirteen years and done nothing.

    Today a stronger voice was among them. It was raspy and young but different nonetheless. With the kind of respect a senior deserved, he admitted knowing things about her the others did not. She could have listened to his lovely voice all day, but he wanted more from her than she was ready to give. So the house and its spirits ceased their restless haunt. They would be back again and again until the day she would no longer have a choice.

    By the time Miranda gathered up enough courage to go into the kitchen, she was out of breath. Dr. Finkelstein had warned her about smoking, drinking, staying out late and not exercising regularly. But how in the hell was she going to play cards and hit the bingo hall three times a week if she didn't smoke, drink and stay out late? She was too damn old to change or move away. She wouldn't do it. The past and its inevitable consequences had forged heavy chains around her. They were powerful chains; stronger than an elephant and thicker than a politician's bullshit. Changing her ways or leaving Hitchcock by any means other than the lavender casket she picked out last spring at the Edison Hunt Funeral Home on 33rd Avenue might be reason enough to inspire the past and its evil interlopers to take her before it was time. If things got any worse, she could sell. Several days ago, a letter from a fellow named Harlan Longly arrived. Longly wanted to come to Hitchcock and appraise the value of her property. He seemed to think River Pass had some historical value. He claimed he wanted to make her an offer. The letter certainly sounded good, but she didn't trust men who used big words. Besides, Gerty would have a cow. Miranda wouldn’t be much of a person if she sold the land right out from under her neighbor’s house. More importantly, River Pass and the house belonged to her now that William was gone. No matter how bad it looked on the outside or what happened inside, it was all she had left in the world. The wall behind the kitchen table, and other places like it, always reconfirmed her desire to stay put. The plate collection Gerty’s nephew Eliot mounted on the wall always reminded her of where she belonged and from where she'd come.

    Her precious commemorative plate collection that featured Wayne Newton, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin and, of course, the KING, was doing just fine despite the house's nasty disposition. When she first saw the collection for sale three years ago on the Home Shopping Network, she had to have them all. It was more than just a coincidence that this particular collection had all her favorites--with the exception of Hank Williams. Whenever she spent time with her plates she thought about William and the two weeks they'd spent in Las Vegas before he died. At the Golden Nugget they had lost three hundred dollars to a crafty Black Jack dealer before they decided to call it quits. On their way out of the casino, Miranda brushed up against Wayne Newton--on purpose, of course. The most handsome devil in all of Vegas smiled and said, Pardon me my dear. She nearly had a heart attack and died right there. It was one of those moments she would always remember.

    Sappy! Miranda shouted across the kitchen. You are about the slowest eatin’ dog I ever seen!

    The one-eyed Yorkshire terrier who walked backwards and never barked continued to mull over his food. Miranda had put fresh food in his bowl over two hours ago. Dr. Morgan had given Sappy just six months before the cancer that had already eaten most of his throat and stomach would take his life. A year and a half later, Sappy was still kicking. Death was certainly strange. It came just when you expected to live forever. It came just when you thought you might be together forever. It came just as two people realized that after years of vengeful bickering, they still loved each other.

    Miranda swung open the refrigerator door and stared blankly into the cold. She was looking for something she knew wasn't there. She had enough food inside to feed a small country. Plastic cartons of macaroni salad and green bean casserole, six loaves of cheap white bread, Gerty's county ribbon black-eyed peas, two racks of barbecued spare ribs, a whole chicken, twelve ears of yellow corn, and two baskets of sweet rolls were left over from the County Horse Festival in Marietta. Her horse had lost that day so she'd gotten good and tanked--a talent which didn't seem to count for much anymore. People were changing. Everything people ate or drank had to be healthy. Did they really think they could live forever by eating grass instead of beef? She spotted two-long neck bottles of Miller beer toward the back of the refrigerator. Miller was William's favorite beer.

    When she slammed the refrigerator door, Sappy flinched but kept his head tucked in his bowl, determined to eat something. If she could convince Gerty, her klepto neighbor, to drive her to Arlin's for a deluxe western omelet and a stack of onion-flavored potato pancakes the day might turn out good after all. She twisted the lever on the blinds that hung over the door and peered across the yard to see if Gerty was up and around. Usually, she was already outside hanging laundry or digging in her flowerbed. Miranda was about to open the door and yell across the yard for Gerty when she felt someone behind her. She turned around expecting to see an intruder, but no one was there. Everything in the kitchen looked the same with the exception of the new sunlight that had crept through the blinds and colored the walls and floor with an eerie orange glow. The sunlight created a shadow of the eighty-foot, vine-infested English oak on the wall behind Miranda. The lucid shadow of the tree’s thick, worm-like branches trembled and shook in the windless morning. It reminded Miranda of a frightened child.

    Sappy backed away from his bowl. For first time in nearly two years, he barked. Miranda realized that the phlegm-filled bark was a small miracle, but something about that murky shadow on the wall seemed to hold her attention. Its branches, intricately and artfully connected to one another, seemed to extend beyond their reach into places they shouldn’t. With the help of William's vines, which had all but ingested the great tree long ago, the tree's shadow stretched, wriggled and climbed up the wall as if it were alive. It touched her. Though it was just a shadow, it touched her. Black vines and branches punctured her skin and pushed through her pores. They infiltrated her veins and arteries until the cold dead wood of a shadow flowed through her body. In time she could no longer breathe through her nose and mouth. Oxygen entered her cells through porous holes in roots she could not see. She felt a stiffness in her eyes, then heard the cracking and breaking of brittle branches inside her. The smell of wet bark was everywhere. Gobs of tree sap seeped from her nostrils. Tiny branches bulged from the capillaries in her eyes. It was William's voice that kept her from hysteria. He reminded her that the vines ran underneath the house. Under the house was where the answers hid.

    Without warning, Miranda was reconnected to that shameful act which had, over the years, grown into a forest of deception. From where this omnipotent shadow being had sprouted and grown to hang so audaciously on her kitchen wall like a silent wraith with an urgent warning, she would not consider. The truth had always been a secret. She could not bring herself to utter it again. But somehow, she knew that another secret horror was spreading through Hitchcock like a pathological vine. There was more to the truth than she realized and more to the past than she had ever imagined.

    Miranda began to cry. Her body, overwrought and infested with arboreal mechanisms, shivered as if it were packed in a coffin of ice. A familiar presence now held vigil in her kitchen. Somehow, he had found his way across the infinite vistas of time and space. He had successfully scaled the summits and navigated the perplexing labyrinths of Miranda's private psychology in order to co-exist in her mind and space. Guided by the soothing voice of a young wraith and the truth he was determined to reveal, Miranda proceeded to open and close the blinds. The reflection of the tree appeared and vanished, transforming the essence of its warning into an illusion of trickery and deceit. Sappy ran in a perplexed circle when the blinds were closed. When Miranda opened them and the reflection reappeared, Sappy started climbing the walls and barking again. Just as her prank was beginning to inspire a lust for control she had not felt in years, Miranda realized that once again she was deceiving someone she claimed to love.

    Three leaves suddenly fell from the shadow on the wall. They sailed to the ground and vanished from sight never to be seen or heard from again. Compelled by the stranger's raspy voice and overwhelmed by his knowledge of her, Miranda looked out the window at the tree in the yard. She did not see any fallen leaves or a trace of the wind that might have blown them out of sight. When she turned back to the wall, the shadow was gone. In its place was the dark and murky shadow of a little buzz-headed boy. His image slipped away as suddenly as it had come. All that remained was the scent of fresh licorice.

    Stop droolin’ on my damn walls, Sappy! The need to lash out, redirect her fear into rage, was irresistible. But no matter how Miranda chose to vent her fears, she could not escape the idea of leaves falling helplessly from their tree. She understood through an unspoken language that those poor leaves had been through a horrible ordeal that had become perpetual suffering. Trapped in a prolonged state of misery and loss, they would suffer until the day someone stood up and made things right. Again the boy silently asked for her help.

    No!

    A deluge of terrifying images and horrific crimes thwarted her psyche. They circled above her thoughts like vultures. The house was whispering again. Louder. Louder. The murders were starting again. They would not stop until she agreed to help them reveal a terrible conspiracy and avenge the heinous acts of a ruthless killer. Miranda grabbed her jacket off the back of the couch as she raced through the living room on her way toward the front door. Though she was not a religious woman, she hoped to God Gerty was home.

    2

    Likely Choice?

    Staci had been waiting nearly thirty minutes for Dr. Lowe. Midge had told her to go in and make herself comfortable—the joke of the day. Dr. Lowe, though a decidedly accomplished man of law, was not known for his accomplishments when it came to personal hygiene. She was beginning to think he was as rude as he was sloppy. The minute hand on the watch her father had slipped into the pocket of her gown at graduation three years ago raced around and around until nearly an hour had passed. This was the way she'd been treated since changing her major from criminal psychology to criminal investigation. She had made the switch because trying to get into the minds of evil men was not only scary and morbid but boring. She hoped that majoring in the investigative branch of criminal justice would provide a route to law school or a good job with a progressive law enforcement agency. But no one in the new field of the criminal justice department at Treadwell College seemed to have the time or desire to go that extra mile for the students. They had their own deadlines and agendas. Dr. Lowe was not only good at blowing students off, he was also sexist. From his poor taste in lamps and tacky art to the thick layers of dust that seemed to breed along every baseboard and on every piece of furniture, Dr. Lowe was an absent-minded jock professor with an unquenchable thirst for chicken wings, boobs and beer. She had better things to do on a Friday afternoon than sit in an egomaniac's office and stare at his smeared and dusty degrees. It was her mother who had warned her about such men. Her advice was simple. Avoid them when you can. When you can't, then use what God gave you to get what you want.

    But her mother's advice always seemed to suggest that she settle for second best. She had inhaled her share of year-old office dust and deserved better than she was getting. She'd go to hell before she flashed that pig just to get him to do his job. And so Staci continued to endure the munch-crunch-and-burp symphony—the sound of Midge pulverizing an entire box of vanilla wafers without milk. She wondered, as she peered out the window that overlooked the main campus, if she was beginning to go mad. Treadwell, a small but prestigious college in Springfield, Ohio, was not Ivy League but the next best thing. The school’s eighteenth-century halls creaked and moaned like weak and weathered old scholars. But the campus was a meticulous mix of ancient buildings and new cutting-edge structures. The past, present and future of society’s upper crust mingled amid a lush valley of rolling hills and tremendous trees. Treadwell had always been an intimidating place. As she watched students throw Frisbees on the lawn in front of Jester Hall and buy hot dogs and soda pop from Art, the paraplegic poet, she wondered why she had never been able to fall into that lazy student attitude like everyone else on campus. She could not understand how their attitudes could shift so frequently from conscientious to orgiastic whenever someone shouted kegger! She had hoped that moving off campus would be the adjustment she needed, but that only made her obsess even more over what she wanted out of life and, more importantly, who she really was.

    After three years of boring classes, dead end lectures and bureaucratic lip service, the opportunity she had so willfully accepted after high school was becoming a restriction. Turning back to the empty desk in front of her, Staci tapped the steel toe of her new hiking boot on the bottom of her advisor's desk. She imagined him seated behind his desk munching on a sloppy barbecued beef sandwich and slurping down a frosted mug of beer. Suddenly, she would discover a hidden reservoir of superhuman strength and with one effortless thrust of her foot heave the huge desk on top of her mentor—splat!

    A noise outside the door grabbed her attention. It was another professor ending a meeting with a student. It did not matter how much she fantasized about undoing Dr. Lowe; reality was something she would have to face sooner or later. So many things had changed since she accepted a scholarship three years ago. Her boost through the threshold of academia had become nothing more than an anvil around her neck. She needed to cut loose and go searching for whatever it was that would make her life complete. But people like her parents and Dr. Lowe always reminded her of her good fortune. She was lucky to have an opportunity to attend a top ranked school with an excellent law program. If she played her cards right she might make it out in style. This bull they all totally believed as if she had lived in an urban jungle and her parents did not earn $300,000 a year. The truth was that if school didn't work out, she could always pack up her brand new Jetta, make the forty minute drive home to North Dayton and go to work at her father's software company. Her decision to withdraw from school and surrender the rest of her scholarship money to someone who really needed a break was made weeks ago, but something was holding her back. Things were happening too fast. One minute she was hanging out with high school friends; three years later she was reading depressing literature about a legal system that allowed fathers to beat mothers while their babies watched.

    Becoming a serious legal eagle was something she knew she could not do because it meant becoming like Dr. Lowe—a pompous and heartless know-it-all court jockey who blew mucus from his nose into the trash can. From where Staci sat today, Dr. Lowe symbolized what the law in America had become. The legal system was so much like that tired Brooks Brothers suit he'd worn almost every day for the past three years. It was constant and functional yet inconsistent, antiquated, biased, unfair, and stained with enough high-level corruption spots to start a bacteria colony that could, with the right attorney, eradicate the true meaning of the words truth and justice.

    What burned her most about her mentor and the field she was now trapped in was that he, like all authority figures, never listened. They elaborated constantly on their own experiences failing to see that what they once learned could not always be applied to the present, let alone the unfolding future. Lowe asked her the same questions each time they met. He never remembered her last name or that she’d come from criminal psychology. He had the nerve to speak to her using boxing analogies and old football stories as if they were relevant to anything other than domestic violence. To him she was a number, a female statistic in a computer.

    She was doing it again. Staci took a deep breath and counted to ten. Her critical fixation/obsession dissipated. Sometimes she just could not control her compulsions. When she moved into Alex's apartment a year ago, she had become obsessed with cleaning an unattractive soap scum off the bottom of the bathtub. Three hours later she woke in the emergency ward at Springfield Memorial. She had inhaled too much Tilex and passed out. If it had not been for Alex she might have died. But how could someone leave an impenetrable imprint of disgusting germs and bacteria to fester and multiply in a bathtub? She had tried

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