Monday, September 19, 2011

Hill Knockers (Part 1 of 3)

Tyler and Rachel Cunningham were two years apart in age and a decade in temperament. Never had this been more apparent to Tyler than the afternoon they drove the two plus hours it took to get from Penn State to the family farm just south and east of Dunbar. They pulled up the long, hickory-lined drive sometime after noon. Tyler quickly noted how many creeping vines had encroached along the red brick walls of the old gothic revival home. Grandpa would say they were no good for the mortar, but Tyler liked the way they made the house look like it grew straight out of the hills.

“The smart move is to sell this place, trust me,” Rachel said, parking off to the side of the house, but Tyler knew that what she really meant was “I know better than you.”

Tyler didn’t bother to respond. It was an old argument. Amazing, given the fact that their grandfather’d only passed a month ago. But Rachel couldn’t sell without him. That was the vicious curse James Cunningham had passed down to his grandchildren. He’d clarified, in a hand-written note, that the land and the house were to be kept in the family and to that end, had made Tyler and Rachel co-owners. The lawyer they’d hired to execute the will had read this part with a wry grin and a knowing look at Rachel. Clearly, they’d expected the desires of their grandfather to be easily overturned.

Tyler had surprised all three of them.

“With all the interest in this region from corporations and miners, we’d have to be retar-”

“Rach,” Tyler interrupted. “Really?”

“All I’m saying is, you and I can walk away from this with a pretty penny in our pockets. And wouldn’t you like to finish that architecture degree without owing half of your first ten thousand paychecks to pay off those loans? This house is going to do us exactly no good.”

“Do we really have to do this right now? I just want to get this over with,” Tyler said, exasperated and launching himself from the passenger seat.

“Yes!” Rachel slammed the door behind her, rocking the little Subaru. Today, her Penn State shirt was grey with blue lettering. “Yes, Tyler, we do. When else are we going to do it? Selling makes sense. It is just good business and you’re being selfish by not even considering it.”

Tyler took a small step back. He’d learned that engaging Rachel on the level of business sense never went well. Not only did his age work against him, but he couldn’t contend with two years of coursework focused on business practice and statistics.

“Selfish? C’mon, Rach, can we please just clean out his stuff? I don’t want to fight today.”

Tyler tried not to hold the remark against her. Words were easy weapons for Rachel. They didn’t always mean the same thing to her as they did to him, but it was hard to let a heavy word like ‘selfish’ roll off his back.

“I’m not fighting. Who’s fighting? I’m just trying to have a conversation with my brother about making good decisions for our future.” The pause she took was more of a hesitation. “And I just think it’s selfish for one of us to make a decision that will affect the other detrimentally.”

“God,” Tyler breathed, digging into his pocket and tossing the keys at his sister, a little harder than necessary. “You know what? You start. I need some air.”

Autumn was crisp beneath his feet as he walked briskly into the woods. According to the lawyer, the Cunningham land consisted of one hundred and fifty-two acres, two small lakes, and a few tributaries of the Youghioghfny River. The numbers had been shocking, but not surprising. Tyler had spent the better part of his early years at the farm running through the hills and creating his own trails. Still, part of the allure of this place was knowing there was still so much he didn’t know.

Grandpa Cunningham had known, though. Tyler as sure of that as he was of anything. Before he died, he’d called Tyler to his side and asked him to please remember to and set out the suet in the winter months, the dishes of water in the summer months, and to always, always listen carefully to the land.

“It speaks, and when you don’t listen, it speaks again,” he’d said. “Louder.”

This place meant something to grandpa. It meant something to Tyler, and that wasn’t the sort of thing you signed over for a pretty penny.

Tyler left the trails he knew and struck out in a new direction, letting the hills guide his steps. It was cooler beneath the trees and he zipped his windbreaker when he’d begun to slow his pace enough that the air actually felt cold. Somewhere a woodpecker tap-tap-tapped against a tree trunk. It sounded close and Tyler followed the sound.

Grandpa loved birds. He had a collection of binoculars set out along a low shelf in the den at the back of the house. It had the biggest windows and the best view. They’d be packing most of those away, selling what they could and donating the rest. Tyler hated to think of his grandpa’s beloved binoculars gathering dust on someone else’s shelf, but one battle with his sister was enough.

Again, the woodpecker rapped against the tree trunk and Tyler looked up. He was close enough, he thought, to be able to spot it, but his search revealed no woodpecker.

Tyler circled another hill, his eyes on the tall trunks of white oaks and hickory trees. The tapping was louder here and he paused.


It was lower than he’d expected. Tyler turned in a slow circle and was surprised to find that the hill he’d just circled had a small trench dug into its side.


Tyler moved closer to the trench, pushing at the vines that hung down in front.


Behind the vines was a blue, iron-barred door with no lock that he could see. Beyond the door was a narrow, dark cave and from within the cave, came the noise again.

Tap. Tap. Tap. 

Check back on Wednesday for Part 2 by Lacey!!

Photo by snady_ via Flckr Creative Commons. 

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