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The House Sitter.

I saw the ad in the newspaper and knew it was just what I was looking for.

I’m pretty sure everyone at one time or another has heard the old cliché about broke-ass college students. Well, it’s true. I was home for the summer and desperate for some cash, and here was the perfect opportunity to earn some.

‘House sitter wanted for the next week,’ read the heading. I quickly browsed the rest of the ad for the pertinent info, and once I had it, called the given phone number.

“Hello?” a female voice greeted me from the other end of the phone.

“Yes ma’am,” I replied confidently. “My name is Sierra, and I was calling in reference to the ad you posted in the paper. The house sitter gig.”

“Oh yes!” the woman said enthusiastically. “You’re quick. It barely posted today. Are you interested?”

“Definitely,” I replied assertively. “I’m home from college and could use the extra money.”

“That’s great,” the woman said. “Let me give you the address. Do you have something to write with?”

Retrieving a notepad and a pen, I took down the woman’s address.

Half an hour later, I pulled my worn-out Honda Civic up to the curb in front of the house. It was an older-style home with a big front porch. You know, the kind you picture grandparents with their rocking chairs sitting on.

I got out of the car, proceeded up the walk and front steps, and then rang the doorbell. Directly, the door opened revealing a thirtyish blond woman in business attire. “You must be Sierra,” she stated.

“I am,” I said perkily.

“Well, come in,” the woman said cheerily. “I’m Celeste.”

I followed Celeste through the door, immediately taking in the warm, coziness of the old house. The woman must have been an old soul because the place felt more widowed grandmother than young business professional. Lace doilies covered most of the surfaces, needlepoint stitched pictures adorned the walls, and house plants occupied a good bit of space in the living room.

“It’s very homey,” I said trying not to sound sarcastic.

“It is, isn’t it?” Celeste replied. “It was my grandmother’s house. I inherited it after she passed away, and I’ve never had the heart to change things. Besides, I think it fits the place just right.”

I nodded in agreement as I continued to survey the room.

Celeste showed me around the rest of the home, alternating between telling me about my expected duties, and how nice and quiet the neighborhood was. “You should have no trouble,” she said. “Other than maybe a little boredom.”

“I think I’ll be alright,” I said with a smile. “After the hell of finals, I can use some peace and quiet.”

“You’ll have plenty of that,” Celeste said laughing. “Now like I told you before, I am leaving Friday morning, but there’ll be an extra key under the mat at the backdoor, and I will leave a number where I can be reached on the kitchen counter by the phone. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.” I assured her I would and then thanked her for the opportunity before heading back home.

By Friday afternoon as I drove to Celeste’s house, I decided I was more than looking forward to the upcoming week. It was going to be like having my own place—even if it was decorated in twentieth-century old lady. I found the key she left for me, let myself in, and then settled on the couch in front of the TV.

The rest of that day and the next were pretty uneventful. I watched TV, made myself food, and even sat out on the front porch with a book. But, by the end of the weekend, the boredom Celeste had mentioned was beginning to set in. How did people do it? I was so used to the busy bustle of college life, that I was starting to feel restless with my peaceful surroundings.

After some careful deliberation, I decided I would make myself an early dinner, and then go for a Sunday evening stroll around the neighborhood. Who knows, maybe I would meet some interesting neighbors with attractive, available sons.

I went into the kitchen and picked out a box of Hamburger Helper. The meat was just starting to brown when I heard the noise. It sounded like a muffled voice, and it came from below the kitchen floor. As far as I knew, there was nothing under the house but pipes and bare ground. And, I was pretty sure if the house had a cellar or basement, Celeste would have mentioned it. Eventually, I decided it had to be the pipes or something. It was, after all, an old house, and old houses tend to make old house noises. Or so I’ve heard. Putting it out of my mind, I finished cooking dinner, ate, and then took my walk.

It really was a quiet neighborhood, and while it was good to get out of the house for a bit, there was, unfortunately, no fun to be found. I ended up back on the couch afterward, watching an old movie on HBO.

The next day, I locked up and went to the mall where I ran into my friend, Tracy. Because we both went to different colleges, it had been a good while since we had seen one another. I decided to make good use of the unexpected reunion. I told her about my house-sitting job and asked her if she wanted to come over to Celeste’s later on to keep me company. Luckily, she was all for the idea. Her parents and younger brother were driving her crazy, and a change of scenery was just what she needed.

She arrived at the house about five, and we spent the first part of the evening catching up and talking guys. Apparently, Tracy had met her share of Mr. Wrongs and Mr. Right Nows but had yet to find a single Mr. Right. I had had similar luck, myself, and told her as much.

“Doesn’t it give you the creeps?” she asked after a while, changing the subject.

“What’s that?” I asked curiously.

“All of this,” she said with a flourish of her hands. “It’s like being at my grandma’s house.”

I grinned. “It’s really not that bad,” I said trying not to laugh. “Besides, Celeste is super nice. She’s just a little sentimental.”

“Sentimental, hell!” Tracy exclaimed. “I couldn’t spend a night here, much less a week.”

I loved Tracy to death, but she’d never been one for old-fashioned things. “What can I say? It’s a job,” I told her. “I’m getting paid to be here, so I might as well deal with it.”

“Screw that,” she scoffed with good humor. “I can literally feel myself becoming an old maid just sitting here.”

We both busted out laughing. “You’re terrible,” I told her breathlessly between peals of laughter.

“No, I just know good taste,” Tracy said factually. “And ‘this…’ Is not it.”

I rolled my eyes at her. It wasn’t my place to judge Celeste’s choice of home décor, especially when I was getting paid to spend a week looking at it, but I would never admit to Tracy I agreed with what she was saying, so I nonchalantly changed the subject. My friend was gracious enough to get the hint.

Tracy stayed till close to midnight and then declared she had spent enough time at the old folks’ home for one night and took her leave. After she left, the silence descended on me like a storm cloud. I cleaned up, watched TV for a little while, and then went to bed.

I woke up in the middle of the night, thirsty as all get out. Walking into the kitchen, I poured myself a glass of water. That’s when I heard the noise again, but this time it was followed by a loud bang.

“What the hell was that?” I asked the empty kitchen with a start.

With a shaky hand, I placed the glass on the counter before I could drop and break it. Once again, it seemed like the sound was coming from under the kitchen floor somewhere, but I never could pinpoint the exact source. In the end, I rationalized the best I could. An animal must have dug under the house, and when the pipes made their weird noise, it was startled and ran into something. I would check it out in the morning.

But, when I got up and went out to check the perimeter of the house; I found no sign of anything digging to get underneath it. I chalked it up to more old house noises. Maybe Celeste was so used to them, she just forgot to mention it to me.

“I should call and ask her about it,” I said to myself. But, I didn’t want to look like an idiot who was freaking out over some random sounds, so I talked myself out of calling. I would just ignore it and Friday would come soon enough.

I didn’t hear the strange sounds for a couple of days after that, and by Thursday I had almost succeeded in forgetting about them. That evening, I found myself back in the kitchen and was sticking a Red Barron pizza in the oven, when I was forcibly reminded of the noises.

This time, the muffled sound was followed by more loud bangs. There was no way it was the pipes or a random animal. I had been lying to myself. These noises sounded like there was intelligence behind them. Could the house be haunted? That idea definitely didn’t help my state of mind. I had to get to the bottom of things before I went crazy.

I begin to frantically search the kitchen, and when I still found nothing to give me even a hint of a clue, I went into the back yard and searched there along the side of the house. The banging continued the whole time, but I couldn’t find any sign of what was causing it.

I decided I had had enough. There was no way I was going to stay in a haunted house if that was the case, so I went back inside; determined to pack my shit and leave. I had just come back through the kitchen door when I noticed something odd about the china cabinet. There was something gleaming along one side of it. I walked closer for a better look, wishing for the love of God that the banging would stop.

They were hinges.

The china cabinet was a secret door.

I had seen enough horror movies to know nothing good was ever found behind a secret door, especially when strange noises were involved, but I had to know.

I began removing china by the handfuls, and when the cabinet was empty, I found what I was looking for. Hidden behind a stack of plates was a small, recessed button. It blended in with the back of the cabinet wall almost perfectly.

With a shuddering hand, I reached out and pushed the button. There was a small click and then the cabinet swung away from the wall, revealing a heavy-looking metal door. This second door was held closed by a simple sliding bolt which I stared at for a good minute before making my decision.

Sliding the bolt back, I pushed the door open. A flight of stairs descended down from the other side. Feeling around with a tentative hand, I found the light switch and flipped it. The basement below was flooded with light and with it came more insistent, muffled screams and banging. Slowly I went down the stairs while asking myself what the hell I was getting into.

Once at the bottom, I took a good long look at the scene before me. The basement looked like any other basement, in any other old house; except for the teenage girl chained up in the corner.

The girl looked a couple of years younger than me, and her wrists and ankles were bound with padlocks and chains to a heavy loop set into the wall. There was just enough slack in these bonds to allow the girl to get to her only source of nourishment; an automatic dog waterer, but it was obvious from her emaciated appearance that it had been a while since she had last eaten. For a good minute, I couldn’t help but stand there staring as the girl looked wearily back at me.

“Help me,” she said to me in a cracked whisper.

It was barely audible, but enough to rouse me from my shock. I ran to the girl with the hopes of freeing her, but it was no use. There was no telling where the keys to the locks were, and it would take forever to find them, even if they were in the house, which they were most likely not. Something told me Celeste had them with her.

“I’m going to go back upstairs and call the police,” I assured her. “I’ll be back as soon as I’m done. Can you eat?” She slowly nodded. “Good. Now hang on and I’ll be right back.

Taking the stairs two at a time, I went back up to the kitchen and then grabbed the phone. My hands were still shaking as I dialed.

“911. What is your emergency?” a composed female voice answered.

I related my story as calmly as I could, and afterward, the woman assured me help was on the way. Once she had hung up, I grabbed a plate, loaded it with some of my pizza, and then filled a glass with some fresh water.

When I returned with the food and water, the girl took it from me greedily. After a couple of minutes, she was able to tell me her story between bites and gulps.

The girl’s name was Janey and Celeste had taken her and another girl, Leslie, from a mall in a neighboring town. Apparently, she had spent months getting to know the girls through their church youth group before inviting them over to the house for a Bible study.

“The drugs were in the refreshments,” Janey told me with a strained voice. “The next thing we knew, we were down here. I was chained up, and the old lady was about to kill Leslie.”

I looked at Janey, confused. “Old lady? Celeste is young,” I told her. “Maybe in her thirties.”

Janey shook her head. “She was old. Until she killed Leslie, anyways. She bathed in my friend’s blood and it made her young.”

I stared at her in disbelief, then things began to make sense. The old-fashioned décor in the house. It wasn’t Celeste’s grandmother’s stuff. It was hers.

Janey finished eating and drinking as I sat watching in silence. The whole thing was too much, and I was grateful when I began to hear the sirens. Shortly, the police and fire department arrived. The officers took my statement while the EMTs tended to Janey. I knew there were some things about the story they would find unbelievable, so I left them out. When my part was finished, I collected my things and went home.

For the next few days, I watched the newspaper waiting to see if there was any mention of Celeste’s capture. Finally, on Monday morning there it was: Sixty-year-old woman arrested in connection with the disappearance of two teenage girls.

Reading through the rest of the story, I couldn’t help but take note of the way Janey was labeled as “confused” due to the inconsistencies she gave of Celeste’s description. But, as I looked at the picture of the older woman at the bottom of the article, I knew Janey hadn’t been confused by any means. The picture was definitely Celeste.

“People would kill for that beauty treatment,” I thought to myself while closing the paper with a chill. “Think I’ll just stick to face cream.”

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