Short Story in progress #1

Let me tell you, August in the Deep South is hell on earth. That is, if hell is so humid you feel damp the moment you step outside and the red clay underfoot threatens to suck you under and you almost wish it would because the mosquitoes are slowly eating you alive. In addition to being hot as, well, hell. I swear my suitcase is swelling in the heat – it was barely ten pounds when I started. It must be pregnant with the anxiety growing in me. I won’t be in any way presentable by the time I arrive for my interview. Why did the road have to be clay? It’s times like this I wish, impossibly, that I had a car.

I don’t know what Ms. Hemlock is expecting – frankly, I don’t know what I’m expecting. It was curiosity that drew me to the ad in the first place. That, and the small town of Hamilton, South Carolina was already getting a little too small. I had been in town seven months, and had a smattering of jobs, but I never stayed long. I found it hard to be around people since – no. Ever since I moved from New York. And the people here are too damn nice and ask too many questions. Not that I blame them. In a sleepy town like Hamilton, the sudden unexplained apparition of an unaccompanied lady of seventeen is practically the gossip of the decade.

I found Ms. Hamilton’s ad in the classifieds of a local paper I grabbed from a driveway on my way to the Piggly Wiggly about a week ago. I had been nicking papers for months, looking for a job other than housekeeper at The Thomas House B&B, which paid for room and board, but was far too high profile for my liking.

What caught my attention regarding Ms. Hamilton’s ad was its uniqueness. I had been familiar with classifieds ever since I ran away from my fifth foster family when I was thirteen, but this ad followed none of the unwritten conventions.

 

Help Wanted – good pay, food, and lodging.

Must be available indefinitely.

No family preferred. Dust need not apply.

-- Ms. Margaret Hemlock

 

I rang the number listed with the ad, but found it disconnected. The mystery of it struck me, and when I returned to The Thomas House with groceries for the kitchen, I grabbed a paper napkin from the storeroom and penned:

 

Ms. Hemlock

I saw your ad in the paper and would like to arrange an interview at your convenience.

Lila

 

I received a letter five days later instructing me to arrive at “the estate” the following day with my belongings. As it turned out, “the estate” – as I was informed by Delilah Hitchens, owner of The Thomas House and unofficial Knower of All Things Hamilton – lay about twenty miles west of town down a singularly unused and malicious clay road.

            So now you know what you need to about how I got where I am. Specifically, The Middle of Nowhere, South Carolina, with everything I own in a small suitcase and no idea what I just got myself into. With all this powdery clay, I’m sure I look more like “dust” than Ms. Hemlock would like, whatever that means.

           

            I knock. The vast oak door creaks open and the dark interior temporarily blinds me. The mansion is cool, at least, and smells of old, expensive furniture. As my eyes adjust, a shadow moves in the corner and a man emerges. He is very tall and thin, with a slim face and a dusting of wispy hair. He looks like a rat.

            “If you will follow me, miss.” The rat has a beautiful voice. It is not what I expected from him. He leads me across the large, ornate foyer and down a hallway to an office. He opens the door and then bows himself out.

Hannah Moseley