The finding of the last hero of the Peacecraft era, burnt from the inside, had been the final straw. The realty agency listing the house took it off the market, locked it up, and archived any file on it. The events of the house passed into legend, then myth, then became the types of stories told between young boys and girls to scare each other.
The house began to fall into disrepair, its lasting as long as it had taken as a testament to its construction. By this time, the stories had faded. No one was frightened of a house as old and shabby as that one anymore. A company from well out of town was hired to survey the land and plan the destruction of the house.
This was how the old man found himself in the scrub-laden ravine, looking at a house that all at once drew his eye and frightened him. He was an older gentleman, near retirement age but debating whether or not to actually retire. His white hair fluttered in the breeze, and his eyes looked rheumy. He claimed, however, that they were as strong as ever, and no one could find any evidence to the contrary. The only concession he seemed to have made to age, besides his hair and some liver spots on his skin, were hands that curled from the onset of arthritis. He had been raised to ignore what pains he could and power through those he couldn't, however, and insisted on continuing his work. Operating the theodolite, an older style device that measured angles, distance, and elevation of different points of land, wasn't as easy on his hands as holding the target, but he preferred the old methods to GPS surveying. It gave him a feel for the land.
He was just setting up the imaging device at a new point when his partner came bounding up to him. He was a young man, just a kid, really. Fresh out of college, and probably working this job until his degree proved fruitful and he could make "a real living". The old man shook his head. It was a shame, sometimes, that the old ways died out. Still, the boy was not a bad sort, and he hardly ever complained, even when he knew that the techniques the older man used were severely outdated.
"Hey," the boy called, still yards from the older man, "Let's have a break! I'm starving!"
The old man smiled, shaking his head. That was a setback to working with the older equipment. If he'd used the new stuff, he wouldn't need a partner, and there wouldn't be a call for a break every few hours. Still, his hands were starting to ache. A break might be the thing.
"Man, this is beautiful land. And that house!" The boy's voice slurred from the speed with which he spoke, and the older man had to concentrate to actually understand him. "The architecture is beautiful! I bet it was gorgeous in its day..."
The boy had drawn closer, and the man could see the sweat plastering hair to his young partner's forehead. His face was flushed, and his eyes held a gleam in them, one that startled the old man.
"You OK, son?"
"What?" The boy blinked, then shook his head, as if to clear it. "Fine, I'm fine," he said, quickly. "Anyway, I was thinking we should pack it in for the day."
The old man's eyes narrowed. The boy was a bit of a whiner sometimes, and definitely green, but lazy, thankfully, had not been an impression he'd given off ever. "Why's that?" the older man asked, already preparing for the usual excuses that lead to either he was going to see his girl for a romp or he wanted to catch a sporting event. Sometimes both.
"Just," the boy started, faltering. He seemed to be confused, until, finally, he blurted out, "I'm going to buy it. The house, I mean," he said, slurring the S even though he was now speaking slowly, deliberately.
Well, that was new. The old man shook his head. "Won't sell it to you, son," he said, evenly. "Get more money from sellin' the land and puttin' offices on it, or something."
The younger man scowled at the older, and that was odd, too. He'd always been unfailingly polite. Maybe he was coming down with something. "Yeah? Well, I'm going to buy it. It's perfect. I'll fix it up, and invite my friends, and it will never be empty again. Never," he said, the last word delivered in such a slurred, dreamy tone that the old man became seriously worried.
"All right, son," he said, gently, as if to a spooked critter, "you go check. Where'd you leave the target?"
"It's over by the house... isn't it beautiful? It calls to me..."
The old man followed the young man to the truck, casting a worried glance at him the whole way, but saying nothing. It could get to you, sometimes, the stillness, and the boy did look a little overcome, as if he might be coming down with a cold.
"Why don't you take your time," he said, pulling the spare target from the back. "Have some lunch. I can manage..."
"You might as well stop. We won't be tearing that place down... it'll be full again in a month..."
The boy drove off with little else said, and the old man looked after him, worried. Maybe, in town, he'd come to his senses, get some rest.
With work to be done, the old man trudged to the house, setting up the spare target on top of the hill at the mid distance from where the theodolite was set and the house, then going to get the last.
It had started as a whisper. Wind through the trees. Words seemed to form, spaces where there shouldn't have been lulls differentiating words. The language of the land.
Except that it was different. The old man had heard this language before, but this... this was harsher, yet cajoling. As if he were being mocked, or a person who hated him was desperate to get him to listen. It wasn't right, how some of those parts in the wind sounded like hissing.
Buy the house.
The old man's eyes narrowed. The boy's ranting had gotten to him
Buy it. Fill it.
and he was starting to fall under the kid's spell. Ridiculous, really
Buy it, you nasty old man.
to think a place like this was worth saving. It was ugly. Unfixable
Buy it! Buy it or--
-- That was enough of that. He turned his back to the place and to the delusion, borne of worry for the kid, and walked resolutely back to the measuring device. He was winded when he got back, and felt as if he were being watched, the eyes on him burning against the nape of his neck.
He turned, looking toward the house, and gave it a mocking salute. That took away any notion that the house was anything more than a house. He could ignore that cold stone in his stomach just fine...
He turned the theodolite toward the first, midpoint target, looking through the aperture until the reflective target shone through the center of the crosshairs on the lens. He pulled his eye away then, taking down the measurements and elevations. Then he spun the front toward the house and looked in.
There was a smudge on the lens, and he jerked his head back up. Dust, he thought to himself, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and swiping at the lens. He looked through again, and was rewarded with a clear view of the target. For about three seconds. Then the smudge came back, clearer, somehow.
He pulled his eye away again, half expecting a person to be standing out between him and the house, but no one was there. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. Doc'd said this would happen, but he didn't think it'd be sudden.
He leaned down and looked again, and there it was, resolved almost completely to a shape. White skin, dark hair, something around where eyes would be...
It was there, suddenly, as if it had been a step out of the range and moved into the focus. A young woman, honey blond hair, pale skin, and big eyebrows. It was glaring at him, and, as he watched, the eyes began to bleed black, a black that covered them completely, then float toward him like tendrils. He wanted to pull away but couldn't, and she opened her mouth, and there was nothing inside it, blackness, pitch black, and it, too, curled out of her mouth, filling the lens, filling his vision, filling his mind until there was nothing left but the certainty that he was never, ever leaving and utter blackness.
The young man returned, this time with a realty supervisor, extolling the virtue of the house, explaining how he'd fix it, how there would be people there, always full.
The realtor tried to explain that she could not sell the house, it was no longer for sale, but the young man, looking feverish and sweaty, turned to her, grabbing her by the lapel, frantic, shaking her, shaking her until she clawed at his hands and screamed to be let go, shaking her until she listened, shaking her until her head hit the rocks of the ground and her eyes rolled up and her blood spilled and her head cracked, shaking her until the shakes became a nod from her lifeless head, and he smiled, and hugged her, and let her go.
He turned to the house with wondering eyes, his smile growing wider, too wide, and took no more notice of the dead woman at his feet, nor of the conspicuous absence of his partner. All he could see was the house, and, there, in the window, the young woman waving in greeting.
Welcoming him home.