19 Dec The Heights
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"The Heights"Written by
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Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
When I was in junior high I had an unusual hobby: breaking into people’s homes. I didn’t do it for money; in fact, I never stole anything at all. I left no sign of my presence. I did it for one reason: the thrill of being on the edge of disaster; to test the limits of what I could get away with. So sometimes I would go out at night or skip school and ride over to The Heights to see what kind of mischief I could muster. The way I saw it, there was no harm in it (as long as I never got caught).
Had it not been for the unique characteristics of the place I lived at the time, it would never have occurred to me to start sneaking into people’s houses. My family lived near a neighborhood we called The Heights that, for half the year, became a ghost town. The area consisted almost entirely of vacation homes which were only occupied for a few months in the winter for skiing and in the summer for hiking and recreation of that sort. In the off seasons, the place was almost entirely empty, apart from landscapers and some other maintenance and construction crews.
When I was around eight, when people began to build the mountainside homes, I would go check them out after the builders had finished for the evening. They were interesting houses. Some were three or four floor homes with incredible views of the ski slopes. I never got to see the inside of a finished one until much later, however.
One day when I was thirteen I was out walking alone through The Heights, enjoying the strange tranquility of a world conspicuously absent of other people, when the idea to let myself into one of those vacant constructs popped into my naïve brain. It seemed a shame to let them go to waste. “I would just be putting the places to good use; they were made to be enjoyed after all,” I remember thinking.
Most of the time when you have a bad idea, you don’t know it’s a bad idea until things don’t turn out the way you hoped they would. This wasn’t one of those times. I knew this was risky and stupid, and that was the reason I found it so enticing. I got my hands on some lock picks and started practicing on several different locks. By the time fall had arrived, I felt I was ready to move onto my first break in.
For my first time, I went under cover of night. The neighborhood was deserted, as usual, but I felt highly exposed as I crept through the streets. Nervous, I found a target at the far end of the neighborhood, near the end of a street that was fairly dark and isolated. There was a for sale sign beside the house. I figured I would start with something that was as safe as it could get. I checked to make sure there wasn’t a security system, at least as far as I could tell, and I approached the back door. Having no experience with this, I didn’t know if I was being far too cautious or if I was actually in over my head. My heart pounded out of my chest as I got out my lock picking tools and went to work. It took me a minute, but, just like that, I picked the lock and went inside.
It felt so deliciously diabolical of me to set foot in someone’s home uninvited. Though the thrill was appealing, criminality didn’t really come naturally to me; this was the first really illegal thing I had ever done, and I took the possibility of getting caught extremely seriously. I didn’t stay very long, but I made sure to take a tour and enjoy the adrenaline. I exited the same way I came in, and made my way home undetected. Never before had I felt so alive.
And so it went: from there I continued to hone my skills and push the envelope of what I would break in to. As I got more comfortable, I had to increase the risk in order to feel the rush again. I soon realized how safe I really was on my first undertaking. Eventually it got to the point where I felt comfortable breaking in to houses in broad daylight after I witnessed the residents leave. I was always able to escape, admittedly sometimes quite narrowly, before anyone came in and saw me. The seasonally occupied homes practically ceased to scare me at all; oftentimes I would do my homework in these houses, spend an hour watching TV, and then leave without anyone noticing. It felt almost like I owned all these houses— like the entire complex known as The Heights was my home.
Over the next couple months, I started spending so much of my time there that my girlfriend Amy started asking me where I was going all the time. Perhaps foolishly, I decided to let her in on the secret. After all, she was my girlfriend, and I trusted her not to rat me out. Well, as it turned out, her ratting on me wasn’t the thing I had to worry about. The problem was she really wanted to come with me, and I didn’t know how to say no, even though the window of the spring season was nearing its end.
Early on a Saturday morning, I planned to take her to a place I had been to before; a really nice place with a log-cabin sort of appearance on the outside. As I remembered it, most of the house was on a single floor, with a wide open floor plan I thought she’d appreciate. We met beforehand at my house. She showed up wearing jeans and a blue and grey plaid shirt over a navy tank top. Blue converse. She was wearing the necklace I gave her last valentine’s day. It was a little black stone in the shape of a heart on a silver chain.
“Hey, you!” I said and spread my arms
“Hey” she said in her soft cute voice
After a quick hug we set off on foot. On the way I tried one last time to talk her out of it. I told her how risky it was, asked her to imagine what would happen if we got caught, reminded her the spring season was almost over, yada-yada. Eventually she had heard enough. She leaned in close to my face and cut me off by licking my mouth while I was mid-sentence. It caught me off guard and I almost fell over in shock and started laughing. When I recovered I did at least get her to promise to take what we were about to do seriously. From my backpack I handed her some sunglasses and my black Yankees cap. We didn’t really need disguises but I thought it might get her in the right frame of mind. We kept walking, and when we could finally see the house I turned to her and said, “This is it. From here on, you need to be alert at all times.” She gave an affirming nod. We approached the side entrance of the house and I quickly picked the lock and we slipped inside.
From the moment I stepped inside that house with her, I was consumed by apprehension. Something didn’t feel right: maybe it was the time, maybe it was her attitude, but whatever it was that caused my worry, I decided to ignore it. I tried my best to sound relaxed as I gave her a tour of the house.
There was no garage but the driveway in front was wide enough to fit three cars or so side by side. We entered through the left side of the house when viewed from the street. Through the side door you are greeted by a tiny mud room with a closet for coats and a shoe rack on the left side. Straight ahead is a hallway with two doors on either side: “The left two doors are an office and a bathroom, and on the right we have two children’s bedrooms” I said as I started down the hallway.
“This is so crazy.” Amy remarked. It was the first of several remarks of this sort she made as we made our way throughout the house.
The office on the left was spotlessly clean. It looked like it was rarely used even when there were people staying there. There was a dark stained wooden desk with nothing on it and a black leather office chair. The room had tan shag carpeting and on the far wall was a fully stocked bookshelf and a window. Like the office, the bathroom was kept practically empty and meticulously clean. There was nothing but the sink, toilet and shower. The two kid’s rooms had a single twin bed in each, and one further from the door had a small CRT TV. They were both somewhat messy unlike the office and the bathroom, and both were decorated as little girl’s rooms.
“And here we have the beautiful open living area.” I said as I left the hallway. At the end of the hallway the house opened up to an expansive living room area with fifteen foot ceilings, which was open to the kitchen off to the right and semi-open to the dining room to the left, which was only separated by a large curved archway. The living room had a box of children’s toys on the floor where a throw rug sat covering the well-kept hard wood floors. A few of the toys were lying out on the ground. Besides that, the living room consisted of three seats: a couch, a chaise lounge and an armchair, which were all very fine if a little worn. There was also a large and dramatic fireplace in the center of the room. High above hung a large ceiling fan with wooden blades. The kitchen was bright from the big windows above the counters, and boasted a dark marble counter-top and first-rate appliances. There was another half bathroom on the way to the master suite, which was down a short hallway to the left of the fireplace. As I reached for the door handle to the master bedroom. Amy latched onto my arm, “I can’t believe we’re really doing this!” She sounded more giddy than frightened. This time I let the room speak for itself. On the wall above the bed hung an enormous canvas with a mountain landscape in oil paint. The floors were a lighter stained hard wood than the living area. The bed frame was made of wood left to look natural; the four bed posts were like trees rising up from the floor almost to the ceiling. The bedspread was a marvelous white which seemed to glow as the natural light poured in from the large windows on the far side of the room. Two light wooden end tables supported clay-colored lamps with white shades, and inset light fixtures adorned the ceiling. “Wow, this place is incredible! That painting…” she approached the bed. We both started to let our guards down a little. I finished up the tour with her and then we settled down in one of the little kid’s rooms. It was safer there where things weren’t kept so neat like the master bedroom. Less likely to leave a trace.
Amy started perusing the girl’s closets. She found an odd assortment of clothes, in an even stranger assortment of sizes. She pulled out one outfit that looked like it belonged to a five year old. It was a tiny red dress with a white flower on the bottom right. Then she grabbed out some pajama pants and a shirt that would fit her. I guess when you only show up twice a year to a place, you don’t necessarily remember to clear out your old clothes. Then she found this silly purple pageant dress that she insisted I let her try on. To this day, I have no idea why I agreed. She actually looked pretty good in it, but then again I thought she always looked good. She kept it on as she turned on the TV and plopped herself down on the twin bed and I joined her there.
We were lying together watching cartoons for a while, when I heard something. I didn’t know what it was exactly, a car door maybe, but I knew someone was coming. The TV was off instantly, I exploded out of bed, made a hard left down the hallway and was halfway out the door before I knew what I was doing. Then I stopped and went back for Amy. She must have stopped to change out of the crazy dress she tried on and never changed out of. But there was no time. I stared down the hallway toward the opening into the living room, praying that Amy would emerge from the bedroom before anyone appeared there. I heard the front door open and someone hurriedly drop their bag on the floor as they entered. I floated silently back into the room with Amy and closed the door most of the way. It slid closed smoothly without a sound. Amy had finished changing. I gestured her to stay quiet. Only a few seconds passed before disaster struck. I had my back to the door as it flung open.
I turned around and saw a tall woman with blonde hair in her late thirties. You can probably imagine the look on her face when she saw us. At first she jumped out of her skin. Then she looked at us with an expression of having been thoroughly violated, as though she would never feel safe again. Before she could speak I blurted out, “We didn’t steal anything.”
“We didn’t do anything I swear,” Amy echoed.
I remember thinking we had horrendous luck. Why, when arriving in their vacation home, would an adult enter alone and immediately head for the children’s room?
Amazingly the woman’s expression seemed to soften slightly and she spoke. I guessed she must’ve thought we were just kids and didn’t feel threatened. “What the hell are you two doing in my house?”
“W-we just wanted to see what it was like. We didn’t touch anything I promise” I said as I pushed past her, dragging Amy behind me. The woman didn’t offer any resistance as we left. She had a dumbfounded look on her face now. We ran out of the house and down the street back in the direction of my house. When we were out of earshot of the house I screamed “What the hell Amy? I told you you gotta be ready!” but of course I was the one to blame here.
She didn’t answer and we just kept running until we got tired, my anger at her had faded, and it was replaced by a deep desolation. It was over. All of it. My world was spinning. I realized how lucky we were that there was only one woman and she just let us leave. I tried to tell myself we might not even get in trouble for it. Like I could believe that.
“What do we do now?” Amy asked, plainly. She appeared calm. Placid even— No, she was not okay. Maybe she was in shock or something.
“I dunno, I dunno, uh— shit. Let’s just both go home. Call me okay? It’s gonna be fine. We’re still alive, we’re gonna be okay. I’ll talk to you soon. Just run home and it’ll all be good.” I didn’t believe it and neither did she, but maybe just saying it enough times would make it true.
“Okay.” We went our separate ways and when I got home I desperately awaited her phone call. My family grew concerned as I waited by the phone, no doubt with a look of despair smeared across my face, but I told them to mind their own business and they didn’t prod me further. I waited and waited, but her call never came. So I called her. No answer. I called again later and her dad picked up. I thought maybe she told her parents what happened and she was grounded or something. Not likely. That wasn’t something she’d do. She had looked pretty shaken though.
“Uh hello Mr. Ferris, is Amy there?” I remember saying in as polite and innocent a way as I could muster.
“I thought she was with you, I was beginning to worry about her. You don’t know where she is?”
Unbelievable. She had never come home? “No sir I don’t. I haven’t seen her since eh— since lunchtime. We had lunch at my place and then she took off. She said she was going to call me when she got home and she never did, so I called her and got you.”
And then he said something about how I don’t deserve her and that he was going to make my life hell if anything happened to her and so on. I hung up the phone. I would just have to talk to her on Monday at school.
Only she never came home Saturday night. Her dad called the police, and the whole town got involved in the search for Amy Ferris. Including me. But I kept Saturday’s events to myself. I didn’t want to tell the police what we had done Saturday if I didn’t have to. I hoped Amy would turn up somewhere and all would be well again. But that was just wishful thinking.
When they finally found her, she was dead. I couldn’t believe it. The feeling of sickness I felt when I heard the news is indescribable. She was found in the woods. She had been stripped and stabbed to death. But she wasn’t the only one they found that day. She was buried alongside twenty other girls, age 4-14. Out of all the remains of girls the police unearthed, she was the only one that had been stabbed to death. All the rest appeared to have been poisoned. Amy was buried with her shoes, sunglasses, hat, and necklace beside her. The other girls had similar possessions uncovered along with their corpses.
Since it was too late anyway, I still didn’t go to the police with my information. Instead I went back to that blonde woman’s glorified log cabin by myself. The lady was gone. I broke in through the side door again, and started walking quietly down the hallway. I turned right, into the second bedroom. I opened the closet door and my greatest fears were confirmed—
The closet was completely empty.
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