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The Man at the End of the Hill

the man at the end of the hill


Estimated reading time — 7 minutes

No service? You’ve got to be kidding me! My older brother, James, is in LA with the house to himself. He’s probably in the Jacuzzi surrounded by hot girls right now. Meanwhile, I’m in some European backwater that has been decaying since the fall of the U.S.S.R. I looked over at my mom and I could feel myself making a face. Why did she have to be so happy about this? After the drama at school died down my depression didn’t go away fast enough. When treating me, as if I was one of her patients didn’t work, she made the executive decision to take me on a “retreat,” like she did with “the girls.” I was about to announce how miserable I was when the most unusual thing happened. A real-life girl spoke actual words to me, out loud!

“Is that an iPhone?” I was looking into the most beautiful pair of sparkling blue eyes twinkling like stars underneath locks of uneven bangs. A short, pale skinned girl with shoulder length blonde hair was addressing me in an accent I assumed was Eastern European. I looked over at my mom, confused, like a kid who needed permission. She nodded her head encouragingly and walked a short distance away to offer me some privacy. I held out my phone to the random stranger and she looked at it like it was a rare blue diamond or something.

“May I?” She asked, holding out her hands like she wanted to hold it.

“Sure,” I said handing it to her without hesitation. “It’s an iPhone 12 Pro,” I told her. “My mom just bought it for me as a present for my birthday.”

The girl turned the phone over. “Wow, three cameras!” Her excitement was so childlike I couldn’t help but smile. My room in LA was full of devices. The way this girl was acting, I’d wondered if she’d even seen a MacBook before.

“Can I take a picture of you?” She asked me.

I shrugged, unsure of myself. “I guess so,” I told her. Things were getting a little bit out of my comfort zone.

“How do I do it?” She asked me with her eyes full of curiosity. I moved closer to her and touched my thumb on the black screen. She reacted audibly when the display lit up and responded to me through facial recognition software. I pressed my index finger on the camera icon and the camera app opened immediately. The girl moved noticeably closer to me and I could feel the warmth from her body as her hair brushed against my face and her hand touched and lingered on the bare skin of my forearm. I felt warm and dizzy at the same time. I had never been so close to a girl in my life. My heartbeat was pounding so loud in my ears I was sure she could hear it. When I looked over at her nervously, she smiled as if we were two old friends.

“You press this button.” I managed to mumble incoherently as my voice cracked. I cleared my throat. “You gotta press this one to take the picture.”

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She took a step back and I realized I had been holding my breath so long I was lightheaded.

“Are you American?” She asked me.

“Yeah, I’m from California.”

“Oh, cool! Surfs up dude.” She said in a hilarious impression of an American accent. “I’m Helena. What is your name?”

“Jontae,” I told her, wondering if she’d ever heard it before.

Jontae,” she said, pronouncing it like Shante. “Smile for me, handsome American boy!”

I smiled without showing my crowded teeth. Then I lowered my head, bit my bottom lip and put the middle and index fingers of my right hand above my inner left forearm and did my best “ice in my veins,” pose. Helena giggled and snapped several pictures.

I walked over to her and relaxed a little. “Let’s see what you got?” I asked her. She held out the phone proudly. I showed her how to navigate from the camera to the photos app and we looked at the pictures together. We were so close she rested her head on my shoulder.

“This one!” She said gleefully. “You look so silly.”

“Let’s take a selfie.” I said in a voice that was a little more confident than before. She didn’t even have a chance to answer. I grabbed the phone, flipped to the forward-facing camera with a button press and took a burst of selfies.

Helena was mortified. She screamed “no,” like I was attacking her. She pushed me away and ran in the direction she had been walking from. I stood frozen in place, as still as a statue while she disappeared into the distance and climbed up a hill.

“Jontae!” I suddenly came to my senses. My mom was shaking me, and I realized I had disassociated again. It was something I’d been doing since childhood. My mom hated it. “Jontae, I asked you what happened? What did you do to that girl?”

I shrugged. “So, she was real?”

“Jontae, what are you talking about? Of course, she’s real. Are you going to be in some kind of trouble?” My mom was totally freaking out. This wasn’t like her at all.

“Mom, chill. All I did was take a picture.”

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“Without her permission?” My mom sounded like I’d done something wrong. I don’t know. Maybe I had. The closest I’d been to a real girl before Helena was getting catfished online.

“She took some pictures of me. So, I took one with her. It wasn’t a big deal. I don’t know, maybe it’s part of some European Superstition. You know how illiterate people are, mom. She probably thought it was going to take her soul or something.” I laughed cynically.

My mom shook her head in disgust. “You think this is funny Jontae? That girl was terrified. This isn’t LA. You have to respect people’s culture and beliefs. If you want to take anymore pictures with the locals, please, at least make sure you have their consent first.”

I felt bad so I forced a sigh and tried my best to look apologetic. “Geez, mom I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt that poor girl’s feelings. I’m just a spoiled American brat. What do I know?” I wanted to say something about my privilege. That was one of those words my mom loved using. Or maybe something about equity but I could tell the moment was over. My mom was already moving on mentally. She had an itinerary and she wanted to check all the boxes in her busy schedule. This “retreat,” wasn’t so much about my depression as it was about my mom getting a chance to scratch another location off her bucket list.

Back at the hotel I commiserated. My mom got me my own private room and the window was facing the hill where Helena had disappeared. After staring at the hill for what felt like an hour, I laid on the lumpy mattress and took out my phone. I ignored my notifications and went to my photos app. I wanted to see Helena’s face again. I couldn’t get her blue eyes out of my mind. I scrolled from the top to the bottom and back to the top again. I was confused. I checked my recently deleted photos. There was no sign of Helena. I looked at the last pictures in my camera roll. There were selfies of me, standing alone but next to my shadow was another one. Helena, I realized was in the picture, but she didn’t have a reflection. I threw my phone down and jumped out of the bed. I rubbed my eyes with both my hands and paced the room a dozen times. This was impossible. What was I thinking? That Helena was a vampire or something? Hot teen vampires in Eastern Europe. This was starting to sound like a low budget horror flick. I went to the window and looked out at the hill. I thought I could see a shadowy figure and hear a voice beckoning to me.

I left the hotel alone. My mom had hung a don’t disturb sign on her doorknob. I had a hoodie and J’s on. I wasn’t dressed for the bone chilling cold that pierced my skin. I walked through the deserted streets like a madman. My heart my racing. I was walking so fast I was almost running. I could hear Helena’s voice calling out to me. “Jontae, Jontae!” pronouncing it like Shante. When I blinked, I could see the image of her beautiful smile burnt into my memory, but it appeared wider, sinister, cruel, and bloody. Her blue eyes were looking into my soul and it was my blood she was tasting. I rushed onward to feed my cruel mistress. I journeyed like a sinner to the bowels of hell, prepared to pay the never-ending debt of iniquity.

An old man in rags disturbed me. His callous hands and the stench of dried urine like ammonia in his clothes pulled me from my dissociative state.

“I don’t have any change, bum.” I told the man like he was a homeless beggar in Downtown LA.

“Don’t do it!” He spoke softly with the smell of strong spirit on his breath.

“What are you talking about?” I asked him confused.

“Go back to your mother, boy. Or the man at the end of the hill will take you to see the others.”

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I was growing impatient. I needed to see Helena. “Is that where she is? With the others at the end of the hill? Is that where I can find her?”

“No one can find her.” The man said sorrowfully. “You can search to the ends of the earth if you don’t believe me. Only to return when the ravage of time has taken its toll. But she will be unchanged like the man at the end of the hill.”

“The hill.” I said and left him behind me, babbling drunkenly in a dissociative state.

With each step I took I felt more and more determined that I would be the one Helena would choose. The man at the end of the hill would take me to her. The others would understand. A handsome American boy like me. How could she choose one of them instead? They would understand.

I passed through the crumbling ruins of a city that had never recovered from the trauma of war. Bombed out corpses of churches and cathedrals held up their dead fingers in a crooked sign of the cross. Stained glass was painted over with bullet holes. Cars and trucks were gutted and overturned. Fresh green grass grew over landmines. I cut my finger on the thorn of a rose that jutted out of the barrel of a broken gun.

“Helena!” I shouted as I made my way through the devastation. When I reached the edge of the hill, I knew there was no turning back. My mom had her work and Jacquees had basketball and all of the girls. Dad had a whole other family and a brand-new son he loved more than he had ever loved me. No one would even notice I was gone. And Helena was waiting. Helena was waiting for me, her handsome American boy.

I climbed the hill like a staircase. I climbed each step slowly. I breathed in deeply and exhaled like a man on his way to the gallows. I reached the top of the hill and stopped to catch my breath. There was a peaceful pond, a serene cemetery, and a tank covered in colorful graffiti. I walked through the cemetery slowly noticing the graves had tombstones but none of the tombstones had names. I reached the end of the cemetery and backtracked to the pond. When I looked into the bottom of the pond, I saw her. Helena.

Helena, so pure, innocent, and childlike, used by the soldiers and cast into the sea. My tear drops disturbed the surface of the water, the final image of Helena rippled and faded away. A reflection appeared of a man dressed in black. I turned and went to the end of the hill to take my place amongst the others.

Credit : Daddy Milagro

Twitter : @daddymilagro

Instagram : @daddymilagro

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