catastrophic encounter

This house may seem like your dream home, but remember, you have been warned

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1. CHAPTER -1

If you were to think about it – and I somehow doubt you’d ever have reason to – I guess that to you my job may appear very mundane and simple. You might look at me, dressed casually to match the general pace of life we lead round here but still wearing a shirt and tie and, if you happened to notice me at all, I would only register on your brain as an unremarkable man in what you would understandably believe to be an unremarkable job.
And it’d be fair to say that you’d be right….. most of the time.
Most of the time, yes, but not all of the time. I think there are a few things I need to tell you, so that maybe I can help you make a good decision. I hope I can. What follows is all the help I can give, but I’ll say right at the start that at the end you’ll probably be left with more questions than you have answers, I’ve told this tale a few times now and most people are. Of course, I won’t be able to help with those because I don’t know the answers to all of the questions you’ll be wanting to ask. 
I’ve heard it said that ignorance is bliss.
And you know what? For that, I’m actually glad.

***************

There is a large, plain looking white house, which stands on a piece of prime real estate overlooking the pretty bay in which the sleepy Tuscan village of Skialia lies, nestle comfortably against the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The right ‘arm’ of the bay is made up of a gradually increasing cliff face, although it’s only us locals who really think of it as such, most of the tourists we get down here probably just think of it as the wall at the back of the beach. To be honest it ain’t all that big. 
The house rests at the very top of the cliff, down at the far end of the beach, and when you stand in the rooms facing the sea you can hear the waves crashing against the rocks below. Actually ‘crashing’ probably isn’t the right word, it’s more like a serene crunch. The sea here doesn’t come at us as if it’s trying to reclaim the land back to it’s cold depths, it just gently strolls up to the shore as if it’s popping over to say ‘Hi’. The cliff itself isn’t too high, maybe forty meters, but you certainly wouldn’t relish the idea of climbing from top to bottom without using the steps carved into the face, never mind dropping from the top in the other direction.
If it just so happens that you need to get to this house but don’t know where it is, you will need to drive to this quiet little town and find the Piano Bar which overlooks the waterfront. It’s easy enough to find and you won’t mind stopping here in the slightest bit, especially if you’ve just had the two hour drive from the airport. The chances are you’ll be in one of those hired buggies from up in the capital, and if you’ve had the top down like most of our visitors you’ll have realised that the air conditioning don’t help all that much without a roof.
You’ll know the bar when you see it, it’s the only one on the parade with a full sized Grand Piano standing on the roof. It’s a real one too. I watched them put it up there more years ago than I care to remember. The guys that did it didn’t have the benefit of one of those mobile cranes you see on building sites all over the place these days, they had to lump it up there by hand, and I can tell you that that old piano weighs a fair bit as well. Theo nearly lost the fingers on his right hand during that little escapade, when Emilio’s boy slipped his grip, but he managed to pull his hand away just in time so he can still tie his own shoes without having to use his teeth. You should have heard the words those boys used that day, sweating and grunting to get her up there. I swear half the ladies in the town had to go for a lie down! Ha! Still, I’m getting to rambling.
You’ve got to watch that, you know. At my age the memories of youth can seem more appealing than the worries of today, so feel free to give me a nudge if you think my direction may be wandering a little. I won’t get offended, I promise. Where was I?
Ah yes. 
The reason you will first need to find this happy little place is because you will need to find me, and this’s where I’ll want to meet you. I’m an estate agent, although that’s not what they call us around here. Round here we have a fancy name for them, especially if you’re one of those places that likes to specialise in all of those new homes that are popping up all over the place, but what I do is sell property, so I just call myself an estate agent. It’s easier that way.
It can get confusing when folks start giving new names to old jobs. I met a young lady the other week who told me she was a ‘service representative.’ Took me a few minutes of chat to work out she’s a tour guide for one of the travel companies, but I didn’t mind too much because she was mighty fine on the eyes. If I’d been five years younger I’d still have been about thity years too old!
But let’s assume that the reason you are looking for this particular house is because you think you may be interested in buying it. You usually can if you want to. Hell, these days the only people that go up there at all are potential new buyers and workmen. And me, of course, but I’m kind of like part of the fixtures and fittings so I don’t really count. 
If you wanted to buy any other property on my books, and I still have one or two despite the flash new place that’s opened up just down the road, I’ll just arrange to meet you at your chosen house and have done with it, but if you want to buy the house up on that hill, this is where we meet.
So since you’ve never been here before I’m going to suggest you take this opportunity to park your dusty jeep out the front and wander inside the Piano Bar for a drink. Don’t worry if I’m not there before you - I probably won’t be - you just go on in ahead and make yourself comfy.
I won’t be too long.

***************

Go and grab a seat over on the balcony so you get a good view of the beach and the sea, and then wait a while. Give it a couple of minutes – five if it’s hot, ten if there’s more than a dozen customers - and a waiter will appear. (Juan, if you’re lucky. You’ll recognise him by his blonde ponytail and immaculately white teeth. Makes the best Pina Colada in the resort, which is well worth a try if you’re partial to them. If you do see him, say hi from me, and tell him I’ll be along in a minute.) Order the drink of your choice, I’d personally recommend the house chardonnay if you’re partial to a little wine, but you get what you enjoy, since you’re the one that has to drink it. Then, while you wait for whatever you decide to order to arrive, have a good look around, and I’m willing to bet that pretty soon you’re going to be thinking how lovely it’ll be to spend the rest of your life waking up to that view and listening to those waves. You’d be right to think so too, and I can honestly say that even after thirty years I still find it something special, but then I live in a different house at the other end of the bay.
If you’ve managed to get a seat up by the front of the bar you’ll be able to see a goodly way up the beach on both sides, even as far as the water-ski place a couple of miles down the beach to your left. You might have to lean over the balcony a little to see it but it’s there. Go on, have a look. Just past those green umbrellas in front of that big white hotel. That’s where young Philippe drowned a couple of years back, but don’t let that put you off going down there if you decide to stay. He always was a good for nothing layabout, and just fell off the pier one night after drinking enough whisky to drown an elephant. Stole the money for it off of his mum too, after giving her a bit of a beating, so all in all it was no great loss. That was something he did quite a bit, and more than a few people knew about it because a town like this has very few secrets, but round here people still tend to think that what goes on behind closed doors is nobodies business but their own. It’s the same with the house, it’s like a town secret that everybody knows and nobody talks about. Still, I’ll get to that soon enough.
The beach basically stretches from that ski place right up past the town and ends at the base of the cliff, right under the house you think you want to go look at. If you happen to be here in the height of summer then the sand will be crammed with sun loungers and parasols from one end to the other. One way to tell the difference between the locals and the tourists is to see who sits where; anyone sitting on a lounger is a visitor, the ones sitting on towels are locals. Those little seats only cost a few euro’s a day to hire out and it can seem like a really good deal, but if you stay a week and add it all up like the locals have, you’ll suddenly realise that you’ve paid out thirty or forty of your pounds just to sit down for the week. I mean, come on, it’s a sandy beach for Christ’s sake, what’s so bad about sitting on a towel? 
In the winter all of the touristy bits and pieces get put away and the beach falls into the possession of the locals again. There isn’t too much to do around here when the tourists go home, but the weather is usually pretty good, so on most days the beach is as busy in the winter as it is in the summer. It may not be that hot during the closed season, but it very rarely gets cold around here. It never takes long until someone turns up with a ball and a net, and I’ve spent many a happy hour just watching the beach volleyball contests that get going. Some of the teams are bloody good at it.
Even if you’re watching two teams that can’t really play it’s still fun to watch, but admittedly that may be because it’s often young women bouncing around in swimming costumes and looking like that Pamela What’s-her-name….. Ah to be young again…..
If you’re lucky, your drink would have turned up by now, and you can take that first sip. It’ll be good after the two hour drive you had to get here. If I had to guess I’d say you’ll have waited about ten minutes for the drink to actually get to you from the time you ordered it, but don’t worry too much about that and try not to get impatient. Life goes past on slow speed round here, and that’s just how things are. You can’t fight it or change it, it just is, and that’s that.
If you want speedy you need to go to the capital and find yourself a place there. It’s noisy and it smells, but things do move a bit quicker there if that’s what floats your boat. Personally I’d take this place and this pace any day of the week.
So now you’ve had that first taste and your mouth feels a lot less like the bottom of a parrot cage, let’s just sit and take things easy for a bit. Like I said, life goes slowly round here, and if you’re really serious about buying a house and living here you need to get used to the pace of things. I’ll be along in a while but you’d be wrong to expect me on time. (I work to the local time scale, remember?) So just…… chill for a bit. Try and soak the place up a little bit.
There’s a reason I want to meet you here, not up at the house. Several of them actually. 
The first of them is quite simple; I like it here, and I think you will too. I’ve yet to meet anyone that doesn’t appreciate a drink when they get here. 
The second is to give you a small taste of what life round here can really be like. In the summer it’s busy with the tourists, in the winter it’s busy with the locals and in between it’s just that – something in between the two. It’s a beach resort on the Med, with all that that implies, both good and bad. 
Of course, when I say busy, I mean that there will be several hundred people (maybe a couple of thousand at the height of the season) on a beach four or five miles long, which, when judged alongside a lot of other beaches isn’t very busy at all, but I’m nearly sixty now, and it seems busy enough to me. It’s a nice sort of busy though, just enough to always make the place seem alive, which can never be a bad thing.
Not too much vomit, not too many kids, and can you really ask for any more than that?
The question is, do you want to live here?
In my experience - and here you should remember that as an estate agent I do actually have some experience of this sort of thing - in my experience the answer to this question is generally ‘yes.’ And rightly so too.
Skialia is a lovely place to buy a home. Which brings me quite nicely to my third reason for encouraging you to meet me in this beach front bar rather than meeting me at the property you have come so far to look at.
You’ve already looked to your left and seen everything there is to see down that way, now I want you to look to your right. See? Look to the furthest point of land you can, which isn’t all that far away, and you’ll be looking at the piece of dirt you’ve really come all of this way to see. Right at the very tip of the point which juts out from the rest of the mainland to make the right hand arm of the bay in which this little town lies.
Your dream home. Maybe.
And if I think it is your dream home, if I take one look at you and decide that this really could be the house for you, then I’ll sit here for the next five hours if I have to, trying to persuade you not to buy it.
Because that house will kill you.

***************

The real reason I choose this as the place to meet potential clients for the house up on that cliff – apart from Juan’s cocktails - is because it is close enough to be able to see the house, and yet far enough away that I have a chance to talk you out of it should you decide to go ahead and buy it. This will be the hardest part of my job. It’s never easy. But from experience I know that if I take you up there, if the house has it’s chance to work it’s magic on you, I’ve lost.
You’ll have seen the advert already, and now that you are here the house will pull you. You’ll laugh when I tell you that, they all do. Go on….. I know you want to.
I’ve heard just about every kind of accusation under the sun to explain why I’m trying to convince someone not to buy a house; I’ve promised it to a friend, I want it for myself, the price was a miss-print and I want to sell it to the next customer for three times the value….. some people think that this is just all part of my sales pitch, that I’m just trying to build up a bit of a mystery atmosphere to help sell the place.
It’s all rubbish, I never had any trouble selling this particular property when I wanted to.
The truth is that I’ve made a lot of money through selling this house, after all I am on commission, but I’ve spent more time trying to talk people out of the house than I ever have talking them into it. That place just sells itself. The money I’ve made has never sat too well on my conscience, but I’ve never turned it down either. You know what I mean?
I take the money because I earn every penny I get from selling that pile of bricks at the top of the cliff. Every time it sells I’m in for another batch of bad dreams, and each time I hit the booze a bit heavier for a few weeks. It wrecked my marriage, to the most lovely woman I ever did know, because she couldn’t understand why I kept putting myself through it time and again. I could see her point, it certainly wasn’t because of the financial reward, because the money just ain’t worth it.
So why?
Twenty six times in thirty years I have sold that house, and once I realised what was happening up there it almost drove me insane. You’re both sitting there staring up at the house and maybe you think I’m mad and maybe you don’t, but I first sold that house twenty nine years ago, shortly after I first moved here and settled down. My wife was pregnant at the time and I needed all the cash I could lay my hands on (you two don’t have any kids yet but if ever you are blessed with them be warned – hold on to all the cash you can. If it ain’t school trousers it’s money for school trips.) Back in those days we rented a small house in the middle of the village, and my office was nothing more than the two rooms on the ground floor. It really wasn’t anything special, but it was big enough for the work we covered at the time, and for a young couple who were only just starting with their own business it felt fantastic. It was ours, to do with as we wished. It might make us or break us but it would all be down to the effort we put in, and I’ve got to tell you that after ten years slaving away for someone else it was good to be in control of our own destiny.
None of the shops had air conditioning or anything like what you get in places these days, back then if you wanted to cool a room down you opened the door and hoped for a bit of breeze, and if you move down here you’ll soon see that the chances of that before eight in the evening aren’t good. So the door to the shop was always open onto the dusty street outside. I was sitting behind my battered old desk, and I can distinctly remember that I was reading through a small pile of bills and wondering how the hell I was going to find the money to pay them all at once. Sounds a bit melodramatic, I know, but that’s just how the day was.
Did he know? I’ve often wondered. I don’t think so, and to be honest it wouldn’t have mattered at the time if I’d been sitting pretty on a whole pile of cash, I’d still have taken the job on. Like I said, it was a new business, and at that time in your life you take all you can get.
So there I was, sitting behind my desk, when this man walks in. Nothing very unusual about that, we used to get a couple of people in most days, but the striking thing about this guy was that he was wearing a black suit, and to see a suit in the middle of the day - especially in the heat we get round here - is unusual. I’ve often thought about him over the years, not right away of course, he was simply another customer, but once I started to have my suspicions about that house up on the hill I thought about him a lot. You ever worn a black suit? No? Try it. I’ll bet you don’t feel right, that you’ll feel like you’re dressed for a funeral or you’re dressed up like one of these new bouncer people they have on the door to some of the clubs in town.
With most people, you see them dressed up like that and the first thought that flashes through your head is the obvious one – ‘Who’s died?’ Not with this fellow. He wore that suit and he was comfortable in it. Casual almost.
I stood up to say hello and shake his hand. This was thirty years ago, remember? In those days you showed your customers some respect and called them sir, and you meant it too. Nowadays you try to shake someone’s hand when they first walk in they’ll like as not run out the shop, muttering that they don’t like it when people are so damn pushy. Times change, and not always for the best, either.
But that’s just me sounding old again.
This guy shakes my hand and then settles himself down in one of the faded brown armchairs that I kept on the other side of the desk. I asked how I could help, and I remember that I almost asked him twice, he took so long to answer the first time that I thought for a moment he hadn’t heard me. Looking back, I recall that he just sort of sat there, staring at me for about ten seconds, as if summing me up. That’s a long time to sit and look at someone you’ve never met before, try it yourself and see if they don’t start looking uncomfortable. I sure as hell felt it.

I wasn’t too reassured when he did finally speak. No, no, he didn’t have a Boris Karlov voice or talk like one of them Orks in that Mordor film, he simply asked me if I believed in God.
Now you two are modern folk and maybe God means something to you and maybe he don’t, none of my business either way, and I’m pretty sure that if someone you’ve never met before starts a conversation with that sort of opener, your first thought is going to be that you’ve gone and got yourself stuck with one of them Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was a long time ago, and they hadn’t become quite so in your face back then, so when he asked me I just thought he was a church going fellow, who maybe wanted a likeminded soul to sell a house for him. I told him Yes Sir straight away. I hadn’t been to church for anything other than a wedding or funeral for about fifteen years, but I still sort of believed. With money the way it was I’d have told him the Earth was surely as flat as a pancake and watched over from above by the Easter Bunny if it got me another contract.
He nodded slowly, and then looked up at the ceiling as if weighing something up in his mind. Apparently he reached a decision, and decided that I was the man for the job.
He then asked if I would be prepared to undertake the management of a property which was up for sale. That’s a weird way of putting things if you just want to sell a house, but that didn’t even make me pause for thought, I just told him yes again, provided that the house was in reasonable order. There wasn’t such a good market for run-down places as there is now, and even I didn’t want a property on my books that I couldn’t shift. He assured me that the house was in fine condition, and that I wouldn’t have any trouble finding a buyer.
He then smiled what was probably the saddest smile I’ve ever seen in my life, and added that I’d probably find that the house would almost sell itself. That sounded just as fine as could be to me, so I told him that I’d happily do what I could to help him. That seemed to trouble him. Ever heard the expression, ‘a cloud passed over his face?’ A bit poetic maybe, but the look on his face at that moment was what that particular expression was designed for.
Turned out I wouldn’t be working for him. I’d never even meet the seller, all of the information about accounts and payments is in the original of the contract I hope not to be showing you later on. That’s odd, you know? People aren’t supposed to walk in to sell a house and give me a contract, they’re supposed to come in for my help and I write one up for them, that’s how it should work. 
But like I said, my wife was having our first kid in a couple of months and all I cared for was the cash signs that suddenly pinged into my thoughts, so I quickly read through what he’d given me, raised my eyebrows at a couple of points and then kept my mouth shut. No point arguing with the chap that’s going to be paying you, is there?
I sold the house within three weeks and never saw him again, but I still sometimes wonder who he was. 
As the years go by my thoughts about that man in his suit have gone through a few different stages. For the first couple of years I thought he was a gift from above, as the money I made from the sale of the house started to mount up. Repeat trade has always been good for any business I guess. Then I started to see what was going on, and for a while I seriously entertained the notion that I’d been dealing with the devil himself, that maybe my soul was in danger. I hated him and I feared him.
I’m getting on in life now, although I’ve a long way to go before I’ll start considering myself over the hill. Hate is a strong word, and it’s a strong, evil emotion. As my marriage collapsed and I slipped for a while into the realm of insanity, a hated that man with a passion so fierce I’m glad I never met him again. God knows what I’d have done.
He knew, you see. I just thought I was selling a house, but he knew I was selling something more than that.
I didn’t, not back then, but I do now.

***************

So I’ve sold that place twenty six times and maybe I’ll end up in hell for the part I have played in the short lives of those people who bought it, but forty two times I have managed to talk the people out of it, and in balance it is that which helps me to keep going. I have a photo of each one of those forty two couples on my bedroom wall, and they protect me at night from the worst of the dreams, so I at least get some sleep.
Perhaps I can add your picture to my wall tonight.
I certainly hope so.

***************

So here I come, wandering off the street like a well dressed vagabond looking for shelter. I know I’m not much to look at these days, but like I said, I drink a bit too much and at my age it starts to show. I’ll be able to find you easy enough, people going to look for a new home always seem to dress just a bit smarter than they usually would, and in a beach bar where it’s not uncommon to see ladies in swim suits and bare-chested men, that smart look just means you stick out like a monk on Viagra.
I’ll introduce myself as quick as I can just so I can order a good double as quickly as possible, then I’ll get on with my job.
Today, that job isn’t selling. 

***************

If you’re anything at all like most of my potential customers, right about now you’ll be wanting some sort of explanation. That always strikes me as a bit weird in itself. 
Think about it.
I’ve just told you that buying a particular house will kill you, but your first impulse isn’t to just bugger off and call the men in white coats from a safe and discreet distance, your very first impulse is to want to know more. I’ve often thought that this, more than anything, shows that there is something very much not right with that house, and that even though they may not realise it, most people are very wary of the place.
That always gives me at least half a chance to talk them down.
So here it is for you. My explanation.
I hope it’s good enough to save your life, I really do.

***************

I never really know where to begin, so I tend to just sort of chat it out, I hope that’s ok by you?
I’ll start with the advert you saw. Hang on, I think I’ve got a copy of it in my pocket……. here we go.
Let’s see……

Recently remodelled beach house with stunning view over secluded Mediterranean bay. Seven bedrooms, six en-suites, two reception rooms, lounge, reading room, dining room and kitchen. Air-con. Spacious well equipped patio. Two x swimming pool (1indoor 1 open air) separate triple garage with gym and sauna attached. Surrounded by seven acres of landscaped garden.

This one’s from an English paper so gives the price in pounds, not euro’s. Where is it? Ah yes…. £80 000. You saw that and thought it was a real bargain, didn’t you?
Yep, I thought so. I would too if I didn’t know any better.
Now, if I’d been sitting at home, and that home happened to be somewhere in England, and if it also happened to be raining or even snowing outside, that advert would have seemed just fine. Sun, sea and whatever you fancy right on your doorstep 365 days a year. I can see from your clothes that you’re pretty well off, but I knew that before I even laid eyes on you. You have to have done pretty well to want to see this place. Not because it’s expensive mind, just because that’s simply the way it works.
For eighty grand just about anyone who put their mind to it could own this place, but that ain’t what happens. I’ve never had a viewing from someone with less than three times the asking price sitting in cash in their bank account, and that’s a fact.
No don’t look surprised, remember that I’ve sold this place a good many times, and I’ve seen all the bank accounts at one time or another.
Take a good long look at the place from here. Here you go, I’ve got some binoculars here for you to use. Looks great doesn’t it.
It’s a fine house. It’s a lovely looking building in a truly fantastic setting, I won’t lie about that or try to tell you it’s something it ain’t, but it’ll never make a home. I’m here to tell you that the place is evil, always has been.
See the building just to the left of the main house? That’s the indoor pool. It’s not quite Olympic sized, but it’s not far off either, and to the best of my knowledge it’s never been used. Three times I’ve sold the property since that was built in 2000 or 2001 (I can’t quite remember which), and I don’t think one person has ever so much as dipped their little toe in the water. Solid gold taps and shower heads in the changing rooms, both for the boys and the girls. Under water lighting to match your mood, and a music system that would make most night clubs bow their heads in shame. 
Down one side of the pool are these little tracks, almost hidden in the tiles lining the edge, and if you push a button which sits discreetly under the lip of the pool then all sorts of magic happens, you’ve got to see it to believe. The panels of one wall all kind of fold back on themselves and a goddamn minibar just rolls out from the wall and trundles up to where you are waiting in the pool.
The whole place is like that, full of wonderful gadgets and gizmo’s. People buy it, decide that it could do with this or that and send the builders in. The last couple that moved in had a fish pond dug into the back garden. By ‘fish pond’ I basically mean it’s an outside aquarium, and it’s so big you could empty it and use it as a swimming pool if you didn’t already have two up there already. Two glass sides which overlook part of the patio and a goddamn tunnel running through the middle for you to wander down if you choose. See what I mean? A fish pond, but a fish pond for rich people.
Lovely people they were, much like yourselves. Moved over from Belgium. Lucky for me they spoke good English or I’d never have been able to talk to them at all, not that it did much good. See? They still bought the place even after everything I told them. Five months ago it was that we last saw them. Pity.
What happened? Good question, and one that I’d love to know the answer to, because it’d make it a whole lot easier for me to convince people to stay away from the damned place, but no-one really knows for sure.
Before I tell you any more of what little I do know about what goes on, let me tell you what I know about you two, ok?
Now you know that I don’t know you. You phoned me, yes? Right, and I didn’t ask anything about you other than your first names, specifically told you not to tell me more, you remember? That’s because I’ve had people in the past thinking that I checked up their history and stuff on that intranet thingy so I could appear clever, not that I’ve ever even seen one of them. So there’s no way for me to be telling you anything unless I’m either psychic or I know what I’m talking about, agreed?
Ok then, here goes.
I can see that you’re married or might as well be, but it doesn’t take Einstein to work that out, does it? But I also know you don’t have any kids, possibly because one of you doesn’t quite function right in those places. 
Now don’t you go taking offence at that, it’s none of my business and I could be wrong, but I doubt it, I just need you to see that I do know more than I should. Now here’s the crunch. 
Neither of you has any living relatives. Not a one.
I’m right, aren’t I? It’s the way that your jaws hit the table top that told me.

***************

Here’s how it works. That house has a permanent staff of two, but they don’t live there. Franco does the gardens and Maria cleans the inside. Sound like they could be a singing’ duet, don’t they? Now why that place needs a staff has always been a bit of a mystery to me, there aren’t hardly ever anyone living there to make a mess or look at the gardens, but that’s just the way things are up there.
Let’s assume for a minute you ignore my advice and go right ahead and buy it. You won’t want to get rid of the two of them straight away will you? Of course not. You’ll keep them on for a bit to see how things go and then sort out replacements a bit further down the road if you need to. You’ll move in, and then all of a sudden you’ll decide the house needs a bit more added on, Christ knows what you could think of but you will, believe me you will.
You’ll come to me, everybody always does, and then I’ll put you on to the right local tradesmen for what you need. You’ve really got no choice but to come to me have you, unless you feel like guessing which local building firm is going to do you the best job? 
I’m popular with the builders around here, I can tell you. That house has accounted for more money going into the local economy than most hotels over the years. People round here don’t talk about it.
Everybody knows what goes on up there, but who wants to kill the goose that laid the golden egg? Every now and then someone will suggest pulling the place down, the local council will take a vote and the place goes on sale again.
Life goes on.

***************

So here’s what’s gonna happen, as much as I can tell you.
You might move in, you might not, it’s different for each new couple up there. Some want to get in there straight away, some like to stay somewhere else and move in when the works finished. Not that it matters a damn what you do, it all works out the same in the end.
The workmen will demand cash up front. It’s not that we don’t trust new folks around here, and if it was any other house you’d pay 20% up front and the rest when the jobs done, but the locals are used to that place and without the cash up front you won’t get anything done at all. So you pay them.
The work will start and you’ll be there each day to see what’s going on. Making sure it’s just how you want it. At the end of the day you’ll wave to the workers as they leave and they’ll wave back, but if you look really close you may see that they look both relieved and worried to be going at the same time.
Relieved because they’ve finished their day and are leaving the place behind them again, and worried for you. You see this’ll go on for a few weeks and everyone will start to relax a little, maybe thinking that this time everything will be different, that you’re different, and then they’ll turn up for work the next day and you won’t be there. 
Whoever is working on your house will ring me, they always do, and I’ll go through the usual routine of telling them not to worry, you’ve probably just popped to see some friends for a few days, and the work will go on. They know it’s bullshit and I’ll sure as hell know it’s bullshit, but what else can I do? After a week has gone by I’ll ring the police, there’s no point ringing before that ‘cos they won’t be interested. They’ll send someone out to have a look round but they won’t find anything.
No blood inside, no smashed furniture or any signs of a break in. Nothing.
But unfortunately for you, they won’t ever find you either.
The work will be finished. Franco and Maria will keep turning up to keep the place neat and tidy.
Life will go on.
And then six months after you vanish I’ll have to put the place on the market again, I won’t want to but that’s what it’ll say in the contract small print. Look, here it is, read that…… See? It’s even written into the deeds of the house that the property goes back on sale after being vacant for six month’s. Now I’ve never seen that in any other deal I’ve worked on, but it’s in this one. I’ve thought about taking it out, but it often seems that it’s this little sentence written in the contract that finally puts a few people off of buying the place, so I keep it in to make my point.
That guy I told you about earlier, the one in the black suit? Well you sit right there and have a read through that contract he dropped onto my desk all those years ago, and you two pay good attention to all of those weird clauses that are in there. I’ve never changed a word of it, not allowed to see?
See that one? Now it’s written in lawyer speak so nobody with a brain that functions in the world of common sense can read it, but what that sentence there means is this…… If the owner of the property isn’t seen or cannot be contacted for six months then I, as the previous legal administrator for the property, MUST put it up for sale again if I cannot pass it on to any other beneficiary. Don’t ask me who put that clause there – I’ve got no idea who thought it up or why anyone would want to put it in – but it’s been there ever since I first saw this particular piece of paper. So if you haven’t got any kids or family, I have to sell the place again. That’s what it says right there, and that’s what I’ve had to do so many times.
I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but I believe that the house calls certain people to it. People that can give it what it wants. That house just wants to grow, so it finds people it can manipulate and it bleeds them dry. The last people that bought it, the ones from Belgium? They paid the same price it’s up for at the moment, £80 000. How many folks do you know that would spend that sort of money on a house and then go right ahead and spend £120 000 on a damn pond? That ain’t right.
No-one ever stays longer than three months, not once in thirty years. No-one has ever bought that place up there on the hill that’s ever had one single relative I could find, and god knows I’ve looked. If I could find just one, I could pass the house on with out that damn contract looming in the background and get rid of the place from my life. Stop it coming back to me.
You two can’t decide whether or not I’m pulling your leg, can you? I can see it in your faces. If I take you up there you will be lost, and there ain’t a thing I can do to help you, not once you’re there. It won’t matter what I say or what you see, you’ll buy it, I guarantee you that, but I’d much rather you just left. 
It’s up to you.

***************

That’s it. There’s nothing more I can tell you. I see the glasses you had filled when you arrived are empty, and I don’t have any more I could add to the story of the house on the hill, but I’ll answer any questions you’ve got.
There’s only one last thing I’ve got up my sleeve that might just convince you. Take those binoculars again and look at the house, but pay particular attention to the gardens. See ‘em? What’s special about them?
You can’t see it can you? Nothing grows where the shadow of the house touches. If you look at the front, the grass and other plants grow almost up to the edge of the house, but that side’s always in the sun, but if you look at the other side the garden’s barren. It’s easy to miss because not a lot grows out here in all this heat anyway, but nothing will grow where the shadow of that building stretches out. When they extended a few years back, the plants that were healthy but were touched by the extended shadow were dead within two weeks.
That house ain’t right.
So what do you want to do……. and can I have your photo for my wall?
It’s your money and it’s your life, I’m just a guy that sells houses.

***************

So do you believe that a house can be good or bad? That a building can have some sort of conscience? No? Yes? Or maybe? How many times do you hear of people buying a new house simply because it felt like home? They’ll even say that they liked the character of the place. Surely for a place to have a character at all it must be more than simply bricks and mortar? I do believe that certain houses have a sense of purpose about them, that there is a certain amount of awareness when you walk in to them. Those houses appeal to a certain type of person, a person who’ll fit in with their new home.
Most of the time I believe that the awareness within is quite harmless, even friendly. I’ve sold countless houses which have then become homes for countless happy people, but everything I’ve seen and learned tells me one thing.
Some houses are evil, and that house at the top of the little cliff at the end of the bay is one of them. 
When I look back at how the man in the black suit changed my life, I still can’t decide if on balance it’s been a good thing or bad. It sure as hell kept me from going under financially a few times, but cost me a wrecked marriage, I don’t get to see my kids as much as I’d like and I’ve lost a lot of sleep over it, not to mention my mind. Almost.
My liver has taken a good hit thanks to that house too.
I used to think the guy with the suit was some imp from hell itself, but now I think I understand him a little better. The way he looked at me and the few questions he asked, now I think he was just another guy like me. I wonder how many times he sold that house himself? In retrospect I can see that he was struggling with the idea of what he was going to put me through, that he was genuinely sorry for what he was doing. He was sad, but just couldn’t take it himself anymore.
I understand that now, and my hate has gone. 
There’s a new estate agent that’s just opened up in town, says on the outside of his office that their business is a property management consultancy, but what he does is sell houses, same as me. He’s new in town, and he doesn’t know how things are round here yet. I’m not too worried about the new competition, I’ve made out ok for myself and, to be honest, I couldn’t give a damn if I never sell another place in my life.
I’ve decided to go and see him, dressed in my best suit. He looks like he could use a new contract.
I’ll see if he believes in God. I’ll look into his eyes and try to judge if he’s up to doing what I’ve struggled with myself all of these years, and I’ll really try to be honest with myself. I tell myself that I’ll only go ahead if he looks strong, but I’m now so tired. I just want to pass it on.
You see, I know that at first he’ll like me, then he’ll hate me and finally, if he is strong and lives long enough, he may come to understand me. I hope so.
And I hope I can look in the mirror the day after and still like what I see there….

***************

So tell me. How about you let me take a photo of the two of you, it’ll go real good with the others.
You seem like nice people, the sort that would settle in well round here. I’ve got some good homes for you to look at back at the office. Ok, they’re nothing too special, no gold plated taps or little automatic trolleys, but they’re good homes. The view isn’t so hot either, but all in all I think you’ll find………..

 

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