An afternoon of brisk sunshine was quickly swept away by dark clouds and powerful winds, as the three vacation-bound vehicles passed a rickety old sign, signalling the gateway to Painter, Ontario.
The tag line underneath the sign read:
Northern Canada’s forgotten little town in the mountains
It screamed ominous, it bled mystery, it absolutely reeked of intrigue. Billy watched the little vehicle on the GPS veer off-course and lose its signal.
“Damn it. Pull out your phone, Collin. What’s the turn?” Billy asked.
“Hold on…uh….it’s Malibu. Turn left on Malibu,” Collin said.
Billy pulled the wheel, nearly colliding with an oncoming transport truck, as Pawel and Ryan’s vehicles followed close behind.
“Okay, and it’s the last house on the street.”
“Holy smokey,” Christian leaned forward in his seat, as he gazed upon the stone palace that was their home away from home for the next week.
All Christian could think of was how accurate the real deal looked in contrast with the images he had seen weeks ago in the classroom. Not even his burger he ate for lunch that day was as satisfying as the painting that popped off the canvas before his very eyes.
The three cars pulled into the driveway. Billy’s eyes gazed upon a strange figure standing ever so still in the doorway of the house.
“Who’s that guy?” Antonio asked.
Billy shifted into park, and abandoned the vehicle, as the rest of the group began to unpack. Collin followed close behind to investigate.
“Excuse me, do I know you?”
“But of course…you know me very well,” the mysterious hooded man replied. He was wearing all black, and his face was shrouded in darkness.
The sky cracked open and rain began to fall around them. Thunder rocked the earth, and Collin felt as if the next boom would split the ground in two.
“This is weird, bro,” Collin tapped Billy’s shoulder. Billy proceeded to move closer to the man.
“Your voice sounds familiar.”
The man quickly spun on his heels, landing inches from Billy’s face, his eyes drilling holes into the back of Billy’s skull like a dentist drill.
“Oh, but of course you know my voice.”
His eyes were dark and bloodshot, his nostrils were drowning in liquid, and his teeth were as tainted as a dirty toilet bowl. Billy felt his back began to arch in the opposite direction to avoid the man’s pungent breath.
“We spoke on the phone, remember. I’m Doc Watson, the landlord of this establishment,” Watson stood up straight, removing his hood, allowing the rain to dampen his bald spot. His white hair was matted down to his skull from a combination of sweat and rain.
“Oh, right. Mr. Watson. Sorry about that,” Billy said.
“Did I startle you?”
“No, not at all…I mean, maybe a little.”
“Hmm yes, well here are the keys. I trust you will find your way,” Mr. Watson dropped a set of keys into Billy’s hand, as he stepped past toward the rest of the group, who were carrying bags, groceries, and alcohol up the steps.
Mr. Watson took one final peak at Sarah as she passed by, as Sarah quickly ran in front of Emily to hide.
“Oh, and Mr. Washington. I trust you and your friends will return the home to its original pristine condition by the end of the week. Or else.”
“Or else what, sir?” Billy asked.
Mr. Watson quickly checked his watch, and ignored the question. He quickly darted off, before turning to cast one final look at the group from down the road.
Billy could still feel his gaze like a centipede, with thousands of tiny legs crawling under his skin.
“What a freak,” Adrian said.
“He’s just one guy. I’m sure the rest of the town is perfectly normal,” Billy said.
Billy turned the keys, as the group entered paradise.
Sarah was the last one to enter the property. She quickly jumped at the rumble of thunder, as her body had turned to face the street. She caught a glance at the next door neighbour’s front window.
Squinting through the rain, she could make out dark silhouettes. Standing. Watching from the window.
The next moment, the crackle of thunder sent ripples of light across the sky. Sarah turned back to the window, but the silhouetted figures were now gone.
Sarah always considered herself to have an overactive imagination. She carried a lot of phobias, including phobia of social situations, phobia of the dark, phobia of thunder, phobia of this, phobia of that. She was practically a walking time bomb always ready to blow.
She turned and closed the double doors, as the thickness of the home’s walls seemed to drown out the sound of the rain.