By Britt McGinnis
In another world Anna was bored. She was working the closing shift in a tiny coffee shop in her tiny college town waiting for closing time. The night shift was so slow that she was the only one scheduled. So there weren’t any coworkers or customers to keep her distracted from waiting for it to end. It didn’t help that there was such an eerie feeling in the air. It was getting darker earlier and earlier and the shadows outside kept playing tricks on her eyes, and it was so quiet that she could hear every slow tick of the clock. Without anyone to talk to Anna was dying for something to happen and take her mind off it.
The coffee shop doors swung open “Coffee something sweet and caffeinated “ grumbled a girl with weeds in her hair and brambles in her clothes. “Want to be any more specific?” The girl looked up at Anna like a wet cat “Just give me something sweet with enough caffeine to raise the dead” she said impatiently “ Well we used to have some Haitian coffee that might do it for you but now it’s mostly just cappuccinos” matching her impatience with sarcasm. The girl peers at the menu like it might bite ” Just get me a black coffee and pour in a lot of sugar” she said still glaring at the menu ”...How about I just get you a caffé mocha” Anna says taking pity on her “Sure fine how much do I owe you?” Mabel says gruffly “$4.15 and what’s the name for the order?” the girl's eyes narrowed ”Mabel Martin who are you?”. Anna’s face scrunches and her head tilts when she says “Anna Limon.”
As if in return for this information Mabel starts fishing around in her pockets for a while but only comes up with change. Frustrated she dumps the contents of her pockets, including a pile of acorns, safety scissors, and a novelty tinker bell lighter, on the counter and says”keep the change” Anna is dumbfounded for a moment and, trying to hold back laughter covers her mouth with her hands. Giggles leak through her fingers and finally she bursts out laughing. Mabel blushes as Anna swipes all of it into the register “I'm having a rough day alright” Anna still giggling says “I'm sorry, I'm sorry” She takes a deep breath “That was just the best thing to happen all day” Mabel huffs and says “It’s about the usual for me” under her breath. Still making coffee Anna says “ I work food service what happened to you?” Surprised that Anna heard her she says “It's a bit of a long story.”
Anna looks up at Mabel’s pensive face. She hands Mabel her coffee then gestures to the empty coffee shop “It's not like you'll be keeping anyone waiting” Mabel purses her lips and Anna has a second to look sheepish before Mabel takes a grateful sip of coffee and says “Alright I suppose I can tell you the story in return for picking my coffee” and breathes in the smell of coffee while Anna looks at her expectantly.
“Once upon a time there was a house on a hill and in that house lived a girl. The hill resented being lived on and so sent up vines and thorns through the house trying to reclaim the space on its head. Vines grew through the floorboards and thorns chewed at the windows and brambles plagued every nook and cranny. Weeds tried everything to choke the life out of the house on the hill and wherever they were cut away they grew back twice as fast somewhere else. So the girl in the house cut away vines all day and all night so she and the house could keep hold of their place on the hill. ”
Anna tilts her head at this story “ Anyway thanks for the coffee” Mabel says heading towards the exit. Anna leans over the counter and says “Wait how does it end?” but Mabel is already out the door. Anna stares out the closing door but before she can go look out the shop windows and call after the disappearing figure more customers come in. It seems that every time Anna has a spare moment to think about the odd girl and her odd story another customer comes in and steals her attention. It’s the end of Anna's shift before she can think over what happened earlier and by then she has to wonder if Mabel was just her imagination.
Anna works again the next day but her shift seems to drag into forever. She can't help but stare out the window hoping to see a familiar figure.She's so preoccupied with her thoughts she has to remake a customer's order three times. Mabel keeps invading her thoughts and thinking back on meeting her, Anna realized that even outside Mabel's oddities the day had felt almost surreal. With the odd atmosphere that had been around before Mabel had even shown up and all those customers coming in during the slowest shift of the day.
”One caffé mocha … please” sang then said a familiar voice “hmm?” Anna looked up and stared, wild haired and covered in brambles Mabel had come back. Anna stared for a moment longer “You're back.” You're real Mabel looked up to the ceiling “ The coffee is good here.” Anna blinks and starts making her coffee “You know you never finished your story” Anna says not looking at her. “ It wasn't finished” Mabel said “It isn't finished” almost to herself. Anna frowns a little and grabs a pastry for Mabel on a whim. Anna sets the coffee and the pastry down beside Mabel “ A bribe?” Mabel says glancing at the pastry “ Alright I'll tell you some more” and after taking a bite out of the pastry Mabel says
“However the girl grew to resent her role of clearing weeds away from the house on the hill. Whenever she cut away at vines their thorns cut away at her and brambles clung to her no matter what she did. They pricked at her and she bled for the hill and the house and the weeds but she snatched up every scrap of time she could get and she used it to get off of the hill.”
This time Mabel lingers after her tale “Mabel- “Anna starts but Mabel locks eyes with Anna and says “You know you might tempt me down off of my hill ” and her face looks almost stricken for a second before she rushes out of the shop leaving fallen leaves in her wake. Anna picks up one of the leaves with her thumb and forefinger then holds it tight to her chest and before she finally closes up the shop for the night she gathers them all and pockets them. The rest of Anna's shift is quiet no one else comes in and Anna is left alone until she closes up the shop.
The next day at the coffee shop Anna waits but Mabel doesn't show. She isn’t there on the second day or on the third day or the fourth day not on the fifth day, the sixth day, the seventh day. Anna starts taking every shift she can hoping to see her but she never shows. So Anna takes to long walks near the cafe looking for Mabel. Its when she takes to long walks around town that she finally sees the Hill. The hill that seems to have willed itself out of Mabels story. Covered in dark trees and brambles with vines curling their way through everything, it's a monument to nature surrounded by a sea of townhouses. When Anna moves closer she can just make out the remains of a house defeated by the vines growing through its bones.
Anna picks her way up to the front of the house avoiding briars the whole way. The door is open like a gaping mouth. She hesitates at the door staring into the darkened entryway. “ Into the belly of the beast ” Anna sighs as she carefully steps past the threshold and calls out “Mabel are you here?” a soft humming emanates from deeper in the house as if in answer. She shivers and says “Mabel that had better be you.” Anna follows the humming and as she gets deeper it slowly becomes clearer “One,two,three, Four and five. I caught a hare alive”. Anna continues to follow the song and when she can go no farther the singing suddenly stops. Right in front of her pinned to a wall by overgrown vines is a sheet of paper that says
“But the girl always returned to the house on the hill even as the vines grew into its skin and curled around its bones. Even as the house began to crumble around her the girl came back. Even as the foundations began to crack under the strain the girl came back. For the house on the hill had her blood and her heart and the girl belonged to the house as much as the house belonged to the girl. So as the vines grew through the house they'd cut through the girl, and as the house crumbled the girl would crumble too, and once the foundations were gone the girl and the house would fall together. The End”
Anna's eyes narrow “No” Anna rips the paper off the wall “Mabel’s story does not end this way” she crumples up the paper in her fist “ You don’t get to keep her she isn’t yours.” Footsteps start and stop behind her “ Anna!” Mabel was behind her eyes wild and covered in brambles “I heard your voice, what are you doing here? how did you even get here?” Anna whips around “Mabel!” she says relieved “I came to find you.” Just as she says this the house shifts and screeches “ Well you found me.“ Mabel says and grabs her hand “now you need to get out of here” and starts pulling her towards the exit
As they run through the halls it becomes clear that the house won’t stand for much longer. The walls creak and crumble as drywall falls away Anna can see that plant life has all but replaced the house's insulation. “Mabel-” Anna starts “We’re almost there” Mabel finishes and runs a bit faster. The house looks different than it did when Anna first came through plants have grown up through the floorboards as if they mean to trip them and there seems to be more turns in their path than when Anna first wandered in.
They finally come to the exit but nearly miss it due to how overgrown it’s become. “ There” says Anna and they launch themselves outside of the maw of the house. The second they’re past the threshold the house gives one last shudder and a beam falls in the house blocking off the exit and crushing the doors. Mabel stares at the broken structure for a moment and a strange expression passes over her face before she starts cackling. Anna is about to ask if she’s alright before she feels laughter bubbling up from her gut. They fall into the dirt laughing and clutching their stomachs “What now?” Mabel says breathless. Anna curls her fingers into Mabel's and shrugs “ Want to go for a coffee?”
Six, seven, eight, Nine and ten,
I let him go again.