‘On The Hill’ by Elizabeth Spencer

On The Hill by Elizabeth Spencer, 2013

The magic trick:

Building a mystery and delivering a theme

In many ways, this story plays out like a standard horror movie. A family moves to town and fits in seamlessly among the local social scene. Ah, but mysterious abound.

Slow but steady, the concerns ramp up. Where are they from? Do they have connections to a cult-like church? Are they abusing their son?

But where the standard horror movie would here peak with a confrontation between the protagonist and the mystery. “On The Hill” offers no such reveal and release.

The mysterious family simply disappears. They leave town with no questions answered. It might be frustrating to some readers. I was hoping for some easy explanations. But the ambiguity takes the focus away from the mystery and puts it on the newborn baby. The reader now is exploring not the mystery but the themes surrounding birth and marriage. And that’s quite a trick on Spencer’s part.

The selection:

It was only a year they had been there. The house sat empty for a good while. It looked lonely. Eva was happily pregnant again. Hoping this time to succeed, she quit her job. Dick had persuaded her. In the afternoons she walked, sometimes by the Daugherty house. One afternoon in the woods across from the entrance, she saw a small boy who beckoned to her. She followed but he disappeared into the woods. She stood a few steps into the trees and called out, “Riley?” He’s looking for me.

Oh but that was absurd, she realized. The family had long gone and now the For Sale sign was down, someone else would move in.

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