Meg almost walked past the house, as she had done so many times before, but this trip was different. She paused outside the rusted gate, peering through the bars at the once majestic house set on the unkept lawn. The property must have been beautiful under a previous owner, but she could never recall a time when it had looked anything other than old and abandoned. She didn’t remember the car in the drive, but, nearly as rusted as the fence, it did nothing to dispel the eerie atmosphere that clung to the place.
It was that eerie atmosphere that had so intrigued the neighborhood children. She remembered numerous dares growing up. First to touch the fence. Then to enter the yard. Finally, Billy Williamson actually went up to the porch and retrieved one of the numerous newspapers accumulated there. He had returned triumphantly, though she could tell he was trying to conceal his trembling. Margaret had been surprised at this- at 12 he had seemed cool and completely grown up to her eight year old self. She had admired him since the day his family moved in, and was surprised to see this slight if well concealed hint of insecuroty.
Nonetheless, despite whatever fears he had concealed, he had succeeded. He’d tossed the curled paper into the middle of the circle where they had sat waiting. Right on cue an army of spiders crawled out, scattering the screaming kids back into their respective homes. Despite the abrupt end to the evening, tales of his adventures had been spun over and over as the years passes, until one would think he had to climb mountains and battle dragons to reach the porch guarded by the very hounds of hell.
Meg- or Margaret as she had been called at the time- had never taken part in these adventures. Even as one of the youngest of their little gang, she saw herself as much to sophisticated for such nonsense. She was more likely to be found sitting on the porch with her nose in a book, her skirt and blouse perfectly clean and pressed. Sure, she would happily join in a game of cards, but running amok carried too high a risk of getting dirty for her taste.
That was the old Margaret. Everything had changed when she went to college. Her roommate Claire had talked her into joining the women’s rugby team. Anxious to fit in somewhere at the large school, she had agreed before she had any idea what she was getting into. Claire had been patient and encouraging, and talked her into going back every time Meg had wanted to quit. Slowly but surely, she got over her fear of mud and bruises, and discovered a daring, confident side that she’d never known she possessed.
Not that anyone here knew or cared, Meg thought. To her childhood friends she was still the quiet kid who was almost no fun at all, and therefore had not been informed of wherever the rest of them had run off for the evening. But that didn’t matter- she was only here for the summer before returning back to the dorm she now considered home. Still- she wished she had been more willing to play along with their games when she was young. She wondered at the fun she must have missed out on. As if wishing to make up for the past, she returned her attention to the abandoned house.
‘I guess it’s not too late’ she thought, though she almost wished someone had been around to see this change in her outlook. After a quick glance up and down the street, she grabbed hold of the upper rail of the gate and hoisted herself over. Or rather, tried to. At the first tug the gate swung open with the loudest screech she’d ever heard. After knocking her ankle and shins across the other half of the gate, she tumbled gracelessly into the weeds, looking up to see the gate squeal shut behind her.
“Well, I’m in” she said aloud, laughing a bit at her clumsiness, glad that she had given up her skirts for jeans that at least protected her slender legs from any serious damage from the mishap. “I guess little Billy wasn’t such a great climber after all.”
“Actually I’ve heard he’s quite accomplished.” Meg spun toward the voice and found herself face to face with a rather scruffy though familiar looking man.
“Billy! What are you doing here?” She demanded through her shock, rather embarrassed to be caught despite her earlier wish for a witness.
“It’s Bill now, thank you kindly, and I live here.” he replied, helping her brush the dirt off her fitted t-shirt. “Bought the place after graduation. Sure she’s a fixer-upper, but she was a steal. Besides, after living in a frat house for a few years this place may as well be a palace.” Billy looked back over his shoulder at the house, a dreamy look coming over his face as though he were seeing the house as it could be rather than as it was. “The bigger question,” Bill asked turning back to her and fixing her with a hard look, “is what you’re doing on my property.”
“You- your property?” Meg stammered. “How was I to know this was your property? Everyone knows this house is abandoned.”
“Well then everyone knows wrong.” Bill said simply. “And besides- abandoned or not, trespassin’s wrong. What do you think your parents would say if I told them what you’ve been up to? I’m sure they’d be shocked senseless to think their good little Margaret has turned into a criminal after a few months away.”
“Billy I- Bill, there’s no need for that.” Meg huffed indignantly. “I didn’t know this was your house. And besides- you’re the last one to be talking all high and mighty about trespassing, with all the glory your adventure brought you.”
“Humf. Glory.” Billy finally looked way. “I guess it escaped your notice that the incident in question was the last of the dares I took? My Pa got wind of it- the whole town knew after all- and he was none too pleased. He and I had a real long talk- said he wouldn’t be putting up with this childish nonsense, and that he’d take his belt to me if he heard of me doing anything so foolish again. I think I only got off that time because I claimed to have not known any better.”
“I’m sorry, Bill.” Meg said “But I really don’t see what that has to do with me. I was only trying to have a bit of fun- you know, like you used to. I wish I would have joined in years ago, but I figured better late than never.”
“And here I thought you had things more figured out.” Bill shook his head. “ You know, I have half a mind to tell your parents anyway. I’d hate to think this new leaf you’re turning over could be getting you into trouble.”
“Bill please- just leave them out of it. I promise I won’t do it again, ok?”
“Sure, you won’t be climbing back in here, but what else will you be up to this summer? And what about back at school? I know exactly the kind of things that go on there, and I’d rather do whatever I can to make sure you don’t pick up any bad habits.”
“No- really.” Meg said, truly scared for the first time. She certainly didn’t want her parents asking for a detailed accounting of her time away. There were some things they just didn’t need to know about. “Can’t we just keep this between us?”
“Hah! I think your parents would be much better suited to keepin you on the right track. Besides- what would you have me do- take my belt to you or something??”
“Well, you could do that” Meg mumbled, blushing.
“What- afraid you’d get something worse at home? I wasn’t under the impression your folks were the smacking type.”
“They’re not.” Meg replied quickly. “At least I don’t think so- I never gave them much reason to. Mostly they would just say they were disappointed. I never tried to push them- the disappointment was enough. Though sometimes I wish. . .” Meg trailed off, suddenly very interested in her shoes.
Bill reach out and tipped her chin up until she met his eyes. “You do realize it would hurt? You don’t need to do this- I can see you’re sufficiently scared you won’t be reckless again for a good while.”
“Yes, but, I don’t know. I think you should do. . . something. You’re right, I shouldn’t be here.”
“Alright.” Bill replied, still searching her face. “Follow me.” He took her hand- this time it was her that was trembling- and lead her up the sagging steps and into the house.
Once inside, Meg could see that the house truly was inhabited. The walls had been patched and treated with a fresh coat of paint. The furniture- though scarce- was fairly new and would have made the space quite homey if not for the stacks of two by fours and assorted tools piled in every corner. Bill lead her over to the couch. “Are you sure? If we do this, I’ll be sure to do it properly. ” he warned, staring at her steadily and intently. “I meant what I said before about developing bad habits while you’re away. I had thought you more sensible than this, and I’d hate to see that change now that you’re on your own.”
“I’m sure” Meg gulped
“Very well, bend over and place your hands on the seat.”
Meg turned and unbidden, lowered her jeans and panties. Hearing a slight cough behind her, she blushed anew. “Oh- I had just assumed-”
“Never mind- just bend over” Bill quickly replied, and with a soft rustle she knew he was removing his belt.
An age seemed to pass as Bill got situated. Meg jumped when she felt something rest on her back, taking a moment to realize it was just his hand to hold her steady.
She was still feeling silly and recovering from the unnecessary shock when first stroke fell. She knew it would hurt- but hadn’t quite been prepared. She’d spent so long avoiding trouble, it was almost a relief to be finally taken to task over something. Then the second stroke ended that train of thought with an abrupt dash of pain.
The belt continued to strike as she began to struggle, and Bill held her more firmly in place. She had started crying long before the end. When he finally stopped, he gave her a few moments to get her sobbing somewhat under control before pulling her into his arms.
“I hope you remember this for a while, and I hope there’s no hard feelings?” Bill asked tentatively as he brushed her hair out of her face.
“No. I mean, yes- to the first part” Meg replied. “I mean, thanks. You’re right, I deserved that. And thanks for not telling my parents- I much prefer to keep this between us.”
“You certainly have odd preferences, but I’m not one to judge.” With another quick hug Bill walked her to the door. “It’s getting late- you’d better get home unless you want to be explaining to your folks what you’ve been up to.” He smirked as Meg’s blush renewed once again. “Do stop by any time- but mind you- don’t come a-creepin back in here again.” Billy winked at her. “I’ve heard of these things called doorbells that civilized folk use when they come calling.”
“Why would you ever need a doorbell? Your gate makes enough noise you’d know you have visitors before they make it anywhere near the door” Meg replied as with a parting wave she disappeared up the street.