And things are about to get personal.
Last House Burning is part urban fantasy, part satire and all adventure. After all, the last thing you expect on a family vacation is to discover that there are pockets of Hell here on Earth – and a rowdy crew of Heaven and Hell employees running the entire show.
I like movies, video games, cheese, shoes and my husband. I’m technically an adult but most of the time I feel like I’m just pretending to be one.
That night, Ben lay fully-clothed on his bed, thinking. No one else seemed fascinated with Verla and her big house, and he felt a little foolish about his persistence with finding out what her story was. But he had a sense of curiosity, not just about the house but Verla herself, and he had a strange but distinct feeling that whatever was going on in her life, he could help her.
But she hadn’t been particularly forthcoming about her circumstances, and everyone else was showing a frustrating lack of interest. What did people do when they were in this situation?
In the movies they trotted down to their local library, found a large dingy room with pools of sunlight dropping through the windows, and searched through huge, dusty tomes until they found the answer. But Ben didn’t know what he was looking for in the first place. Maybe finding out more about the town’s history would be a good start.
“Mom?” he called, jumping up from his bed. “Do you know if there’s a library around here? Would it be open now? I need to look something up!”
“It’s ten o’clock at night,” his mother’s voice floated back to him. “Can’t you just Google it?”
Right, of course. Ben rolled his eyes at himself.
His phone still wouldn’t connect to the internet, so he settled himself in front of his father’s laptop in the lounge and brought up a search page. Feeling more than a bit like a stalker, he typed in ‘Verla’ and ‘Carmenton’.
Like it was going to be that easy, he told himself – did he expect that she’d have a personal website with her full story detailed?
He searched for ‘Carmenton fire’ and scrolled through the results. Swimming carnivals from 1950 onwards. The official website for the bottle cap museum. After he’d clicked on a few dead ends, the website for the Carmenton Historical Society flashed up in front of him.
There was a page dedicated to the fire, with a few black and white photos of burned houses and a list of everyone who had died. Ben scanned through the names and felt a small pang when he saw the name ‘Diamant’ appearing a number of times. He’d had no idea his mother’s ancestors had been so involved in this little town and its big tragedy.
The photo gallery contained sepia images of large, imposing houses: the mansions before the fires ruined their grandeur. Even though the pictures were faded and marked, he could see how beautiful the town must have been. There were groups of people posing stiffly in front of the houses, with the formal faces that usually appeared in the photographs of that time.
He scrolled through a whole page of these photos, and sighed to himself. It hadn’t told him anything he didn’t know already. He’d just have to go back and pester Verla again. At least she’d said they could be friends. He closed the lid of the laptop and with nothing better to do, went to bed to read his book for a while before going to sleep.
Hours later, Ben woke with a start, and lay in bed listening to the silence of the night. Something was sitting at the back of his mind, something was trying to tell him something…
He leapt out of bed, into the lounge room and back to the laptop. He hunted through the browser history to find the historical society’s website, and clicked on the photo gallery. After scrolling past several images, he finally came to the one he was looking for. A picture of a man and a woman with three little boys and a teenage girl. Ben stared at the picture, then zoomed in impatiently. The girl’s face stared at him, unsmiling and formal. She was dressed in a high-collared dress with a long flared skirt, which reminded him of some pictures he’d seen of Amish people. He looked from her clothes to her face, the dark eyes, the black hair and the now-familiar sombre expression.
“Oh no,” Ben whispered. “Verla.”
(3) ecopies of Last House Burning by Katy Scott
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