The Man on the Hill

If you go to the tracks at sunset, you may see a mysterious figure. you just might not want to.

Photo by Mohammad Hoseini / Unsplash

This story is a part of a writing experiment I did from May 24 to June 24, 2021. The goal was to write a new story every day. Although I'm happy with them, they are first drafts and many could use some work.

We were lounging on the steps outside the general store. The dust hung in the evening air in a dark grey cloud from all the cars passing through town.

With only two hundred people, Fieldstone wasn’t much a town. But Cassandra, Kyle, Blake, and Bella, and I never cared. This place was our kingdom, where we could do whatever the hell we wanted.

It was the middle of summer, and we’d been out of school for a while. We no longer felt the itch to be free and had settled into the rhythm of the lazy days.

After getting bored watching cars drive by, we struggled to come up with things to do. That’s when Cassandra got her big brain idea: “If we take the tracks out of town now, I bet we’ll see the Umbrella Man.”

She was older than half of us by a year, which made her the leader among us, but I wondered if she seriously believed that bullshit story.

“You don’t seriously believe that bullshit story, do you?” Kyle asked.

He was only five months younger than Cassandra and probably the strongest out of our group.

“No. But I also have never done it, so why don’t we try it?”

The Umbrella Man was a story that had been passed around for a while. I don’t know who started it, but it was always told by someone who was a grade above us, who, of course, heard it from someone a grade above them.

Either way, the story was that you go out on the tracks just as the sun sets, and if you look up the hill, you’d see some dude standing at the top with an umbrella. No one knew who he was, and some said he was a ghost, but if he ever pointed his umbrella at you, you’d die first.

I’d never gone down the tracks and looked from him either, but I gotta say it sure intrigued me—especially if Bella said she’d go too. She was my age and come to town at the start of the year, so to me, spending time around her was a win-win.

“It’s bullshit,” Blake said. He was the same age as me. “I tried it last year and saw shit.”

And if he said he did it, we all believed him because he was the bravest out of all of us.

“Still, it feels dumb to have lived here all my life and never tried,” Cassandra said.

“Fine. It’s better than sitting on the sidewalk all day.”

Blake jumped up and offered Cassandra a hand. I was pretty sure he was trying to hook up with her, and I’m pretty sure she was going to let it happen.

As we headed for the tracks, the only cars left in town were around the bar. As we walked past, we heard the jukebox thudding out a beat, and the place was really rocking.

“Man, we should go in the back and see if we can sneak a few beers,” Blake suggested.

He and Kyle claimed that they had done it a couple of times, but I never felt right about stealing from Mr. Maynard. The moment I got caught, he’d tell my folks, and I’d immediately catch hell.

“Leave it,” Cassandra said, and no one argued. She had a way of never having to explain herself.

We fell in line along the tracks, and I fell in beside Bella.

“You really think the Umbrella Man is bullshit?” she asked. I could tell she was nervous.

“Oh yeah.”

“You sound pretty sure of yourself.”

I leaned in and caught a whiff of deep flowery perfume, and I had to really focus on the conversation. “This town isn’t really known for its high death count of people being killed by a ghost man with an umbrella.”

We all fell quiet as we left the outskirts of town, and Cassandra, Blake, and Kyle fell into a single file in front of us, keeping their eyes peeled up the hill.

“Where are we actually supposed to see him,” Cassandra whispered. I could barely hear her.

Kyle answered, “Lots of people have said that if the sun is touching the hill, you should see him right in front of it.”

Blake, who was our foremost expert, was strangely silent.

As soon as I glanced up, I knew why anyone would think they saw a man with an umbrella. My eyes were blinded by the sun, and my retinas burned with spots. I struggled to not trip on the path in front of me.

“I see nothing,” Kyle complained.

“Me neither,” Bella said. I could hear the relief in her voice.

I tried looking again, and the sun was just as bad—but wait? Did I see something?

I shaded my eyes and squinted to see better through the glare. “What’s that?” I struggled to say.

I focused real hard, and just past the sun, sure enough, there was a man up on that hill, holding an umbrella.

“You see it too?” Cassandra asked.

Kyle and Bella were next. “Yeah, I see him,” they said, nearly in unison. The only one who wasn’t talking was Blake.

I looked over at him, and his face had gone white. “A trick…I, no…I never…” he mumbled and started to back-pedal.

Cassandra glared at him. “Where are you going?”

“I can’t…I promised….” He was now rushing back towards town, occasionally looking back at the Umbrella Man.

That’s when he tripped on the railway ties, falling to the ground, and turned to look up the hill.

I turned to and saw the man level his umbrella towards Blake, and Blake screamed and tried to get up and run, but a lightning bolt shot down from the cloudless sky and struck him.

Blake stumbled sideways and fell off the side of the tracks, and rolled into the grass below. I rushed towards him, but before I even got to him, I knew he was dead. A dark scorch mark ran across his face, and every vein had burst and sketched red lines under his skin.

I heard Bella scream first and looked towards the others. They stared at me in shock, and I knew why: the man with the umbrella was beside me.

Instinctually, I turned to look, but I never saw him. He was always in the blind spot of my peripheral vision.

But I could feel him lean in, and the air smelled like sulphur, and the taste of copper pennies blossomed in my mouth. He whispered in my ear before disappearing like into thin air.

Bella, Cassandra, and Kyle approached me slowly, first looking at Blake’s body before turning to me and asking what the Umbrella Man said.

But I never answered and slowly walked back to town, half in terror and half in a trance.

For the next thirty years of my life, up until this moment now, I’ve never told anyone. But so that you never have such a curse hanging over you, I will share what the Umbrella Man said: “This will be your fate if you walk these tracks again.”

And because of that, I never, ever returned.

Thank you so much for reading.

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