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He had finally escaped. The boy was so weak he couldn’t knock, he hurt so bad his fingernails ached. When Nancy opened the door she scooped up his fragile body and wiped his hands and face. He slept for hours. When he woke she bathed his battered body and fed him broth. He didn’t talk much at first, but Nancy’s presence began to comfort him and he opened up about the horrors he had seen.

His name was Timmy, he was eleven. He was sold to the circus at the age of five. A few years back their train derailed in the hills. What’s left of them still live there, twisted by the perverse nature of the family who owns the haunted homestead, the Corbins. Nancy was sickened to know the reality behind the rumors she heard growing up. She knew about the Corbin family. They lived a few ridges over. Everyone knew about them. Townsfolk called their homestead the “Branson Haunted Hills”.

Timmy told her about Billy Corbin and his girlfriend, the girl who killed her parents over on Sycamore Church Road. He told her how they would snatch people from as far as two counties over, drag the victims through the woods camping along the way and eventually return home with the "new members". The homestead was crowded with gypsies, witches, and men who walked around with every weapon you could think of and some you wouldn't want to imagine. There were strange animals. Some of the people wore masks. Timmy never saw their real faces. He told her about the cage, the horrible things he was fed, the raw flesh of the dead and the dog food. She didn’t know what to think, so she called the Sheriff.

***


Sheriff Everett drove reluctantly to the homestead. He parked close to the barn and sat in his truck looking over the property. He pulled out his gun and cocked it, just in case. There was a long fence with heaps of old junk blocking his view. He could see a small cemetery with homemade tombstones. He wondered how many Corbins had lived and died here.

When he got out of his car a blast of air raised the hair on his the back of his neck. He had the feeling that he was being watched, he could feel the eyes in the dark looking at him, but he saw nothing. He headed around the barn looking for a way in. Mrs. Corbin startled him. She was an older woman, haggard and a face disfigured from years of abuse. She was trembling at the sight of the Sheriff. She knew that Timmy had gone missing. Was their world about to end? Sheriff Everett stated that he just wanted to follow up on a call he had received. Ask them a few questions and take a look around. With great hesitation she motioned for him to come inside. He reluctantly followed her inside the house, which was part of a large barn.

As soon as they entered, the stench took his breath away. By the time they made it to the bathroom his eyes had welled up. He covered his mouth and nose with his sleeve. Pill bottles and filth were everywhere. There were spiders, maggots and cockroaches everywhere you looked. Dirty, blood stained clothes were piled high. Nasty rusted red water was dripping from the sink. He thought he was going to vomit. He gasped when Mrs. Corbin opened a door leading out to a garden area and the fresh air hit his face. Mrs. Corbin hadn't spoken a word. She led him around a strange corridor where something caught his eye. It was a cage lined with disfigured dolls. “Girls,” she said. “Play.” He looked over at her. Her teeth were nearly gone and her breath smelled like the bathroom they’d just been in. She was still shaking and there was blood on her apron. His eyes met hers. “Chickens,” she snapped. “Dirty birds.”

She led him through the kitchen where the stench of rotten food and the metallic smell of blood forced him to swallow his own vomit. They slipped out a side door. After a bit of a hike, they were at the pond. There were buckets of blood and guts sitting near the bank. “Pigs,” she said, moving an imaginary knife across her neck. He looked across the pond and saw a lean-to. He’d been sick enough for one day and was not up to crossing that pond. They turned and headed to what looked like a makeshift circus made from scrap wood and the remains of a derailed circus train. There was a large tent with faded colors, and the scent of popcorn and cotton candy filled the air. He had an odd feeling sweep over him. He thought he heard a child’s voice. He scanned the trees and zeroed in on a figure. It was a child, but its face was concealed with a dark mask. His hair stood up again. The child ran into the woods. He jogged to catch up with Mrs. Corbin as she led him back to the barn. He needed to leave. He looked straight into Mrs. Corbin’s cold, dead eyes and he asked if she knew Timmy. "Dunno no Timmy," she said, as she shut the gate behind him. That was all he needed to hear, he couldn't take another minute of her, of the homestead, of the bizarre and disturbing.

***


Sheriff Everett told Nancy that as far as he could tell, they weren’t breaking any laws. Timmy listened to the cowardly sheriff. His eyes watered up and hands started shaking, and just as sure as he appeared, he disappeared. He flew right past Nancy and the Sheriff, running like a deer fading into the woods, never to be heard from again.

The Corbins are still around. The locals keep their distance. People talk about the smells, the smoke, the saws running at night. Every once in awhile a farm animal goes missing. No one dares to look for it. They know who has it. The Branson Haunted Hills hide the stories, the hills hide the sins, and the hills hide the Corbins…