The Straight & Narrow by James D. Reed

     Before we moved, we lived in a farm house that began coasting slowly downhill like a glacier. The house had a front deck that Dad called “a downhill porch”. The house was so old that Dad said it must have been built back when dinosaurs roamed the hills and valleys of Southeastern Ohio. Flat, level land was at a premium hereabouts.
When I was younger I learned to ride my tricycle on the porch. There wasn’t a level spot to practice anywhere in the yard so I’d coast the trike from one end of the porch to the other. Dad would catch me as I sailed off the low end; it was like my own personal amusement park ride.
     Of course, the house tilted as well as the porch. Along with the garden, the barn, and a goliath maple tree out back. All of it slip-sliding down the hill.
     After we’d lived there a couple years the downhill flow rapidly picked up speed. When Mom planted a garden, she hadn’t considered she’d harvest her tomatoes and cucumbers fifty yards below the spot where they’d sprouted.

     Friends took to launching hang gliders off the porch during the fourth summer at the farm. By then our garden was nearly down on the road below. Inside, we rearranged furniture on the walls—which by now had become our floors.
Our main entrance was the widow’s walk across the roof. Dad invested heavily in ladders. Meanwhile we all slept cuddled in our beds between the windows on the walls of our rooms.

     By year five we could no longer sit on the porch without careening off into the yard
The maple tree, a dazzling explosion of orange each fall, was at least sixty feet tall, and stuck out like a sprouting thumb from the hillside. As everything rolled rapidly down to the road the tree kept pace with us, faithfully shading the house.
     But open windows had become a hazard. Mom warned us to watch where we stepped because of the ten foot drop out our new floors to the yard below.
     The real hassle was the kitchen. The water still worked because the well and the pipes were traveling along with the house. In fact, the water pressure increased as the tilting angle of the farm sharpened. Turning on a spigot shot water directly into your face. So Dad invested another fortune in buckets.
The refrigerator, on its side, became a food chest, and the stove sat on the wall next to it. Bread shot out of the toaster sideways. Mom became expert at launching her muffins from across the kitchen onto the bulls-eye of our plates.
     Luckily, the chimney was on the low end of the house. One winter we piled logs in the fireplace (which was now a fire pit) and pretended we were camping. We gathered around the grate, feet propped up on the mantel, and roasted hotdogs and s’mores over the crackling flames. Dad spun ghost stories about all the people he imagined had lived in this house before us, over the past three million years. With maybe mastodons as pets.

     Fall was up instead of down that last year. When before it had been such hard work to rake up the maple’s autumn shedding, imagine what a treat it was to see thousands of parchment leaves being swept aside by the traffic on the road. Which, of course, was now above us.
     By November the house was completely upside down. Mom and Dad nailed all the furniture to the ceiling. We took the ladders inside to reach the kitchen and the living room, and the roof pitch was parallel to the ground. Our kitchen was two flights up. A bottoms-up stove was worthless, so we cooked on a Coleman camp stove in the attic where we were now living. The fireplace was entirely topsy-turvy but, amazingly, the chimney still drew. However, a source of heat two floors above the living quarters just wasn’t doing the job anymore.
     On New Year’s Eve we tumbled out of the old place just as the maple tree nestled into the porch, and the chimney stones—as ancient as the hill itself—touched to earth once again. The well broke loose behind the house and spilled over the perpendicular lane. Mom had packed all our stuff and was stowing it into our van. Dad rented a U-Haul truck and strapped my new ten-speed Schwinn—a Christmas present—to the back of it .
     “How fast,” I asked him, “how really fast can I ride a bike on something straight?”
     “You mean on level ground?” he replied.
     “Yeah,” I said. “Whatever that is. Straight, level ground.”
     We were moving to Kansas, where I intended to find out.
My stories have appeared in The Nebraska Review, Perceptions Magazine of the Arts, Midwestern Gothic, Nazar’s Looking Back Anthology, Flights, and 4th Floor, among others. Upcoming acceptances so far include stories in Lorelei Signal, Hardboiled Anthology, and Big Pulp Magazine. Writing is a hermetic effort for me, so I spend most of the time with a mellow rescued cat in my camper and write these stories in state park campgrounds on weekdays when there is hardly anyone else around to interrupt.
Interesting Fact about the author: Well, the story has some basis in real life. I lived in a rented farmhouse out on the drummond fields of Southcentral Ohio; the house did seem to be leaning downhill, and the porch listed at a 20 degree angle to one side causing my 3 year old daughter to roll off on her trike one afternoon…unhurt, thankfully.

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