June 30, 2021 445 PM
They moved into the house to begin the end of their lives. They were an elderly couple, the man having just retired, and the woman having already been for some years. Their new home was situated in the Fort Davis Mountains in West Texas. It was a ranch-style home. It had a porch and everything. No one had lived in the house for a very long time. It was old and decrepit, pathetic and gutted. Its walls were dead cold, the warmth that came from being lived in having seeped away over the years. Even the ghosts had moved out. The man called it a “fixer-upper.” The wife called it “not too different from living in a dump.”
The contractors arrived first. With fresh paint and sanded floors, and oil on rusted hinges, they gave the house new life. And the house, after being unlived in and dormant for so many years, woke up. It yawned out of its shutters. It flexed its eaves and groaned. When the old couple moved in, the house welcomed them with open doors.
The man loved his new home. It was his personal paradise, nestled in the mountains far from civilization. It was also his retirement project. More often than not, things worked perfectly fine until he tried to fix them. The house didn’t mind. It was nice to have someone who cared, even if that someone happened to be particularly inept.
The old man spoke to the house while he worked. He would tell it about his life and his regrets. He would pat its walls like the shoulder of an old friend, lean on them, appreciate their stolidity. The house, in turn, pushed the porch swing for him while he sat in it and read McMurtry westerns. It warmed the house up if ever the man got too cold, and cooled it down if ever he got too warm. The man loved the house, and the house loved the man.
The woman hated the house. It was not her paradise. She detested the isolation and loathed the mountains that boxed her in. She missed the city, and would say so without regard for how it made the house feel. She had not wanted to move at all. She did not feel welcome in her new home, and wasn’t. She would be sitting in the living room or cooking in the kitchen and say things like, “I don’t understand why we came here. Look at these floors. Look at these walls. I don’t like it here. I want to go home.” The house knew that the woman would never love it the way her husband did.
The house began to speak to the woman, through the creaks of its stairs and the squeaking of its doors and the settling of its foundation. It told her she was not welcome, that she was not wanted. And the woman, though she did not know what she was hearing, nevertheless understood. She became afraid of the house. She told her husband that the house was evil and that it hated her. He told her she was imagining things.
One evening the woman doused the front stoop in gasoline. Her husband came home just as she was lighting the match. He took the matchbox from her and they had words, and the woman went for a walk.
It was winter, and it was dark. The house saw its chance.
After he mopped up the gasoline, the man went inside. He changed into his favorite sweater, put on his favorite slippers and ignited the gas fireplace. He sat in his favorite chair in the living room and turned on the TV. The house turned up the fireplace, just a degree or two, and gradually, minute by minute, turned the volume down on the television. In the warmth and the quiet, the man fell asleep.
After a time, his wife returned. She went to open the front door, but found it locked. She tried her key, but it would not turn. My doors do not open if I do not want them to. The woman knocked, but her husband was asleep and did not hear. She tried the back door, which didn’t open either, and then tried the windows. She pounded on the doors and the windowpanes and yelled until her voice gave out, but I simply turned the volume on the television back up, and the man no more than snorted and slumbered on.
Finally, the woman hefted a stone the size of a baseball and hurled it at the window. The stone bounced off the glass. My windows do not break if I don’t want them to.
Eventually, the woman gave up and walked away in the direction of the road. I suppose she was going for help. It never came.
Her husband was devastated, of course. At times he still grows morose, and I have to cheer him up to keep those icky dark feelings from permeating my walls too deeply. He misses his wife, which is understandable. But he has me. I remind him of this every day. I tell him there is no need to be afraid. He is not alone. We have each other. That is enough.
Sam is a speculative fiction writer hailing from the distant land of Iowa, or was it Idaho? He can most often be found behind the counter at The Sentinel, or inside his own head. If you’d like to read more of his work, you can do so at samuelfeldstein.medium.com