I was a good house. Prim, with whitewash and neat shutters, thick floorboards planed smooth and polished to a gleam. Generations of children pattered my halls and found hiding nooks where adults forgot to search. Gardens and tree swings appeared and vanished like the pattern of the moon.
There was a barn for a time, though he aged too quickly for me to know him well. Eventually other houses appeared on the horizon and fields grew smaller. Lanes dug into the soil with the intent to stay. People grew more hurried as they gathered closer together, planting fat new identical homes so snugly that there was scarce air to breathe. I couldn’t tell if it was an unfortunate result of the cloning process or some new breed that made the new houses regrettably poor company. They had no pride. No will to sustain. Their materials were weak and sickly. Arrogantly, I pitied them. They wouldn’t last any longer than the barn had. Oh, but I was wrong.
More houses spilled in until they hemmed me in on all sides, looming over my now humble garden. The ones that decayed were replaced or re-pieced with equally weak materials. Worse, my own repairs were met with warped, thin boards that didn’t fit the way the old ones had. My rooms emptied as the generations moved on until the emptiness was complete. My paint was left to peel away, exposing the tender boards beneath to the shrill elements. I called to my family but no one came. No one at all. I wept in the shadows of the clones.
“I dare you to run in there and touch the porch,” said Dorothy.
“They say you can hear a woman moaning at night,” said Nettie.
Marisol opened the rusted metal gate, cringing at the loud shriek it made. “Just to the porch,” she said, and she ran.
The girls were giggling nervously when she returned and the three of them hurried away before they truly allowed the fear to get to them. Behind them, the old scary house groaned, and while Dorothy and Nettie gave shrill cries and ran faster, Marisol couldn’t help but think it the saddest sound she’d ever heard.
Through the years that followed, Marisol found herself again and again standing at the open gate to the old house. It didn’t frighten her the way it did the other kids. Instead, it set her mind ablaze with possibilities. The house on the hill everyone called it, because in the days before the town grew up around it, that had been just what it was. She tried to imagine flowers lining the broken walk. The lawn had been let go long before she was born and stood as tall as her waist.
The children were the only ones to come near after a while, but it was no solace. They whispered lies about me and used me as a game to frighten each other. Then there came a girl who watched me differently than the others. I sang to her every time she passed so she wouldn’t forget me, and she didn’t. She tossed wildflower seeds into my front lawn. It wasn’t until the next spring when she saw the blooms that she gained the courage to tiptoe into my backyard and do the same there. It wasn’t the garden that had once been my cushion, but it was the color of life, and that was something.
It was years before she tried the door, and though it had been locked, I made certain it opened for her. It was difficult, having her see me like this. The proud, smooth boards of my youth had dried and shriveled. Wallpaper hung in ribbons and ulcers ballooned on my walls where water had corrupted their strength. I kept quiet while she explored, afraid to frighten her away. Several days later, she arrived with a broom.
Marisol stopped abruptly, her stomach falling to her toes. She recognized that kind of equipment. She’d been around enough of her father’s work sites to know demolition machinery.
“No!” she cried, dropping the picture she had brought to hang on the wall of the second bedroom.
She was fifteen. She knew by now that she had no ownership of this beloved house, but through the years it had come to be hers in her mind. Her moments of sanctuary in its rooms, loving how the sunlight filtered in through the old warbled glass to warm the space, loving even how the old floor boards groaned as she walked them. It was hers. She was the one who loved it. She’d assumed she’d have time to grow up, find out who owned it, save up money, and buy it someday. The demolition machines had torn up her wildflowers.
Marcus was floored when his daughter burst into his office with tears streaming down her cheeks. Every terrifying thing came into his mind at once, and it was with effort that he realized as she sobbed into his shoulder that she was upset about a… house.
“Sweetie, what on earth are you talking about? What house?”
“Daddy, you can buy houses. You do it for work. Please! You have to buy the house on the hill! They’re going to tear it down and they can’t! I love that house!”
Marcus wondered mildly if he were still asleep in bed, dreaming a day of work, and this small episode. The more he listened to his daughter’s confessions of habitual trespassing, and the lengths she had taken through the years to improve upon the property, the more reality curled through his gut.
“Do you know how dangerous that was?” he asked. Marisol stared at him as if he’d slapped her. “Sweetie, do you have any idea how many ways you could have been hurt, or worse, and nobody would have known where to look for you?” He found his hands shaking the more he thought about the possibilities. “To start with, you’re grounded. Go home immediately and stay there until your mother and I get home. Do you understand me?”
Marisol backed away, her tears returned. “Daddy, I thought you of all people would understand,” she said, her voice rough. “You see, when you look at a building. You see its soul. What it needs to be right again.”
“Soul?” scoffed Marcus. Inwardly he sighed. His daughter was a romantic, through and through. He wondered what books she’d been reading to give her such notions. “I have respect for quality workmanship and good design.”
“Exactly!” she shouted. “You’ve seen the house. You know I’m right.” She broke down again and turned the knob, pausing in the open door. “It was going to be mine someday,” she said through her hair. “I was going to show them all that there’s nothing scary about it. The other kids, they only see what they’re told to see. I thought you saw with your eyes, but I was wrong.”
Her words rang in the air long after the door slammed behind her. Marcus kept staring at it, wondering why those words had struck so deeply. He knew exactly which house she meant. It had been the frightening abandoned house during his childhood, too. It had always given him the willies. Had he seen it with his own eyes? Marcus sank down in his chair and tried to focus on the plans sprawled across his desk. No good. He picked up the phone and called his wife.
“I just had the oddest conversation with Marisol,” he said when she picked up. “She’s got me thinking.”
I was afraid when the beasts came. They had monstrous teeth, like the dragons the children used to tell each other about. They hovered, ready to feast on me, and I admit I cried with fear. I called to my friend, the girl who had shown me kindness. She ran away, though, when she saw the beasts and I couldn’t blame her. It was good that she saved herself.
But then, they turned and filed away without even taking a nip. Men and women flooded into my yard with hammers and paint. I saw my friend from time to time, conferring with the man in charge, her father, as these strangers painted over the painful exposed wood, straightened my drooping shutters and patched my roof. My rooms were papered and polished. My floors were stained to a gloss. Furniture came in, and curtains. And finally, my friend Marisol and her family.
I am a house filled. I’m filled with family, Marisol’s family. Generations have passed, as they do, and her grandchildren now patter down my halls and find hiding nooks where even Marisol forgets to search. I’m filled with hope for the future as this city has filled with the designs of Marisol and her children. Beautiful, intelligent buildings worth knowing. Most of all, I’m filled with love and gratitude, for the child who decided to see with her eyes.
Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at http://www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up one of W. C. McClure ‘ s books. Thanks!