This story is by LJ Newlin and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“A broken has-been writer stowed away somewhere in the boondocks in a smart house. Yeah, what can go wrong there?” Lily said under her breath.
She lugged her suitcase, briefcase, and grocery bag complete with two bottles of wine and a bottle of Crown Royal to the front door. The gentle sound of chimes preceded a mechanical female-sounding voice.
“Please enter your ten-digit passcode into the keypad.”
“I don’t have a ten-digit passcode.”
“Please check your email from Andyhouse.com.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, there’s no internet here!”
“Please standby…The Internet now available for the next 15 minutes.”
Lily frantically searched her email account to find her code and punched in the numbers. The door opened and this time a male voice spoke.
“Good afternoon Miss Lillian. Your pre-determined settings are now in effect for the next 7 days. If you have any questions just ask for, Andy.”
Lily left all but her liquor by the living room couch and headed to the kitchen. She attempted to open the refrigerator, to no avail.
Frustrated, she called out. “Uhm, Andy? How do I open the refrigerator?”
“My pleasure ma’am.”
With that, the fridge door opened.
“Andy, do I have to ask for assistance for everything in this house?”
The voice now emanated from the television. “May I please bring your attention to the television screen. There you will find a list of all the automated items in the house and the Andy assist options. If you have any other questions. Just ask Andy.”
“Oh great! seven days secluded with a talking house as my sole companion.”
That night after her gourmet frozen dinner, Lily sat by the fireplace with a glass of wine. She stared out the cathedral windows at the breathtaking view. A doe with two fawns grazed peacefully on the front lawn. So far, her agent had been right, this was the perfect place to relax and hopefully rid herself of her writer’s block. Tired from the arduous and long drive she walked down the hallway. Motion censored lights went on and off to light her path to the master bedroom. With her scotch in one hand her laptop and phone in the other, she snuggled in under the down comforter.
I’ll start the next best seller in the morning. Yeah right, who am I kidding? Lily thought to herself and told Andy to turn off the lights and blackness enveloped her.
A grey morning filled the skies, along with a light drizzle. Andy greeted her in a soft voice.
“Good morning Miss Lillian. Did you have a pleasant night? There’s fresh coffee brewing.”
“I slept alright. Coffee would be great. Are there any sweet rolls in that fancy kitchen?”
“Yes ma’am. I will light up the cupboard where they are located.”
“Wow, this is almost as good as a five-star hotel.”
Lily spent most of her day curled up in an overstuffed chair, with a lap blanket, and her laptop. A cup of coffee on the stand beside the chair. She had fits of starting a story, then deleting it. Restless, she thought about a walk but it was cold and wet. Plus, she was a city girl. The great outdoors with wild animals was terrifying to her. All she could think of was, “lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!” She knew that was ridiculous, but still, there could be bears, coyotes, wolves, or wild boar. Instead, she asked Andy to play classical music in the background. Still, nothing came to her. Defeated, she prepared a platter of cheese, crackers, and salami and went to bed where her bottle of wine was waiting.
Around mid-night, thunder cracked so loud it woke her up just in time to see everything light up from a flash of lightning. The lights flickered, then went out. Moments later, the lights flickered again and a computerized voice said, “House reboot.”
She awoke to a frigid house. The silence was almost deafening. Sleepily, she checked the thermostat in the hallway. It read 63 degrees.
“Andy, can you turn the heater up to 73 degrees?”
“I do not recognize your voice as an authorized user. Please go to Andyhouse.com and enter your authorization code.” A computerized voice automated.
Lily went to the kitchen. No coffee. She tried to open the cupboards, the fridge, to no avail. Even the tap water would not respond to her hands waving under the faucet. Every time she asked Andy for assistance, she heard the same unfeeling response. Fortunately, she still had the platter of cheese and crackers, the other bottle of wine, and her precious scotch. She crawled back under the comforter, snagged her laptop and phone off the end of the bed, and tried the internet. Nothing. Out of desperation, she sent a text message for help and hit send. The message failed, over and over.
A cold front came in, bringing with it snow. By mid-afternoon, there were at least eighteen inches on the ground. Even if she wanted to leave, the roads were impassable, and that was not a four-wheeled drive parked outside, quickly getting buried in snow. The temperature inside had dropped to 50 degrees. Her cheese and crackers were gone, her wine gone and the only fluid she had to drink was a quickly dwindling bottle of scotch.
“Please Andy, turn the heat on so I don’t freeze to death. Let me into the fridge so I don’t starve. Please, Andy, Please!”
“I do not recognize your voice as an authorized user. Please go to Andyhouse.com and enter your authorization code.” The computer voice stated.
Lily felt a tightness in her chest and a pit in her empty stomach. She tried the two doors to the cabin but both were locked with no emergency access, such as a key. Out of desperation, she picked up a dining room chair and slammed it against the front cathedral window. All it did was bounce away.
Her brain playing out different scenarios, “If I could last a few more days, maybe someone would come to clean the house after my stay was over. Then they would find me. How long can someone last without food or water?” She couldn’t think of any answers and crawled back into bed, clutching her dead phone and laptop.
Finally, the sun came out but the landscape was covered in snow. She could see a faint outline of her car. Today she was determined to find the breaker-box, in hopes of resetting the house to get Andy back. Her IT guy always said, “reboot and call me if you still have a problem.” She pillaged through any drawer that would open, hoping to find something on the “smart house.” Nothing. Opening and closing doors in the four-bedroom cabin, she searched every wall and every closet. She found a utility closet near the kitchen. As she opened the door, the computerized voice rang out.
“That area is off-limits for non-authorized personnel.”
“Hmm, I must be on to something. I’m turning you off!”
With that, an ear-piercing alarm blared.
“Good, I hope the whole mountain hears it.”
Lily found the breaker-box and flipped them all off, waited a few minutes, and flipped them back on. Nothing. The lights didn’t come back on, no impersonal computer voice, nothing. Lily slid down the wall into a ball and cried for hours, huddled in the closet with the comforter wrapped around her.
The hopeful sound of snowmobiles roared up the snow-covered road. Lily weakly spoke, “Andy, turn on all the lights.”
The lights flickered, “I do not recognize your voice as an authorized user. Please go to Andyhouse.com…”
Lily screamed with everything she had left, “Shut up! Stop it, I can’t stand it. Shut up!”
The snowmobiles sounded closer. Lily ran to the cathedral windows, frantically waving her arms. A moment later she realized the tinted windows blocked anyone from seeing inside the cabin. Her next option was a fire. She ran to the bedroom and pillaged through her purse, finding a book of matches she picked up at some bar. Grabbing any paper she could find, she threw it in the fireplace and set it ablaze.
“The fireplace is for simulated gas logs only.” Her computer companion announced, but to her surprise, the vent opened to allow the smoke to release up the chimney.
It must be a safety precaution. Lily thought and hoped that she would finally be rescued from the “smart house” from hell.
Her hopes dashed as the sounds diminished. “Oh please God, don’t abandon me here.”
Lily took a foam stuffed pillow from the couch and threw it on the fire. Black smoke billowed up the chimney. Exhausted, and deflated, she collapsed on the floor, waiting and listening.
In a sleepy haze, she heard chimes and a voice saying, “Please enter your ten-digit passcode into the keypad.”
“I don’t have internet.” Lily squeaked.
“Please stand by…The Internet now available…”
“But…my devices are dead.”