This story is by Mara Eason and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
When a house is left all alone, what does it think? What does it feel? What does it wonder and hope and dream? Do humans ever imagine that? When they build houses that are meant to shelter and protect them, what do they think happens when they leave it to rot? When they build houses meant to hold love and care for those that inhabit them, what do those humans think when they abandon them?
So when the House finally has a family to call its own, can you blame it for feeling angry? When humans built it just to suffer but then come back to it when they have nowhere else to go, can you blame it for feeling bitter? When a human mother of two, standing proud and tall, decides to punish the House for being so battered and broken that its soul is corrupted, can you blame the House for turning malignant?
Every time the Mother puffed her chest out in pride when she considers herself clever or vowed to tame the wretched house, the House could feel rage and hatred overcome it. The basement floor churned and bubbled like an upset stomach, the foundations of the House began to creak and groan in the wind like aching bones, and in the walls of the hallways that shouldn’t exist, lesions formed. Bloody and fleshy lesions ran deeper than the walls and spread throughout the House like the hatred that threatened to consume it.
The Mother stood tall and brave next to her children when she proclaimed to defeat the mean and scary house. The children clung to her like a lifeline and trusted their mother’s fearless words. Of course, she wasn’t afraid, she was not afraid of anything! The Mother thought to herself how she wished it were true as she sprinted down the hallway toward the sound of her screaming children.
No matter how hard the Mother ran or called for her children, the House was unwavering in its punishment. Room after room, hallway after hallway, the Mother was only met with emptiness and silence from the House.
Still and lifeless like it had been when she first arrived, the House taunted her with its appearance of normalcy. The same house that moved her chairs out from underneath her, spat out her belongings and hounded her and her children with the animateness of a human, stood stock still as if that’s what it always has done.
The Mother finally stopped her desperate running and stood in the middle of the dark hallway, chest heavy and face wet with tears she doesn’t remember letting shed. The salty taste of tears mixed with the metallic taste of blood as she bit her lip and forced herself to take a deep breath. With all the pride of a human, the Mother stood in the pitch-black home and tried to negotiate with the House.
“House, let’s give it a rest,” she said into an empty room. Though the House wasn’t that big, the sound seemed to echo back to her in a mocking way. “Aren’t you tired of this?”
The House showed no sign of life. She prayed that the House couldn’t feel the way her feet trembled against the smooth wooden floor.
“You never really wanted to us here, did you? I guess I have been a bit stubborn but I’ve run out of options. Who else would be crazy enough to stay in a wretched home like you?” The woman said. She whipped her head around in the darkness, straining her eyes to look for any sense of responsibility from the House. The House was cold like always but the woman felt so hot it was suffocating. Her children’s wails echoed in her head, so close but just out of reach.
“Let my children go! Let them…let them go and we’ll leave you alone…as you always have been.”The woman said, firm voice trembling. A smirk spread across her face as she felt something shift within the House. It remained still but the air became intense, the House seemed to vibrate with anger in a way that the woman could almost hear. She heard the House creak and groan but then she was met with nothing but silence. Desolate and agonizing complete silence as her children could no longer be heard. A numb, weightless feeling overtook her as she had just lost her lifeline in the cold, dark ocean.
Her teeth scraped together as she clenched her jaw and an ugly scream escaped her. Her knuckles began to bleed and ache as the woman punched at the wall with all her might. The sound of the blows echoed off the walls like thunder.
“You terrible, selfish, miserable monster house! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you! I swear I’ll kill you! I’ll tear you down, piece by piece, with my bare hands if I have to! You hateful, useless heap of trash!”
The wall broke and splintered under her fists as she shrieked. And when the woman’s fist landed on what seemed to be flesh, she began to claw through it with sick delight.
The human clawed through the bloody lesions of the House, perfectly manicured nails stained with thick blood and viscera. She heaved and growled as she tore through the soft flesh until her hands reached open air.
She squeezed through the hole she made and landed in the room with a sickening plop. This room was the very room the House has hidden from her all this time.
The living room.
Picturesque and charming, it looked like it belonged in a dollhouse. Comfortable-looking furniture embellished with cozy blankets sat facing the fireplace which had everything there for a fire.
The House seemed almost like it was embarrassed. A high-pitched sound echoed in the woman’s ears as the wind howled outside like the House was screaming in pain. The foundations of the House made a low groan combined with the squish of the flesh as it shifted. The woman stood in a daze and before she knew it, the room had closed her in. No lesions, no blood, not even the promise of a doorway. Wall to wall, she was boxed in all alone. Without her children beside her, the woman felt small and vulnerable like a child amid the tall walls of the House. The overwhelming feeling of emptiness she wished she would never feel again. Her anger subsided and instead of pained tears, the woman shed small delicate tears as she trudged over to the center of the room.
This was the House’s bitter revenge. This human would be forced to rot here. The House watched as the human collapsed into a heap on the floor, weeping and clawing at her own clothes, reveling in the miserable little joy that this human would know even a fraction of what it’s felt all these years. The prideful woman lay there on the floor, crying like a little girl.
When the woman pulled herself up and sparked a flame, the House couldn’t even blame her. It was grateful, in a way, for what she was about to do. That dreadful woman was going to give the poor House a kindness no human has afforded it yet.
Instead of raising the flame to take both of them out of their misery, the Mother gently lit a fire in the hearth. The Mother sat on one of the plush couches and wrapped a blanket around her bare shoulders and allowed her feet to rest on the rug. She closed her eyes with a sigh, tension disappearing from her rigid body.
It wondered what the human could possibly be thanking it for but then it noticed what she was listening to. The rain. The soft sound of the rain pitter-pattering off the roof of the House. The woman smiled a gentle and genuine smile. “Thank you for being my home. I’ll never take for granted what a comfort it is to be sheltered when it rains. I know what it’s like to be alone and neglected. I’m sorry I hurt you. I just…Thank you for being here for my family. You put us through hell but I’m still grateful for you. A real house that’s ours and can’t be taken from us.” She stared with wistful eyes into the fire. “I know my arrogance got us off on a bad start but I promise that my family and I will never leave you…if you’ll have us.”
All of the Mother’s exhaustion caught up to her and the warmth of the fire lulled her to sleep. Proud, strong, and vulnerable, the Mother put herself at mercy of the House. No matter how strong the human is, they always come home to the protection of their house. Do humans ever think of that? The Mother won’t remember her children falling asleep next to her or understand how all the issues miraculously went away but that’s a house’s job after all.