Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
It’s funny, really.
You finish college, get yourself a degree, maybe stay shacked with your folks for a few years longer while the paychecks build up and, well, eventually? Eventually, your own place pops up. You wake up one morning as an overgrown version of the kid you used to be, and the next, well, you’re a man. You’ve got bills and responsibilities and you’re suddenly allowed to start harboring expectations of your own – but most importantly, you’re free. You’ve got your own space.
I don’t know at which point it happened for me, but my parents’ home just stopped doing it. Things that had been so cozy for so long suddenly became cramped and annoying. My own room barely felt private, I could barely afford to stock the fridge with what I felt like eating; but the point is that once I stood in front of that house, just a short drive away from the highway, I felt free. The real estate agent told me it was a bit of a fixer-upper thanks to some obviously shoddy construction, but it didn’t really bother me.
I mean, damnit… I was home!
It took a while for me to start noticing just how crooked the place was. I didn’t complain, though – I’d set a price limit that pretty much had “starving artist” written on it, and I loved the location. The para-transport service worked flawlessly in the area, and I still had the advantage of general solitude. The place was newly built, too. Aside from these vices, that crooked appearance it had? Everything was absolutely flawless. It wasn’t big, really – one bedroom, one guest room, a reasonably-sized living area right next to a kitchenette with its own little stretch of counter-top. That’s it. There was the basement, too, plus the parking lot, but these wouldn’t catch my eye until much later. The real estate agent had told me it had been a real find at this particular price margin, and that for some odd reason, none of the nearby developers remembered building anything on that particular lot. For that matter, for all the searching she did, she never did find the lot number for that house in any of the local registries!
Now, a savvier person than myself would’ve realized something was odd a long time ago. I didn’t. I was young, I worked three odd jobs to pay the bills, the place wasn’t much more than a dorm for myself and my occasional friends, and I was generally out at all hours of the day and night. More often than not, the place was locked up tight. If distance hadn’t been enough of a factor to dissuade any would-be burglars, then my meagre possessions would’ve done the job. Like a lot of newly emancipated guys around my age, I lived surrounded by hand-me-downs and thrift store horror stories, horribly mismatched items I didn’t really care all that much about.
Like I said, though; the house was crooked. Slightly stilted to the left, if I remember correctly. The oddest thing is that it only became obvious if you looked at the upper corners in each room, where the ceiling and walls met. Pull out a laser guide, though, or your smartphone’s level app, and you’d realize that the place was actually leveled out. Your eyes would keep reporting the odd bend, but everything else reacted as though the house was entirely straight.
The basement, though, was interesting. First, the entire place smelled new. You ever smelled a freshly installed window frame before? It’s got that acrid, almost antiseptic tang, that unmistakably “new plastic” scent that sticks on clam-shell wrappers in a more muted variant. Some friends of mine called it the “new keyboard” smell – but the thing is, the house looked like it’d just been built, and it didn’t show up on any lot registries. Everyone around me more or less went through the same logical hoops and assumed the place hadn’t been fully squared out before the real estate agent sold it to me. Even she was surprised, and her own bosses just shrugged it off, assuming some paperwork was missing. Everyone told me I’d eventually receive a call from City Hall, asking me to come and fix up a few administrative niggles or issues, basically sign my name on a couple dotted lines.
The basement, though? That looked old. The door leading down had that same plastic-ish smell, but the stairs were creaky, the wood polished by what looked like generations of someone’s routine trekking up and down. I’d say about twenty inches were poking from below the ground, leaving enough space for a couple windows. The place was barren, like I said – all concrete. It was cracked and pitted and stained and, well, nevermind how new the rest of the place was, the basement just didn’t fit. At first, I figured I’d just bought someone else’s semi-thorough renovation job, something that had involved tearing down an original construction while keeping the foundations and the basement.
Things actually started making a turn for the sinister around that basement, now that I think about it… The place was poorly lit, no matter how much you tried making sure nothing grew over the windowpanes, outside. I couldn’t afford to have other lights installed, so I stuck with the one dingy lightbulb that tried its damndest to cast some shadows in the corners of the room. At night, that really made me anxious. I’d watch a couple horror movies, realize I’d left the laundry in the washer and needed to make the switch before the clothes would start stinking up the place, get down there and generally – hate being there. The shadows in the corners were too thick for my liking, but I figured that was just me being unused to having my own basement, my own dark patches. There was nobody around to help me cement any sort of routine into place, so I guess the newness of these shadows never really left me.
So one night, I’m bringing my laundry upstairs, when I hear the sound of something like pebbles gently hitting the ground. I turn around, spin my head this way and that for a few seconds and generally try to get a bead on the sound, until I realize it’s coming from the far-right corner, directly opposite from my washer and dryer. I don’t have a flashlight, of course, because stupid first-time home-owner, so I nearly break my neck trying to angle the one lightbulb I’ve got in that corner’s direction…
There’s a crack snaking down alongside the right-hand wall, and I’ve never noticed it before. The little pitter-patter I was hearing? That was the crack gently widening, pushing down towards the floor and making little flecks of surface-level paint and concrete fall to the ground. Again, I don’t think much of it at first, filing that under the several anecdotal problems I’d noticed that kind of lent credence to the fact that the place was, indeed, a fixer-upper. I mean, I’m sort of past due for my first lessons on caulking up walls, right?
A few days pass, and that same pitter-patter of falling flecks of paint and concrete wakes me up in the middle of the night. I remember confusing it for a leaky faucet, so I got out of bed and double-checked my two sinks. They were both fine. As I’m heading back to bed, I have a clear view of my room’s rear wall, by the light of my bedside table. That allows me to notice the exact same crack, snaking its way down towards the floor, dead center in the wall. It’s the shape of the crack that sticks out, really. Something about it makes me take a peek downstairs, in the basement, and allows me to confirm that odd hunch I’d been having. The pattern is identical, every single ripple and wave across both crack is identical. Even the size and shape of the flecks of plaster and paint are the same!
I remember staring at the basement’s crack, at that realization, and briefly feeling something ominous, something cold, slither deep into my chest. Then, maybe out of exhaustion, that somehow snaps back into place. I mean, really. Matching cracks in the walls? I shake my head and tell myself I’ll just buy some caulk at the hardware store, the next day, and try and work on my first patch-up job ever.
Had to happen at least once, right?
I did caulk everything shut the very next day, and I do remember feeling pretty good about myself for that. The creaking noises, though – they’d start during the following night.
New houses don’t settle into place, especially not in warm climates like mine. New houses just are, and it takes a decade or two before humidity does its work and nails start to pop, right? Well, at night, once everyone was gone and there’d be nobody left but myself and that place, it’d creak. Not just a little, oh no – a lot. Far too much to fit any sort of recently constructed house. I had contractors come and give it a once-over, I even had one of the walls between the bathroom and the living room partially torn down, just so I could look at the retaining beams! Everything was fine if I went by the contractors’ word – but God, did the place freaking creak at night!
I’d go to bed, the floor popping and snapping under my feet the whole while, and maybe have an hour or two’s worth of peace and quiet. Then, absolutely out of nowhere, the hallway’s floor would let out loud, agonizing groans, almost as if someone were tearing up the flooring right outside my bedroom door! Sometimes, the sound would be syncopated, like someone hurriedly making straight for my bedroom and just – stopping. Straight in front of it, too. About three months in, I couldn’t even sleep in my own room; the doorframes creaked and popped so much it sounded like someone was banging on the doorpane all night long!
If only that had been it. If only nothing else had happened… A year in, I’d wake up and go for a drink at the kitchenette, and find myself staring at the pitch-black emptiness, outside. By day, you could see a fairly wide expanse of the kind of underbushes that make up unattended lots that are just waiting for the construction crews to show up. I’d hear rodents and crickets, plenty of cats from the surrounding neighbourhoods, too. The developers seemed more interested in giving my street a wide berth, and nobody could tell me why. I was growing more and more isolated, and it became frighteningly obvious after dark.
I mean, you couldn’t see anything. No trees, no bushes, no grass, no streetlights, no distant gleams off of someone else’s headlights down the road – nothing. Turning on my porch light past dusk, I’d step out and find myself just staring out into the void…
Sometimes, you’d hear voices. Shouts, too. They never sounded too menacing and they generally did sound like the sort of stuff you’d have expected to come from my neighbours. During the day, all I had to do to get a glimpse of civilization was look past the old trees that were just on the other side of the residential development’s shared fence. You’d see it, a row of cottages, coming out of the same cloning farm-slash-architectural firm that crapped out affordable living spaces for young couples and families looking to own a slice of the suburban life at a fraction of the cost. You’d hear them, too: calling out for their kids, planning barbecues, bringing in their groceries – typical stuff, really.
Nobody ever went past the trees, though. The people I paid, expected or hosted did come over – but none of the locals ever tried to throw a housewarming for me. The people I did see just didn’t like my house. Something about it was rubbing them the wrong way, and they could never tell me why.
I’d hear all of them, at night – and some other sounds. Odd sounds, really. Things I thought were car alarms, but that kept sounding more and more like oddly sibilant screams, the more I thought about it.
Two years passed, and I was living with the cracks, the pops and the creaks, convincing myself I’d lived in plenty of other houses with symptoms like these – even condos. I had, but I could’ve understood where everything came from, before. This? If I thought about it, that old anxiety, that cold I mentioned earlier, would grip my chest and squeeze, like a vice.
One night, I got sick of it all. I’d set some money aside, and I wanted to figure out what the Hell was happening with the place. The cracks, exact duplicates of that first one, were practically everywhere, now. I bought myself an electronic level, some more caulk, and more or less resolved to take a slurry of photos. I’d email it all to my old real estate agent and ask her if there’s any way she could’ve known about the more rational aspects of all this beforehand. The cracks, the creaking – I mean, there had to be something, right? If nothing came up, then I’d sue her ass! Nothing she’d said, nothing she’d ever mentioned had ever prepared me for anything like this, and I’d be damned before I’d go down without earning some of that peace and quiet I’d wanted!
To be honest, I couldn’t do more than half of the living room. By the time I looked at the second corner at the far-left end of the room, I knew – absolutely knew, that nothing about any of this made sense.
The level told me the walls were straight. Yet, if I tried to look – honestly peer at the spot where all three walls met – I’d realize that the angles were shifting. The walls moved if you looked at their exact point of intersection, and they’d become fixed in place if you looked away. The more you looked, the more the house creaked, and the more it swayed. You couldn’t see it sway, oh no, and nor could you feel it – but the house swayed, the whole damn world outside swayed, and you swayed with it all!
I remember falling off of my stepladder and losing it for maybe ten minutes. I was gone. Maybe I hit my head on the television’s corner while falling, I’m not sure; but the light had changed by the time I came to. The moon was out, a big, pale, bloated thing, and it covered everything I owned in a kind of silvery pale I wouldn’t have called moonlight for anything in the world.
There was a crack on the floor, right between my legs. I backed away, disgusted. I felt that the fissures were vile. They were abhorrent, awful things that offended everything I took for granted about this world’s rules. Looking at them made me sick, but I couldn’t stop.
I tried for something I’d never done before, at least not directly. The last time I’d tried, I’d had caulking gloves. I’d never felt the porous texture of the edge of the world.
I touched… I don’t know what I touched, but it gave away like cheesecloth. Then, I saw.
Imagine Everything. Every place, every person, every color, every scent, every concept, every notion. Imagine everything we have, everything we’re still looking for, everything we”ve been, are or will ever be.
Imagine living at the crossroads of that. Imagine yourself standing there, in that fixed instant. That – that Forever and that Never that nobody should have ever seen. Individually, the pieces are beautiful. Ordinary-looking, on occasion. Some notes are offensive, others reach for your heart, and there’s a few smells that remind me of colors from continents past, wavelengths we haven’t heard in a million years. That old radio tune, from Far and Away? It’ll only reach us once we’re dead and dust.
No mind should witness this. No person should ever have to touch this. When I came to, I knew. I knew all about the house, and the knowledge was tearing at my mind like a flock of carrion birds. I had to get it out. I had to spit it out, carve it out of my head with a melon baller, sear it away with a blowtorch.
The house isn’t a place. It isn’t an entity. It isn’t fixed in time or in space, and you’ll find it atomized across all of Creation. My garage was in the radiation-blasted wastelands of Topeka, Kansas. My living room was somewhere on an opal summit lost in some silent corner of the M83 galaxy. Chunks of my basement were in the Realm of the Skinless God, minuscule flecks lodged in the infected pores of blind and deaf beasts howling inside their steel boxes. My entryway is one of the Paving Stones to Infinity, a fleck of limestone the great beings beyond Time never even notice.
The house is a thing, lashed together by some sick mind who was curious to see what would happen if you made parts of All That Is touch in the most abhorrent of ways, twisted and snapped together so the final product would look innocent – a nice and safe little hole for the one poor idiot with the nearly-void bank account who needed a space to call home.
I’m not even sure when or where I’m writing this, but I know all who will ever read this. I know where they’ll find it, in places where I’ll never set foot. I know the house can be anywhere, in any place and in any time. Anybody could find this.
Pick a highway and drive. Look off to the side, past the point where sane people stop building. If you see a house that looks slightly off, a place that seems perfect for you while still somehow carrying something you can’t quite place, keep driving.
Don’t stop. You’ll find it again, across months and miles and years. You’ll find it in books and movies and in lyrics. Don’t watch it. Don’t listen to anything that’s said about it. But – you can’t, can’t you? You can’t stop it, not any more than I ever could!
I’ve written about the house, this damned place beyond all places. You, you’ve done your part. You’ve read this story. Where I am, now, I can see. I can see you, lashed in the fibers of the paint, reduced to a hair-thin film across all surfaces.
You’re the house, and the house is in you.
Credit To – IamLEAM1983