"This Old House" by Nora Mulligan is original fiction from the anthology Speculative Story Bites. Get the whole anthology from Amazon, Kobo, or World Weaver Press.
The disappearance of the kitchen was the last straw. Bill and Susan had been very reasonable and accommodating before that, even when the bedrooms expanded and then contracted, and when the bathroom migrated from one end of the hall to the other. They’d been understanding when the living room ceiling rose to a height of ten feet and then shrank so Bill was nearly bumping his head against it. And while the porch’s changes in size and shape had excited some comments from confused neighbors, they’d managed to deal with that.
But the kitchen was another story, especially when it disappeared just before Susan was going to make dinner.
“Maybe the house wants us to get take-out,” Bill said in an attempt at humor.
“What if I’d been in there?” Susan asked. She wasn’t laughing. “What if I’d been five minutes early rather than five minutes late?”
“Now, honey, it’s never hurt anyone before, and you’re one of its people. It wouldn’t ever do anything to you.” He laid his arm over her shoulders.
She shook it off, fierce. “That was then, Bill. It used to be rational. It used to understand us, or at least try to understand us. Now I wouldn’t be surprised at anything it does, and I certainly wouldn’t count on its not hurting one of us.”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Bill with a sigh. “We’ll have to call someone. I was hoping to save the money, but, well, I guess we’ve reached the point of no return.”
The House Doctor came in the next day, because they’d managed to convince him it was an emergency.
He was one of the best house doctors in the state, and Bill shuddered at the thought of how much this would cost, but both he and Susan were impressed by the man’s care and attention to detail. The doctor walked slowly through all the rooms of the house, even the unused ones in the attic and the unfinished part of the basement, taking notes all the time, nodding to himself. The basement reshaped itself as he walked through it, the washer and dryer changing places with the furnace. One of the bedrooms had budded off, so there were three when the doctor explored them, but he didn’t actually witness the budding, just the results.
He questioned them about the length of time they’d lived there, the behavior of the house in earlier days, and how long this new random behavior had been going on. He frowned and shook his head when the couple finally came to the conclusion that the changes had been occurring over the last six months.
“You should have called me much sooner,” he said, folding his arms. “There’s only one option now, I’m afraid.”
Susan and Bill exchanged glances, worried. “What do you mean, doctor?” Susan asked.
He lowered his voice. “The damage is too great. It’s gone senile beyond reclaiming. Five months ago, even three months, we could have attempted surgery, changed the air, done some rewiring. Now it’s too late. None of that would work.”
“So what are you saying?” asked Bill. He hoped his guess about where the doctor was going was wrong.
It wasn’t. “We’re going to have to kill it, I’m afraid,” said the doctor, shaking his head. “And the sooner, the better. Who knows how much more it’s going to deteriorate if we let this go on.”
Susan felt a pang, ashamed that her first thought was that it would cost less to kill the house than it would have to fix it. It had been a good house, she thought, all those years of their marriage, and it deserved a little grief at least.
“All right,” said Bill, his voice unsteady. “If you think that’s necessary.”
“I’m afraid so,” said the doctor. The walls of the living room trembled at his words, and the carpet shrank and then disappeared.
“It’s aware,” said Susan. “Maybe we should consider another way.”
“Foolish,” said the doctor, shaking his head as he opened his bag, removing a long thin tool that looked like a cross between a wrench and a dentist’s drill. “The longer you wait, the worse it will get. Guaranteed. Your box is down in the basement, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Bill. “That hasn’t moved at all.”
“It will be over quickly,” said the doctor, more to Susan than to Bob. His voice was brusque, but he clearly meant to be reassuring.
They followed him to the door of the basement, which changed color three times as the doctor attempted to turn the knob. First it was a knob, then a latch, then a thing with buttons and numbers, but the doctor finally managed to open the door and start down the stairs, holding his tool by his side.
They both saw it happen. The house waited until the doctor reached the bottom of the stairs, and then the entire basement folded into itself like an origami paper. The doctor screamed once, but when the basement unfolded again, there was no sign that he’d ever been there, unless the pattern on the floor that resembled a hand with a tool counted as a sign.
The door closed by itself, and Bill and Susan held each other’s hands. The floor rumbled ominously.
Nora M. Mulligan has been writing all her life and has had short stories published in various online and print venues. She lives in New York with a husband and the obligatory two cats.
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