Friday 27 May 2011

Friday Flash - House Hunting

Image by Aunt Owwee

“Is this the right street?” asked Libby Dreiberg.

“Latimer Lane? Yep, this is the one,” replied Eddie Vasquez. He looked between his Google maps print out and the quiet street in front of them.

Picture postcard houses lined the street, set back from the road behind neat lawns and clipped privet hedges. Each house was small yet elegant, painted a different pastel hue to its neighbours. Cats sunbathed on front porches, and window boxes groaned beneath the weight of their colourful blooms. The street curved away, taking the parade of well-kept homes out of sight.

“Holy hell, these must cost a fortune,” said Libby.

“Few hundred thousand, I guess.”

“They’re all so pretty,” said Libby.

“Yeah well, we only came for one of them.” Eddie grimaced.

They set off down the street, Libby’s heels clacking on the pavement in time with her ungainly steps. She hooked a finger under the collar of her floral blouse.

“Nylon? Seriously?” She pulled the scratchy material away from her neck.

“Stop that. This is camouflage, remember? Try and look like you wear that all the time,” replied Eddie. He shrugged his broad shoulders inside his badly-fitting business suit.

“I hate this part. Why can’t we just be ourselves?”

“Ssssh, I think we found it.”

Libby followed the direction of Eddie’s gaze. The street veered away again, and a house sat in the crook of its curve. A line of trees in its back yard loomed over the house, reaching gnarled limbs toward the road. Long grass stood motionless in the still air of the quiet Tuesday afternoon. The screen door hung from shattered hinges, the front door behind standing ajar. A jumble of jagged glass filled broken window frames, the dark, empty rooms beyond lying in wait. A sudden gust of wind ran its fingers across the lawn, parting the grass to reveal the remains of a rusting bicycle, and part of a pram frame; the remnants of childhood, left to decay.

“Yep, that’s the house alright,” said Libby. “It’s beautiful, in a creepy and derelict kind of way.”

A cloud passed in front of the sun, casting long shadows across the house. A gust of wind pushed open the front door, and it swung inwards with a protesting screech. Libby stared into the yawning black doorway.

“Urgh, these houses...they make me sick. How could anyone just up and leave? People sleep in the gutter while perfectly good houses sit and rot,” said Eddie.

“Yes, yes, quite right,” said Libby, snapping out of the house’s trance. “It should be put out of its misery.”

“Do you want to do the honours?”

“Well you did the last one.”

“Then be my guest.”

Eddie put down his navy sports hold-all. Libby kept watch on the house, sure that it flinched as Eddie unzipped the bag. It probably knows what’s going on, but it has nowhere to go, she thought. She bent down and reached into the bag. Her fingers fastened around cold steel. Libby hefted the Real Estate 5000 out of the bag and up to her shoulder. Eddie connected a series of tubes from the weapon into a reinforced Plexiglas reservoir in the bag. Libby ran her free hand along the wide barrel of the gun, her fingers tracing the raised letters emblazoned in red. They spelled out ‘House Hunters Inc.’.

“I’m sorry”, whispered Libby. She pulled the trigger and the Real Estate 5000 spewed forth a gush of fire. The flames coalesced in mid air, and the fireball blasted across the lawn. It sailed through the open front door and into the house.

The fire rushed from room to room in a headlong flight of destruction. The flames tore at discoloured wallpaper, and engulfed rotten floorboards. Windows smashed and rusty metal warped in the heat. With a creak and a roar, the upper floor collapsed. The inferno squealed with delight as it picked through the debris for new toys.

Libby bent down and fished around in the long grass by the splintered picket fence. She stood up holding the battered old mailbox – painted letters spelled out the name “Feldman” on the side. Libby tore the name panel free as if the metal were paper.

“Don’t get attached, Dreiberg - they’re long gone. Nothing but an old house left behind to die,” said Eddie. “Remember our motto. Survival of the fittest.”

* * *

This flash was inspired by a conversation with Helen about typos - I managed to mistake 'plague' for 'plaque' (good job I'm not a dentist) and Helen said she kept spelling 'haunted house' as 'hunted house'. Et voila!


Jason Coggins said...

Milady, I declare your humour the wickedest out there. I wasn't sure where this was going then at the suggestion of the house flinching a wry ol'grin creased my face ... and it's still there. I loved story so much. More House Hunters Inc please.

Sam said...

I so enjoy stories like this, ones that keep me guessing...young couple house-hunting, no...developers trying to appear poor to negotiate a bargain price, not that either. Like Jason, when the house flinched I knew you were onto a winner, and I absolutely loved when the flames squealed with delight. I'll echo the call, more House Hunters Inc please.

Helen A. Howell said...

Oooo I like it, I like it! You first had me thinking they were just house hunting for somewhere to live, but then you turned it around and turned them into hunters - poor house - I loved that line "the house flinched"
I too think you could do a series of these, how about having the house fight back next time ! :D

Helen -

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me of a story that's been lurking in my head... I loved this!

Jen said...

I'm with Sam. You kept me guessing. I thought maybe the broken house in the photo was going to be their perfect home. But the idea of house *hunting* is terrific. I love your descriptions.

And it's so nice to be reading your flash again! (My fault, not yours, that I've been away.)

Please tell me Libby Dreiberg will be back again because that name is too wonderful to use just once.

pegjet said...

I love how a slight shift in what we hear creates such an imaginative story.

I wonder which television network will make your new reality show, House Hunters?

Larry Kollar said...

That was great! I think I'd also like to see, as Helen puts it, a house that fights back.

Steve Green said...

Y'know Icy, having read many of your flash fictions, when I read the name "House hunters" an image of houses running in panic, being chased by a shotgun-wielding Elmer Fudd characacter sprang to mind, I wasn't too far off the mark. :)

Great idea, and very visually executed.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Jason - I'm glad you liked it! *bows*

Sam - Well you know what I'm like with my misdirection. Maybe there will be more House Hunters, maybe not. We'll see.

Helen - I love personnifying inanimate objects!

Wolfmama - My pleasure!

Jen - Haha, maybe she will be. I named her after Dan Dreiberg in Watchmen!

Peggy - Hahaha that's a good point!

FAR - Have you ever seen Monster House?

Steve - Yes, you know me well enough to know I'll find dual meanings in things!

Tim VanSant Writes said...

I want to see a house fight back too. Or run away and hide somehow. Seems like that would be more sporting.

Eric J. Krause said...

Excellent story! It makes me wonder if the unwanted houses have ghosts. Will the house's ghost haunt the property after it's frame has turned to ash?

Sam Pennington said...

That was great! I'd no idea where the story was going other than the young couple house-hunting. Loved you line about wondering if the house guessed what was coming. A brilliant, and really original story xx

Clive Martyn said...

Great story once again :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent take on the typo prompt.

The thing I like most about your writing is its smooth style makes it very readable and yet I never know where it will go. I love that unpredictability.


Anonymous said...

I thought perhaps they were trying to hide their ethnic identity to be able to live in a neighborhood that wouldn't otherwise accept them -- but no, completely different and I loved it ...poor house. I feel sad too when I see a derelict. I wonder if it wonders what happened to its people ...

Tony Noland said...

There are wide sections of Philadelphia that could use the services of these two. Very creative.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this, Icy. You do such a fantastic job of seeting the scene in your stories. Your descriptions get me every time. I love this one especially: A sudden gust of wind ran its fingers across the lawn, parting the grass to reveal the remains of a rusting bicycle, and part of a pram frame; the remnants of childhood, left to decay.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Tim - Since when have hunters ever been sporting?

Eric - Maybe I'll take it further and find out!

Sam - I'm glad you liked it :-)

Clive - Thank you!

Ian - I'm glad I took the 'hunted houses' one and not mistaking 'plaque' for 'plague'.

Janet - I think they get lonely.

Tony - One advantage of London - land is so valuable that things rarely stay abandoned for long.

Danni - I guess this one is weirdly personal...I took all the things that upset me when I see them and put them into the description.

Anonymous said...

That meandered down a sidwalk I hadn't even imagined. I like where you took it, put a twist on House Hunting. I know some of the houses I looked at should definatley have been torched.

Matt Merritt said...

Flamethrowers don't show up in good stories often enough. Awesome. (I liked the descriptions too.)

Anonymous said...

Love haunted houses! Wonderful piece.

John Wiswell said...

Your humor is pretty wicked, and I enjoy all this media you've created on houses. Real and fictional, it's all entertaining to me.

Did you like Monster House?

Anonymous said...

Seems to be a theme of houses this week. I became intrigued with the little details - the nylon, camouflage and then the BFG (Big Flaming Gun)! Well wikkid. And the little glimpses into the house itself. Winner.
Adam B @revhappiness

Anonymous said...

*lol* too funny! I like the line where the house flinched ;)

Icy Sedgwick said...

Lara - One of the reasons I love the English language - meaning can be so ambiguous.

Matt - Glad to oblige!

Storytreasury - Thanks!

John - Well my PhD will be looking at the representation of haunted spaces in contemporary cinema so it's good I get started now. And I LOVED Monster House.

Adam - Little details are what makes or breaks a piece, I find. And most stories could be improved with a flamethrower.

Techtigger - Glad you liked it!

Anonymous said...

This is great, loved the twist and feel so sorry for the poor house - it was caught by two very cunning hunters. Great work as usual ;)

Anonymous said...

I agree. You feel the pain for the house after you've described it so beautifully.

Also loved that you didn't know where it was going. The suspense of who they were makes you want to read on.

Stephen said...

I enjoyed this, Icy. And I think their purpose is a noble one. There's no need to let houses die slowly. Better to quickly put them out of their misery. And what's more, as your social commentary suggests, with so many living in gutters, it's a wonder why so many houses rot in decay. Some things just don't make sense.

Lee-Ann said...

Wasn't expecting this! But I really enjoyed it, creative and nicely written. The house feels like a character itself.

KjM said...

"...A sudden gust of wind ran its fingers across the lawn, parting the grass..."

"The inferno squealed with delight as it picked through the debris for new toys."

You have a gift for description that brings the senses into play for the reader. Excellent stuff.

This reads like an episode of a continuing series - there's more to these houses than might meet the eye (they're capable of putting even experienced hunters in a trance!).

I look forward to reading more - pretty please? :-)

Stephen said...

Hi there Icy -- lovely imagery in here. So heartless to torch all that lovely dilapidation, but it did make a good story.

I particularly liked 'The inferno squealed with delight as it picked through the debris for new toys.' A rather boisterous inferno, that. Neat.


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