Saturday, March 19, 2016

Beast and Peculiar Phone Call, Katy Comber

The Dream House Chronicles, Part 2: The Dream Home
by Katy Comber

James Robson sighed and glanced down at the picture on the dashboard. A cartoon scribble of a wobbly man grinning a wobbly grin and holding a SOLD sign kept him from hitting the brakes and throwing the other passengers out of his newly leased sudan. I’m doing this for them. The mantra repeated over again in James’ sleep-deprived mind. His smart and gorgeous kids. His smart and gorgeous wife. His world. I’m doing this for them. 

The stylish woman in the passenger seat huffed to herself and filed down previously bitten nails. Every minute or so, the dapper man in the back, who had ignored James’ request to buckle up, would scoot forward and shoot his hand into James’ line of vision to gesture wildly at something in regard to the current location. Usually it was something he found distasteful. The Bowmans were hunting for the perfect house and James Robson was their foxhound. 

As James pulled into the cul-de-sac, a kid with thick blond curls and a chocolate milk moustache tricycled past. James held his breath. Please don’t see him. Maybe he’s just visiting his grandparents. Or, maybe he’s being watched by one of the neighbors.

“No.” Jacki Bowman glared. “Turn around. I’m not interested.” 
“Honey? Look at that house.” Rhett Bowman’s hand shot forward and narrowly missed hitting James’ face in the process. 
“Child.” 
“What?” 
“Child. There.” 
“Mr. Robson. We specifically told you. No children.” 
“According to my research, with this neighborhood, your neighbors would be a retired couple and a--”
“Mr. Robson, apparently your research is wrong. Next house. C’mon.” 

James Robson pulled into the pristine driveway, looked at a house that would make most clients gasp with joy and possibility, and turned around. The tricycling kid lifted his chubby hand and waved as they passed.

The following house made the Bowmans smile tentatively as the seller’s agent showed them the open kitchen. Rhett and Jacki’s demands from previous showings rang through James’ mind as they walked through. We want an open kitchen, but not too open. They passed the oval-shaped pool. A pool would be nice, but it cannot be too round or rectangular. The white walls and wood floors throughout seemed to please them. Jacki’s an interior designer, you know, we need a clean palette for her inspiration to flow uninterrupted. The complete lack of furniture was a relief compared the first home James showed. Ugh. What an ugly couch. We simply can not live somewhere where the previous owners had such awful taste. This house was perfect. 

“This is suitable.” Jacki sniffed in appreciation. “Why is it on the market?” 
“The previous owners have relocated.” 
“Oh? Where?” 
“India.” 

Jacki’s back stiffened. Rhett inhaled deeply from where he stood in the living room. Unsatisfied, he walked around taking deep breaths and then shouted, “Here! Jacki. Here it is.” 
Jacki walked over and the couple began taking long inhalations with their noses planted on the kitchen walls. 

“Curry. It smells like curry. We had neighbors from India when we lived in New York. The whole building smelled just like this. Oh, god. It’s in my nose now. I’m going to be smelling curry all day.” Jacki wailed and Rhett shuddered. 

“No go, Robson. What else do you have for us?” 

The seller’s agent stood, invisible and aghast, and James fought the urge to roll his eyes. “I don’t have any more listings to view today. I’ll compile a new list and we can try again on,” James looked at his phone and eyed all the dates and times that did not work for the unemployed yet remarkably busy trust-funded Bowmans, “Monday evening.” 

“Fine. Let’s go.” 

After dropping the Bowmans off at the cafe where he had been expected to purchase their drinks earlier that morning, James drove home in a silent fury. The buzzing of his phone as he pulled into the drive shook James out of his violent reverie. The office. James looked over at his living room window where his children waved excited by his arrival, and lifted his hand to gesture for one more moment. The kids’ shoulders slumped and they padded away. The one more moment gesture had been studied and known. Mom was tucking them in tonight.

“Robson.” 
“James! A house just went on the market and it looks too good to be true. It might be the one for the Bowmans. It’s not going to be on the market for long. Want to meet them over there tonight?” His boss had a way of posing demands as easy-going questions. 
“Sure. Yep. I’ll call them now.” The thought of talking to Rhett Bowman again made James’ gut churn. 
“No need. They’re already on their way to the house. Mindy contacted them while I called you.” 
James breathed a sigh of relief. Mindy, the plucky woman of seventy, had a way of talking to clients with whom no one else had the urge to communicate.  
“On my way.” James jotted down the address and texted his wife that he had one more showing. She texted back a request for a bottle of wine and a pint of chocolate sorbet. Deal. 

The seller’s agent loomed over Rhett and Jacki as they stood waiting for James on the front porch. Wrap around porch with a wicker porch swing that has that classic porch swing sound. Jacki was already beaming. Rhett was sniffing the air. The pleasant aroma hit James as soon as he stood on the brick paved driveway. Brick driveways are the best. Honeysuckle growing on the property. Memorized items from Jacki and Rhett’s wish list checked off. 

The seller’s agent strolled over to James with an outstretched hand. The man’s height was extraordinary. Freckles stood out on the man’s dark nose and a confident smile broke out from his pristinely trimmed white beard. James shook the man’s hand and hesitated before speaking. The agent was black. Rhett and Jacki had picked caucasian James over his other multicultural co-workers and once objected to a home for being in a neighborhood that was too ethnic. He looked over at the couple. They looked dazed by the house and its obvious perfection. They didn’t seem to notice the selling agent’s skin tone at all. 

“I took the liberty of showing the Bowmans around while you were on your way. Mr. Bowman made an offer after the first walk through. My office will handle the documents and send over your side of the paperwork. Rhett and Jacki should be very happy here.” The selling agent did not bother to offer his name as he ushered James back to his car. Jacki waved demurely at the agent and Rhett gave James a satisfied smirk farewell. James blinked; and suddenly, he was back in his driveway. A bottle of wine and a pint of softening sorbet sat in the passenger seat. James blinked again and chuckled to himself. He really needed to get more sleep. 

Rhett and Jacki marveled at their newly acquired home. Everything on the wish list they compiled in James Robson’s office six months ago was here. Days went by in a blink. Social events were ignored. Phone calls were not returned. The couple’s love affair had begun with brick and mortar. Jacki spent her days painting, wallpapering, and designing. Visions of envious and drooling acquaintances fueled her obsession. Rhett spent his time sunning by the perfect oblong pool, manicuring the landscape, and successfully trimming shrubs into animal sculptures as if guided by an invisible hand.       

By their one-year anniversary of owning the dream home, Rhett and Jacki had created their vision. Every room was a testament to Jacki’s eye for interior design and the outdoor landscaping, green and flourishing, was Rhett’s pride and joy. That evening, the phone rang. The phone was supposed to be purely decorative. No one had landlines anymore. Jacki looked at her chiseled and well-groomed husband. Rhett looked at his well-manicured goddess of a wife. Neither one of the two remembered ordering a landline. 

Jacki trembled as she picked the unplugged, antique phone handle from its cradle. 

“Hello?” 

A low growl resounded from the receiver. Rhett looked on; his normally tan wife had paled. He grabbed the phone away as she quaked. 

“Hello? Who is this? Who--” 

The growl began to flow from the phone and bounced around the room. Rhett hung up the phone in alarm. The growling continued. The man, frantic, lifted the phone from its cradle and slammed it down. The pearl handle crumbled in his hands. His hands. They morphed in front of his eyes as Jacki screamed. The fingernails lengthened as if they had not been cut in a year. His fingers became dark and grimy. He looked at his wife in alarm. The outfit she had worn the day they signed the papers to acquire their dream home hung loosely on her gaunt frame. Her auburn curls were limp and covered in debris and her once saphire eyes dimmed and sunk deep into her hollowed cheeks. Her fingernails, once obsessively filed, bent away from her grubby hands; the sight of their length and an overwhelming smell of decay made Rhett retch as his throat filled with bile. He gagged and sputtered a string of curses as he glanced down at his own filth. His bulging, yellowed toenails had ripped and sliced through the loafers he had slipped on a year ago. The growling continued. 

The walls. They flexed as though sighing. The growling grew louder. As the neatly trimmed paneling and thoughtfully selected furniture disintegrated around them, the slow realization that the entire year had been nothing more than a waking dream dawned on the couple. Surely, they had left the house? Jacki looked down at the paint brush she had picked up before stopping to admire the last finishing touches. In her skeletal grip was a short branch covered in cobwebs and dust. No. The growling continued. 

Thick white curtains became tattered and stained rags that lifted and fell to the house’s rhythmic breath. Moss sprouted in the corners before their eyes and tangles of green and brown looped down from the ceiling. Something scuttled past. Something small. Eight-legged creatures scampered over Jacki’s feet while some clung to surrounding vines. Observant. Waiting. The growling continued. 

Jacki looked up as a rope of moss skimmed her shoulder. She had not stopped screaming until this point. The sight of the ceiling above choked her into silence. Bones protruded like chandeliers. Fingers of an outstretched hand hung limp next to a brittle skull of an inhuman creature as though a person and their pet had tried to escape through the flooring above. Previous owners. The thought howled in Jacki’s mind as the floor became sticky and wet. Rhett wept and clammered for his wife. His feet, once firmly stuck to the floor, began to lower. Jacki watched in horror as the grotesque version of her husband sank into the wine barrel flooring. The growling continued. 

The glutinous floor firmed around Rhett’s slowly disappearing head. His silenced begging  lingered in his widow’s ears. Jacki left consciousness as the flooring morphed once again. This time it became a swelling tongue, curling up, and wrapping itself around Jacki’s slender frame. Digestive juices, acidic and flowing through the room, ripped the woman from her skin and her polished bones clattered to the ground moments later. The growling softened into a contented purr. The house rested.   

Miles away, James Robson worked from his home office. The name of a couple James wished to never see again popped up on his calendar. James hesitated. Peals of childish giggles and his wife’s laughter resounded in the next room as James pulled out a card and scribbled quickly: 

Dear Rhett and Jacki, 

Congratulations on your one-year anniversary! Hope your home is all you dreamed it would be. 


All the Best,
James Robson 

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