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STRUCTURAL INSECURITY

3 months ago
Commended by mizal on 12/12/2020 7:58:28 PM
This is a short story I wrote as part of a collection inspired by my sister's ex. When he bought his house there was a weird note (random scribbles?) left in a closet. It was about demons that came out of the walls of that house and forced him to move. It was an unsettling start to his life in the house.

All the stories are about people who move into a new house and find something weird left behind. Some of them are about the origins of the thing left behind, some of them are about the discovery of them. The first one is about the origin.

Just looking for any feedback, what you liked, what you didn't like. Typos!?


STRUCTURAL INSECURITY
The following was found handwritten in blue ink on an unlined piece of white paper, folded and refolded into an indecipherable origami shape. Found upon inspection in the crack of a ceiling beam. The third one in from the west.


The house. It’s sound.

The great room with a wall of windows, over two stories tall, amplifies the structure’s creaks and groans caused by wind, settling, being warmed by the fire. At first all I heard was the loud echoing creaks, cracks, and pops, but with time the quieter nuanced sounds are just as distinct. Together they are cadenced and form their own syntax and vocabulary.

I try to listen. I try to understand.

The house moans, like being torn in two. Determined to come down. I hear the howls, exclamations, the utterance of many tongues, from the walls, floor, ceiling, echoing around me. The same narrative with new details. It’s destructive. It can’t stand.

Its sound is that of interior collapse, from the inside out. Picking internally, chipping away at itself, fooling the outside with a facade of health and sturdy. It’s coming apart, disintegrating, splintering. We are sisters, unstable, fated to collapse under our own weight.

The house. Its sound. I can hear it.


ORIGINS - OCTOBER 2017

My stomach is ripe with acid nervousness. "So much money. What am I doing? Was this a good decision?" So much has happened so fast, but yet so slow. Forcing myself to breath in and out in big deep breaths I open the door. Wincing internally, I step across the threshold and step into my new house, bought sight unseen. Its beauty abruptly interrupts my concentrated breaths.

My gaze is immediately drawn up to the top of the great ceiling, stretching up to the full height of the house. It is broad and wide with a couple of thick strong beams crossing the open space for support and closer spaced parallel ones line the ceiling. It is stained very dark. Probably to contrast with the blonde wood flooring reflecting the sunlight of the cheery wooded ridge view that pours in from the wall of windows. But the ceiling sucks all the light. Despite the sunbeams and heat reflected up from the floor, the ceiling corners are deep black, like black holes devouring stray beams, never to be released. I feel the burning nervous sensation rise from my stomach to my throat.

Instead I focus on the view. The location is stunning, offering a perfect way to experience the seasons of North America. My footsteps echo wildly around the empty room as I approach the windowed wall. The long shadows of an autumn afternoon play across the floor and the sunlight feels good on my face. I have an urge to curl up on the floor like a cat.

Suddenly a great autumn gust racks the trees, raining down a shower of leaves and causing the house to groan in response. A draft raises a small amount of dust from the dried woodpile next to the fireplace and the rattles the papers left by the real estate agent on the large mantel. Flipping through them I find the results of the home inspection. “It’s sound,” is handwritten in the notes section and underlined three times. I feel the tense coil of muscles across my back begin to soften a little. It is going to be okay.

___________________________________________________________________________________

After unloading my meager possessions from my small rental moving truck onto the floor of the great room the sun is falling behind the neighboring ridge. Air currents dance around the room bringing a chill. The house has three fireplaces, the one in the great room entrance, and two smaller ones at each end of the house. Even though the house has central heat I light a fire in the great room and pull my twin mattress next to the fireplace.
There are no overhead lights. The fire plays with the shadows and window reflections, weaving in and out of the weak light cast up from two floor lamps. The structure creaks and groans as it warms. The rafters and wood ceiling expand unevenly with the heat.

"The house will come down." Once this irrational thought enters my head, I can’t shake it. I reach for the house inspection form, find the number among the contact details. Without much thought I dial and get an afterhours voicemail. In a steady pleasant voice that betrays none of my fears and anxiety I leave a voicemail. “I’d like to schedule a follow-up inspection. I just have a few concerns that were not raised prior to closing since I bought sight unseen. Just a few things I’d like to have verified right away before I begin to properly furnish the house, so I’m afraid it’s an urgent matter. Of course, I’ll pay for your time. Enjoy your evening.”

A loud deep groan echoes across the room. I feel my skin contract with goosebumps. I stare directly into the fire avoiding the black holes of the ceiling. The temperature of the room changes as air currents form with the rising heat. So many noises I’d swear there are conversations in the rafters.

_______________________________________________________________________________

The lazy early autumn morning light spews through the windows casting long shadows of trees with partial leaves. Daylight bright and cheery. Light transforms the great room into a different place. What would the blind think? In the total absence of light would their perception change? Would the house be a constant? What would be made of its sound?

The sunlight warms the wood floor, warming the entire house with the greenhouse effect. The floor creaks its own language in response to the heat. A softer, more smooth language, with syllables that flow and link. Feeling the temperature rise I turn on the central heat hoping to enhance the natural warmth of the day.

The house begins to quiet as the temperature becomes uniform, just softer flexing and settling of boards. I begin to dig through my stack of boxes for the essentials, namely facewash and coffee when my phone vibrates across the floor interrupting its morning chit-chat. “You’re in luck we have an inspector and certified contractor who is in your region on an early morning job. They are willing to stop by afterwards for an extra fee. Is this amenable for you?”
_________________________________________________________________________________

The inspector comes that early afternoon, and climbs on the roof searching for structural insecurities and signs of damage. At my insistence scaffolding is erected in the great room interior and the inspector goes around with a headlamp, knocking and looking for element or pest damage.

She is small, lively, and springy like a gymnast. She moves deftly and easily across the high scaffolding, like an acrobatic insect in their natural surroundings. Springy black hair pops out around the elastic of the headlamp. I watch her face contort as she listened to the house’s response to her knocks. Listening to the echoes. Judging its sound. Knocking, speaking its language. I detect slight shakes and nods of her head in response as she works her way in circular pattern around the room. She is stunning. Her radiant brown skin contrasts and blends beautifully with the dark ceiling.

We sit at the table once she was finished, drinking ice water as the house had become overly hot. Sweat glistened along her hairline, ringing her face in a glittery glow.

“What did it say to you?” I ask. A look of confusion spreads across her face.

“The house,” I clarify, keeping the harsh tone out of my voice. I fell I am being mocked, kept out of their secrets.
“Oh,” her face glows from within, with a wide natural smile. “I never thought of it that way. I guess you could call it that, listening to the house.”

“It’s very sound,” she continues, “Roof is less than three years old by the looks. No water damage, signs of leaking, solid eaves. A history of good water drainage, no pooling around crevices or gutters. Nothing to indicate structural uncertainties anywhere. With the heavy rains we see in this area that’s no small feat.”

“And the interior,” I prompt.

“The interior has some settling here and there,” she continues, “but nothing more than expected. Beams are solid, hard timber. Some cracking on the third one in from the west due to imperfect weight distribution as it has aged, but nothing you’ll have to worry about in your lifetime. Or the next. No signs of termites or other boring pests. You can begin moving in furniture of any weight. It’s sound.”

“Its sound,” I repeat. She nods and begins to drink. “Can you describe it?” I ask. She lowered her glass in mid-drink and looked at me puzzled, spilling water down her front.

“I just did,” she says.
“Of course,” I reply.

_________________________________________________________________

The cracking and groaning, all the chatter, it won’t stop. All the voices, the languages overlapping running together, struggling to be heard. The house, its sound. I don’t know what it’s saying. I don’t speak its languages. Is it happy, sad, terrified? Does it know its sound? Does is fear falling in? Crushing itself against its own weight? Its own insecurities. Our own fundamental flaws.

It is so hot now. The house is sweltering. I lit a fire to stave off the cold of the night. A mistake. Sweat gathers in my hairline creating a damp sheen that reflects ghastly in the shifting light.

I open the windows and cold air pours in releasing the heat. The house creaks and shrieks although whether with joy or pain I’m not sure. I don’t speak the language, but I listen.

The temperature fronts clash and ripple in a pendulum motion. The great room arches and contracts. The light from the floor lamps is devoured by the black holes. The firelight bounces madly across the fireplace window, wildly trying to invade the room’s dark privacy.

As I pace the room the floor responds in its own silky language, the creaks blending together in a fluid cadence, like poetry, speeding and slowing with my steps. I don’t speak the language, but I listen, I try to understand.
Its sound. The house moans, like being torn in two. Determined to come down. I hear the howls, exclamations, the utterance of many tongues, from the walls, floor, ceiling, echoing around me. I listen. I understand. I hear the same narrative with new details. It’s destructive. It can’t stand.

It’s been told it can stand. That it’s sound. It’s been told by an educated, confident woman, who can’t understand, who can’t sympathize. She speaks the language but doesn’t know how to listen. I know how to listen but don’t speak the language.

Its sound is that of interior collapse, from the inside out. Picking internally, chipping away at itself, fooling the outside with a facade of health and sturdy. It’s coming apart, disintegrating, splintering. We are sisters, unstable, fated to collapse under our own weight.

STRUCTURAL INSECURITY

3 months ago
The flipping back and forth between It's sound/Its sound and the change of meaning there just based on just that one little apostrophe was pretty clever.

I took this whole thing as the character's mental illness being projected onto the house, although it's been a really long day and I'm too tired to give it a super close reading. Fwiw I thought some of the descriptions of the house and the noises went on a little long after the point was made and I kept finding myself skimming those.

I wouldn't mind seeing more from this collection though, seems like a pretty unique theme.

We actually had a site member once who was all about the ghosts and the demons and the dead people she saw, she described some pretty unsettling shit she thought was happening at her old house, like the walls growling at her and that kind of thing. It's pretty scary on its own what the mind can do.

But as for this story, the most difficult thing to suspend disbelief over was that someone would buy a house without ever looking at it.

STRUCTURAL INSECURITY

3 months ago

I had to move out of an apartment once because my landlord sold it (for close to a million dollars) to a couple who had never seen it and then moved in with both of their mothers (don't ask).

The unseen purchase struck me as odd, but it helped setting up the twist at the end. It felt like an action a person would take who is desperate to get away from something.

STRUCTURAL INSECURITY

3 months ago
That part was actually real. My sister just bought a house in the Midwest sight unseen in September. She was moving across the country and had 4 weeks from job offer to start date. In the DC area where housing market is very competitive (on the market less than a day) and many people are moving with families from far distances, it's not super uncommon. It never struck me that someone would have a hard time believing this because I can think of at least 4 people off the top of my head who have done this. It's good to know though.

Thanks for taking the time to read it. :)

STRUCTURAL INSECURITY

3 months ago

The story, it's sound. Mizal said it, but let me say it again. Great story. Very well played with the apostrophe. And, 'Its' being a special case apostrophe-wise made this pretty intense. The twist at the end is great, when you realize that it is all about the narrator and not the house. Really hard-hitting stuff. It comes out of nowhere but it is so well set up that it instantly clicks. It reminded me a lot of 'The Haunting of Hill House' (but better). The only constructive advice is that I can offer is that it could be tightened a bit. For example, does it matter what she tells, the answering machine. For me that sounded a bit repetitive and the business-like attitude broke the dreamy tone.

STRUCTURAL INSECURITY

3 months ago
Interesting. My goal was to add a contrast to her head and the outside world. Also give the impression that she can act the part when needed. I'll have to play with that though. Good advice :)

It was all inspired by a trip to New Zealand. Most of the houses I stayed at used wood burning stoves as their primary heat sources. When I was staying with one woman, about my age, she said the house talked to her. It took me a minute to figure out what she was talking about. She meant the creaking of the house as the fire warmed it. It really did make a lot of noise. That description always stuck with me.

Thanks for reading :)

STRUCTURAL INSECURITY

3 months ago
If you are interested in reading more I've posted them here. I'd be happy to post more on this site too, it's just that Structural Insecurities is by far the shortest (and also my first). It may be easier to read on that site.

I've never really written before, this has just become my new hobby to pass the long hours of social distancing. I've had a lot fun doing it and find miss traveling and interacting in the analog world a little less. I hope you enjoy it! :)

https://www.wattpad.com/story/251166884-perverse-discovery?utm_source=web&utm_medium=email&utm_content=share_myworks