Enjoy my short story, Home Wrecker! It’s perfect if you like stories about cute houses…and revenge.
The house squatted between two huge, brick apartment buildings. The shutters were painted a cheerful red that clashed with the grey siding and there was a toy bucket near the front porch. The whole thing seemed stitched together, half-loved by a dozen inhabitants who never stayed long. It seemed out of place in the heart of the city, but not bad, really. Across the street were three huge office buildings. Dave worked in the one on the left, so this rental was convenient. He guessed that the neighboring business would have really liked to buy out the little place and demolish it. Maybe the landlord was holding out on principle, no matter how high the prices climbed, the house stayed out of stubbornness. Maybe the owner was just crazy. After he met her, he bet on the later.
She turned out to be an irritable old woman, ancient and thin. She reminded him of a fleshy praying mantis, bent over her cane. Dave met her on the front porch of the little house. His two boxes and duffle bags were sitting behind him. That was all he had. He’d even given her the car.
“Where is your wife?” The tiny woman demanded, holding the keys in her gnarled hand. “Will she come later?”
“What?” Dave said. He opened his hand wider, hoping she would just give him the keys already. He glanced down. “Oh the ring.” He pulled it off and stuffed it in his jeans pocket. “We’re divorced. We’re getting divorced. It’s just me.”
The woman tutted. “These days everyone thinks they can just get divorced. Things are hard? Get divorced. Not the way I was raised, but that is the way the world is now.” She dropped the keys into his hand.
“So why’d you move out?” Dave asked, trying to keep it light.
“I never lived here.” The woman grumbled. “I just give it to the next person.”
When he didn’t come up with anything else she limped away, down the steps and toward her ancient, gray car. Dave looked away from her and at the tiny patch of lawn, his lawn. It made him feel a little better. Maybe he’d plant a little garden. His wife never wanted a garden. Thinking of her soured his mood immediately.
The inside of the house was battered, but someone had obviously put some effort in covering up the damage. The wallpaper was new, and so was most of the paint, though it was messy, on the floor and glass. It was fully furnished, like the ad said, but the furniture was marked and chipped. There was an indent in the fireplace that looked a little like a fist. The first floor was only a kitchen and a living room with a tiny bathroom. The kitchen was full of tarnished knives, silverware, and dishes. The cupboards were open and some of the dishes were broken across the floor. He would deal with it tomorrow.
The upstairs was a single bedroom with a low, attic ceiling. There was a dresser. The drywall had been patched, often and badly, and someone had broken the doorframe once upon a time. It had been nailed back into the wall with a sloppy, practiced hand. There was a low double bed in the far corner under a single window, next to a side table with a dying spider plant. On the other side of the room was an empty crib. He looked away from that. The place was better than he’d hoped for. He dropped his boxes on the ground and pulled out a set of white sheets.
He had more things, clothes and even furniture, but all he could do was leave as fast as possible. Sarah told him about the affair, with Hank – old friend, good buddy – like she was a little embarrassed, or maybe only concerned about how he would take it, like it was a fender-bender or a clogged sink. Then she smiled a little, like wasn’t the whole thing kind of funny? Him, at work all day and his wife and best friend screwing at home on their lunch breaks? He stood and filled two boxes and a duffle bag with clothes, a tooth brush, soap, sheets, his computer. The whole time she followed him from room to room, holding her arms as if she was cold, saying “Davey? Dave?” Finally she was quiet and went to sit in their bedroom, now her bedroom. Would Hank move in after he left?
As Dave walked out of the apartment she appeared again. “Dave, what about the car?”
“Keep it.” He said. He took the bus to a hotel. Then he stayed on friends’ couches until he felt like he could think straight. Then he rented the cheapest place nearest to his job. And here he was.
The night he moved in he didn’t sleep, but he tried to keep his eyes closed. Maybe if he kept his eyes closed he wouldn’t be so tired tomorrow. He thought of Sarah and Hank. Hank and Sarah. In his bed. In their bed. He hated them. There was a crash downstairs. He opened his eyes and listened. There was no more noise except the whoosh of cars through the wet street. He laid back down and tried to go to sleep again. In the back of his mind, he thought he heard the thumping of little feet, and wondered what it might be. A little house wasn’t made for blocking out the sounds of the city, he supposed.
In the morning it took a minute to remember where he was. He groaned and rubbed his eyes. Finally he pulled himself out of bed, dressed in the tiny bathroom, and ran across the street to his job. On the way he squinted at the broken plates in the kitchen. There was silverware in the sink, and one of the cabinet doors was pulled off. Had it been that way before? It didn’t matter. Tonight he would try to make the place livable. He ran between traffic and ducked into his cubicle. Sarah called him on his lunch break.
“Dave, we need to talk about this.” She said as soon as he said hello.
“Okay talk.” He said, after awhile.
“I have some paperwork for you.”
“Fine.” He said. Why not? Everything was broken anyway. “Are you going to go laugh about it with Hank as soon as you get off the phone?”
“Dave, let’s just be adults about this.”
“I’m not. I just….”
“We’re willing to work with you.” She said, trying to be so goddamn reasonable.
“Great.” He said. “Great. I’ll let you know.” And he hung up.
He left early and walked to the corner store. His boss didn’t even ask why. He just looked sad. He bought groceries, cleaning supplies, a small tool kit, and, on a whim, a tiny, red rug. He walked home and moved to pile the things on the kitchen counter.
That’s when he saw it, the monster. It was a small, leathery thing, curled around the sink like a cat, holding two of the plates in long, boney hands. It grinned and hissed at him, showing its long, needle-like teeth, then threw the plates.
He ducked as one shattered against the wall. The other bounced painfully off his shoulder and clattered to the floor. He dropped the things he brought home and backed into the hallway. His heart went from zero to frantic instantly, a change that made his head spin and his ears pound. There was a wumph noise and he turned to find the little monster in the living room, climbing up the wall, skittering with sharp little nails. It put its fingers around the light fixture on the ceiling and pulled it away. The plaster cracked. Dave backed into the stairway and stumbled out the door. He slammed the door and almost fell down the front steps.
“What the fuck!?” He yelled. The couple walking by shot him a suspicious look. The man stepped between his date and Dave.
“Hey buddy. Everything okay?” He said, as if he was fairly certain Dave was not okay.
“No!” Dave cried. “There’s a….” He looked at the woman. Her hands were over her mouth. He was scaring her. They weren’t going to listen to him. No one was going to listen to him.
“There’s a rat in my house.”
The man laughed. “I figured this place had to be a rat hole. No one stays there for long. Good luck!”
“Thanks.” He said bitterly and they left.
Maybe he had imagined it. He was under a huge amount of stress lately. Maybe he had finally snapped. He had nowhere else to go. He didn’t even have change for the bus in his pocket. He had to go back inside, that’s all there was to it. He opened the door slowly. Nothing inside the house moved. The cleaning supplies had been scattered up and down the hall. The new rug was torn in half. He looked into the living room. The light fixture dangled from the ceiling. The broken pieces of the plate were lying on the floor. There was nothing else though – no little monster.
He put the groceries away and made himself a sandwich. He realized he had to make a decision, leave and start over again, or find a way to live with this new horror. His third choice, of course, was to try to find someone who believed him and could help. That seemed like the best choice, after which he could face the other two. The insanity of approaching the problem with logic didn’t escape him, and he almost laughed out loud at himself.
He cleaned up the broken dishes and screwed the cabinets back on. He dusted and scrubbed and even managed to put the light fixture more or less back into the ceiling. He tossed the rug out with the rest of the trash. He was exhausted, but he felt better. He felt the way you sometimes do after a good cry.
He imagined Sarah moving in with him, laughing at the wallpaper, making plans to paint. He hated her. This weekend he would take some time for himself, spoil himself. He’d go to a bar, buy himself some new clothes. Maybe he’d even see if he remembered how to flirt. It would be okay. He brushed his teeth and went to bed.
He shot awake when the banging started and looked for Sarah. He put his arm out to shield her from whoever was coming for them, but the bed was empty. The banging came again, followed by howling and crashing. It was so loud he put his hands over his ears.
“Stop it!” He screamed. “Stop it, you little asshole!” The noise cut off abruptly.
He stomped downstairs, grabbed a glass out of the cupboard and turned on the sink. He screamed and dropped the glass. Blood, red and thick, ran out of the faucet. It was all over his hands. He wiped it on a towel desperately, and stared in horror at the blood smeared white cotton. He threw it in the trash and yanked the water off. The banging started again, upstairs. He wanted to break something, anything. He wanted to pull the cupboards off, or something easier, smash the mirror in the bathroom. He wanted to tear the whole house apart, or burn it down. If it wasn’t for Hank and Sarah he’d be home. He would be where he belonged! The banging went on and on and on.
There was an envelope waiting for him on his desk at work. It was divorce papers. He tossed them on his desk and got to work. Work ran slowly before his eyes, a long line of numbers and letters. He was so tired his body hurt. Once or twice someone pointed out that his phone was ringing, that it was time for a meeting. He gave up working and searched online for someone who could help him.
“Saint Thomas More Chapel, how can I help you?” A man’s voice said.
“Hi, I’m looking for Father Richard.” Dave started. How exactly did he explain this? “I have a…thing in my house. Your blog said you dealt with this sort of stuff.”
“Yes!” The man said excitedly. “Yes, indeed. Not church sanctioned of course, you understand. The church can’t be associated with this sort of thing. In fact, let’s keep this to ourselves. So tell me about it.”
“I’m, um…at work.” Dave looked around uncomfortably.
“Ah, of course. Say no more. Just give me the address and I’ll meet you there.”
The priest was standing outside his house well before the time they agreed on, in black, with a black leather bag in his hand. He was rocking excitedly on his heels and swinging it, like a kid waiting for the bus. Dave was so tired the man’s enthusiasm was painful to watch. He slogged across the street and across the cement front yard. The priest looked over to him and grinned.
“You work across the street. Interesting.” The priest said. He was still smiling. “I’m Father Richard. It’s a pleasure. What seems to be the problem?”
“Well there’s this thing in my house. Like a demon maybe?” It sounded so stupid to say it out loud, but there it was. “Anyway it seems mostly interested in tearing the house apart and not giving me any peace.”
“Ah!” He said, as if Dave had said something particularly profound. “It sounds like a poltergeist. Well, let’s see it.”
Dave unlocked the door and they went inside. He would have liked a few specifics, but if the priest really thought he could help him, what could he do but trust him? As soon as he walked inside he regretted it. There was no monster. They just stood in the living room, awkwardly looking at the cracks in the ceiling. The stupid priest was still grinning like an idiot.
There was a crash in the kitchen. It sounded like the little monster had started throwing silverware this time. Father Richard looked at him expectantly and headed toward the noise. Dave sighed and started to follow him. His cell phone rang. It was Sarah’s ringtone. Fantastic. He held the phone in front of him and frowned at it.
“It’s alright if you need to take it.” Father Richard said, still smiling. “In fact, go ahead and take a walk. I’ll be here when you get back.”
Dave shut the door on the priest unpacking his black bag. Dave got a quick impression of a heavy silver cross on the floor.
“Sarah?” Dave said into the phone.
“Hi. Did you sign the papers?”
“No.” He said.
“Dave, please don’t do this.”
“I don’t do anything!” He yelled, and he didn’t care who moved away from him, giving him sideways looks. He had started walking at some point, and turned around.
She went on. “You want me to feel a certain way about this, but I don’t.”
“I wanted you to be in love with me. That’s all!”
“Well I’m not.” She said, and there was a long silence.
“We really can’t give this another shot? I’d go to counseling, or anything. Whatever you want.”
The silence dragged on again. Maybe she was thinking about it. He imagined dramatically kicking Hank out of the apartment. He imagined them sitting on a porch watching children play, laughing about that time in the city when they almost split up.
“Dave….” She said finally and his heart dropped. “Just sign the papers. Not everything works out the way you plan. Let me be happy. I’m happy.”
He hung up the phone and stomped on through the dark. There was a silence in the empty yard that was heavy, like the moment before the theater curtain opened. He opened the door.
The house was silent. The priest’s black bag lay open on its side in the hallway. Its contents were scattered across the floor and into the living room. The silver cross was imbedded into the wall up to Jesus’ feet. Dave crept inside, tiptoeing around the tools. There was a vial of water, a dozen small, silver tools that he recognized from the movies as lock picks. There were sprigs of plants tied with silver chain and a ribbon.
He peaked into the kitchen. The first thing he noticed was the body and the blood. Father Richard lay on his back on the cheap linoleum with three knives in his chest. His blood was spread underneath him like a red rug. He stared at the ceiling. There was a red handprint on the counter top, as if the priest had tried to struggle to his feet, to escape.
Above the body the little red monster crouched on the counter. He peeled his lips back and hissed. There was blood across his mouth, across the thin teeth. The monster held a knife in his small, clawed hand. He lifted it and threw it at Dave who ducked behind the door frame and raced down the hall. He ran outside again, panting in the yard. He heard the thing laughing, cackling behind him, angry and insane and thrilled with what he’d done.
He walked, shivering from adrenaline and the crisp wind and the damp. People hurried by him, but no one noticed his fear or his shaking body. The neon glared at him. The rain spit on him. He walked until he found a storefront with an open sign. Bright yellow light poured out of their front window onto the street. He walked inside. It smelled like coffee. It was warm. He sat down on a stool and put his head in his hands. He was soaked. He felt the cold puddle growing underneath him on the counter. His phone rang and a shock went through his body. He answered it, slowly, painfully. He ached down to the bone.
“Don’t hang up this time.” Sarah. Oh, Sarah. Beautiful Sarah.
“I won’t. I’ll meet and sign the papers.”
She let out a little breath. “When?”
“How about now? Let’s get this over with.” It was over, all over. Plans easy to ruin. Damage was easy to do. Too easy to fight against.
She thought about it. “Okay. Where do you want to meet?”
“My house. I’ll give you the address.” He lifted his head off the counter and pointed to a coffee on the menu. “I went out for a bit, but the door is open. Just let yourself in. I’ll be home soon.”