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Speculative Urban Fantasy Christian

Gripping the reassuring weight of the heavy silver key, she makes her way through the gate, letting it clang shut behind her, hoping the tenants might hear her approach. She tries to remember the last time she was here, turning the key over and over in her pocket as if that will unlock the memory, but it stays stubbornly shut. A year ago? The inspections used to be annual, they were hardly needed more regularly when the House was brand sparkling new, all fresh paint and glittering windows.

Of course, she remembers a time when she’d been summoned to the house more often: late night calls, early in the morning; people locked out, things broken and needing to be fixed. Her help had been required and she’d always been willing to give it, whatever the day or hour. Everyone seemed to understand that the House, older now, needed a bit of TLC; together they’d got stuck in with the paintbrushes, giving it a new lick of paint or, in the garden, pulling up the weeds.

But then the phone calls had become a bit like the plumbing: erratic, calls coming in dribs and drabs; drops that didn’t seem to flow. Until they dried up altogether.

She had waited for the phone to dance in its stand, or buzz in her back pocket; at least to ping her a message: the pipe’s burst- can you help? Until, in the silence, the meaning rang out loud and clear: the tenants had forgotten her: their landlady.

She’d had to sit down for a moment or two, turning the realisation over and over as she did the bedclothes, airing them. She tried to see it in a kindlier light: perhaps they just thought they could relieve her of a job or two: fill in the cracks, clean out the u-bends. Surely, they didn’t mean to forget, let alone replace her…? They were her tenants after all; why would they want to be landlady and janitor too? It was just such a lot of responsibility; really, she often thought it was too much for one soul to bear.

Gripping the heavy silver key, she climbs the short flight of steps and then rests her hands for a moment against the front door, catching her breath. The paint is peeling off in thick strips, like a cat had scratched and scratched to be let in and nobody had answered. Left on the doorstep too, she reaches out and slowly peels away a long slither, remembering how thick, how gloriously oozy the paint had been when she’d first slicked it on. She’d swept her arm up and down, decorating the house in thick frosting. That first week, she’d worked and worked, but when it was finished- oh what a confection it was! Resting in her rocking chair that Sunday, she’d savoured the sight, the smell, the loveliness of it all.

It all seems so long ago.

Why is the paint chafing off? The answer radiates out in the warmth throbbing through the door like a wound pulsing blood. Even standing here, the light breeze lifting the paint- a lover’s curl- from her hand, she can feel, almost see, the heat quivering in the air.

What have they done to the central heating? She thinks, unbuttoning her cardigan, feeling the sticky closeness of her clothes. It’s summer for heaven’s sake, no need to override it at this time of year.

She remembers other sorts of fires giving off other sorts of heat: coaxed to life in the spark of a flint; then, in the kindling, color on fingers, daubed onto walls- the bull in Lascaux flickering in the first motion picture show; fires in grates: thick smoke tendrils lengthening, coughs deepening, lives shortening. Much later, fires as fun: outside on a summer’s night, marshmallows toasting, licking sticky fingers before feeding sticks to the hungry flames.

To camp, to cook, to heat, to light: she’s known them all, but what is this heat that warps the door; splits and spits the paint; whose only function seems to be destruction?


She shakes her head sorrowfully; when she’d built the House, welcomed the first tenants, she’d known this was the place for them to lay their head at night: to dream. But who can sleep well if the House is tossing and turning, running a temperature, sweat dripping from a fevered brow?

She is about to take the key out of her pocket, when she hears a strange gurgling noise, as if all the tenants have flushed, run the bath and pulled the plug, simultaneously. It isn’t so very loud, but still she takes an involuntary step backwards. Thankfully the swooshing sound stays inside; no head of water charges her like a watery bull, out of the garden and back onto the street.

Retreating back down the steps, she makes her way to the basement’s light well. The noise here is much louder; how on earth did she miss it when she first walked past? Reluctantly, for her knees play up and if she gets down she might have to stay there, she lowers herself to the ground, grass tickling her bare ankles. A lone ant energetically climbs over the hill of her hand; she lets it. Peering down into the gloom of the cellar, straining her eyes to see what is amiss, she half expects to see pointed horns jutting above a pair of equally sharp eyes.

Slowly her vision changes. This used to be the place where tenants stored bikes, crates of apples, as well as housing the communal washing machine. You couldn’t wash here now, unless you wanted to bath yourself at the same time, the water must be at waist height at least, she judges. An apple bobs by, then a plastic pacifier, perhaps set free by the upturned stroller, going nowhere now, wheels jutting above the waterline- taking a walk in thin air. As she watches, a hidden current snags, pulling the comforter down to a watery grave.

She heaves herself up, brushing the dirt from her hands. Her knees complain with a series of painful grinds; but she ignores them. She’s waited too long for the call that never came; she must speak to the tenants now. The House, the beautiful old House: it deserves more than this death by fire and flood, in the autumn of its years.

But when she returns with her complaining knees to the front door, all has changed, like she’d laid down for a lifetime and not only for a few minutes. Perplexed, she stares at the new door, brazenly staring out from the dear face she thought she knew so well. Made of impenetrable shiny metal, it is as if the builder has fashioned the door for the inhabitants to live within a furnace and still not feel the fire. In the metallic gleam she sees herself: a little old lady, wearing an open cardigan and a closed, puzzled expression.

Shaped like a monolith, there is no lock for a key; instead, mounted on the wall next to the door is a slender box with a single button. She presses it, waiting for lift off. And waits. In the silence, an answer: nothing.

She tries again, pressing the button longer, harder: nothing.

Jabbing it repeatedly: tap, tap, tap, tap like she’s typing an urgent letter: the rent is due, the lease is up…nothing

Then it dawns on her: of course, they’re waiting for her to speak!

“Hello!”

“Hello?”

“Hello…”

Whatever the intonation, the response is the same: shiny smooth silence.

Maybe she’s going about this all wrong? Of course! She should hold the key to the shiny silver box! She’s seen the tenants do this elsewhere. Gripping the reassuring weight of the heavy silver key, she presses its burnished curves to the sleek lines of the box: nothing.

A recollection: tenants swiping up, swiping left, swiping right. She tries them all, a series of moves, like she’s performing a mystical ceremony, summoning the magic, but none is forthcoming; all she has conjured is silence.

Have the tenants locked her out? Of her own house? 

She is glad she doesn’t have to give these awful questions breath, that they live in her mind is hateful enough. She longs to return to her porch; to sit in her rocking chair for another age, to rock herself to a comforting rhythm; rock till the answer comes, as she knows-with time- it will.

Slowly she turns away from that forbidding door, making her way back down the path. Perhaps the the only thing she can gift her tenants now, is the benefit of the doubt: that this tight-lipped door is not an unspoken reproach, but rather teeth gritted: ready for the charge. Danger might be head down and horned, but perhaps the tenants will wave their red flag and it will run straight past them…

She can only hope.

At the gate, she turns to give the House a parting glance. Carefully she places the old silver key on the path. It used to unlock the beautiful old House, now it must lie there, waiting for the time when the tenants want to pick it up, spring the lock and open the door anew. 

June 03, 2022 20:26

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11 comments

Michał Przywara
20:50 Jun 06, 2022

A curious story. Right from the beginning it's clear there's more to this than is going on, and it takes on an allegorical quality. It's curious, for example, that the landlady *wants* to be needed for maintenance, and she seems to have been around for a very long time. I see this is tagged Christian, which isn't something I'm very familiar with, so please forgive any misinterpretations. Clearly the House and the landlady are central to this story. The landlady I assume is God or an angel, though it seems like the former. What then is the ...

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Rebecca Miles
05:15 Jun 07, 2022

I'll take curious as I wanted to write an intriguing allegory. It's interesting as when I wrote it I had the second allegorical interpretation more to the fore but I can see your first reading as applicable too. Aeris commented she read it as being about old people barred from a modern world due to rapid technological improvement. I wanted the House to be strongly characterised and the narrator anonymous, so I suppose that different interpretations were inevitable. Wonderful! I let the story have a lot of freedom so I'm happy it grew up and...

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Zack Powell
20:32 Jun 06, 2022

I love when Urban Fantasy focuses on the urban aspect. The name suggests it, but it definitely is just as critical as the fantastical element, so, first of all, thank you for giving equal weight to both of those categories, Rebecca. I admit to seeing the symbolism of the door but not the allegory at work here. (For what it's worth, I think this is definitely more in the "subtle" camp than in the "poorly executed.") I am curious about the allegory you were going for, though. (Full disclosure: If it's a religious one, which I'm only wondering...

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Rebecca Miles
05:24 Jun 07, 2022

Hi Zack, morning from Germany! Waking up to your comments and feeling like I've a song to sing like the blackbirds outside! I'm so happy you like the writing and your favourite lines are ones I was especially delighted with ( the plumbing one!) I wrote this story thinking of an American audience as I know so many are on Reedsy so tried to change all the British vocab so it was more relatable ( pram became stroller, dummy a pacifier, caretaker a janitor) so that was an interesting writer's task for me! Thank you for saying subtle too!!! As al...

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Aeris Walker
15:49 Jun 06, 2022

I really loved how you describe the old woman with her open cardigan, her difficultly getting up and down, and her attachment to the old ways. How she sees herself in the reflection of glossy new technology and is unable to proceed beyond it was a beautiful way to portray how technology can be a huge barrier for the older generations, how it can bar them from being in control of things they’ve build up but have been modernized and changed into something they don’t understand. Hopefully I’m reading into that the way you intended! Well done!

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Rebecca Miles
16:31 Jun 06, 2022

I intended it as an allegory; so far no-one has picked up on it! I don't know if that means it is incredibly clever and subtle or poorly executed!!!! Thanks for reading Aeris, so lovely to see you regularly interacting with my work as I am a newbie here (just about!) And yes, you're right the old woman finds it very hard to adapt and accept what is happening to the "House".

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Aeris Walker
18:57 Jun 06, 2022

The allegorical aspect became clearer toward the end, and although it was shrouded in mystery in a intriguing way, the reveal was maybe a bit too subtle. But the only paragraph that stood out to me as a bit confusing was when she started talking about other kinds of fires. I wasn’t quite sure of what to make of that, but I felt like the rest was very cohesive and insightful. Yes, I’m newish here too, but I really love this community! And the weekly prompts and social aspect definitely helps to keep me accountable to continue writing even wh...

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Piper Mae
07:59 Jun 06, 2022

Hi Rebecca! Love how you describe the house falling apart, it feels so grimy and oozy and the descriptions of the house when it was first built contrasts so well

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Rebecca Miles
08:59 Jun 06, 2022

Thanks Piper. Yes I wanted the House to be really symbolic so I had to work on the characterisation of it well. Thanks for reading!

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18:26 Jun 05, 2022

Oh wow, I loved the description of the house, it definitely felt like it was a character itself!

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Rebecca Miles
06:02 Jun 06, 2022

Thanks so much Alyssa for reading for a second week; I'm going to check out yours now!

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