This is a story from the December 2023 issue of Worlds of Possibility. The ebook of the entire issue is available to download for free as an end of the year gift here: https://www.juliarios.com/the-december-2023-issue-of-worlds-of-possibility/
by Annika Barranti Klein
Her stepfather built the house on the mountain the year she was born. She and her mother moved in sometime after her first birthday, and later she could not remember ever living anywhere else. She was four years old when she first noticed that the house had a heart of its own, and it beat in time with hers.
The first time the house had saved her, she was seven. She was playing outside by herself, climbing the big rock in the copse of birch trees in the backyard. One second she was standing atop the rock, triumphant. The next she was falling, her footing lost, the ground looming up beneath her. Then she landed in her bed, safe and sound. No time had gone by.
Years later she still remembered the house scooping her out of mid-air and gently placing her in the safest place it knew: home, where their hearts beat in unison.
As she grew older, she understood that she, too, was home to someone, that her house needed her as she needed it. She would lie on her bed breathing softly and touch her hand to the crack in her wall. It was there that she felt the house pulsing around her. She felt the air go into her lungs. She felt the thud of the little drum inside her chest. And she felt the kettle drum that was the house’s heart beating against her hand.
She closed her eyes, listening to their hearts beating together as one.
The second time the house had saved her, she was eleven. She and her friends Emma H. and Emma J. were building a bridge over the creek in the back wood. They had fought, and the Emmas had decided to be friends with each other and not her. After they went home, she went back to building the bridge, sure that if she finished it they’d be shocked and delighted and her friends again. One second she was placing a cinder block. The next she was falling, her shoe stuck in the mud, the creek rushing up to meet her like a roaring river. Then she landed face-first on her bed, safe and sound. Their hearts beat in unison. No time had gone by.
In school, the Emmas acted like nothing had happened, but she found herself growing away from them nonetheless, preferring the company of her house. She never found her shoe.
She was eighteen when her parents told her they were selling the house, moving down off the mountain, closer to town. She ran to her room and threw herself onto the bed, hand against the wall, sobbing, but she couldn’t stop them, couldn’t explain what the house meant to her. She was away at school the day the movers came. She felt a great hole open up in her heart, a house-shaped hole that she feared would never heal.
For years after the house was sold, she woke up every morning with her hand on the crack in the wall, feeling the house’s heartbeat, the smell of honeysuckle in her nose. It took minutes some days, hours others, for her to realize she wasn’t there. She took sleeping pills to keep herself from dreaming of the house, but she stopped when she began to smell honeysuckle in waking hours.
Over time the visits became less frequent. Her mother told her that a family had moved in. Months later, she called again to say that something had happened. No one would say what, but the family had moved back out. Time and again she called, reported on family after family moving in and back out again. “In town they whisper about the house being dangerous. But,” her mother said, “it isn't the house, of course it isn’t the house. Who would be afraid of a house?”
She’d been in California for ten years when she woke from the same dream she’d had countless times since leaving the house. She was there, her hand against the house’s heartbeat. The house welcomed her back. Perhaps she’d never left. She was there, and she was home, and her heartbeat was right again. The house's heartbeat was right again.
It had been several years since it had taken her so long to remember that she was no longer in the house. In her sleep, the house-shaped hole in her chest was full. When she woke, it ached in its hollowness.
She returned to the house when she was forty-two years old. Emma J. sent her a message when it came back on the market. “I don’t know if you remember me, but I saw that your house is up for sale, and I know your mother would love for you to come back to town.” She had not known when she accepted the friend request that Emma was a realtor, but she was. Emma offered to show her the house.
She booked a flight.
Although she wanted to go alone, she agreed to let Emma drive her up the hill from town. It was surprisingly nice to see her again. As the car turned off the road onto the long driveway and approached the house, she closed her eyes. She could feel the open air as the car emerged from the trees into the clearing in front of the house.
She opened her eyes. The honeysuckle had grown wild and engulfed the front and side of the house. The paint was chipped and the porch sagging. The gable window into her old room appeared to be looking down at her, wondering, perhaps even longing. She felt the pull toward the house and stepped out of the car.
Emma produced the key. “Would you like to take a few minutes on your own?”
“Yes,” she whispered, taking the key. She barely had to push it into the lock before the door gave way, opening just for her. Her feet took her to her old room. She touched her hand to the crack in the wall, still there after so many years. She smelled the honeysuckle.
Their hearts beat in unison like no time had gone by.
About the Author
Annika Barranti Klein lives in Los Angeles in a tiny apartment full of books and people. Her poetry has been in Fireside and Kaleidotrope, and her short fiction has been in Asimov’s, Weird Horror, The Future Fire, Mermaids Monthly, and Fusion Fragment. She is a member of SFWA, a former roller derby referee, and an erstwhile knitter. She is usually working on a novel. Find her online at AnnikaObscura.com