This house is a part of a long red-brick terrace. I know that the street has a slight bend in it and that from my front door I can’t see the end. It’s an old house, and the inside of it can get confusing. I think it might be falling down but I can’t remember what it looked like when I was born – so there’s no way to be certain. The shared rooms are all on the ground floor. That’s where mine is too – but mine’s private. There are five private rooms and they’re all numbered. I chose my room because it looked out onto the garden. It’s overgrown today but I don’t mind that – no one goes outside anyway. This house is the centre of everything. Its gravity seems to hold my very body together. It is safety. Despite its faults, I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Having said that, the kitchen has started smelling recently. I think it’s a sign that my hygiene is slipping but then, it could be one of the others’ fault. It might even be that the cleaning lady has stopped coming. I wouldn’t know, I usually go off and hide when I think she’s coming – she embarrasses me. On second thoughts, I don’t think I like this house at all anymore. I’m sure I did when I started thinking about all this but, again, I can’t be certain. One thing I am sure of is that the size and position of the rooms is changing much more frequently now than they used to – more insidiously so too. After some journeys along the corridors I return to the comparative safety of my room with the feeling that the house is turning against me. But that’s silly – I’ve always lived here, and the house has never tried to force anyone out before – or is it? When I actually pause to think about it, I become certain that I’ve fallen out of favour. You could even see that it was so in the angles between the walls and in the shortness of the carpet.
I think that this preoccupation with the house’s new character was to blame for me not noticing when that new one came. I suspected the other ones of letting him in. They were probably behind the house’s recent shift against me too.
At first, the result of his presence amounted only to glimpses of a strange new voice. I would hear a twang and timbre from the other rooms that I didn’t recognise and – trust me I knew all of the sounds that could be made in this house – it would trouble me greatly for hours. There was something of the movies about that voice – the ones I watch late at night, alone – and I knew that none of the others had anything remotely American about them, so I decided to keep a note of whenever I heard it. We’d never had an intruder before and I could only imagine what kind of terrible thing they’d do to me while I was sleeping. If there really was an intruder, I decided, I’d have to do something about it.
I’d been monitoring the new arrival for weeks, studying it. It’d started leaving signs all over. When I went into the kitchen the place would reek of him, I’d see new and unusual rubbish in the bin that none of the others had ever left before. Once, after hearing him on the stairs, I’d burst, dripping, out of the shower only to catch the front door slamming shut. So, he went outside too. It tormented me. I even contemplated doing a survey of the rooms and gutting each one to rid myself of the criminals that were letting him in here. That would have meant the end of everything though. To treat the house in such a manner would have meant the end of everything I’d ever known. I was a passenger, comfortable, and the house had always looked after me. Hadn’t it? All signs of the intruder seemed to disappear for a week or so and I became worried that I was going insane – I’d heard that such a thing was possible when you stayed in as much as I did. But then, one night, the one from room two came to my door and I found that I wasn’t alone.
Room two’s information changed the whole situation. He knew all about the intruder, he’d even seen him, and like me he wasn’t happy about this at all. He was even more concerned than I had been. He thought that the intruder could be trying to kill us all – awake or asleep. The one from room two confirmed my suspicions by telling me that the intruder had been an American – a cowboy in fact – or at least he had been first time he saw him. He told me that now, by all appearances, he appeared to be a Victorian London Gentleman. This didn’t surprise me at all, I was used to change and this kind of metamorphosis didn’t seem beyond the capabilities of such a truly, evilly, skilled intruder.
Unfortunately, the one from number two informed me that he’d seen the other ones with him. Said that they liked him, that they’d even let him in some times – two’s room was above the front door so he was bound to notice comings and goings, in fact, it was what interested him most. Doubly unfortunately, for me, the one from number two is a coward. He’d been brave once, a few years ago, when people came from the council and tried to make us do repairs and alterations to the house. He’d even tried to be brave for a while after that too, with some success I might add – but he’d been a coward for a long time before all that and it suited him better. So, in the end, I was left by the one from number two supported by nothing more than what he had told me. I would have to kill our new house guest alone. It was determined.
I made a plan. I’d get him as he slipped in and out, I’d hide in the corridor and leap upon him, I’d wait for him. I had a knife and I was strong, enough. If I surprised him I’d have the advantage and could wrestle him to the ground where he’d be helpless. Then I could get on top of him, stab the knife in him and hold him down until he was done. The other ones could get rid of the body – he was all their fault anyway.
He made it easy for me, to find him, in the end. It was as if I went to sleep one night and woke in an entirely different house – a house shared with him. I saw the new door – with its little brass number on it – when I was coming out of the bathroom. It was right in front of me. And the sight of it hurt, it really hurt, in the devastating way that things hurt children because they’re helpless and confused and can’t see a time when whatever it is won’t hurt them anymore. I went back to my room and I sat on the floor, empty. Because that was it. He was one of the others now. Part of the house. I didn’t have the strength to eject or kill him anymore and if I did, would I? Like I said, I’d always lived here and I’d never done anything to hurt the house. It was all any of us had.
It started to rain while I was sat there on the floor, it was much later on but I was still sat on the floor. Water trickled into the room through the window frame and spattered onto the desk below it. It hadn’t done that before.
It’s strange how things change. Always change. Change seems to be the one constant around here but it manages to worry me every time I notice it. I can’t understand that person who was so worried about the new one in number six. Everyone loves him now, although the one from three has started being difficult with him over noise recently. He brings so many new experiences to our lives and I depend on his presence as much as I do the other four. His smell has become my smell and the fragments of his hot voice that I catch through the walls when I’m in my room remind me of my security and my purpose. Despite the house’s faults, I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
My name is Dominic Vale, I grew up in the north of England and have there returned after a few years away. I have been writing short fiction for the past year and I am currently working on minimalist aspects of my work, stripping back as much as I can.