I found the listing online. It was the top floor of one of those strange little houses that appear, as if teleported from some quaint New England town, sandwiched between the city’s towering apartment buildings. It looked like a quiet, calming place. Just what I needed.
I’d had a bad run of things recently. My boyfriend, Charlie, had dumped me to work on his novel – ‘I need more time to myself, to work on my novel’ is how he’d phrased it – and then been poisoned by black mold in his apartment. He’d never been very fastidious. This was among the things we’d fought about. The doctors said they hadn’t seen anything like this strain of mold. They speculated it might have mutated as a result of climate change or the overuse of chemical cleaners. Anyway, Charlie survived, but the breakup stuck.
My girlfriends ushered me to a loud bar with fourteen-dollar cocktails and insisted we talk shit about Charlie. ‘I always hated him,’ Tanya said. ‘You can do much better.’ Anya raised her vodka soda and clinked it against Tanya’s gin gimlet. ‘I bet his dick was all moldy too,’ Anya said. I guess this was supposed to make me feel better, but it only made me feel more alone.
I’d always been a bit of a hypochondriac and soon I was seeing circles spreading on the walls of my apartment, spots appearing on my sheets and ceiling. I was like a mycophobic Lady Macbeth. I needed a change of pace. Plus, my lease was up and the landlords were trying to raise the rent by a ridiculous amount citing improvements I hadn’t even noticed.
I visited the little apartment from the listing I’d found online, and although there wasn’t much closet space, I was taken with the bay windows that overlooked the backyard. I imagined setting a small table by the windows and sipping my coffee, awash in the morning light.
When I told the owner, Mrs O, that I was interested, I called her ‘Ms’ and she got very agitated.
‘Please call me Mrs,’ she said. ‘I know it’s not hip with you young folk, but I miss my husband. My last name is all I have left from him that anyone can see.’
‘That they can see?’
‘Only the name and this house,’ she said. Her husband had been an architect who worked with tech start-ups designing ‘smart homes’. Apparently he’d been hit by a city bus while biking to the park. His body was crushed under the wheels.
‘Harold kept himself in such remarkable shape,’ Mrs O told me as I signed over my security deposit. She showed me a photo on her phone, which was the latest model and looked gigantic in her withered hand. ‘He biked every day and ate nothing but vegetables. And for what?’
‘Maybe he lived better before the accident. On a day-to-day basis, I mean.’
Mrs O was looking out at the road with contempt. A couple delivery guys puttered by on mopeds. ‘He maintained that body like a well-oiled machine. And it didn’t help him one bit in the end.’
Every morning I made coffee with an electric kettle and a French press, then sat at my desk in the warm morning light. I felt like I was slowly putting myself back together.
The last few years had done a number on me – not just Charlie and the mold, but shitty underpaid jobs with overeager bosses, my father’s sudden cancer, four apartment moves in three years – and I was desperate for a good one. I decided to do all the self-care I could stand. Meditation, yoga, regular exercise, crystals on my desk, no coffee or caffeinated tea after one p.m., you name it.
Due to the odd shape of the bedroom, the only place I could put the bed was beside the radiator. At night, I could hear rough sounds, somewhere between pants and coughs, crawling up the pipes. It sounded like someone dying, or else death itself breathing down my neck.
I thought maybe Mrs O had a large old dog, but when I asked, she laughed. ‘Obviously I could never have a dog. Harold was allergic, don’t you know?’
I did not know, but I said, ‘Ah. Right.’
Mrs O was a strange one. She was always walking around and knocking on the floor or rubbing her hands on the walls. ‘I’m going to update this house soon,’ she told me. ‘Make it a smart house, like Harold would have wanted.’
Despite the strange noises – which soon felt as commonplace as the wallpaper – and the oddities of the landlady, I felt comfortable in the apartment. I was finally home.
The bathroom window faced the street and one night, when I’d woken up to pee, I saw a shape pushing a black wire cart down the sidewalk. The kind of cart every old lady in the city used to haul groceries and laundry. This one was filled all the way to the top with lumpen bags. Mrs O was pushing it. When the cart’s wheels hit a crack in the sidewalk, the contents crunched. I realized they were bags of ice.
Mrs O flew down the street. When she got to our stoop, she looked around and I crouched back out of view. Mrs O tossed a bag over each shoulder and skipped up the steps like a witch dragging two lost children into her gingerbread house.
A dark circle of water spread beneath the cart.
Right in the middle of a deadline, my laptop froze. When I rebooted, I couldn’t find the file I’d been working on. My work had vanished like a ghost into the walls of the hard drive. I looked everywhere, opening each folder, checking each drive, clicking with increasing force. I was practically smashing the keys.
I jumped out of my chair and screamed. A cigarette was what I needed. I knew it was a bad habit, but maybe cancer was the price of self-care.
Old Mrs O appeared on the stoop. ‘I couldn’t help overhearing. I figured you could use a treat.’ She handed me a blueberry scone on a napkin.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘My laptop ate my files. I’ve never been very good with technological hiccups. I expect people to be a pain, but a machine should do its job.’
‘People and machines aren’t so different,’ she said. She grunted as she sat down beside me. She wore a navy windbreaker and her gray hair was held up by a headband. ‘I could take a gander if you like. I’m pretty technologically handy.’
I must have looked surprised. I assumed most old ladies had a hard time even turning on the TV. But Mrs O explained she’d been a computer engineer.
‘When Harold designed his experimental houses, he got me to figure out where the tech would go.’ Her lips crinkled in a smile.
I felt a pain inside me as I remembered the projects Charlie and I’d had planned. Then I remembered what an asshole he’d been and how I was doing better on my own. I squished the sentiment with my mind.
When I brought the laptop downstairs, Mrs O didn’t open her door. ‘It’s too untidy in here to invite you in, but I’ll have it back in a jiffy.’
About two hours later I heard a knock. The laptop was outside my door, alongside a plate of oatmeal cookies with little raisins that looked at me like a mess of eyes.
‘Apps,’ Anya said. ‘It’s all about the apps. There’re so many men on them! Just swipe through them like parts on an assembly line.’
I’d convinced Anya and Tanya to come down to my new apartment for brunch. Tanya had brought prosecco and Anya the orange juice. While Tanya mixed mimosas, I took the frittata out of the oven.
‘I don’t think dating apps are for me. I’m a luddite.’
‘Even luddites need to get laid,’ Tanya said.
We talked about the usual things: our feelings about men, our feelings about women, our feelings about our shitty jobs and annoying parents. It felt good to laugh and get it all out.
Tanya shushed us. There was a faint scratching at the window, like the fingernails of a ghost on the glass. Scritch, scritch, scritch.
We tiptoed over and saw the silver end of a metal measuring tape tapping the pane. ‘Amanda, what’s that weird old lady doing in your backyard?’
I opened the window. ‘What’s up, Mrs O?’
‘Just getting ready for the improvements,’ she shouted. The table was covered with printouts and tools. ‘This’ll be a smart house soon! Finally!’
‘Old people are so weird,’ Anya whispered through her smile.
After Anya and Tanya left, I knocked on Mrs O’s door. She opened it a crack.
‘What kind of smart house features are you adding? Like voice control?’
Mrs O was silent for a minute. She seemed to be debating if she should insult me or not.
‘Not just that,’ she said. ‘I want responsive appliances and a bathroom that knows how to fill the tub to exactly the right temperature, with not too many bath salts. Like Harold used to draw for me. I want the house to feel like it’s alive.’
‘That’s exciting.’ I wondered if I should offer to help, although I didn’t know anything about smart houses.
I couldn’t quite see into her apartment, but I could see a smart watch on her hand. There was an icon of a beating heart and the number seemed impossibly low. Thirty bpm. I’d taken a health class in college and remembered anything below sixty was abnormal. Mrs O seemed spry as a squirrel though.
‘I won’t fuss around on your floor if that’s what you’re worried about,’ she said. She grinned. ‘Although you’ll be missing out.’
I picked up some freelance gigs, lost others. Every day seemed to bring about some new horror on the news. Mothers throwing babies into ponds laced with toxic algae or men gunning down strangers at movie theaters. The climate was getting more unstable and the political situation was enough to drive you mad. And every week, Mrs O made improvements on the house.
The staircase was repainted and new sconces with motion sensors installed on the walls. She replaced the front door lock with an electronic system that could be opened with a phone app. She was more than double my age yet had twice the energy. Hardly a day went by when I didn’t see her bustling about.
Although Mrs O had said she wasn’t going to fuss with my floor, I started to notice things changing. None of my possessions were touched, yet I would come home from work and find a new faucet or a thermostat I didn’t recognize. It wouldn’t be until I muttered something to myself that I realized they were voice activated. I was annoyed at the onset, but then I decided to embrace the upgrades. This was going to be my home too, after all.
‘What can I do?’
‘Oh?’ Mrs O was moving her stud finder around the hallway.
‘To help out. With the smart house.’
Mrs O seemed a little nervous. ‘The electronics and the wiring are very delicate.’ She unfurled her face. ‘But I could use help taking out all this junk! You’d save my old back.’
And so I began hauling out what Mrs O tore out of the house: old light fixtures, tangled cords, chunks of broken Sheetrock. It made me feel happy and useful. Mrs O would make us glasses of homemade lemonade and we’d sit on the stoop, the sun sinking in front of us while behind us the house thrummed, as if alive.
The problems began slowly, then swelled. First a bad smell, like charred meat, wafted through the apartment. I wondered if a squirrel had gotten fried in the walls. I had to put a fan in my window. I still heard noises at night coming up the pipes, although they sounded more mechanical and repetitive. Cough, clunk, cough, clunk.
One day, I moved a dresser and saw a stain of black mold on the wall that looked almost like the outline of a tortured, screaming face. I couldn’t believe it. I might have screamed myself. I took a photo and posted it on my Instagram feed. I ran to spray the mold with bleach, but when I got up close, I realized it wasn’t black mold after all. It was a burn.
‘Must be some faulty wiring in the walls,’ Mrs O said. She ran a finger tenderly around the mouth. ‘I’ll inspect it right away.’
‘No worries, it just startled me.’
She painted over the face and the patch stayed one shade lighter than the rest of the wall.
Mrs O held a large platter of meat. The sausages sat in a pink puddle. She said her friend at the butcher shop – ‘a nice old man and so clean with the cleaver’ – had given her more bratwursts than she could eat. She insisted I join her out back to grill.
‘I’m trying to eat less meat.’
She poked her stubby fingers right into my middle. ‘Nonsense. You’re just like Harold. Did the veggie sausages help him when the truck hit? Plus I want to show you something.’
I’d been in the middle of a frustrating work day, so I shrugged. ‘Oh, what the hell.’
Mrs O waddled over to the grill. She turned it on and sighed. ‘I never used to have to do this part.’
‘Here let me.’ I took the tongs.
‘You don’t know what it’s like to be old and alone,’ she said, pointing out how to adjust the gas. ‘You have to relearn all the things your partner knew. And it’s so expensive. Your rent is a godsend.’
I spaced the sausages on the grill in equal intervals.
Mrs O hummed a tune.
The house loomed behind her, casting its shadow over the backyard even as lights blinked inside. The temperature was dropping with the sun and I wished I’d brought my jacket.
‘Do you have someone special in your life?’ Mrs O said.
I mimicked turning on a motel sign. ‘Vacancy.’
Mrs O put a surprisingly heavy hand on my shoulder. ‘You need a partner, dearie. All of the scientific studies say it helps you live a longer, more fulfilled life. You don’t want to die sad and alone like me.’
‘You’re doing great,’ I said. ‘Look at all you’ve done with this house! To be honest, I’d love to be like you when I’m older. Just kicking ass by myself.’
One of the sausages split open and a burst of hot grease fell on my forearm.
The sky had turned from blue to bright red. The house’s facade looked almost black.
‘I’m not all alone.’ Mrs O gestured toward the house. She winked at me, and then she shouted over her shoulder. ‘Dear, turn on the lights.’
Now, just give me a second here, a wavering and staticky voice said from speakers that must have been hidden in the potted plants. Suddenly the backyard lit up like the Manhattan skyline. Mrs O had woven tiny lights all through the fence. Oh, that’s bright.
‘You got the voice system working,’ I said, surprised. The computer’s voice was nothing like the pleasant and androgynous voices most tech companies used. This sounded like an old man, and a rather cranky one at that.
It’s getting nippy out. There was a glitch that sounded like coughing. Don’t forget to put on a coat.
‘How do you like my Harold?’
Mrs O was beaming.
‘You programmed his voice into the house?’ I said. ‘How did you do that?’
My face must have looked shocked, but Mrs O didn’t see. She’d closed her eyes.
‘Harold, what’s the weather like tomorrow?’
Weather dot com says a 34 percent chance of rain. You didn’t lose the umbrella did you?
The voice made me nervous. It was human enough that it felt like someone was watching us from all around. I looked up at the house and imagined the windows as gigantic eyes.
But Mrs O only smiled.
‘Mmm,’ Mrs O said. ‘Dulcet tones.’
I finally downloaded one of those dating apps. The apartment may have been home, but I still needed to leave its walls sometimes, especially now that those walls mumbled in Harold’s computerized voice. Tanya wrote a profile for me and Anya selected photos. There was one of me jumping on a beach, one at a wedding in a nice dress, one cuddling a friend’s fluffy white dog.
I matched with a man named Rupert. I didn’t find him that attractive but was charmed by the name, which made him sound like a British butler. He turned out to be a finance bro who wanted to talk about exercise routines and ‘pretty edgy’ stand-up comedians.
‘Isn’t this place the bomb?’ Rupert said as the waiter placed the omakase between us. Rupert drummed on his plate with the chopsticks. The tray had a lot of the usual: salmon, two types of tuna, yellowtail with scallion, shrimp, globs of uni. But there were also sashimi I didn’t recognize, with fleshy hues that looked more human than fish.
‘The Japanese are crazy,’ Rupert said. ‘Raw fish! How do you think that up?’
I ate a few bites and soon realized the food wasn’t agreeing with me. I excused myself and ran home, vomit threating to leap out at every block.
Now who’s that there at this hour? the intercom said when I walked up the steps.
I didn’t respond, just opened the app on my phone. The security camera pivoted, following me. The walls seemed to be bending. I held my stomach. Finally, I got the app to unlock the door.
Not even a hello, eh?
As I forced myself inside, I could have sworn the camera was looking at me. Not just as a machine, not coldly. The way the moonlight reflected off the camera made it seem like there was a human eyeball embedded in the glass.
Despite never considering myself superstitious, I started to think that Harold was haunting the apartment. What if Harold hadn’t died in some bicycle accident? What if he had been murdered by Mrs O? His body stuffed in the walls that were now wired with high-tech electronics? Could the algorithms have summoned him back to life?
I walked around my apartment’s walls, ear pressed to the paint, listening for what was out of sight. I had trouble sleeping. The sounds from the radiator would wake me up in the middle of the night. Cough, clunk, cough, clunk. The only things I could see in my black room were the smart-house electronics blinking.
Still, I didn’t want to cause trouble with Mrs O. I decided to simply de-Harold my part of the house. At the 99-cent store I got black tape and went through my apartment covering up anything that could have been a camera. My mother had given me a piece of ugly art that I found fit exactly over the discolored paint that covered the burn mark.
You always freak out about things like this, Tanya wrote when I group-texted my fears. Anya agreed. Its true Amandaboo. Jobs. Boys. Apts. 3 months in and your ready to scram!
My friends were right. I tried to stop thinking about Harold.
I started up meditation and yoga again. I chattered with Mrs O on the stoop about anything other than Harold and the house. I even took out the flattened cardboard boxes that had delivered who knows what machines.
Then a couple weeks later I got a call from Tanya.
‘You know, I think your landlady is senile.’
‘Well, I’m working on a story about traffic safety and I remembered the bit you told me. About your landlady’s dead husband. I did some googling and, well, I can’t find any report of a bicyclist with his name getting killed near the park.’
‘Senile? She’s spry and smart. She installed all those smart tech things.’
‘Old people can be weird. Maybe she never married and is embarrassed about it.’
I decided to do some searching myself. I checked the news sites and the public records. Tanya was right. I couldn’t find anything matching Mrs O’s description of her husband’s death. I could feel my heart beating louder with each search that ended with no results.
I looked around at my apartment, wondering if there was anything gazing back.
I don’t know how Mrs O knew it was my birthday, but she handed me a small blue box. She was practically vibrating with excitement.
‘You really didn’t have to.’
‘Why do people always say that?’ she snapped. ‘I already did. What am I going to do? Go back in time?’
I carefully unwrapped the package. Inside was a black brooch shaped like an ear. It was some type of electronic, but it felt fleshy and smelled like latex.
‘It doesn’t just listen, it also speaks,’ she said.
She clapped her hands three times and the wobbly Harold voice came out of the brooch. Yes, darling. What is it? I was trying to take a nap!
‘You really shouldn’t have,’ was all I could say.
‘You can bring Harold with you wherever you go now.’ She pointed at her lapel, which was decorated with another ear brooch. ‘I’ve got one too! They connect to the whole smart house through the cloud.’
‘I’m not sure I’ll have much use for it,’ I said, sprinkling my voice with as much politeness as I could muster.
‘Nonsense. This way, you can call him up when you’re out and about and Harold will get stuff ready for you.’ She lifted her pin to her lips. ‘Harold! Start the bath already!’
I’ll do it. I’ll do it. You don’t have to yell.
I put the ear device in a sandwich bag. I duct taped the bag shut and then buried it in the back of my desk drawer. The whole interaction put me on edge. I knew I was going to have to move again, despite all my hopes for a year of calm and stability.
The only smart feature in my apartment I hadn’t been able to turn off was the intercom. Once I depowered it, I’d be Harold free while I looked for a new place. I used a butter knife on the casing, which popped open with a gasp. I found the screws and undid them carefully, not wanting to damage anything and lose my security deposit. When I finally got the panel open, a few white objects fell onto kitchen tiles. I thought they were bits of broken plastic but when I picked them up, they looked almost exactly like human teeth.
The hurricane was described as ‘a once-in-a-generation storm’. It was the fourth or fifth once-in-generation storm we’d had in the last couple years. The climate was spiraling out of control.
I’d been avoiding Mrs O for the past week and searching for new apartments online. I felt like the house was driving me mad.
Crouching in my bathroom window, I saw Mrs O stocking up on supplies. She ran in and out of the house with her little old lady cart hauling canned soups, cartons of bottled water, and more bags of ice.
I’d planned to meet Tanya and Anya for a hurricane party, but I ended up in bed with the flu. I put duct tape on the windows and nestled under the covers with a movie streaming on my laptop.
The wind howled almost as loud as the city’s traffic. Then the rains came in unending sheets.
A few hours into the storm, the lights went out. All of them. My laptop was, thankfully, fully charged. I kept watching my movie. Then I heard a tortured wail from Mrs O’s apartment, followed by crashes like glasses smashed against a wall.
My head was woozy from the medicine and the flu. The whole house, which normally seemed to throb, was still, dark and silent. I walked slowly downstairs with some spare candles and knocked on Mrs O’s door. All the smart-house electronics were off.
‘Do you need some candles, Mrs O?’
I thought I heard a faint voice. I pressed my ear to the door.
‘It can’t be happening. It can’t.’
I knocked a few more times, but Mrs O wouldn’t respond.
The blackout took out half of the city. No one knew when it would end. I went to the rooftop and looked at the skyline. It was eerie and almost unbelievable. The bright lights of the city, those countless illuminated squares running up every building, ended arbitrarily and completely. It looked like half the city had been vaporized by a supervillain’s ray.
The house was even stranger. Before, it had felt alive, eerily so. Now it was silent and still, like it had been replaced with a plastic replica in the middle of the night.
I walked downstairs, one hand on the cold wall. I hadn’t seen Mrs O since the blackout started. Truth was, I hadn’t wanted to. Yet she was sitting on the staircase when I came down from the roof. I almost tripped over her in the dark. She was propped against the wall, mumbling and pulling on her white hair.
‘They killed my smart house.’
‘It’s only a blackout. They’ll get the power fixed soon,’ I said, trying to muster a cheery voice.
‘Too late, too late,’ she moaned. She reached out a hand and grabbed mine. Her skin was waxy and cold. She moaned again. ‘Harold.’
As soon as I saw Mrs O disappear down the street with her pushcart, I crept downstairs. With the smart house offline, the door was unlocked. It opened with a simple push.
The first thing that hit me was the cloud of stench that escaped through the door. It was a rotting, evil smell so thick in the air I felt like I was chewing it.
There were only a few lights in the apartment. Battery powered plastic candles plus the blinking lights of a few machines in the corner. They were enough to see more than I wanted to see.
In the middle of what had been the dining room was a body in a large tank of water. Empty plastic bags were scattered around the floor. The body didn’t move. It was old, with gray hair and splotchy skin.
I knew instantly that this was Harold. He was peaceful, but incomplete. There were holes across the body. The eyes and the top of his head were gone. Certain bones and organs seemed to have been removed through incisions, the wounds stitched back together with thick black thread.
A pool of pinkish liquid spread from the bottom of the tank.
I took two steps into the room.
The walls and ceiling and floor were all flecked with dark specks. Wires and cords flowed out of Harold, like thin snakes, and slithered around to different machines. The machines were white and clean. Dials spun back and forth. A low hum filled the room, which I realized came from a small generator by the stove.
I turned to the countertop, which was covered with jars. Extracted body parts sat inside thick fluid. On top of the counter, a wrinkled gray globe, a brain, floated in a yellow vat.
I leaned over and retched, but nothing came out. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe through my mouth.
I knew I should call the police, but I was drawn further inside. I couldn’t help myself. I felt like I was sliding across the floor, as if Harold’s body had been imbued with some magnetic force.
As I reached out to touch a wet red cord stretching between the body and one of the machines, Mrs O burst into the room. She carried two more bags of ice. She ran to the tank and poured the contents inside, seeming not to notice me.
‘You’ll be okay,’ she said, softly. She collapsed in the chair beside the tank. A small cry escaped her throat. ‘Don’t leave me alone again.’
The police told me I’d have to stay somewhere else for a while.
‘It’s an active crime scene. The whole house is. We’re calling in special units.’
I gathered what I could into my backpack while they watched me and asked questions. Mrs O had already been hauled away. When did I first notice a strange smell? Why hadn’t I seen anything suspicious? If I did see something, why hadn’t I reported it? And so on and so forth.
‘There are lots of weird smells in the city,’ I said.
‘Oh, the judge will love that answer.’ The officer wrote on his little notepad.
I didn’t like having them in my apartment. I felt defensive, as if the police were burglars violating my sacred space.
‘When did he die? Harold, I mean. Can I ask that?’
‘According to what we can tell, parts of him are still alive. But only parts.’
‘Did he get hit by a bus? I’d heard a bus killed him.’
The medical examiner overheard this. She held a white clipboard with green latex gloves. ‘Some of the wounds on the abdomen are consistent with an automobile collision. I’d estimate those injuries occurred about four months ago.’ She pointed toward the bathroom. ‘Mind if I use this?’
It was the smell that tipped off the police. The neighbors had called the night before, but with the blackout the police were backlogged.
I don’t know if I would have called them myself, if they hadn’t shown up like they did. Everyone thinks they would do the right thing in a situation like this, but what was the right thing? Mrs O was a woman getting along all by herself. She had no relatives or friends that I ever saw. Apparently Harold’s accident had never been reported. Mrs O had been cashing his Social Security checks and Harold’s name was still on the lease. Now she’d lose everything. The only one who would win out was the bank.
If I’m being honest with myself, I think if I’d been left to my own devices I would have just packed up my things and moved away in the middle of the night. I would have hoped the whole situation would work itself out without me.
As the police questioned me, days later when I was sleeping on an air mattress with a slow leak in Tanya’s living room, I started to get indignant.
‘Mrs O was a genius,’ I said. ‘She was a little mad maybe, but aren’t all geniuses?’
‘She integrated her husband into a smart house. She had his brain hooked up to the speaker system. She should be getting the Nobel Prize!’
The police officer snorted and wrote something down. ‘The smart house wasn’t as smart as you think it was. Most of the, I don’t know what you want to call them. The preservations, let’s say. They were just decoration. They weren’t doing anything. The machines ran independently despite whatever superstitions she had. She was a crazy old lady slicing up her husband!’
‘But the voice.’ I wasn’t ready to deny Mrs O everything yet. ‘Harold spoke through the house. He could hear us and talk back.’
‘That wasn’t Harold,’ the officer said. ‘Our tech people say she’d purchased what they call “a skin” online. You can have your smart systems talk with any “skin” you want. A celebrity even. I guess they analyze a lot of audio files and build an algorithm. We all have tons of text and audio online these days what with all the social media programs. You can make a skin of anyone. I could even make one of you.’
The police called sometime later and said I could go finally go move out my furniture. I couldn’t believe how little of myself was in the house. The French press and a few other possessions. Everything fit inside a handful of boxes. A small stack in the corner.
I looked out the window and saw the movers who’d taken out the bed smoking cigarettes as they leaned against their van.
The house was empty and silent. If you walked inside right then, it would have seemed like any other apartment. The only notable things were the rectangular holes where the police had cut out the parts of the smart house.
Something took hold of me, something sad and angry. They couldn’t have removed everything, surely. I rooted in the cabinet below the sink until I found the hammer behind the cans of old paint. I didn’t have to worry about the security deposit anymore. I found the discolored square patch Mrs O had painted over – it was still there. I wacked and ripped feverishly, tossing chunks of Sheetrock that skittered across the laminate floor.
Finally, I had a dark hole large enough for my head. I turned on my phone’s light and flashed it inside. There were all sorts of wires inside. Black, red, white and green. I grabbed them. Tugged. I had no idea where they might lead.
Dust was everywhere. I was hacking violently and had to shut my eyes. I thought I heard something, a coughing sound from deep down in the house. ‘Hello?’ I said. I pushed my head further into the hole. ‘Hello?’
But there was no reply.
Image © Erik Schepers