House Haunting

The town council made it clear, empty houses caused economic blight. Lauren thought it went the other way around, but you couldn’t bulldoze economic blight, so the houses got the short end of the stick. She looked up at the lumbering Victorian. Gingerbread work proudly ringed three stories, a stain glass window crowned the top. It could be gorgeous if someone cared, bought for a pittance, made beautiful. Instead it would be bull dozed, returned to green space, all in line with the new edicts.

The front door stuck until she put her shoulder into it. She expected a dark interior, something with dust swirling in motes of sunlight. The space wasn’t bad though, almost lived in, or alive really, with bright wood work and three fire places downstairs. She found herself thinking about it, considering what she would do with the space. No matter, the bull dozers would come as soon as she scheduled them.

The yip came when she inspected the third bedroom. The kind of yip she’d cursed once, a noise so clearly associated with sleepless nights. Puppyhood. Why did anyone think it was so great? But then her eyes stung, because Baxter, Baxter had always been great even when he was a garbage eating trash dog. Baxter, she blinked away the tears. The yip sounded exactly like Baxter.

It came again, and again, until she couldn’t just call herself insane and go on with the final inspection. She found herself downstairs, then upstairs again. Baxter yipping coming from everywhere and made by nothing. She remembered him, every detail of his golden fur and dark brown eyes. The yips brought his puppyhood though, not his older years, the arthric hips, the slow still-eager wag of his tail.

They were in the front parlor room, the square of space empty except a broken down red couch and them. She saw the first one and knelt down. “Bax?”

The puppy looked up at her, almost sleepy, but then sprang up, ran to her, golden retriever ears flopping around the couch. She fell almost, plopped down on her butt and scooped him up, this Baxter-puppy-that-couldn’t-be. He licked her face like Baxter, wiggled and climbed over her. Baxter as a puppy. Her heart filled with joy and pain, gladness at this stolen moment. She’d missed him and what he stood for, more than she realized.

And then another yip, and there were more of them. Seven in the end. A litter. She couldn’t leave them to the bulldozers. She could barely leave the room. So much love, so many memories. A room of seven Baxters. She found an empty box, filled it with them. After longer than she cared to admit they all went in the car, then back to her office.

Where they disappeared. Some one took them from the box and she fumed about it. Angry. Cursed the world. She could go buy a puppy, sure. Buy seven of them. But they wouldn’t yip like Baxter. She took her bitterness out on the house. Had her assistant do the final inspection that afternoon.

He came back almost manic with glee, talking about papers, forms. The builder he said, over and over again, as if she would understand. They filled him with coffee, made him slow down. He’d found plans. Dozens of them, upstairs in a drawer. The architect was famous, the house couldn’t be bulldozed. He’d dreamed of finding a hidden gem like this.

But the forms, the papers, where were they? Stolen from his car. But he’d find them again. The bull dozers couldn’t come.

Dispatched an intern, a quick young thing. She came back faster, her eyes red from tears. Just like her grandmother’s house. No, no papers, no forms, no sign of that. But the rooms all smelled like her grandmother, like mint couch drops and hair oil. A bowl of M&Ms on the mantel of the fireplace, red and green ones so it would always be Christmas, she said with chocolate in her teeth. The intern got the price out of the computer, the details on the back taxes. Less than most down payments, but more than the girl could afford. Then the tears came, they couldn’t bulldoze her grandmother’s house.

Clever house, Lindsey thought, catching on to its scheme. She drove in the setting sun, stood out front. You always thought of it the other way ‘round, of people haunting houses, not houses haunting people. She walked up the front porch, put her hand on the wood, feeling the warmth. From the sun maybe, caught all day, or maybe from something else, the beating heart of place. Baxter had been more than a dog, in the end, he had a soul somehow, he was Real. Could a house do the same?

Inside a comforting yip greeted her back. “You’re smart,” she told her house, and opened the door to find the golden retriever pup, a bright blue welcome home ribbon tied on his neck.

 

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