By Jeremy A. Wall
The agent stood on the back deck, appraising her reflection in a clam-shaped pocket mirror. Her amber hair was pulled into a tight, inescapable bun. Passable, though her roots were beginning to show. A rogue eyelash, overburdened with mascara, was plucked and discarded. Other defects were not so easily mitigated. The leathery pouches under her eyes. The deep fissures crossing her forehead. And her complexion. The toner she applied every morning did little to conceal the pale, eggy hue of her skin.
Her clients arrived, a pair of newly married twenty-somethings. They emerged from a sleek sedan, shutting the doors in unison. She waved them up to the deck, dropping the mirror into her purse.
The man with tribal tattoos twisting around his forearms, Phil, ascended the stairs first.
“Wow! What a view.” He approached the wooden railing. It was not a decorative feature. A thirty-foot drop separated the stilted structure from the rocks and brush below.
“Yes. I thought we’d begin back here.” The agent hitched the purse over her shoulder. “Properties like this don’t come on the market very often. Worth every dollar, I’m sure you agree.” The couple had seen four houses already today. That made sixteen for the month. Sixteen, and not a single accepted offer. Oh, they were desperate to buy. But were they willing to put more money down? Were they willing to go over asking? Were they willing to lower their expectations?
No. They were intent on occupying her time. Wasting it. And so they were here. At this decrepit house with an exceptional view. They had left her no choice.
“Babe, look at this view.” Phil placed his hands firmly on the railing. The wood shuddered slightly, vibrating at the touch of his skin. He did not seem to notice.
Babe, real name never used, jeans too tight for her condition, said nothing. She examined the decking, frowning at the obvious dry rot.
“Any offers yet?” Phil gazed down at the L-shaped lake cupped by brown hills. Dotted amongst the trees were other rot-infested homes.
“No,” the agent answered. “But nothing lasts.”
Phil nodded thoughtfully. “Needs some work, though.” It was said under his breath, but loud enough for the agent to hear.
“Some,” the agent agreed. “But there have been a few recent…improvements. New hardwood floors. And the guest room was painted just last week.”
The deck creaked, rearranging itself under Phil’s weight.
Babe wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?”
The agent waved it off. “I wouldn’t worry about that. You’ll get used to it.” Sick and pungent decay hung over the house. There was no helping that. It was everywhere. Floorboards. Ceilings. Walls. And especially on the deck.
“What about the schools?” Babe pressed, a frequent concern despite being just four months pregnant. Her child wouldn’t see inside a classroom for years.
“There are schools,” the agent said.
A thumping sound drew their attention to the woods below as a massive carrion bird took flight, dragging its claws over the treetops.
“Ugh!” Babe put a hand to her mouth. “What was that thing? Phil, did you see that?”
“See what?” He drew a labored breath and dug his fingernails into the railing. “This view…”
“I know,” Babe responded, not noticing his pale, gaunt face. “But it’s a death-smelling fixer-upper. We can do better.”
The agent suppressed a laugh. Why did people always think there was some special, perfect house out there just for them? Like they deserved it. As if they could know what they deserved. What about her? What did she, the agent, deserve?
Deep inside the house, a door slammed.
Babe flinched. “What was that? Is someone here?”
“Just the house settling,” the agent said. “Everything must.”
“Something’s wrong with this place,” Babe declared. “I’ve seen enough. Come on, Phil. Let’s go.”
She moved towards the stairs, beckoning her new husband to follow, only he could not. His hands had already sunk into the railing. He was up to wrists in rotten wood.
“…view…” Phil wheezed.
Babe’s eyes widened as the agent stepped between her and the stairs.
“It’s not a buyer’s market,” the agent said.
Above their heads thumped the wings of the large bird. It had something in its claws now. The scales glimmered faintly.
Babe lurched backward, landing on a soft spot in the decaying boards. Her designer sneaker pushed through the wood, and the deck swallowed her up to the knee.
She caught herself on one arm, the other protecting her belly. “Help me!” she begged.
The agent did not move. “You two will like it here. Good bones, this house.”
Babe moaned as her skin turned the blanched white of driftwood. Hair fell from her head like autumn leaves. She collapsed, her arm shattering into sharp splinters.
One of Phil’s legs fell from his body like a broken branch. He teetered for a moment before the other leg gave way with a twiggy snap.
Babe opened her mouth, spewing sawdust across the deck. Phil attempted to raise an arm, but it broke into a dozen shards. Within moments, the couple’s features dissolved, flaking away until there was nothing left of them but two piles of wood dust.
The deck rippled with energy. Rotten, broken boards buckled, then oozed. Finding the right shape, they hardened again. Each plank became like new, scored with artistic shapes and designs that gave the deck a boutique-y Craftsman look. Yes, the agent thought. Phil’s silly tribal tattoos looked much better here. Just wonderful.
She took out her phone and snapped a photo for the MLS. Once fully renovated, this home would fetch a delightful commission. More than enough for her own facial renovations. All cosmetic, of course. Like the house, she still had good bones.
Before leaving, the agent swept the sandy remnants of the young family off the immaculate new deck. Their hopes and dreams and wants and must-haves were part of this house now.
She smiled. “Welcome to your forever home.”