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These Houses Would Sing

by Melissa Rotert about a month ago in Horror

Rebirth of a Victorian Mansion

These Houses Would Sing
Photo by Jessica Furtney on Unsplash

Teddy wrapped his roller-head and brushes in plastic. It’s always great when the client expects you to bring your own fucking utility sink. Someday he’d have to invest in a water tank for the truck. God forbid you get a drop of fucking paint on their lint filled washbasin. And you can’t wash your brushes by the hose because the landscaper will flip his shit. If it weren’t for the fact that painting made him feel so goddamned zen, he’d have found a new hustle. Maybe he should go back to commercial jobs? But those empty industrial offices had no soul. Despite the owners, he loved painting these old Victorian renovations on the hill. If walls could talk…these houses would sing.

Taking some solace in the fact that he was done dealing with “Mrs. Shoes-off Micromanage III,” Teddy packed his gear and got the hell out of Dodge, in his Dodge. New job tomorrow meant a new obnoxious stick-in-the-ass, but also meant a new house to bring back to life. He was hopeful it wouldn’t be that bad, since this was still an empty property. No carpeting to worry about wrecking, no furniture to plastic and move, and potentially, no owner hovering over his shoulder. He could really find peace with a house like that.

The owner sent pictures of the house, along with colored diagrams, basically a paint and paper by number of interior and exterior walls. Teddy had a suspicion that no one would go through all that trouble if they would be there to explain anyway. He could tell they’d done their research though. They had original photos included that showed the house as it had looked when it was built. They’d mentioned they were in the process of replacing any damaged cornices or molding with exact custom replicas or antique pieces, when possible. This was Teddy’s favorite kind of job.

He was meant to start on the exterior while the reconstruction team was at work with the last of the architectural rebuilds. This was a Later Victorian Queen Anne. The body of the house was to be olive green with an off-white trim and brick red sash. A traditional but bold color palette. Teddy unloaded his gear for the day, covered the perfectly trimmed shrubbery--though he never dripped or spilled--and extended the ladder. Everything had already been cleaned, mended, and caulked. Within a half hour, Teddy was up the ladder and in the zone. Though you’d usually see an exterior painted swiftly with a spray gun, he did everything by hand. He felt disconnected from the past without the direct physical contact. As his roller touched the surface a hum filled his ears. As he applied the paint, the olive green seemed to be drawn from the antique boards, rather than plied with brush or roller upon the surface. He could feel the house breathing its way back into life, so slowly at first, it was almost imperceptible. It sent a shiver down his spine as if the breath were tickling the hairs at the nape of his neck.

When he awoke from his trance, the exterior siding was finished. It was evening and time to pack up. He shook the fog from his head and admired his clean, even work, remembering none of it. Teddy had a strange sensation that he wasn’t accustomed to feeling. He was used to going into this calm balanced vibe, but not completely losing himself. I’ve never forgotten the whole damn day before. This house was providing some seriously unexplainable mojo. I’ve got to get more sleep tonight.

Sleep came, but the situation with the house only got stranger. He found himself standing before the grand Victorian, as he had earlier that day. The colors looked just as fresh looking as his recent paint job, but he knew innately that he wasn’t in the now. He wasn’t really there. A quick look around told him he was in a time when this neighborhood was in its prime. Every house picturesque as he glanced down the dirt lane. Teddy decided to head inside and confirm his suspicions. As he turned the beautiful French Lorraine patterned door knob and admired the pristine condition of the bronze, Teddy was hit with a blast of warm, foul air. The vibrance of the exterior was in stark contrast to what he saw before him. It was more than just dilapidated, as you might describe an abandoned property, it was dead, as in a purely organic state of decay. As he looked closer, the walls suppurated and what was left of the floors had split like a lanced necrotic abscess. The longer he looked the sicker he felt, and he pulled the door closed as his stomach lurched in disgust.

The next morning, Teddy was desperate to clear his mind of the nightmare and get back to the hypnotic embrace he’d felt while painting. It was like the itch of craving his next drink or his next hit. The nightmare had been the hangover, but like a hangover, it didn’t make him want the rush any less. In fact, the ache only heightened the need for more. He’d given the real shit up years ago. But damned if I don’t still know that intense pull and longing. It was not a new thought, that he’d simply replaced one kind of addiction with another, but this house--whew--this house was a whole new high. He jumped in his truck, skipping breakfast for a handful of mixed nuts from the can in his glove box. He felt like a kid on his way to meet “motherfucking Mickey Mouse.” Wasting no time, he got straight to work once he arrived. By late morning the trim and sash were all complete and Teddy stood back to fully take in his work. His forgotten and beautiful work that, just like the previous day, started with a melody and vanished from his mind. Each gable and dormer painted to perfection. Every bit of himself vibrated with the same resonance as the house itself, like the gentle pulse of a heartbeat. They were both somehow more alive than yesterday. Teddy wasn’t able to move on to the interior because the Lincrusta-Walton wallcovering was being installed and the hand-cut marble fireplace with Japanese-inspired cast-iron firebox was being revived.

He headed home reluctantly. The itch and twitch of longing settled in. Teddy decided that sleep was the easiest way to distract himself for a lengthy period. He popped two Benadryl in his mouth--about as strong as his pills got these days--and nestled in, trying to quiet the pull of the house in his mind. Finally, his body surrendered to the sedating effects. He dreamed. He was inside the house, only the house was furnished and decorated. There was no sign of the death that filled the house the night before. The carved rosewood, cabbage-rose carpets, and Eastlake style furniture filled his view. There was marble, bamboo, rattan, damask, and velour. There was no pus, no odor. Some might have called this gaudy, but Teddy felt at home in the lavish ornamentation. It was a work of art. He caught a glance of himself in the gold-framed mirror that hung above the mantle. Behind him in the reflection, there was movement. Teddy turned but found nothing. Peering back into the mirror, he focused on the sight of servants busy at work behind him, tending the house. He walked through the hallways and admired the sun shining through the multi-light windows. Outside on the walkway he saw a bicycle, unlike any he’d seen before. The wheels were two different sizes; a much larger wheel at the front. The seat was mounted atop this giant wheel.

Just then, Teddy heard the wavering lilt of a wax cylinder playing turn of the century music through the house. He swayed reflexively to the phonograph’s serenade. The warbled voice of Lucrezia Borgia echoed through the hallway. He closed his eyes, feeling settled in this world. This was what home felt like. When he opened them, he awoke in his own room, dazed and out of place.

Damn, Teddy thought, this shit is getting trippy. It didn’t matter that the digital clock by his bed glowed “6:28 PM” beside him, he needed to see that house, right goddamned now. He wiped the nap-crust from his eyes, grabbed his coat, and took off toward his motorcycle. He was in a hurry.

As he pulled up to the house it was like something inside him clicked. Like a dislocated shoulder finally popped back into place, easing the discomfort. He turned off the bike and whipped off the helmet, tossing it onto the handlebar. It was faint, but Teddy swore he could hear the phonograph again. Get your shit together, T. He flicked out both wrists simultaneously in an attempt to iron out the goose bumps that started to crawl their way up his arms. For fuck’s sake dude, chill the fuck out.

Teddy mounted the stairs, one at a time, and reached for the doorknob. It was like a jolt of electricity coursing through him, pain and pleasure mingling.

#

Coming to, Teddy peered into the eyes of the paperhanger standing straddled over his large mass. He formed quite a barrier to the elderly gentleman with the rolls of rich prints under his arm. “Shit,” was all that Teddy could think to say to him, besides, “sorry.” He rolled haphazardly onto his stomach and pushed his bulk to hands and knees, then up, back cracking as he stood. This wasn’t the first time Teddy had woken crumpled on the floor of a strange setting, but it was the first time it was happening without a bender to blame.

Fuck. Teddy regretted taking his bike last night. At least with his truck he could get straight to work and pretend he’d fallen or had a stroke or something. He hopped on his hog and took off down the thruway back through the valley to his apartment, swapped clothes and vehicles, and headed straight back. He had to work with the paperhanger all day so he needed to figure out what was happening to him before he embarrassed himself and lost a job that was starting to take on more and more meaning in his life. Sulking, Teddy decided to start upstairs and leave the guy to his glue and paper. The bedrooms had hand-carved windows frames and beautiful tile work around the fireplaces. He drank in every surface and detail before getting down to work. If this was the last thing he remembered today, that’d be alright with Teddy.

Teddy painted. There was no hum, no magical trip to the past, and no forgetting. He was present for every coat of primer and paint. It was kind of disappointing to Teddy. It was like he had somehow broken the house’s trust and was being punished. Still, the walls looked absolutely beautiful. He headed downstairs to find the paperhanger. The guy was gone, but his work hung all around him. Teddy took in the ornate and embossed prints and his head filled with a flash from his dream. These were exact replicas. Even the positioning of the patterns matched the originals. This dude knows his shit. Teddy felt strangely invigorated and decided to get started on the downstairs. Once the trim was done, he only had a few walls on the first floor that needed color, then the paperhanger could finish out the remainder. Teddy ran out to the truck to grab some work lights. It was getting dark, but he couldn’t control the desire to finish. He needed to see the house reborn.

#

“Breakfast, sir.” The draperies were parted and waves of light flooded into a room perfectly embellished in Victorian finery. He recognized it as the master bedroom. Teddy blinked, adjusting to the light he assumed was coming from his lamps. Though this radiance had a warmth that was undeniably solar. It had been night the last he remembered. Had he blacked out again? It took Teddy at least 5 minutes to notice the servant standing painfully upright beside the bedpost, patiently awaiting acknowledgment. As he caught the valet’s eye, the man jumped to and began serving an assortment of breakfast foods to him. What in the actual fuck in happening to me right now? Not even the Mescaline trips of the 60’s rivalled the complete “mind-fuckery” currently taking place. Not sure what else to do, Teddy ate until a barely audible throat clearing reminded him that the valet was still present.

“Uh…”

“Anything else, sir?”

“Oh, no. I’m good.”

The valet made his exit and Teddy pushed the tray aside and got up to examine his strangely vivid hallucination. It felt so very real, but he was lucid. Hearing Teddy’s footsteps, the valet returned and began assisting Teddy in getting dressed. Stunned, he just did what the old man told him to do and stood back to admire his look in the mirror.

#

Teddy waited expectantly to wake the hell up, but the moment never came. Day-by-day, he found himself going through the motions and falling easily into character. This was a life Teddy could never have dreamed for himself. Luxury, refinement, and elegance filled his once unbearable existence. He decided that if he’d somehow fallen off the ladder and slipped into a coma, he didn’t want to wake up.

Years seemingly passed in Teddy’s new, rather older, world, and he began to notice little changes. At first the colors had begun fading; the tapestries frayed and the wallpaper peeled. Teddy ordered his valet to have fresh paint purchased and set to refreshing the walls, but no matter how many coats he applied, the color only grew duller. Then the decay began to quicken. Things broke, unable to be mended. His valet sickened until he became bedridden. Teddy was so overwhelmed as the dust coated every surface of his once gleaming mansion, that he failed to notice his own decomposition. Mold, weeds, mildew were the weapons of destruction to his dream. The valet died and festered where he lay. Teddy aged at such an alarming rate, he was finally forced to take notice. Age spots and aches, sagging flesh and form, Teddy withered away alongside the fantasy. There came a time when he crawled into his bed and could no longer get himself back out. Teddy began to rot, and the putrefaction was unbearable. Strips of flesh peeled and slothed off exposing his innards, until there was nothing left of himself or the house but the barest of bones.

#

Teddy awoke, in pain. A simple humming filled the dark world around him. The house inhaled its first new breath in ages. He smelled the unmistakable fresh tang of paint. Someone had come to wake them up. Finally, someone had come to help them be reborn.

Horror
Melissa Rotert
Melissa Rotert
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