Naag Tea by Leigh Wright

Best experienced in the PDF zine

That patch of ground: flattened grass and damp soil; secrets. How many times have I walked over that very spot in my ignorance? Always so caught up in business, as if the people I employ aren’t perfectly capable of running things without me constantly looking over their shoulders. Still, it’s business that brings me here so often to the cluster of brick storehouses that hold all manner of goods for the people of Glacindal.

I’m proud of the domain I have built for myself in this city. My fine home fronts onto Newscathe Street, high walls surround the ample grounds, an ornate gate revealing an assortment of well-kept foliage which obscures the house from prying eyes. A private access road to the rear of the property leads to my storehouses and workshops, well-situated on old land, with easy access to the city’s arterial roads.

I like to keep an eye on my employees, that’s the truth. Trust is something I gave up on long ago. So, I walk my private road often, or take the one-horse carriage if the weather is bad. Of course, the carriage makes stealth impossible, but my employees by now have been instilled with enough paranoia that I might show up at any moment and enough experience of what happens if I find any of them lacking, that I am confident that they strive to do their jobs efficiently. Rewarding good work with good pay reinforces this – I am not a miser.

It’s late afternoon, the daylight beginning to dim as the wan sun lazes its way toward the horizon. I can hear the rhythmic clack and slap of weaving looms coming from two of the workshops and see a handful of wagons being loaded with goods for the long transit to Fruca. I realise that I have a shovel in hand, picked up from somewhere around here, and now I suddenly understand what I am doing. The other thing I need is close by – a child’s cart with a bed no longer than my arm. With dulled astonishment I remember acquiring it and positioning it beside one of the storehouses days ago; covering it with an expensive cloth so that everyone understood that it was there for a reason and not to be touched. 

I admit to absent-mindedness readily enough. I often have business facts and figures running though my head and spend half my time doing things instinctively while I process information. This is something else. My eyes barely leave that patch of ground – there is something about it that calls to me, has been calling to me for some time, though at first, I could not consciously hear it.

I assess the patch, wondering how deep and how wide. I feel a stab of anxiety until I remember the cart. Surely it must encapsulate the required dimensions, otherwise why did I choose it? With likewise logic I determine that the depth of the shovel blade must also be what is required.

I am free from prying eyes as I carefully edge the patch with the shovel, then segment it into manageable chunks, placing them in order on the cart. At some point during my work, the screech of a dragon peals across the sky and the city holds its breath for a long moment. Even I take a pause, but not until the chunk I am lifting is safely in the cart. The sudden stillness is eerie, and a shiver crawls along my spine as I feel eyes upon me. A couple of the workers loading the wagons have spotted me, and I can see people emerging from the workshops to check if the world is about to end in fire or ice.

There is no other sign from the dragon, likely halfway to Caromklack by now. I drop the shovel and stalk pointedly toward a spot where all those present can see that it’s me. I need say nothing: hands on hips is enough to convey my displeasure, and everyone swiftly returns to work. Two overseers, one with the wagons and the other from the workshops, linger for a moment in case I require to speak with them. I might have mustered some anger to throw at them; they are half-expecting it, but awareness of the patch, not yet fully loaded onto the cart, gutters the emotion. I turn my back to the overseers and they get the hint. With more urgency now, but no less care, I finish loading the patch onto the cart. No eyes that I am aware of follow me as I grab the handle and pull my cargo back along the private road toward my abode.


Some time later… I have no idea quite how much time, but I must accept that it is days rather than hours, for though I wear the same clothes I am vaguely aware of my second, Ralfon, entering my study on more than one occasion to give a report or receive instruction that presumably I gave with reasonable competence. There is plenty of wood for the fire upon which I boil water in an iron kettle for my tea. The patch remains in the cart, but I have removed the wheels and handle and placed the bed on a table so that I may access it readily. The soil retains a damp smell that I breathe in appreciably as I gently lift a generous pinch of it into a conical sifter on a stand next to the cart bed. A dish below catches the refined soil, from whence I tip it into a strainer on my tea mug. In my haste I try to grab the kettle from the fire with a bare hand and instantly regret it. The pain flares and briefly ignites my mind: what am I doing here? Am I losing my sanity? I look around my study, windows heavily draped, a couple of guttering candles doing little to enhance the flickering light provide by the fire. I have no idea what time it is… what day it is. Have I really entrusted sly Ralfon to take care of business all this time? I only put trust in him at all because his greatest loyalty is toward whomever keeps him in coin and I have provided a constant stream of it.

I am about to flee my study when I catch a dank whiff of soil. Yes, this is a strange endeavour, but I must not believe for a single moment that it does not serve some grand purpose, whether I am fully aware of what that may be, or not. I am blessed by some exalted power, more mysterious than dragons or any other beast upon this world. This is not madness: this is clarity that no other has experienced. I grab a cloth from the table and take the kettle, pouring gently so as not to displace the soil from the strainer.

This is my eighth mug of tea of the day, or since I woke, at least. Four more to go until I allow sleep to lull me with more of those peculiar dreams. I must confess that a part of me is beginning to prefer my time with eyes closed; it soothes me. Whilst awake, I feel an agitation that as yet has no resolution. I eye the cart bed, now less than half-full. There lies the answer, if only I can find it.


I drift within the void between stars, encapsulated within a spinning mass of rock, iron and some more exotic elements. Most of the stars are suns: immense, life-giving furnaces! Many of those suns have worlds revolving around them, and though not all of those sustain life, some do! Such knowledge is bewildering to me and I can barely grasp the hints of implication. My entire world is but a speck in a landscape so vast that it cannot be comprehended. If I were fully myself, I believe that my mind would buckle beneath such revelation. But I am not; I am something more now, for better or worse. There is no turning back. This dream-vision is meant as a boon, a gift of awakening to a much wider understanding of existence. I can but submit in awe.

I travel at incredible speed and backwards through time. Finally, after eons in reverse, I approach my destination, or should I say: point of origin. I am witness to two planets un-colliding. With an almighty rush of reconstitution, I am whole again: vibrant, bustling, gargantuan, vital.

I wake shrieking maniacally, and by the horrified look on my wife’s face: she holding an empty jug and me soaked with water, it seems that I might have been doing so for some time. I try to convince her that some errant nightmare had gripped me, but she knows that I am not myself. I find that I care little for her attention and am already itching to put the kettle on, and rise to do so.

“Is he poisoning you?”

I stare at my wife’s worried, slowly wizening face, and with a sudden clarity, I understand. “What were you thinking?” I shake my head. “Before…” I glance at my tea-making equipment and the half-empty cart bed of soil. “Before all this… I would have had you tortured for betraying me. And Ralfon tortured in front of you, cut into little pieces, slowly. Even if I had the strength and compassion left not to kill you, you would have been ruined, out on the streets of this foul city. Left to beg and scrape an existence for what miserable short time you had left. And if you tried to leave the city, to run back to your family in Fruca… you’d never make it with no coin to pay for caravan or escort. You’d die out there in the savage lands.”

The anguish of my wife’s face brings me no pleasure. She begins to speak, but the sound of her voice becomes a background drone. I stare intensely at the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. Almost thirty years, we have been married. I would be lucky indeed if my body gave me twenty more before giving up to decomposition. She is still talking, but as I reach out stubby fingers to probe her skin, she falls still. “Skin stretches thin, wrinkles and cracks. Even bone crumbles with time. We are of no consequence. Foolish woman, desperately clinging to warmth and flesh. Go about your business, but leave me be. Cause me no trouble, and Ralfon neither, or I will unleash such horror upon you both that your very Souls will wither and suffer for all eternity, though your flesh be long gone. Do you believe me?”

Perhaps there is something different in my eyes, some nefarious otherworldly gleam, for my wife’s visage contorts into something ghastly. Without another word, only a trembling nod, she leaves me in peace. I do not see her or her lover again. They flee the city, and I care not to find out where, or if they make it.


The passage of time is of no significance to me now, this flesh I wear merely a stepping stone to some other state of being. All the purpose I thought I had was dreary illusion, the accruing of wealth and power utterly meaningless. Real power, real purpose, is beyond mortal comprehension. If I am to be gifted but a glimpse of the reality behind the illusion of existence, it will be far more than I deserve. This ritual of consumption has empowered me toward penitence, and finally I have been rewarded. Before me on a small plate is the shard that I have been searching for, a tiny gleaming thing that somehow made its way into the soil on my premises, destined for me to find it.

No tea this time. I reach out a trembling finger and press it against the shard, which sticks and breaks the skin. My thin blood seems to enhance the lustre of the thing, and I stare at it in reverence, on the cusp of something almighty. I open my mouth and touch my finger to my tongue. The shard is welcome there and it welcomes me with a whispered voice in my head speaking the name of my god: Naag.

I am bodiless, floating above a verdant world teeming with life: some almost familiar, but others wholly alien to me. I focus in on an enormous monstrosity with a bulbous head atop a flat, long body, tentacular appendages and a multitude of legs. This was Naag, long ago, dominator. It crawls sluggishly across the world, regardless of climate, extending its mighty Will to encompass all. Once, there were others like it, but no more. Naag is victorious. But then, a darkness fills the sky, a neighbouring planet thrown out of balance by cosmic forces and set toward a devastating collision. Despite Naag’s mastery over its domain, there is nothing it can do to stop the destruction of its world. Instead, it concentrates its mighty Will upon survival, transcendence. By leaving its physical body behind and fusing its spirit and Will with the embers of a dead world, Naag not only survives, but becomes divine. The sun here is suddenly dead (by what force, Naag does not reveal to me) and the embers are free to sail through the deepness of space. Some of them eventually fall here, on my world, and I am blessed indeed to receive the attention of divinity. 

I swallow the shard, and the voice of Naag remains, soothing me, instructing me, empowering me. There are other shards out there, waiting to be found, some of them much larger than the one I consumed. I will be drawn to them like a moth to flame; this fire cleansing and revelatory. It seems that my mortal achievements will be of use after all: I will produce a gruel for the ages, imbued with shards of Naag, and distribute it to the three cities. All shall know.

Wyrd Daze Seven Star Fiction: Einhar on the Ways by Leigh Wright

Best experienced in the PDF zine

Einhar strode the worn path of the Ways, seeking news of his father. Every step carried the same determination now as when he had first ventured southward from the savannah city of Fruca, almost six weeks ago. He knew the landscape well enough, having been born and raised out here in the wild. Knew the dangers too: indeed, he had not set foot inside the boundaries of civilisation until he was nineteen and determined that he would forge his own path rather than re-treading the grand looping trail that his ancestors had followed for generations, carrying goods between the three Hu cities.

Hundreds of caravans traversed the Ways with their girotah-pulled wagons, the giant beetles most suited as beasts of burden out in the wild where Hu were far from being the apex predator. Any of the great reptiles, felines, canines, or other savage beasts could attack a caravan without warning, and often did. The chitinous girotah did not attract predators and wouldn’t bolt when scared, instead usually hunkering down and relying on their incredibly tough exoskeleton to protect them.

Each caravan is Family, by name if not by blood, every one of them hardened against the perils of their lifestyle and trained to fight to survive. Mercenaries hired to bolster the numbers of a group were considered part of the Family once they had completed a full circuit of the Ways, which took over a year. Einhar had passed several Families on their way to Fruca, though none with news of his father fresher than this season or the last. Some remembered Einhar as a boisterous lad and had kind words and tales to tell of his well-respected father.

Families rarely numbered much over thirty, having long learned not to invite the wrath of dragons, masters of this world. Long ago the dragons’ supremacy was challenged by their erstwhile bipedal cousins the Rakhnath, full of pride in the grand civilisation they had built. Now, the Rakhnath were limited to a single decrepit city on this large continent and are no longer associated with their kin where once they were favoured. The Hu had not yet sinned against their masters and were blessed with three cities.

Einhar had last seen a dragon just a few days ago, close to the Dea Way-station. He had paused his relentless stride to squint up into the sun-hazed sky at the monstrosity. The dragon was too high for Einhar to make out any detail; might not even have noticed if it weren’t for the majestic cry sending a chill down the spine of every living thing that heard it, but he thought he caught a glimpse of light reflecting off dark-blue scales.

Way-stations are little more than watering holes with a couple of crude shacks for shelter. Any other Hu structures outside of the cities would be destroyed on sight by the dragons, so too any large gatherings of people. Three Families gathered at a Way-station was a risk to be avoided. Einhar had arrived at Dea to wary looks despite him being known, and not just because a dragon had recently been heard. Though no one that knew him could doubt Einhar’s skill as a warrior (he was still considered by most to be Family, albeit a black sheep), seeing someone travel by themselves was uncanny to the superstitious Families. Einhar and a dragon within an hour was one omen too many. With still no word of his father, Einhar filled his waterskin and left quickly. He should have had learnt something by now. Had an attack crippled or destroyed some of their wagons, delaying them while they made repairs? Were they injured… or dead? He could think of few other possibilities.

He had walked through the night and into the day, the flat heat of the savannah slowly giving way to verdant meadow and a cooling breeze. That afternoon, a pack of prairie-wolves made an attempt for his antelope kill. The beasts were over-confident, two of their number being felled by arrows not a deterrent, but when Einhar drew forth the steel from his back and cleaved about him savagely, the prairie-wolves soon gave up, yapping indignantly as they fled.     

Now, three days after leaving the Way-station behind and almost six weeks since leaving Fruca, the path of the Ways began to undulate over otherwise green hills and vales. A few more days and he would reach a divergence: one path bearing West towards Glacindal, the other continuing on all the way to Caromklack, from whence his father should be leading his caravan laden with goods.

A sudden guttural roar snapped him from his gloomy reverie with an adrenaline rush and Einhar actually grinned: here was something he could respond to. The sound was unmistakably that of one of the larger reptiles, probably one of the two-legged variety. Nothing higher on the food chain except dragons. Einhar was already running, cresting the hill towards danger, contrary to what most Hu would do when hearing such an instinctively terrifying sound. Heart pounding and mind racing, Einher almost expected to find the monster attacking his Family’s caravan and for a fleeting moment imagined himself reunited with his father as his Family’s saviour.

The draurak was indeed attacking a caravan, but a quick scan of the wagons was enough for Einhar to tell that this was not his Family. However, it was one that he knew: the old Marshts, long friends of his father, their children Einhar’s occasional playmates when they would cross paths along the Ways or in the outskirts of a city, what seemed like long ago. Fajha, Tinath, Henel… were they alive or dead? The giant reptile was bipedal, standing almost three times Einhar’s height and with a massive jaw filled with long, serrated teeth. Each bite, destruction. The beast’s comparatively small forearms were no less deadly, vicious talons slashing awful gashes into any flesh they found, crushing anyone they managed to grab. There was much screaming from the desperate Hu amidst the triumphant deep rumbling of the draurak as it chomped on flesh and bone.

The Hu of the Ways do not flee from danger, such an instinct is of no use in the savage wilds. Better to stick together and face whatever danger there might be as a unified force. Separation from Family inevitably leads to death. Every member of the Family begins learning to wield a weapon from a young age and keeps learning as long as they live. None of this made much of a difference when confronted with a draurak, their dark blue-green hide resisting most weapons. Only iron or steel stood a chance of drawing blood from the beast, and steel was a rarity.

Einhar could see that the Family were not faring well, many of them already crushed and eviscerated, pools of blood soaking into the low grass. That the draurak had not finished off the small huddled group of survivors immediately was intriguing to Einhar as he cautiously jogged downhill toward the scene. The monster now seemed to have a particular interest in one of the wagons somewhere near the middle of the nine-strong caravan, four incense burners hanging from each corner of the wagon bed evidently doing little to hide the scent of whatever lay inside. The draurak ripped the canvas away, snapping the bows that held it in place with ease. The wagon was still harnessed to a girotah which had dug four of its spikey legs into the ground for purchase and retracted the rest, along with any other soft body parts, into its jagged exoskeleton. This tactic had served the girotah so well against the predators of this world that most now hardly gave them a second glance – one of the reasons that they made much better beasts of burden than cattle along the Ways.

The draurak was eating something from the back of the wagon and hadn’t noticed Einhar approaching from behind. He jogged toward the shocked survivors of the attack. There were wounded and a lot of blood. His heart leap as he recognised the unmistakable copper hue of Marsht hair: there was Fajha and Henel, bedraggled and ashen-faced, but alive. Recognition dawned in Fajha’s eyes as Einhar approached and she stared as if at a vision. Henel soon caught on and quietly chanted Einhar’s name in shocked welcome. There were only four others alive, none of them with copper hair, and two of those were swiftly losing their life’s blood into the grass. The draurak continued snuffling into the wagon, but surely only for a few moments more.

Einhar placed a hand each on Fajha and Henel’s shoulder in solidarity. Henel was younger but taller than his sister, though not so tall as Einher. They wore leather armour and clutched iron-tipped spears. A look into their eyes told him all he needed to know about the fate of their parents and brother. Einhar acknowledged the other four survivors, the two wounded barely coherent and likely not long for life. Instinct told him that every moment counted, but still his curiosity piqued him.

“What’s in the wagon?” he asked.

Henel looked darkly toward the beast, his confidence renewing with Einhar’s presence. “Golden truffles from a forest not far from Glacindal, a new delicacy. We used the usual incense to mask the scent, but it made no difference to the draurak.  

Einhar shook his head in wonder. “Golden truffles… We need to move, now, before it’s had enough of such treats and longs for Hu flesh again!”

One of the wounded was now unconscious, if not dead. The other began to screech in panic when he saw the Marshts about to leave. Einhar, who had drawn the steel sword from his back, abruptly knocked out the screecher with the pommel and growled at the others that it was time to go. Too late, though, as the draurak turned towards them, unsteady on its legs, and gave an uncharacteristically strangled roar. It shook its head with a snarl and stepped forward almost gingerly, as if struggling to balance.

Einhar saw a chance of survival. The monster was acting as if intoxicated – perhaps those golden truffles had such an effect. Still, the chance was slim, as the enraging draurak seemed intent on its prey even if it was taking more effort than usual to get to it. Einhar had no confidence that they could flee: even inhibited the monster would catch up to them with ease. Hiding amongst the wagons was unlikely to keep them alive much longer. Fighting a draurak was usually suicide, but perhaps…

Fajha was beside him, her pale slim hand cool on his. She was beautiful to Einhar in that moment: not for the first time, but never coupled with such poignancy. He longed to lose himself in her eyes. In them, he saw determination and belief in his abilities. “I’ll distract it,” she said. “Kill the monster, Einhar.”

There was no time for thought. The draurak was stumbling towards them out of its mind, slather flying from its minacious mouth. Fajha began to sing shrilly, a song of hard days along the Ways with the companionship of family and loved ones to stave away the terrors of the night. She slipped off her colourful skirts and waved them in the air, backing away as she did so. Henel remained by her side. The other two mercenaries made a run for it, and Einhar cursed them as he slowly moved away from the last surviving Marsht’s to position himself behind the draurak.

The draurak paused in its delirium and for a long moment seemed entranced by Fajha’s sound and movement. It took tentative giant steps towards her, shaking its head as if to rid itself of the effect of the truffles. Einhar had never seen anything like it – all the draurak encounters he had seen or heard of were nothing but rage incarnate. It was only a matter of time before the monster snapped out of its incoherence and attacked.

Einhar ran, a burst of speed hopefully with enough momentum for him to propel himself from the lizard’s tail to its head. His sword was too unwieldy here, but it was not the only steel he owned, the precious metal also encapsulated into a dagger with a blade the length of his hand. He knew he would get only one chance; if he failed in his attempt the draurak would throw him off with ease and eviscerate him in moments.

He could not help but to release an immense cry of effort as he leaped, and this actually helped his cause as the draurak began to turn its head towards him, presenting its right eye as prime target. Einhar’s thrust was true and the dagger’s blade pushed deep into the eye socket. The monster raged instantly, throwing Einhar off to land roughly in the grass. It spasmed erratically, its scream awful, green-tinged blood and ruined vitreous oozing from the wound. It stumbled away: irrational, enraged and perhaps even fearful, its steps floundering as it went.

Einhar did not know if the monster was bound to die, and he did not think it wise to wait to find out. A combination of luck and teamwork had kept them alive this day. He felt a rush of exhilaration at surviving the encounter and beckoned the Marshts to run with him to safety.

They kept to the Ways, of course. To get lost beyond them was to invite death. After an hour with no sight nor sound of the draurak they were reasonably sure that they had escaped, but kept going anyway, saying little. The Marshts were clearly in shock, struggling to process the grief of the loss of their Family. They made camp as the sun began to dip low in the sky, Einhar sharing what little water and scraps of meat he carried. There was a Way-station close to where the path diverged; they should reach it before the end of the next day.

Henel asked how Einhar had found them, so he told the Marshts that he was searching for his Family. A dark look of remembrance crossed the siblings’ faces then, and Fajha explained that they had seen his father’s wagons broken, ransacked and abandoned along the Ways halfway to Glacindal. They had been stripped almost bare, but she had recognised a distinctive marking carved into one of the broken wagon-beds: Fajha’s own initials, carved there by Einhar years before when they were children. This meant that whatever had befallen his Family had happened no more than a few months after Einhar had seen them off from the outskirts of Fruca. They were likely dead, Einhar knew: his father would not abandon the wagons. The trail would be cold, but someone must know what had happened. Einhar vowed to find out.


Leigh is the curator of Wyrd Daze. You can sometimes find him on Twitter.

Wyrd Daze Six Star Fiction: Housebound by L. B. Limbrey

Best experienced in the PDF zine

Housebound by L. B. Limbrey

I was a woman once, but now such a definition seems only approximate, like a name discarded after a divorce, a different self, a different life time. As to names, I am not sure what mine was anymore: I have been instead The Beeches, Fellside, and No. 5 Elm Walk respectively. I have been red brick and stuccoed, had my basement torn up, and an extension put in that does not quite fit. Trailing behind me, a many-changing cloak (not always seasonal) I have had flower gardens, bramble-patches, vegetable gardens, fruit cages and decking.

I have seen dereliction, weeds creeping up through the nervous system of pipes, rats nesting, birds making their homes within my walls, teenagers scrawling their bleeding hearts across my innards, homeless men finding shelter from the storm.

There has been rot, damp, infestation.

There have been families, single owners, absentees, renters, holiday-makers, a brief stint as an independent gallery… I liked the artist’s commune. I did not like the Hutchinsons. There has been love, and the absence of it.

I am not a haunted house, but perhaps I am a haunting.

And then there was him. I knew from the first moment he fit the key in the lock of my blue front door, that there was something special about him. It was the way he carried himself, the reverence and humility, the patience. He smiled at the cobwebs clogging my plasterwork, bit his lip in excitement as he explored the further reaches of my attic space, blushed at the blousy hedonism of my garden. He whispered something when he arrived, but all that mattered to me was the way he said, “Home.”

Most stirring was the touch of his hands on the banister: it made me shudder, sigh, settle into my rafters as if I had finally, for the first time, been seen, known, acknowledged.

I do not know who I was before I became this place. There is no recollection of life, of love. There is no defining memory of selfhood. I remember though, how I came to be this place, how I was cursed. Though, as I have no memory of what was before, it does not feel so much a curse, only a different thing, an unravelling of the matter to be put back together as something else.

It was night time, and I shouldn’t have been out. There is no specific reason as to why that was so. I have sat through countless nights now, experienced many without and within myself – I know how few women walk alone at night. I know how badly that can go.

There was a man. I am not sure if I knew him – would that make a difference? I doubt it. I do not want to be a vengeful thing, a spiteful house. I do not want to dwell on the cruelty of another.

There was a knife. How many times did it pierce me? Perhaps the number was important, wrote the spell in blood more potently: seven or twelve or three are all auspicious numbers I believe. But then all numbers make up all things so what use is a human conception of the numeric compared to the building blocks of cells, the exact equations to support a beam, or a floor, or a lintel?

There was pain. But there is pain everywhere.

I remember looking up at the bright smear of the night sky, the high-reaching branches of trees trying to hold the celestial in their brittle fingers. I remember thinking, this would be a lovely place for a house.

He moved into the drawing room whilst he began his renovations – everything was gutted bar the bathroom (which needed more aesthetic attention than anything else). He set up a small camp-bed and a paraffin stove to heat up his soup, and a little table on which to make sandwiches and go over his plans for me – detailed, intricate map-works, blueprints of re-enchantment, rehabilitation, love poems in mathematical precision and an artist’s solemn flare.

He began with the electrics, unthreading and re-weaving the delicate tangle of my veins until I lit up once more. I felt it coursing through me, flickering. At first it exhausted me – quiet, dying for so long, the sudden shock of current almost overwhelmed me. But at least he had an easier time of it after that, working into the early hours of the morning on plastering or laying floorboards or installing large, gleaming appliances. I watched him work with deft, devoted precision: replacing rotten windows, engulfing my walls in papers: sometimes gilt or flock, or sometimes pale and empty, which he would then caress with rollers, brushes, lustrous paints, peeling off the perfect line of masking tape and giving a satisfied sigh.

I do not know when he began to hear me – or perhaps I only imagined that he did. Perhaps I projected my affection onto him out of a hollow, displaced loneliness.

After pain, indifference, abandonment, he was kind to me, treated me with reverence, did not recoil at the mould or the mites or the architectural quirks of me.

It is a true thing when people say that buildings talk – have you never listened to them? The creak of doors, the chattering of pipes, the sigh of a house settling, the whistle of a high gale though holes in a window pane. We whisper, we murmur in the half-light early hours, we reflect your own noise back at you, demand of you a recognition.

He could hear it. He could feel it. Sometimes, he would even reply.

Ironically, I was never a domestic creature before. If the idealised woman were to turn into anything, she would not just be a house, but a home: a warm, safe place to burrow into, cocoon within, clean but well-loved, always in the process of cooking but never feeding. Beautiful in a way that suggests no effort was made, when it was.

I was not an ideal woman, I do not think. Families especially I found difficult – no homely, gentle atmosphere could be coaxed from my walls until he came. I think that is why most people did not stay long.

It’s a nice house, they might say wistfully, but not a home. And they would pack up their bags and leave and I would scream, the lights suddenly surging, a high thin noise of pain, and then I would remember I did not need them or their pity or their life.

That I was whole (so I thought) and satisfied.

He began to ask me what I thought – whether forest breath or ocean view were the better colour for the master bedroom, whether I would prefer a gas hob or the expense of an aga: he mused its warmth would be a comfort to me, “A beating heart.”

I blushed at the thought, that he could see me as a living thing. Somehow, he always guessed my preferences correctly, knew perfectly what would both suit me and fulfil me.

It took six months – structural damage repaired, extension modernised, electrics updated, aga installed, the addition of things like wi-fi and satellite television dishes, the intimate joys of sanding, polishing, decorating, the placing of furniture with a period mindful precision.

Throughout this time, increasingly, he began to dream, to desire, to sow seeds of something strange within himself: he dreamt I was engulfing him, swallowing him up, that a sad-eyed woman stood in each of the doorways murmuring, that hands caressed him from the floor, the ceiling, that the beating heart of the aga was bleeding, irreparably staining the reclaimed wooden flooring.

He began to take increasingly frustrated calls from a woman I did not know. Hollowly reassuring her that there was still too much to do before they moved in.


The family.

The prospect of a disruption to domestic bliss. I had tried to avoid it before, the knowledge that others would be coming. But I had seen the children’s rooms set up so neatly, so sweetly, and I had heard the long, drawn-out arguments about bathroom tiling (I would not in good conscious have seashell patterned tiles, I could not bear such an indignity as that), and I had heard him whisper it as he first walked in, “You’ll be a good home for us.”

And I had not wanted to admit it was true.

The Hutchinsons’ bird was called Polly, unimaginative until you realise it was a budgie, so perhaps only stupid. Their small children made dens in my eaves and ran about and scribbled on the walls, and there is still an unrequited line of longing written by their teenage daughter on a beam in the attic. Mrs Hutchinson was a bored housewife who did not clean but hired someone to do it for her, even though she had the time. Mr Hutchinson wasn’t often home, and sometimes smelt of his secretary.

It was the quintessential picture of modern life.

Polly was a good girl really, she didn’t speak, not human words, but she’d creak and settle and speak like a good house did. Polly was a gift at Christmas to the middle child. I loved Polly, her yellow feathers and her neat ways, the trill and whistle of her call.

The Hutchinsons’ would go out and I would talk to Polly, sweet and lonely.

They forgot to feed her. No one wants a budgie that doesn’t greet them, and Polly fell down dead, stiff as a board.

They had to go.

It only took a little push: a businessman in a loveless marriage loses his job and gets drunk, goes home, and his kids are misbehaving and his wife hasn’t got a kind word, and can you guess the punchline?

There was an awful lot of blood.

He still slept in the drawing room – though the paraffin stove was gone and he used the usual appliances, he felt strange trying to sleep in the wide expanse of the master bedroom.

That night he lay awake late, listening to the night around him.

They were coming tomorrow.

I had nothing to say, I was possessed of an all-consuming grief, a sadness I knew he could feel – his attention would be pulled form me, which troubled us both. There would be a family, a cat, a wife, other houses to attend to. I would have my walls scrawled on, my cupboards filled up, I would have them lying together within me.

He was restless, moving, the night too heavy on him.

He got up, paced the dark hallways, running his hands through his greying hair. He may have begun to cry, or to feel as if that were the only choice.

He heard a creak on the landing above, a knife slice of sound through the silence.

He followed it gingerly, unafraid, coming to the bedroom, finally, and finding me: a door closing, other parts opening.

As he reached satisfaction, his hand reached out for the wall in heady desperation, so he might feel all of me, so he might know me.

We slept in the tangled sheets of their marriage bed.

He awoke seemingly alone, knowing I was with him nonetheless. He felt, I think, a small flutter of shame, but then bested it. There were bruises on him, brick dust and plaster in his hair, splinters in his fingertips, nails had left shallow gouges in his flesh, but his blood sang with pleasure, he hummed contentedly about his morning coffee, lingeringly stroked my doorways and finials as he passed them.

All good things must end, as do all bad. Things are always ending, and beginning: good and bad are subjective notions anyway, especially when you’re all bricks and mortar.

They arrived – the family – early afternoon: I watched her, a pretty enough thing but red with the stress of moving, tired from the journey and six months of entertaining two small children.

She approached warily, not with the romantic eye he had, but with the practical scowl of the mother who is finally allowed into her nest. One child perched on a hip, the other holding her hand and chewing on the ear of a gingham rabbit, she approached.

He hadn’t given her a key yet, which thrilled me. He did not want to share me.

She called out his name – no answer. Knocked the door – no stirring within. Called his phone – it buzzed impotently on the side in the kitchen. She called out once more with more frustration, the smaller child began to whine.

He was upstairs, unknowing, pressed against an internal wall, moaning.

“For fuck’s sake,” she breathed, turning to the eldest, she put on her best smile. “Stay here kiddo, I’ll see what’s going on. Look after your sister, yeah?”

She couldn’t get over the garden wall, but she could see the French doors at the back were wide open. She asked with neighbours, who knew nothing: they were taken with the pleasant young man who had made such a nice job of the house, but he kept himself to himself most of the time: hadn’t left a spare set of keys with anyone.

“Daddy!” she heard a delighted shriek as the older child cried out from the gate.

“Jesus, where have you been?” She began to say as she rounded the corner.

He stood on the threshold hollow-eyed and worryingly thin, his eldest daughter running towards him, his younger grizzling where she had been abandoned.

Something, she was not sure what, something which she described only to her oldest friend as like the throat of a house, the teeth of buildings, seemed poised for one moment, and in one gulp, devoured him, the door slamming shut, a set of keys left hanging from the lock.

The house, she would later say, had a sort of smirk to it.

Perhaps I did, I’ve never been one to gloat, but I couldn’t help it: seeing his daughter, that’s what had done it. I knew he would have shaken me off to be with them, even if it were me he desired, me he truly loved. Even if he spent his nights half-mad with lust for me within me, he would have invited them all in, and been the happiest of families. Until they weren’t and they quarrelled and sold me off, and so it would all begin again, endlessly.

 I couldn’t possibly have shared him.

Now I am whole again, and satisfied.

L. B. Limbrey is a non-binary poet, horror writer and environmental activist. They have work published in Rituals and Declarations, Dust Poetry, Corvid Queen, Grimoire Silvanus, Cypress Journal’s ‘The Red House’ anthology and Dynamis Journal. They write the Queer as Folklore blog and do talks on women’s fantasy writing and queer folklore.

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