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Gently Creaking Boards  Kat Day

She’s back.

Well, I think it’s her. She’s older, but she has the same sky-coloured eyes, overconfident manner, golden hair.

I want to tell her, this woman I’ve named Golden-hair, to get out. Leave me to my solitude, to my dust and cobwebs and the gentle whistle of wind winding its way in and out of cracks. But I can’t. I – and those like me – don’t have voice boxes and we can’t move. Well, except for the one with the chicken legs. But she’s a special case.

So I call, instead, to those others in the ways we know – through filaments deep in the earth, and insects in the air, through frost and mist on windowpanes, and gently creaking boards. Sometimes these ways take a while, especially at midsummer when the air is still. But that doesn’t matter, not usually. Houses live a long time.

She’s here again. I don’t add more. My uneasy vibrations will do the rest.

I liked the last family, very much. They were loving and gentle, and clean. The big one would do repairs, and I appreciated that, so I looked out for the little one. Made sure he never tripped running up the stairs, nudged things so that he never bumped his head. Small things.

That’s why I felt so bad when I didn’t stop her. I thought they must know her. She walked in, bold as you please, sat in the chairs, ate the food they’d left out, lay in their beds. Who does that uninvited?

It ought to have ended when she ran away. It would have. Except she came back, with scratches on her face she hadn’t had before. And she brought others, with weapons that smelled of oil and metal.

They chased out the family, because, they said, they were dangerous. It’s not right, they said. Animals shouldn’t live in houses, they said.

Me? I’m not sure I see the difference between one animal and another.

I’ve been empty ever since. She never wanted to live here. She just wanted revenge.

A reply comes back fairly quickly. It’s easier in the autumn.

Are you sure it’s her? Sometimes they look alike, but they’re not the same.

It’s Gingerbread, who is not really made of gingerbread. It’s an illusion, a good one. I’ve heard humans tell stories of a witch, but there’s no witch. Sometimes she lets the people she attracts stay for a while. Before she eats them.

No, but I want her gone. Tell me how you do it.

But Gingerbread’s question nags at me. I have to admit, it’s not like the last time, when she broke things and ran away. This woman has cleaned the grime from my skirting boards, and scrubbed the floors. Sometimes she leaves, but then she comes back with vegetables and fresh bread, and lights the kitchen fire.

I can’t deny it’s nice to be warm again.

I won’t show you my way. It’s not your nature. And you’re too close to other humans. They might burn you.

That draws my attention to the fireplace. The hearth is brick and the kitchen floor is stone. There’s little danger from a spark there. But my roof is thatch. And the weapons the others had… they smelled of fire.

My doors shiver in their frames. Golden-hair looks up from the tea she’s been drinking. And I don’t like the sharpness of the movement and I don’t like the heat and I don’t like her blue eyes that look like they belong outside.

I don’t care! I want her gone!

Golden-hair looks uncomfortable. I’m pleased. Maybe I can scare her off. It would be slower than Gingerbread’s methods, yes, but she’s right – it would be less dangerous.

I start by opening the kitchen door after Golden-hair has closed it, so the chill creeps in behind her and strokes her neck. The first time, she laughs and closes it again. The second, she looks confused. After the third, she frowns.

Be calm. Perhaps it’s not so bad. It can be nice to have a human. Sometimes they make things better.

I ignore Gingerbread and focus on Golden-hair, and my plan to unsettle her. I’m just trying to decide what to do next when she appears with cloth and thread and sets up a sewing machine on the kitchen table. She stitches a long tube and stuffs it with sawdust so that it resembles a snake. Is it a toy, I wonder? But there’s no little one here, any more.

She puts it at the bottom of the kitchen door. And I realise, it’s meant to block the draft, and help keep the door closed.

Confused, I reply to Gingerbread.

Nice to have a human inside? Make things better? Yes, if you eat them.

I spend the night jiggling the floorboards upstairs to sound like another human’s footsteps, making them faster and slower and faster again, keeping Golden-hair awake.

The next morning she leaves, closing the door behind her. She’s gone all day. Ha, I think, I’ve done it!

But by noon I realise I’m missing the fire, the smell of cooking, even her tuneless humming. I’m too cold, too quiet.

Even if you don’t.

Feeling empty, this time I reply to Gingerbread immediately.

What do you mean? Do you have someone living there?

My door opens. Golden-hair’s back, carrying bags. Some of them thunk as she drops them on the table. ‘Okay,’ she says to the empty room. ‘I’m going to get some sleep. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the loose boards.’

She doesn’t light the fire. I’m chilly.

I have. I like him. He hunts and leaves meat for me. He keeps things warm. I want him to stay. We’re meant to be lived in.

Golden-hair spends the next day checking for loose floorboards and nailing them down. She opens all the windows and whistles as she works. The air is warm and clean and…

… and

… it’s nice.

I consider her sky-coloured eyes, her confident manner, her golden hair. Lined skin, a smile, strong hands. Unwilling to give up, refusing to run away. Making things better. This isn’t her, I realise. She was never like this.

Maybe it will be okay.

After all, homes live a long time.

© Kat Day

Meet the Author

Kat Day

Kat Day

Kat Day is a PhD chemist who was once a teacher and is now a writer and editor. By day she mostly works as an editor and proofreader of scientific materials, with bits of article and book-writing thrown in. By night she… mostly does all the stuff she hasn’t managed to do during the day. She is an assistant editor at PseudoPod and her fiction can be found at Daily Science Fiction, Cast of Wonders and PseudoPod, among others. You can follow her on Twitter at @chronicleflask, or check out her blogs, The Fiction Phial and The Chronicle Flask. She lives with her husband, two children and cat in Oxfordshire, England.

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