On the corner of Wood and Vine in the bedroom community of St. Vincent lay a fallow empty lot until the 20th of May when a house appeared.
Elderly Mrs. Leach noticed it first, early in the morning while she walked her schnauzer Ian.
"Well that's odd," she said to Ian, who blinked great waving tufts of hair across his eyes and snuffled (his allergies were bothering him). She noted the gray clapboard that clad the squat, nondescript square form. She stamped raindrops from her boots then walked on.
As the day progressed and the rain clouds dissipated, the house inched across the overgrown lawn towards the sidewalk. It grew a porch with white columns and iron railings, expanding with a faint pop. Billy Smith the paperboy, with earphones blasting rage metal firmly implanted in his ears, rode by on his bike and threw a paper onto the porch without realizing the house was not on his route. When he passed, and when no one was looking, the door opened and paper was sucked into the house, carried on a tongue of swift air.
At five after noon, Mrs. Garrett across the street glanced out the window of her living room. She gasped when she saw the house.
"Steve!" she exclaimed to her husband, who was reading a tabloid magazine at the dining room table while he smoked a cigarette.
"Mmm?" he uttered, the cherry of his cigarette glowing red.
Mrs. Garrett crept to the corner of the window and pushed back the lace curtain to get a better view.
"Steve, do you remember that lot selling?"
"Mmnnn," he replied.
"I don't remember that lot selling," she said to herself. "When did they build on it? I don't remember it being there yesterday."
"What?" mumbled Mr. Garrett.
"I swear that house wasn't there!" she said, dropping the curtain. "You're not even paying attention." She turned to her husband and rolled her eyes. "You never pay attention."
"Yes I do," said Mr. Garrett.
"No you don't. What did I just say?"
"'You never pay attention.'"
"You think you're funny, don't you?"
"Yes I do."
At three in the afternoon the house reached the sidewalk, then reversed its course to slowly reveal a neatly groomed lawn. At four ten, a sign that read "Open House" pushed up through the sod of the new lawn.
A young woman named Mollie Newell, pulling her daughter in a wagon, passed by at four thirty. She stopped and looked at the house with her jaw slightly lax and cocking her head.
"I wonder when this house went in..." she said. "It looks kind of old." She looked down at her daughter and her daughter looked up at her, silent, as she was still not blessed with the talent of speech. "What do you think Beatrice? Would you like to live here?"
Beatrice looked at the house then shrugged her shoulders.
"I know," said Mollie. "I feel 'meh' about it too, but I think we can afford it. Might be nice to get out of apartment living. I wonder why they're selling it. What do you think kiddo, shall we take a look?"
Beatrice sighed deeply and lolled her head.
"Alright. We'll be quick. I promise."
She bent down and picked up her daughter, then walked across the lawn the short distance to the porch. She scaled the steps and rang the doorbell, swaying back and forth to amuse Beatrice (who was not amused and instead buried her face in her mother's shoulder). There was no answer. Mollie rang the bell again. This time, the door slowly swung open. Mollie peered into a gloomy hallway that reeked of mothballs.
"Hello?" said Mollie.
"Come in," said a quiet monotone voice.
"Where are you?" she asked.
"Come into the kitchen," said the voice.
Mollie stepped into the house. It was colder inside than out. Dust motes swirled in the beam of sunlight that entered behind Mollie. The floor was bare pine and the walls were a dull gray. To the right was an empty room that Mollie presumed was the living room. To the left was a doorway that led to a room with white tiles on the floor. She walked through the doorway into a small kitchen. All the appliances were worn and rusty and from the 1950s.
"Ew," she said under her breath.
"A house needs a family," said the voice, "don't you agree?" The voice broke slightly at the last syllable. Mollie started to frown.
"Where are you?"
"I'm in the living room showing another family around."
"No, I just saw it. There's no one there..."
"The family is the soul of the house."
"Where are you, ma'am...or sir?"
"I'll be with you in a minute. In the meantime, please make yourself at home."
"Um, no thanks," said Mollie, clutching Beatrice tighter. "I'm just gonna go now. But thanks. Good luck."
As Mollie left the kitchen the front door slammed shut, and in its place was a solid wall, with just the faintest seam where the door was. Mollie ran up to it and banged on the wall.
"What's going on?" she asked, her heart pounding. Beatrice began to cry.
"I need a family."
"Who are you?"
"Will you please be my family?"
"You're scaring my daughter...you're scaring me!"
"I don't mean to scare you. It's just that most people don't understand..."
"That houses need souls too."
"I'm going to ask you one last time...who are you?"
"You're the house? Houses can't speak."
"Yes they can. All houses can, but we tend to kept quiet and sit still once we have a family. Although sometimes we whisper to each other during the night. I haven't had a family in decades. I've been wandering...looking...and I can't ever find a family. I don't know why nobody likes me."
"Oh," said Mollie, rubbing Beatrice's back to calm her. "Well, maybe you should try hiring a real estate agent."
"I don't know how to do that."
"The other houses have had agents. Why don't you ask them?"
"They all have families that take care of that. I have no one."
"I'm not sure what to tell you." Mollie felt around the door seam with her fingers, trying to find purchase. "Look, could you let us out? Please?"
"Will you be my family?"
"What happens if I say no?" asked Mollie.
The house was silent.
"Will you still let me out?"
"Are you going to say no?"
"I haven't decided yet. I'd like to sleep on it."
"You can sleep here."
"What, on a bare wood floor in a cold drafty house?"
"I never called you names," said the house, "so I don't know why you have to be mean to me."
"Let me be blunt then," said Mollie, shifting Beatrice to the other hip, "you're effectively holding us hostage. That's not exactly welcoming now, is it? I'm not sure I want to live in a house that won't ever let me leave."
"Oh," said the house slowly. "I...didn't realize. I'm never sure how to act around families. I want a family so much you see. But I guess I still have a lot to learn."
"Okay, you seem...rational," said Mollie shaking her head, "so I'll make you a deal. I'll come back here tomorrow, at the same time, and I'll bring a real estate agent with me. I don't know who'll believe all this, but I'll find someone. Then they will help you find a proper family, and maybe also coach you in proper...house etiquette. You just need to let me leave right now, and I promise I'll come back. How does that sound?"
The house was silent, but the walls shifted rapidly from gray to cream to white.
"Okay," said the house.
"Okay," said Mollie, nodding her head. "So it's a deal then?"
"Yes," said the house.
The seam pulled apart and the door reappeared. Mollie exhaled deeply, then threw open the door and ran out onto the lawn. She deposited Beatrice in the wagon then turned back to the house.
"I'll be back," she said, then waved awkwardly.
The house dimpled and punched out two bay windows and pushed up a dormer window at the roof.
"Oh...my," said Mollie. "That's an interesting feature. I'll have to mention that to the real estate agent..."
She slowly walked away, looking backwards at the hopeful house.