THE HOUSE THAT LOVED LOVECRAFT | Mark Howard Jones Darla Waytlee woke at 5 a.m. sharp every morning, allowing time for therapeutic sex with her husband. But when she blinked awake at 7.25 a.m. she realised that something was wrong. Jorgee was still breathing softly at her side and the house hadn't woken her with her choice of music. Seeing the clock, she swore to herself. Now she'd miss her pleasure and would be cranky all day. The Health Council recommended making love every morning but now there was just no time. And it was important to her, damn it! In fact, as a Power Broker in the city, she'd been able to choose Jorgee precisely because of his sexual proficiency. And she couldn't linger, as she had a meeting first thing. Stamping downstairs into the living area, she cursed the fact that they'd have to get an engineer out to service Riley. She hated the name but it had been chosen at the insistence of her six-year-old daughter, Silvana, when they'd moved here nearly nine years ago. So the house now bore the same name as the girl's much-missed kitten. "Coffee please, Riley!" barked Darla. The house was supposed to pick up on her moods, her desires, but sometimes it needed things spelled out in words of one syllable. She snatched the cup of steaming coffee from the machine and went to set it down on the table. But the table wasn't there - it had disappeared overnight. "Shit!" she whispered, moving to stand at the huge window that looked out over the bay. She sipped the coffee quickly, impatiently, and gazed out at the sun dancing on the water. Out there somewhere was a city that had been taken by the rising seas. She remembered her parents showing her a photograph when she was a little girl. It had been a huge place, all glitter, glass and glory stretching for miles, but now it was only a home to fishes. Once she'd finished with the cup, she slammed it back into the machine. As she walked towards the garage, Darla noticed that the dining room wall was off colour. She and Silvana had spent hours carefully choosing a soothing mint tone (while Jorgee and their son, Jorum, smiled on approvingly). But this morning there was a hint of something rancid about it, as if it could barely conceal the pustulence behind it. She shook the notion out of her head, sighing deeply as she focussed on the miserable journey ahead. She knew she was really going to miss not having been sexually satisfied this morning - it was going to be a hellish day! As the two-seater scoot took her down the driveway, she looked up through the transparent wall of the bedroom to see Jorgee standing there naked. She waved at him and he was about to wave back when the house turned the wall a dingy brown colour, blocking him from her view. Darla tutted loudly. It was going to be a hellish day! * Jorgee finished his breakfast, standing up, before waking the children. He was vexed by the loss of the dining table and perturbed when Darla phoned him on her way to work. They'd better get an engineer to look at the house, she said. Things weren't 'quite right' in her opinion. He'd never been that comfortable with the idea that the house grew everything for them, including furniture, and that it could take it away again when it felt like it. Which meant today that he'd had to have his breakfast standing up. And he firmly believed that sentience was for humans and animals, not for houses. Living houses seemed wrong, somehow. But it was no good talking about it to Darla; she'd worked so hard for her clifftop 'dream home' that she almost certainly wouldn't listen to him. The sales slogan 'If You Can Dream It, You Can Live In It' had become a sort of prayer for her. And he remembered they'd all worked so hard to qualify for the Health Council Mental Cleanliness Certificate that had allowed them to buy the house in the first place. It had taken Darla almost two years to get the house 'just right', the decor changing to suit her whims on an almost daily basis. Jorgee hated it when she was going through her Gaudi phase - nothing in the house felt comfortable. Fortunately that had lasted barely a month. Felling nervous, Jorgee dialled Asterion Bio-Builders and spent several minutes being bored by recorded information telling him the company was the world leader in bespoke psycho-mimetic environments. Finally he was connected to one of their consultants. After explaining the problem, Jorgee felt as if the man was trying to blame him and his family for having upset the house in some way. "Well, you need you to do something!!" spluttered Jorgee. "My wife just isn't happy." The man started talking about giant empathic seed pods, bio-neural upgrades and replication enhancements, usually highly reliable, faults were very unusual, blah blah blah. Feeling uncomfortable with all the technical detail, Jorgee let his mind wander and allowed the man to ramble on. "So when can you be here?" he asked as soon as the man paused for breath. On the screen, he saw the man punch a few keys and swipe through a schedule before replying "Tomorrow morning between 10 and 12." "Fine," said Jorgee between gritted teeth. He ended the call. Behind and above him, the house groaned as if it had toothache. * Around mid-morning Silvana appeared at the door of Jorgee's home office. He'd been scrolling through lines of meteorological data, combing it for errors. It was not exactly his favourite job and, normally, he'd welcome any interruption. But this time he felt uneasy. These days his daughter only ever seemed to want his attention when she had bad news. "Daaaaaad?' The girl's voice was almost a miaow. He tried but failed to find the remnants of her childhood laughter in the wheedling tone. He turned away from his desk, forcing a smile. "Hello, Silv. How are you?'" The girl's face darkened. "Don't call me that. You know I hate it." "Yes, I forgot. I'm sorry," said Jorgee, trying to placate her. His memory was fine. "What can I do for you?" The girl stepped into the room and leant against the wall, which had turned a troubling mottled grey-green, making Jorgee feel as if he was working inside a giant toad. "Do you know that Jorum has a book? I dunno where he got it from ..." Having dropped her bombshell, the girl turned away quickly, preparing to leave the room. "Silvana. Wait a minute." Jorgee stood and went over to the girl. "Why are you so eager to tell me about your brother?" "Because he's an idiot and I ha -" "He's young. Just young. Give him time. You'll be friends one day ... you'll see." The girl twisted her mouth in a sour expression. "There's no way that's ever going to happen." Jorgee had little patience for her intolerance of Jorum. 'Well, have you ever thought that maybe you're not soooo perfect yourself?" As soon as he said it, he knew it was a mistake. Darla had spent a great deal of money having Silvana engineered to ensure she would be perfect. Unlike Jorum, who simply had to take a chance with heart disease, cancer, low IQ, depression or whatever else nature handed him. The girl's face darkened. "I'm going to tell my mother you said that!" she spat, then turned and walked out. Normally the house hardly made any sound. Its signature was a barely perceptible purr. But now it was making a sound like a giant stomach attempting to digest the indigestible. * Barely a minute later, Jorgee stood outside the door of his son's room. He knocked firmly. "Jorum?" There was no answer. He tried again and again, but got the same result. Jorgee eased the door open a crack, aware that the boy was entitled to his privacy. Jorum's back was to the door as he sat cross-legged on the bed. Jorgee could hear the faint thrum of music coming from his son's ear buds. The boy was concentrating on something that sat in his lap. As he stood beside the boy he could see that it was a battered old paperback book. SIlvana had been right. Jorum gave a start as Jorgee reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The boy suddenly tried to do several things at once - pluck the buds out of his ears, stand up and scrabble to push the book under his pillow - but failed to do any of them well. "D-daad? Uuuh, hi ...?" With one foot on the floor and his other knee on the bed, Jorum looked shamefaced. Jorgee reached over and pulled the partly-concealed book from under the pillow. It had been years since he'd held anything made of paper in his hands. And now, a book, of all things. He used to love the feel of books. but where did his son get something as rare and expensive as a book? He was almost afraid of what the answer might be. The volume had obviously been read and re-read, like some illicit and enticing Bible of bad behaviour, passed from hand to eager hand over the years. He read the title - 'The Daughters Of Cthulhu's House: The Best Feminist Fiction Of H P Lovecraft'. Feminist? Jorgee remembered reading Lovecraft as a boy and was puzzled. Turning the pastel-coloured tome over in his hands, he presumed the book was some over-ambitious editor's final attempt to re-habilitate the New Englander's dubious work. Before it had finally been banned for good, of course. "Where did you get this?" he demanded of Jorum. The boy shuffled for a moment before muttering "From Wix." "Wix?! That trouble-making little...!" Jorgee felt slightly ashamed that he'd only just avoided swearing in front of his 12-year-old son. "And where did you see him?" "At the gathering pool," offered Jorum, looking away from his father. "Like hell, you did! He's been banned from there," spat Jorgee. He flicked through the pages of the book, once more, the titles jogging long-buried memories of guilty pleasures. "Are you crazy, reading this sort of thing?! Not only is it banned but you know how this house ... picks up on things." Jorgee caught himself looking over his shoulder, as if the house was standing behind him instead of surrounding him. "Your mother is going to have to hear about this," he added, letting his gaze drop to the floor. Jorum said nothing but his face was dark with defiance as his father turned and left. * As Darla's scoot rounded the corner she realised that things had got worse, not better. The smooth carapace of the house had become deformed with outcrops and strange growths, its white surface blotched with darkness. Even the sign at the front had changed. The letters had melted and seemed to have changed place. Now instead of saying Riley it read Rliey. The discolouration obvious from the outside had even spread to the living area. The square flower bed in the lounge had changed from a healthy display to a collection of blackened stumps. * "Why on earth are you reading this stuff, Jorum? Don't you know that it's been banned?" Darla held the book in her hands as if it was some sort of foul pollutant. She flicked the pages open. The titles made her shudder. 'Dreams In The Witch House', 'At The Mountains Of Madness', 'The Call Of ....' - what the hell was that word? Jorum shrugged. "I dunno. I just like it. Why shouldn't I read it?" Jorgee and Silvana stood to one side, a look of concern on his face, a sneer of contempt on hers. His mother became more insistent. "Because it's full of negative thoughts that can hurt you," she said, certain her argument would convince the boy. "But how do you know? You haven't read it, have you?" he protested. His mother pursed her lips, unused to being contradicted. "I don't need to read it, my boy. Just look at these titles! This one - 'The Dunwich Horror'. Horror! Isn't there already enough horror in the world for you? "All I know is that the Health Council has banned it and that's good enough for me. And it should be good enough for you, too!" Jorum's defiant glare told her the message wasn't getting through. "Well, it's not," he spat and made a grab for the book. Darla held the book away from him. "No. You're not having it back. I'm going to destroy this before it can do any harm, and before anyone finds out you've got it. I don't want this sort of thing in my house." A look of barely controlled fury crossed the boy's face. He looked at them each in turn. "You should try reading something once in a while. You all should!" "Jorum, I will not be spoken to in that way - go to your room now!" "But it stinks!" he protested. "Same as always," sneered Silvana. Her disgraced brother shot her a dark look before stomping off towards the stairway. * Jorum was right, thought Jorgee, the house does stink. Everywhere seemed to be suffused with a briny odour. If Darla had noticed it, she hadn't said anything. Maybe she was deliberately putting a brave face on things, he thought, though that would be unlike her. Even though they overlooked the ocean, there was no way the wind could have carried the smell in - all their air was filtered twice before it reached them. * The walls were coming down on her. The gigantic black house was trying to crush her, destroy her. While the pressure was trying to cave her head in. The children and Jorgee lay on the ground, victims already. She struggled to move, to lift herself up, to escape - but the pressure was too ... Darla awoke panting, trying to understand what was happening. Several seconds ticked by slowly before she realised it wasn't real. But she had a pounding headache. The air seemed so thick and the bed under her so cold. As cold as a mortuary slab. She kicked against the tangled mess that held her. Their bed had become something out of a nightmare. Eventually managing to throw aside the seaweed that their duvet had become, Darla leapt up, fearing what might happen if she remained lying there. The huge stone thing dripped with rank green vegetation, soaking wet and slimy to the touch. She rushed around to where her partner lay. His breathing was laboured as he twitched in deep slumber. She shook him. "Jorgee! Get up, for God's sake!! Something awful has happened ..." "Oh God, the children ...!!" As soon as Jorgee was stirring, she headed for the door. There was no handle and the door had become a thing of pitted, ancient-looking metal. She pushed at it - it wouldn't move. She tried again and the thing swung outward at an odd angle. As she tried to leave the room she was forced back by the stench of piscine rot sweeping in from the corridor. Trying not to gag, she grabbed a sweater and tied it over her face to lessen the foul odour. Jorgee was a few steps behind her when they reached Silvana and Jorum's rooms. Their daughter was already awake, complaining loudly about the stink and demanding answers, while Jorum, still asleep, had to be slung over his father's shoulder unceremoniously and carried downstairs. The house was barely recognisable. Darla was grateful to see that at least the front door was still in the same place. The floor was awash with rivulets of water, as if the place had recently been submerged and was only now slowly draining. Darla had the same struggle with the front door as she had with that in the bedroom. Punching it in frustration, she managed to hit the right spot and the thing swung open, showering them all with tiny marine animals in the process. They stumbled outside and staggered to a halt, breathless. Darla fell to her knees, panting. " I - I dreamt that ..." she began before feeling Jorgee's hand on her shoulder. "I know. I know ... I did too," he whispered. Jorgee, Darla and Silvana huddled in a group, gazing up in disbelief at their home. Jorum stared out sullenly at the dark night ocean, still half asleep. The house towered above them, having grown to an enormous height while they'd slept within it. No wonder it had invaded our dreams, thought Darla. This copycat construction was no longer her beloved home. Its alien angles and tottering walls were something out of an architect's worst dreams. Even though the sun hadn't risen yet, there was still enough light to reveal that it was now a strange hue of dark green, streaked with black and dripping with rank weed. Over the new few hours, they took turns to huddle inside the scoot that had been left in the driveway. Another had been parked in the garage under the house but heaven knows what had happened to it now. Swallowed up by the monstrous structure they saw before them, no doubt. All the while, the house melted and boiled and shifted in the gloom, becoming something new, something much more alive. It shrank in size but still retained a terrifying bulk, like something that might roll over and crush them. Jorgee ushered them into the trees, farther back from the cliff top and the thing that had begun to grow there. Jorum clung to a thin tree, gazing in fascination at what the house was becoming. His father glanced over at him. The boy turned away, refusing to meet his father's eyes. Jorgee was sure he remembered something about a strange sunken city like this from one of the Lovecraft stories. Maybe even the one that Jorum had been reading when he'd interrupted him. While the house couldn't think for itself, it had obviously been oddly affected by whatever had leaked out from Jorum's thoughts. The house wasn't supposed to pick up on subconscious urges - only those 'willed' at it - but no-one could deny that their Home Sweet Home was now a nightmare come true. Darla pulled Silvana to her and laid a hand on Jorgee's arm. Jorum sat on the ground at their feet, hugging his knees to him and smiling secretly. They watched helplessly as their beloved home waved varied hued tentacles in the air before finally slithering over the edge of the cliff and down the sea below. Its huge bulk was still visible some minutes later - swimming out to where the drowned city was said to lie - as an unearthly piping sound reached their ears. Now we have no home, thought Darla. The sun hadn't yet fully risen but already it had been a hellish day!