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In This Housing Market

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The first time it happens, you freak out.

You think that’s pretty understandable. Adjusting to a new house in a new neighbourhood, and a new job at the same time, are all pretty stressful things. The previous owner had warned you that sometimes the bathroom got a little too hot - a fault with the heating distribution, he’d said; fucking asshole - but fire and brimstone hadn’t exactly been covered by that description.

It had been midnight, and you’d gotten up to relieve yourself only to find that something was crawling through the mirror. Hissing and dripping molten gunk all over the sink.

You screamed.

You ran.

You spent the rest of the night on your friend’s couch, although you didn’t really sleep. You just lay awake, reliving the horrific sequence over and over until morning came. By the time you’d finished your shift for the day, you’d almost convinced yourself that it was just your imagination. A nightmare. Sleepwalking, your friend suggested. Sleepwalking, and then having a nightmare, and then thinking it was real. The light of day would clear everything up.

Yeah.

You went home. Went in your room, changed out of the clothes you’d borrowed from your friend, got a drink from the fridge. Watched a little television, and then finally got up again, and went to go assure yourself that the bathroom was empty.

The bathroom was not empty.

A voice that seemed to be like a thousand voices all at once drifted up towards you. Hissing in languages that you didn’t recognize, but they resonated through your bones nonetheless. Dark shapes twisted themselves around the bathroom fixtures, as the light flickered, and black ooze pooled across the tiles. Your own face greeted you in what passed for the remnants of the mirror. Hollow eyes and hollow smile, stretching unnaturally, as the ‘reflection’ raised a hand and beckoned you forwards.

You closed the bathroom door again.

That was definitely an… issue.

But, what were you going to do? Move? Again? In this housing market? It had taken most of your savings to even get here, and to be honest, you were not the kind of person who could just sell someone a house with a possessed bathroom. Unlike some former real estate owners you could name. Former real estate owners who, as it happened, didn’t seem inclined to return your calls.

So, you dealt with it. For about a week. You got a gym membership and used the bathroom there, set some boxes up in front of your own, and tried very hard not to think about the whispering in the walls. You called an exterminator. She came over, looked at the bathroom, and then came back with her face pale and her eyes lit with an unusual fire. Deep and blue, even though you could swear her eyes were brown when she’d first arrived.

“He Speaks,” she whispered.

“Yeah, I noticed the noise issue,” you allowed.

“A Deal Has Been Struck,” she informed you.

“So, uh… what, what kind of expense are we looking at…?” you wondered.

“There Is a Fifty Dollar Inspection Fee. The Rest is Tied With the Soul of She Who Made the Pact.”

“…Huh,” you replied. “Fifty dollars, then?”

“Fifty Dollars,” the exterminator confirmed.

Well, you paid it, of course. The exterminator left, and she seemed… rather intent on whatever it was she’d done. She was smiling. It wasn’t exactly good smile, though. Too many teeth. In… rows.

But you couldn’t fault the results. When you went into the bathroom, everything looked like it had when you’d first moved in. The mirror wasn’t even cracked, the tap was clean. The toilet tank still tended to run unless you jiggled the handle, but that actually just seemed to be a plumbing thing. It was pretty old. Probably needed the seals checked or something.

You tried not to think about it. The problem was solved. That was the important thing.

A month later, you got up again at three o’clock in the morning, and turned on the bathroom light.

There was an imp sitting on the counter.

It was red, and black, and looked a little bit like a monkey, but a monkey filtered through the lens of Wrongness in a way that made the back of your teeth itch. There was no fur on it. When it moved, it reminded you of a bad computer animation job. But in person. The scent of sulfur wafted up from every opening in the room, and permeated the halls of the house.

You tried closing the door again.

The imp wasn’t as cooperative as the haunting darkness, though, and sprang off of the counter, rushing you before you could get it shut. The thing chased you through the house, in a mad dash out through the front, before cackling gleefully and slamming said door shut behind you.

You got halfway down the sidewalk before it suddenly struck you that you’d been chased out of your own house by something smaller than your average three-year-old.

That rankled. You were a grown adult, dammit, and you’d invested in a property. The hideous stink monkey hadn’t. It had no right to be there. You grit your teeth, and with the kind of wild fury that can only come from knowing that reality has upended itself but you’re probably still going to have to go to work in the morning, you grabbed up a big stick from one of the neighbours’ recent landscaping projects, and went back.

The front door was locked.

You climbed in through your bedroom window, and you could hear the distinctive sound of dishware shattering. The imp cackling. You winced. Those were your dishes, and you were going to have to replace them. The imp probably wouldn’t, after all. Did imps have money? You didn’t know. The ones in movies didn’t seem to. You made your way down the hall, and into the kitchen.

The imp was sitting on the counter.

Violence is not usually a good first resort. But you were pretty mad. One of your favourite plates was shattered across the floor, and again, you had work in the morning.

Plus you still had to pee.

You hit the imp with the stick.

Imps, you learned, were very resilient. And had sharp teeth, and nails, and hissed a lot. They also tended to turn into smoke and dust when you hit them hard enough and frequently enough, leaving behind a messy, stinking pile of ash, but you were pretty sure you hadn’t actually destroyed it so much as convinced it that staying on this side of things wasn’t worth the effort.

You couldn’t be sure how you got that impression. Just that it was very distinctive.

The house stank for two weeks afterwards. No amount of air freshener seemed to help, and the dust marks refused to come out of the kitchen floor.

You made it a point to use the bathroom before nightfall, every evening, and to try and avoid drinking anything before bed. Better to have a glass of water in the morning, anyway. You think you read that somewhere, in some health article or something. It was definitely better for your stress levels, at least.

So the third time, it was morning when you opened the bathroom door.

A dark, winged figure was sitting in the tub. It seemed to fill all of the space of the two-in-one tub and shower stall, in fact. Leathery flesh pressed against the tiles, and its eyes were four pinpricks of pure white, startling amidst the mottled grey of its skin. Smoke trailed across the bathroom floor. Flames danced in the bathroom mirror.

You closed the door. Counted to ten. And then opened it again.

“Just… why?” you asked the demon.

It tilted its head.

“T̢̙͉̳̩͖̫h̯̟̥̱e̜̳̦̕ ̶̩̹̩̞͕̟s̨̞͎͎̗̺̘u̳͖͉̪m̝̼̺̣͎mo͕̦͍̻͙̞n̫̳e̴̠r̦̥̠ş̗͓ ̻͘ar͔͍͈̺͞e̯ ̯n͈o̵̖̥̘͈t̹̞̱ ͎͡h͔͍͝e͓̘r̼̻̳̪e͇̲͡ ,” it noted. Its mouth didn’t move with the sounds of its words. Instead they just seemed to sink into your skull, with a vaguely nauseating kind of pressure. The kind that promised one of those lingering, foggy headaches that had a way of making everything extremely unpleasant without actually being incapacitating.

“Summoners?” you caught. Someone was doing this to you on purpose? What kind of asshole…?

You took in another breath, and let it out again. Avoidance hadn’t worked, and violence had only provided a temporary reprieve. You thought about calling the exterminator again, but when you’d tentatively checked her number a few days after her visit, you found it disconnected.

“Look, I… I didn’t summon you, you’re right about that,” you offered the thing in the bath tub. Trying not to look into its eyes for too long, because when you did, you started hearing the distant sounds of screaming in the back of your skull. Possibly your own screaming. “So could you maybe just, head on off now? I kind of need to use the bathroom. Brush my teeth, get ready for work… that, that kind of stuff…”

The lights flickered.

Especially ominous, since it was sunlight, and not the electric kind.

“Th̦̹͕̥̣͘ͅͅe̖̘ ̴̝̺̖̺͎̫̯p̖̥̩̣̹̪͍̕r̶̦̩̘̱͖i̩̗͉̼̙͈̻͠c̴͓͙̖̪͍e̠̹̮̥̝͚͈ ̻̯͔̞h̞̪͕̬̯a̡̺͇̪̞̘̟ͅs̥̻̬ͅ ̻̲͎͙̬̣b̦͚̳͕̟͞e̜̪̩̕e̫͎̻͙n̹̼̱̲͓ ̞̥̣p҉͕̥a͔̳̗̙̞̞̘͟i̦͕̲̙ḓ̪͢.͓̞̲̬ ̗̙͎̜T̡̥̖̟͉h̷͙e͏͇̬̼ ̗̟̺̤͔̩͝b͇̤̟o̵̞̥̙͔̯̯ͅọ͇̺͚͜n͔̜̤̹ ̶͎ṃ̦u̗̦s͠t̸̻̱ ͇̠̺̳̠̝b͖̥͕̼e̡̝͔͙̮ ̢̤̣̯̘̙g̠̫͍͚͓̗͔r̺͚̜̣̤̰an̰̰̤̮̞te̛͎͓̯͖d̲̙,̢̖͓ ̷b̪͖e̸̩̥̤̣̖̗f̭̰̟͚̘̥or͇ͅe̸̫̤̤͚͈̟̠ ͠t̰̞̘̘h͖͔͈̳e̹͚̬̘ ̸̦͕̖s̯̳͔̹̦̣u̡̖̲m͈̱̝̕m̗̞̠̭͟ͅo̪̞̝̯n͈͖̗̟̺̙͙in͏̻̲̘͎̬͕ģ̩̬͈̗ ͕̼͡c̴̦̤̬̰̘͓̣a͏̻̹͙͕̖n̦͚̰ ̻̙͡e̱̱n̝͙͍̗̙̟͠ͅd̼ .”

“The… boon?”

The demon nodded. Blood started to pour from the tap. Or possibly fire. Or both. You stared at it for a moment, before shaking your head.

“Well, personally I would consider it a great boon to myself if you would just, um. Go back to wherever you came from?” you suggested.

“I̬̙̟ ̗̫c̰̣͉̭͖͟o̯̗̜̻̙̲̫u̱͉̭̣l̪͚d͕̮̯͙̼ͅ ̸g̢̺̻r̠̝a̢̦n͞t͍ ̷̲͚͕͍y҉͍͇͍͎o̸̲u͔̗̟ ̫̻͎p͞o̪͇̖̺̞̤̼w͙e͈r̺̤͖͢s̮̼͎͚̱̝͍ ̘͍̞͖̟b͖̜e̱͎̭̰̜̘̯y̡͎͍̟͖o̭n͇͖͕͙̹͚͈d ͈c̶̘̣̝om̵̤̠̲̣͖p̟͚̖̟̭̣͘r̵̩͎͇e͕̦͍h̘̙̹̟̠̬̬e͙̖̭̥n̛̙̰͔̞ş͎̗̫̰͈͇͙i͍̤̖o͓̲̗̲͙̟n͚̜͍͍.͝.”

“I’m sure you could,” you offered. You were also pretty sure that it was bullshit, because what tremendously good offer wasn’t? It was always just, like, Nigerian princes, and hot young singles in your area, and sketchy online training programs that were ‘guaranteed’ to get you a job in some industry or other.

“But, maybe you could also just… go?” you tried again.

The demon looked at you.

You looked at the demon’s nose, which seemed to be the safest territory, all things considered. There seemed to be a distant glow of embers in its nostrils, but you’d seen similar effects whenever kids in camp stuck flashlights in their mouths.

“S̙͉͙̺̥͡ͅo̜͖ ̴͕̩̝b͇e̖͓̲ ͍̮̺i̖͖̤̻t̨̻͈͎̹͔͕.”

The house shook a little, then, as the bathroom turned into a red, glowing pit. You had to hold onto the door frame to keep your footing, as the air sucked at you, like a sudden wind kicking through the house. And ultimately that was one of the worst parts, because it knocked over a bunch of shit, and the cup with your toothbrush in it and your shower curtain both vanished, crumbling to dust as they followed the demon down into the unfathomable portal it had opened. 

The mirror cracked.

It was somewhat messier than the exterminator had been, but less overall disastrous than the imp. At least the bathtub and the toilet were still there, once the fiery light had vanished.

You ended up using the bathroom at the gym again anyway.

And so it’s gone, for the past two years. You’ve adapted. That’s what you do, after all, when you’ve got a problem that you can’t really get away from. You keep your shower curtain in the hall closet, now, and your toothbrush in the kitchen. You’ve figured out that summonings tend to happen either at midnight or three a.m., and they usually stay in place. Imps are the exception, but they’re generally not smart enough to open doors unless you show them how, and they always have that smell. You keep a large net in the hall closet. One of the Big Demons, as you think of them - or maybe they’re all the same demon, you’ve never been totally sure - offered you some tips one Friday evening when you were a little drunk and chattier than usual. It cost you a bottle of wine and your memory of the air show your father took you to when you were ten, but you learned how to turn the tub drain into a portal you could shove the imps back through.

Most of the ‘visitors’ will generally leave if you ask them to, though. Sometimes you need to phrase it like they’re doing you a favour - and they are, so that’s not hard. Sometimes you need to give them something. Drop of blood, hair off of your head, glass of alcohol. Or milk, for some reason they like milk, too. It’s an expense and an inconvenience, but then again, one of your friends had to deal with termites last month, and that actually ended up costing a lot more. And the termites still came back, too.

And then one morning, you head into the bathroom and one of the Big Demons is there again.

You consider the matter. Your alarm didn’t go off, you’ve overslept, and you forgot to take the curtain off of the shower last night.

“Morning,” you offer, and slide it closed.

“Y̨̱o̡̖u̵͚̘̗ ͈̱̞̭̳̙͉a̞̜͕̝͖͕ͅr̘̟̘̙̹̙͖͝e͉̯̱̠̜ ҉nơ̤̬͓t̬͍ͅ t̹͕̖̭̞͈͟h̜̫̻̭e͈̖̺͍ ̨s͉͈̪u̺͙͔m̢̬͙̗͔̗͇̘m̱̩̹͇̯̼͇o̤̳̦̝̠n̸͍͇e̷r̲̮̞̺.”

“Never am, champ,” you say and set about the process of relieving yourself. At least it’s pretty warm. You look at the ceiling, and watch the smoke make the patterns of screaming, tortured faces, before you finish, and flush.

Kind of artsy.

Probably better to wash your hands in the kitchen, though. The tap’s doing that Thing again.

“T͓h̝͖e͕͚̫̪ͅ ̦̲͕̤̤͞e̱̩͚̼̘̯x͕̣̦͔̣c͉̣h̯̗̬͎̼̝͓an҉̠g̡͖͙̜͖e ̶̥̻͙̲̮̣m̜̘͉u͏̮ș̣̬̥̹̭t̢̲ ͏̩͇̟̪b̺͉͓̪͠e̶̩̬̳̙̙̯ ̷̠̟̥̜͕͉͙ c̡̜omp͘l̯͔͎͖̱̫͈͘e̛t͇͔̺͘e̢̹͈̱̭̖͉d͍̰͙̹̪͈̱.͍̖͓̣̦͚̣͠ ̷͉T͉͇̗̤̹ẖ̲̼̪͇͍̜e̪͔͕̫͠ ̛̬̠͕p̼̗͓̟̟r͚̖̻̤͎̼i͙c͖̩̤̬̙ͅe̡̝ ̺m̴͈̞u̺s̤̦̪̼͇͟ͅt͢ ̩̳͈̞b̗͠e̳̪̖͢ͅ ̻͚̹̟̖̫p̸̱͉a̧̦̺̜i̸̗̠d.̺͉̞ “

The demon shifts, slightly. A huge dark shadow behind the semi-transparent curtain, which is covered in fish. You don’t buy expensive curtains anymore.

“Yeah, but I’m running late. Do you need me to give you something so you can pop back downstairs, or are you good?” you check, zipping back up.

“N̫͈o̻͓͍̘͙ͅͅ,̢̲͚͇̼̪ ̭̫̝̝̗I͍͕̘ ̮̗̙̪̬̣c͓̟͝a̼̞͜n͇̩̜̰̟ͅ ̴̻p͙̳̯̣͙͚͍r̫͓͖̳̲̻ͅo̳͕͈̗̪̜b̳̣̮̩̙̪a͏̼͎̲͎̪b̷l̹̼͔͖̦̰̱͡y͍͈͙̯̕ ͏̳̯͇̪̮̖ma̡͚̩͓͕n͢a͙̣͕̝g̢̥e̢.҉̭̤̺̠ ҉͇͕̩̰̘̣A͙͖̺̖̼͍̱r̳͉̩̣̠͎̻e̴̫ ̸̱̻̱̪̟̭y̟͡o̤̫̹̪̹u̪̥͈̖̠̤ ̜͚̪ş͕̹͓ͅͅu͇̰̖r̜̬͍͜e͎͉̦̠͈ͅ ̣͕y̡o͏̜u҉͎ͅͅͅ ̼d͚̣͙̪̜o̳̬͎̱̗̱ ̘̰͈̞͔̟̕no̰̱͖̼͞ͅt̮̫̣̠̻͕ͅ ̕w̺̟̜͟i͜s̭͈̩̮̯h̡̦̝͍ ̰̝̱̰ṭ̩̺̼̘ͅo̠̯͔ ̵̪̱̤͇̯̙m̫̰͚͔̖̠͖a̪͍͓͎̭̣ḵ͕̭̼̟̦͟e̯̘ ͔͇̞̗̺͠a̗ ̫̲̬̦̞̺b̤͙͓̰̺̮ą̲r̹̟̤͔͢g̰͉͙̤̪̞͉a͎̖̻͈̕ͅi͇̭̙͘n̬̹̤̪̝̼?̨̻̲“

 “Not today. But hey, who knows? You might get me yet,” you offer, and open the curtain again; leaving it closed just seems kind of rude.

The demon grins, and smoke curls up from between its lips.

“Y̸͔̫͖̤ou̢̖̳̥̟̹͖͓ ̢̜͙a̲̜̭̦͍͈r͕̺̟ẹ̟͍͙̺ ̳̲͡ͅa̰͚ḷ͔ͅm̞̦̲͎o̵̹̳s͕̹ͅt̬̰̦͚̠ͅ ̡̙̥͈͙̜̼ǫ̩̫u̼̫̗t͖̘̪͈͕̙̤̕ ̬̗̟͢o̡̭̳̪̥f̻̥̜̤ ͚̤͓̳̮t͏o̶͖͍i̮͎̞͓̻͓l͉͍̠͖e̖̩̫ͅt̰̥̣ ̛p̶̳̞͈̜͖̪a̶͔p̻e͖͖r͚͉̭͠.͇̪̬”

“Thanks.”

You make sure and leave the bathroom before it does. After all, one of the most dangerous things about adapting to any situation is getting too complacent with it. Like that, what’s it. That ‘missing step’ stuff. 

Maybe you should get a cat, you think, as you close all the doors and preemptively turn one of the glasses in the sink onto its side, so it can’t fall over and shatter dramatically. Cats are supposed to be good with, like, supernatural stuff, right?

Although it would probably just get into fights with the imps. Or run away.

Yeah, seems like irresponsible pet ownership, probably.

You sigh at the lawn. It’s all died again.

That rock garden is looking like a better and better idea, though, you think, before heading out to work.