The house stands apart from the village, surrounded by a wasted, walled garden which once brimmed with fruit, and flowers, and colour. The house is very old, and no lights shine from its uncurtained windows. Trees have matured unchecked close to its walls, allowing little sunlight into the bare, dusty rooms. Branches like thin reaching fingers, scritch against unwashed glass.
There is a small room at the back of the house. It has a door and one window. The white paint that covers the far wall is not discoloured and peeling like the adjoining walls. It has been painted more recently. At the base of the wall is a blackened patch where something very hot has rested. Below the thin veneer of paint lies coarse woodchip wallpaper. Below this lie a dozen other layers built up over many years, as each occupant of the house has tried to cover this wall. Behind the last layer is the grainy, gritty plaster: centuries old. The plaster covers the uneven texture of rough grey brick taken warm from the kiln as Cromwell waged battle. Behind those bricks lies a cold dead space. Inside the space, surfaces are blackened by soot as if a fire has smouldered here a long time ago. The space is perhaps large enough to hold one person. On the floor is a layer of dust.
Outside the house, the woman smiles as she looks at a row of blank windows. A lovely big house, and so cheap, so much space and acres of garden. She thinks of summer barbecues on the green lawn; a tennis court. Perfect. A little work, that’s all. Central heating, new windows, a kitchen. She smoothes the thin cotton dress down over her swelling belly, feeling for movement. All for you, my darling.
The man looks at her. He looks at the house, at the paint peeling from the window frames, at the missing roof tiles, the loose guttering. He shakes his head. Time. No time. He has a job, a good job. It pays well but it needs all his time. It’s not a nine to five job. He has no time for a house like this. He needs a modern house. All because she wants space around her and a family. Why were they having this baby? They had hardly discussed it. She had wanted it. He hadn’t said no but he hadn’t said yes, and now it is too late - isn’t it? He looks quickly again at the woman but she is wandering about the bushes, holding flowers in her hand and humming to herself. She does not see that look. There is a noise. The man turns. There is nothing there but the empty house and the blank, gaping windows.
In the space behind the wall there is a pregnant stillness; a tension, a frozen vortex waiting for the summer sun. But there is no light. Nothing is changed. The layer of dust lies as still as ever. Each tiny particle lying just as it was when the last occupants of the house left so suddenly.
One month later and the house is full of noise and sawing and fresh dust. Workmen are everywhere; hammering, changing, transforming. The man and woman live in two rooms on the first floor. Below them, the quiescent vortex that is the space seems unchanged. But something has changed there. The man and the woman have changed it just by their presence in the house. As they move about the house on the newly carpeted floors, electric charges build and decay continually creating a pattern of electromagnetic disturbance that propagates through the air, and through the wall and into the space within. Their thoughts are a confused flurry as millions of synapses fire off their electric charge adding more disorder to the electromagnetic waves permeating the house. Their thoughts are not random, but confused. Love, hate, warmth, coldness, fear, helplessness, determination circle the man and the woman like an opaque thundercloud rapidly building pressure. It is easy for something sensitive to detect this. Something very, very sensitive.
Two months later and the house is transformed. The trees are cut back. The walls are bright and clean. There is a smell of newness. Light streaming in through vertical blinds illuminates the motes of dust floating weightless around the man and the woman. She sits with her feet on a stool. Her fingers are intertwined over the curve of her dress. She is watching ‘Eastenders’.
The man sits at a table, his back to the woman. He is using a pocket calculator to add columns of figures. He lays down the calculator and rubs his eyes. He turns and looks at the woman. That look is not the one he used to give her. He stretches his arms to relieve the ache in his neck. He stops. There is something. Something new in the house, perhaps in this room. His gaze twitches about the room but there is nothing save the woman, and the television murmuring, and the bright motes of dust like specks of gold in the evening sunlight. Yet he feels something. He checks that the front door is locked. He sits down. Presses his hands to his eyes. There is a pressure in his head. There is something inside. There is a memory. There is a question.
Behind the wall, in the darkness, the dust moves. The tiny surface grains move first, stirred by something that is not air, for there is no draught in this airless place. The grains roll a tiny fraction of a millimetre. They start to vibrate sympathetically with the electromagnetic disturbance washing over and through them. As they vibrate they rub and touch, moving ever faster and further in response to the movement around. Under the surface the larger particles are moving now. Black and grey and white irregular shapes they are stirred by the movement above them and by the electronic signals saturating their molecules. They turn and circle and touch their fellows tentatively, then probing and pressing more strongly together in physical recognition. They begin to distort: changing, melding together into a long-forgotten form. As they join and atom connects to atom, molecule to molecule, something comes into our reality that was not there before. The form rises up, shimmering, changing, searching for rightness. And it finds rightness. Memory begins as charges move along newly formed nerve threads. Memory that was there in those inanimate particles of calcium and phosphorus. And with the memory comes a silent scream of torment.
Inside the woman, the baby moves. It is disturbed by something from outside its cocoon. Something that is now in the baby. Within the baby’s brain, a billion connections are made and broken every second directed by the electrochemical messages washing through and around it. This pattern is now subtly changed as new messages take over, altering, directing the baby’s development down another unrecognised path: a very old path. Blood and bone and muscle are subtly altered. It is a child, but a child no longer.
They lie in bed, bodies curved together like a question mark. The man has taken two aspirin. His head is better. He presses forward unenthusiastically. The woman moves away. He sighs and turns over. They sleep back to back.
The man dreams. He dreams that he is running, pursued by a deformed horror. It is shouting at him, pleading. It wants him to stop and turn. But he cannot do it, cannot make himself look at this thing that pursues him with dragging feet. Suddenly he wrenches free. He is flying free of the thing, free of earth and cares, flying through a blue sky to the clouds above.
The woman dreams. She dreams of a love long past. Of a mother’s love for something she has borne that is not quite a child. She dreams of fear. She dreams of death; of noisy death, of muffled screams as bloodied hands scoured of skin pound uselessly at a wall. She dreams of crackling flames and the smell of fresh cement.
As the woman dreams, the child acts. Messages wash out from it, electrical and chemical. Pain numbing peptides pump into the woman’s bloodstream where they are carried to her brain. Anaesthetic storms into her in an irresistible flood turning sleep into a catatonic narcolepsy and then the chemicals of birth wash through her; purging, dilating, contracting, expelling. The baby thing slips into our world unknown to even its mother. It lies between her legs, a bloodied mass. It rests. It turns, and a row of triangular teeth sever the cord with one bite. It crawls away under the sheets and over the mother’s leg, leaving a red-streaked trail of mucus. It feels a strong call. It knows where it must go. It crawls across the carpet and through the open door.
Nonsense! The woman looks at the doctor, tears in her eyes. A phantom pregnancy? It’s just not possible. It’s rubbish. The blood. The doctor is writing a prescription; Valium morning and night. He looks at his watch; looks at the door. The man drives her home. The woman goes to bed. She buries her head in the pillow, wetting the cotton with tears.
The man walks away from the house, scuffing his feet through the golden leaves that clog the path. Perhaps the move here hasn't been all bad. He looks back once, at the cold blank windows. Not for him. He needs to move on. A new life. He could be regional manager soon. He has no time for this house and family distraction. A for sale sign stands outside the gate. A car waits for him. He exchanges a smile with his companion and she drives him away.
In the dark space behind the blackened wall the form and the not quite child cling together in love. Happiness radiates from them. A joyful reconciliation and then the dissolution starts, as blood and bone and mind mingle and crumble slowly away.
The layer of dust covering the floor is slightly thicker now. Inanimate, watching, waiting.