“I’m a city girl,” I said. “And I read too much Lovecraft at a tender age. I was sure it was Cthulhu coming up the stairs. Or Yog-Sothoth.”
Hayley crowed with laughter again, as if it had been startled out of her. “Oh, my brother started me on Lovecraft! He and his friends were always playing Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness. Our bedrooms, we told our mom, were altars to Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos!”
I laughed. Hey, a blue-blazer-wearing cheerleader who read Lovecraft. Life is funny. “Which was your favorite?” I said, to keep her from sliding away from me again. “The Rats in the Walls knocked me over when I read it, but you can really only read it once—after that you can’t help noticing it doesn’t really work. But I used to reread The Dunwich Horror every time my family was getting on my nerves.”
“Oh, The Rats in the Walls!” said Hayley, suddenly solemn, but staring at me intensely. “Do you remember—the narrator talks about his son as a motherless boy? As if he was a clone, or Pinocchio, or something.”
This time I was the one who looked away. Yes. This was one of the places where Flowerhair had been born. Cthulhu meets Red Sonja. And Cthulhu loses. I ran my hands through my hair, which I usually only did when I was sitting at my computer staring at an intractable bit of story.
Hayley made a restless movement. Clip clack went her heels on the floor. “I’m sorry,” she said. “My boss would kill me if she found out I scared off someone who wanted to rent one of our houses by one of my rants on feminism. How much of the house did you see before Ron—interrupted you?”
“Just the big parlour, really,” I said. “I spent some time staring out the window, counting triffids.” I raised my eyebrows at her.
“John Wyndham,” she said demurely.
“He wasn’t very good on women either,” I said provocatively.
But Hayley was back in her blue blazer. “Better than Lovecraft,” she said firmly. “Did you look at the dining room?”
“Damning with faint praise,” I murmured.
“Would you like to see the cellar?” said Hayley, a little louder than necessary.
“No,” I said. “I mean, not right now. It has a fuse box in it. That’ll do.”
The corners of Hayley’s mouth were turning up again. “And the furnace. And the washing machine.”
Ah. The washing machine. I would have to learn to love the cellar.
“And lots of lovely storage space.”
Storage space. Unh. Maybe I could donate it to charity. “And rats in the walls,” I said.
“No rats in the walls,” said Hayley. “Maybe a few chipmunks.”
“Don’t leave the cellar door open and you’ll be fine,” said Hayley. “You see the kitchen is generously proportioned, and the big window lets lots of light in. It does need a little updating . . .”
It had needed updating twenty years ago. I liked old, and I could deal with grotty. Also I didn’t have a lot of choice, in Cold Valley or anywhere else. I needed cheap. Grotty was cheap.
“ . . . but everything is fully functional, and there is this beautiful table . . .”
Even if the chairs commute from the parlour.
Hayley’s realtor’s patter began to blur. There were a big closet, a half bath and a medium-sized officey sort of room downstairs that I’d missed in my first amble through, and then the stairs to the second floor, where the round tower stuck out from the square base of the officey room downstairs. There seemed to be a lot more bedrooms than the three listed, but the walls also seemed to come at you from peculiar angles—maybe that was the effect of the tower—as if, if you stopped to count, you’d find some dimension or other was missing, the seventh or the eleventh or the eight-hundred-and-fourteenth. Then there was the attic, or attics, including the pointy witch’s-hat second and final round tower room. There was no sign of the madwoman, or of pulled-off wallpaper strips (or teethmarks, rodent or otherwise). There were inhospitable-looking beds in two of the bedrooms and a chest of drawers in one, and a gigantic wardrobe in an otherwise empty room: there had to be another world opening out of the back of it. I could check later, after I’d signed the lease.
The vast bathroom was as unupdated as the kitchen, but with a similar grotty charm. It had the inevitable claw-foot bath—and no shower. Hayley’s professional spiel went into hyperdrive about the lack of a shower, which was fun to watch, but I didn’t mind that much. Gelasio had had a black and silver wet room installed in the penthouse a few years ago, which was amusing for soapy lovemaking, but if I wanted to wash, I reverted to the bathtub (and a paperback book I wouldn’t mourn too much if I dropped it). Maybe he had fallen for the girlfriend because she had more similar tastes in bathrooms.
Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. I was moving on.
I was moving here.
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