PseudoPod 826: Dream House

Dream House

By C. O. Davidson

Alice and Rick turned off the highway onto the twisting gravel road. Oaks arched overhead, a tunnel of green. “Haven’t I always said I wanted a long driveway,” Rick said. “A daily nature hike to the mailbox?”

At the final turn, a break in the woods, and Alice’s stomach tightened.

Midday sun sparked the tin roof. The driveway looped past the white farmhouse.

“Better than the picture,” Rick said. 

Alice pulled up next to a silver Lexus and cut the Subaru’s engine.

“Competition,” Rick said. 

Noon sun cast the front porch in shadow. Two large windows, their dark wavy glass revealing only vague shapes inside. Above the door, a fan-shaped transom cast a weird glare. In the back, a tidy red barn and pen. A detached garage and more trees. 

All this space, Alice marveled. 

She and Rick existed in a cramped one-bedroom rental with asbestos siding two blocks from campus, where Alice had to double-shelve her books and her students’ essays shared the kitchen table with Rick’s model planes. “We need more space,” she’d said. Rick, a math professor, would tap his temple. “I only need this space.” But Rick’s office on campus had a big window overlooking the duck pond. Alice was an English instructor. She didn’t have a view. Her office was a semi-repurposed dorm. With a sink. But since the March shutdown, neither had an office and both were working full-time from home. Rick had taken over the entire kitchen table. Alice had retreated to the bedroom, her anthologies and handbooks stacked on a nightstand, laptop balanced on a TV tray. 

One night, in late May, they sat in lawn chairs on their tiny, cracked concrete patio listening to the neighbors fight about where the husband had been the previous night. When the husband fired a pistol into a burn barrel, Rick took a pull from his beer and said, “Allie, maybe it’s time we think about moving.” 

After two months of searching, looking at houses that were too expensive, too dilapidated, too far from campus, or too near possible meth labs, Alice found it: a pre-Civil War farmhouse. Only five miles outside of town and situated on fifteen wooded acres. According to the online listing, it had been moved in 1983 from Chatham to Bleckley County. The two pictures included an aerial shot of the house in a clearing, surrounded by woods, and a ground-level photo Alice had squinted at, the sun setting behind the house, a dark, hip-roofed incision against the trees. There were no interior photos. 


The siding was real wood. 

It had a tin roof—New!

And with all that land, the asking price was reasonable.

This dream home will not last, the post warned. 

Alice and Rick waited in their car. Eventually, the front door opened.

A dark-haired woman in a pink floral wrap dress stepped out onto the porch. She looked like someone who could live in this house. Across her chest she wore a baby sling. She clutched the baby, despite the sling, and marched down the steps and across the lawn. Her mask began to slip from her nose, showing her pale face. Maybe it was only a lack of makeup. Wearing masks, after all, had made Alice all but give up on makeup herself. But as the young mother stopped at the rear of the Lexus, her pale face was tinged green, her forehead popped with sweat. Her chest heaved. She locked eyes with Alice and shook her head, a small spasm, then turned away. 

“Check out the husband,” Rick said.

A man stood on the front porch, pink Polo shirt and khakis, one Top-Sider on the threshold. He nodded to someone inside the house, his every gesture telegraphing enthusiasm.

Rick chuckled. “Save some for the negotiation, buddy.” 

Alice looked back at the mother, now in profile, her child tucked under her chin, shoulders hunched, shielding the baby.

Alice felt relief wash through her. “It doesn’t matter what he wants. She hates it.”

The mother yanked open the passenger door of the Lexus and slid inside. Polo-dad, walking to the car, dropped his shoulders at the slam of the car door. 

“All the better for us,” Rick said. 

The owners, Cheryl and Todd, wore custom masks—hers a sunflower design, his airplanes. They stood in the foyer across from Alice and Rick, who wore cheap blue disposable masks. Cheryl and Todd said they had owned the house just over two years and were sorry to be selling. “We have to return to Brunswick,” Cheryl explained. “Family.” 

Despite the summer heat, the house was cold. Alice knew Rick would be thinking about the electric bill. 

Cheryl wore glasses and had curly, dark blonde hair, like Alice’s, though Cheryl’s hung past her shoulders and Alice had recently gathered hers into a ponytail and chopped it off chin-length. Both women wore cargo shorts and Birkenstocks. Alice paired her shorts with one of Rick’s Oxfords, and Cheryl wore an embroidered green blouse, what Rick would call a “hippy shirt.” Alice knew this because she had the same shirt in blue crammed in their tiny bedroom closet. Cheryl’s husband, Todd, had a dark ponytail. Like Rick used to wear, Alice thought, smiling behind her mask. She’d always hated that ponytail.

 “We’ve had a ton of interest today,” Todd said. 

 “What’s this on the floor?” Rick asked. They all looked down. 

A wide copper-lined seam split the hardwood, running from the front door, down the length of the hallway, past the staircase, and into the kitchen at the back. 

“That’s where they cut the house in half to move it,” Cheryl said.

“They don’t do that anymore,” Todd said. 

Alice noticed a shut door to her left. On the door frame a series of pencil hashmarks, each dated, the last no higher than the doorknob. 

 Todd pointed to the right. “Let’s start in the living room.”

Cheryl pointed out the room’s features with rehearsed enthusiasm: tiled fireplace, heart pine floors, plaster walls. “As you can see, it’s really spacious,” Cheryl said. Their steps echoed.

The only furnishings were two desks: one small, like Alice remembered from grade school, the other larger and stacked with binders and books. A chalkboard flanked the two desks. A map of the United States stood next to it. Behind it, on the floor, a stack of moving boxes. 

 “We homeschooled,” Cheryl said.

Empty, Alice thought. She imagined the cracked plaster walls lined with bookshelves, a large area rug, a comfy reading chair and floor lamp tucked in the corner. In front of the fireplace, a sofa, coffee table, matching chairs. Cozy nights by the fire, drinking wine, her feet in Rick’s lap. 

“The wall colors are from the Sherwin-Williams Historic Collection,” Cheryl said. “We used those paints throughout the house. Here in the living room, New England Fall. I think it’s a really warm burnt orange.”

Todd snorted. “Looks brown to me.” He nudged Rick. “Am I right?”

Rick made a non-committal noise. 

“Pretty,” Alice said, thinking that in the dim light, the walls did look more like Georgia mud than Maine foliage.

Cheryl pointed up to the crown molding. “I, we, picked restaurant-grade white for all the trim and baseboards. It’s so easy to clean. And it really shines.”

But it doesn’t, Alice thought. 

She and Rick looked up at the high ceiling, at a vaguely Florida-shaped stain. 

An edge crept into Todd’s voice. “We’ve fixed those leaks with the new roof. I just haven’t had a chance to re-paint the ceiling yet. But we will if that’s a deal breaker.” 

“Let’s step into the dining room, shall we?” Cheryl said brightly.

As the others left the room, Alice noticed a large antique mirror hanging over the fireplace. It was split down the middle, like the hallway. On one side of the crack, she saw herself. On the other, an empty school desk. 

An ache behind her sternum. 

Familiar. Unwelcomed. 

She turned away.

In the dining room, a huge table that could easily seat fourteen dwarfed three plain ladder-back chairs. Todd stepped around another stack of moving boxes, to the far end of the table, and gestured, a magician at the end of an illusion. “This beast is an antique! A nineteenth-century Rococo turtle-back table.”

Scattered across the top was kid detritus: coloring books, crayons, Legos, toy cars and planes. A stuffed T-Rex sat in a chair and peered over the edge of the table at Alice. 

“I inherited it from my grandmother,” Cheryl said, hands clasped in front of her. 

“It’s a hit at all our giant holiday dinners,” Todd said. “We can throw it in with the house if you guys like it.”

A tight laugh escaped Cheryl. 


What an asshole, Alice thought. 

Rick squeezed past the table to the window. Outside a large oak tree shaded the house. Despite the cold in this room, too, Alice felt sweat dripping down her sides. Her nephew’s sixth birthday party last summer flashed into her memory. They had a clown who made balloon animals. All the children were so excited, but adult Alice kept squirming in her chair at the squeaking balloons, dreading the inevitable pop. 

“Think about the table if you find yourself on the fence with the house.” Todd squeezed past a tower of boxes and stepped into the hallway. “Cheryl,” he called. She followed him, leaving Alice and Rick alone.

Rick rolled one of the toy cars. “I could use this table. Lots of real estate.”

Once they were all gathered back in the main hall, Todd gestured at the staircase and said he’d built it himself.

Rick peered up the stairs. “The second floor is an addition?” 

“Yep. And she was a bitch. Right, honey?” 

“Renovating a place while you’re living in it is difficult.”

Cheryl’s response reminded Alice of her sister. The girls had worked a retail job together one summer. Alice got flustered when customers complained, but her sister always managed to smooth the most outraged shopper. She was a lawyer now, and a good one. Alice wondered what Cheryl had wanted. Before the family. Before she moved here. Before Todd.

“We’ve created new storage spaces throughout the house,” she was saying. “Closets in older houses are non-existent.” 

“That’s because people used to get taxed by the number of rooms they had,” Todd said.

“Actually, people say that, but there’s no historical indication that’s true,” Cheryl said. “People had very few clothes back when this house was built. Most clothing was handmade.” 

“My wife has an Etsy business for vintage clothing. That, of course, makes her an expert on closets.” 

 God, Alice thought, and crossed to the small bathroom off the hallway, where Rick had already retreated.

Rick raised his eyebrows at Alice. The light bounced off the antiseptic white tile. A chill ran through Alice. She looked down at a vent in the floor, and stepped next it. No air. 

“Excuse me,” Cheryl said, and Rick stepped out of the room, letting Cheryl slide into the narrow space next to Alice. “You’ll like this.” She opened a door next to the shower and tub. “We just finished this linen closet. Extra shelving and a new hot-water heater.”

From the hallway, Todd let out a long sigh. “Why do people call them ‘hot-water heaters’? If there was already hot water, it wouldn’t need heating. Am I right, Rick?” 

Alice made a point of looking at the closet. “Nice.” She noticed something scrawled on the wall of the second shelf. I want, it said in large, looping script. The rest was obscured by a stack of towels.

Cheryl shut the door. “How about the master bedroom,” she said, her voice as bright as the tile. “We had been planning a renovation for more closet space there, too. We didn’t quite get to that after . . . ”

But her sentence simply ended. Alice watched her wander out of the bathroom and cross the hall into the master bedroom. Rick and Todd were already there. Cheryl straightened a tower of books on the nightstand. The bed separated her from the men. An antique four-poster bed, colossal. The top of the bed almost touched the twelve-foot ceiling. 

“Notice another family heirloom,” Todd said. “From Tas-may-nia! A half-tester bed. Colonial. Right, Cheryl?” 

“The bed was my great-grandmother’s.”

Great-grandmother’s! So no getting rid of this thing, no matter how you twist our arms. But, you may ask, is it comfortable? Good thing there’s the matching arm-waaar. For that rare closet space.” 

Over the bed, another large water stain spread across the ceiling, reminding Alice of a beached jellyfish. She’d seen one on Tybee, last July. She’d walked down the beach every morning for a week, alone, eight weeks after standing in their tiny bathroom, test in her hand, the pink plus sign appearing, like a message on a Magic 8-ball: As I see it, yes. But after one long night, her fate had changed, and the tide that morning lapped at the dead jellyfish and said, Better not tell you now. Ask again later. Don’t count on it. 

Cheryl surprised Alice by taking her arm. “You must see the kitchen.”

The gray slate floor, the stainless steel appliances, the apple-green cabinets all screamed new, unlike the rest of the house. Alice was forever moving Rick’s model planes off the counters in their own kitchen as she cooked. She ran her thumb along a cut in a large butcher block that stood in the center of the kitchen. She missed restaurants.

“Tell her about the wall.” Todd leaned in the doorway, mask now hanging off his chin.

Alice looked behind Todd for Rick but he was nowhere to be seen. 

Cheryl pointed to an accent wall of long interlocking planks from light to dark gray wood. “Shiplap. From Savannah.”

“Bullshit from Savannah,” Todd said.

Cheryl reached out suddenly and squeezed Alice’s arm. Tight. “My mother bought this for us.” 

“It’s beautiful,” Alice said.

“It’s from Lowes,” Todd said. 

Where the hell is Rick?

“No, my mother got it from a specialty wood store that deals in reclaimed wood.”

Alice untangled from Cheryl, ostensibly to study the wall. “Rick,” she called out. “You have to see this wall!” 

“Don’t worry about him,” Todd said. “He went upstairs.” 

“You need to see the den!” Cheryl pulled Alice through the rear of the kitchen to an enclosed back porch, shutting the door behind them. 

The room was pale blue. Condensation ran down the long windows like raindrops, partially obscuring the trees outside. At the far end of the porch were a chair and white desk. Above them, shelves of books and photos of the beach, the mountains, this house, all empty of people. A model red biplane hung over the desk on fishing wire, slowly turning. A Sopwith Camel. Rick had one drying right now on the narrow kitchen counter back home—

She felt the room tilt.

Where am I?

“It’s a cozy room,” Cheryl said in a flat voice. 

Alice saw a stuffed bear on a sofa under the long window, neck seam split. Alice picked it up and held it to her chest. “I had a Paddington when I was a kid,” she said, softly. “Still have him. I thought I sewed him up.” 

Cheryl twisted the hem of her shirt. “We have to go back to Brunswick. Family.”

Alice looked up from the bear. “It must be hard to leave. Y’all have done a lot of work here.”

Cheryl blinked, her glasses slightly fogged. “It hasn’t turned out how we’d hoped.”

The women stood across from each other. Alice could see herself holding the bear, reflected in Cheryl’s glasses. Cheryl held her arms out. Reaching. Alice extended the bear to her, but Cheryl dropped her hands to her side. “No one understands how big that space becomes.”

Alice’s reflection disappeared in the growing fog of Cheryl’s glasses. 

Alice put the bear back on the sofa. Carefully. “I’m going to look for Rick.” 

Back through the kitchen and out, into the empty hallway. Alice went to the foot of the stairs and called up. “Rick?” No one answered. Then she saw the shut door across from the living room. She opened it and stepped into shockingly warm air in dark blue, like the waters of the Gulf Stream. A hand-painted mural of sea creatures on the walls, schools of angel fish, starfish, sharks and dolphins. An octopus emerged from around the window. A narwhal jumped a crowded bookshelf. Jellyfish swam across the ceiling. Alice stared at these. At the center of the room on a round blue rug, a bed was shaped like a boat, complete with a masthead of a pirate at its foot. Painted along the side: Thomas.

Suddenly, Alice knew what she had long suspected: her own child had been a boy. 

Last summer at Tybee she had watched a small, dark-haired boy peel off from his parents to mold a sandcastle. Such precision, such concentration. At times, biting his lower lip. Like Rick, when he worked on his model planes. She looked down the beach to his mother, occupied with her phone. Back to the boy, who had Rick’s dark hair, she imagined. She knew he was not her child, but she felt pulled, like the tide, to see him, to know him. Small and quiet, like her, but funny, like Rick. She knew he loved fat books and a teddy bear with a split seam. But then the waves rolled in. The sandcastle fell. 

Alice’s eyes burned. She pushed her hair from her forehead. She felt hot.

The room pressed in. Her nose and mouth filled with the stink of dead fish. 

Her stomach clenched. 

She backed out of the room. 

She yanked her mask down to breathe.

Sweat dried on her face. She shivered. 

Wood creaked behind her. She turned to face an empty staircase. At the top, darkness contracted and expanded. She stumbled back, hitting the doorframe. She glanced down and saw the last hashmark: 5 yrs. 3’ 6”.

Voices at the top of the stairs. Rick and Todd were coming down. Todd, mask now pulled up, was saying, “Some rich guy down the road got them to run fiberoptic cable out here. Gives you fast-as-hell Internet. I can do all my programing from home. Never have to leave. But then who goes anywhere anyway?” The men stopped on the last riser when they saw her. “Alice!” Todd said. “You didn’t see the upstairs.” 

But Rick said nothing, his eyes wide with concern above his mask. He stepped off the stairs and went to Alice, put a hand on her shoulder. Alice fumbled her mask up over her nose, even as the words spilled out. “It’s okay. Rick can tell me about it. I don’t know what I’d even do with an upstairs—” 

Alice fell silent as Cheryl emerged from the kitchen. 

Cheryl’s eyes locked on the open door behind Alice. 

Alice said, “This room. What’s wrong with it?”

Todd blinked slowly. He seemed, suddenly, like a cracked, beached thing. He went to the door and pulled it shut, then went to Cheryl and put his arm around her. She stood woodenly in his grasp. “We’ve been meaning to clean it up. But you know how moving is.”

“Honey?” Rick said.

Alice looked down at the floor, that copper lined scar. She and Rick on one side, Cheryl and Todd on the other. Her throat tightened. She opened her mouth but only a croak came out. She turned and rushed out the front door. 

The afternoon sun tipped the hardwood trees. An orange cat sat on the porch railing, its gold eyes wide, staring at Alice, and she almost missed a step off the porch. She stumble-walked to the car and slid behind the wheel, tearing off her mask and breathing great gulps of air. 

They drove away in quiet, the gravel road twisting through the woods. 

From the passenger’s seat, Rick said, “Old house like that, they’ll never sell it.”

Alice gripped the wheel. “They should burn it down.”


She shook her head. “We don’t need that much space, do we.”

Rick shrugged and looked out the window. 

Just after turning onto the highway, they passed another Subaru, dark blue like theirs. Alice saw a man and a woman. The wife was driving. She wore glasses, had light hair, a little frizzy. The husband sat in the passenger seat. Dark hair. Cropped beard. A faculty sticker in the window. 

Alice watched them in the rearview mirror.

Don’t make that turn. Just keep driving.

But then came the signal, and the turn off the road, and they were swallowed by the twilight-green woods.

About the Author

C. O. Davidson

C. O. Davidson

C. O. Davidson’s work has appeared in Cemetery Gates, Georgia Gothic, Dark Moon Digest, and Dark Ink’s collection Generation X-ed. She has also co-edited Monsters of Film, Fiction, and Fable, a collection of scholarly essays. She is a founding member of the Atlanta Chapter of the Horror Writers Association.

Find more by C. O. Davidson

C. O. Davidson

About the Narrator

Amy H. Sturgis

Amy H. Sturgis

Amy H. Sturgis holds a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Vanderbilt University and specializes in both Science Fiction and Indigenous American Studies. She is regular staff with the StarShipSofa podcast, editor in chief of Hocus Pocus Comics, and faculty at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She lives with her husband in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.

Find more by Amy H. Sturgis

Amy H. Sturgis