Short story

Original Features

Author: Josh Woodfin

Illustration: Christopher Harrisson

The two-seater electric car came to a silent stop in a disabled parking space.
‘Fucking lawnmower’ spat Andy Templeton as he uncoiled his long frame from the drivers seat. He hated the tiny car with a passion. If Apple designed a clown car this would be the result, and Andy was stuck with it unless he wanted to ride a bike. Yes, an actual bike.

Those were his options thanks to the geniuses in marketing that’d decided all agents for Stelling & Dauntner should now portray ‘a sustainable and environmentally friendly image that is empathetic towards a forward-thinking millennial and near-post-millennial client base’.  Which loosely translates as ‘we’re targeting the cunts that have so much money they’re happy to pay another 10% on the asking price if the listing has any combination of the words smart, home, green, energy or solar, in it’.

As a junior agent, Andy was limited in his choice of transport, but he’s currently on a winning streak that could change that. A series of big wins over the last 3 months has put him top of the sales leader board and means that he’s in-line for a fat commission and a promotion.

If he gets the gig, he will not only be selling the cities’ premium properties to the people that matter. He will get a new car, and it will not sound like a hair-dryer. It will be a big car with automatic wing-mirrors, heated seats, and a long-arse bonnet for scaring cyclists.

Andy smiled to himself as he pictured his own bright future, but the excitement about his impending step up the ladder was fighting with the gloomy fact that he had one last monumental obstacle to tackle before he could take his seat amongst the gods. He had to sell flat 11A in the Goldacre development.

This small, two-bedroom development features everything a desperate young couple looking to make their way in the big city could need: walls so thin they will know exactly what everyone else in the building is up to at all times, four to five of their very own windows and a balcony that overlooks some of Britain’s most well maintained railway sidings.

And yet, despite these benefits, Andy could not sell this flat. In a city this desperate for a home it should have been easy. And true enough the rest of the properties in the development had sold in a matter of days. But 11A was different.

As Andy approached the development even his completely untrained and disinterested eye noticed the presence of the building. A hulking Victorian structure, it was built as a school and operated as such for many years. But eventually the demographics changed and the school was sold and the building was turned into a retirement home of some reputation. This was a desirable place with gardens and good food and friendly staff at an affordable price. It was a happy place for somewhere that was so closely linked with the end of a life. But the owners had squandered their money and lived beyond their means for far too long, running up debts they could not pay. The home, and the lives of the people who lived there were forfeit as the creditors rolled in and sold the home for development. Goldacre Gardens became Goldacre Apartments, and the shared gardens that smelt of roses in the summer were turned into a resident’s car park.

Andy didn’t care about Goldacre apartments’ past. He only kept all that rubbish in his head to keep the punters busy and distracted during viewings – the less attention paid to some of the properties on his books the better. No, Andy was more concerned with the present, and more specifically his 8am appointment with the, what were they called? The Hillingdons.

Strangely, the lead had come directly to him rather than through the office. He’d got a phone call yesterday from the woman dialling in from a withheld number. Dreadful line, too. She sounded like she was standing on top of a mountain, wind howling around her, voice drifting in an out. Probably just in a mobile deadzone. She said they wanted to see 11A, and more importantly, she said the magic words ‘cash buyer’.

Andy paused at the bottom of the steps and took a gulp of mouthwash from the bottle he kept in his pocket. Game face on, he mounted the front steps and passed between the two stone lions, with their weathered faces, that guarded the front door.

Unlocking the front door, Andy made his way to the foot of the stairs and looked up into the gloom created by a single skylight high up in the hallway. He hit the light switch on the wall to his right and a barely there light started to come from the bulb in the paper lampshade hanging from the ceiling. ‘Fuck,’ said Andy under his breath as he watched the bulb slowly warm-up. ‘Energy saving lightbulbs…’

Andy mounted the stairs two at a time and hit the light switch at the top. The door to 11A was at the end of the corridor at the back of the house, and as he fumbled for the keys in his pocket, he couldn’t help but enjoy the comforting and familiar weight of them in his hand. The house seemed very quiet.

Unlocking the door, Andy caught a gust of air and smelt, what was it? Perfume? Yes, a perfume. But not like the stuff worn by the girls at the club. This was richer, thicker even. And there was something else too, something earthy and autumnal. It smelt like the park. And it was cold too. Some other agent, probably Tom fucking Wharfdale, must have left a window open. Never mind. Andy wasn’t worried. The couple sounded so keen on this place he reckoned he could do the dirty in less than half an hour. He was feeling good about this.

Ten minutes later, there was a knock on the door. This made Andy jump because he was expecting the buzzer on the exterior door to sound, not the actual door to the apartment. Probably one of the residents let them in, thought Andy. Straightening his suit and pulling on a smile, Andy grabbed the door handle and had the chance to feel that the handle was ice cold before it was pulled from his grip and he had to step back as the door slammed open as though a strong wind had caught it.

‘Sorry about that’, said Andy, pulling himself together quickly, ‘I’m just excited to have you here.’ Never let it be said that Andrew Templeton can’t turn on the charm when he needs to. But inside his heart sank a little as he looked at the couple standing at the door.

Their clothes were old. Not old as in ripped, but old as in dated. Andy didn’t know enough about fashion to say when they were from, but he’d definitely seen picture of his nan and granddad wearing similar outfits. In fact, he could remember the event – it was their wedding anniversary and they’d dressed up. So that means these two are not only wearing weird old clothes. They’re wearing weird old smart clothes.

Realising he’d probably been looking for too long, he forced his head up to meet their eyes. Both parties looked normal enough up top, apart from haircuts they’d had to make themselves look ‘of a time’. Knobs. Andy reckoned them to be in their late-twenties or early thirties. They smiled and Andy offered his hand and his name. ‘We know who you are’ the woman replied with a smile, not offering her hand in return.

Andy beckoned the couple in and got ready to run through his spiel, but the woman interrupted him. ‘It looks very different to the last time we were here’ she said as the couple gazed around the living room that the front door opened on to. ‘Sorry, have you looked at the property already?’ asked Andy, a little confused and annoyed (Tom fucking Wharfedale). The woman ignored him and the man turned to Andy and said ‘Do you know the history of this building?’

Here we go, thought Andy, but then again, these hipsters probably only like stuff that’s ‘authentic’ and ‘honest’. ‘Er, yeah, it was a school at first,’ replied Andy, hoping that they didn’t want details. ‘Then they turned it into an old people’s home,’ a nasty smile spread across Andy’s face, ‘but don’t worry, we’ve got rid of the smell of piss.’ The couple only stared at him.

‘Do you know about this flat, specifically?’ asked the man, with what looked like the beginnings of a smirk on his face. Andy did know this, actually. He’d overheard another agent talking about in the pub. At first he’d thought it was just Friday night bullshit, but a couple of other agents confirmed the story on Monday morning.

When the owners of the old people’s home decided to sell up, most of the residents moved on without a fuss. Andy reckons they figured one chair is much the same as the other when you’re 80-years-old. But one couple refused to go. They’d moved in at the same time, and it had been their home for 15 odd years. The owners offered them all sorts of sweeteners, but they refused, the stupid idiots.

Anyway, the owners were all set to get the law involved, but in the end they didn’t have to. The couple were the last residents in the building, and on the night before they were due to be evicted, they went and killed themselves. They were found in bed next to each other wearing their Sunday best, apparently. They’d taken an overdose of insulin. It turns out the old boy was diabetic and he’d been hoarding it for weeks.

Andy didn’t much want to tell this story to his potential buyers so he dodged the question and mumbled something about ancient history. All the while the couple kept their eyes fixed on him and that funny half-smile on their faces. Frankly, it was creeping him out.

‘So,’ he said turning his back on the couple and their unsettling smiles, ‘shall I show you the rest of the apartment?’ ‘Oh there’s no need for that’ said the man as Andy heard the front door click shut, ‘we know this apartment very well already.’

Andy suddenly felt colder than he’d ever been in his life and the blood rushing through his head sounded like deafening radio static. He wanted be anywhere but here, but he still felt his body being turned to face the couple as though by invisible hands.

Andy’s breath caught in his through. The couple’s clothes had changed and decayed as though they’d been buried in damp earth. And there was something else, too. The sickly sweet perfumed smell was back and stronger than ever.

Andy felt his chin lifting up even though the last thing he wanted to do was to look at those faces again. But there they were, no longer those of a happy couple looking forward to beginning the rest of their lives. They were the faces of people who had lived a whole life and then some. They were old, yes, but there was so much more. There was anger behind their smiles, but as the couple turned from Andy and looked into each other’s clouded, sightless eyes, there was love, too.

Then static in Andy’s mind began to fade as the woman turned to Andy and her smile faltered, and then disappeared as she stared into his eyes and whispered through a voice made of dead leaves, ‘this is our home. And we cannot let you take it from us.’


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