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How the people move too fast and pack their things. How their voices whisper in the night hours, and luggage shifts, and the car creaks. How so many things are taken that the trunk doesn't close, mouth wide open in horror. There's no mercy in these steps, no longing in their breaths as they move out of this childhood space. There is running, instead; haste, desperation.

How the moon watches them, so fascinated.

The magic slips too fast between their fingers, into the wind as the car speeds to recklessness. And this family leaves nothing behind but dust and exhaust, the radio music fading, distance, gone.

Silence returns while the wind carries the magic. Trees, too big, cast shadows over the house. Their home, painted a black and blue sure to fade over time, seems larger, with its huge compound of an unhealthy color filled with hibiscuses and thorny plants. It seems so big that it takes corners of the earth, eats up space. The gate of the abandoned home looks like an omen, having on it the symbol of a bird flying away. The walls of the space, so intimidating in the way they tower over everything with the barbed wires on top, resembling bad haircuts, seem worse now, so uninviting, unfriendly. Not the way it should be. Not the way intended. Not at all fitting the welcome mat at the front of the entrance steps which says this is a gentle house.

The sound of rumbling, the earth breaking, the world snapping, the end, fills the night. Everything shuts up. Hear this, the noise that comes from nowhere, the loud ache of everything breaking and moving and shuffling and…

… then a long sigh. One that's sucked back up and brought out again, drearier and hollow, almost like a cry.

How the house breathes.

 


 

Houses don't sleep. This one just waits, stays dormant for some time while internally screaming. Its sentience shifts to all its spaces, expansion and movements undefined. The house’s brain is made of bookshelves, one that lies in each room, content ranging from children’s novels to hard thrillers. Each room is an organ for the place’s workings, and these features define it—

A house rumbles for a second and the world stops.

Such a ravenous hunger it has; the need for humans, its humans, laughing and playing and singing. It feels so much better when it knows they're on vacation, when it knows the information, understands that they’ll be coming back.

It feels so much better when your steps are a pattern and your heart is a regular reminder that you're there. When your words are spoken into home and there are no secrets here.

But the house is awake, and it can move. It thinks it’s so unsettling to shift, for the wind to blow so softly through its foundation made of wood and brick, its bottom held up by many beams. It has joints and bones and cracks. Paint as skin, and muscles, bricks. Circle windows for eyes and a door as a too-large mouth that swings on hinges way too rusted.

 


 

There are birds. There is one for each barbed wire, faces and emotions unintelligible, with metal strips on their legs. How they stare too long, these crows and ravens, feathers far too black, beaks like weapons. The house chooses to see judgement, contempt now. It shrinks three sizes upon meeting them.

To hide away is to be safe. To shrink to invisibility. To fold your bones is the best way to walk, not that you do now. Forgotten.

“Hello, house,” a raven chirps, the tone unfriendly. It feels so cold when the bird says it, stretching their black beak, broken at the tip, a bit closer.

House grows. Expands, builds itself back up to the size of its walls. Its doors that flapped open nonsensically close with a mighty boom, so that even the wind needs to stop for a minute and say, I thought you were a gentle house.

Screw that terrible defense mechanism. House tries different things. At least once. At least when it's a newly empty place with all the wrong aches inside and it's got nothing to lose. That's how it builds its personality.

“Home!” it screams, holding on to that fragment of itself. Home is the rooms that smell like candles, then smell like fire two minutes later. Home is the chores that include scraping black flesh from the bottom of pots when you’re done cooking. Home is the unending orchestra lessons to keep you busy, the parents that don’t have time for you. “I am a home.”

Noooo,” Broken Beak chirps, sings with the perfect level of oversabi while they stretch to the point that they fall from the barbed wire. Their wings pick them up just before they hit the ground, then rise with their remaining os. “No! No! No! We like homes. We only visit deserted places, a world that just shows bare bones and nothing else. You are a building. You are a cold, unfeeling, unemotional thing acting out of standards and you need to get in line. You are a—”

“Shut up!” the house screams. It spirals down and down and makes a shell and hides away. It thinks foolish, foolish, foolish for ever daring to be brave, for ever putting itself in a situation to hear these words. And what lies, for that matter. These evil things, so untrue, hit right into the soul.

See, this colossal instrument thinks. This being feels and works and operates more than a house does: that cold, little building. That piece of construction. That inanimate behavior—maybe it was that before, when its owners still loved it, but now they're gone and the house lives.

The walls the birds perch on look larger and more intimidating from the building’s turtle size. Nevertheless, the birds fall with a graciousness and simultaneous determination, like synchronized swimmers, and fly with all the evil in their heart. What's filling their eyes, these birds, is violence, where they swoop down and knock beaks on windows, scratch talons on painted bricks.

A beating.

They give the house scars. They give the house nightmares.

Birds caw and attack in the midnight hour, and the homes close to the abandoned place have families that pull blankets closer to themselves and jolt whenever they hear a noise. Families that pray away the night, when they’re not too hollow and weak, casting all juju into the void when it's just nature at work, with its talking buildings and judgmental birds and watching moon.

Ravens try to get inside, to break through, but the building knows to protect itself, so it fights. It sways while birds latch on, opening downstairs windows and making a ruckus to the point where it looks unstable. An erratic place, that's what it'll be, until these things leave it alone.

And the birds take caution. They fly back, move away like they understand this house can get up when it wants to, doesn't have to take such abuse. The building, pleased with itself, lets its guard down for a minute and the birds grab its welcome mat, clutching it with their many beaks while one supervises.

The air freezes. Time slows down.

“Stop! Don't take it away!” it screams. It stops its movement, its resistance, and begs. Something chokes up within it. Can a house cry?

“The sign is a lie and all falsehoods must be removed,” the supervising crow says. She's so satisfied when she gives a sharp chirp, which makes the other birds stop attacking and get in formation. “Places of peace don't fight.”

“It’s mine!” the house shouts, its structure shaking and its insides rumbling, the sound of hunger in full effect. “How dare you take away a piece of me?”

“I've been fooled by places before,” Boss Crow says with a faraway look in her eye. “Never again. We will throw it in the gutter. Birds!”

They move, pleasant chirps contrasting with their terrible actions.

“Wait!” the building calls, shifting out of its rooted position with a huge exasperated sigh that heaves its body up, rises and falls. The action takes so much out of the building, such a strenuous activity.

“What do I need to do?” the building demands.

“Ooh,” a bird sings as it flaps with excitement. “Okay, so we’re from an agen—”

The eager bird gets pushed aside immediately, harshly, and painfully. It disappears into the background, voice drowned out by murderous caws. The house shifts in discomfort.

“An agency?” the building squeaks, more careful with its words now.

“Never mind that, curious house.” Boss Crow speaks, something sinister in her voice. The house never liked the idea of secrets, so its structure fills up with heat, threatening to burn aflame.

“It’s curious home,” the residence says, despairing, its voice weak when it tries to correct them again.

“We will never call you that,” a crow tells it, voice flat and dry.

The building whispers, voice firm though low, “I think you should leave.”

“We can leave with your mat,” Boss offers, stretching her wings to the worker birds, who throw the mat in the air and catch it with their beaks.

One sings in an eerie nature, “We will throw it in the gutter. That will be its new home.”

The residence shudders. It wonders if buildings can self-combust if the rage gets out of hand. It thinks about how it needs these birds to go, how these birds are a nuisance, how these birds are its enemies.

The house sighs again through the night and stares at the birds, saying, “Fine.”

Boss Crow coughs, then looks at it. “We have questions, little house.”

It is a big house, it wants to say, but doesn't, because the house has grown a bit and learned that nothing it says will affect these birds’ opinions. Yet still, it leaves its mind open to change.

“First of all,” a raven speaks, flapping side by side to Boss, moving his body way too close to hers like he wants to be leader instead. “What do you want to do?”

“Come again?”

It can’t stop its door mouth from opening out of shock. It is funny, almost mean like a bully teasing you, that these things that disregarded its status and called it a house now ask what it wants to do.

And what does it want? To be home again with its owners. New people didn't suit the residence well, and home was not the weird transition with moving boxes and long nights of twisting and turning in new beds. Home was not the fiddling of gas cookers while someone said that part of you was too slippery, when you knew you were perfect, a magnificent house. New people feel like food that tastes rubbery and won't chew well, and it takes a while, and it doesn't want to linger in that time again.

It was never a patient place, the way the owners screamed at their children when they got math questions wrong, ending with the threat of a cane to be bought. There's no pressure to be patient, but the sign says gentle, and the owners made an effort to be the human representation of their welcome mat, so the house tries. It tries.

“I want…” the residence says and the birds lean in, so interested while the color of night mixes in with the paler colors of the day. A brilliant orange sun emerges slowly and changes the palette, the unnerving brightness a shock to these birds.

“I want to find my family,” the house decides, rising tall on its firm foundation, no quivering in voice or structure. “Yes. And not only that, I'm going to look for them. I'll journey. A home will rise once again and defeat this emptiness when it finds its humans to fill up the space, the gaps. A home will sail seven seas and learn songs for the wind while it finds the magic that defines its personality. And a home will—”

“Mhmm,” Boss Crow says, listening with rapt attention. “So none of that.”

“What?!” the house’s voice sounds, like a frown. Wind blows through its open door with a rush. The place swirls up and goes down and changes minds and fights and…is deceived. It should have expected nothing less from trickster birds who came from strange agencies that boss people around, but a house has hope, and someone once said that can be naïveté, and now it agrees. Reluctantly, it gives in to cynicism. Reluctantly, it forces itself to say some things that may not be gentle, that may not be soft, if that’s the only option for these birds to go away.

“Well, that's fine for you to say, but I won't listen,” the house huffs, tone airy and sharp, like it’s dusting the hurt off itself. It burns inside because of the words it said, but continues. “No more of this bossiness. You are birds and I am a majestic created creature, a towering voice and a living space, and I have never had to listen to you. Shoo.” The voice is pure condescension now, but it's not contempt, and the house believes that friendliness can be passive-aggressive if done right, so it revels in this new form of expression. Still, there is a desire for these birds to leave so harsher tones may never be used.

It fears what it may become with just enough pressure.

The birds look insulted, with a mindset that makes them believe they can just peck, peck, peck, peck at a circle window until it cracks. The sounds of a house screaming can be covered up with the voice of cockerels come morning, which is now, because the sun is up, blinding and not fascinated but rather awaiting its deserved praise, because it's the sun, everybody.

“Now get on away while the markets open. There's flies to chop as they buzz in the heat, and rotten fish to munch that falls to the dirty ground when the traders cut too fast. There's plastic and sticky wrappers to get stuck into while feet stamp like elephants all around you. You can swim in the gutters. There's a heap of rubbish at the end of the market day that you can dig in, and that will be your feast. So many other places than these, spaces where you can thrive, and I want you there. Go to them. Go away.”

The birds don't do that, though. They share a look, one that’s secretive yet filled with, look at this ignorance regarding many things, then go back to blank stares.

Because the house forgets things sometimes as books fall, and memory is complicated and terrible, so things makes no sense. Sentience makes no sense in the way its mind shields and takes, hides and conceals and reveals when it wants to.

Crows and ravens, such smart little things, wave their threats to the house again, along with more personal items, because those who leave doors open too long end up used and abused, broken and destroyed.

“You're a strange case, you know that right, little house?” Boss sings again. “We don't often get things that become sentient, but we do have rules. And one of those involves not moving. Birds!”

The birds fly around each other in an almost circular formation, the way fairytales go, launching into a verse: “Stay still, little house. Don't move, little space. Don't go away. You are an odd thing, so the humans will be afraid. Don't scare them, don't do this, don't run away. Rooted in position has always been the best way. Silent, passive, gentle, controlled. You only find dust when you journey.”

“Death, too,” Boss Crow points out.

“But,” the house cries, then stops, thinks better of it, because patterns are things you should memorize, so when you fall into them too many times you know the definition of a problem.

“I can’t just stay here forever,” House whines. It can’t help it, especially when it feels so much like a puppet. “I don’t want new owners.”

“And you won’t get them,” Broken Beak chirps, resting on a windowsill. House wants to brush it off, but it has no arms and it thinks, I’ll need those soon, wondering what other weird ways it will adapt.

And legs too, but to fold your bones makes it easier to walk, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

When its mind registers the words of the bird with the broken beak, it shrinks again three sizes. These reveals are emotionally taxing, draining even, and it can’t deal with them right now. And it’s so tired of the way it sounds confused each time it hears this stuff, the boombox that serves as its voice so scratchy when it whines. It’s spiraling, defying its own personality when the birds stay here, and the realization of that is unnerving. House holds closer to the values it believes, cradles them more tenderly than the baby of the house was rocked. It has to behave better, not stoop to their level.

“Magic houses that humans live in are haunted houses,” the raven that wants to be boss explains. “You shouldn’t speak, be this, but you are, and that’s life, so no more humans for you. Didn’t you hear the song? My goodness, you’ll frighten them. So, we’ll shoo them away. We birds are made of magic and have powers you can’t understand. You’ll be amazed at what we can do.”

“It’s why we arrive at nighttime, so you’ll know the rules and then you’ll follow,” Boss Crow announces, glaring at the fake leader bird, the contempt in its chirp so evident.

The house has no other options, so tired and broken. So in a state of lack. So hollow and empty, and hungry, oh my, like its insides are eating itself, hands clawing through so much tissue till all that’s left is the skeleton. The structure. The frame.

The house is normal again and doesn’t move as people trudge out for work. It is a statue filled with nothing but starvation as people enter their cars and speed away, muttering swear words, leaving nothing behind but dust and exhaust. And if anyone’s face casts its direction on the house no one knows is abandoned yet, all they think is, that piece of construction.

 


 

The birds leave. They don’t stay forever and they fly in their little clique. They cast black across the sky. Of course, these birds have always been oversabis and they only know how to fall, move till they’re down to the ground, where they can see the earth and its activities.

The earth’s suf-fer-ing. There’s so much hunger, nothing in people’s stomachs, not helped by this sun that’s demonic in the way it burns their skin. Throats are scratch paper that saliva can’t cure. Beggars are jaundiced and grey and melting, their drooping, sticky skin like pizza when it’s scraped from the floor. A metaphor for the heat is that skin isn’t necessary, and if you can pull it off and find the prey that’ll make you satisfied, then you do that. Adapt. The markets that open don’t sell cheap stuff anymore, and the food there is scarce.

People leave the places of desperation towards the shore of possibilities, in order to leave one world behind, their sacrifices left ready for the taking.

Birds get blood on their beaks and feathers from activities and wash themselves in muddy puddles before they rest themselves on the towering walls of big white organizations that read in big bright letters, FAMINE PREVENTION CENTER. Crows and ravens stay away from the novice birds that rest on the walls, while the experts look esteemed in their posts, talons brushing on a large mat, their beaks holding things of many colors. The birds are all in their jobs, as hired famine preventers—their natural habitat.

“Good morning, worker birds,” the novices chirp, bright and full of light. No layers there in those primitive birdbrains, complexity a concept too far for them. The experts don’t respond. The primitives aren’t owed a conversation, and they won’t think much of the terrible feeling that comes with being ignored.

The organization’s home greets these expert birds, and they greet it back, and these birds are nothing like their usual selves, the rude little things that harass abandoned houses. These are the polite squeaky things from fairytales, and when the people in hazmat suits come to greet them, the birds fly too fast in their direction, all too pleased.

 


 

The thing about birds: they have watched the world. They have seen the world healthy, seen the world sick. The world repeats itself and new landscapes are built, new things are created.

Like a farm. Not small-scale stuff, back of the compound, white picket fence. A place that takes up all corners of the earth, eats up space. Talk to the birds about food crops and cash crops, the economics of it and the space it will take. Talk to them about what they do with houses, magic houses, and how nobody else will touch these prizes they discovered.

The birds won’t say much, but if you understand the subtle works of things, you might catch the slips, see the intent in their eyes, and then you’ll know.

Also, you will soon see magic houses fall apart. They will be turned to rubble, pecked down by claws to the smallest point. They will be left to linger for an undisturbed period, destroyed, to make sure the magic in the houses sticks more, festers and changes long enough to become fertilizer to make things grow; end this famine, and then you’ll know.

And, if an empty house walks before it’s taken apart, the world may very well die and topple over, and then you’ll know.

One thing you can hear: the birds tried to draw the magic out of houses once—to pull it out like a magnet. Safe to say, it did not work.

 


 

A house moves and works and turns and spins, using energy. It talks to birds all night, then stands still, wishing for its mat to come home. It has always felt comfortable with labels. The ones that it defined, at least; grew up with. The ones it accepted.

Never the ones forced upon it. Never the ones demanded.

Hunger has made the house wince and close its eyes shut so all that’s left is black. Hunger has made the house repeat, this is a gentle house, a gentle house, gentle house, till its words trip over themselves and it is not.

Not.

But it can be. And it wants to be, and that label has always worked, but now it doesn’t.

House wishes for the happy endings, the harmony and peace, but time’s long past that and hopes are out of reach, so it has to adapt. Live. Survive. The welcome mat isn’t even on it anymore, and in a way it’s grateful that that sign doesn’t see how it looks right now, questioning the morals of its personality, its behavior. Characteristics. In a way it’s good the mat’s gone, because now it can make a decision without the crushing pressure of expectations.

There are no humans inside it anymore; who is it trying to impress? Who does this belong to, this place of no one?

Hunger is such a pushing force and terrible evil that its body moves without it willing to. Houses don’t die, for all it knows, but it feels like that’s a possibility every waking moment it stays controlled.

Positive things, all good things, the house repeats, but home is a name so far away from it, something it believed when you were just a step away. Home is a name that was true when you hosted events and turned soup over the fire. And home was still a thing when you were feeding your child scraps of food packages, when the cold came in and your magic heated up the space. Home was that, even in its darkest moments, its times of panic, its emergency hours. In times of stress and pain and horror, the name rang true.

But the name isn’t true anymore, and the house can’t lie anymore. It can’t widen its eyes and demand, because the birds are right and home is dead. Home is gone.

At some point, you have to leave the world behind.

It has no idea where its owners are or where to find them. Hunger will not allow it. Hunger will never be gentle, and starvation is a monster with sharp teeth. Nobody has ever expected a house to make a moral decision. Nobody has never expected a house to make a good decision.

There is so much comfort in the realization that you can be nothing. That you can be expected to be inanimate. That you can be that piece of construction.

All these human expectations—which is why no one will see it coming.

A house has energy, so it changes. Its binding agent becomes liquid and its foundation feels too stiff, too complete. Those are its bones, its core, and what have we always said about dealing with those?

The snap is so satisfying, so pleasurable, when bits of foundation creak, not enough to destroy. The bricks are too much and the skin is too much and complete, so it leaves them behind. Anything to walk, that step, that breath.

So close to food.

The beams shake each time a house walks, runs, these messy ways of moving. Anyone who looks will see it, right? In its perfect form, as it makes its dainty little movements, like a corgi running. Anyone who looks will see a sprawling, towering landscape, which they will marvel at before they die.

It will have to do without arms.

The birds come, too fast when they see it, too furious when they see it. They circle around it till all that’s seen is a black tornado, each diving at the foundation, the bricks, the wood, the rot. Each going at the windows, the rugs, the pictures, the plates.

“We will throw your mat in the gutter!”

“We will throw all your things in the gutter!”

“Stay still, little house. Don't move, little space. Don't go away. You are an odd thing, so the humans will be afraid. Don't scare them, don't do this, don't run away. Rooted in position has always been the best way. Silent, passive, gentle, controlled. You only find dust when you journey.”

The songs are too stale and common. All of it has been done before, and following the same patterns is the definition of problems.

Its silence gives it strength, so it has learnt not to reply.

The house attacks. Its cement becomes liquid, as well as living, and it shifts out the bricks it doesn’t need and transfers the sentience to falling blocks to finish the kill. Windows shut too fast before birds can fly, so they get smashed to bits, to crunched bird bones. To dead feathers, blood, and twisted necks. To beaks broken, in the wrong place. Birds hang limp from windowsills.

To birds falling, to birds flying, to birds screaming, disrupting a pleasant afternoon. The house destroys them, breaks them, and they give up. They have to, to save the rest of them and the ones that are still fit to do work.

They have never known a gentle house. This one was no different. But this one they could not control.

The binding agent swims again and collects dead feathers and piles them up. The blood is fresh and sticky and the frame warps enough to make the wings. Little bits of sentience go to the wings, flow to them like a computer algorithm, instructions on how to fly.

House launches into the air with such an agency. There is so much joy to this little house, who moves towards a greedy consumption. The remaining bricks still left in the moving cement shake in the sky. And it will fill its stomach with the bodies of humans, so much till there is no space. And it will chew and chew and chew till there’s so much blood to drink and flesh inside that it will never be hungry or vulnerable again. Because dead people stay, and the living go, and there’s no more chances it will take with that. There will never be hunger, never be a problem, not when a house breathes, not when a house does this.

Fear the hell out of that piece of construction.

The birds caw in anger and sorrow and fear, not exactly because of the house, but that’s also part of their problem. There are employers, people who call them expendable, people who they love despite their hurtful actions, and the house was supposed to stay and be picked apart to be perfect fertilizer, with time to make the magic strong, with time to make the land in its prime and ready for planting.

They come back with defeat, barely floating above the ground, downcast looks on their faces, but they see what the house has left behind, the bricks of itself that were expendable.

The birds relate.

But the magic from the falling bricks, they pray, is abundant, and that hope is sufficient for birds to fly too fast and come back with glowing seeds in their mouth. It is enough for people in hazmat suits to come into the bare land where bits of magic stay and cover it in yellow tape, saying, KEEP OUT. PRIVATE USE.

 


 

If you look towards a particular direction, you may see a feathered house in the sky. And, being a person, you may blink twice, and then you will never blink again.



Osahon Ize-Iyamu is a Nigerian writer of speculative fiction. He is a graduate of the Alpha Writers Workshop and has been published in Fiyah, Clarkesworld, and The Dark. You can find him online @osahon4545.
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