2022 minus 44: The tenants

Posted: 18 November 2021 in 2022 minus, 2022 minus new fiction, fiction, new fiction, writing
Tags: , , , ,

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

So, this week, you get a story about some new tenants, sparked by the following image.

The tenants

He recognised them instantly, of course. They’d been kind enough to send photographs before the appointment, but the pictures had hardly been necessary. Everyone in his trade knew their names and likenesses.

The old man with the grey hair and the pink complexion smiled as he handed over the keys and hoped that it was convincing. Inside, he shivered slightly and stooped just a little bit more than necessary.

The woman took the keys, giggling nervously, and asked the question the old man had been expecting: whether the small house was haunted. The old man would have been mildly disappointed had one of the two not asked the question, since he might then have had to steer the direction of the conversation to prompt it.

There were traditions to uphold, after all.

But no, the woman had obliged on cue, just as the keys had passed from his hand to hers. Her hand was warm, and as pink as his. The woman’s companion smiled at her question, but the old man could see the curiosity in his eyes also. Even without foreknowledge, he supposed that in prior days, he would automatically have assumed he was her husband, but those days were long past, if they had ever truly existed.

The old man waited a moment before replying; he knew his trade well, and was equally certain that the pause was expected of him, as if he was carefully considering his response, bringing forth all his formidable powers of reasoning to produce a considered and reasonable answer.

Again, tradition.

“Well,” he said, commencing a small speech he had prepared dozens of times over the years, “there’s some who say it is, and some who say it ain’t.” He sighed, mostly for effect, but partly to catch his breath, for he was no longer young and the years had taken their toll.

“I’ve been the agent of this place for more years than I care to remember, and my family was before I came along” – that was true at least – “and I’ve heard all the stories: the tall tales about this house being built on an ancient graveyard,” [true], “those of the latest architect who redesigned it being insane”, [untrue – the old man remembered the fellow well; eccentric as were all professionals, but perfectly rational], “the multiple murders over a single three month period, a century back” [completely true, though the murderer, a neighbour, had been captured almost immediately], “and the ones about the unfaithful mistress bricked up behind the kitchen wall…” [He knew that tale to be false, as the kitchen had been entirely refurbished and rebuilt six years previously, and the only thing found behind the wall had been rotting insulation.]

He gave another sigh and finished up. “So I’ve no idea whether or not the house has ghosts…” he paused again and wondered whether to use the joke he’d been saving up, then went for it. “…but if there are spirits in there,” he tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially, “I think they come in bottles with screw tops and are best drunk out of decent glasses.”

He laughed loudly, alone, then bid his farewells. He waved at them and walked off to his car with an odd shuffle, as if one leg was slightly shorter than the other.

The old man usually had a theory about each set of tenants, and was content to allow each set of tenants to add to the data set and either confirm his conclusions or otherwise. His theory was this: that those gullible fools who believed the spiel were the people who ended up disappointed with their experience in the small house, while those who went into the house sceptical were most often the people who exited that same small house as true believers in the legends.

But he knew from the moment that he met them that his theory did not apply to this pair. He didn’t look back at the couple on the small porch of the small house. He no longer wanted to even think about them, though he knew he had no choice in the matter.

And when he returned to his office, he opened the safe, and pulled out the thick file that he’d inherited from his father, who’d inherited it from his own father. And so on and so on, back through the generations. The thick file, with the new tenants’ names on the cover, their names written in firm copperplate. And the date, similarly elegantly inscribed: 13th April 1734.

Every trade has its trad… no, now that he was back at the office, he could be less cowardly, more honest: every trade has its own superstitions. And when that couple want to rent somewhere to haunt and have their fun, you let them, unless you wished to be haunted to the grave yourself.

It wouldn’t take too long, he knew. The end of the week maybe, but definitely by the end of the month, and the small house would be empty. It was strange, he realised: he had liked them. And as that sank in, he similarly registered that only she had actually spoken; he had merely nodded, and smiled, and uttered the occasional ‘huh’ or ‘hmm’. He’d never heard that about them before; he wondered why.

Still, soon enough they’d be gone, and he’d have to redecorate – he groaned at the likely expense, and wondered with no small amount of dread how much blood there’d be.

For the first time in his long life, he was grateful he had no grandchildren living locally.

He leaned forward and pressed the intercom, summoning his son from the main office. It was time, long past time, to tell him the tale, as he had been told those many years ago in this same office.

He left the file open. The pictures would convey more than the words. Well, the replica daguerreotypes, anyway.

© Lee Barnett, 2021


See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.

Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.

I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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