The Nesting House
This story was written for NYCM Flash Fiction challenge. Prompts: A ghost story/master bedroom/water bottle.
Once there lived a House with a Dutch gabled roof, wide windows, and cheerful rooms. In the master bedroom sat a smaller house: perfectly identical, from the framed artwork lining the staircase to the toy chest in the nursery. And inside the smaller one hid an even tinier replica (which often went unnoticed). The largest House contained real people. The dollhouse contained only dolls. But no one had ever peeked inside the littlest one.
None of the inhabitants knew who had built the houses (or which had come first), only that they belonged together.
The House cherished its dollhouse version as a parent loves a child. It adored how the tiny front door opened with the same uneven latch. It cherished the little windows that likewise swung outwards, and the brickwork with its identical cracked corner.
More than anything, the House wished to overflow with boisterous laughter, the occasional shouty argument, and impassioned whispers. And so it was for generations; its occupants moved in or were born, became children, then parents.
Nobody noticed how the doll family transformed with each succession of inhabitants. Yet stories passed down about odd events linking the House to its smaller replica. Some wondered why a doll-sized house would be kept in the master bedroom and not the nursery, until they heard the tale of the fire in the kitchen:
Once, a fire broke out on the stove. It was promptly extinguished, but not before setting alight the yellow dahlia curtains, curling the wallpaper, and darkening the room with billowing smoke. Weeks later, while trying to locate the source of the pervasive odour of burnt paper, the man of the House opened the dollhouse to reveal an identically damaged kitchen, complete with singed dahlia-patterned curtains.
The House’s inhabitants realized the dollhouse was not a plaything but a work of craftsmanship (and possibly magic), and so it remained in the master bedroom. People began calling it the Nesting House; whatever happened inside the House, also befell its replica.
No one wondered if the reverse was also true.
One day a baby crawled into the master bedroom. The infant reached for the miniature cat lying on the hearth rug inside the dollhouse. He placed it in his mouth and chewed until his mother ran shrieking into the bedroom, terrified he would choke. She reached a finger into the child’s mouth and scooped out plastic bits; the toy’s mangled head and body lay in a pool of spittle in her hand. She forgot about the near-tragedy, until the family cat went missing, then was found days later outside the front door, body slick with congealing blood, teeth bared in a rictus grin upon its severed head.
The inhabitants didn’t know what to do with the dollhouse, terrified that whatever harm came to it would also befall their beloved home. So they did nothing.
The House’s steady breath expanded and contracted with the seasonal settling of its foundations. Meanwhile, the tiniest replica remained nestled within the master bedroom of the dollhouse, concealed from the House’s inhabitants.
One autumn afternoon, a maid knocked over a water bottle sitting on the nightstand. Water splashed against the walls of the dollhouse. As the maid dried the exterior, she bumped against the sides. She didn’t notice the girl-doll—who’d been sitting at the little window seat of her attic bedroom—tumble out, landing headfirst outside on the green carpet.
Two days later during an unexpected rainstorm, the inhabitant’s daughter died from a broken neck after falling from the third storey window.
Following the funeral, the couple of the House sat numbly on the bed in the master bedroom, wearing shoes caked in graveyard dirt. Upon seeing the dollhouse and the tiny doll lying on the floor, the woman rose with a sob and began kicking the replica. Inside the greater House, furniture tumbled and the walls rumbled and heaved. The woman cried and screamed, cradling the small girl-doll in her palms.
The House still felt the feather-light footsteps of the daughter even after her death, for she continued walking its hallways and languishing upon couches.
The mother also felt the uneasy presence of her daughter, until finally removing the girl-doll and burying it in the backyard beneath the linden tree.
The House didn’t like the new quiet. The man and woman of the House rarely spoke. No one visited. Each evening, the woman sat for hours at the end of the bed, staring at the dollhouse until her eyes closed and she slid backwards onto the mattress. Something needed to change; the House opened its windows to let in the crisp fall air and lit merry flames in the fireplace, but to no avail.
Finally one night, after the man had fallen asleep, the woman opened the dollhouse and stared into the copy of her master bedroom. The woman-doll sat on the edge of the miniature bed, while the man-doll lay tucked under the covers. The woman of the House frowned, noticing the even tinier replica for the first time, certain she hadn’t seen it there before: she reached inside and withdrew it from the dollhouse’s master bedroom. Holding it up to her ear, she heard a steady beat like rain pattering on shingles. Peering inside its minuscule windows, she saw a plump red thing pulsing to the rhythm of water circulating through radiator pipes. She felt a sigh as the smallest front door swung open to reveal the heart of the House.
The House clenched its frame in fear, its tiniest house splayed open like a ribcage.
Overcome with sudden and violent grief, she tore out the heart, squeezing it in her fist until blood dripped from her knuckles. She threw the littlest house to the floor and stomped it with her foot, crushing it under her heel. At the same instant, the dollhouse disintegrated into a pile of sawdust. The House shuddered on its foundations and was still.
The new inhabitants forever called it the Nesting House, but no one ever remembered why.
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Want to read another? Try Never Too Old