The whole neighbourhood had expired.
Only a few houses were still standing, all on their final exhale.
‘They did warn us,’ said Grandpa. ‘Told us the average lifespan of a living breathing house was only around fifty years.’
He and Grandma were the last to leave. They’d been there since the beginning. The house had been born the day Grandpa got down on one knee and proposed, and they moved in on their wedding night.
They loved the house and the house loved them.
It loved them when they painted its walls in pale greens and blues, loved them when they turned the smallest room into a nursery, and it cooed along with them when my mother came along, singing her lullabies at night through the pipework. It kept them warm and safe in its brick cocoon.
All the houses in that neighbourhood were the same; loyal, loving homes.
Grandma told me she thought Grandpa had developed a chest infection at first, hearing that hacking rattling noise in the night. It took them a while to realise it was the house.
Next the fever started. The house shivered during the day and sweated at night, leaving damp trails on the pale walls; condensation pooling on the window ledge. Then the mould started growing. A black pelt, spreading spores across the ceilings like a rash, spidering down across the sides of the room onto the soft furnishings.
My grandparents did what they could, but the harsh cleaning chemicals only made the house worse.
When Grandpa developed a cough bronchial enough to compete with the house, Grandma knew it was time to go.
They packed up their belongings into boxes, while the house uttered heaving sobs that shook the doors, raining down plaster that gave everything a ghostly sheen. The lights flickered on and off, a faint SOS.
‘Goodbye,’ whispered Grandma.
Grandpa held her tight as she leaned over and kissed the front door.
As they pulled away, rivers of tears poured from the upstairs windows of the house, flooding the street.
Biography: Terri Mullholland (she / her) is a writer and researcher living in London, UK. Her flash fiction has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Litro, Toasted Cheese, The Liminal Review, and Mercurious, and her pamphlet of hybrid pieces Weather / Patterns was published by intergraphia books in October 2022. Website: terrimullholland.com