by Jenny

Someone is coming. I can hear footsteps outside my door, the shadow of boots in the chink of light at the bottom. They stride, confident, then hesitant at the last. The footsteps stop.

I wait between these crumbling walls, watching dust motes dance in the sickly sunlight that forces its way in through the creepers and climbers wrapping my windows in a green-hued death grip.

The handle rattles, trying to turn, but I grasp it, holding fast then slam my body into the peeling, rotting door. The boots step back at that. The handle stops turning and I hear breathing now, hot and heavy, inches from where my face presses into the splintering wood.

“Jim, I need the keys for the second bedroom. I think something’s got in there.”

The voice is a man’s and I can hear the slight edge of fear under his confident call. He knows that, whatever I might be, I’m no trapped animal.

In the end they shove their shoulders to the door, which gives, this time, with no resistance. I step back, blending in with the shadows in the darkest corners. They don’t see me, but one of them, I think, knows I’m there.

They have heavy boots and tool belts at their waists, dangling hammers and spanners and measuring tapes. They are here to rip out the soul of my beautiful house and turn it into something cold and clean and modern for the latest family who have bought it.

They will smash and scrape and hew and cover until nothing of mine remains. My house has stood empty and decaying for decades, nearly a century now, growing older and wilder and no-one ever questions why it has never been restored before.

I watch as they violate my bedroom, opening cupboards and rifling through my drawers. One finds my photograph in its tarnished frame and props it up on a shelf. It’s me on my wedding day. I smile shyly at the camera with eyes full of hope and naivete, the closest I have ever been to pretty.

“Christ” says one “she’s a fright. Looks like my mother in law on a bad day.” The other barks a cursory laugh and measures my windows. They both freeze when the frame flies across the room to land with a clatter on the floor. Neither speaks, but one shoots a glance into my corner.

When the door slams shut in the stillness, though, they pass wary glances at each other. I can hear their hearts beating faster, see the pinpricks of sweat beading on their upper lips. How much of me, I wonder, can these two stand?

Less than the last lot, I discover. I choose the one who suspects more than he sees and draw my face closer to his, watching him shudder. When I whisper, lovingly, into his ear he drops his hammer, stammers an excuse and hurries away down the stairs, followed swiftly by the other.

They won’t be back. They will find an excuse, the building is unsound, or there’s just too much work to make it viable. They will tell the owners they would be better to cut their losses and sell. A money pit. They’re sorry, but what can they do?