SHORT STORY: This House by Kenzie Jennings

This House

DISCLAIMER: This may be figurative. This may be literal. I don’t know anymore.

I think my house is trying to kill me.

The police won’t get involved, I realize, but at the very least, is there a support group for that sort of thing? It’s not that strange, right? Homeowners have been victimized plenty of times…. and I mean PLENTY of times before. According to the National Safety Council, in 2019, there were 26,200,000 medically consulted, home-related injuries that occurred in the United States, and out of the 26 million, there were 93,700 deaths.

This data, of course, isn’t disaggregated, so it includes injuries and deaths due to poisoning, choking, drowning, burning, and falling. The commonality though is that all occurred inside the home…

…which brings me back to my point.

This house, my home, may be trying to kill me.

What prompted this ridiculous premise? I’m glad you asked. Last week, I was washing dishes, lost in my own daily thought-struggles, when the kitchen sink faucet decided it had had enough and promptly fell apart.

Yes, I know. I know. There would be a lot of that going around in a house that had been built in the late ’60s with appliances that hadn’t been updated since the ’90s.

But it’s the timing, you see, the fact that I was right there when it happened. Part of the faucet, a piece of the aerator from what I can tell, spat out from the spout, and the force of the water was so strong that I was drenched within seconds, water everywhere. Naturally, I slipped around on the floor and then fell right on my ass. For a woman well into middle age, I mean, it felt as if I’d broken not only my tailbone, but basically all the other bones and cartilage, tendons and innards, self-pride and spirit.

I’ve been hobbling around like an old lady. It takes some time for me get up the stairs.

Speaking of stairs, my sisters and I, and probably anyone else who’d been a kid in this house, have fallen down the stairs. There’s no carpet there for traction. It’s just wood, a slick surface. When you fall, it’s one of those full body slides where you’re reaching out to grab hold of the bannister as your legs slide out in front of you, and you butt-plonk down those stairs while you’re attempting to hang on and pull yourself up. Then you just bump all the way to the concrete floor below.

I have fallen down those stairs a total of eight times in my life. I’ve counted. Number eight was this morning. We’ve always known not to wear socks, and I don’t anyway. Still, it didn’t matter, even with calloused bare feet.

I fell down those stairs, and I heard someone laugh at me.

The laugh wasn’t coming from outside the house. Listen, I’ve noisy neighbors. I’ve heard them chortling and hollering over their shitty top 40 tunes on repeat every weekend. It wasn’t them.

I heard the laugh clear as day, right at my side, while I sat there on the floor in stunned silence. I thought it might be me. I’m forever questioning the last sliver of sanity I’ve left. I’ve been known to laugh at my own antics because I’m just hilarious. However, it wasn’t my voice, and my mouth wasn’t open. In fact, my teeth were grinding, my jaw tightly clenched.

I knew the laugh though. That witchy cackle followed by a mischievous giggle. That sound. My childhood summers came scuttling back to remind me this was home. It always was.

Did I tell you about the drywall incident? A giant piece of the breezeway ceiling broke over my head, the dust of it momentarily blinding me. By the time I could see anything, my eyes burned. The damage was all over the furniture, all over my hair and clothes. Everything looked as if a sack of flour had exploded everywhere and had left pieces of ceiling strewn about. You’d never know it happened. The last of my savings for the month repaired and cleaned it up.

Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, I find myself unable to breathe only because I’m face down in my pillow. For the record, I never go to sleep on my stomach. It’s wretchedly uncomfortable. I’m a side sleeper, and I had never once woken up in any position other than on my side; right or left, it doesn’t matter. Ever since I’ve been left totally alone in this house—with no family, friends, or even a boyfriend—this moment where I’m suffocating has become a random occurrence without any sort of routine so that I cannot predict when it will happen, ever. I just have to take my chances when I go to bed.

My mother died from a lung disease. Her lungs scarred over and just ceased to function. She was basically suffocating all the time, and it’s what eventually killed her.

So, obviously, waking up with a mouthful of pillow terrifies me.

I knew what I was getting into. The dead came with the house. It’s not complicated. Family who’d loved unconditionally, who’d loved true, had lived here. I’m writing this from a room where others had passed away. Once, after a memorial service, a few pipes decided they’d had enough and water trickled from the ceiling over the breakfast table. A cousin said the house was crying.

I spend a lot of time on the laptop my workplace loaned me so that I could effectively work from home. There are days, however, when I feel as if my body is stuck in sludge, unable to move—like the desk chair, armchair, sofa, or even my bed, wherever I am working, is intent on keeping me there. I try to get up, but my legs feel as if they’re loaded down with weights, and I swear something has a locked hold around my wrists, like whatever’s there wants me to finish the work completely. I appreciate that something’s there, wanting me to keep busy, but I’m not intent on dying while I’m working, unable to get up to keep myself nourished.

Oh, and by the way, the house doesn’t have a pool, but even still, it may as well drown me. There’s a basement filled with piles of junk, and, on occasion, it floods. The water coming in is from either A) stormwater running down the walls or B) the HVAC drain pump. There’s a lot of exposed wiring too. I found that out quickly.

Maybe a fire is in the cards for me.

Speaking of fire, don’t get me started on the old stovetop. The kitchen was close to being burned to the ground on more than one occasion.

My immediate family members—hell, everyone who knows my situation—don’t understand why I don’t just up and sell, why I don’t just…leave like a normal person.

But there are other factors to keep in mind. I mean, everyone’s gone, and they’ve left their shit behind. It’s just too much.

And I think it’s all trying to kill me, all of it, every last piece of it. It’s the fuel of the house that keeps it from being anything but a house. My body will then have to be excavated because it will undoubtedly be buried underneath everyone’s stuff.

All of their unloved, unwanted stuff. More and more stuff.

They were smart, staying away from here.

I hope I’ll be waking up tomorrow so that I can start worrying all over again.

It’ll be Monday after all, and my house is always hungry.


Boo-graphy:
Kenzie Jennings is an English professor suffering in the sweltering tourist hub of central Florida. She is the author of the Splatterpunk Award nominated books Reception and Red Station (Death’s Head Press). Her short horror fiction has appeared in Slice Girls, Worst Laid Plans: An Anthology of Vacation Horror, Dig Two Graves Vol 1, and Deep Fried Horror: Mother’s Day Edition.

Reception
While her rehab counselor’s advice replays in her mind, Ansley Boone takes on the role of dutiful bridesmaid in her little sister’s wedding at an isolated resort in the middle of hill country, a place where cell reception is virtually nonexistent and everyone else there seems a stranger primed to spring. Tensions are already high between the Boones and their withdrawal suffering eldest, who has since become the family embarrassment, but when the wedding reception takes a vicious turn, Ansley and her sister must work together to fight for survival and escape the resort before the groom’s cannibalistic family adds them to the post wedding menu.

Red Station
There is a house overlooking the vast, rolling plains. A home station where a traveler will be welcomed with a piping hot meal and a downy bed. It is a refuge for the weary. A beacon for the lost. A place where blood and bones feed the land.

For four stagecoach passengers… a doctor in search of a missing father and daughter… a newlywed couple on the way to their homestead… and a lady in red with a bag filled with secrets… Their night at the Station has only just begun.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Kenzie Jennings

Meghan: Hello, Kenzie. Welcome to the new Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kenzie Jennings: I’m an English professor living in the humid tourist-hub of central Florida, and I keep wondering why I’m still here because I hate hot weather. It may have to do with having a job with benefits and time off to write, all of that sort of thing, but I’m not sure. I may need to get out more.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Kenzie Jennings:

  • I’ve never had a single best friends. I’m a military brat (and was a military spouse), which might be the reason I’ve never had one.
  • I hate vegetables. All of them. I eat them only because I have to… because ADULTING, that’s why.
  • I was once a portrait photographer for a company that shall not be named due to its suckiness.
  • At one time, I lived not far from a sumo training facility and dorm – known as a “stable” or “beya” (I was living in Tokyo, and many people I know know this about me, but not about the sumo thing). The first hint for us (my ex and me) were the huge towers of empty pizza boxes we kept seeing that had been left outside the building for the garbage-men. No one else in Tokyo would’ve had an appetite quite like that.
  • My mom once hired a medium to communicate to the ghosts in our house, and my parents had bought a house with, obviously, a lot of history to it. My little sister had kept seeing an old woman in her bedroom, just watching her there, and years later, when another family was living there, the little boy who had that room said the same thing. So, naturally, the most logical thing to do would be to hire someone to have a nice chat and a cuppa with the resident “nanny” there.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Kenzie Jennings: L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (the creepiest children’s series ever, IMHO).

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Kenzie Jennings: Student essays

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Kenzie Jennings: Around the World With Auntie Mame. I love the sour wit of the narrator and all the oddball characters… oh, and I loved the Rosalind Russell movie, too, by the way, so reading the novels was just… fitting for me.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Kenzie Jennings: I began writing when I was 9 or 10 when I was at my loneliest, if anything, to open new doors and make up imaginary friends to love and villains to fight.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Kenzie Jennings: I often wind up writing on my sofa in the living room, which is so comfy but, later, so bad for my back. It forces me to get up to go for a walk in order to stretch out the kinks.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Kenzie Jennings: I have a really mad collection of virtual Stickies all over my desktop screen, some for characters, some for plot turns, but most of them for continuity so that I don’t forget who did what, who has what, what happened at one point to whom, etc. Continuity is my weak point. I can’t remember anything.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Kenzie Jennings: Besides continuity, I find plot development especially difficult. I can come up with a great concept, but I can never seem to figure out what comes next. It takes me awhile— sometimes weeks, even months, to figure out where things are going.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Kenzie Jennings: Jayne, Juxtaposed was the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. It’s a (and forgive the awful genre term) “chick lit” superhero novel. It took me 5 years to complete, and I wrote it during the worst possible time in my life thus far.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Kenzie Jennings: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Jeff Strand’s Pressure, Bentley Little’s The Ignored & The Store, Natsuo Kirino’s Out, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Jenn Ashworth’s A Kind of Intimacy, Jack Ketchum’s Off Season & Old Flames… (among many more)… have all inspired me. I don’t know if they’ve inspired my writing style, but they have certainly presented the kind of character development and storytelling I enjoy.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Kenzie Jennings: Interesting protagonists that change, strong dramatic tension (heavy climaxes help, too, and that just sounded really dirty of me), a good sense of description, believable dialogue, and a satisfying ending make for a good story to me.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Kenzie Jennings: I don’t have to love any character to make me interested in her or him. Some of the most fascinating characters to me are the most awful “people” with complex motivations. I’ve more respect for authors who can make us root for the unpleasant ones as well as the usual suspects, those shiny, idealized heroines and heroes. One of the most common critical notes from male readers who’ve read my stuff is that I don’t craft “nice” or “(more) likeable” female protagonists, but it isn’t always necessary to do so. Female protagonists can be unlikable. I mean, authors like Ruth Rendell and Gillian Flynn created a whole collection of them, for shit’s sake, and I really believe that’s why we’re hooked by their work. Not only that, my characters must be—above all—complicated. They can be darkly funny, awkward, prissy, anxious, lost, silly, and so on, sure, but if they’re not complex, and sometimes even quite difficult, they’re not authentic to me.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Kenzie Jennings: None of my characters are really like me, but they may have certain qualities, idiosyncrasies, or situations that mirror (or have mirrored) my own. For example, in Reception, the protagonist, Ansley Boone, suffers from benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, something I’d been afflicted with for years having been overprescribed and then (horribly) weaned off lorazepam. I’ve used both my research and my own experiences with it to, more or less, craft what she’s going through. That said, she’s more impulsive than I could ever be, and she makes some truly horrible decisions along the way.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Kenzie Jennings: I am utterly turned off by a bad cover. Who isn’t, really? Bad font style, outdated stock photos, busy-background-dark-font, all of it… Just no. I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to offer input for Reception’s cover. Not only that, Jarod and Patrick from Death’s Head Press hired a friend of mine, the immensely talented Lynne Hansen, to do the cover, and she definitely made it sing. It’s a glorious, gorgeous cover that grabs one’s attention. It’s also darkly funny too, and I love that sort of thing. (It’s purposefully made to look like a wedding magazine cover)

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Kenzie Jennings: It’s okay to gamble some when writing. There are readers for everything. Not everyone is going to dig Reception because it’s gory and shocking in places, but I kept on telling myself it was okay for me to write what I actually wanted to write.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Kenzie Jennings: The last scene/ending of Reception. I completely rewrote that ending three times. The one I settled on will be the most polarizing for readers, but I don’t care. It’s how it HAS to end.

Meghan: What makes your book different from others out there in this genre?

Kenzie Jennings: The narrators’ voice(s). I’d like to say something more sophisticated than that, but that’s it really. Although, I’ve never read a cannibals-at-a-wedding novel.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Kenzie Jennings: Titles are as important as the cover. I am not all that clever at coming up with titles. An ex-boyfriend (also a writer) came up with Jayne, Juxtaposed, which was brilliant and simple, but now if I continue it on as a series, each title will have to be like it, and now that the ex is not around anymore, I’m kind of unsure where to go with it. Reception was easy because… well, it’s about a wedding… and things go bonkers at the reception.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Kenzie Jennings: Writing a novel makes me feel more fulfilled. I am awful at short stories. I didn’t used to be. Nowadays, I’m so into long form that I’ve forgotten how to keep things to a minimum. It’s not that I ramble. I don’t think I do. But I like crafting connected scenes and developing characters that change slowly (and meaningfully) rather than rapidly.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Kenzie Jennings: Since I’m fairly new to this novel-writing thing, I’ll simply mention Reception. Its tag line is “A wedding already burdened with family drama goes batshit when, during the reception, the groom’s family reveals themselves to be cannibals.” I think readers who like their stories with some contemporary family drama and gore will love it. I don’t know what sort of target audience that is though. It’s for horror readers, for sure. As for readers taking away something from it, how about something like… I hope they simply enjoy the ride, and we’ll see how we do with that?

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Kenzie Jennings: I made some cuts to some of the more frivolous set up scenes, like the one in the salon, which was a lot longer than I’d intended. Some of the more humorous bits were removed because they were silly and made no sense in the long run.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Kenzie Jennings: I have way too much in my “trunk,” some of it probably junk. Most are short stories I don’t know how to finish. One day though.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Kenzie Jennings: I’m working on a psychosexual horror thriller titled Nice Girl about a woman who, to put it mildly, doesn’t care much for being rejected. I was inspired in part by an opinion piece I’d read in Medium about the Incel subculture that spawned the likes of Elliott Rodger and Alek Minassian. The general thesis of the piece was that women could never be Incels (even though the term was created and self-appointed by a woman) because we’re taught to blame ourselves when we’re rejected rather than blame the men who rejected us. I thought… well, I guess it’s time to develop a story about a female Incel.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Kenzie Jennings: Website ** Amazon ** Twitter ** Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Kenzie Jennings: To get in a celebratory wedding mood, have a glass of bubbly while reading Reception… and don’t eat anything too heavy. You’ll need to run at some point.

Kenzie Jennings is an English professor currently residing and sweltering in the humid tourist hub of central Florida. She has written pieces for a handful of news and entertainment publications and literary magazines throughout the years. Back when she was young and impetuous, she had two screenplays optioned by a couple of production companies, but her screenwriting career ended there, and she hasn’t looked back since. Reception is her debut novel.

Reception

While her rehab counselor’s advice replays in her mind, Ansley Boone takes on the role of dutiful bridesmaid in her little sister’s wedding at an isolated resort in the middle of hill country, a place where cell reception is virtually nonexistent and everyone else there seems a stranger primed to spring. Tensions are already high between the Boones and their withdrawal suffering eldest, who has since become the family embarrassment, but when the wedding reception takes a vicious turn, Ansley and her sister must work together to fight for survival and escape the resort before the groom’s cannibalistic family adds them to the post wedding menu.