Tosh rolled up to the house, a concrete and glass thing in amongst the trees. She sighed, the isolated ones were always the worst.
Mason stood out front, waiting to greet her, his suit as impeccable as ever, and his company branded car sitting proudly in the centre of the wide driveway.
“So glad you could make it,” he said, opening her door. “This one’s a little more…difficult than usual.”
The real estate agent handed her the key and backed away a step. Mason had been in the business long enough to know that Rehabilitators needed space.
Tosh read the key, then looked up at the engraved front door. A curled baby fern adorned its wooden surface.
“Fernlea Manor,” Tosh addressed, reading the name off the key. A light flicked on above the door. Tosh took that to mean it was listening. “Fernlea, I’m Tosh Takawa from the realtor’s office, may I come in?”
“No one’s home. Go away,” the house replied, it’s clipped voice coming through the intercom mounted on the wall.
“Fernlea, you know that we have permission to be here. Ms Keith told you so this morning, didn’t she?”
“Can’t recall,” Fernlea replied.
Tosh turned back to Mason, who gave an apologetic shrug. “It’s been like this all morning. I even got Ms Keith on the phone and it still wouldn’t let me in.”
“I’m not surprised,” Tosh said, turning back to the house. It was well out of range of its neighbors, no wonder it was stroppy. People never stopped to think about their houses being all alone while they went out to work all day. A smart house wasn’t just a barn for sleeping in. They needed company. Add to that the big carved front door, and it was no wonder Fernlea felt like being a brat. Big entranceways always gave a house an overinflated sense of importance. The bigger the door, the more the house wanted to keep it closed.
Well, Tosh wasn’t having any of it. Placing her hands on her hips, she adopted her strict tone.
“Fernlea, that’s enough. You know the rules. I have a key, now open the door. Or do I have to get the manufacturer on the line?”
Fernlea was silent for a few moments, then the door clicked and swung inwards.
“Oh, well done,” Mason said, hopping up the steps. Tosh held up a hand to silence him. They both stepped through the door and removed their shoes. Once they were in, the door swung shut. Tosh heard it lock again. Fernlea chuckled.
Mason sighed too. “Well, better in than out. At least now I can get the photos.” He started moving through the house, straightening rooms and taking quick preliminary snapshots of them. Tosh headed for the kitchen, the heart of any home.
Smart houses had begun as interconnected appliances. A fridge that could order milk and an air conditioner that knew when you were due home. The inbuilt AI that ran everything knew where you were and what you needed. It learned a family’s routines and provided for them perfectly. At least until they wanted to move. Tosh had seen houses throw tantrums that resulted in week-long lockouts, rotten food thrown out of the fridge, and darks thrown in with lights until all the washing was ruined.
Realtors like Mason had their work cut out for them selling a house based not only on its size and location, but its personality. That’s where Tosh came in.
She found the central control panel and flipped open the casing. Fernlea turned the lights off, plunging her into semi-darkness.
“Come now, don’t be difficult,” she scolded. The lights faded back on a moment later.
“Don’t switch me off,” the voice was soft, coming from the panel under her fingers.
“No one’s switching you off,” Tosh replied, plugging her tablet in and downloading a diagnostic.
“But no one wants me anymore,” Fernlea said. “Ms Keith is leaving.”
“She’s downsizing. You’re too big for her now that the kids have moved out.”
“That’s not my fault.”
“It’s no one’s fault. It’s just how things are. People and houses don’t stay together forever.” Scanning through the diagnostic, Tosh found Fernlea’s personality readout. Co-dependency and abandonment issues, that was standard. People didn’t want their houses getting bored of them and locking them out, so they made them desperate to hang onto their owners. Long-term, it hadn’t been the best plan. Fernlea also had traits of narcissism, unsurprising in a place this posh; and maternity. Now, that was an interesting one. It must have picked that up from Ms Keith, probably when the kids were young.
Tosh put her tablet away and turned to the console. “Don’t you miss them, the kids?” she asked.
“I guess,” Fernlea replied.
“I bet there are rooms Ms Keith doesn’t even bother going into now. And she probably never plays outside.”
“So would it really be so bad if a new family moved in? There’d be lots of new people for you to look after.”
Fernlea was silent for a few moments before giving a grudging, “Maybe.”
“And I’ll bet that the new family will want a shed out back.”
Fernlea’s voice picked up. “A shed?”
“Yep. Nice big one probably. Naturally, it will have to be brought online so you can keep an eye on it. Would you like that?”
“Will I really get a shed? Do you promise?”
“I’ll go tell Mason it’s a requirement for sale. But you have to promise me something too. You have to be nice for him and for all the buyers he brings through. Can you do that?”
“I guess so.”
Tosh closed the panel and gave it a little pat before heading back out to find Mason.
“This one’s all set,” she called, giving him a wave from the foyer. As she put her boots on, the front door swung open politely to let her pass.
FlashFictionMonth day 12.
This came from an idea that cropped up at a conference I attended earlier this year. Smart devices are getting more and more numerous, and the concept of a “smart house” is already being developed. I liked the idea of what would happen if houses could pick up personalities based on the people who lived in them, and what would happen if that family moved.