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"Winterized" by Vasilios Moschouris

The key was right where I left it, beneath the loose brick in the path that led up to the door, but I left it gleaming gold in the black earth, took the brick in hand instead, wound up and threw it through the pane of glass in the door. I aimed right for the little flyer taped to the inside: WARNING: THIS PROPERTY HAS BEEN WINTERIZED. Crash.

The first day I ever stepped through that door, the air rushed in at my back, and the new house heaved a sigh, it was exactly as I’d always dreamed it. Now, I broke the last of the door pane’s jagged teeth down with my foot, stepped through and into the foyer, the soles of my boots scraping the fragments against the smooth stone floor. Crunch and gristle, as if across packed snow.

High ceiling, wide walls, the empty house spread out around me like a pair of open arms. It was summer when I raised it. The sun sat heavy on my shoulders; my body moved under a crust of sweat and granite. When I brought the first wall up, and its shadow fell across my back, it was as blessedly cool as a mountain creek.

A cold wind shoved me from behind, blew up into the reaches of the dark house. I pulled my jacket tighter, scraped the last of the glass from my boots, and moved in deeper, ran my fingers up and down the walls, into their old grooves. That made me smile. The bank may have taken it, but here was proof that I had been here—some last trace of me left to haunt the bankers, the realtors, whoever came next.

It was still ten steps to the living room. I stopped at its threshold, looked into it. When I designed it, with lead-stained hands and a crick like a hot coal in my neck, I drew wide windows, drew doorways without doors—everything open and flowing like ventricles to a heart. When it was finished, before I moved anything in, I moved through it, imagining all it could hold. The light shining in caught on all the angles of the place—the hollow in the corner where a couch would go, the shelves carved into the wood of the walls.

I couldn’t make any of that out now; it was too dark. The room was formless. Just a hole full of holes.

I pulled the lighter from my pocket, flicked it on. A ring of orange light spilled out. I thought of the clear pus of plasma ringing beads of blood. In my other hand, the bottle sang—liquor against glass. Before I lit the fuel-soaked rag stuffed into its neck, I held it to my ear, listened. I always loved the sounds they made, glass and stone. That was my favorite part of building this place—with every stone I took in hand and slid into another, with every nail I drove into a plank of wood—the noise, the rugged texture of it all.

As the bottle left my hand, I stumbled forward, reached out, as if I could pull it back. Crash. I watched the fire unfurl in great red petals, brush the walls, the ceilings. A crooked little sound escaped my throat, and then whatever part of me made it blackened and fell silent.

Vasilios Moschouris is a gay stay-at-home writer and Best of the Net nominee from the mountains of North Carolina. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Chautauqua magazine, Hobart, Press Pause Press, and in the museum of americana. Unfortunately, he can be found on Twitter @burnmyaccountv.

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