You step into an acquaintance’s house for the first time, and discover that everything — from the furniture, to the books, to the art on the wall — is identical to your home. What happens next?
I stopped there blinking in disbelief, my mouth a jar like that of a slack jawed yokel on his first trip to Vegas. My hostess stopped there a long smile slowly forming on her face, but not a pleasant smile, it was a smile like the one permanently engraved upon the face of Batman’s Joker. The smile bought a coldness upon my hosts face making it devoid of any sense of attraction now and made her look more like a mannequin from a department store then an actual woman. Despite the elegance of her midnight green ball gown and finely styled hair, the facial expression and fierceness of her eyes bought a chill to my bones and a small patch of gooseflesh formed on my wrist.
“My feeding time is twelve thirty,” she said softly.
“I’m sorry,” I answered quickly, my mind racing as I tried to quickly come up with a cover story and a way to steal a few questions without it being an obvious fishing trip. “I was admiring the craftsmanship of the whole place,” I finally replied. Yes I know, straight out of the rookie liar’s handbook.
“Oh you should,” she smiled. “It took a lot of time and dedication to achieve all this.” As she spoke these words a twinkle shone across her big brown eyes and it seemed a little bit more colour returned to her cheeks. “The stairwell for example, the bannisters are handcrafted in mahogany and each step is made from pure granite.” My hostess gestured the hallway, just like my own even down to the broken Cuckoo clock and the plastic Horse Brass on the wall. “Have a look and admire the work.”
I crossed over to the walls and ran my fingers across the Horse Brass, this wasn’t plastic it was genuine as was the leather it was attached too. “That is very fine work there,” I said with genuine admiration. It was as if someone had recreated my hallway only with a much bigger budget. I looked up at the light fittings on the ceiling, I bet they were genuine as well.
“Oh George this is only the hall,” my hostess mused. “The rest of the house is far more impressive,” and with that she gestured towards one of the doors which if the house was patterned on mine would lead to the living room. I hunch was right, except in a way it wasn’t, it wasn’t what I expected. It was my living room, there was a Chesterfield sofa across the far wall, a solid oak book case to one side a number of arm chairs alone the remaining wall and in the far corner was an old fashioned TV set, just next to the bay window. This was the living room alright, but it wasn’t the one from my house, it was the living room from my grandparents house. The living room where I’d sat as a child in my Postman Pat Pyjamas eating peanut butter sandwiches watching some rubbish morning show like Crackerjack or Tiswas. I checked the bookcase to see what books were in there. There were a few children’s storybooks, a couple of dog eared paperbacks which were so worn the spines were illegible and, most puzzling of all, my current collection of books from home.
“Contrast is what I like to aim for,” my hostess began, “the elegance of the hallway to the cosiness of the living room. Everyone I bring here always notices the internal textures of the house.”
“How many men have you bought back here?” I asked trying to raise some conversation and it feel less like a museum tour.
“Not very many I’ll admit,” she confessed almost apologetically her eyelashes fluttering wildly. “People tend to get nervous when they visit.”
“Oh that is odd,” I said in a tone which tried to hide the fact I wanted to reply that I wasn’t surprised. I smiled, looked her cheerfully in the eyes and asked “so what is the next room?”
“My word,” she giggled in an almost child like sense of glee, “nobody has ever been this interested before.” Her demeanour changed, the Joker grin faded and softly became a cheeky grin, her eyes filled with joy. The next room on tour was what appeared to be a study with a heavy set desk and a series of pinewood chests of draws, displayed upon the walls was a vast and impressive collection of Lepidoptera. I went over to the display and studied it. I never could understand why people collected butterflies, if they liked the beauty so much would it not be better to let fly for the whole of their short lives?
“Do you like the collection?” I asked politely as I studied a virtually illegible name plate on one the cases. J…s (James?) ……ov.
“It’s full of dead things,” she stated coldly and with such force it nearly winded me. Noticing my change in stance she shrivelled a little and looked a bit sheepish. “Sorry that was rude,” she apologised and lead me on to the next part of the tour. This was a brief trip around a kitchen which looked more like an industrial kitchen rather then a house kitchen, this was followed by a visit to her mid-1980’s style dining room and upstairs to a very gothic landing filled with gargoyles, stone pillars and dark shadows. I mulled these locations over in my head they all seemed so familiar, but why? Something at the back of my mind stirred but wasn’t quite in focus. I figured the only way to clear the fog was to press on, but I thought I’d take a new approach.
“What’s in here?” I asked opening up a random door and stepping in.
“Wait..” called my Hostess seemingly alarmed an quickly following me.
I switched on the light and looked around the room; it was a bedroom. More to the point it was my bedroom, but a mix of my room when I was a child, my uni digs and my current bedroom at home. It was like someone had been rummaging through my memories to make the house. I turned to my hostess who had now entered the room, she was nibbling her thumb nervously like a child been told off at school.
“This the bit when they always leave,” she said sadly. “I try to make them feel comfortable but they always leave.”
“In what way make them feel comfortable?” I asked puzzled. Why would a bedroom seemingly a hotchpotch of my old bedrooms make them leave. I cast my mind back over the tour, it wasn’t just the bedroom. The entire house seemed to have been drawn from my life; the hallway was from my current house, the kitchen… was the kitchen from my first job, the living room belonged to my Grandparents. I tried to place the other two rooms, the study I couldn’t place but the landing… that like the Fairground Haunted House Ray and I got locked in overnight, that was a night of great fun, especially when we scared the bejesus out of the caretaker in the morning. The difference this time it was a real gothic passage and there was no Ray. It was like an enhanced version of my memories….
“The house,” she began. “To help them to relax.”
“Relax? A house constructed…” I trailed off as the dawn of knowledge ascended with in me. “The house, you model it on happy and life affirming experiences don’t you?” It was a rhetorical question and she nodded an unneeded confirmation. Quite how she did I had not idea or why for that matter.
“And now you too are going to leave,” she said sadly almost as if about to cry.
Too right I am, I thought and made for the door. However, something stopped me, I don’t know what. A gut instinct, telepathic message, sudden change of heart I don’t know. I turned around and straightened up to my full height at looked at my hostess, a tear was slowly descending her cheek. I crossed over and lifted her chin. “I’m not going to go,” I said calmly and gently kissed her forehead. She looked up, her eyes beamed with hope.
“Do you mean it?” She asked.
“Yes,” I replied and our lips touched in a passionate embrace. As the kiss ended she gestured the bed, but this time it was her time to be surprised by the room.
“That’s my old bed,” she said. “How did you know?”
“I didn’t know,” I answered truthfully. “I just had a feeling.”
My hostess smiled and turned towards the bed and she gestured the straps on her gown. I slowly unknotted the straps and let it slid to the floor…
The light was blue, artificial and cold. The room was filled with the hum of computer power and a series of people were watching various monitors depicting various scenes of various events. Each person had there own headphone and were intently listening to the unfolding action. One operator pressed a button as she watched the unfolding action her screen. A moment later the image of an older dark haired woman dressed in a green tunic appeared in the corner of the unfolding action.
“What is it?” the woman asked.
“Unit forty-five and Unit fifty-nine,” said the operator. “It looks like they have cracked the 7th program.”
“Share direct visual feed to me now,” commanded the woman on the screen.
“Transferring now,” stated the operator.
The woman in green looked at her display and the imaged changed from the operators monitoring their work stations to the image from program nine. She watched the image for nearly a minute studying the display before pushing up a few buttons and two lists were superimposed over the visual input. The levels matched the required protocols, the two units had cracked the solution. The woman pressed the switch for communication on her console.
“This is Section leader green, program 7 has been solved by units forty five and fifty nine. Once the sequence is complete prepare them for the next program,” she stated flatly. “Operate on random selection.”
The woman looked up at the image on screen, the two units were nearing the end of their run time as their movements were slowing down.
She pressed the record communication button again, “Advisory note on unit fifty-nine. The unit has began to develop a recognition of the sense of individual identity which may result in an error in future programs. Advisory note on forty-five, the unit appears to be becoming familiar with the software. If both of these continue these developments I advise they are removed from the mainframe and employed here.”
Down in a vast chamber sat thousands upon thousands of coffin life containers connected to a vast array of wiring, each container had the numbers 1 through twenty in lights down the side. On the units with the numbers 45 and 59 painted in the centre, the number seven changed from amber to green, a moment later the screws on the corners rotated ever so slightly. One 45 the number 15 glowed red while on 59 the number three glowed the red.