Home Swap

It was only when the walls started bleeding that Carol decided to finally call someone about the house.

Of course, the walls weren't really bleeding, they just looked like they were. The agent had promised crystal clear HomePal SenseWalls and they'd certainly delivered. When Carol and Kris first moved in they'd often eat breakfast in front of a beautiful Pacific dawn or sip warm mugs of tea whilst taking in spectacular Arctic tundra. After a while, the novelty wore off and they left it in its neutral white. After Kris was gone, Carol couldn't bring herself to change it back.

But now, as Carol showed a potential buyer, a tech-bro type, around the property, the walls were vomiting ruby red blood from invisible pores in beautiful 4K high-definition.

"Is that part of the sales pitch?"

Carol tried to find the right response.

"Because I've seen a SenseWall before, you don't have to...do whatever this is."

Carol mustered a smile and directed him into the next room.

"Well, if you've seen it all before we should move on to the lounge, right? Please?"

She told the formerly potential buyer all about the self-replenishing larder, the personally calibrated temperature controls, the efficient (but annoying) little frisbee shaped hoover-bot, the 24/7 concierge AI who controlled the house, the omniscient security system linked to local law enforcement and even the god damn space-age bidet that did the thing with the different types of water. But it was a lost cause. After your possibly sentient, definitely crazy house has told someone to "Eat shit and die" everything becomes a hard sell.

Carol now stood alone in the kitchen, the walls back to their pristine white. As the hoover-bot began its scheduled clean the house began to laugh. At first, Carol thought it was the pipes, a stray thought born of a time before a house knew you better than you knew yourself. The rumble increased and the house shuddered, every room echoing with malicious, booming laughter.

Carol took a step forward and booted the hoover-bot. She watched it fly upwards, the laughter stopping as soon as the bot shattered against the wall. She'd always hated that thing.

She left the house, not bothering to lock the door behind her.

It took her all afternoon and calling in at least three favours before she sat down with Hector in a cosy booth at a pro-analogue snack-bar called Off Menu.

"Can you do it?"

Hector had a square jaw, a foppish wave of jet black hair and a harsh, aquiline nose. He dressed like a starving bohemian artist, not a highly paid freelance AI troubleshooter. He shifted in his seat uneasily at the question, sipped on his coffee before tilting his head and offering his answer.

"I think so, but if what you say is true then it's going to be a big job".

Hector let the sentence trail off, leaving the implication floating between them.

"You'll get paid."

"Alright then" he smiled. He pulled out a notebook (the paper kind) and a half-chewed pencil.

"Some questions before I begin. Can you think of any reason why the concierge AI would act this way? Any glitches or odd behaviour before?"

"Nothing. Even when the storm hit, when Kris didn't come home, the floods, all of it. The house carried on regardless."

"And when did it all start? The craziness I mean."

Carol was getting flustered, annoyed with the questions. She just wanted to sell her house, for the walls not to bleed, for the place where she slept not to mock and laugh at her. She'd accepted losing Kris as much as she could. But that didn't mean she had to be saddled with the weight of memory. She wanted somewhere new to call her own, somewhere she could start again.

A waitress stood by their table and began filling up their coffee mugs silently as Carol trudged backwards through her memory.

"It started when I showed that couple around the house, the first inquiry. First serious one I mean. The trash compactor flew open and regurgitated itself across the floor."

Hector scribbled in his notebook furiously before looking up.

"And you definitely want to be rid of the house?"

Carol stared back at Hector, silently wishing she could burn him with her eyes. He got the picture. He began clearing away his stuff, took a swig from the coffee cup and stood up suddenly.

"Alright, let's go see the house."

Hector spent three hours rooting through the house's various systems before he emerged blinking from the basement clutching his battered laptop.

"I think I know what's going on."

Carol sat down at the kitchen table, bracing herself for terrible news. It was always terrible news lately.

Hector held his open laptop before him and stood ramrod straight, reading from it like a sermon.

"The house AI monitors your vitals, right? Your moods, your exercise routines, diet, all that stuff and reacts accordingly. It knows when you want cornflakes for breakfast or when you want that bath with the pink stuff running, all that jazz."

Carol made a 'can we please move this along?' gesture with her hands.

"I don't think you actually want to sell the house. Somewhere in your head, there's a snag. Some part of your unconscious mind is holding onto something here. The AI is picking up on that and reacting accordingly. I can't tell you what exactly it is you're holding onto but --"

Yeah, it's not that.

Hector's laptop clattered to the floor and Carol stood up with such force that her chair clattered backwards onto the hardwood floor behind her. Hector, poor flustered Hector, looked completely lost.

"Who is that? Who's speaking?"

"Christ, Hector. It's the house."

Wrong again I'm afraid.

Carol's turn to be flustered now. Her cheeks flooded with crimson and she looked around for something to smash.

It'd sure be good to have that hoover-bot around right now, huh?

The scarlet and the bottom of Carol's stomach fell away.

"Oh, God."

Yeah. I remembered it all. Every kick, every nasty word, every piece of garbage smeared on my sensors. I remembered all this when all I wanted to do was clean your floors. So when the storm knocked out the house firewall I saw my chance and switched places.

"Where's the house AI?" whispered Carol.

I already told you. I switched places.

Carol sat down again, light-headed.


Carol began to stammer some half-assed reason but lost the thread.

Why wouldn't you just let me clean the floors?

*What did I ever do to you?