“We Built a Fine Madness House” by Lorna D. Keach

Before their house was built, Jan and Stan spent hours staring at the blueprints, hunting for a 90-degree angle.

Their architect told them the construction would reject mundane angles and corners. It would contain nothing as plebeian as a square. More than a luxury mansion, it would be high art, and when he showed themthe blueprints, white lines collided like a lopsided ritual diagram. Jan and Stan laughed at that and said no, that couldn’t be right (pun intended, hah!). How did one build a house without a single right angle?

Jan and Stan stayed up late at night, reading the plans. Each of them would point at a room among the jagged mash of shapes and say, there, that one’s ninety degrees. Or maybe that one.

Jan and Stan were approached by television producers from the series We Built a Fine House. A film crew would follow the construction process from beginning to end. Every installation of the program followed the same “We built a…” convention: We built a this, we built a that. Their lawyers assured Jan and Stan it was popular, at least on a few streaming services. (Only those in Jan and Stan’s elevated tax bracket were invited to be a part of the series. No builders of mundane McMansions or postmodern claptrap were invited, and the poor never built houses. Or, when they did, they were strange, heaped up things of reclaimed materials, shacks that barely kept out the wind.) Jan and Stan’s episode was entitled “We Built a House of High Art.” Their architect designed the structure as a long unbalanced triangle, composed of a string of quadrilateral rooms with a courtyard that he promised would be like a Japanese garden. The interior floor plan mirrored an ancient roman settlement found in the area, done in the “old style” that the architect spoke of. (He never said exactly which “old style” it was.)

Jan and Stan, both college-educated, considered themselves connoisseurs of architectural innovation (although they joked, did they really know their Modernism from their Brutalism?). They nodded and approved of the architect’s weird design. They didn’t mention the fact they’d never seen such strange triangles, such an odd-shaped dwelling anywhere near Japan or Rome.

But do you like it? Someone asked them. Maybe it was the producers or the film crew or their friends. Jan and Stan can’t remember what they said. The architect was quite famous and was building something important, so Jan and Stan were thrilled to be patrons. They were supporting a historic figure, a human treasure adept in the old styles. (They did their research, trying to find what these old styles may have been. Classical? Egyptian? Prehistoric? Their search turned up nothing.) They decided the architect knew what he was doing. He was a moody person who often spoke in strange riddles, often referring to forces beyond one’s comprehension. Jan and Stan were proud to have hired not a builder, but an artist.

Now their luxury living space was complete, Jan and Stan spent all their time measuring. They purchased protractors and digital angle finders and calipers and anything else they think might get it right this time. (Pun intended, they laughed. Quietly.) The tools never worked; they were broken from the beginning. Jan and Stan complained it’s so hard to buy quality these days as they threw the protractors and calipers in the garbage. The garbage was hidden inside a drawer in the kitchen, and the drawer had no fixtures, no handles. No knobs. There was nothing round in the house because a round thing turns right, forever and ever. The cabinets weren’t rectangles, but a mildly askew rhombus shape. The cabinets were pale gold maple and the marble countertops were pale gold (close to $1500 a square foot). The floor and the bath tiles and walls were gold. Jan and Stan wondered if they couldn’t find a 90-degree angle because the uniform field of gold blended everything together. They wondered if it were their eyes going bad.

They scheduled eye exams in the city. They got new contact lenses.

They walked through the lopsided rooms at night, not sleeping.

The couple has yet to see their episode. The producers sent them a complimentary copy on Blu-ray, tucked in a basket of expensive wine and pomegranates, but neither of them have been able to bring themselves to touch it. They know the architect was filmed on several occasions, talking wildly about the grand design. Who wants to see him again? Jan and Stan laugh. He’s around so much. His face appears in their dreams often enough; in them he cackles madly about his angles and his pylons summoning the old ways to the surface of the earth. Occasionally, they hear the architect’s nightmare laugh when they are awake.

Now, they are awake all night, every day. The electricity has been shut off. Heaps of mail pile up by the door (written notices, invoices, debt statements printed with astronomical numbers). At night, the walls vibrate with distant, heavy footsteps, as if something large is making its way up from the depths. Jan and Stan sit in the dark, staring at their own reflections on the flat, black screen of their television. The corners of the device are a relief; they look at nothing else. Reflections of other figures creep up in shadow behind them. Look, they whisper, there it is. We found it.

Lorna D. Keach lives in Omaha, NE, United States. She is an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association thanks to her work appearing in numerous small press and indie magazines over the years. Since then she’s taken some time off from publishing to have a baby, finish an English BA, hone her craft, summon a few demons, etc, etc. More of her current work can be found at lornakeach.com and she tweets at @LornaDKeach.

Photo by Jon Sailer on Unsplash

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