Recently, my company was scheduled to change out a couple of electrical panels at an apartment building and were promptly stopped short by a feral tenant. When my tech knocked, she opened the door, yelled at him, and slammed it shut.
       So I called the landlord up, and he told me that this lady hasn’t paid her rent and has been squatting in there for months, and to evict her legally is quite the process: not only can he (and law enforcement) do nothing at this juncture, but you can’t even shut her utilities off! Which, by the way, I’ve seen the power company straight-up padlock people's electric meters because they weren’t paying their bills – but those may have been deadbeat homeowners, and perhaps you get more rights if you’re a deadbeat tenant?
       I would expect this twist of logic in other parts of the country where homeless villages pop up like traveling circuses, formerly eradicated diseases are making a comeback, and they have apps for avoiding feces on the sidewalk (everything I just said is true, by the way, but you still have my permission to laugh), but this is Iowa. We have stand-your-ground laws for God’s sakebut kicking out squatters who don’t pay? Oh, that’s simply too much.
       What if there was a way for landlords – or even the buildings themselves – to retaliate? What would that look like? A classic haunting where the dinner plates are constantly rearranging and the lights flicker on at all hours of the night, or would the houses simply vanish in thin air as a measure of protection? One could go all over the map with this, even to the point of looking at the tenants as a source of food, human nourishment for the drywall and studs, or whatever lurks within.
       Speaking of which – and in case you were worried about our freeloading apartment dweller – she did have Domino’s deliver a pizza for lunch, so no need for alarm; she’s not going hungry.
Danny Hankner
Danny Hankner

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(Ominous / immersive / intriguing)

Threads for Flies
By Jacob Steven Mohr
“The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show you when you are there.”
— Mary Howitt, “The Spider and the Fly”
           It was a cruel summer. Late August, when each sunset painted with a bloody brush, when terrorists beheaded the journalist, Foley, on broadcast national news. Moss never saw the footage himself, but he knew it’d happened, talked to boys on the ball field who claimed they’d actually seen it. They swore the man’s eyes had fluttered, lying in sand dark with his own spurting blood, that his jaw had flexed to form words before his eyes rolled over red.
           Jackson said the other boys were screwing with him. But Moss couldn’t help imagining what Foley’s last seconds of awareness would’ve been like. A living head, thudding heavily in the dirt, caged in with his own blinding terror and pain. His body dead—waiting, with saintly patience, for his brain to catch word that the jig was up, buster. 
           You’ve had it. Ball game. 
           One week before, Moss’s stepbrother broke his leg sliding ass-over-heels off the brick wall behind the corner Kmart. This and the head-chopping painted the last weeks before school began with a ghastly pall of violence. Doom hung in the air like the stink of sulfur, and Jackson, who was thirteen to Moss’s eleven, now mostly slouched around the house, stuck on crutches or in a fold-up wheelchair the hospital sent home, or in a kitchen chair with his cast up on a stool. 
           But cruelest of all were Jackson’s brown glaring eyes, tracking Moss around the house or going out the door, walking upright on two good legs. And now, that Sunday morning before church, those legs carried Moss nervously up the stairs to the bedroom he and Jackson split between them. Jackson sat in the swivel chair on his half of the room, crouched over his tablet with his tie flung over one shoulder. Above his head, four soccer trophies gleamed on a sturdy shelf. 
           Moss coughed and, when Jackson didn’t glance up from the screen, tapped his knuckles against the doorframe. “Mom says come downstairs.”
           The mumbled reply: “Tell her I’m coming right down.”
           “Sure. Yeah.”
           Moss didn’t move. His weight wobbled between the pads of his feet; his toes felt squeezed by his shiny church shoes. Jackson didn’t budge either, or look up from the tablet screen.
           “What’re you watching?” Moss said.
           “Not watching anything.”
           Irritation buzzed in Jackson’s voice—but to Moss’s surprise he raised his head, looking up at him through his drooping curls. He motioned Moss over with a sullen jerk of his head; the younger boy scurried through the door, peering over his stepbrother’s shoulder. 
           “It’s Google Maps,” Jackson explained, angling the screen so it didn’t catch glare from the window. “I’ve been…exploring.”
           “Exploring what?” There’d been shame in Jackson’s tone, but also a strange, vibrating excitement. Moss shifted nervously closer. The room smelled like Old Spice out of the can; so did Jackson, like he’d wheeled himself through a whole cloud of it. 
           “Just look.” On the screen was a street view of a neighborhood. Blurry and pixelated, like a painting with streaks running through it, radiating out from a center point. Jackson dragged his fingers, showing angles of houses to the right and left of the road. 
           “You know where this is?” he asked. “Notice anything funny?”
           Moss nodded timidly. “It’s our street. Right?”
           The words stuck coming out. He and his mom had only moved into the house Jackson’s dad owned a few short months ago. Living there still felt like wearing somebody else’s clothes; the streets around it were as alien as the surface of the moon. 
           Jackson rolled his eyes. “No shit, it’s our street.” He tapped once in the center of the tablet. The world on the screen lurched forward at warp speed. “Look,” he said, like he was instructing a child. “There’s my house. And my bike out front.”
           Sure enough: there was Jackson’s blurry Schwinn, propped on its kickstand by the curb out front of the house. Jackson swung their view left. “And that’s Doug Begley’s house—he grills with Dad sometimes. And on the right…”
           Moss brightened. “The Brecker house?” These were the only neighbors on the new street Moss knew. After Jackson broke his leg, the daughter, Kaity, brought a casserole from Mrs. Brecker to their door in a foil-covered pan. The casserole wasn’t anything to go nuts over, not compared to what Moss’s mom could make, especially for Sunday dinners. But the way Kaity grinned at him at the door had made him feel nice, like the two of them were sharing some funny secret. 
           “No. Stupid…” Jackson scoffed and dragged their view to the right. “The Brecker house has green shutters. And their place is…” He trailed off into a kind of frustrated snarl. “Well, just look at this house. I mean really look.” He spread his finger and thumb, stretching the image on the tablet screen. Moss leaned closer, squinting. 
           Half-obscured by pixel fog, there stood a huge brick house Moss had never seen before. 
           It was gray all over, roof to foundation. Two stories—what Moss’s realtor mom would call a “classical,” with dark narrow windows in two rows all across the front. These didn’t seem to reflect any light, and there were bars welded overtop of them. The front door had a half-moon window exactly like a half-shut eye. Even the shutters and lawn were gray, like they were covered in dust. The house was bigger than any other on its street; its overpowering grayness seemed to bleed out into the air around it. 
           Moss spoke slowly. “Where’s Kaity’s house?”
           “That’s the thing. It’s still there. Just… not where it’s supposed to be.”
           Expectation had crept back into Jackson’s voice, running through its center like a third rail. Moss felt all his neck hairs lift. Jackson had never spoken this way to him before—privately, like he was Jackson’s real-life brother and not a cellmate to watch through narrowed eyes. The change brought all his cloudy anxious feelings back, yet he crowded closer as Jackson adjusted the Google Maps view once more. 
           Beside the gray house, almost hidden by its looming bulk, was the Brecker house with its green shutters and slightly overgrown lawn. The colorlessness of the gray house hit a solid wall between itself and its neighbor; beyond this, even the sky looked bluer. 
           “What’s wrong with the other house?” Moss asked. “The color looks…”
           Wrong, he wanted to say. But this wasn’t right. Wrong wasn’t strong enough. 
           Jackson blew up the image again: the gray house ballooned across the screen, grainy as TV static between stations. But there was enough detail left over that Moss could see… something covering both the walls and the dead scraggly grass. 
           “What is that?” He pointed. “It looks like smoke? Or dust?”
           Jackson shook his head solemnly. “Not dust. Cobwebs.”
           He said it so confidently Moss didn’t think to ask anything else. 
           His mom’s voice lilted up the stairs. “Boys? If we don’t get our pew this morning and have to stand in the back, things are gonna get unpleasant around here.”
           Jackson thumbed the lock-screen button. The tablet winked dark, reflecting only the faces of the two boys. He hollered: “Coming, Audrey. Jeezus…” He flopped the tablet on his bed and heaved upright, reaching for the crutches propped against the wall. But before he shoved the pads under his armpits, he brandished a crutch at Moss, then put a finger against his mouth.
           It rang through clear. This stays between us. 
           A quiet thrill ran through Moss. He stepped clear of the doorway to let Jackson limp by; Jackson paused at the top of the stairs to hand off the crutches to his stepbrother before he started half-hopping, half-shuffling down the first few steps. 
           Even though he knew the answer, Moss called out, “You want help going down?”
           “I’ve got it,” Jackson grunted, without turning.
           The whole family piled into the car, with Jackson’s crutches laying across the floor under the back seats. Jackson’s dad told Moss to fix his cowlick; Moss’s mom tightened and then re-tightened the knot on Jackson’s tie. Then they were out of the garage and rolling. 
           Moss almost felt guilty staring out the window at the houses surrounding theirs. He half-expected to see the house covered in cobwebs casting its gray shadow over them, sucking the color out of the air like juice through a straw. But instead, there was only the Brecker house, with Mr. Brecker mowing the lawn, soaked with sweat with his shirt thrown over one shoulder. 
           “I don’t get it,” Moss murmured, leaning across to Jackson. “How could their house just… move like that?” Jackson widened his glare and shushed him with a wave. 
           But then, only moments later, he too leaned across the back seat. “The Brecker house didn’t move,” he whispered. “The Cobweb House disappeared.”
           A chill rippled through Moss almost painfully. He returned to staring out the car window, looking for a tree, a patch of exposed sky, anything with bright colors. Wrong had not been the correct word to describe the Cobweb House. He knew the right one, but wouldn’t speak it aloud. 
           Church, Costco, lunch. Leftover Stouffer’s lasagna, served in Tupperware straight out of the microwave, with plastic forks and knives. Jackson didn’t mention the Cobweb House again, so neither did Moss. But he watched his stepbrother carefully across the round kitchen table, though Jackson carefully avoided his gaze until Moss’s swinging legs clanged against the front platform of his wheelchair. Then his eyes glowed white, full of sudden righteous fury. 
           Moss looked anywhere else. Past his mom, standing by the sink, up to her elbows in suds, out through the kitchen window. Through the glass, the light changed; a whipping shadow swept past frame, like laundry on a line. Then it was gone. 
           Moss slid back his chair. “Can I walk to the ball field?”
           “Push your brother,” answered his mom without turning from the sink. 
           “I’m all right,” grunted Jackson. 
           “You should go,” his mom said. “Get some fresh air. Some sun.”
           “I don’t mind,” Moss put in. “You could umpire for us.”
           “I said I’m not going.
           For a moment there was only the sound of water running out of the faucet. Then Moss’s mother said, “Well, give me your Tupperware and throw away that fork.”
           Moss scooped up the plastic tray and passed it into the suds-filled sink. Then he made tracks for the front door, pausing to snatch his catcher’s mitt and mask off the front hook. He could almost hear an echo of conversation, his mother speaking Jackson’s name in that pleading tone he’d never heard until three months ago, Jackson’s voice grunting “It’s fine, Audrey…”, Jackson’s stepfather dropping his paper and pushing back his chair just a little too hard, but then the door swung shut in between him and all of them and he was out under the sunshine, jogging towards the park and his friends. 
           The sun looped across the high blue wall of the sky. Moss left the diamond around four, his shirt soaked through, sweat and sun stinging his eyes. His mask was balanced on his head, shielding his face from the blasting heat, his mitt tucked under his arm.
           He didn’t even realize he’d almost passed Kaity’s house until she hollered, “Yo! Moss!”
           He turned, shading his eyes to find her on the front porch of the house. She was crouched on the wood railing, one white skinny leg dangling a bare foot towards the patchy garden. She had circular sunglasses sliding down her nose and a face full of greasy sunscreen. She was halfway through lathering some onto her left arm when she’d paused mid-stroke to shout his name. 
           “You’re not gonna say hi?” she called. 
           “Hi.” He waved, and dropped his catcher’s mitt in the street by mistake. 
           Kaity laughed and hopped down off the rail, stumbling through the garden onto the freshly mowed lawn. “How’s the invalid?” she asked, jerking a thumb at Moss’s house. 
           “He’s not…” Moss started to protest, then thought better. “He’s fine. He’s getting used to the crutches all right, I guess.”
           “I busted my pinkie toe once on a drainpipe,” Kaity offered. “See?” 
           She was across the lawn now, standing above him on the curb, pushing her right foot towards him and wiggling the toes. Sure enough, the pinkie toe on that foot was crooked, kind of turned in on itself, lying sideways at the end of the line. 
           “Hurt like a bitch,” she said. “But they never put a cast on it.”
           The sun was at her back; when Moss glanced back up, he couldn’t quite look her in the face. Kaity cocked her head to one side. “Hey—spooky. What’re you so quiet about?”
           “Was there another house here before?”
           He blurted it before he could stop himself; he half-expected Kaity to laugh. But instead, she pushed her sunglasses up on her nose and turned back to her own front door. 
           “Here, where my house is now?” She scratched the top of her head. “Dude, I think this house is mega old. All the houses on this street are. If there used to be a different house here it was from before any of us were born.”
           “No, not…” Self-consciously, Moss stooped for his mitt—his groping hand didn’t find it, so he stood up again empty-handed. “I meant, between your house and mine.”
           This time Kaity did laugh, snorting into her cupped hand. “Better be a real skinny house.”
           “I saw something. Jackson and me, on Google Maps. Like there was a whole other yard between our yards, and it had this other house in it. Huge and gray and covered in…”
           “In…?” Kaity mimicked, grinning at him. “In, in, in?”
           “ cobwebs,” Moss finished breathlessly. “Like for Halloween.”
           Kaity rubbed pale knuckles against her chin. “You’ve heard about it already, huh?”
           “You know about the Cobweb House?” Moss’s eyes went round, despite the sun. 
           Kaity shrugged. “Shore. All the kids on the street know. It moves around at night, slipping between other houses. It can squeeze into gaps like a slug, and in the morning, if you find sticky slime on the road, you know it’s been down your street. But nobody’s ever really seen it though—because if you’re out walking at night, and it finds you…”
           Her hands made a swooping, snatching motion; her mouth made a horrible sucking-swallowing sound. If Moss had been standing level with her, he might’ve fallen off the curb. Instead, he only took a step back. But no more. One more step, he knew, was the line between startled and afraid. 
           “Then… what are all the cobwebs doing there,” he protested. “If it’s like a slug, it should be covered in mucus, not spiderwebs.”
           Kaity stared at him, then dropped her shoulders. “Aw—you’re no fun.” 
           She twirled on her heel and turned a lopsided cartwheel back towards her house. “You should put some sunscreen on, spooky,” she told him. “You’re getting red.” Then she was up on the porch and straddling the wood rail again, back in the shade. She pushed her sunglasses up her nose and opened her mouth like she’d speak again, but instead, she just snapped her teeth at him and kept grinning her lazy, lopsided grin, as though she knew all the secrets in the world.  
           Moss waved and picked up his mitt. He stared, dazed, toward the house—but not so dizzy that he didn’t notice Jackson ducking away from their bedroom window, the glint of binocular lenses vanishing just before the movement really registered.
           “I wasn’t spying.” Much later—with blue twilight creeping in from the corners of the windows. They were facing opposite walls in their bedroom, hop-footing into their pajamas.
           “I didn’t say anything.” Moss got his bottoms on first and slipped into bed, nosing his feet between the sheets until he was comfortable. He watched Jackson go for the light switch, then skip-hop with his cast to his own bed, feeling for it in the dark. 
           “Well. You were thinking it. I wasn’t spying.”
           “All right.”
           Sullen silence followed. The ceiling fan was on, filling the room with its quiet thrumming purr. Then Moss said: “Kaity said she knows about the Cobweb House.”
           A rustle in the dark as Jackson pushed himself up in bed. “You told her?”
           “I think she was bullshitting me, though.” The profanity tasted funny leaving his mouth, sharply bitter, like he imagined battery acid would taste. But he was glad he’d said it. It sounded more serious, more adult. More aloof to the danger. 
           Jackson sighed. “Whatever.” Another silence followed, but he didn’t lie back down. “Moss,” he whispered across the dark bedroom. 
           “I looked at the house again.”
           “On Maps?”
           “Yehuh.” Out of the darkness, a rectangle of light bloomed. “You wanna see?”
           Reaching as far as his arm would stretch, Moss took the tablet from his stepbrother. 
           It was not the same view as before. The camera was further down the road, almost past the Brecker house, looking at the Cobweb House at a more extreme angle. But he could still see the whole front of the house, and some of the side as well, rising like a grave above the Brecker’s privacy fence. He could see all the narrow windows as well. But they were not all dark now.
           In one high bedroom window, a grim yellow light blazed…
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