The house woke up.
It was hungry: there was a deep hollow rumbling in its dusty foundations; it hadn't eaten for fifteen years. But that was fine, food was coming.
With a groan from its age-old timbers the house settled back on its haunches.
The house was breathing.
They had only been here two days, but Scarlett knew the house was breathing.
If she stood really still and watched the walls, she could see them moving; barely discernible but moving all the same.
When she put her hands flat against the wall it yielded slightly beneath her palms. Like skin. Warm skin.
Scarlett knew if she told Roy he would laugh, mock her, tell her she had been reading too many dark tales by Stephen King, been watching too many late night horror movies.
but later that night - lying in bed, cool pale moonlight soaking the room - she heard its heartbeat.
It was alive.
A des res - the ad had said.
Needs slight work - the man on the phone had said - not been lived in for years; crying out for a family.
Don't be put off by appearances - the estate agant had said - loads of potential; for the right person.
They had fallen in love with the place.
Just like that.
One month later they had packed their life, their kids, their dog, their two cats, and Colin the hamster, into a big blue removal van and moved into Number 3 Cutters Lane.
And now, with boxes still cluttering the hall, and clothes still stuffed into dustbin bags, Scarlett knew the house was breathing.
She could hear its heartbeat.
And hair was growing in the bathroom.
It was alive.
The hair was black.
Thick black stubble pushing its way through the plaster in the corner where the bathroom ceiling met the wall. At first she had thought it was mould clinging to the damp surface, but as Scarlett began to scrub at the black patch, she had realised it was hair; a five o' clock shadow. She narrowed her eyes, leant in towards the corner.
Upstairs could be heard the bang, bang, bang of a hammer: Roy was hanging a shelf in their bedroom.
The banging stopped.
Running footsteps thudded across the floor above.
Then: "Scarlett! Scarlett come here!"
Scarlett took the stairs two at a time.
It was bleeding.
A single drop of dark red blood had seeped out of the nail hole; was running down the wall in a straight unwavering streak.
Roy's face had drained of colour. Scarlett noticed his hands were shaking. His voice was unsteady when he spoke. "What the hell is it?"
"It's the house. It's alive." Panic fluttered in her chest. "Where're the children?"
"In the den, watching a film."
Scarlett was gone before Roy's words had left his lips.
He tossed the hammer to the floor and followed.
The house smirked, licked its lips.
They were too late.
The den was empty.
Empty of children.
Buster, their dog was cowering in a corner, whimpering. Mindy, their tabby cat, hissed as Scarlett burst into the room, flew behind the sofa.
On the small portable TV an angry Shrek was shouting at Donkey.
Scarlett turned on her heels and charged back out of the room, narrowly missing Roy who had just charged in. She started to yell at the top of her voice.
"Milly! Marcus! Where are you? Answer me! Milly! Marcus! Where are you?"
But they had gone.
After a while Scarlett realised Roy had gone too.
The house burped.
The woman had given it heartburn. She hadn't been easy to digest. But bit by bit the discomfort was fading. Its full belly was making it sleeply.
After a time it slept...