The Glass House
by Matthew R. Black
|part 1 of 3|
I checked the clock in the dashboard. It read 4:03. The afternoon sun was almost behind the mountains. My back was sore and my neck was stiff from the hours on the road. About an hour ago the reception had faded out and there was only the crackle of static over the radio. This was the case for every station except for the Highway Advisory Radio station that droned on about road closures and mountain weather.
Kaye was asleep. She was leaning on her ski jacket, pressed against the window. Her auburn hair partially covered her face. Her slow, deep breaths were almost perfectly in rhythm of the softly humming engine.
In the rearview mirror I could see Alex, his head back and mouth partially open. He slept pinned between two heavy suitcases. He was wearing his ratty ’70s pink jacket unzipped except for the bottom and had a thick red beard.
“Turn right at the next intersection.” The GPS made me jump a little.
Kaye sat up and stretched her arms. “Are we almost there?” She leaned over and twirled my hair.
“Yeah.” I looked at her. “It should be just on the other side of this mountain; just a couple of minutes.”
Kaye was peering out the windows.
I didn’t try to follow her glance. I was already tired of seeing massive, snow-covered mountains. The glare off of the most recent snow blanket gave me a headache. I was tired from being nervous all day from going over the mountain passes. My neck was stiff and my butt was sore from the stiff seat.
As I drove my SUV around a craggy corner I saw the house. It glistened on the snowy hillside. Trees with heavy loads of snow surrounded it on all sides. This house and the road accompanying it were the only sign of humanity. It looked like a jewel sticking out of a hairbrush.
“Wow,” Kaye muttered, “that’s the house?”
I nodded and felt a slight smile grow on my face. I had been nervous ever since I bought this house three weeks ago. It wasn’t cheap, especially for a timeshare, and I still was a little uncomfortable spending money. I had only purchased this car two months before. You won’t find one more exotic than this. I remember asking the realtor if it was worth it and hearing him say, What do you think?
The road I was driving on seemed to lead just to this house. I first thought it was a county road, but it was only plowed to a point. After the bumpy plowed road ended, there was a smooth white path to the house. The snow wasn’t too deep. It made a crunching sound under the tires. I parked the SUV in front of the main entrance.
Kaye and I looked up and down at the three-story tall crystal through the windshield. There was glass from the ground to the roof and the sun illuminated it brilliantly. It seemed to glow a pale blue and was almost blinding to look at directly, especially in the bright white snow.
It looked like a cube. Slender black frames held the massive sheets of glass together. It reminded me of a hamster cage. There was a thick vein of black woodstove piping leading from the center of the house to the tall triangular roof above the master bedroom on the top floor. A dark spiral staircase occupied one corner of the house.
“The way you described it, I thought it just had large windows. I didn’t think it would be literally made of glass.” Kaye glanced over at me.
“That’s why it was so expensive, that and it’s pretty far away from things.” I gestured back to the small ski town an hour down the road.
Alex leaned his arms on the front seats and joined us in studying the massive glass structure. “That would really suck if somebody threw a rock. Isn’t there a joke about that or something? Like if you throw rocks you can break glass houses or something?”
I hated Alex. His hot breath smelled like something died and he had just finished eating the dead thing and probably still had pieces of it stuck in his teeth. Kaye had wanted to bring him along. She told me he had fallen on hard times and needed some kindness right now. Alex was a bum.
It was bitter cold outside. The wind hurt and my shaking hand struggled with the key in the doorknob. I tried to steady the key with my left hand. I didn’t want to slip and scratch the glass door, or worse; break it.
There wasn’t a surprise when we walked through the front door. Everything was plainly visible from the outside. The deep living room had a large suede couch with trimmings deer or elk fur. Two thick chairs accompanied the couch with matching suede and pelts. In the center of the main floor was a massive wood fireplace with a large black chimney extending all the way to the roof, cutting through each floor in its trip to the top. The house was as cold as the surrounding wilderness. Even the suede on the furniture seemed stiff and matted.
All the walls were glass. Even the bathrooms and bedrooms had short, stained-glass walls that barely extended over four feet. The top floor contained the master bedroom and looked out over the ground level via a balcony. The floors were glass too. There were large pieces of steel graphed into a frame of the house surrounded by thick braids of wires and pipes for plumbing. These metal beams connected the thick panes of glass. An elegant, wrought-iron spiral staircase connected the floors. It looked jagged and hard compared to the clean glisten of the framed glass, but I liked the ancient touch in the futuristic building.
The kitchen had a striking resemblance to those model kitchens you find in large department stores. Everything was there: oven, refrigerator, sinks, dishwasher, but it all looked artificially inserted. The large stainless steel refrigerator appeared to be humming softly in the frozen forest. The whole room appeared as if a tornado had picked out a kitchen from a house and softly laid it on a snowy mountainside.
Kaye wrapped her hands around my forearm and leaned on my shoulder. “There’s no inside of this house. And there’s no privacy.”
I peered through the transparent kitchen into the vast blue-white mountainside. “There’s nobody around.”
“There’s no curtains or anything.”
It did feel a little exposed.
Alex and I unloaded the SUV. It was getting dark and the wind bit my face every time I moved. Alex didn’t seem to have the same problem, but ice was starting to form on his red eyebrows and beard.
“Why did you buy a timeshare so far away from everything?”
I didn’t look at Alex and continued to yank out the bag I was working on from the vehicle. “I thought it’d be nice.”
“Thanks for taking me along.” He grabbed the last bag and I shut the back hatch.
“No problem.” I still didn’t like Alex. He was a homeless couch surfer preying on his too-naïve older sister. I knew he would always be that way.
We both staggered our way toward the front door. “I mean I’d love to have a place of my own and everything-”
“But you don’t.” I closed the front door after dumping my bags on the floor.
Alex dropped his bags too. “I’m not homeless; I have a car.”
“Do you have a home?” I couldn’t believe Kaye had brought him along. This was supposed to be our romantic retreat and this smelly vagrant shows up.
“I have everything I need.” He frowned at me. I think it was a frown. His eyebrows moved but his beard did a good job at concealing his mouth.
The house was still cold. In the bathroom I tried the hot water. The sink made a brief hissing sound and nothing came out. The pipes must have been utterly frozen since the last visitors. I had desperately wanted a shower after that long drive.
Kaye sat next to the fireplace with a box of matches. I walked over to her. “How’s the heat coming along?”
She looked up at me. “It’s not. I can’t get the fire to stay lit and I think snow is coming down the chimney.”
Alex came over and pulled out several sticks of fire starter. He placed them under the logs and lit one. Almost immediately the logs started burning and black smoke puffed out of the fireplace into the house.
The wispy ash burned my eyes. “Dammit Alex. Now there’s smoke everywhere.” I picked up a blanket on the suede couch and fanned the billowing smoke cloud.
“That happens sometimes. It’ll stop eventually.” He snapped several thin branches and fed them to the thin flames. “Have you never used a wood fireplace before?”
“When would I ever have to use a wood fireplace?” I watched the smoke slowly float up the staircase to the master bedroom on the top floor. I put the blanket down and headed to the iron stairs. “I’m going to open some windows upstairs and see if I can’t get rid of the smoke.”
I touched the handrail and immediately pulled away. It was frozen and the moisture of my hand had nearly bonded with the metal. I carefully ascended the stairs careful not to let my skin contact the iron. On my slow climb to the second floor I briefly inspected the two bedrooms. One had two beds and several pieces of furniture; the other had a simple chest of drawers next to a small bed.
All the beds had been made. The shared bathroom was about the same size as the one downstairs. None of the inner walls were very tall, but the bathroom had stained glass instead of clear panes. I could see a colorful distorted toilet and shower. The blues and reds and purples on the bathroom wall made a faint aura on the glass floors in the bedrooms.
It was noticeably colder on the top floor. The whole house was bitter cold, but the room at the top seemed to be more exposed than the lower floors. Large amounts of smoke had found their way to the vaulted ceiling and a swirling cloud formed against the clear barrier. The glass was barely visible as a steel framed shadow against the blue glow of dusk in the encroaching sky.
I walked across the room and heard a faint whistle. The bite of the bitter wind shocked my face as I approached the window. It was unlatched and the whipping wind refused to let the thick smoke escape. I thought about closing the window but instead decided to check the other ones on the floor. All the windows were unlatched and the wind came in icy gusts. I looked down to see thin dunes of snow in spots on the glass floor.
I sauntered to the staircase and yelled, “Hey, did either of you open the windows up here?” Alex looked up and shrugged. The thick panes of glass distorted his body making him fatter and slightly pinker.
“Nobody’s been up there yet except for you,” Kaye shouted. As I watched her walk over to the dining table I saw her image waver and squish and stretch.
“I guess somebody left the windows open.” I walked over to the tall king bed. It had several thick blankets on it and a card sat squarely in the middle. I flicked on the bedside lamp and opened the card. It read:
To the new guests in this house:
Enjoy your sleep under the stars. This is as close to living in the wild and wilderness as you can get. There is plenty of wood stacked out back. Keep the fire going.
I put the note back into the card and set it on the nightstand. Then I headed back downstairs.
Copyright © 2010 by Matthew R. Black