July 22nd 2022
The real-estate listing claimed the building had at one time been famous for holding the seeds of every plant grown in the city. “Enter a new dimension of your life!” the listing read. “If you like unruly wildflowers and homespun décor, this is the place for you!”
And like a wildflower—let’s be honest: a weed—there was something obstinate about the place, sticking up like a middle finger in a wide-open industrial lot, bordered by the freeway and a scrapyard in a neighborhood so neglected and forgotten the roads had decomposed to gravel.
My realtor wouldn’t even show up for the open house, considering it a waste of time, but the housing market in the city was out of control. My apartment complex was being sold to build condos and absolutely nothing else in my neighborhood was in my price range. The few places I could find on the outskirts of the city wouldn’t let me bring my cat. Two ex-lovers had died in the past year, my small cohort of friends had dissolved out into the suburbs or fled to other countries. The city I knew was hollowing itself out. I was not abandoning my cat.
And so I found myself desperately hopeful on the edge of the city limits. The downtown skyline was a disapproving eyebrow above the horizon, judging me as I waited in a lot just a block from the freeway. The four-story building that could be my new home was so narrow each floor was surely a small apology of a closet instead of a room. The brickwork was that old kind of scabby, weathered red which always made me think of movies about the 19th century, jewel-studded with consumption and overcrowding, the rank smell of other people’s sweat impossible to escape.
The droning roar of traffic reminded me of the ocean, as if this building was on the edge of an entirely different world, and just like how I couldn’t live in or really understand what it would be like to live underwater, I would never be able to comprehend freeway traffic or the creatures that thrived inside it. I’d been staring for fifteen minutes at that dirty rainbow of passing cars before an old man showed up, tall and heavyset but still wearing a heavy, ragged coat in the humid heat of the city’s Spring.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said. “Get tired of that and you’re tired of life. Might as well just walk out into it and kiss the bumpers of those eighteen-wheelers.”
“Excuse me, what?”
“Hmph.” He eyed me up and down. “You’re here for the house?”
Like a retired showman, the old man gestured grandly to the building. “It would stay standing through an atomic bomb. Hard to believe, I know, I can see it in your face. But it’s magic.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, wanting to be polite.
“It’s a magic tower.” When I didn’t respond, he narrowed his eyes. “I’m a wizard. I mentioned that in the listing.”
“Metaphorically, right? Like a wizard of real estate or an IT wizard.”
His frown deepened. “I’m not in the mood to be laughed at, and you’re not in the mood to become a frog. You’ve seen the listing photos. Feel free to look around. If you want it, make an offer. The place’ll lock itself up when you’re done.”
In the last year, I’d switched jobs from editing scientific articles for oil and gas companies to teaching kindergarten. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a conversation with an adult that wasn’t also a transaction. Every date I had was a dance of how much we were making and what we wanted to achieve by the end of our lives. But I was tired of lives ending, and I didn’t have anywhere to be until Monday morning, and no one except my realtor and the old man knew where I was, or cared.
I circled the “tower” and tried to imagine it as my home. I tried to imagine it as anyone’s home. Each floor had a garage door embedded in the wall facing the freeway, with anemic windows piercing the other three walls. The ground floor didn’t have any windows, only a metal door with a rusted handle, sun-dulled blue paint flaking away like dead skin.
There was nothing magic here. I was just one of the final witnesses to a structure that had outlived its purpose and should’ve been razed long ago. Maybe this was the city’s way of kicking me out, of letting me know I was no longer a symbiote but a parasite.
Figuring I might as well look inside since I’d come all this way, I grabbed the door handle and the light around me shifted like the sun gracing an oil slick. The tower was no longer an eyesore verging on ruin, but a Renaissance painting of a ruin, the colors deeper, the thin windows promising beauty hidden behind honeyed glass. The crumbling brick was velvet, begging to be touched.
I smelled wildflowers and the rushing traffic sounded like wind through the branches of a dead tree. In fact, the cars were gone, replaced by a ribbon a hundred different shades of gray, flowing and twisting toward the heart of the city. In that ribbon were faces frozen in expressions of unutterable passion, unchangingly changing like logs glowing down to ash in a fire or the tide eating away at a sandcastle. Watching them emptied every worry from me.
I let go of the door, and the cars stuttered back into being. Smog welcomed itself into my lungs. Grackles soared overhead in a shedding of feathers.
Yes, I thought, I could live here.
Author Bio: Andrew Kozma’s fiction has been published in Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, Lamplight, and Analog. His book of poems, City of Regret (Zone 3 Press, 2007), won the Zone 3 First Book Award, and his second poetry book, Orphanotrophia, was published in 2021 by Cobalt Press.
If you loved this story as much as we did, please tell the world on Facebook, Twitter or other fine places.
more stories here
Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here.
Follow us for update posts (once or twice a week) here.
Download a free sampler of Wyldblood Magazine here.
Buy the latest Wyldblood Magazine here or get a six issue subscription here.
Read an interview in Black Gate with Wyldblood editor Mark Bilsborough here.
Read the Milford blog about Wyldblood here.
See us reviewed here and here.