Distressed – Fiction Snippet

Keith’s hand closed over the keys, something akin to an electric shock running through his palm, up his arm and directly into his brain. His. in all but name, anyway, and that would follow soon enough.

“Wow. That fast?”

George spread his hands, taking a step back.

“Guess the seller’s motivated. Can’t blame ‘em; money’s on the table for a distressed property, best grab it while you can. Place has been empty for years, like I told you, and no one else seems interested. Works in your favor.”

Keith cocked his head.

“Distressed property?”

George’s look turned serious.

“Yeah; that’s realtor lingo for ‘place where bad things happened.’ Also, according to law in California, what we have to call it when a place is haunted.” He laughed. “Not that I believe in that sort of thing, of course. House is just a house. Bad history, but still just a house, right?”

Keith found himself nodding, though he wasn’t sure he quite agreed. After all, he was counting on using the house’s history to drive up sales when all was said and done, wasn’t he? Though the idea of ghosts was pretty silly, he supposed.

“Yeah, just a house, right.”

George’s billion-watt realtor smile faded, and he reached out, putting his palm against Keith’s shoulder.

‘ “You alright? Looking a little ill there, buddy.”

Keith shook his head.

“Yeah. Fine. Just not well, you know. It’s why I’ve got time and money for this sort of thing.” He forced a laugh that turned into a hacking cough, and felt George’s hand tighten, steadying him. When the fit passed, he took a breath and leaned back against his truck, clutching his chest and taking a few gasping breaths.

“You sure?” George asked. “Do I need to call 9-1-1 or anything?”

Keith shook his head again.

“Nah. It’ll pass. Just give me a minute.”

Keith kept rubbing at his chest, willing the knot there to loosen up and let him take a full breath. When it finally started to do so, he stood up straight again.

“There. All better.” The cough in most of the syllables said otherwise, but Keith saw George take a step back anyway.

“If you’re sure. Don’t push yourself too hard, you know?”

“Oh, I know all too well. S’why I’m gonna get some of Art’s boys to do the heavy lifting. Just brain-work for this lad, George. Just brain-work.”

George nodded, but his expression said he still had a few doubts. Apparently he’d gone to the caveat emptor school of sales, though, as he backed another step towards his own car.

“Well, all right, then. Listen, I gotta get back, file some papers. Should have the final by the end of the week, I’ll let you know. You sure you’re all right?”

“Peachy keen. Just gonna rest a bit, then do some pokin’ and measurin’. Probably gonna be out in an hour or so. I think my bed is calling me.”

“Sounds good. Rest up, buddy. You’re not lookin’ so hot, you know?”

George slipped behind the wheel of his car, flipped a wave out the window, and was gone. Keith remained by his truck for a moment, watching the realtor go. For some reason he didn’t want the other man watching him as he entered the house. It seemed… blasphemous.

Once he was sure George was out of sight, he lurched up towards the porch – taking note of the third step and how it bowed under his weight, something to add to the list of fixes – and slid the key into the door.

He took a deep, shuddering breath, and turned the knob.

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