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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Grip of It

A Novel

Jac Jemc

FSG Originals



THE REAL ESTATE AGENT, with his waxy hair and perma-smile, keeps stopping to listen, waving his hand, saying, “That’s just the house settling.”

We think the house seems more than settled and wonder why he’s calling so much attention to the sound and look at the handsome dark wood trim and how many closets are hidden within closets and we stare out the picture window at the woods butted up against the backyard and we probably wouldn’t have heard a thing if he hadn’t mentioned it.

But we do hear a noise, and now that we’re listening, it is unsettling how much it sounds like moaning, but not the bellow of someone in pain, more like an incantation, some sort of ritual snarl.

So we look at each bedroom carefully, hoping to be proven wrong about this place, hoping to find something that convinces us the house is not, in fact, exactly what we’ve been seeking and we ask the agent if we have to worry about crime living so near the woods and he explains that the woods are bounded on the other side by a beach and there is nothing to be afraid of but waves, and we smile politely but, in our minds, we think, A wave can overwhelm and a wave can take away.

We snag on that, but the agent barrels forward, hustling us to the unfinished basement and pretending not to hear the sound in an obvious way and he disappears around a corner and we follow him, only to find him gone.

James and I look at each other, concerned, until a section of the wall spins around, and there stands the agent, face plain, matter-of-fact, saying, “Secret compartments. There are several of them in this room alone.”

He emerges and squats down, lifting up a three-by-three section of flooring to reveal a small, finished crawl space below us, an empty concrete cube, and he reaches above his head and punches up a drop tile to expose another pocket above, lit well, plaster painted a clean, pale blue, and then I reach high above my head, trying to push against other tiles, but they all stick firmly in place.

“Why?” I ask.

“Well, the previous owner seems to have been a bit of a homebody,” he says. “We’re not sure of the original purpose of the rooms, but they do make for a ton of extra storage space.”

I squeeze James’s hand and he squeezes back because we have this way of feeling the same about the unexpected, and I know, like me, he is excited about the secret passages, this being one of the places where we are seamed together, just one instance where we twist in the same spot, mirroring each other and meshing at once.

A stain stammers on one of the walls, a wet grayish blotch, like new papier-mâché edged in black, and I ask the agent about it, and he says, “Water damage, from a leak at the top of the foundation, but it’s been fixed.”

Another crush of our hands together, and we wind our way back up the stairs.

The agent asks us what we think and we don’t actually need time to decide, but James is doing a great job of remembering my instructions. We will not act too eager. We will hide our excitement until we are alone and can take our time to discuss with reason and measure. “We’ll think about it,” I say. “But we’ll let you know soon. We know how quickly a place like this can disappear.”

“Ah, yes. Of course,” the agent says. “No rush. You’ve got my number.”

In the car, James says, “I don’t think that house is going anywhere. No rush? That’s unusual in real estate, right? Especially when it’s so cheap. People should be crawling all over each other to get this place. I know foreclosures can take some time, but No rush? That seemed weird.”

“I had the same thought. I say we make an offer right away, but we lowball it.”

“You’re speaking my language,” he says. “Underestimation is my middle name.”

I tell myself not to discredit my husband’s ability to predict the odds, that I’m trusting my own instinct, not his. I tell myself we can win even if he agrees with me.

Copyright © 2017 by Jac Jemc