“The Windows Rattled” by Seth Alter

The windows rattled because we had this shitty oil burner in our basement from the turn of the century. The seasons were changing. It was getting colder.

Some days the heater just wouldn’t kick on at all, and we’d shiver under blankets. But on days when we could hear the rats in the wall, we knew they’d go down to the basement. Then lo-and-behold, the heat would finally kick on, and the windows would rattle. Soon there were no more rats in the house.

We live in Salem, Massachusetts, which is a tourist town for Halloween season. The tourists used to love our street. They loved our house, specifically. We never gave out any candy. We never even turned the front light on. They used to gather around the house and one by one try the front door, unless we shooed them away. And then we’d huddle under the covers and listen to the heater, and the rattling windows.

The winter nights were vicious and bitter. “Must be something wrong with the oil heater,” we reasoned. We threw a party, we were so starved for human warmth. One by one our guests arrived and took the stairs not up to the floor we were renting, but down into the basement. We hardly needed the comforters that winter. Every night, we awoke naked and sweating, until at last it was spring.

Seth Alter is fiction writer, generative artist, and game designer living in Salem Massachusetts. He was an artist in residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, and was awarded a fellowship by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in recognition of outstanding work. His work can be found at subalterngames.com. Follow him on Twitter as @SubalternGames