Author : Greg R. Fishbone

Agent Stanley, six-time salesman of the month, cut a trail through the switch grass with his machete. His motions were effortless, hardly distracting from his practiced patter about low interest financing.

Behind him trudged the Forrester family. Mr. Forrester swatted mosquitoes from his arms and neck. Mrs. Forrester quietly bemoaned her mud-caked designer shoes. The Forrester children, Gerald and Roxie, fought over a tuna sandwich that represented the last of their daily provisions. The family’s first weekend of house hunting was already a miserable affair.

Agent Stanley’s trailblazing ended abruptly at a precipice with a view of the steamy valley below. “This is a good place to begin. Most of the homes in this valley migrated inland after Hurricane Ronaldo, with a few holdovers from the ’36 flood and some recent foreclosures.”

The Forresters peered down into the fog, where a few house-shaped outlines could be seen moving together toward the northeast. “Do they always travel in packs?” asked Mr. Forrester.

Agent Stanley shrugged. “Not always, but homes by the same developer sometimes form neighborhood associations for their mutual protection. They needn’t worry about burglary, here in the wild, but the security systems don’t know that. Watch your footing on the descent. I tagged a lovely three-bedroom colonial last week that would be perfect for you, if we can find it again.”

The valley was thick with grass and, as Mrs. Forrester loudly noted, a particularly clingy tan-colored mud. Ground cover and trees were common, but not thick enough to prevent houses from moving through. While Mr. Forrester applied more insect repellant and Mrs. Forrester brushed mud from the hem of her skirt, Gerald and Roxie argued over which of them needed more closet space.

Agent Stanley knelt to examine a tree stump. “These cuts are fresh, and the treads lead off in this direction.”

“Houses cut down trees?” asked Gerald.

“They do in the wild, son,” said Agent Stanley. “There aren’t any lumber yards out here, so houses have to make due with what materials they can find.”

“Why do they need lumber if they’re already built?” asked Roxie.

“Repairs. Wear and tear. Or sometimes they feel the need to build a dormer or an addition.”

“Maybe it’s installing crown molding in itself,” said Mrs. Forrester. “I always imagined my first house would have crown molding.” Mr. Forrester put an arm around her shoulders.

The Forristers, with Agent Stanley as their scout, tracked the house through the trees and across the plains. The whine of a buzz-saw grew louder as they approached until, over a small rise, they came upon a team of robotic house-scutters working on a single-story structure with two wide openings in the front.

“We’re in luck!” Agent Stanley exclaimed. “That’s a detached two-car garage–very desirable!”

Mr. and Mrs. Forrester nodded appreciably, while Gerald and Roxie ran forward to play with a robot that seemed to be fashioning shingles from strips of bark. “Be careful, kids!” called Mrs. Forrester.

“Don’t worry.” Agent Stanley chuckled. “Those fourth generation house-scutters are great with children. They cook, they clean, and as you can see, they’re quite handy with home improvements. If you’re ready to make an offer, I’d be happy to–”

He was interrupted by a loud crash, as a four-bedroom Tudor-style house burst into the clearing with red lights blazing in every window. Agent Stanley looked with alarm toward the detached garage, where Gerald Forrester was carving his initials into the door frame with a pocket laser.

“That’s trouble,” said Agent Stanley. “Tudors are notoriously protective of their out-buildings.”


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