Upgrade Your ‘Dumb House,’ Today

In this excerpt of the sci-fi anthology “New Suns,” Andrea Hairston’s short story ‘Dumb House’ follows a woman who resists upgrading her home with new technology.

The following is a short story by Andrea Hairston titled “Dumb House” from the collection New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction By People Of Coloredited by Nisi Shawl.


a book cover that says "new suns" with a black woman wearing a futuristic device on the back of her head

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New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction By People Of Color

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“What the hell would I do in a smart house but lose my mind?”

Cinnamon Jones shook a mop of salt and pepper braids at the sweaty characters panting on the side steps to her dumb house. She had to boost her farm’s horror rep. This was the third time traveling salesmen had braved the path to her door in a week. The two slicksters in fluorescent suits and stingy-brim fedoras fumbled through bulky bags of samples, fronting like throwbacks from the 1950s.

Cinnamon waved them away. “You’re wasting your time.” Her hands were covered in dirt and grease from trying to fix a ventilator in the porch-greenhouse. Spider plants were trailing through the windows, enjoying an afternoon breeze. Daffodils busted out in yellow glory, scenting the air inside and out. “You’re lucky.” Doing Carnival this morning to welcome new leaves and first fruits had put Cinnamon in a decent mood. Otherwise, she’d have been cussing.

“We got just the smart house you need!” one fellow boomed. “Smart and sassy!”

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“How’d you get up here?” The main road was blocked off—Coop security for all the farms. The old African must have left the bike path gate open again, probably even invited the suits in. Cinnamon would have to talk to Taiwo. What good was a monster patrolling the farm perimeter if they didn’t scare folks away? Carnival had sucked up Cinnamon’s people-energy. She didn’t want to see anybody. “I’m not buying. Nothing. I told you guys that online.” Opening the heavy greenhouse door had been a bad idea. It was too hard to close.

“We came a long way on foot, sugar, to see you. In person.” The talker had devilish dimples and misty green eyes—a tall drink of water with a broad chest and a faint accent. Very pale. Northern European? “That path meanders all over hell and back.”

“Evil need a straight line.” Cinnamon chuckled. “That’s elder wisdom from Japan.”

“Word.” The salesmen exchanged glances. The talker cocked his head. “Good don’t get lost in the twists and turns.” He looked back at the maple, birch, and white oak trees hugging the hills. “And everything’s better live, know what I’m saying?” A jewel-encrusted sword pin held his silk tie in place. Wispy white hair was tucked under the fedora. In the last century, maybe, he was a glamorous silver fox who hung out with black folks. Course everybody talked black these days. Twenty-first century English was a child of rap. “I know you been hip-hopping and show-stopping your whole life. And forward thinking too.”

“Not any more, though.” Cinnamon missed the wild person she used to be.

“A dumb house ain’t you.” The fox grinned and spun around, dipped low and jumped high, a dancer. A really sly algorithm had sicced this fellow on her. “Why get stuck in the old school now, girl?”

“Girl?” Cinnamon wasn’t fooled by the hip masquerade. These were poor men—laid off, downsized, hedged out—pushing junk on other poor folks. Desperate, they’d walked two muddy miles to con an old black lady—live, since the online swindles failed. Rescuing her from her retro self was the script. Cinnamon muttered curses at Taiwo for too much African hospitality at the gate and not enough scary juju. “I’m glad I’m old.”

“Me too. You have enough wisdom to appreciate our offer.” The silver fox babbled on about the wonders of the new age. Cinnamon shook her head at his scam-speak and squinted at the short, silent one. He was thin, tan, and eight inches shorter than Cinnamon. He had features from all over the map. Or maybe that was make-up. Sensuous, quivering lips made Cinnamon nervous. Black opal eyes tracked her every move. He was mirroring her, like a theatre game. Slick. Folks moving and breathing with you made you let down your guard.

This was an altogether intriguing pair.


From the book, New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. Copyright 2019 edited by Nisi Shawl. Reprinted by permission of Solaris, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd.


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About Andrea Hairston

Andrea Hairston is a science fiction and fantasy playwright, novelist, and scholar.

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