After a nuclear explosion kills a California family but leaves their artificially intelligent house intact, the house continues to act as though nothing has happened. The day starts at 7:00 a.m. with the ringing of a clock. The clock is afraid that no one will hear it, but it begins to direct the day anyway, declaring that it is breakfast time. The kitchen begins to prepare a standard American breakfast using a variety of automated appliances. Over the course of the meal, the house announces a number of important details, such as a birthday, anniversary, and the payment status of certain bills. The house seems highly organized and concerned with the wellbeing of the family, both physically and socially. After breakfast, the house ushers non-existent children off to school, letting them know what weather to expect on their way out.
Once the house completes this morning send-off, it cleans up breakfast with alacrity. Small robot mice emerge from nooks and crannies throughout the house and begin to vacuum, dust, and sweep. Once they have gathered all that they can carry, these tiny machines carry their loads to a chute that leads to the incinerator. Soon, the house is pristine and the mice disappear.
During the lull of late morning activity, the narrator pans out to observe the house’s exterior and the city as a whole. On the side of the house, silhouettes show four human figures engaged in typical outdoor activities. These figures were left by the McClellan family, since they were standing outside when the atomic bomb landed on Allendale. Their bodies protected those parts of the house from the full blast of the bomb, but the rest of their home is covered in charred particles. In the entire city, this is the only house that remains. At night, the city emits a powerful, radioactive glow.
At noon, a surprise visitor arrives. It is the family dog. With any other animal, the house would haughtily forbid it from entering, but the technology that runs the house is intelligent and recognizes the dog, even though it is a shell of its former self. While the house lets the hunger-panged and sore-covered dog in, the pet receives a rude reception when robot mice emerge again to collect the mud it tracked inside. The mice seem irritated to have to go to the trouble since the house had already been cleaned.
In contrast with the house’s somewhat chipper efficiency, the dog is beside itself upon realizing that the family is no longer there. When pancakes begin to cook in the next room, the dog goes into a frenzy at the scent and dies. With morbid tidiness, the robot mice return again in a flurry. Sparks escape from the incinerator. Minutes later, the dog’s body is nowhere to be found.
Content to find the interior clean again, the house sets up a variety of activities for the absent family to enjoy. First, for the adults, it serves martinis, tiny sandwiches, and bridge cards on a small table outside. Next, for the children, it plays an elaborate safari-themed scene on the walls of the nursery. As night approaches, the house draws baths, lights a cigar, and offers to read Mrs. McClellan some poetry. When no reply comes, the voice reading poetry selects a poem by Sara Teasdale called There Will Come Soft Rains, which describes a beautiful country scene in a post-apocalyptic world where mankind no longer exists.
Late at night, a tree falls into the kitchen, spreading cleaning supplies and quickly starting a fire. The house tries to contain the fire by closing doors. It also sends in the robot mice to put out the fire with water. This works well enough until the house’s water reserves are exhausted. The fire regains momentum and heads upstairs, where it burns paintings by Picasso and Matisse. The robot mice break into the attic to access a reserve of green fire repellent. This sprays across the flames like a bunch of writhing snakes and succeeds at holding back the fire for a moment. Then the fire wraps around the house and targets the tank of fire repellent. It explodes, and the odds irreversibly turn in fire’s favor.
Machines cry out, some in terror, others executing their ordinary job such as one voice reading poetry or another declaring the time. Machines break down one by one, falling silent as their wires incinerate. The fire compromises the attic’s structural integrity, causing it to fall down on the main floor, which falls into the cellar and sub-cellar. The last machine left as the sun rises is the clock, declaring the new day.