En skrekk - halloween story
I am on call today, I hate being on call. I can’t settle into anything, I like to be up early for a little breakfast by the window with a book I read for 1 minute and my phone that I spend 59 minutes on. I took this maintenance job five months ago because the perks included this apartment. I figured it would be a good gig, fixing things and living nearby. It’s been total chaos ever since, I live with the other maintenance person and each day they become a bit more territorial for the job and a bit more feral, they’re an animal I swear. What’s worse is this disruptive schedule, I don’t mind working but I like to know what kind of days I’ll have free. So I can plan things. So I can be a human.
I make my oatmeal and tea and sit by my window. It is a crisp, blade-sharp day and here I am caught in this on call limbo. If I were completely free, I’d be on the other side of town having a cold, French breakfast with a big, foamy coffee. Or if I were working, I’d be organizing our shed. But here I am, in a work shirt and pajama bottoms, half in and half out.
I pick up my book and start a new short story: “Tires screech on paved roads, trails grow over with enterprising blades. A day is long, but you are not in the night.” What am I even reading? I have been reading lots of American stories from the Pacific northwest, piney simple slivers of life where you can smell the sap. But a friend recommended me these cryptic stories; the back of the book says they are folk tales crossing many different borders and cultures. They’re alright.
I get on my phone, I’m just going to message the landlord and get to the bottom of this day. Is the work outfit getting completed or will the pajamas spread over my body with me succumbing to a day of nothing? The landlord sees my message immediately, types a bit, then nothing. I distract myself with food and more of my book: “When it calls, you arise with action lest your half hearted efforts let light into your hollow machinery.” What?
An hour passes in tense idleness and boiled water nourishment. I am beckoned by my boss in the end, “can u check mrs ballants tub in 43D at noon?” I have two hours to kill, so I walk to the store and back. The razor cold day continues, I am mint fresh awake. I like my hillside neighborhood and its slanted houses, they will slide off like egg yolks one day, right into the river. A house has been demolished recently. In its current state, the construction fence has been left open. The rubble and dust is a joy to walk over, so much life was lived here. I feel the phantom limb and imagine its many secrets, quarrels, families, lonelinesses, and stories. There isn’t much left in the way of evidence, but this mighty cavity is bewildering. In a patch of rubble, in the elbow of the L shaped pit left by the basement, I overturn a concrete stone and find the exact book I’m reading. This is certainly not the same copy, my borrowed copy is in great condition and is newer where this demolition nested book is dusty and frayed. I can’t see a single personal possession besides this book among this site. I open to the story I started today: “Tyres screech on paved roads, paths overgrown with adventurous grass. A day is long, but you are not in the night.” I take it along with me, I can keep this one and give my friend theirs back.
I get to the store to buy oranges and the owner informs me that they are out, but there are some blood oranges. Simply taste different and have darker flesh. I take them and look around a bit, I don’t recognize much on the shelves, owner says he’s flipping his entire inventory. “Gotta stay fresh,” he says. Squash oil, duckbill stock, candied tulips, mustard seed paste, dried fish scales. My fruit is the same price as before, so I don’t mind. I don’t buy anything extra.
I set the oranges on my shelf in my room, I don’t even want to chance my roommate taking my things. I grab my work belt and tools and head to 43D. The landlord owns two apartment buildings that are book-ended by three houses, which they also own. I traverse these houses to get Mrs. Ballant’s, nobody is home but many of the windows are open and within I see empty rooms, emptier than I remembered. It’s the middle of the month, nobody is moving out. I glance into one window and notice that all the furniture is piled against the east wall. Bed, dresser, desk, chair, nightstand, lamp, in a totem pole of quotidian equipment. I’d say they were cleaning, but the floor is still dusty and littered. I will mind my own business in moving on.
I knock on 43D, never having met Mrs. Ballant. I strike the door hard and announce “maintenance!” I hear a rummaging slither from inside, so I wait. I hear a door open, water gushing and an oily liquid seeps out from under this front door where I’m standing. Here we go. I hear a guttural growl, I respond with a knock and another “maintenance!” But get no response. I can’t let any more water damage happen, so I take my universal key and unlock the bolt. The door opens with difficulty, gooey swamp sludge rushes out, deep enough just to the top of my boots. It doesn’t smell horrible, so I can rule out sewage. Rather I smell a brininess, like a low tide gurgle. “Hello?! Mrs. Ballant?” No response as I shut the door behind me. I need to find the source to this mess, so I find the bathroom door. It is waterlogged and not budging. The two rooms next to it have no signs of water damage through the walls, but they also have furniture piled against their east wall. I hear another low rumbling vocal sound. I take out my knife and try the lock, but it feels sealed on the sides and top. The salty sludge is still coming from underneath. I stab into the door panel along the glue line, I wedge it into the bottom plank and wedge a sliver of wood off. I get a stream of goo right in my face. There is some serious build up in there, so I start hacking away and fighting the viscous current, trying not to gag at the sea smell emanating from this swampy flow. As I remove the entire lower panel of the door, the fluids seem to stop flowing hard so I can just barely fit my torso underneath it. My clothes are ruined already, so I hold my breath and crawl under the door. When I unfold myself on the other side of the door, the room is dark. I wipe my eyes of slime and they adjust to the dark. On the east wall, there is a long candle dotted with wicks that are aflame. In this flickering light I start to take in an unwelcome form lodged into Mrs. Ballant’s bathtub. What appears to be a six foot nautilus shell has been placed in this clawfoot basin, the faucet is hidden behind this spiral monstrosity and rather than a creature residing in this carapace, the briny goo is gushing out. As I observe this, awestruck, I noticed the stream trickle to almost stopping and burst out in an animal growl. Being in the same room as it shows me that there is a sense of exhalation and relief in this sound. I feel the shell and it is slightly hairy and silky like a sting ray’s skin, but it is freezing cold. I want out of this room, this is beyond my scope. As I turn to leave, the shell starts to turn slowly. This only hastens my exodus. As I dive under the door, I hear the rotations hasten and a large clang as if the tub has been uprooted. I arise from the sludge as the bathroom door is torn through by the nautilus. Its momentum carries through and I leave 43D as the shell crashes into the door frame, effectively plugging any more salt slime from leaving. The hallway carpet is ruined, but only in a five foot radius. The mouth to the six foot shell is inside the apartment, so I assume it will only get worse.
I pull out my phone to call the landlord, but there is no answer. I text him, “43D is ruined, you better come see this.” I get a swift reply from him, “nevermind that, get over to 2A in the east building.” I can’t imagine anything worse than this so I oblige and head there, assuming the landlord will meet me so I can try to tell him what happened to Mrs. Ballant’s former abode. I cross the courtyard of three houses, this time however the windows are shut but I can still see inside. The furniture seems to still be packed onto the east wall but now in black boxes. I have no idea where one finds bed sized black cardboard containers, but these boxes glisten. There is no time to wonder, so I hurry along the deserted courtyard. Not a single possession outside either; no bikes, toys, grills, patio furniture, flower pots, nothing. I start to hear an irregular drumming sound as I approach the east building.
2A is on the third floor, so I climb up expecting the landlord to be waiting for me. There is nobody there, so I approach the door. The erratic percussion is coming from within, so I knock loud and yell “maintenance!” This only makes the beating sounds get more loud and chaotic, so I try the door. The doorknob is scorching hot to the touch yet unlocked, so I open the door with my boot, burnt rubber in the air. Any sense besides hearing disappears as a cavalcade of deafening, booming sounds overwhelm me as the door opens. I cover my ears but the physical presence of the beating, drumming sounds are making me lose my balance. It is an upstream wade trying to enter this room, I have never heard anything so loud in my life. As I enter, there is another monstrous shell, but this time an eight foot spiny murex shell is releasing tonal chaos into the world through its many spikes. I fear getting close to it, but I must stop this deafening onslaught, so I approach it only to be further deafened. As the pounding sounds becoming a ringing in my ears, I notice a hatch on its side. I open it and there is a small opening, big enough for a human body. There must be a way to mute this infernal sound, so I
climb inside the crevice and find myself a bit wide for it, as I straighten myself up I slide down several feet into a further cavern, but the pounding sounds are muffled here
I am in total darkness so I feel around for anything at all
but the shell tube is slick with no floor, I am ensconced
inside of an ivory tomb, no top or bottom. I reach
my hands above me and find nothing and I wave
my feet underneath me but am met with nothing
Here I am stuck as in an unending tube sock
This is a chrysalis squeezing me in but
the pounding is yet incessant, I’m stuck
and blind, but not deaf. My own yells are
drowned out by the drumming but I can
just make out the shape of this vessel by
the echoing of my high tenor echoes
there is a bottom to my tomb sheath
I squeeze myself thin but I do not move
I remember my knife, do I risk carving
my tombs liner or do I drop it to hear
the end? I stab into the sides but to
no avail. I drop a few pocket
objects and hear them gather
at a point. I carve more, but
nothing gives. I am running
fast out of oxygen in this
new thumping tomb
I kick at the walls,
I punch above.
Slip the knife
past my waist
I let it fly,
A beam of light and fresh air.
The cacophony wanes as the light intensifies, I am still stuck but I can breath again and I can feel the warmth coming from below. The hard sides of this tube soften to rubber as I wriggle myself looser and looser. The sides become moist as I start to drop. There is still light as I fall through many passages and tubes, snaking along a wet curling slide. I come to a halt in a bright chamber with a hole in the ceiling where I fell through. In this room lies another long candle object, but these wicks have light streaming from them, difficult to look at. This room is blinding and hot, yet full of fresh air gusting by and around me. I can’t sit still in such a place. My clothes are dried quickly and still reek of salt water. I start to feel around the floor and feel stone, there is no stone in this apartment building, even the basement rooms are finished. It is a carved stone with writing. I trace the words with my fingers, I still can not see well in this bright white room. I follow the writing and feel: “It has called, yet you sink into inaction. Let your apathy be forgotten.” The chamber’s heat intensifies and I can not stand it, I start sprinting from wall to wall, crashing around high and low trying to find a way out. There is more and more writing but I do not have time for it, I must survive. I find the hottest wall and kick its metallic slats, cracking under my boots. I kick and kick, drenched again but now with sweat, the wall gives in and I am pushed out with the hot air escaping into the bright day.
I am on the east wall of the east building and I look back towards it. The walls seem to be about to explode with pressure, like an over inflated tire. I am exhausted and disgusting, so I clear away from the building and throw myself onto the ground. In my supine state, I see the walls of the apartments give way as black rectangular comets burst through, leaving just the frame and roof of the building. I pull out my phone to call anybody, but the screen is bright black with static and unresponsive. My place seems unharmed so I make my way to it.
My door is locked as I left it, I come inside and everything is as it was. Roommate’s things are in order, not a single sound from outside. I can’t deal with this, I’m going to bed. I enter my room and slip on a thick slime on the ground, there are orange rinds everywhere and a red sticky puddle. I slam the door shut from the floor, I strip my smeared work clothes off and leap onto my bed. It is 2am and the sun is still out. My bed is hard and uncomfortable, I am stricken with pain from this incomprehensible day.