The man was standing in the hallway between the living room and bedroom when he first noticed it: a dark splotch resembling a marble caught in black velvet. It grew in the seam where wall met ceiling, standing out against the jaundiced white paint. Probably mold, he thought. What else could it be? More useless questions swirled through his head: How long has he been standing here? What time is it? He bashed his palm against the bruised place on his brow, knocking the questions away. The hardwood floor felt greasy under his bare feet and he scrunched his toes over the grit of dust and crumbs, scraping sediment under his brown toenails. Standing there, staring at the black fungus above him, the Man forgot why he was in the hall in the first place.
The apartment was cluttered, but more by the stale atmosphere of trash and mold than any real belongings. In the living room was a couch you could call “threadbare” and “gross” if you were being polite. What remained of the wool pillows was caked with mildew. The last time he was outside, things were essentially the same as inside: chaotic and trash-strewn, hot wet air hanging over everything and collecting on surfaces in a sheath of grease, sprouting parasitic mushrooms that stole oxygen from the Earth’s tired lungs, planting in them hallucinogenic spores that dissolve the brain in a series of irreversible lesions until nothing remains but a foamy gray lump at the top of the spinal column.
Across from the sofa was a TV set that didn’t work. Over the TV hung a mantle with one of its own cracked bricks placed atop like a trophy. The walls behind it were speckled with constellations of mold spores blooming in a variety of colors. The Man thought about the walls often because he was sure they’d absorbed too much moisture and were ready to collapse around him any second. If he touched even a fingertip to one it would burst like a throbbing pustule, spilling torrents of bile laced with mold and insulation melted together in slimy intestinal ropes.
Instead of television he watched piles of food containers full of rotten leftovers drift across the floor like sand dunes, migrating with his movements around them. Him, the wind, he imagined the trash thought of him. To the couch he was the betrayal of gravity, which decided that after however many millennia of keeping itself together it would rather give up, to stop holding in its gut and crush everything flat against the Earth. To the TV he was nothing because it was dead, its blackened eye flaking decay into the cloistered air. Before, when there was still life in it, the eye had closed, showing the Man his reflection for the first time in a year. The light from the hallway behind him revealed the silhouette of a thin, hunched creature he didn’t like. The Man killed the television with a brick from the mantle. There was a mirror above the bathroom sink, but his lack of nutrients had led to a waste disposal routine that could just as easily be taken care of in the kitchen. The Man hit himself before the question spiral could start again and began sealing off the bathroom with duct tape. He wanted to keep its air separate from his.
A prophylactic of grime grafts a defensive sheath over vulnerable pores or cleaned gashes. Mucus membranes providing non-allowance. Bacterial invasion blooms crimson threads over sinuous hills and valleys; abrading long railway tracks of internal ascomycotan sacs threatening tears that shear their way through organs to the surface in a firework display of blood and mold and excrement and bacteria that drift on the invisible breezes flowing in ribbons toward undefended dermal gasps. Reports and articles still trickle into the nets he’d set up to catch them, but now they collect in sedimentary layers, hardening like calcified leeches on the backs of his eyes and parasitizing ocular nutrition, poisoning peaceful sights into rotten heaps of dead children in playgrounds and men in bars and women in their homes, interred separately, together. None of them understood how to protect themselves, and it was too late to help.
He was standing outside the bathroom when he noticed the black crumbs milling back and forth under the crack in the closed bedroom door. Before recognizing the crumbs as ants he thought he was seeing the mold itself migrate. He jumped away from the door, furiously wiggling his toes to free any microscopic beasts lodged in the infected spaces in between. Hunched over the ants without daring to get too close—as if they might jump—he watched the tide rise and fall over the threshold. The infection between his toes was on fire, the skin a mottled pink and red peeling away in foamy clumps of brown fungus. The hardened pus under his skin provided a layer of protection against the bacterium’s attempts to bludgeon its way into his bloodstream.
The Man turned away from the bedroom, crossing the filth-covered floor down the hallway toward the living room. As the mold on the ceiling started to balloon the Man noticed faint red lines blooming downwards from the crest of the small black orb. He stared at it for so long he thought he could hear it. A high-pitched but not unpleasant ringing sound, the chime of a bell slowed down retaining its original key. The Man closed his eyes, listening to the siren song emanating from the flora of his personal sky. He looked away from the ceiling toward the living room. The leaking wounds between his toes had left a trail leading to the spot where he often found himself standing. Thin yellow curds of pus with strands of red and brown threaded their way through.
Blue foil less grimed than most rides the crest of a wave of a dune over days and weeks across zones, bouncing off the cement barriers of this world’s contained, solid sky; cast orange by the glassfire star and constellated with freckled blackness that followed their own predestiny towards throngs of spores clumped in orbicular protrusions that bloom at the crown in blushing crimson lips that glisten with strands of nocent lanugo.
His eyesight was growing poor due to his body’s severe malnutrition and the apartment’s lack of light or healthy air. The Man was certain the infected skin between his toes was trying to flee like passengers from a sinking ship. Fungal growths stood out in dustlike clumps when he clasped them in his fingers. Gently pulling on them, he felt the fiery sensation of flesh peeling away in a thin layer. The acrid air felt cool against the bare, glistening strip on his foot. The Man held the ribbon of skin in front of him, close enough so his eyes could focus. A stomach-turning, bacterial smell hit him. He quickly drew his hand away, nearly tossing a piece of himself onto a pile of garbage.
Feed it, the Man thought. He sat for a long time, trying to figure out where the idea had come from and
what it meant.
Then he was in the hallway, the thought metastasizing and swirling, taking over. Hypnotized, the Man raised his arm up toward the puckering lips on the ceiling’s black balloon, offering it the slab of postulant skin. The lips of the fungal sac had spread and a glistening black tongue pocked by dozens of deep craters emerged. He laid the ribbon of flesh onto it. The tongue greedily retreated behind the lips, depositing the skin then emerging empty. The Man stared at the tongue, at the gasping holes in its slug-like body, then bent down and pulled another strip of skin from his foot.
Crystalline plane side-streams the present inside itself, in opposite of sighted luminous motion where the world is an abyssal suicide bag with sharp corners and unseen bone fixtures protruding from the cavity walls and rising sea of fungal adipocere. It stands ankle deep in wait unblinking eyes fixed in total nothing. Then: Dawn of the new world, glowing dull fire, slow on a tilted horizon before nailed still to the bottom of the wall of the sky. A band of dawn-glow falls across an appendage may-having been hand and arm. A carapace formed in the dark; Sporous mold, sharp and barnacled, sheathed over a calcium bludgeon.
Hundreds of ants streamed back and forth under the tape sealing the bedroom door, its glue rendered useless by a thick coat of grime and the bodies of the less fortunate among their hordes. They hunt the territories with impunity now, encountering only natural hazards in the mountains and valleys of rotting trash no longer guarded by the decaying leviathan. The door of the bathroom still stood ajar when the mirror inside shattered. The ants fled en masse to the safety of the semi-sealed bedroom. Their world quaked as a new monster emerged, nudging the door open and looking out over the far-flung orange lands beyond the crooked horizon. Detritus of millennia collected in glaciers.
The sky was low in this world. As the creature passed through the mouth of the great canyon it recognized the dark sack hung beside the sun. The sweet odor that came off the syrup on the orbs golden slit. Reaching out with its right arm, a hand still at its end, the creature extended a finger to stroke the wet, shining lips. They bloomed and unfolded, spilling out sweet nectar before dropping a crimson placenta onto the oily hardpan. The splatter against the creature’s bare shins was refreshing.
The creature saw at its feet, beside the placenta, a foaming yellow, red, and brown heap of infection. Two dark orbs at one end rolled around like polished obsidian, fixing on the thing above it. From a gaping hole just below the glimmering stones the pile made a sound. The creature stared down at it, making no sense of its gibberish. Before the orifice could repeat itself the creature brought its petrified limb down onto the hissing protrusion with a wet crunch. Viscera misted the creature’s cheeks. The pile crushed to silence. The creature took the placental bag and stood up, heading further into the valley until it reached the dark cavern at the end.
It settled into a nest of torn wool sacks. The succulent aromas emitted by the flora of its world took root, mutating the landscape into swamp and bludgeoning nights with storms of bacterial spores. The placenta sat in the creature’s lap. Punctured by its barnacled fingers, the bag spilled fluid and something else with another slap: a wet, darkly veined mask of human skin. The dead eye across from the nest showed the creature back at itself. Moving slowly, it pulled the mask out of its lap, sliding the flesh down over its scalp and face. The image it saw was broken, but that was okay. It always had been.
by Diana K. Malek
... The locals called the pond The Oasis although / It didn’t live up to the name ...
by Marisca Pichette
... caught under the waves / of the glorious purple / night ...