What I'm about to tell you is true. Its all fucking true, even thought I can't believe it myself. Its so unfucking believable that I'd understand if you called me a liar and punched me in my goddamn nose after listening to everything I say. But I ask for just that: listen to everything that I say before you punch me.
It was December last year, probably around the fifth I think, when my story should begin. I'd been struggling with unemployment, living on boiled lentils and boiled rice because packets of ramen noodles were too expensive for me. Do you have any fucking idea how utterly destitute you feel when ramen is too expensive for you? No? Good, I hope you never do because it was right up there with, oh, I don't know, maybe whatever the most humiliating thing that ever happened to you is.
I'd laze and veg out on my sofa -I'd found on the side of the road while walking back from work when I was employed. All it cost me was a few splinters in my fingers from dragging it a foot at a time and a sore back for a week.- after sending out a dozen emails to Craig's list job postings. I had an RSS-feed set up for the bastards who posted, which was rare enough as it was. I could hear the eager mouse-clicks of every other unemployed asshole in the city as I clicked the new ad, a cacophony of despair, futility and hopelessness. Anyways, I was lying on my ratty-ass sofa watching TV on my computer, because I'd shed cable. My utilities had become too expensive, one by one as my personal recession lengthened from weeks into months.
When the banks had been bailed out, I'd had a faint glimmer of hope: maybe, with increased slush credit, employers could start hiring employees. But no, my hope crackled and sautéed away in a whiff of foul smoke that left my mouth feeling metallic from rising sour bile and fear. The employees were safe, financially, so saw no need to jeopardize their stable footing by hiring on any poor saps who might hurt their already shrunk bottom line. I, like millions of other unemployed scum, was a symptom to be clucked over, an abstraction to be argued over, a statistic to be manipulated by those with jobs to coax more federal funds from the spigot of taxation. To provide for the common good, from the common goods. Asshats, all of 'em.
Aways, I'd been sending off emails all afternoon- ones that I knew I'd never get any replies to- so I decided I'd reward myself by vegging out. I fired up VidAgg, a Linux package that you could watch live TV streams from other VidAgg users who volunteered their uploads. Besides gas, electricity and water, I paid for high-speed Internet: the things I couldn't live without. My monthly total was around $500 a month. Minuscule amount, really, for any CEO or banker who would probably make that sum within several hours in a day's work, but it was a massive sum that voraciously bit into my emaciated savings in hungry chunks.
The flickering glow of rapidly changing pictures and camera shots filled my bedroom. The audio cutout in mid-sentence and the stream froze. Fuck me I thought it better not be Comcast throttling me, I ain't seeding anything. In my mind, I swung up from the couch and reset my router. In reality, I mournfully stared at the green lights merrily and rotely announcing each bit of data as it shuttled through my CAT5 cable, and wished really hard that the lump of plastic would power-cycle itself. My stomach growled and a sharp pang in my guts reminded me that I'd not eaten anything since breakfast, 5 hours ago. And breakfast had been last night's leftovers of cold mushy lentils atop soggy, gelatinous rice: which, in turn, had been leftovers from December 2nd when I had first cooked the food en masse. I hated fractions so cooked the entire 2 pound bag of rice and 2 1-pound bags of lentils in one go instead of dividing up everything in my head.
I willed one leg off of my sofa. I left it slide off the cushion and land on the floor with a ankle-jarring thud. I picked up my hips from the couch and decided I really didn't feel like getting up in mid-thrust. Too much damn effort. I sunk them back down again, feeling the cushion underneath my lazy ass give way. I lay, half on and half off of the couch. My leg off the couch decided the course of events for me: my nutritionally-withered muscles gave way from holding the rest of my body aloft on the couch and I flopped onto the floor with an apartment-shaking wump. I felt the cool wooden floor kissing and wick away heat from my face. My three day old stubble was useless as thermal insulation against the callous floor.
I eventually got up, and shuffled to the kitchen. My cat, Sampson, streaked ahead of me, an orange and white blur as he accelerated to speeds only known during feeding times. I flipped the hall lights off behind me (my electricity was based on kilo wattage, not a flat rate) and flipped the kitchen's lights on. Sampson sat on the kitchen floor, his legs bowed out from underneath him, by his bowl and looked expectantly up at me. I stood in the doorway for a few seconds, just watching him watch me. He lifted his haunches, padded over to his polyvinyl plastic food container and then sat down, gazing intently into its depths. What visions he parsed from watching, I don't know, but I sensed him wishing he had opposable thumbs as he gazed at the edible contents of the opaque half-filled cube.
I started towards the fridge and changed course to vector to his bowl. I popped open snaplocks and lifted a small cup of food for him, letting it dribble into his bowl. He nuzzled in even before my hand had completely cleared the bowl and began to munch. He purred as he ate, showing his gratification for the physical demonstration of my live. It was the small things, like his unrequited affection for me, that prevented my absolute mental collapse from the sagging remnets that I claimed was my life.
I paused before opening the fridge door, envisioning what I would see: ravioli, steaming hot and bathed with meat-studded red sauce? Leftover lo mein with buried vegetables poking out from the translucent strands? I opened the door and had my heart sink as fast as the cool air inside spread out over my bare toes. A single, glass bowl of lentils and rice sat in the middle of the metal-wire shelf, congealed white paste crusting on the rim as moisture evaporated from the dessicated husks of once-cooked rice. A half-filled water container, bought during halcyon days of employment, kept the omnipresent bowl company. They both glared at my intrusion into their cozy domain. I felt sick about spooning the bowl's content into my stomach. I grabbed a glass out of the dishwasher, wiped the ghostly image of my lips from the rim with my T-shirt's tail (after sliding my grip a half-inch to the right to bypass a crusty stain of who-the-fuck-knows what: not me, and I was wearing the damn thing), and gulped down a glass of filtered water. I poured the remainder of the container into my glass and downed that too. My stomach's rumbling ceased, temporarily mollified by the volume of liquid inside it. As the glass finalized and tilted downwards away from my face, I watched black specks of the charcoal filter trickle down the side, encased on globules of water. I wrinkled my nose at them, and put the glass back into my dishwasher.
Sampson had scarfed down his food and was washing his face with a paw be-dewed with spittle. Great. When he nuzzled me next, I'd be smelling purina on his furry breath.
I mentally cataloged what my options were for the rest of the evening: video games, Internet TV, bath, job applications, library, walk... I decided that a bath was the best balance between productivity and self-indulgence. I padded into the hallway from the kitchen, turning the light off behind me.
My bathroom was luxuriously big. There was a walk-in close with a folding door's mirror that accordion-ed in or out into various segments. Whoever designed the mirror either hated steamy showers or hadn't fully planned ahead as to what happened when humid, hot air met a flat, cool surface. The bathroom also had a massive counter, with a sink sunk in the middle of it, that was backed by a counter top-to-ceiling mirror. The bath was perpendicular to the counter's end, while the closet was a the foot of the bath. The closet's face angled at a forty-five degree angle before intercepting the toilet's alcove. From any point in the bathroom I could look into a mirror and see, if my monitor had been strategically angled towards the doorway, the image on the computer's screen.
I bunched the shower curtain a the head of the bathtub, listening to the satisfying shink of metal rings scraping along a hallow metal bar.
I opened the water's hot-tap wide and waited a few seconds for the mineral-laden water to transform from a muddy rust color to one that retained normal translucent shade. I had to scrub away a ring every other week from the inside of the bathtub and the toilet. The toilet had these scummy-rust stains where water leaked from the underside of the bowl, where water would shoot out from the reserve to start spinning the bowl and its contents. I'd given up on that before I'd gave up on laundry.
I watched the tub water slowly being to fill up. I stripped out of my clothes. My pants fell quickly, aided by a heavy belt. I stepped out of the crumpled mass of canvass clinging to my ankles. With my toe, I flipped them into the corner of the bathroom by the trashcan, knocking over the trashcan. Fuck. I watched as crumpled Kleenex, wax-crusted ear-swabs and a rolled up used tube of toothpaste freed themselves onto my tiled floor. Whatever, I'd get them after the bath. Its not like my floor was immaculate, anyways.
I hopped on alternate feet to peel my socks down on themselves, rolling each off one by one. Before I launched the last one to join its brethren in the bathroom corner, I guiltily huffed the sickly-salty stench of day old grime. Yes, I'm a sock-sniffer and I've bet you've sniffed one or two if you were honest. Don't you judge me, you asshole, you. I wiggled out of my ratty t-shirt, a thank you gift from a blood-drive back in high-school. Most of my t-shirts were freebies: I hated to spend money that could go to food, rent or heat on things that I could find for free. Did you know that during championship sporting events, T-shirts and hats are printed up for each side of the team? The winning team dons them usually with 30 seconds of the end game time. The losing team? Well, their gear gets donated to third world countries. Swear to god, saw it in national geographic once.
I admired my slightly-pudgy but naked body in the mirror for a few seconds. I bared my teeth and noticed a lone lentil caught between my incisor and canine. I picked at it, curling my tongue until the little fucker fell out and I ate him. I picked around my mouth, looking for more leftovers stuck between my dentures. I had to give up the visual search when the mirror fogged over from the steam emanating from the shower.
The bathtub water level reached the saftey drain and started to pour out. I shut the taps off and looked at the ripples slowly spreading out on the surface of the tub, dissipating energy into a still nothingness. I hooked my index finger into the water: insanely hot, just the way I liked it.
The light switch was within arm's length. I swatted at it and kicked the bathroom door halfway-closed in a procedure of modesty. I had non but sometimes late in the evening kids would play outside on the lawn. I didn't want to add being a pedophile to my list of troubles.
The entire community was a sprawling town-house style apartment complex. It'd been built about a half-decade ago during the economic boom-time and filled to the brim with yuppies who didn't schlepping to work an hour each way. Jobs dried up causing the suburbs to contract violently, turning into ghost towns, patrolled by private security firms to prevent methheads from ripping copper out of the walls. Nice, huh? I'd moved in on a three-month free deal, which I'd negotiated to be spread out over 12-months instead of the first three months free. So far, that was the one financial success story I'd accomplished since leaving college. No, who am I kidding? High school. College only granted me the right to pay off ballooning student loans on a worthless piece of paper. Fuckers, the entire system was run by a bunch of shit-sucking fuckers.
I sighed and toed the water before I committed to get into it completely. I slowly sunk in, watching the water displace. My right arm slid out and across of the tub's wall, my knuckles brushing against the cool tiled floor as it hung limply. My left-hand side of the tub was flush against the wall, making no end of torment for my OCD's displeasure at having my body's symmetry maligned.
I slid down into the water until it covered my stubbled-chin. It felt nice to completely relax and float away for a few hours.
Sampson came and pawed the door wide open before wandering back out. I threw a shampoo bottle at the door, half-closing it again.
Sampson, brought again by the clatter, pawed the door wide open and looked at me as he sat in the door frame.
"Buddy, one side or the other," I admonished him. He twitched his tail. It was a visual joust worthy of Roland. He saw something down the hallway and hissed. His back immediately poofed up like an invisible van der graff generator had been switched on over him. He hissed and growled deep in the back of his throat, layed his ears alongside his head and disappeared into the other room.
What da fuck, I thought he's only like this when the neighbor's dog is nearby.
I got halfway out of the tub, my hand stabilizing myself when I saw it in the door frame.
It. Jesus. How do I describe whatever the fuck that horror was?
I saw a bloodshot eye about the size of a grapefruit. It had crusty, oozing pus surrounding the corners and a yellowish tint someone with liver problems. But it wasn't part of a pair: it was cyclopean. And on the shoulder. At least, I think it was a shoulder: it had a segmented arm hanging from it. The arm was coated with a crustacean-like shell, knobby spiny and it looked hard. It had stunted thick hair or feelers or something coming out of it. You could see softer flesh, venous and light-green for a short period before armour covered it again: like a knight's chainmail poking through under his plate armour. A horrendous mass of wavering whip-like limbs and feelers coated with spaghetti-thick hair floated behind it.
It was looking right. The fuck. at. me.
I flipped out. Who wouldnt? I yelled and it disappeared. I burst from the bathroom, grabbing a towel and sloshing half the tub behind me. I couldn't be sure what I'd seen- still am not now. The first thought racing through my head was that I'd drempt it.
I saw nothing in the bedroom, nothing in the kitchen, hallway or dining room. Nothing at all. I searched the entire house. If indeed I had seen anything, it was long gone.
Except for one thing.
A small, blue kittey collar with a bell on it was on the kitchen floor. The bell was smeared in blood.
It seemed Sampson was gone, too.