Neil came home that night immensely tired and broken. He gripped the top of his steering wheel with both hands, leaning forward, as he drove through the neighborhood. His eyelids felt like anvils and his arms and legs ached. The vents were blasting as he turned up the heat, but still he shivered relentlessly. The digital clock to the right of the dashboard read 12:13 am, but it was always an hour behind and Neil couldn't be bothered to correct it.
He drove slowly, afraid of both the possibility of ice on the road and the utter darkness of the night. The headlights seemed to be terribly ineffective against these deep shadows. He'd lived in this town all his life, and the lights from the windows of the familiar houses had all been cut for the night. On his route back to his house, a single car passed him, and he wondered what they were doing out at this hour, and wondered if they wondered the same about him.
Finally he pulled up to the curb in front of his home. Snow had piled up to completely conceal the grass underneath. Across the street, some kids had built a snowman with no eyes or arms, or really any distinguishing human features. Just a pile of snow.
Nearly slipping on the thin layer of ice on his porch, he unlocked his creaking front door and went inside.
He turned on the lights and looked. Sure enough, it was still there.
He couldn't help but stare at it for a few moments. He supposed that even if he had been living with this thing for years, it would still be foreign and partly horrifying. Yet, it had only been a few weeks since it appeared. Or, rather, since he first noticed it.
The thing resided in the back corner of the dining room. It was roughly circular in shape, bent and contorted upwards by the walls that it seemed to be swallowing. The edges were imperfect like the edges of splattered paint on canvas. It was impossibly black, mesmerizingly so, as if space there had simply ceased to exist. To the immediate eye it looked less like an abyss and more like a void. Neil had found that that was not the case, however, as he once dropped a pencil down into it and it fell and fell until it was devoured by the nothingness. He checked the basement, where the pencil should have ended up had it truly gone downwards, but it was nowhere to be found. The Void had taken it for itself, or perhaps it had sent it somewhere else. He wondered if his floorboards and drywall had met the same fate.
He'd followed up this pencil experiment with another similar one only to find the same results. He tossed baseballs horizontally into where his wall once was, and if The Void obeyed all the laws that Neil knew about spacial dimensions, it should hit the kitchen wall on the other side. Although unintuitive (and frankly impossible), the ball did exactly as Neil predicted: it arced, and then fell, colliding with nothing, getting smaller and smaller until it was just a speck and then it simply disappeared.
He conducted several more experiments, all of which only confirmed his supernatural suspicions. He once probed inside the thing with a thermometer with surprising results; the mercury inside the tube of the thermometer floated, breaking into smaller droplets as if it were in zero-gravity, making measurement impossible. When he pulled it out, the mercury settled again after several moments back to room temperature. He considered briefly going to purchase an electronic thermometer, but then, in a moment of bravery and stupidity, he decided he had a more straightforward idea. He kneeled down, rolled up his sleeve, and inserted his arm into The Void.
At first he thought he felt nothing, but quickly realized the problem. He felt nothing. His hand and forearm had gone completely numb. He tried to move his fingers and wrist but couldn't. It was as if his arm had been completely disconnected from the rest of his body. Instantaneously, dread and panic and confusion exploded into his mind. Had he lost his arm forever? How would he explain this to anyone? Once they started questioning his limp arm, people were going to find out!
He jerked his hand out of the blackness out of pure instinctual fear. He made a fist, tight enough to hurt his joints. He rotated his wrist. He opened his hand, felt the rough stubble on his face that had gotten too long since he hadn't shaved in the past few days. He didn't lose his hand, and he was thankful and angry at himself.
Since then, the stubble had grown into a beard, but no one at work seemed to care despite it being against the rules. And lately, there hadn't been much that Neil cared about, either. Nothing but The Void. He felt the need to eat but didn't. He just stared at it, hypnotized.
When he broke himself out of it a few seconds later, he grabbed the tape measure from the dining room table and got to work. He measured from the wall to the farthest point The Void went. He wrote the value on the notepad, and then examined it. It was just as he predicted. Its radius was 3/16th of an inch longer than the day before, give or take. In six days since he decided to start measuring, The Void seemed to be growing linearly, about a quarter inch's growth every day (give or take, since the measurement required some imprecise guesswork due the the nature of the imperfect edges of The Void). The growth was slow, sure, but when would it stop? When it consumed the house? Him? The earth?
He stared at it, pondering this, both terrified of and obsessed with it. Without taking his eyes off of it, he laid down on what was left of his dining room floor. Nothing else seemed to matter anymore. He left the lights on. The Void helped him fall asleep.
He woke up from a knock on his door. His shoulder and head hurt from laying on the floorboards for so long. Through his curtains he could see dim light coming through. Was it the afternoon already?
Another series of knocks came. Neil got up quickly, the worry setting in. He wasn't expecting visitors. He looked at The Void. He couldn't let them see it, he knew that much. He had never been so sure of something.
"Neil, it's me," came the voice from behind the door. He recognized it. It was his father. "Please let me in."
He patted down his hair and made his way to the door. He opened it only partially.
"Hi," he said. He saw his father for the first time in a while, eyes red with streaks running down his cheeks. Something was wrong, and he had a good guess as to what it was. A pit formed in his stomach.
"Hi, Son," he said. "We couldn't reach you on your phone, so I thought I'd try here. May I come in?"
"It's a bit of a mess, Dad, maybe we could talk out on the porch-"
"Neil," he interrupted. "It's about your mother."
"I know, but…" His father put a hand on the door and pushed it open. Neil saw his eyes welling up. He couldn't stop him, no matter how much he wanted to. He stepped out of the way. His father let himself in.
Neil stopped, a lump in his throat, ready to explain (only to quickly realize he didn't have anything to explain, not really. He knew nothing of The Void). Already his mind was thinking ahead to the scenario that was imminent: his father would stop when he saw It, horrified, turning to him, angry. "Why haven't you gotten help for this?" in just the way he was yelled at for not cleaning his room when he was a child. And Neil would have nothing to say in return, just like then, too, because he didn't have a reason, not a good one anyway, and then the word would get out about the horror in his house and people he didn't know would raid his home and there would be nowhere to escape to…
But his father just kept walking, oblivious or ignorant to The Void. He simply sat down on the living room couch, elbows on his knees, looking at his feet. He couldn't have just missed it, could he? That's impossible.
Neil went over and sat next to him, the lump still in his throat. He realized he needed to say something.
"What happened?" he said.
His father turned his head to him, scanning him up and down. "Are you busy today?"
"Your clothes. Work?"
"Oh," he said. "No. Well… Yeah, no." He looked down, scratching the back of his neck. His father nodded, looking tense and somber. "Dad… What happened?" Neil repeated.
"Neil," his father said, his voice quivering. He paused for what felt like a long time. "Your mother's passed." As soon as his father finished the last word, he brought his hands to his eyes and broke into a deep sob. It was like an explosion, like the floodgates had finally broken. He'd never seen him like this before, completely out of composure. He didn't know what to do, so he just sat straight with his hands on his knees. He wondered if he should be crying too, but found that he couldn't bring himself to. It wasn't that he didn't care, it was just… well, he didn't quite know what it was.
"I'm so sorry, son," his father said through the sobs, his voice high and trembling. "I know it must be so hard for you, losing Erin and your mother so close together…"
"Yeah," he said. "I'm sorry too." His father hugged him, and he hugged him back. A pang of guilt hit him. He hadn't visited her in the hospital for months, not since her diagnosis. In honesty, in that time he'd caught himself wishing for just a moment for it to be over, so that the perpetual guilt of where he wasn't would stop eating him, but now that it was over, he realized it would never stop eating him.
Over his father's shoulder, he looked at The Void. It was entirely static, and yet somehow it was pulsating at him. Threatening him.
Neil pulled away from him. "Are you going to be okay?" he said. "Can you get home?"
"Yes, yes, I'll be okay," his father said, sniffling and wiping his face with his sleeve. "Will you?"
"Good," he said. There was a long pause. His father looked around the house, examining it. His eyes passed from the living room to the kitchen doorway to the dining room. He stared for a moment.
"You have a very fine home," he said, his voice still weak. "Not a mess at all."
Neil decided to sleep in his bedroom that night. He'd measured The Void once again and found that, yes, it had grown again. But something changed. He measured it again and again and still he reproduced the same radius: 1 foot, 7 and 1/16th inches. That was a growth of over half an inch. What could be made of that? Well, he wasn't quite sure just yet. It was the highest variance from the mean that he'd had so far, but he told himself it could probably be chalked up to imprecision. Still, despite what he told himself, it still unnerved him, and he thought of the variance as he dozed to sleep that night.
He dreamed about his mother, as she was when he was just a boy. Her hair was bright blonde then, so much so that when outside in the summertime with the sun overhead, it bordered on pure white. She was jumping with him on the trampoline in their backyard (however they had never owned a trampoline, nor were they in a backyard that Neil had ever been to in the material world), holding his hands as they bounced together. He looked into her face to see that it was blurry and amorphous, but he didn't particularly care, because she was here, and so was he.
He closed his eyes. Up, then down into the fabric of the trampoline that shot them back up again. His bangs flopped against his head, and the air felt good in his face. He felt her hands wrap around his. She squeezed, and he squeezed back. He opened his eyes. He was holding onto nothing. It was night, and there was no moon.
He turned, still bouncing on the trampoline. Up, and down. He saw The Void, looming on the horizon just over his backyard fence. It was eating the sky. It was growing, and he knew it was coming for him. He closed his eyes again. Up and down. The trampoline coils creaked as it sent him into the air. When he opened his eyes, the trampoline was gone and The Void engulfed his vision. He could reach out and touch it. Up and down, down, down. He was in free fall. He let it take him.
When he awoke, his whole body contorted and flailed under the covers. He sat up straight and looked at the foot of his bed, his eyes wide, trying to adjust to the darkness. But they did not adjust. He wondered briefly if he was still dreaming, and in horror realized he was not. This was real. Past the foot of his bed, the impossible, mesmerizing blackness replaced the walls, the carpet, the ceiling, with infinite depth. And it was growing.
He scrambled in utter panic out of his bed to the one corner of the room that The Void had not swallowed. It was coming towards him, not at the invisible pace of inches per week but at inches per second. The bed's two legs fell into The Void, and only moments later, the bed itself began to slide in and fall, end over end. He turned to his window to see outside. A woman was jogging along the sidewalk, dressed in earmuffs and a headband. He tried to open it with his shaky hands to no avail. He pounded against the glass, screamed, but the woman was oblivious to the swallowed house she was running by. The window was consumed (and with it, the morning's light), and Neil backed further into the corner. He only had a few feet of floor left to stand on.
This was it, wasn't it? Tears streamed down his face; he sobbed uncontrollably. "No, no," he begged to nothing. It did not stop. The Void came for him. The floor underneath him was eaten away, and Neil fell, fell into The Void.