At first, I think the cat has farted. I’m sitting on the couch watching Lost on DVD, halfway through my first episode of the evening, when I smell it. It’s smothering and hot, a sweet-rotten earthy scent. I lean against the arm of the couch and wrinkle my nose.
“Jones?” I call out to the cat. “Jones, are you sick?”
I look around. It wasn’t Jones. The room is empty, silent, foul.
“Ugh.” I feel like I’m sitting in a cloud of cabbage sweat, like I just swam into a warm patch of pee in a cold swimming pool. I’m going to have to do something about this.
I sigh as I push myself up off the couch, tired of this task already but resigned to doing it. Work was low-impact but mentally exhausting as always, another day of mindless pencil-pushing behind high cubicle walls at my third-choice job. It was Wednesday, so I’d eaten my Chinese take-out on the porch with a half bottle of Gato Negro Merlot, then parked on the sofa to shut off my brain and gorge on crap TV.
I slouch over to the kitchen to check the trash. Empty, save my half-eaten container of lo mein. There are no dishes in the sink, and the dishwasher was run this afternoon, so there’s nothing weird or smelly in there. The sand of the litter box is still smooth from when I’d cleaned and refilled it this morning.
“Jones?” I call. I bet he dragged in a dead scorpion or mouse from the desert outside. I tap my finger pads on the kitchen counter, the sound echoing through the house. It still isn’t fully furnished, though I’ve been living in it over a year. I remember noticing, even when I bought the thing, the cheap construction. It’s a small A-Frame in Stratford Estates, a semi-deserted suburban cluster in the heatherfields south of Gilbert.
In those days, buying a house in the farthest reaches of metropolitan Phoenix hadn’t seemed so crazy. My house was just inside the mountains that ring the city, near the outer limits of where the people live before the desert starts in earnest, but not so far out that you’re likely to stumble across a backpack full of decaying human body parts. The city will grow out to you, they’d said.
I can see a section of the San Tan ridge from my sliding-glass patio doors, though my yard is little more than a concrete slab surrounded by dust and dead weeds. Everyone’s yard looks like that now. There’s no HOA to fine you for not maintaining green grass, and, even if there were, there are so few of us in the subdivision that we’d all be board members anyway.
I sniff the air and move out from behind the bar that separates the kitchen from the dining room and living room, not rooms so much as areas denoted by the types of flooring beneath them. I just had the flooring done recently, the first big investment I made in my new home. The dining room has a nice white linoleum tile that squishes a little under your feet, which for some reason I like. The floor is clean, and I admire the perfect, fingerprint-free shine on the round glass dining table that I never sit at. The smell seems not to be in here, so I move back to the couch, bend over, and take a deep breath.
“Ugh, Jesus God Fuck,” I say out loud, to no one. Found it.
I slide the couch across the wood laminate floor. One of its legs scratches a deep, arcing groove as it moves. “Goddamn son of a cunt bitch fuck,” I say. I find this development extremely upsetting, probably more so than I should, but seriously even cheap floors are still expensive, and installing those damn things had been a headache as is.
Then, the odor hits me in the face like a bowling pin and I’m too disgusted to care about the scratch now. I look down. There’s a spot on the floor. It’s tiny, it’s black, and–is it bubbling? It’s the size of a pinhole, and it smells like beer diarrhea. I stare, fascinated. I squint and lean a little closer, placing my index finger an inch above it. I feel a minute sucking of air into the hole, then a slightly stronger exhalation. Is it…breathing?
I jump, arching back away from it without moving my knees. What the fuck? That didn’t just really happen, did it? I stand up and stomp into the kitchen to get some rubber gloves and a sponge. This little black rot on my new hardwoods simply won’t do. It has to go. Clorox in hand, I turn back to the living room. A trick of the light or my mind makes it look like the spot is bigger. It seems to have grown to the size of a quarter.
I kneel and study it again. I reach out with the sponge to swipe at it, but it’s growing in front of me, expanding, a living thing consuming the floor I installed less than a month ago. Ew. This is going to be a gross cleanup.
I scrub at it, throwing my shoulder into the work. Why is this stuff not coming up? It’s just smearing all over the–oh, God. It won’t stop spreading.
I scream and fall back on my butt, kicking myself away from the mess, dripping bleach cleaner from my gloves onto my shirt. Shit. There’s a thud on the floor behind me and I jerk around, twisting from my spine to see what it is.
“Oh, it’s just you. Jonesie, go back in the room, sweetie,” I say. He paces, keeping his eyes on the black death expanding on the floor in front of us. He hisses, arches his back, digs his claws into the floor, then bolts for the kitty door and is gone.
My dark predicament is growing. The couch shifts in front of me, and I can hardly breathe. The hole is blacker, and foaming, and huge. It’s swallowing the floor under a corner of the couch. It sucks in the coffee table, sending the Gato Negro and the DVD case tumbling into the abyss. It’s so large now, I can’t reach the other side of the room without touching it. It’s moving, this thing. It’s alive.
My foot falls an inch or two, a myoclonic jerk, as the floor underneath it disappears. I yank my leg back and stand, gasping at the growing enormity of this big rotten thing I found. The floor underneath me collapses as the house begins sinking into its foundation, swallowed in a whirlpool of rotten death. I fall forward toward the muck and watch as my lower body disappears. I’m sinking. As my shoulders drop below floor level, I catch one last glance at the yawning expanse where my living room was. These floors are going to be so expensive to replace.
Hear Kat Greene’s past Write Club bouts here and here. Read her past submissions here and here.