Michael breathed in at the pause in the conversation, passed the phone from his right hand to his left, and then let out his sigh.
On the other end of the phone, Mae asked him, “I don’t mean to be annoying or anything, but I have to ask.”
Michael flopped backwards onto his bed. “Please don’t.”
“I think that answers my question.”
“I know, I know. I need to clean it out, just…”
“Just nothing, you need to do it.”
Michael rubbed his face with his free hand. “I know.”
“You can do it dude. You’ve already come so far, and I just know that you can keep going.”
“I want to clean it. I really do.” Michael rested his hand on his chest. “Haven’t taken a bath in…since…in a long time.”
“Is that why you can’t clean it?”
Michael got quieter. “What are you saying?”
“Just, like, is, you know, he, is he the reason you can’t clean the tub?”
Michael sat up and swung his legs off the side of the bed. “I mean, I guess. It’s like, when anyone else is here they smell mildew, but for me, it smells like him.”
“I don’t mean he smelt like mildew or mold! I just mean that I don’t smell what everyone is smelling. It smells, to me, like his cologne, the smell of the sheets after he woke up, his chest when he held me, I guess.”
For a moment, just a brief one, the line was silent.
Michael broke the silence “Do you think…if I told him I love him, that he’d still be here?”
Michael looked at his phone again, but nothing was different. There were no new messages, no notifications, no missed calls. He took a deep breath, stood up from his bed, and set his phone down on his desk. His legs felt stiff and languid. Breathing was hard, but he needed to get moving. Already 3pm and his stomach had been growling for hours.
Michael took a deep breath. “Just walk down the hall, don’t look, just walk down the hall.”
He took a step toward the door. “Mom sent some of those microwave pizzas. It’s not good, but it’s something.” He put his hand on the freezer door. “He’d want you to eat something, right?”
Michael nodded and then opened his door. He took a few steps into the hallway and paused right outside of the bathroom. From the corner of his eye, he could tell the door was open just a hair.
It should have been closed. He remembered closing it, again, like he did every night before bed. The cold metal handle on his skin, the fact that he wanted to just open the door and see him, just him, again, even a glimpse, but he wasn’t there, so he closed the door.
And now, it was just the faintest bit ajar.
The smell was overwhelming. While to him, it smelt of cologne, of musk, of his scent, it still choked him. He coughed to clear his throat.
He put his hand up against the door, and pushed, just an inch, just to see, just to check if it was all still there.
Running up along the wall, from the corner of the bathtub Michael could see, was a thick black film, growing. Throughout the film were thicker patches of the substance, and Michael was convinced they were pulsing, throbbing, and a richer, redder, black.
Michael closed the bathroom door and continued down the hallway.
He got to his kitchen sink and washed his hands in the empty right side. He didn’t touch anything in the bathroom, but just felt filthy, like the film was caked on his hands. He looked up at his reflection in the sink window, took a deep breath, and turned off the water. “I’m fine. I’m fine, just make some pizza, that’s all you gotta do.”
Michael took the cold, dented cardboard pizza box from the freezer and then looked in the sink. The left side of the sink was full of black spotted plates and bowls, and the cupboards were empty, so he took the cardboard box and used it as a plate, popped the pizza into the microwave and waited.
He sat there, looking at the dishes, considered taking the time to clean a little, to wash and rinse and soap them up. He stared at the mess, thinking about which plate would go first, and if he needed to set up a towel for the drying rack or if it was just okay to, just this once, let it go. It had to be better to have a clean dish even if he had to wipe up the counter later. It would be easier, but he would still need the towel to wipe up the counter, and he wondered if he had the energy to do that later, when it’s been so hard to find the energy to…
The microwave dinged.
He pulled out the box and walked briskly back to his room.
Michael sat on his bed, his door still ajar. Michael looked down the hallway and saw that door, the one he hadn’t opened in god knows how long, his bedroom. Michael sighed and turned to his pizza, still cold along the edge.
In the middle was a black spot, a lump. He began to rip the pizza around it, but gave up halfway through and shoved the whole thing in his mouth.
Michael woke up in the middle of the night. His stomach felt like it was going to burst, but he could not move. He tried to shift his body out of bed, but could only gently roll his head. In the doorway to his room…
Standing there was a figure, blacker, redder, pulsing, throbbing, and yet thin, desiccated. It stood there, silently. There wasn’t enough light for Michael to understand if he was looking into the room or out, just that the figure was there, standing.
Michael woke up again, the figure was closer, and yet he could not move. He wanted to get away, to shift, to escape, but not a muscle would obey. He could not even shift his neck, and he just stared at the figure, closer, further in the room, smelling of mildew and rot.
He began to cry.
Michael woke up to the sunlight laying across his eyes. He relaxed, the figure was gone. He took a deep breath, or, tried, but his chest hurt. He looked down.
In his chest, on his chest, was an indent, black and red, in the shape of a hand print.
Michael stood up, and went to the hallway closet, pulled out a big jug of bleach, and threw open the bathroom door.
He fell to his knees and started crying, unable to enter.
Michael pulled out his phone, called Mae, and simply said, “Please, I need help.”
If you like this story, or any of my other posts, please become a Patron, or share my work with someone else who might enjoy it.