Authors: Brian Martinez
He trails off and Mary says, "Haven't what?"
"Felix thinks it's real, and he's scared of it, too. He's not scared of me so that means it's not me, right?"
"Kevin, tell me what you're talking about. It's me, you can talk to me. You're being so vague I can't follow, and it's scaring me a bit."
"Vague." His voice is low, quiet, and it shakes with imminent tears. "I used to think vague was scary. The idea of immeasurable things was terrifying. That's why I do the work I do. But now, I think, I'm starting to think, that the more you learn the worse it gets." For the first time, he looks at her. "The devil's in the details, that's what they say, right?"
"Kevin- what happened in the basement? What happened to you? I know you've been watching the stairs. I know you haven't been working, and I know you're barely eating, so tell me what happened in the basement that has you so freaked out. Please tell me so we can work on this together. That's what we're supposed to do, isn't it? Sickness and health? Wasn't that the deal?"
He swallows hard, his vision clouded, his face wrinkled. He says, "This house." He says, "This house wasn't empty when we bought it."
Kevin tells her everything. He tells her about the feelings of dread, about the sounds and the smells and the attack that Felix and he experienced. He tells her who he thinks the face in the window was, how the more time passes, the more he's sure that damned plumber was staring at him that day.
He tells her about the eye in the drain.
Mary listens to all of it without interrupting. She lets his voice come like a broken dam, words slurred and spilled in a violent wave, the pent up energy expelled along with the tears. No matter how much she wants to tell him to stop, shut up, stop saying these things, she doesn't.
Mary listens. At the end of it, when Kevin has said everything he needs to, and all Mary wants to do is leave and take the dog with her, get back in her car and drive to her father's house, sleep for a week, a month a year, she doesn't.
Mary makes a choice. She chooses to believe her husband.
"Okay," she says. "Let's go inside and look for it."
Kevin's eyes widen, looking at her like she's the crazy one. "I'm not going back in there. Not now, not ever."
"But it's our house."
"I'm trying to tell you it isn't. It's that thing's house, and it can have it."
"We can't afford to abandon it. This is everything, Kevin, this is all we have."
"We have our lives."
Mary nods, trying to work through the problem. "Okay, so what do we do? Do we become homeless because some...thing is in our house, or do we figure out how to get rid of it? Think about it- the police have already come out here twice and found nothing, one more time they might have us seriously evaluated. The neighbors, you've seen the way they look at us, they think we're the devil come to town and I don't know how to fix that. We can go back to the realtor and try to resell but you know how long that takes. And what do we do in the meantime, go broke staying in a motel for a year? Who else can we go to? My father-"
"Your father hates me."
"My father barely likes me, and I'm his only child. Maybe if I had been born with a penis we'd have a better chance, but here we are. We have no choice but to go in there and figure out what it is and how we can get rid of it."
Kevin's hand starts to shake as he pictures going back into the house, but Mary notices and puts her hand over his to stop it.
"You have to believe that we deserve to be happy as much as anyone else. People get bad deals all the time. This one's ours. What we're not going to do is lay down and die."
They stand at the front door, Felix between their feet. When they tried to leave him behind, safe in the car with the window down, he panicked and tried so hard to escape they were afraid he would hurt himself, so they let him come. Kevin isn't happy about it, but he does feel safer with the dog next to him.
He says, "You know this is the part in the horror movie where you yell at the screen about how stupid the characters are."
"This isn't a horror movie."
"Don't be too sure.”
She gives him an encouraging smile. "If this is a horror movie you're the hero, so you have nothing to worry about."
"The women are usually the heroes, they're the ones who live. It's kind of a running theme."
"Then I promise to wait at least six weeks before I remarry."
He sighs. "You think I'm being stupid."
"No, honey, I don't, I'm just trying to cheer you up. I'm nervous, too, you know."
"Good." He turns the handle and opens the door.
The house is silent. The living room and what can be seen of the hallway looks just as it did, nothing broken, no slime or debris the way Kevin's imagination would have it. Not even a single couch cushion is out of place, and rather than relaxing, Kevin finds the peace disturbing. He's always felt the only thing worse than the danger you can see is the danger you can't.
"Looks safe," Mary says, urging him forward. She would step in first but she knows it's good for him to take the lead, overcome his fear. He looks down at Felix still sitting at their feet with no desire to go any further. The dog looks up at him as to say, What are we doing here? And Kevin looks back to say, I wish I knew.
Kevin takes one step inside. Nothing happens. He takes another. Nothing happens again.
"Can I join you," Mary asks. He waves her in and she steps forward, but Felix stays right where they left him. "C'mon, pal." She bends down and pats her leg but Felix cocks his head. She repeats his name a few times. Still he stays behind on the porch, turning his ears this way and that but not moving, not inching. "That's weird, he always comes when I call him," she says.
"That was before he heard it."
For the first time, Mary forces herself to consider the idea that Kevin might have hurt Felix, might have lashed out during an episode of delusion. But she remembers how Felix sat next to him in the car, and how he followed so closely on Kevin's heels between there and the house, as usual trailing him more so than her. She also knows how much Kevin loves that little dog, and that he would never hurt him.
"Come on, pal," she tries again, but now Felix is inching backward with his tail tucked tight between his legs, eyes focused past Mary, past Kevin, eye-line shifting. Following. Tracking.
Mary has the horrible realization- that Felix sees something behind them- a split-second before the door slams shut, locking Felix out, and them in.
The room fills up with death-stink.
A change in the air is what closed the door, not a hand or a foot but a shift in pressure, like a great lung dropping in the chest of the world. The oxygen becomes so thick that for Mary to move through it to be by Kevin's side is like pushing through quicksand; viscous, unseen material that pushes into the nostrils and strains the muscles.
Kevin spins to see what scared Felix so much but finds only the wall, their framed Dali print askew as if something has brushed past and knocked it off-center.
The sound, chopped hamburger with ground glass, stirred and building, rising up from almost nothing to the level of car crashes and meat-packing plants, comes from the kitchen, not the hallway like last time, and spirals around the two of them, pushing them together. They hold each other as they would if a tidal wave was thundering up the beach at them, left defenseless and with no choice but to cower and clutch.
“What is this,” Mary asks over the chaos, “what's happening?”
The fear in her voice snaps him out the trance. “I’m not staying here to find out.” He moves her out of the way and goes to one of the chairs against the wall, a heavy, ornate antique they found at a sweltering outdoor fair the year before. He grabs it up by the shoulders, getting a firm grip, lifts it from the ground and tells Mary to stand back before swinging it with all his strength to hurl it through the living room window.
It never reaches the glass.
Before wood can meet pane, the baseboard heating element wrenches from the wall, seemingly on its own until the true reason appears from behind: it moves like a dead snake revived with electrical current.
It strikes impossibly fast. Catches the chair in black tendrils. Tosses it aside. The chair shatters against the wall and Kevin and Mary watch in nauseous horror as the creature, the mass of dark flesh, writhes before them, growing off-shoots the way lightning branches and fans. Pieces birth and die and reabsorb to grow again from its rotten surface, undulating in life and burial.
It's ever-changing skin is textured in bees wings and bird legs, black eyes that move or don't, mouse bones wrapped in squirrel tail, a patchwork of all those insects and animals missing from the trees and bushes surrounding the house.
Kevin wastes no time marveling at the wretch or trying to decipher its vomitous sound-language, he grabs Mary by the arm and runs. He leads her out of the living room and down the hallway with the whip-snarl waves following behind them, serpentine rot reaching out for them, slapping wet at their heels.
With the television turned up loud on a baseball game he doesn't care about, Officer Banks sits on his leather couch in a pair of jeans and a ratty t-shirt. Today is his day off, and all he wants to accomplish is to not accomplish anything. He doesn't want to wash the dishes stacking up in the sink, or fix the leaky bathtub, and he especially doesn't want to pay any bills.
The sound of a dog barking comes to his ears. At first he thinks it's the TV, but when he notices the game's not even at commercial, he realizes it's coming from out here somewhere. From real life.
“What the fuck,” he says, pulling himself up off the couch. At the window he pushes the blinds aside, but he doesn't see anything. And yet still, the annoying sound of a small dog's bark.
He opens the front door to find Felix on his porch, the dog's small body tensing again and again, making shrill cries for attention. “What do you want," he asks, but still, more barking.
“I know you. You belong to those Robins assholes.” He looks across to the outcropping that hides their houses from each other. "Haven't they heard of leashes?”
More barking from Felix. Even louder now, more desperate.
“I should call Animal Control on their asses."
The dog stops barking, starts crying instead.
Officer Banks bends down and scoops up the dog in one swipe. “Come on, you can watch me murder your owner.”
Before Kevin and Mary can reach the back door, a hole tears open in the floor. They stop in time from falling in and back away as something rises from the depth, more black flesh, thicker and wider than both of them together, and it roils like lava, the cold surface covered in bristles and hair. From inside a harder shape bubbles to the surface, like a rock at first but soon something more: a human head.
The face of the disappeared plumber comes to view, eyes closed. He's stiff and dead. Dead until he isn't.
The eyes open, not the movements of musculature but strings, animated outside themselves. The milky eyeballs regard Kevin and Mary, cold and unrecognizing. The man's lips twitch as if an unseen puppeteer is learning how to operate them. Testing them, playing with them.
"Oh my God oh my God," Mary cries, holding Kevin's arm.
"Stay behind me," he tells her.
From the plumber's mouth, a noise, foreign and wet, the wheeze of air and crab legs clacking, pipes overflowing and baby's gibberish. It changes pitch and vibration until slowly, deliberately, words form.
The surface of the plumber's disembodied face shivers in delight, proud. Its tendrils taste the shoes on Mary's feet, the material of Kevin's jeans. Cilia made of caterpillar legs work to scan the cotton, feel the leather, remember the textures. Kevin and Mary kick and shove the feelers away and try to back against the wall.
"What do you want from us," Kevin begs.
The tendril closest to him moves closer. The tip of it expands, pulses, curls up and forward as if about to be sick, and from inside it a hand forms; first the bones, then the wormy veins and spongy muscle, but not the skin, leaving the outstretched hand moist and raw. It reaches for Mary's cheek but Kevin knocks it away with a shout.
The dead man's face pushes forward on a pile of death, like a rock rolling downhill but always facing forward, until it stares into Kevin's eyes from inches away, the overbearing stink wrapped around them. "Yyyou...I...want yourrr...pieeecccesss," the rotten mouth answers.
"I don't understand, what does that mean?"