Monday, October 29, 2007

Little Halloween Triptych, Part II

Hunger


Bizarre things started happening in our building after Mr. Glick moved in at 2C, a few month ago. He was a tiny balding man, in his fifties, with a furtive gaze and neat little restless hands. He barely exchanged a few words with the neighbours upon his arrival, then disappeared inside his apartment, never to be seen again.

No later than the next day, a parade of masons, carpenters, plumbers, interior decorators and other craftsmen started wearing out the marble steps and hallways of our building in a messy coming and going. Mr. Glick was fully remodelling his condo, we extracted from a chatty electrician.

For a week, we endured the continuous hammering, whirring, and clanking, which died out only late at night. Then, the noises ceased, but our building never regained the insulated silence it enjoyed before. At night especially, there were creaks, and clangs, and loud prolonged gurgling noises coming from the plumbing. It was as if the building was settling down again, after some major surgery that it had suffered.
Before long, people began complaining, with nosy Mrs. Dean, from 1B, as a focal point of their growing animosity towards him.

Mr. Glick never got out of the house, never answered the neighbours’ phone calls, or their knockings on his door.

“He’s a recluse,” I was arguing to an overly excited Mrs. Dean. “So what?”

No one could deny that foul smells had invaded the building, and there occurred many incidents of malfunctioning garbage compactors and ebbing toilets. Repairmen proved helpless confronted with ever occurring blocked drainages.

People’s complaints were met by the firm wall of Mr. Glick’s (or Mrs. Glick’s?) dismissals over the interphone. What arose my curiosity was that all men who had tried to contact him were talked out of their intention by a woman’s sultry voice, while the women spoke to a man, whose baritone didn’t resemble at all Mr. Glick’s. I heard it myself, under a poor excuse, and must admit it stirred something deep inside me – I wouldn’t have minded meeting that man, who could not have been the same Mr. Glick, under more romantic circumstances.

Mrs. Dean took upon her to give me updates every time she caught me passing in front of the door. She somehow invested me with a special statute, since I lived in 2B, and my condo shared one long living room wall with his.

That’s how I found out about Mr. Newman’s poodle that went missing inexplicably. And that Mr. Glick had food delivered to his door everyday. When questioned, a delivery boy, pissed off at the perpetual non-existence of a tip, admitted never having seen him.

And when one day there was a new face delivering pizza and whatnot, Mrs. Dean could’ve sworn she’d seen the predecessor entering the building but never leaving it again. She even called the police, and then swore that the policeman who had come to investigate also never left the building.

I couldn’t believe this. She’d probably missed him, because despite her qualities as a spy, Mrs. Dean was also a human being who occasionally had to use the toilet. She somehow bullied me into going to the police, where I was humiliated to find out that the said policeman had resigned the very day in question, leaving a quitting note on his desk.

Enough was enough. This was no longer a fun diversion. I started using earplugs, turned my music a little louder, bought some air fresheners, and tiptoed in front of Mrs. Dean’s apartment.

What finally did it for me was the following: One day, as I returned from work, I noticed a pale liquid coming out from under Mr. Glick’s door. It had extended to form a small pool, which was slowly crawling bigger, streaked with yellow and white bits of something I couldn’t recognise. It smelled terribly and, as I stepped nearer to get a better look, I realised it had the acrid reek of vomit. For a few moments I stood dumbfounded, my stomach convulsing, the urge to run away fighting inside me with the compulsion to get closer.

Then the door opened and I saw Mr. Glick, ankle deep in this liquid, manoeuvering a mop with not much efficiency. When he noticed me, he retreated quickly and I only got a glimpse of his entrance hall, which was draped in some glistening beige velour.
Shaking, with my heart high up in my throat, I stumbled to my door and managed to get inside after dropping my keys only twice. Only when I slammed the door behind me, I regained some sense of security, but it was a feeble one.

I had no one to turn to except my old friend Fox, Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI, and I called him immediately. To my relief, he was home.

“Sounds just like an X-file,” he said, in his soothing smooth voice, after listening to my story.

He didn’t need more than that. He drove from Virginia the same evening, and in three hours was at my doorsteps.

“Eek,” he said, making a funny grimace, after releasing me from his embrace.

“Shh,” I said, afraid our guffaws would stir Mrs. Dean. But she didn’t open her door as usual, which proved quite convenient and very odd.

The whole staircase reeked of vomit. We climbed the steps by twos and rushed inside my apartment.

Soon a long thundering reverberated through the building.

“So, have you had beans for lunch?”

He looked at me and smiled.

“Are you crazy?” I said in mock anger at his obvious hint.

He shrugged, miming innocence.

“Somebody just farted.”

We laughed, but somehow his remark seemed more reasonable than I would have liked to admit. It truly sounded like a giant’s flatulence.

We agreed to wait till the morning to do anything more.

It was midnight when a loud gurgling noise woke me up, a prolonged dance of air and water, somewhere deep in the pipes of the building. Mulder was sitting on the couch, in the living-room, awake in the speckled darkness.

“Did you hear it?” I whispered.

“Borborygmus,” Mulder said.

“What?”

“A growling stomach…”

“Mulder!”

He rose and walked to the infamous wall my apartment shared with Mr. Glick’s. He put an ear to it, but retreated immediately, wiping his face where it had touched the wall.

“It’s warm,” he said. “And moist. Turn on the lights, would you?”

I saw it then – the whole wall was covered in beads of moisture, as if the painting itself had perspired. Could I believe it was a monstrous sweat, as Mulder suggested, without going completely mad?


It was by chance that the next morning I caught a glimpse of Mr. Glick leaving the building. I couldn’t believe it.

“That’s our chance,” Mulder said.

I stood behind him as he worked on the lock, scared we were turning into common burglars. In a moment, the door opened smoothly into a large corridor.

“Ohhh!” Mulder groaned, swiftly taking a handkerchief to his nose. The stench was odious, and made me gag instantly; desperate I couldn’t find anything inside my jeans’ pockets, I just lifted my blouse and covered my nose with it.

The walls were glistening under Mulder’s flashlight, but I realised it wasn’t velvet at all that covered them. They had folds and crevices, and looked moist, covered in some sort of mucus. Mulder stepped inside and I followed, still holding onto the back of his jacket. The floor was sticky and the soles of our shoes made a popping sound every time we took another step.

It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and I imagined that’s how the inside of an organ would look under a laparoscope.

A sudden gush of fetid air, accompanying the same gurgling sound we’ve heard before, almost knocked us down.

“What the hell!”

At the same time a splash of liquid hit Mulder’s shoulder, and at the spot a burnt hole appeared, its edges fuming. The smell was telltale – chlorine.

“I bet it’s hydrochloric acid,” Mulder said. “Even better – gastric acid. Let’s get out of here.”

In front of a cup of coffee in my kitchen, his ruined jacket on a chair, Mulder said,

“We’ve got to get a better look. Looks like a giant stomach…”

I only was half outraged.

“What if it’ll chew us?”

“I don’t think it will. It relies on hydrochloric acid and enzymes. Watch for Mr. Glick. I’ll get us some supplies.”

He returned an hour later, carrying a big package and a canister. I hadn’t seen Mr. Glick coming back.

The package contained two rubber suits, complete with oxygen masks.

“Our own enteric coating,” Mulder said, his eyes gleaming, while he helped me put on mine.

“What’s in the canister?” I said.

“Our exit ticket, just in case something goes wrong - castor oil, a very nice laxative.”

We entered the apartment for the second time. Yes, he had to be right, despite the huge absurdity of this; I could see so much more now with a well-advised eye. It looked disgustingly organic, and even without the smell – blocked now by the mask – it was a nauseating sight.

“The oesophageal sphincter,” Mulder said, pointing the light at a muscular structure that surrounded the entrance to the hallway. Whatever its purpose was, it looked lax now, possibly sick.

We took several steps inside. The floor was soft and elastic, covered in the same material as the walls. It all formed a continuous lining, loosely following the contours of the room.

The “hallway” opened to a “room” which seemed to occupy now the whole apartment. Nothing had been kept of the original configuration – all interior dividing walls had disappeared to leave space for this… stomach, I reluctantly had to agree with Mulder. What else could it be?

We continued slowly, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to advance now, with the pits of what surely was an epithelium increasing in depth, and the mucus tugging at our feet, and what had proven to be gastric acid being secreted at an alarming rate.

“What’s that?”

I thought I saw something glinting but whatever it was, it slipped inside a fold. Mulder rummaged inside and brought out a pair of glasses. They were all gooey and the exposure to acid had pitted them badly, but I could instantly recognise them as Mrs. Dean’s.

“Mulder, it’s eaten her!”

“Yes, as it’s probably eaten the dog and all the others.”

A small continuous earthquake started just then, making it suddenly impossible for us to hold our footing.

“What’s happening?” I shouted.

My left leg slipped in a fold and I fell inelegantly, my arms flailing.

“Mulder!”

“I think it’s trying to churn its food. And we’re it! Come on! Let’s go!”

As he turned toward the door, Mulder tried to grab my hand but failed, almost falling over, unbalanced by the weight of the canister. My feet kept sliding between the moving folds, but my struggle to climb back only made it worse. The claws of panic had my heart in a cold embrace. The pressure was enormous – I was afraid it would soon break all my bones.

“Mulder, the oil!”

He managed to uncork the canister and clumsily tried emptying its contents. But it was impossible to stand straight, and the movement threw him instantly again on his back. He lost the canister, which rolled over, carried by the solid waves moving through this monstrous epithelium.

“Mulder!”

He dove after it, unsuccessfully, only to be caught again by the grinding flesh.

The entrance was unreachable, the exit nowhere in sight.

That’s it, I thought. What a pathetic way to die, inglorious, ridiculous even – broken down into nutrients by a gigantic stomach. My whole body was a hurting mass, and I was sure not one of my bones was still intact.

“At least we’re getting the massage of our lives,” Mulder roared in mad laughter.

He was still holding the flashlight and I saw him, covered in gunk just as I must’ve been, his face barely distinguishable under the slimy mask, and the absurdity of it hit me with its whole force of relief, and I too fell about laughing, still struggling, still swimming in this impossible solid sea.

Then something changed. A deep shudder passed through the muscular mass, the churning halted abruptly, and heavy convulsions replaced it. A growling sound gathered strength, rising from the deepest crevices.

“We just caused it a massive indigestion, I’m afraid,” Mulder shouted, to cover it.

I played along.

“What’s it gonna be? Vomit or diarrhoea?”

All delusion of control was lost for us as now we were being pushed, not just tossed around, in a precise direction. And it wasn’t the entrance door, that was certain. Its faint reassuring light disappeared quickly. Our forced voyage lasted probably a few seconds but had the feel of an eternity, lost in an uncontrollable whirlwind, then we were spurted out with tremendous force in a gush of liquid and debris.
A soft mattress took my fall, and for a few moments I didn’t even try moving, flabbergasted by the sudden stillness. Then I stood up awkwardly, and wiped my faceplate as well I could. Mulder was standing next to me, a stunned statue covered in yellow faeces, in a garbage and gunk filled courtyard I didn’t even know existed behind our building.


I sat quietly in the car while Mulder loaded my luggage in the trunk. To live for a while in his apartment, in Virginia, was suddenly a sweet perspective.

The headlines in the newspaper read “Man without stomach found dead in Washington Square – biological anomaly or organ theft?”

I read it to him, while Mulder drove. The cause of death was unknown, although the question was how anyone could live without a stomach. The victim had been identified as a certain Mr. Glick, from Manhattan. They had yet to make the proper connection with the giant “organ” found in his apartment.

“He’s not the only one,” Mulder said when I finished. “There are two such bodies reported in the X-files, but only now we have the answer.”

He was the lure, I thought, watching the endless string of lights on the highway. What becomes of life when one has to satisfy huge appetites, be them physical or of any other nature? Does it, at some significant point, drift away from pleasure to become a burden? In the end, it was too much for Mr. Glick; he chose to ran away from his cumbersome duty even it meant suicide.


Copyright © Vesper L. All rights reserved.



(Of course, this is not a real Halloween story. However, it involves something monstrous, so I thought I could give it a place here, more easily than someplace else.
The X-Files was/is my favourite TV series. This is a modest homage to Fox Mulder, a character who belongs to Fox and upon whom no copyright infringements are intended. But I loved him then, when I watched the series, and I love him now. For obvious reasons, Scully’s on vacation for this story.)



Can you tell out of which episode of The X-Files was this picture taken? Get the answer on November 1st.

4 comments:

Ropinator said...

hello
nice new layout, the only voice I used to hear is the neighbours' quarrel.

Bernita said...

Well done!
But the part I liked best was that little touch of her holding on the back of his jacket.

Vesper said...

Thanks, Ropi, it's temporary.

Thank you, Bernita. You're very kind. Thank you for reading this.

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