I’ve been wanting to write a story in this kind of setting for a while. It’s one of the few kinds of things I find genuinely revolting and instinctively horrific. (By the way, if you think something in this story is a reference to something, it is.)
Music this time is something I’m sure everyone knows, but I actually sat down and listened to the full album for the first time while finishing up this story.
Oh yeah and, fuck you, internet.
I hadn’t seen George in a while. It wasn’t exactly my job to keep tabs on him. I mean, maybe it was included in the tasks assigned to a landlord, but I didn’t remember signing anything that said I had to do it.
George wasn’t one to get out that much. He wasn’t much to really interact with people, either, but I saw him go out every week or so to get his weekly store of Mountain Dew, Monster, potato chips, frozen pizza, and hot dogs. I always got the feeling he returned with a couple grams of weed as well. Maybe just a faint scent making its way out from the overall miasma of body odor, piss, and semen that emanated from him at all times.
I had talked with him maybe a handful of times since he had first come to the apartment. Because of the aforementioned smell I generally avoided him, and because of his aforementioned antisocial tendencies, he generally avoided me and anyone else.
But I hadn’t seen him in a while. Probably around a month. And despite my apprehension to make more of an effort than necessary and my utter loathing of the thought of entering his apartment, I felt it necessary. I found my copy of his room key and took the stairs (which I was certain George had never taken, he favored the elevator) up to his level and found the door to his apartment.
Room 217. I hesitated going in, but if he was having a problem of some sort and I didn’t help, that might end up imparting some legal problems on me and the apartment, which I wanted to avoid for several reasons.
I unlocked the door and went in and the wall of stench hit me immediately. It was like…
You know how Indian food is? Like so dense with flavors, such a multi-leveled taste, dozens upon dozens of herbs and spices blended in perfect ratios to create one whole, powerful experience, things that on their own would not be that unique but in combination with the rest became greater than the sum of the parts?
It was like that, but in a bad way.
I could definitely make out old beer and cigarette smoke over it all, but they were only the most evident notes in the cruel symphony of smell. Deeper was a heavy musk of a body that had gone without bathing for months, or more, a smell of piss that emitted from all around me, the sulfuric skunk scent of weed, decaying meat, a scent I hoped was flatulence but feared originated from shit smeared throughout the room, and a few other things I couldn’t quite place and wished would stay that way.
I coughed as I tried to take a breath. It was like breathing in exhaust, it was so thick and concentrated that my lungs tried to reject it. I cleared my throat and forced myself to breathe in.
“George? Are you here?”
I knew he was here. Well, if he had left sometime night before last and stayed out the entire time, he could be gone, but I knew for a fact he had been here since then. Unless maybe he jumped out of one of his windows. But George didn’t strike me as the kind of guy with that sort of athletic ability. Or an ability to even fit through a window, even.
I began making my way through the narrow path. Walls of greasy boxes, used and suspicious-looking towels, socks, and underwear, magazines, newspapers, empty cans, and nearly anything else surrounded me. I was honestly surprised George was able to navigate this passage himself. The carpet below, what I could see of it, was brown-grey with splotches of black and small stains of other shades. I felt it impossible that the carpet had at one day been a standard off-white color.
I continued calling out to him as I crept through the valley of shit. I felt foreboding, every step was hesitant. I wanted to leave, to lock his door and return downstairs and try to forget George or this room existed. But again, the problem of possible legal issues.
On an angled, unstable shelf sat a sealed jar of some nasty, thick-looking, yellowish opaque substance, and next to it a leaking fleshlight and dirtied butt plug. Nearby on the shelf was a pill bottle – vardenafil – and a small ziplock baggie with some partially-crushed crystals. A binger, it seemed.
I gave a start as I heard a sound behind me. A small cat – too small for its frame – was walking behind me. In terms of its skeletal structure, it was a normal sized cat, but starvation and neglect had turned it into a feline version of one of those impoverished African kids you see on charity advertisements. Its hair was matted, eyes gooey and hazy, and a slight twitch with each step implying a damaged leg.
Motherfucker, this was a pet-free apartment complex. Motherfucker. He was getting kicked out in any case, now. But that was just an unspoken – aside from the explitives – thought at the back of my mind. I was focusing too much on my progress through the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”. The intensity of my concentration and growing dread was inexplicable, but it took the center of my attention nonetheless.
The key to surival here was to take a breath with an attempt to filter it through my shirt collar, hold it for as long as possible, then exhale slowly while steeling myself for the next cycle. It was toxic, unbearable. It was thick, closer to a liquid than a gas.
After walking for a moment more, I found a nest. Dirty clothes, pillows, blankets, and anything else that seemed reasonably comfortable piled on what I guessed had once been a bed, with a hollow in the center. In the indentation lay George, his fat almost seeming to have melted and cemented him in place. He wasn’t moving, a belt tight around his neck and half-naked. A laptop, keyboard and screen smeared with grease and dried semen, sat nearby his body, three tabs open. The currently-selected one was on RedTube, the others on Reddit and 4chan.
I was loathe to touch him, but felt it necessary to determine whether he was dead or not before calling 911. I grimaced as I reached toward him and winced as my pointer and middle fingers pressed into the side of his neck, under the belt, to search for a pulse.
As it happened, I had to search for a vein for a while before I could even manage that. I had to press through a couple of inches of fat before encountering the atrophied muscle of his neck. I focused, trying to find a beat, and George’s body moved.
I stepped back in surprise, my hand pulling back to me in disgust. Had I moved him without noticing? Was it some postmortem seizure or something? That kind of thing happened, didn’t it? Or was he actually, somehow, actually alive? I hadn’t felt a beat, but then again, the amount of fat and the belt might’ve masked it somehow.
There was no more movement, no sound, so I tried to find a beat once again, gingerly pulling the belt loose and feeling like I needed to crawl out of my skin. My eyes narrowed, I put all focus on anything from my fingers.
And there. Was it a beat? I couldn’t be sure, but then, there it was again, another beat.
“George?” I said loudly.
A slight tremor from him, and I pulled out my cell phone and tried dialing, but I was entranced, watching him. Why would his body even bother trying to keep him alive? He had abused it for so long, why did it even bother serving him any more? I would’ve mutinied long ago.
I snapped out of it and went back to dialing, but before I had managed to press dial, his hand shot out and locked onto my arm, gluing itself to me with an adhesive I attempted to ignore. I instinctively tried to pull away, but the immense weight and size of his hand, compounded with the horrendous makeshift glue, held me back.
His eyes opened, bloodshot and dilated, and his mouth gaped. A smell of rotting flesh issued out, many of his teeth completely eaten through with by cavities and his tongue a nasty greenish black color. He pulled me toward himself viciously and began groping around my pants, trying to remove them. As I struggled with him a pizza box with one remaining moldy decaying slice fell out of his nest.
I was fucking done. With my free hand I reached into my breast pocket and grabbed my Zippo, light it, and threw it onto the nest underneath where he had risen slightly to get at me. The oil-drenched cloth ignited instantly into an intense blaze and he released me, writhing in the flames.
The fire spread quickly, quickly enough that I had to start walking away to avoid catching on fire myself. I pondered the gravity and potential consequences of what had just happened, but knew things would get worse if I stayed around.
I began running, or rather, walking as fast as I could through the unnavigable path. I glanced at the baggie of meth, debating about grabbing it as a repayment for my experience, but knew I didn’t want to touch anything more in this hellhole.
The cat was still in the path, curled up in obvious discomfort, and I grabbed it as I ran past. I clutched it in my arm as I opened the door and locked it from the inside, wiped my fingerprints off it, and left the room.
Once I was out, I ran back down the stairs and into my office. I sat down, breathing heavy, and set the cat on my desk. I recovered for a moment, then rushed to the bathroom and washed my hands, arms, everything vigorously. I splashed some cold water into my face as the fire alarm went off, the sprinklers showering every room as I returned to my office and opened a can of tuna for myself and the cat before heading outside with the rest of those who lived in the apartment.