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In His House

by Peter A. Balaskas

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part 1 of 6

A mysterious “Event” has unleashed blistering storms that have trapped a man in a kind of hotel. He finds himself in the company of others who have mutated into physical and moral monstrosities. As the protagonist moves through his strange environment, he struggles to remember his past and his forgotten identity.

Centuries after The Event, he tried his damnedest to get rid of the house.

Curling up on the floor, he wrapped his arms around his head and pulled at his hair, sealing his ears with an airtight efficiency. He shut his eyes with such determined pressure white flashes appeared under his lids. He pressed his legs against his chest, almost folding within himself. Tears began to seep. He attempted to dream, to visualize, to imagine he was anywhere except inside that house. He tried to conjure a memory from his past: a dense forest, a lush field of roses, or even a sun-drenched beach whose ocean waves pummeled the coastline with an endless, vigorous pulse. Places that had infinite space, no boundaries, absolute freedom.

But he saw only blackness. His mind’s eye couldn’t conjure any pleasant memory, for it would require a past to perform such a function. Ever since The Event occurred, most of his memory was wiped clean. He wasn’t the only one; it happened to the other tenants as well. He would get a flash here or there of who he was, or what encounters he had experienced. But they only created more confusion, more uncertainty. There were only two constant, two unquestionable facts: everyone remembered their names, and the house will always be there for them.

He opened his eyes, breaking the mucus-layered crust around his lids. His room was a twenty by twenty box that had all of the necessities: his mattress, a worn-out sofa chair facing a boarded-up window, a sink which produced the only clean water in the building, a hand-sized glass shard dagger whose bottom was wrapped with a cloth, and the standard food generator, producing the appropriate sustenance for each tenant. Three times a day, for who knows how many years since The Event, his generator always created a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of lemon water. And yet, he maintained his lean, never emaciated form.

He stretched his stiff body and threw his black sneakers over his bare feet. Before he opened the door he heard tiny clinking sounds emanating from one of his walls. On the other side was Kao, his neighbor with the crazy red eyes. Kao was indeed mad. He possessed all of the money in the world — what was left of it — and locked himself in his room the day after The Event. That was the only time anyone saw what Kao looked like. Clink, clink, came the counting of the coins, which always woke him during the darkest moments of the evening. Kao never uttered a sound.

He opened the door and entered the dim lobby of what was used to be a popular boarding house. The only illumination came from the avocado green sunlight shining through the doorway window, after-effects courtesy of The Event. Even during the nighttime, all the light bulbs were of the same sickly green color tintage. Mr. Leech wouldn’t provide any other kinds of light coloration. He had that prerogative; he was the landlord of the house. Stairs were on his right; and the wide entryway to his left led to the kitchen where Manny T resided. How he hated passing by the kitchen, where the mountainous blob of black flesh expelled horrendous clouds of gas from his intestinal orifice. And he always honked that staccato, car-horn laugh of his: Hee hee hee hee hee hee. The creature was indeed proud of the displeasure he caused his fellow tenants.

He tiptoed along the wooden floor, praying he didn’t step on any loose board that would wake Manny T. Gentle step here, another one further toward the door. Right after The Event, Manny T had the look of a CEO for a multi-million dollar corporation: athletic, well groomed, suave, and an impeccable dresser wearing an expensive suit, watch and a diamond-studded earring. But the years at the house had indulged the man to a variety of exotic cuisines. Increased appetite turned ravenous as Manny’s human form ballooned out to at least a ton, slowly ripping his suit to shreds and pinning his legs beneath him.

And then his second head grew, which oddly enough was always in a state of constant slumber, even during the most violent moments inside the house. Manny couldn’t move because of his expanding girth, so the house had adapted to his needs by creating little servant droids to deliver his food. All that was left of his humanity were his bald heads and flipper-like arms which were attached to a mound of blubber and fat, making him look like a pile of two-headed manure that suddenly became animate with some kind of unholy energy.

From the viewpoint of the other tenants in the house, that energy was a type of flatulence which often tidal-waved into the lobby and rose to the second level, taking forever for it to dissipate. Those tenants who didn’t have their doors closed or who were caught in the lobby often passed out from the vile stench. It was a literal breath of relief to everyone when he slept.

He focused on the blob’s closed eyes. He wasn’t worried about the second head; it was comatose to everything. But Manny T’s dominant head concerned him. He took a few steps forward until he froze at the noise coming from the second floor above him. He turned around and looked fearfully at the doorways of his upstairs neighbors. The room above his own belonged to Cainye and his new girlfriend of one week, Kat. Behind the closed door were muffled feminine squeals and moans, interspersed by the occasional profanity grunted by the neanderthal Cainye. The sounds of bouncing bedsprings served as the background love song to the animalistic voices.

Minque’s room, which was above Kao’s and next to Cainye’s, was open. He guessed she was probably with them again. He cringed at the thought of all three of them together. He shifted his attention back to the kitchen, waiting for Manny to be awake. The dark blubbery mass quivered, but his eyes remained shut. After a few more moments, he quietly darted out of the house before the trio’s depravity finally penetrated the blob’s fat-engorged ears.

He stepped off the shaded porch and the green sunrays bathed him with an oppressive weight. He shuffled towards the perimeter of the safe lands. Geographic aftermaths caused by The Event included an additional atmospheric layer that somehow shielded all nurturing properties the sunlight had to offer. The pleasant, refreshing orange-yellow rays were now replaced by a constant dull-green daylight, starving all of the topsoil constituting the property around the house. Whenever the tenants ventured outside, the rays always hindered them, ultimately driving them back into the shielded confines of their sanctuary.

Another post-apocalyptic development was a never-ending sand tempest. Judging by the ferocity of the storm, all of the survivors assumed everyone and everything had been decimated outside of their sanctuary, and that the tempest covered the entire globe except for their patch of bare land that was only one mile in diameter. The atmospheric monster was in constant perpetual motion, swirling and coiling around the area like a hungry snake trying to find an opening to claim its food. For some unknown defiance of logic, the storm couldn’t penetrate that area of the world.

Dead center on the oasis was the house.

He didn’t feel the rays bear down on him hard as he did before. He felt more agile, his movements less resistant. But the Ring of Pain was still present. As long as he could remember, he had been experiencing an odd kind of headache. He felt a pressure localized against his right temple. Its shape was circular and hollow, as though a ring was being pushed onto his skin. But every morning as he approached the tempest, the pain usually subsided.

He stopped about ten feet from the sand blown chaos, unzipped his fly and relieved himself on what he humorously called, “The Last Human Sandbox in the World.” Since there were no workable sanitation facilities, all tenants used the surrounding lands outside of the house. The urine eventually dried up in the green sun, but the stink of the solid refuse was so unbearable Francis — one of two friends he had at the house — forced all disagreeable tenants to take the shovel that was near the kitchen and throw their waste into the tempest. Considering Francis’s violent demeanor, everyone conceded. Manny T was the biggest mystery of all. With the exception of the vile gas, he never urinated or defecated anymore. He asked Manny about this, and the mountain of a man just smiled with his yellow eyes and patted his blubbery body. His second head answered only with a snore.

After he finished, he kicked some sand on the dampness and faced the tempest. The winds whipped and swirled against the perimeter as though some invisible shield prevented them from devouring the rest of the world. In the past, the tenants experimented by inserting wooden poles into the storm, only to have them ripped out of their hands to be shredded into wooden shrapnel. Ever since then, no one dared to even touch the membrane again.

He stared at its furious movements. The brown winds kicking up the dust, dirt, and sand whirled around the safe lands, shrieking its outrage. The shrieks turned into somber howls during its calmer moments and its actions were less violent and more fluidic. He closed his eyes and the howls turned into a low soothing drone. The winds always beckoned him to enter.

The day by day routine — waking up, going outside to urinate or defecate, staring at the tempest, then going back inside to face the constant taunts and attacks by his fellow tenants — had been driving him to the point where death seemed more preferable. Only Francis and Christine kept him sane, although they often hinted it would be preferable to risk going out into the tempest than staying among the dreck of human abominations. But the angry, untamed immensity of the tempest created an equal measure of dread within him, an unthinkable fear that there was a slim possibility entering the tempest would be a hell of a lot worse than his imprisonment.

He opened his eyes and dug into his pocket, bringing out a photo he found two weeks ago, or what may be approximated as two weeks ago. Kat was still living with him at the time and when he woke up that fateful morning, he discovered the picture underneath his glass shard. After seeing what the picture was, he felt a type of awakening, a re-emergence of identity. A connection to his dim past.

He brought the picture up to his face, blotting out the storm from his sight. She was still there; a petite, black-haired young woman smiling back at the camera. She stood in front of a grassy plain, with the sun shining in its pure, mighty glory behind her like an aura. She was dressed in a white, short-sleeved shirt, jeans and walking shoes, as though she were about to take a stroll down the glade where she stood. Her eyes were grey and narrow, yet appeared slightly sad. They didn’t match her smile, displaying a type of pathos about them.

Since the first day he found the photo, he wanted to help her, to rid of whatever ghosts haunted her. But he knew she was probably dead along with the rest of the world. Where had it come from? He knew the others would try to take it away from him, make fun of her, mock her. He tried to keep his treasure a secret, even from his friends. He almost succeeded.

“Not thinking about leaving, are you?”

After hearing the timid voice behind him, he gripped his photo tight, contemplating to slip it inside his shirt. But it was pointless to hide his find from the one person he told. He turned around and faced his former companion. The day after The Event, Kat was a victim even before the other tenants had any plans for her. She was a slight girl in her twenties, but her unhealthy lanky body, her straight, greasy, blonde hair and her hardened, unsmiling face made her look considerably older. The last trailer trash to survive the Event, Kat’s wide brown eyes showed only a soulless disregard for any human life except her own, a type of neediness for approval. Her eyes always maintained an air of deadness about them, even when she smiled. It was this lifelessness that prevented any kind of attraction for her, but it wasn’t enough for him not to feel pity.

Realizing how The Event mutated everyone in the house, he volunteered to let her stay in his room. Both Francis and Christine thought he was naïve; he knew they were right. Still, having a warm body lying next to his took some of the cold away, made some of the pain leave his head. Although she couldn’t stand the idea of him possessing the photo — causing her to run to one of the lowest creatures in the house — he continued to believe he did the right thing for her.

Now, as she stood in front of him wearing only a pink, cropped halter-top and hip-hugger pants and pinky ring on her right foot, he felt only disgust. There was a shiner under her left eye that matched the bruising on her right leg from yesterday’s game playing. She looked gradually thinner with her nose being more prominent from her pointed face, and her exposed navel looked withered. Above her navel was a tattooed Chinese symbol. Below it was another tattoo: the English translation written in cursive, Dreams.

She smiled with crooked teeth. “You’ll be annihilated like the rest of the world. You’re safe here, like the rest of us.”

“Lucky me.”

Her smile disappeared. She would have actually looked compassionate if her soulless eyes hadn’t shown a different, far less caring emotion. “Look, we never spoke after I left. That’s not right. We should talk about it.”

“Your actions were enough, Kat.”

“I never meant to hurt you.”

“You used me.”

She shrugged. “Cainye’s just stronger than you.”

He looked at her evenly. “You’re his punching bag.”

Even under the sunlight, he could tell she turned pale. “Strength’s more reliable than kindness.” She made a novice attempt to hide the left side of her face. She pointed to the object in his hand. “Besides, you’re not alone. You have her.”

He carefully slid the picture in his pocket. “I can’t throw away the last memory I have.”

“Of what? You don’t even know who she is.”

“She’s part of my past; that’s what counts. You... all of you inside don’t even have that and you want me to throw it away? If you really cared about me, you would have let it alone and still be with me.”

Her eyes narrowed with cruelty. “I care enough not to tell the others about her, yet you still ignore me.”

“Come on, Kat. You only care about yourself. You also envy me because I never had to compromise a part of my soul because of fear. And I never ignored you.”

Her brown, cow-like eyes became darker than flint. “And I can’t share you.” Kat looked down and breathed deeply. “Please. Doesn’t it bother you that another man has me?”

“It was your choice. I have no control over what you do.”

Kat faced him, and her mutation became alive once again. Her irises blackened even more into endless pits, swallowing the whites of her eyes. Her nose enlarged into a fleshy beak and her crooked teeth yellowed and curved into a snarl. “But you do,” she screeched, slowly approaching him. “You drove me away because of her!”

He backed up, almost feeling the wind of the tempest on his back. “Don’t, Kat. Please don’t do this.”

A familiar voice called out, “Leave him alone.”

Both tenants faced the nine-year old girl standing right behind Kat. A typical picture of innocence, Christine’s wavy, red hair was freshly brushed and draped along her delicate shoulders. Her white dress with pink trim was spotless and free from any wrinkles, just like the day he first met her after The Event. Her petite legs were covered with white stockings and her black leather shoes still retained its shiny reflective coat. Even the freckles on her cheeks seemed to deflect the intrusive green sunlight and enhance her fragile beauty. From Day One, the girl was an immortalized china doll.

His heart was still beating hard; only it changed from his threatened welfare to possibly another confrontation between the two. Christine won the last time, but she had a couple of lucky chances. She might not be able to do so again. “Go inside, Christine.”

Her crystal blue eyes never strayed from Kat. “She wants to hurt you. She’s showing herself again. The true ugly self.”

Kat stepped forward to the little girl, her hands clenching into fists. “This isn’t me. It’s what the Event did to me.”

A small, evil smile appeared on Christine’s porcelain face. “And this is what the Event did to me.” She raised her hands to her chest. Her fingernails grew to foot long talons where they ended in razor-sharp points. “I would love to play again, Kat. Would you like your right shoulder to match your left?”

To be continued...

Copyright © 2007 by Peter A. Balaskas

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