(2k words–read time: 10 min.)
Something had been growing from the inside-out and soon out altogether. A new skin to wear. Over the course of countless hours filled with nothing other than torments and agonies the apartment he wandereded had diminished in size. The walls had begun to draw in closer and closer and still continued to impose, the four familiar sheets of plaster inching ever nearer to some invisible point in the middle. A set place where all would merge into one. Each wall fixed on giant mechanical tracks, ancient and rusted, some monstrous being turning a great crank beneath the surface of this place.
He could not bear the thought of it. Of greater things at work.
If there was a way to escape, he would have already been out the door. Perhaps in the beginning of the endless night there had been a threshold in the wall which would allow for exit, but there no longer remained such a passageway. Perhaps there had never been a door. He could not remember. The night had drawn out and stretched vast and cruel and seemed something of infinite conception. He could not recall a single distinguishing moment to grasp to for notion of time. And how else was time to be measured if not counted by substantial moments? Some definitive point to begin from so that the end could be counted down toward.
It had never begun, it just was.
And now forever belonging to the solitude and horror of this shrinking place, moments counting down with the promise of the last to soon come. Imminent and unpreventable. Condemned to the diminishing floors he devoutly crossed and crossed, each stride more rapid than the last with no answers to justify the whys of it all. Would the next crossing open a hole in this diminishing world? A hole which would allow for escape into a place where time and moments mattered, with beginnings and ends and moments of value between.
There had been at one point a plain shirt and plain shorts covering his normal body soon not, but now there remained only the shorts. The shirt torn to shreds some time ago. An hour ago. A day ago. A year ago. The point in which it had happened now something gone from memory. At first he’d just clawed at the loose fitting cotton, his skin seemingly crawling with microscopic bugs. Little organisms commanding nails to relive the never ending march of these torments. Ever since he could remember the skin upon his forearm was scarred. Each time he looked at his arms he thought back to when he’d first noticed the mutilation but he could not recall. They were mangled beyond what nails could do. Some form of instrumentation the device behind this heavy scarring, skin never to be repaired, the eternal pain never to be forgotten.
The march of these agonies across his being continued on and on, and he continued to rake his nails harder and harder against his body. Soon the shirt was no longer the only thing torn. Small bands of skin had opened on his back and from these self-inflicted wounds blood coiled not down but up. Red ribbons climbing up his back and neck and dripping onto the ceiling above. The aftermath of this frenzy, a complex pattern of lesions. Chaotic lines etched into soft, tortured skin but when looked at in whole something cohesive. The meaning of everything buried in the chaos of it all.
He continued to claw at his back as he looked upwards and watched the blood drip onto the ceiling. He could hear the sound of his life in the otherwise silent room. A faint pitter patter against the motionless ceiling. Like a painter dabbing a coarse brush against an untouched canvas. From the corner of the shrinking room he then heard the sound of a ringing phone. The effect of its jingle rebounding off the shrinking walls and progressively coming closer and closer. The Doppler diminishing and diminishing, each a copy of a copy of a copy. A long time coming from that great faraway but still coming all the same.
He crossed to the phone and it took him some time to get there. A time he had nothing to relate it to. A minute. An hour. A day. A year. When he got there he looked at the ringing phone and held his hand above the curved plastic of its handle. Let it idle above with the hope that the ringing would stop but it carried on and on with no promise of silence in its future. He gripped the plastic and pulled the phone to his ear.
Hello? he said.
From the other end of the line, a soft whimper. A wail of sorrow and horror.
Mom? he asked.
I’m so sorry, she said. I’m so sorry.
Mom, something is happening. I’m…stuck. I can’t get out of here. I don’t know what is going on. I’m scared, Mom. Really scared.
I am too, she said. I am too. I…I wish there was some way I could help. I’m so sorry. I am.
Mom, you can help. I need you come to my apartment and open the door. I can’t…I can’t find it, Mom. The door. I’ve lost it.
There is no door to open, she said.
Mom, please come. The walls…they keep coming. I can’t stop them. They’re going to swallow me whole soon. Please, Mom, come and open the door. I just want out of here.
I’m here, baby, she said. There is no door. I’m so sorry.
She cried, and he began to cry.
You’re where? he asked.
Outside your apartment. There is no door. I’m locked out. I can never get in.
I don’t understand, he said. What’s happening?
I don’t know. She paused and continued to weep and then said, I’ve lost you. I’ve lost you.
Then the phone was dead, the wailing pitch of nothing now echoing through the collapsing walls and world.
He returned the phone to the receiver and looked at it for a while. Confused and lost and tormented by the knowledge that he’d never escape. When he could despair no more he started back toward the center of the closing room. He was a long time walking. When back at the center he looked around and then began to walk around in an arc, each oscillation tighter than the one which had preceded it. After a while he was back at the epicenter of it all. The room.
He looked up at the blood dappled ceiling and observed. A spattering of blood painting the roof like an abstract piece of art, some sections more coagulated than others, but still there remained an echo of his travels etched into the ceiling. Blood like a map of the past.
The more he studied this maze of blood the more inspirations came. He began to follow a trail, the splotches darker and darker and then black and dead. When blood no longer dotted the wall he returned his gaze to proper and observed the area. There in the ever moving wall, the vague form of a doorway, no light surrounding its borders.
He stared at it and looked back at the roof. He lowered his head and looked around the shrinking room. At the door without a handle. He sighed and allowed a brief moment of fatalism to flood his every thought. A flood so great it could cripple a man. Pessimism provided little comfort. Be a master of your own world and let it be as you see or be not at all, and as such he pushed open the door and it swung wide without second thought of coming back to a close.
A narrow hallway stretched straight beyond the threshold, dark at the entrance but lit with progressively more light the longer it carried on. Like some fabled path into a place better than the one you now call home.
He stepped through the entryway and stalked down the long hall, hardship of life implicit in the weight of each step though each more lit than the last the deeper he travelled. He continued until there stood before him another door at its end. Again, he paused and hesitated and contemplated turning back but thought better of it. He pushed the door open.
Beyond this doorway, the light of day. The world he had once known before falling victim to the trap of those collapsing walls. He stepped into the day and was on the verge of running to his mother’s house when the façade of it all crumbled away.
Once again he stood in the walled off room. The great din of nothing resting heavy and total over this place of nowhere. He fell to the ground and despaired anew until the misery became too great to harbor.
The ceiling had upon it more pathways of blood which he chose to follow, all of which led to concealed doorways within each of the four walls, but upon travelling them he found that all had to them the same final trick. The promise of a life outside of here. An old, familiar life which he’d not appreciated before but now all the more for it.
And then, nothing.
He pleaded for the walls to discontinue their approach. Be still. Be solid. But the room seemed to quake at these pleas for stillness and solidity. A liquid, unsolid place, shaking and trembling at the mercies he tried for. The great beast turning the great crank continued on undeterred, unrelenting as death. Maniacal as hope itself. A room laughing at the hopelessness of a lost man.
Something strange happening when the walls were so very close to their genesis. A transformation underway, not of the world about him but of him. First a bizarre feeling winding through his body, through his every vein. Some sort of solidity from the inside-out. His blood seemed to thicken and his heart slowed like a sputtering engine. He discontinued pacing back and forth and focused on the coursing feeling, the thickening and the way everything seemed to be going down. His gaze fell to his legs and he noticed a substance growing over the top of them, something brown and itchy bedding over his skin.
He made a desperate jerk to move his leg, but it did not budge. Rooted to the unsolid floor. Then the crisp, hollow sound of bone breaking, the wet snap of flesh as that which was inside came out. Burrowing into the wood and curling further into the ground, these legs of his no longer human but something else. The heavy scars on his arms pulled apart and blood spewed from these wounds like liquid from a syringe. A great pain and confusion dwelled over his being. His heart thundering towards the end. In the dark atmosphere of this place, the blood from his undone being shone like tar. Spilling slow and thick and pooling all about.
Oh, God, he said.
But God did not come. Only the walls, inch by inch. Something out of sight turning the great gears of this place and drawing them closer and closer. By the second were his legs rooting deeper and deeper into the floor, spiraling down through the foundation, cracking pavement and sinking the house and still diving lower and lower, searching for some meaning to grab hold of. The peculiar substance covering his flesh continued to grow, moving past his ankles and then shins and legs. It would soon overtake him.
The phone rang and it was nearer. The walls had brought it closer. But still not near enough for him in this immobile state to answer the caller. It rang and rang and then went to voicemail.
I’m so sorry, his mother said. I’m so sorry. I can’t find the door. It’s not here. It’s just not here anymore.
Mom, he shrieked. Mom.
She could not hear.
When the voicemail ended the same terrible silence emerged like a wraith and held absolute over the room. The throb of his heart the closest thing to a sound, but only the sound of a life being lost. A life wasted as it wallowed deeper and deeper into the under.
The brown material crawling up his body soon moved past his groin and abdomen and then chest. Thundering heart no longer producing a solid thrum but something wooden, almost dead. Whatever activity remained in his brain was only enough to keep him alive in these moments of last. The new skin continued its ascent and covered him in total, and still it did not stop. More layers caked over the top of the fresh undercoat, more material and veins and ridges. What had once been arms were now outstretched limbs, and from these limbs there grew more limbs, each barren and bereft of the beauty of life. A wasted tree, only as vast as its marginal host could accommodate.
The roof collapsed and floors fell and the building sunk, but still the tree remained alive but dead all the same. No hope of being discovered in a collapsed world of his own doing.