The smell was evident as soon as Neil walked through the door to his apartment. He winced and swore under his breath. “Forgot the fucking garbage again,” he muttered to himself.
That was the first place he went, once he set his keys and mail on the kitchen table, not even bothering to take off his shoes and coat. But when he opened the cupboard under the sink, he saw an empty bag in the bin that he must have put there after taking the garbage to the dumpster. He stood up, momentarily unsure of himself, for he had no recollection of doing so.
The smell was still evident—if anything it had grown stronger since he arrived. He ducked his head into the cupboard where the garbage bin was, to see if somehow something had leaked from it without his noticing. But the stench was not any more noticeable there, and he could see nothing that might be causing a smell. Next he checked the sink above, thinking some food had become trapped in the drain, but nothing seemed amiss there.
Before searching further, he went to open the windows, hoping to reduce the pall by getting some fresh air into the apartment. The window in the living room cranked open easily, but the one in his bedroom—difficult to budge at the best of times—refused to move, no matter how much he tried to force it. It was the cold probably—it had to be twenty below outside—and there was heavy frost on the glass. He could get a hair dryer and probably get it unstuck, but he decided not to for the moment. Finding the location of the smell seemed more important.
He started in the bathroom, opening the cupboard beneath the sink to check for any leaks and continued through the apartment, searching every conceivable place possible. There was no sign of anything he could see that might be causing the terrible stench. The smell seemed to have no locus either, lying heavy across the atmosphere of the entire apartment. It hadn’t dissipated at all, in spite of his opening the window.
When he was done searching the apartment, he sat down on the couch letting out a quiet oomph of frustration. It didn’t make any sense. There was nothing in here that should be smelling, certainly not something as rancid and rotting as this was. As he sniffed it further, he detected notes of acid and the sweetness of rotting meat.
“God this is vile,” he said, going to the bedroom to try to pry the window open further.
It was still stuck and, after a futile few moments of trying to shove it open, he gave up and went to the other window to make sure it was cranked fully open. Seeing that it was, he went to the door, thinking that maybe he could create a draft if he opened it. When he turned the handle of the door though, it wouldn’t open. After checking that it was unlocked, he tried again, with the same result.
He stepped from the door, staring down at it, utterly perplexed. “What in the hell…”
Just to be sure, he tried it again, with the lock bolted and unbolted, making certain he was not somehow confusing the two. It made no difference and he looked around helplessly. There had to be something blocking the door, he decided. When he checked the peephole he saw that there was something covering it, though it looked like a thin film of something, red and opaque, allowing just a little light through.
Neil stared at it, trying and failing to resolve what his eyes were seeing and what his mind said had to be impossible. He had the distinct impression that the film was moist, in addition to whatever else it was. It seemed impossible that this, whatever it was, could be sealing the door closed.
But it was. He was having difficulty breathing. Partly from the panic, which was rising, in spite of his efforts to keep himself calm, and partly from the noxious smell, which seemed to be infecting every molecule of air in the apartment. He was drenched in sweat as well, the result, he now realized, of a growing humidity in his place. That too made no sense: he had opened a window, after all, and it was winter outside.
Nothing stood to reason and he had to lean against a wall to collect himself. When he did, the wall seemed to give way. He jumped back from it in horror, and saw that the sleeve of his shirt was damp. Tentatively, he rubbed the fabric of his shirt between his fingers. The substance coating it was sticky and heavy and, he realized after a few moments, burned slightly. It was also, undoubtedly the source of the stench.
Looking at the wall, he saw that he had left an indentation where he had leaned against it. When he pressed against it, the drywall gave way. It was soggy, the liquid having soaked entirely through.
“Jesus Christ,” Neil said, blinking and looking from his fingers, which still burned, to the wall.
He went to wash his hands and then returned to stare some more. It seemed clear that whatever the liquid that had soaked through the wall was, it was related to whatever was on the door. There had been no sign of the film on the door when he came in, at least not that he had noticed. Only the smell had indicated something was wrong. Now the door was covered and stuck, and the wall seemed near collapse.
Swallowing his panic as best he could, Neil went along the wall that ran on the outside of the apartment, pressing against it and found that it was all the same. Next he went to the wall that separated his apartment from his neighbors. It too was soggy with the noxious liquid. He ran to the bathroom and the bedroom. The walls there were all the same.
“This isn’t happening,” Neil said, his hands shaking. His nausea at the stench, which now seemed to inhabit his own nostrils, caused him to wretch and nearly vomit.
Adding to his terror was the growing darkness and warmth. His entire shirt was damp with sweat and it seemed like his breath was dripping.
“The windows,” he said with a start. By the time he looked at them it was too late. They were covered over by the same film that lined the door, sealing him in.
He was overwhelmed by a sudden rage at all that was happening and began to attack the nearest wall, tearing away at the drywall and insulation. On the other side, there was not, as he had expected, another layer of drywall. Instead, he was faced with a red lining, not so different from the film that covered the windows and door. He thought he could almost see through it.
In a frenzy, he tried to tear through it, to burst out and into the next apartment. The lining, though thin, proved impenetrable. All he managed to do was end up covered in the juice that it was excreting. It seemed to contract at his touch, responding to him as though it were alive.
He fell to the floor in despair, blinking back tears of rage. His whole body was shaking and his skin was burning and itching from the liquid that now seemed to cover him. The lining that encompassed the apartment seemed to quiver in anticipation at that smell, which was added to the rancid, rotting, acidic stench, to create an entirely new odor. A terrifying one.
For Neil recognized it for what it was. It was smell of digestive juices breaking down a piece of meat. The lining was the lining of some monstrous stomach. His apartment had become the belly of some infernal beast and he had walked in, unsuspecting, and now was being devoured.
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