Even though it’s now posted under the Shorts tab, I wanted to share with everyone the story I wrote for round one of the NYC Midnight short story challenge.
There’s nothing quite as surreal as staring down at your own dead body.
If you think you look awful in life, you look ten times worse in death; all bloated and pasty, not to mention the awkward pose. There’s no lifting your chin or sucking in your gut once you’re pushing up the daisies.
How did I get here, you ask? Well, that’s a good question. One I’m not really sure I have a good answer for…
It was another Friday night where I had a date with my desk and an overwhelming amount of paperwork. The Carlsons had been here hours before, fighting over that stupid family heirloom. The wife said it was haunted and had ruined the marriage. The husband said she was crazy and was just trying to talk him out of keeping the object. The Gilded Clam they called it. I called it a hideous paperweight, but until it could be decided to whom it was going to be awarded, it resided on my desk.
The hour was late and I was the only one left in the office, which made me nervous. The city neon lights beckoned through the wall of windows behind me, but a divorce attorney’s work is never done. No time to play when you’ve got custody papers to draw up and finances to review. I led quite the exciting life, no?
Head buried in papers, my nose wrinkled as I started to notice an unpleasant smell. Was it coming through the ducts? Maybe it was the rest of my tuna sandwich that was sitting in the trash. Shivers ran the length of my body as the smell got stronger, the briny unpleasant scent of a sick sea.
Pushing back from the desk slightly, I looked around the office, wondering where it could be coming from. An eerie silence enveloped me; the only sounds were my beating heart and slightly uneven breath.
A movement beckoned me from the corner of the office. My chair swiveled on its own accord and I’m treated to a show of sinewy shadows undulating, unfurling from their corporeal constraints, taking on a metaphysical life of their own.
Hands rose to eyes, trying to rub away the sleep I assumed I’d slipped under. Shadows continued to dance as the heavy, oppressive smell completely invaded my senses, tickling the gag reflex.
My pulse began to race as thoughts careened through my brain: I was being gassed, I had stumbled across some terrorist plot and they were coming to do away with me, I was the victim of food poisoning. It could be anything!
Shaky handed I pulled open the side desk drawer while my eyes never left the wily shadows. A lone burnt orange bottle rolled to the front from the force of the motion. Snatching it in a swift gesture, I turned the cap and tried to dump the contents into my palm… except there was nothing there. Daring to look away from the spectacle on my wall, I peered into the bottle knowing there had been three pills there earlier. During the morning ritual, I counted and recounted and counted yet again before calling the pharmacy to refill the prescription for the strong anxiety medication. I couldn’t survive without it. All the breathing techniques in the world did nothing to calm my panic disorder and agoraphobia, only years of trial and error with medications had succeeded. My doctors were amazed I could function on the doses I took, but I made it work.
So what happened to the three pills? Did I take them all and was having an adverse reaction? Or did I somehow lose them and my fears were playing on my under medicated mind, making me see things that weren’t really there?
While I had been pondering the missing medication, the shadows must have come together because there was now a large blob in the middle of the wall directly across from the desk. Breath caught in my throat as I scrambled to push back further in my chair until I hit the wall of glass behind me. Now I was trapped, nowhere to go, the worst fear of all.
The figure grew and tentacle-like limbs unfolded from within, their writhing shapes stretching from corner to corner, floor to ceiling. Wet, sloppy sounds, reminding me of eager teenagers making out, filled the room as the almost unimaginable freak show extremities unattached themselves from the walls, becoming nearly three dimensional as they stretched out towards me, slow and steady.
Fetid odors of dead fish left out in the summer sun had me struggling to hold my dinner down. The roar and crashing of waves sounded in my ears, as if I was walking along a sandy shore.
None of it could be real. I lived in a landlocked state for God’s sake!
Doe-eyes wide, my head swung back and forth in denial. Sharp, manicured nails dug into my palms in the hopes that pain would snap me out of my delusions.
I noticed there was a faint glow coming from the hideous clamshell that was precariously teetering at the edge of my desk. As the luminescence grew brighter, the shadow gained heft, bulging and bellowing out from the wall, its suctioned limbs continuing to wind and weave their way across the room.
The chair spun out from under me and I was suddenly on my feet, back up against the glass, the cold seeping into my bones through the thin blouse and equally thin skin I possessed.
“Nononononono,” I chanted, pulse racing like a sprinter’s, body shaking like a leaf on the wind. “It’s not real. You’re a figment of my imagination,” I whispered, trying to remember phrases my therapist had attempted to ingrain into my often irrational mind.
I found my hands in my hair, pulling as if to relieve myself of the silky strands. Those expensive to maintain locks seemed to turn on me, twisting and tangling around my thin digits, holding them prisoner. Salty tears started to well as if they wanted to join the ocean atmosphere that was taking over my lofty corner office. Multiple spots on my head throbbed in time with my jackrabbit heart as my hands continued to flail, trying to break free of their hirsute penitentiary.
The dim room was unexpectedly awash in a bright glowing light. Was it the clam? No, it was my phone. Someone was calling! Superhuman strength had me ripping a hand free, taking a clump of curls with it as I reached for my savior on the other end of the cellular connection. The coppery smell of blood assaulted my senses but I tried to ignore it, along with the pain. I was too busy cursing my traitorous arm that wasn’t long enough to reach salvation. I was going to have to take a step forward towards the ever growing appendages. The phone continued its occasional dance across the desk as the vibrations shook it, becoming even further out of reach.
I took that step, well as much as I could, and found myself falling forward. My body twisted like a gymnast to avoid clipping my chin on the corner of the desk. I coughed and sputtered at the sudden invasion of salt water that entered my mouth and drenched the front side of me. The free hand had broken my fall, but bent back, sending stars to my vision.
Where the hell had all this water come from? Did a pipe break? My mind whirled trying to come up with a reasonable explanation, but the only one I kept coming back to was that the water wasn’t really there at all. That had to be it. Stress and my fear-riddled brain had me seeing things, had me experiencing auditory hallucinations and phantosmia. I really needed a vacation.
Over and over in my mind I kept telling myself none of this was real. “Just get up,” I said aloud, demanding my body listen. As I struggled, I realized something had tripped me up in the first place, causing me to fall on my face. A ball of dread grew in the pit of my stomach as I squirmed enough to be able to look at my feet, soaking myself even more in the process. What I saw had me bucking like a wild bronco.
Those tentacles-like shadows were wrapped around my legs, slowly slithering up my thighs to a place no man had seen in years. It set me over the edge, allowing me to free my other trapped hand to try and save myself. Doing their impression of a boa constrictor, the shadows tightened around my legs, encasing them like a cocoon. I reached down to try and tear them off of me, but my hands went right through the smoky gray apparitions. How could something be holding me captive when it wasn’t even tangible?
I was able to sit up a bit-thanks daily gym habit and abs of steel-and noticed that my phone had shimmied its way off the desk, and now was laying in several inches of water. Words as foul as the surrounding smell flew from my mouth as I realized I had missed my chance. Could I get to the landline on the desktop? Would it work? Had the water risen enough to compromise the outlets? I had to try.
Grabbing the edge of the desk, I was able to get myself to my knees, the phantom limbs tightening as I went. I groped around, trying to find the giant handset. Where the hell was it?
Pins and needles invaded my lower limbs. Ischemia, my mind asked, or anxiety? I didn’t like either option, but definitely preferred one answer over the other.
I reached further, the sharp edge of the desk cutting into my chest. My fingers finally found the familiar coiled cord. Hurrah! Something was finally going my way. Pulling the wire freed the handset from its cradle and set it flying, almost into my forehead. I swore and then fumbled to put it up to my ear, praying to any and all deities that there would be a dearly beloved dial tone.
“Fuck!” I screamed until my voice went horse. The disappointment sapped all the energy from my body and I sank down, hanging my head. When my hands dropped, I found my fingertips immersed in cold water. Shit. How had it gotten so much higher without me noticing? My singular adventure to the worthless phone must have had me ignoring everything else. A whole lot of good that did.
Maybe I could make it to the door. If I opened it, the water would have somewhere to go and maybe there would be a janitor or someone out there to help. Yes. I could do this. I could make it to the door.
I peered over my desk and the door seemed miles away. I shook my head, trying to dispel the inaccurate vision. Okay. It wasn’t really that far. I could make it. Dropping to my stomach, I immediately choked on a mouthful of briny water. Stupid idiot. Why did I have my mouth open?
Regaining my composure, as best I could anyway, I set out to army crawl my way across the room. The water had risen enough that I had to keep my chin tipped up to keep it out of the cold substance. Using my elbows, I started making my way towards the door, dragging my useless lower body along with me.
A yelp left my shivering lips as there was a sudden constriction around my ribs. I tried to look down, but the water hid my torso. I could only imagine those monster appendages had made their way up my body. I had to hurry.
I tried my best to pick up the pace, but it was exhausting and breathing was labored as the limbs continued to crush the life out of me. My whole body was numb and it was no longer possible to keep my face out of the water. Luckily, I could keep my eyes just above the frigid drink to make sure I was still going in the right direction.
When I felt a slimy tickle at my neck, I knew that was it. There would be no reaching the door. No releasing the water. No calling for help. My coveted corner office was going to be my watery grave.
Shaking my head side to side sent little waves of water rippling to the far corners of the room. None of this could be real. I had to just keep telling myself there was no water. There was no monster. It was all in my head. If I could just get through to myself, I could snap out of it.
I stopped struggling and squeezed my eyes so tight my face started to hurt. While chanting over and over in my mind, “I can beat this, fear won’t conquer me,” a slimy appendage slithered across my tightly sealed mouth. Not gagging was nearly impossible. I tried to deny it access, repeating my mantra internally, but it was persistent. It got by my yielding lips but crashed into gnashed teeth. My inner monologue was so loud now it nearly drowned out the sound of my adrenaline laced heartbeats.
What I thought was a steel resolve, shattered like a raw egg meeting the kitchen floor. The tentacular limb entered my mouth like a bullet from a gun, aiming for my throat. Eyes flashed opened and teared up at the invasive intrusion. Gag reflex more than tipped as I tried to force it up. Biting down did no better than trying to grab at it with hands. Spots danced before my eyes, a slow waltz that worked up to a techno beat.
Resistance was futile, so I gave up. A calm washed over me and my body felt as if it was floating on the gentle waves. Heavy lids closed and I fell into a peaceful slumber.
When I woke, I had this unsavory bird’s eye view of myself. People were gathered around, poking and prodding my unresponsive body. There was a cord intertwined around my legs-the thing that cause me to trip? A man stood and brushed off his hands before jotting down “heart attack” on the paper on his clinical clipboard. The people around him nodded in agreement with his diagnosis.
I suppose it was just fear after all: the fear of being trapped in my life, being alone, being confined to an office, regardless of how large. Fright was the nail in my coffin… but wait, is that seaweed in my hair?