By Ryan Fitzpatrick
I get up from the floor and look around. I do not know how long I have been here, but I know that I am hungry and there is nothing to eat. I have not looked in the fridge, but I know that whatever it once contained has long since turned into fur and mulch. I lose my appetite and lean against the sink, trying to remember.
Nothing comes, so I pick up the phone and dial your number. The phone rings twice and is answered by static. It is thick and deep and reminds me of quicksand. I stand with the receiver to my ear whilst the paint cracks and peels around me. There is something terrible in the basement.
I squeeze the earpiece to the side of my head, straining to hear your voice beneath the storm of electrical noise that fills the line. I think I can hear something, but it is faint, far away, like you are submerged beneath murky water, whispering. I push the phone against my ear until it starts to throb. I need you to tell me it will be ok. I need you to tell me you have a plan. I need you to tell me you forgive me.
But your voice is quieter now, and the static jumps the gap between the phone and my ear and crawls deep, advancing like an army of ants until it is embedded deep within me, the sensation of buzzing coming from somewhere behind my own eyes.
I look at the wall and try to imagine you standing in front of it. How you used to be before you met him. When we first bought this place and everything was fresh and new and bearable.
But it doesn’t work, and I am only able to conjure a soot impression of shadow in your place. It is not right, and I hold the receiver dumbly.
I forgive you. Do you forgive me?
But the static does not reply. It is friends with the thing in the basement, and they will not let me speak to you.
I throw the phone at the cradle in frustration, but it misses. It doesn’t matter, the static has remained anyway, and the sound begins to creep further, filling my throat and choking my breath. I grip the edge of the sink and lean over to vomit.
Nothing comes up and my abdomen screams out in pain. The static passes through my throat and into my chest, a swarm of bees that attack my lungs and then disperse to my limbs. To my left, there is a smear of something black on the tiles. It is familiar, but I do not know why. I try not to think about the thing in the basement.
And then the smell hits me, suddenly and violently. It is the familiar tang of perfumed decay and I am insane to have missed it before. I try not to think about the thing in the basement.
The ferocity of the static increases. My skin itches, on the inside, and my forearms and fingers and soles of my feet all cry out in insatiable irritation, and I think wildly for the best place to start peeling.
Why won’t you talk to me? Goddamn it why? I think I would be ok if I could hear you say sorry for what you did. For what you made me do.
And then I remember.
The colour drains from the room and the last few chips of paint fall to the floor. I see you down there, crumpled awkwardly amongst the paint cans, the same position as I first dropped you in, your head raised on a pillow of coiled hose. You are looking at me from a strange angle, and your lips begin to move. I watch you as you form the words, your grey skin stretching and contorting with the effort. I am repulsed but enraptured.
But the static grows stronger, and I claw at my temples as if I can dig the sound out. It is a rock concert of white noise; it is the sound of loose metal in a jet engine; it is the smell of putrid meat converted to audio. I look at the black smear and remember that it used to be red. I look at my hands and see they are still dirty from our fight. I look inside myself and see that you are still looking at me from the basement, mouthing impossible syllables from blue lips and sunken eyes. I am about to smash my face against the edge of the sink to make it stop, when suddenly, it does.
I look around at our kitchen and smile at its warm familiarity. The sun is streaming through the window and I can hear children playing in the street.
I am hungry, but my stomach hurts for some reason, and I think I have the beginnings of a headache. I check the cupboard for Advil but we are out. I make a mental note to tell you the next time I see you, and I sit down on the floor.
The itching is gone. The smell is gone. I know nothing about the basement. I am empty. I am calm. I look at the phone and close my eyes.
I’ll try you again later.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a writer from Wolverhampton, England. His works of fiction include The Man published by Every Day Fiction, Spring 2017 and The Sarāya published by Hinnom Magazine, Summer 2017.