If cleanliness is emptiness, then Apartment # 17 was spotless. It was located in a solitary building that occupied its own lot at the corner of Forest and Canal streets. Neither the scenery nor the waterways for which the streets were named were in evidence. The lot, however, did sport a drab plumage of tall grass stunted here and there by half-hearted attempts at maintenance, and the city it was located in had a river that ran through the center of it, a wide belt of deep, dirty water that divided the city neatly in two. The river was touted as its one natural attraction. The complex was on the far outside rim from the river, though; it was situated in the depressed area known to the locals as the Apocalypse.
The apartment had no natural attractions to speak of; a robust colony of edible mushrooms grew in the farthest corner of the bottom cupboard in the kitchen. In the bathroom, behind the toilet, a large brown spider lived happily on a large white web littered with desiccated bug corpses.
A man also lived there, as empty as the four walls around him. His name was Harry Trencher. He was not naturally attractive. He sat on a folding chair in the center of the room, wearing holed boxers. On his feet were a pair of slippers fashioned to look like goofy, gap-toothed mice. One had an eye missing. The other had broken open along the stitching under its buck-teeth, so that it flopped open like a drunken, toe-filled mouth whenever he took a step. It flapped as he walked, and the sound accompanied him on his circuits of the apartment, echoing after him from room to room. Both slippers had had tails once, whose stumps were still present; ragged analogues to their former glory.
Harry Trencher held a beer can in his hand. It was empty. That was good. It meant that its contents were in his stomach and he could get another from the 30-pack next to the radiator. He’d heard that the Germans drank their beer warm. Harry Trencher wasn’t German, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t drink like them. It was supposed to do something to the taste, but all it did was make it flat and warm. Rather like drinking someone else’s piss. Harry didn’t care. Beer was beer, hot or not. A wise man once said that there was food value in beer, but no beer value in food.
He placed the current can on the floor at his slippered feet, next to the only book in the apartment. As far as Harry was concerned, it was the only book in the world. It was a copy of an old porno novel that he’d traded a baseball card for when he was a kid. The other kid had sold the card for 5,000 bucks 30 years later. Harry didn’t know this. Its cover was stained with butt sweat from being shoved into his back pocket over and over again, but it was still readable, in all its sinful glory. It had been a serial, but he’d never been able to find the other books, so there he was, stuck in the middle of someone else’s orgy.
He stood up from the chair, moving ponderously toward the 30 by the radiator. He was not drunk, even halfway through the 30, but he thought that if he acted like it, he might get there faster. Such was logic in the house of Trencher.
As he walked across the room, he glanced toward the kitchen, where, above the sink, a novelty black-cat clock was mounted. He hated the thing. It had been a gift, a relic of some forgotten Christmas that he’d put up out of guilt, planning to let the batteries die and be done with it. That same guilt kept him from letting that happen, though, and made him faithfully change the batteries every month or so. So there it hung, tail ceaselessly swinging back and forth, eyes shuck-shuck-shucking.
The clock put Harry on edge. There was something of the paranoiac in the way its eyes constantly shifted from side to side, as if it were always looking over its shoulder for some unseen threat. Its paws framed the clock’s face, clamped to it like the open-mouthed humanoid in that Scream painting. Its plastic smile was a mask of forced congeniality that seemed to say, I’m fine. I’m the smart one, I’m on watch. You’re the one with the problem, Trencher.
“Oh yeah?” muttered Harry Trencher. “Well you’re a fucking clock.” The clock did not reply; its tail swished, and its eyes shuck-shuck-shucked. Harry Trencher nodded. “That’s what I thought.”
Having vanquished the clock, he bent to retrieve another beer from the box. As he was standing up, something at the base of the wall caught his eye. He squatted down for a closer look and found, to his surprise, a large hole worked through the baseboard. “Where the hell did this come from?” he asked the air. He stood, beer in hand, and went to find a flashlight.
Back in the kitchen, under the watchful gaze of the Tick-Tock Tom, Harry rummaged through drawers overflowing with the collected detritus of domestic neglect in search of the light. He found it, eventually, under a bag of cigarette butts. He didn’t know how they got there. He didn’t smoke, had quit ten years previous. Mysteries upon mysteries. He gulped warm beer and about-faced toward the living room.
Back at the hole, he got down on all fours, light in one hand, beer in the other. He leaned in closer to the hole, and shined the light in. Inside was a mess of chewed pink insulation and drywall dust. To either side and straight up were trails through the disorder behind the wall. “Rats?” he said to himself. “Fuckers.”
He pushed himself back up onto his feet and shoved the 30 in front of the hole. That’ll keep em, he thought. He grudgingly put on pants, shoes, and other such trappings of civilization in preparation for a trip to the minute mart. He was going to pick up some rat traps.
He went to the door, opened it, stepped out. As he was closing it, he cast one final glance toward the place where the hole was hidden behind the 30. “I’ll get you, you little shits,” he promised. As he looked away, the 30 moved very slightly, just enough to make Harry Trencher look twice. He frowned and turned the key in the lock.
The walk to the store was a short one. Out the door, left on Canal for two blocks, then another left down Ark and there it was, a neon monument to day-old hot dogs and stale donuts. The doors jingled when he pulled them open. The clerk behind the counter eyed him suspiciously as he walked in. Harry glowered at him for a moment, then asked, “You got rat traps?”
The clerk held the stare a second longer before pointing toward the back of the store. “Next to the chemicals. We got poison cheese too.”
“I know, you put it on your nachos.”
Harry was not a clever man, and this comment surprised him almost as much as it did the clerk, who narrowed his eyes, and pointed again to the back of the store. Harry turned and followed the finger. He found the rat traps where the finger had directed him, and took four. He grabbed a bag of chips as an afterthought.
“That everything?” the clerk asked.
“Got any skin mags?”
“How much skin?”
“Never mind. Just gimme the traps and the chips.”
The exchange made, Harry Trencher left the way he came and arrived back at the complex in short order. He made his way up the stairs to his door, and set the bag down on the carpet. He pulled the key from his pocket and was putting it in the lock when he heard a scuffling sound from inside the apartment. He quickly turned the key and opened the door, ready for a fight- and found nothing. The apartment was empty.
Inexplicably disappointed, Harry picked up the bag with the traps and entered the room. He quickly found the source of the noise: his folding chair had tipped over. He followed a trail of debris from the chair to where he’d left the 30. The box had been chewed into and shoved aside; it lay at an obtuse angle several inches away from the hole. He hurried over to see if the beer was ok. One can was poking out of the hole chewed in the box, the tab unpulled. He picked it up and found that it had been punctured and was leaking all over the floor. That pissed him off. “Fuckers ruined my beer!” he growled. He threw the can to the ground and pulled out one of the traps. “You can chew a hole in my wall, but you can’t spill my goddamned beer!”
He set the trap quickly, holding his fingers out of the way of the large spring-loaded bar. Once it was set, he shoved it in front of the hole. “Bait,” he muttered, “Need bait.” He hustled into the kitchen and cut off a dime-sized piece of cheese from the block in the fridge. He took it back to the trap and placed it gingerly on the trigger. “Now we wait.” He grinned to himself. He spent the rest of the day drinking, and finally passed out on his bed after a good buzz had set in.
The next morning, he awoke with a certain blind assurance of victory that only the ignorant or truly talented possess. Harry was neither; merely hung over. He rolled out of bed and shouldered his way through the door to the living room. He hurried to where the trap sat, next to the wrecked 30, and bent to retrieve his prize. The trap was empty. Harry was now feeling the crushing sense of defeat that only the truly talented feel when beaten by the ignorant.
The cheese was missing. This made Harry feel worse. Not only had his trap not worked, he had also given the squatters a free meal. This was the worst. While not a miserly individual, Harry Trencher was not overly generous either; rather, he hovered somewhere in the middle, giving when coerced into it and then convincing himself that he had meant to all along. The thought of giving away free food to rodents turned his stomach.
“First the wall, then the beer, now my goddamn cheese,” he muttered. “No more.” He went into the kitchen and cut off some more cheese for the trap. As he was punishing the innocent cheddar, he happened to glance up at the Tick-Tock Tom. It wasn’t moving. Its tail hung limp and motionless, its frozen eyes staring toward the living room. Toward the hole.
He put the knife down next to the cheese and reached for the clock. As he took it down, its eyes shucked towards him. I told you so, they said. I told you I was watching, and look now. You’re next, Trencher.
“Fuck you,” Harry said, and tossed the clock on the counter. The eyes shucked back toward the living room. He rebaited the trap, and nudged it closer to the hole. He cracked open a warm beer, and sat down in his folding chair.
Harry was a man familiar with final straws; he’d reached his breaking point many times in his 38 years, and it seemed that he was rapidly approaching it yet again. He finally decided to call his curry-slinging bastard landlord Sanjay to see if he’d call up an exterminator. There was nothing Harry would have liked more than to have the apartment gassed and whatever was in his wall die a painful, intestine-vomiting death.
Sanjay picked up on the third ring, answering with a spritely “Hello!” His demeanor changed abruptly when he realized who he was talking to. “Mr. Trencher,” he said coolly. Normally Harry loved having that effect on people, especially that rumprustler Sanjay. But not now, not with his beer and exaggerated sense of dignity at stake.
“I got a problem, Sanjay,” he growled into the mouthpiece.
“What is it, Mr. Trencher?”
“I got rats. Something. Chewing up my walls. Spilling my beer.”
“Well, rats. Or something. Put a big ass hole in my wall.”
He heard Sanjay sighing through his nose at the other end of the line. “I’ll be right down,” he said. Before he hung up Harry heard him mutter something along the lines of “…burnout Yankee jackass…”
The phone clicked, and Harry said, “Fucker.” He dropped the phone, letting it dangle by its cord. A few minutes later, there was a terse knock at the door. He put on his robe and his best “fuck you” face and answered it, sliding the bolt back and pulling it open to reveal Sanjay, a short, stocky Indian man with dark hair and oily brown skin.
He, too, had a defiant look on his face, which, to Harry’s great pleasure, faltered slightly as he stepped into the apartment. They stared each other down for a moment, then Sanjay said, “Where is the hole, please?”
Harry gestured toward the other side of the living room, past the lone chair to where the hole was chewed into the base of the wall. Sanjay held his gaze for a second longer, then swaggered with as much dignity as he could muster across the room to the hole. He squatted down and peered into it.
He had a little tiny penlight clipped to an obnoxiously large ring of keys which he turned on with a carnivalesque jangle of metal. A spear of light, weak against what sallow rays of sun had seeped in through the crinkled blinds over Harry’s windows, shone into the hole. Harry heard a sudden scrambling behind his walls, and an image popped into his head of himself as a giant, wielding a flamethrower and torching a tiny village and watching as its rat-headed inhabitants fled into the jungle around them.
He smiled, then rapped the wall with his knuckles, hard, and shouted, “Run, you little fuckers! Run! Ha-ha!”
On his knees, Sanjay ignored the Yank’s display of greasy, American machismo. He scooted forward, inching his sweaty, brown face closer to the hole. He squinted, pushing his glasses a little further down his nose. He pushed his arm deeper, twisting his wrist around, shining the light about the interior of the wall. He saw much the same things that Harry Trencher had: plaster, chewed insulation, the trails going off into the pink ether.
He started to stand up, to say, “Well, yes, it looks like rats,” to pull his penlight with its entourage of keys from the hole, when he felt an indescribable pain in his hand. He shrieked, yanking his hand back. Harry jumped back as well, surprised.
“The fuck, Sanjay? What’d you do? I ain’t paying for this shit, you know!” he shouted. Sanjay was sobbing, clutching his hand to his chest. It was oozing blood from the stump where his middle finger had been. The finger itself was lying just outside the hole, next to the punctured can of beer. Sanjay reached for it with quivering, bloody fingers, and picked it up. “Aww, Je-sus!” Harry cried. He looked at the hole, and to his increased shock and horror, he saw something squatting at the edge of it.
It wasn’t a rat. This is the creature that Harry Trencher saw: it was pink, hairless, like a baby mole. It was covered in Sanjay’s finger blood. It stood about 6 inches tall on its hind legs, bracing itself against the roof of the hole. There was a small pouch on its lower belly, its genitals or a pouch for young, like a kangaroo’s, maybe. It had a humanoid mouth that seemed to cover the whole upper half of its body; full lips, straight teeth. Almost a sexy mouth, in a disgusting, deviant way. It had one eye on a stalk that protruded out of its forehead.
The stalk swiveled in Harry’s direction, and the corners of its mouth turned up. Harry shouted in disgusted rage at it, defying it to exist. “Fuck youuuuuuuu!” He wanted to punish it, to crush it, to destroy this fucking monster that had been living in his home for God knew how long, committing God knows what atrocities. He let out a roar and went to stomp it into the ground, his righteous fury finally to be released in an explosive clusterfuck of violence. It ducked back into the hole right before his foot crashed down where it had been squatting. He imagined he could hear the thing laughing as it escaped into the wall, mocking his impotence. It had smiled at him. An obscene little grin. His body shivered, from rage, or fear, or the nausea that was starting to build in his groin and spread up through his belly.
Sanjay had gotten up, and was standing there, wavering, cradling his arm like a bloody, misshapen abortion byproduct. He was quietly weeping, the tears leaving salty tracks down his brown cheeks. “Please,” he said. “Call an ambulance.”
Harry Trencher almost broke then. Broke further, rather, like a ceramic jug being ground from manageable, well-sized fragments easily swept up with broom and dustpan into fine, porcelain powder. He turned slowly from the wall, making a slow, painful rotation toward poor, bleeding Sanjay. “Ahhhhhhhhbhah,” Harry sighed. He heard scrawling, scratching sounds all around them, as if there were hundreds of little hands running their untrimmed nails down the inside of his walls. His eye twitched.
He didn’t have a phone in his apartment, but his door had been open and one of his paranoid shut-in neighbors had called the police, saying “That fat man in 17 just killed the landlord!” before quickly hanging up. The cops got there ten minutes later. There were two of them. They took in the scene with strained professionalism tinged with confusion and a deviant sense of bewildered amusement: Sanjay with his bloody hand and quickly graying severed finger, curled in his palm like a recently defrosted cocktail shrimp; Harry Trencher with his clenched fists and open bathrobe, left eye twitching like a seizure victim’s as he muttered curses interspersed with the phrases “my wall..,” and “my beer…” as his slippers looked stupidly up at the room.
The cops called the ambulance, and got Sanjay’s statement before he was rushed to the hospital. His statement read like this: “Statement of: Rajaram, Sanjay P.- ‘That goddamn bastard Yankee burnout shit lured me into his apartment and made me put my arm in that hole and chopped my finger off.’ End of statement.”
They then gathered the statements of Harry Trencher, the neighbor who made the call, and anyone else they could coax out of their apartments. Harry Trencher’s statement read like this: “Statement of: Trencher, Harold M.- ‘That goddamn brown bastard Sanjay came down here and shoved his hand in there and that moleman bit his goddamn fat finger off. Then he bled all over my floor and didn’t do shit-all about my wall. He better pay for this shit, I swear to God.’ End of statement.”
“A moleman?” the first cop asked, incredulously.
Harry looked at him. “Mother- yes, a goddamned moleman. They’re in my walls.”
“Right,” the cop said, pretending to scribble in his notebook, but really just wanting to break eye-contact with him. His eye was twitching and it made him uncomfortable.
The second cop said, “It’s probably just rats, man.”
Harry shifted his twitchy gaze to the other cop. He stared just long enough to leave an impression. His eyes rolled back to the notebook cop, who had just looked up and didn’t immediately look back down because that would’ve seemed rude.
“Well,” he said, making a show of flipping through the notes he had taken, “I guess that’s all we need. Thanks for your cooperation, Mr. Trencher. I’m sure we can count on your future cooperation as this situation becomes resolved.”
“Yeah, fuck you very much,” Harry said. “When Sanjay gets back send him the bill for this shit.”
“Sure, sure,” the notebook cop said. He turned to leave and his partner followed him out the door.
Then Harry was alone in the apartment. It was just him and the things in his walls. Suddenly his anger began to dissolve and be replaced by a certain insidious nervousness that nestled comfortably in the pit of his stomach like a fat cat into an old woman’s lap. He began to think about Sanjay’s finger, how it had laid there in front of the hole in a pool of blood, curling up like a dead spider. And how the moleman had squatted there, looking up at him with its crablike eye, and smiled at him with its weirdly erotic mouth still full of Sanjay’s blood.
Lastly, he thought about how his entire apartment had come alive when Sanjay started screaming, how the walls thrummed with the multitudinous scratchings and thumpings of hundreds of molemen.
And suddenly Harry Trencher was afraid. It was slowly dawning on him that his apartment was no longer his own. He wanted to leave now quite badly, but, having no money for a hotel and not having endeared himself to his neighbors in his time here, he had no choice but to stay. He went to his bedroom, and began rifling through the closet in search of a weapon of some kind. He found a slowly unraveling tennis racket, wires dangling off of it like cheap tassels on a worn-out stripper. He took it in his hands and went to his bed where he sat stiffly. For the first time since he could remember, Harry Trencher went to bed sober.
Sometime in the night he awoke to what sounded like dozens of tiny feet padding around the apartment very quickly and very quietly. He laid there on his bed, clutching the frayed tennis racket to his chest with both white-knuckled hands. He listened. He began to hear little thuds of small things tipping over, then a quick succession of loud crashes. He sat bolt upright.
Then he began to hear skittery noises coming from the walls of his bedroom. Scratching, thumping, minute creaks and splintery sounds of wood cracking. He flicked his head around, sensing the sounds coming from all around him. Then he heard a loud crack! right behind him and he jumped. He whipped around and looked to see a split in the dry wall, about two feet above his bed. It was narrow, a couple of inches long, and pure black inside. The wall seemed to bulge out around it ever so slightly, the plaster swelling to accommodate some mass pressing in behind it. He thought he heard tiny, squeaky voices hissing to each other.
He watched the crack as he slowly pushed himself backwards off the bed, trying to go as quietly as he could manage. The crack began to lengthen slightly and the hissing got louder. Harry Trencher had heard the term “pants-shitting terror” before, but never had he experienced it for himself. He literally felt like he was going to shit his pants, were he wearing any.
Then something poked out of the hole and began to twitch from side to side. It was a tiny eyeball on a fleshy pink stalk. It finally came to rest on him, staring into his wide, horrified eyes before withdrawing into the crack. More hissing and scratching. Then all the noise in the wall stopped. The crack had fallen silent. Slowly Harry began to stand. He held the tennis racket up, ready to strike, should he need to.
He didn’t trust the silence. Even the sounds from the kitchen had stopped. He stood, holding his breath. Waiting.
the sky fell.
The ceiling collapsed and the walls exploded outward from the pressure of thousands of tiny monsters swarming behind them. He covered his head as debris rained down on him, and then he began to feel them, all over him, tearing at his robe, crawling inside it, clawing into his skin, biting, gnashing. He started screaming himself then. He was drowning in a flood of puckered mouths, each taking a mouthful of him. He felt them on his groin, clawing at his balls and shriveled prick, and his screams became shriller. He tried to run toward the door, but the seething tide of flesh all around him was chewing through his feet and his calves. He could feel tiny square teeth rubbing against bone.
He made it to the door, pulling it open, and he was pushed forward into the hallway by the crush of monstrous little bodies. He tried to run, but he looked down and realized he didn’t have feet anymore. And so he hobbled as fast as he could to the end of the hallway.
The molemen were still clinging to his body, and the swarm was on his heels. They carpeted the hallway behind him, a horde of tiny mouths on legs. They were beginning to chew on his ears, and one had swung around onto his face and was hanging off his lower lip. It started to bite his chin.
He flailed wildly, still trying to escape them. And then he fell. He hit the ground hard, and he tried to crawl towards the door. The swarm was on his legs, his backside. He could feel them chewing through his fatty thighs and buttocks, and he reached for the doorknob.
One of them crawled up his arm and bit his middle finger off. He bellowed. It turned and looked at him, holding its prize in its hands. It fixed its one-eyed gaze on him. Then it smiled.
Harry Trencher dropped his head to the floor, giving up to the horde. He felt the creature skitter down his outstretched arm and up to his ear.
“our house now,” it whispered in a tiny voice. Then it tore his ear off.
The next morning Sanjay came back from the hospital, his hand wrapped in exorbitant amounts of gauze. He had insisted on it being well-wrapped, being naturally fussy. They hadn’t been able to save the finger, which he had insisted on keeping as a memento. He had it in a small bag labeled “BIOHAZARD” stuffed in his pocket.
He had decided that the first thing he would do would be to go to that shitbastard Yank’s apartment and tell him he was done. Out. E-vic-ted. That was how he would say it, and he would be very stern about it as well. When he arrived at No. 17’s door, he raised his hand to knock. He girded himself against the shit that he was certain the other man would fling at him, big ape that he was. And then the smell hit him.
It was a peculiar kind of smell that brought Sanjay immediately back to his early childhood in India. Like raw meat mingled with the scent of human filth. It was not a smell he had hoped to encounter ever again. Suddenly he was angry. He pounded on the door, and shouted, “Mr. Trencher! Open up! It’s your landlord, you son of a bitch, open up!” No response. He heard a skittering sound as something small ran past behind the door.
“First I’m getting rid of you, then I’m getting rid of those rats!” he shouted. “One rodent at a time!” The neighbors started to poke their heads out, curious at the shouting in the hall. It had been an eventful few days, certainly.
After fifteen minutes of this Sanjay gave up. A few days passed. No one had heard or seen Trencher since the night Sanjay had lost his finger. Eventually, he called the police, after the tenants closest to Trencher’s apartment began to complain of a disgusting smell that could only be coming from his unit.
The police arrived, one car. It was the same two cops as the last time. The names on their badges were Huggins and Forley, respectively. Huggins had been the cop with the notebook during Trencher’s interview.
Sanjay greeted them cordially out front. “Hello, sirs!” he said brightly.
Huggins and Forley nodded. Huggins spoke. “In your call you mentioned that-” -he checked the notepad- “Mr. Harold Trencher hasn’t been out of his apartment in a few days.”
“And that there’s been a strange smell?” said Forley.
Sanjay’s face darkened. “Yes. Rent is due in five days, and I have heard nothing from the bastard! He is late usually, but usually I hear bitching for a week until he pays! Nothing coming from his unit, just stink and silence, and no money!”
Huggins and Forley glanced at each other. “If you’d show us inside,” said Huggins. Sanjay nodded and turned to go into the building. The officers followed him.
Once inside, he led them up the two flights of stairs to the second floor, and down to apartment number 17.
Huggins took the lead. He raised his fist to knock on the door. Once, twice, three times. No response. “Mr. Trencher? Police. Open up please.” He knocked again, three more times. Then he noticed the smell. It was rot and shit and all the worst smells imaginable all rolled up into one, a god-awful stink soufflé that stung his nostrils and brought tears to his eyes. “Jesus,” he muttered. He heard Forley coughing behind him.
“There’s no way there’s not a dead body in there,” Forley wheezed. “Do you smell that?”
“Yeah,” Huggins grunted. He was breathing shallowly so he wouldn’t vomit. “Alright,” he said, “We’ve gotta get in there. Mr. Rajaram, do you have a key to this unit or are we going to have to bust the door down?”
Sanjay’s eyes opened wide. “I have a key, yes! Don’t go busting anything, please!”
He hurried to his office and quickly snatched a key labeled “No. 17” in an aggressive, black-ink scrawl, and hurried back to where the two cops stood, covering their noses.
Sanjay hurriedly unlocked the door and backpedalled. “Thanks,” Huggins said. He put one hand on his gun, and the other on the doorknob. He took a shallow breath, nodded to Forley, and opened the door.
The scene that met them was unlike anything either of them had seen. It looked like someone had spilled the Koolaid man. There was blood everywhere, still damp and congealing in places, and there was a wide, brown trail of it coming from the hallway to the right. “Call for backup,” Huggins said to Forley, whose eyes were wide. “Call for backup NOW,” Huggins ordered, and Forley snapped out of it and retreated into the hall.
Huggins heard the radio chattering as he stepped into the room. Absurdly, lying in the middle of the mess on the floor were those idiotic mouse slippers with the glossy, fake eyes staring benignly up at him. They looked ragged, chewed on. They too were covered in dried, brown blood.
He stepped around the majority of the mess, drawing his gun, and walked toward the hallway. He glanced into the kitchen, where one of those vintage cat-clocks lay on the counter. He’d always found the things charming, and was surprised to see it here, in the midst of this bloody mess.
He stepped into the hallway, avoiding the large brown streak running the length of it. It terminated, or rather began, at an open door. Also sprayed with dried blood. There handprints on it, as if someone had shoved it open. He raised his gun as he stepped in front of the door, aiming into the room. The light was out. He took out his own flashlight, and shined it in.
It was a mess. There was a bed shoved into the righthand corner, the foot of it facing the doorway. More blood inside, on the floor. Then he noticed the walls, or lack thereof. All the drywall from walls and ceiling were on the floor, covering everything in choking white dust and pink insulation like cotton candy and powdered sugar.
He backed out of the room and went down the hallway. Backup had arrived. Forensics worked the place over from top to bottom over the next few days; the complex had never seen so much hustle and bustle, and the other tenants’ cages were well rattled. There was a news broadcast. They never did find Harry Trencher’s body, though it was obvious he had been killed in his apartment as most of the dried and congealed blood belonged to him.
The rest seemed to be animal blood of some sort, a small percentage of it. They deduced that whatever happened, he had tried to run from his exploded bedroom, fleeing some unknown assailant, and had ended up in front of the door. There they found tiny bits of organ and bone, as well as some fibers from his robe, and, of course, his slippers.
They also deduced that the walls had caved from the inside due to great outward pressure of some kind. All in all, it ended up being a very, very strange case that was never solved. It went into Los Suenos Police Department’s cold case files and became a legend around the neighborhood. The disappearance of Harry Trencher.
His unit was closed up and never rented out again. The spider in the bathroom died of old age, and the edible mushrooms wilted away.
After that, though, the other tenants started reporting strange scratching sounds, and a sibilant hiss that sound like many tiny voices in the walls.
“our house now…”