Scales & Fur
The window was cracked; spirals dancing like a spider’s web singing. That’s when I knew. I reached for the door, found it standing open a hair’s breadth. The darkness radiating from inside was heavy, hot, the rank breath from something waiting, something awful just biding its time.
With the toes of my scuffed boots I pushed the door in. It swung on creaking hinges and met something that impeded its progress about halfway open. I squinted into the darkness.
“Can’t see shit,” I said.
I swear I could almost feel the room breath, a sucking in of anticipation, an electricity bordering on painful.
I put one foot in front of the other with careful hesitancy but it still felt every bit the mistake it was.
“Hello,” I called.
I could hear the trembles in my voice and gritted my teeth.
I knew there was but there was no answer.
Four steps inside the door, I stopped, held myself erect, muscles singing in rigidity, waiting for my eyes to adjust. A slithering gripped the room. I felt like the walls were twisting, gripping a little closer in the space around me.
I debated the merits of calling out that I wasn’t the police, that I was with the Homeless Youth Outreach Program but saw junkie teenage sneers and snickers and bit my tongue.
I could make out the dim shapes of things around me: a couch against the wall furthest away, a coffee table near it, a television sitting directly on the floor to my left. There was a gaping, rectangular hole to my right signifying a door to another room.
“Hey,” I called.
I made my voice as sharp and as cutting as I could, hoping to startle whoever (or whatever) into making a noise and revealing themselves.
I walked over to the couch and, with shaking hands and tingling fingers, reached down to pat the cushions to make sure nothing was lying in wait there.
God did I wish I had a flashlight or a cellphone or a lighter but the only flashlight I owned sat in the junk drawer of my little place in Ferndale, the city was too broke to supply cellphones and I quit smoking three years ago.
The cushions were stale, dusty coated and my fingers came away somewhat sticky but not in a wet way. I wiped them on my pants and made my way to the door, where a darker darkness yawned out.
That’s when I remembered the door. It hadn’t opened all the way.
Stupid. Stupid to forget something as glaringly obvious, right?
I spun on my heels and that’s when it happened. Happened as quick as they say it happens. Everything changed.
Blinding light, flashes and stars and noise, erupted from all around me. The room tightened its grip to a choking. I saw nothing save the light.
“Welcome,” it said.
I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t see. My ears felt plugged with barbed cotton. Panic sunk in like a searing knife.
I flung my arms wildly, connected with nothing, but kept swinging.
“Help,” I tried to scream. “God, help me.”
No sound escaped my lips.
My head began to spin and the light flickered like fading afternoon sunlight on rippling water.
I’m going to pass out, I realized.
I did but I caught a fleeting glance of the room before the lights went out. The walls were scaled, red and coiling. The floor was not carpeted. It was fur-covered. I saw it growing in lurid detail as I fell.
Time is a strange thing. It comes in leaps and bounds. It sticks with clumpy, sap-like tenacity, refusing to budge. It does what it does.
I don’t know how long I was out. When I woke the first thing I realized was that I couldn’t see. All was dark again. The next thing I realized was that I was bound, completely engulfed in fur. Little bristles of hair lined my body as snug as any coat I’d ever worn.
My breath was hot and close against my face bringing sweat to my pores and tears to my eyes. I could breath though.
Motion enwrapped me. The fur moved all around me. I had to close my eyes as the hair poked and stabbed in its coiling. Whatever it was, it moved from right to left, slowly unfurling itself.
I kept my eyes shut. I didn’t want to see. My body shook and I couldn’t stop it.
Why? Why did I have to choose this house? Of all the abandoned, derelict houses on the block–shit, in Detroit, for that matter–I had to go and choosethisone.
I steeled myself as best I could and slapped my eyes open.
I blinked and blinked and blinked but everything remained dark. I kept my eyes open and waited.
Slowly, painfully slowly, time as globbed sap, my eyes adjusted and I saw that I was in the same room. I was on the floor. I could make out the couch against the wall, the coffee table near it and the television to my left.
Move, I told myself. Get up. Move.
I jerked my hands into fists, feeling the hairy carpet under my arms. I wiggled my toes inside my boots and found them working too. I sucked in my gut and threw myself forward, the first sit-up I’d done since elementary school.
“Ok,” I said, huffing for breath. “Ok.”
I looked around. The front door, the one I’d come in through, was nowhere to be seen.
Must be shut, I thought. Shit.
I looked for its outline behind me but could see nothing. I got to my feet, stopping with my hands on my knees as the room swayed with my light-headedness, then made my way to where the front door of the house should’ve been.
It wasn’t there.
Nothing but a wall. I ran my sweating hands along it, searching for doortrim, a knob, the eery pane of glass I saw from the outside, a crack, something. My hands found nothing. Just the smooth but somehow lumpy-in-exact-patterns wall.
Red scales flashed in my mind.
I jerked my hands away and nearly tripped over my feet stepping backwards.
Window. There must be a window. You can leave through a window.
I forced myself to step back to the wall and place my hands back on it. I traced the largest loops my arms would allow, praying with each inch that my fingers found glass. I didn’t care if I lost a hunk of my finger in the process. I just wanted out.
I followed the wall towards the corner, taking half-steps as my hands searched. I was nearly to the corner, which I could just make out in the murk, when a sharp bark of pain leapt up from my right shin. I stumbled over something and hit the ground, barely stopping my face from smashing into the weird, furry carpet with my right arm.
I kicked my feet wildly and they struck something. It felt insubstantial, flimsy even. I sat still, waiting for my chest to quit heaving and squinting into the darkness at whatever it was that I’d kicked.
I saw the outline of it finally and laughed a little. It was a nervous thing, that laughter. It wasn’t forced but I could hear the tremble in it and knew it wouldn’t take much more to push me over the breaking point.
“Just the television,” I said, pulling myself up to all-fours. I crawled over to the television and ran my fingers along the top. It was smooth and cold.
There must cable cords in the thing, I thought. If there’s no goddamn window in this fucked up house, I’ll just pull the damn wall out where the cable comes in.
I moved to the backside of the tv, still on my hands and knees, and started feeling up the wall. My hands found nothing but the oddly lumpy surface.
I turned back to the tv and moved my fumbling hands along the backside of it. It was completely smooth. Not a port or cord to be found.
Time, bounding back to motion, reared its head. The television flashed into life. Light flooded the room on the other side of the tv. The couch and coffee table blossomed into view. I saw the wall behind to, indeed, be red and lined with scales. The carpet was unlike any carpet I had ever seen in my life. It was a dingy, off-white fur that shimmered and bristled in places like a cat’s arching back.
I felt paralyzed. I was behind the tv. I felt no cord, not even a power cord, but the television was on and beaming. I forced myself to crawl around and see what it was showing.
The brightness was nearly too much. My eyes narrowed into slits and it took a few moments to adjust to the light.
The screen was a negative image of the house from the outside. The night sky was alive with a matte light and the house was lined in shadows and darkness. It looked ghostly, pale but shimmering.
My mouth hung open and I felt my breath quickening.
I watched as the shape of a portly man came into the lower left-hand side of the screen. He lifted one leg over the rickety fence, struggled for balance awkwardly, then swung the other leg up and over. The man readjusted his pants, picked a wedgie from his ass, then started up the overgrown yard towards the looming house.
“Oh god,” I whispered.
I watched the man pause before mounting the steps to the porch.
The television screen began a slow but steady zooming in at this point. The portly man looked around the porch, walked to both sides searching for a window but finding none, returned to the door and hesitated.
The screen was a closeup of the back of the man’s head now, standing at exactly the same level as the man.
The man reached for the knob but stopped short. His shoulders hunched and I watched as a shiver ran up the length of his spine. The man felt somebody behind him. The man swung around and I stared in open-mouthed horror at my own wide-eyed, sweating face in negative on the television screen.
I flung myself away from the television. I scrambled backwards and bashed against the coffee table.
“What?” I sputtered. “What is happening?”
I struggled against the coffee table but it backed against the couch and moved no further.
My eyes on the television screen scanned right and left but saw nothing. Did not see whatever it was that was filming me directly in front of me like the eyes of some invisible monster. I watched as I turned around and noticed the cracked window on the door. I watched as I noticed that the door was open. I watched as I opened the door with my foot.
Don’t go in, my mind screamed.
But I was already inside.
“What is happening?”
I felt the ground under me move. It jostled me, just a little at first, then with a power that cowered me. It lifted me up and sat me on the couch. I did not resist. I curled myself in closer, brought my knees to my chest.
The television was just light now. I was nowhere to be seen. The house wasn’t in view either. The screen vibrated with a light that danced like a candle in a gentle breeze.
It was captivating. I couldn’t look away even though it felt like the room was circling me, closing in.
I’m not sure when I noticed it, it must’ve been happening for a while, growing in intensity, slowly, until it was damn near deafening: a hissing, like a gigantic teakettle stuck at just the moment before it howls. A shaking like the kettle’s top bubbling on scalding water, everywhere and, for the moment, unseen.
It gave me the distraction to pull my eyes from the television set.
I sucked in breath and found no exclamation profound enough to utter. The room was teeming with movement. Hundreds, thousands probably, of strands of the wall, red and scaly, were slithering, coiling, just a few feet away. The room was wrapping itself around me with a strength of such finality there was nothing to do but let go.
I could’ve been anything. That’s what I like to believe. I say it, well I guess I don’t say anything anymore, I have no real voice, in disgust and regret. I could’ve been safe somewhere in an airconditioned, cubicled office, crunching numbers for a chain of dry cleaners. I could’ve been working the door at one of the scuzzy clubs in Greektown. Shit, I could’ve spent a lifetime passing out Gatorade to the Pistons.
But no, I had to be the do-gooder. I had to be the guy who thought he could make a difference. Shit. I like to think a lot about the Homeless Youth Outreach Program now. Was it even really a thing? When they came flyering up Wayne State, I thought they were about the greatest thing I could imagine. College educated helpers swooping down from their rising place in the social stratum to help the kids on the streets, the kids sleeping behind the tagged dumpsters downtown, the kids sleeping in the hundreds of empty shells of businesses and factories, the kids sleeping in the thousands of derelict, abandoned houses sprawled for miles and miles. I wonder how many houses sat silently laughing like this one, waiting, biding its time, hungry.
The turnover rate was astounding. They had to tell me. I took it with a grain of salt. I was young, eager, knew I wouldn’t burn out because I was going to make it happen. I was going to be a constant for these kids in a world of inconsistency.
This house. That’s all there is now. Me, the coffee table, the couch, the fur, the walls and the television. Red scales and fur and light. There is no time, time in globs or time as a whip. I am the bug in amber. I am in a place, seconds like centuries with teeth, without end.
I thought there’d be heaven or, a remote possibility, hell but there’s nothing. I’m not sure if it’s the house, taking whatever essence, call it core or soul or being, and holding it over my head, trapping me here, or if there just isn’t anything else. My thoughts twist around these ideas like the “walls” of this place, shifting in a circle never ending, grinding to what seems like a stop only to shift, as if for comfort, then to pick up right where it left off. Round and round and round it goes.
It doesn’t speak to me. It doesn’t even really acknowledge that I’m here. It keeps me, forgotten, unattended, neglected, like a nest egg, some dragon’s fortune that it has no use for but won’t give up.
I know it’s terrible but I hope somebody from the Blight Commision makes their way here. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, it’ll trade me out for someone new, someone alive. There’s nobody else here but me so it’s not hoarding.
I just sit and watch the television hoping for flickers of life and a shot of somebody that isn’t me coming up the overgrown yard to the door with the spider-webbed window.