Duel of Fortunes

As part of the Gothic Creation day on 4th July 2020, Shiri Sondheimer organised an online version of ‘exquisite corpse’ and a group of participants (Amanda, Caro, Frank, Holly, Mel, Shiri, Wes, wrote the following story together… We could each only see what the person before us had written and had no idea of the earlier story…Pretty on brand, I’d say!

From us to you – enjoy.

I sat down in front of the weathered cabinet, tried to pretend the missing drawer didn’t remind me of a missing tooth nor the chipped paint cracked, peeling skin. Bad enough the gate had chewed on my finger for tea, I didn’t need the damn alter coming to life as well. 

I studied my decks scattered across the surface, picked up the Antique Anatomy cards and shuffled. “Alright. What’s up today, fuckers?”  

I looked at the cards before me and sighed. The cards had got us confused again. The house’s presence was so heavy, it filled the air, coated my fingers, got in the way. Well, I was glad the house was doing well. Turned out the message for me was the same as yesterday and the day before that. My life still wasn’t fixed. Because my house was still trying to eat me.

I wondered if it would be possible to appease it, not that this had helped so far. I’d thought at first it was an aesthetic issue: too many mason jars, not enough minimalism. My offerings had, so far, been received with a continued oppressive silence that swallowed the background noise of the radio, the TV, and was only lifted by the shedding of blood.

In that spirit, setting up a bookcase from the famous Swedish furniture store seemed like a good plan to spend the afternoon: guaranteed to wear my patience thin as planks refused to hold together despite what the instruction manual promised, and probably tear a nail in the process. I figured I’d get either an exorcism or a functional bookcase out of it.

Of course I should have expected it to go horribly wrong.

The remaining wreck was pushing me over the edge, was there nothing I could do to make this work? I sat down on the couch trying to establish what I would need to prepare for the upcoming presentations and held off on texting anyone. I need to calm down first. So how about a shower then, surely there could be nothing wrong with that?

Except I decided not to have a shower, and instead decided to investigate why the roof was closer to my head than before. The room was becoming smaller. It wasn’t something I was seeing in real-time, but a gradual realisation. Would I eventually be boxed in, unable to leave? Crushed by my own things and shelves? There’s a slight panic as I try and contemplate what is to be done with my shrinking apartment.

I remained frozen in place, regarding the ceiling with horror while panic clutched me in its icy grip. Could it be me? Surely not. The thought discomfited me but then, what was the alternative? That the house needed to be fed?  Would anyone do? Could I.. No, I pushed the thought aside. That was out of the question. I had just jumped to my feet, needing to be somewhere else, anywhere else, when the sound of the doorbell pealed out into the shivering stillness.

“Who could it  possibly be?” I asked aloud and then realized I had directed the question to the cracks in the ceiling. I shook my head, shook myself and looked back at the tarot spread. “No help,” I muttered, this time to the gargoyle in the corner. Anyone who knew me knew not to come unannounced which left a stranger and the least the gate could have done if it was going to eat me was eat a stranger.  

But I found the gate to be temperamental. It rarely if ever took a bite out of just the people I didn’t want to see. Missionaries, survey takers, politicians all got a pass. But it took chunks out of my knuckle as often as possible.

The gate hadn’t stopped the intruder and the door needed answering. I heaved myself to my feet unwilling but ready for annoyance.

The door had other ideas. I hardly ever locked it now because who knew when i might need to bolt, but it was locked anyway and my keyhole seemed to grin, daring me to insert my key. How badly did I want to open the door and see who it was anyway? Not that much. 

The temptation to play dead was strong, but as I stood there, the knocking grew louder and louder, until it felt like a second heartbeat on the outside of my body. The ring of keys was warm in my clammy palm, and just as I thought I had enough courage to try and unlock the door, something was pushed forcefully through the mail slot, landing on the carpet with a wet sound. My heart in my throat, I bent down and reached for it.

It felt hard and sticky, I was hesitant to look at it, then saw the singular red eye embedded into what looked like a fresh liver. Pulsing in time with the banging on the door and my own heartbeat. I couldn’t look away, a high-pitched noise growing the more that crimson gaze drew me in. The last things I remembered before it drew me into unconsciousness were the rushing sound of water and a faint smell of smoke.

 Taken from the waking world, my body was mashed and ground up inside the guts of the house. My sinews stretched and realigned with the pipes and walls, my muscles and veins becoming the home itself. I had become the very being that was trying to consume me. I felt monstrous, my body ached as it was growing accustomed to it’s new vessel. I was in the circuits, the floor…

…the furniture, the walls, the windows even. As my vision finished adjusting and melding with the houses, I realized I was now peering through the upper story windows that overlooked the front garden but the view did not arrest my attention for long as my growing awareness gave way to a gnawing  hunger that seemed to be growing more intense by the second.  An ache that was felt in every part of every room, inescapable. We needed…

…. to get out, no, eat, no, OUT!! A movement in the garden caught my attention, distracted me momentarily from the longing to consume. There I was walking again towards the house. Again, or before? The me I once was, ignorant of what was destined to become of me the moment I stepped across the threshold. That person blurred, hazy, moving closer. That gnawing hunger again, give in, felt it through every wall, every floorboard. The thing standing outside, hoovering at the entrance, was flesh…..

And then it was green. And animated. Flesh to supersuit  and… what the… 

There are some things that defy description. This was not one of them. What it defied was solemnity. It was impossible not to laugh. Perhaps the creature, whatever it was, was attempting to be threatening but it looked like a frogged who’d been dressed in a sausage and then decided to walk the catwalk. About as terrifying as a fresh sandwich. And perhaps…just as tasty?

There was only one way to find out. I launched myself at it, and ripped it’s little throat out. Fuck you. (Delicious.)

It held surprisingly still as my jaws worked, and the flesh was tender, but I kept having to pause to pick long, thin bones out of my teeth. I raised one up to the light : it was black, and oozing a green liquid. Oops?

I swallowed, the taste sweet and the juice thick. The ooze gave me an adrenaline boost that I had never felt before. My teeth felt stronger, sharper, powerful. I am more now, I know what I need to do next, and my actions need to be as sharp as my fangs. I. Need. Flesh. I. Need. Blood.

 I am a structure with no occupants. I take from the source, gorging myself, tearing into my own meat. I feel my foundations crumbling, cement and drywall bleeding in auto-cannibalistic desperation. The need to devour with no prey in sight. Wooden beams crack and bleed like burst marrow. I groan. I slouch. My property value remains quite high despite the fractures and copious amounts of mysterious blood.

We thought back to the cards which continued to lie undisturbed on the dresser and after a brief pause managed to turn our gaze through the mirror which hung on the opposing wall and allowed us to gaze down on them. They continued to lie but their predictions seem to have spoken true. In a way, things were going well in their public and private lives despite it all. This prosperity is certainly something they now shared, and perhaps a future without fear was indeed possible.

We could see the cards in the mirror, but they were on *the other side*. From a vantage point in this Otherworld things actually seemed much clearer. It all fell into place, we were behind the mirror, were we now ‘ghosts’. We had been through so much to get to this place of beauty and riches, and the realisation that we were no longer in the world we once knew brought only peace and tranquillity. We turned now to our new lives with the others who had prophesied this future and brought us to it.

Published by SamHirst

This started off as a story blog to share the little fictions that I like to write but it's turned into something a bit more Goth! I'm Dr Sam Hirst and I research the Gothic, theology and romance and at the moment I'm doing free Gothic classes online! We also have readalongs, watchalongs and reading groups. And I post fun little Gothic bits when I have the chance. Find me on twitter @RomGothSam

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