Here for your reading pleasure is HER HORRIBLE APARTMENT, a complete story from my story collection, HIDEOUS FACES, BEAUTIFUL SKULLS. Here’s a link to the collection’s page on Amazon, in case you’d like to learn more about the book:http://www.amazon.com/Hideous-Faces-Beautiful-Skulls-Bizarre-ebook/dp/B00IVM5X8S/
Her Horrible Apartment
by Mark McLaughlin
As soon as she came through the door, she told us she’d found an apartment at the mall. This didn’t seem to make any sense, but everybody smiled and said how lucky she was, and so we made plans to see the place after work. We even decided to make a little party of the occasion.
I liked my job – computer graphics – but the workload was very boring that day: plopping copy into the same old newsletter formats. She walked by my desk on her way to the copying machine, and I thought: she’s so skinny. She’s starving herself like one of those scrawny fashion models. She was a pretty girl, and a very nice person, but I didn’t find her attractive. Her skinny neck and nervous eye movements were too birdlike.
At break time, I went down to the vending machine area and there she was, sipping steaming black coffee from a styrofoam cup.
“So. The mall.” I gave her the most encouraging grin I could muster. “You’ll be shopping like crazy.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m right next to my favorite store, The Bracelet Hut. It’s like heaven.”
I looked at her wrists. She was wearing dozens of thin bracelets – plastic, copper, gold, beaded. Had she always worn so many? Probably so.
“Lot of food places at the mall… Hope you don’t have a pest problem.” I meant rats, of course, but I didn’t want to scare her.
“There are some bugs, but that’s okay.” She shrugged. “Nothing’s perfect. Only stupid people expect things to be perfect.”
After work, I drove to a discount liquor store for some wine, then headed for the mall. I was pretty proud of myself: the wine I’d bought was a dirt-cheap German vintage with a long name. Everyone at the party would think it was so chic.
The shoppers were out in full force, and I had to park a long way from the mall entrance. As I walked across the lot, a heavyset blonde woman sneered at me, and I suddenly realized that I probably looked like some kind of bum, carrying around a bottle in a paper bag.
Inside, I located The Bracelet Hut on a directory display (it was practically at the other end of the mall) and began walking again. After a while, I noticed that people were staring at me. Staring with looks of disgust. Of pity. I slipped into a menswear store and found a mirror.
My suit was all dirty and torn. My face was covered with dark stubble. There were dark circles around my eyes. I thought to myself, Oh, this must be a dream, and tried to wake up. And–
I left the menswear store and said “Damn!” – because men swear. Well, I was dirty and a little scary, but no matter: I was only dreaming. Probably. I hurried along to the party, the silly little party for her silly little apartment at the mall.
I passed Doughnut Heaven and Makeup Madness and and Love Them Computers and a lot of other stupid stores. I stopped for a moment to look through the door of a store called Measure Your Pleasure: inside, naked men were gauging their privates with golden rulers.
I just laughed. Oh, I HAD to be dreaming!
Finally, I found The Bracelet Hut – and next to it, a dusky-pink door with the words Her Apartment on it. I knocked and she let me in.
The apartment was nothing more than a converted men’s room, complete with urinals (she’d planted flowers in them). A dozen or so middle-aged men in blue coveralls were standing about, laughing, drinking, gobbling hors d’oeuvres, pretending they were going to pee on the flowers. Each man was holding a blue lawn rake.
I turned to her and said, “Who are these guys? Where are the folks from work?”
Her eyes were very sad. “These are the exterminators. I had to cancel the party because of the bug problem. But please, don’t let the snacks go to waste.” She crossed to a side table and returned with a trayful of cocktail weenies. “So why aren’t you wearing any clothes?”
I looked down in utter shock: I was naked, caked with dirt, and my toenails needed trimming. Everyone in the room turned toward me and laughed. Except her: she simply sighed.
Suddenly, fat, moist-looking iridescent bugs began to scurry around the room. They had way too many legs and bulging compound eyes. They seemed to be talking to each other in a shrill little buggy language. As I watched them, I realized that a form of nausea very close to car-sickness was building inside of me.
One of the exterminators, a tall man with red hair and a redder face, handed me a rake. “Make yourself useful, ya bum,” he said.
I looked around and saw that all the other men were chasing the bugs, slicing them to bits by passing the rake-teeth over them. I sliced up a few of the slower bugs, and hated doing it. Sure, the slimy freaks were utterly loathsome, but they were still living beings. My nausea became so intense that finally, I had to crouch in a corner and breathe deeply to keep from vomiting.
“Don’t do that,” said the red-haired man, pulling me to my feet. “Are you crazy, letting your butt drag so close to the floor? One of those bugs could have crawled up there, and then…” He made a face – a disgusted yet smirkingly knowing face – and returned to the task of bug-raking. More and more of the creatures were crawling about. Soon they were joined by frogs, scorpions and lizards, all multi-colored, all dewy with slime. Thin rivulets of steaming ichor flowed across the floor as more of the little horrors were sliced up. A hot, farty smell filled the air.
My skinny hostess took my hand. “Let’s go,” she said. “We don’t want to get in their way.”
As we were heading out the door, I looked back for a second, just in time to see an iguana force its way down the red-haired man’s throat. The look in his eyes was – well, I suppose it was one of pleasure. There are so many different kinds of pleasure, and oddly enough, some of them aren’t all that pleasant.
She led me next door to the Bracelet Hut, where the clerks were fighting off glistening Komodo dragons. She loaded down her wrists with gold and platinum, pearls and diamonds. Then we zipped across the corridor to Chick-Chick-Chicken, where we helped ourselves to some tasty hot wings. The fry-boys were too busy to stop us: they had their hands full, smacking rainbow-hued crocodiles with brooms.
We sat by the fountain in the middle of the mall’s Food Court, licking wing-sauce off each other’s fingers.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” I said. “It’s not like we love each other or anything like that.”
“Well, we are friends, aren’t we?” The tone of her voice was borderline frantic. “Everything’s going to hell and it would be nice to face the end with a friend.”
I looked – really looked at her. Sure, she resembled a sad, skinny little bird, but this particular bird needed me. Needed my support. My understanding.
I cradled her face in my hands. “For a while now, I’ve been thinking that this whole day has been one big bad dream. Not mine, not yours… Maybe the God of Slimy Things is taking a nap. Why don’t we just wait and see what happens? It sure can’t get any worse.”
She flashed a cheery smile, revealing hundreds of thin, sharp iridescent teeth. “Okay.”