Everything had its place. She ran a finger along the edge of the mantle and examined each thing in its turn—the ceramic frogs, the strange vase that had belonged to her aunt, a small landscape of the sea. They each had respect for their proper place, and if anything got out of line—deviated—it was removed. So the mantel, like most things in the apartment, stayed where it was. She didn’t get out much anymore.
Ray, her boyfriend, also lived in the apartment. He bought the groceries, went to the cleaners, the Laundromat, wherever, while she stayed at home and looked after things. One night, he said he’d had enough, that he was going out. He pushed her out of the way and put on his coat. For a moment, he stood in the doorway, poised with keys in his hand, as if he were waiting for her. But she stayed, fixed, cross-legged in the center of the room, wondering how she would eat after he left her for good. She felt the carpet grow through the cracks between her fingers, watched the woolen-red fibers intertwine over her knuckles, knew that it would be a matter of minutes before it would be long enough to crawl to her throat and strangle her. It took effort, but she managed to crawl to the cool neutrality of the bathroom, with its reflective green tile, so clean that she could see her face in it. Something that contained so much of her had to be safe. But Ray didn’t get it; he couldn’t understand the conspiracy of the living room.
“Come out of the bathroom, Lee. Lee?”
“You know why.”
She didn’t say anything, so he got down on the floor and looked under the door. He could see her toes.
“Tell me what it is, and I’ll put it outside, okay?”
“Yes, the carpet. It’s growing.”
He sighed. “Lee, it’s one inch tall, just like it’s always been. It’s a shag…”
“No, it’s growing.”
“It’s not growing. I’m sitting on it.”
“I’m not coming out until it’s gone.”
Ray went out and got a hamburger. He brought it back to the apartment and ate it right outside of the bathroom door, where she could smell it. A couple of hours later, he had to use the neighbor’s bathroom, because she still wouldn’t unlock the door.
“It’s been three hours,” he said. “The carpet looks the same.”
“It might look the same,” she said. “But it’s not the same. Go to bed. I’ll be fine.”
He did. The next morning the bathroom was still locked from the inside. He had to piss in the kitchen sink.
“I’m going to work,” he said, sliding a pop tart under the door.
“Lee, can you hear me?” he asked that night. “I’ll take the carpet out. It’s going to take some time, because it’s nailed down. But if you make me do that…if you make me take the carpet out…I’m going, too. Understand?”
He knelt down on the floor and peered under the door.
“I can’t live like this anymore,” he said.
There was a long silence. “Well, she said, finally, “you better take the carpet out then.”
He ripped out the carpet, threw it outside, and packed his bags.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m leaving now, and I’m taking the carpet with me.” He waited.
“Please don’t go. You know I can’t help it.”
He felt terrible about it, but he left anyway.
When she heard the loud rev of his motorcycle, she opened the door. Underneath, where the carpet had been, was an ugly concrete floor. She stepped onto it, feeling the slick sterility beneath her feet and let out a sigh of relief.
Ray left a bag of groceries on the stoop, rang the doorbell and ran. He didn’t call. A few days later, Lee sensed something strange about the telephone, unplugged it, and put it with the pile of banished possessions on the porch.
The kitchen was changing. On the stovetop, there were four burners, instead of three. The dishes had shifted in the cupboards. The sink was always wet, even if the faucet hadn’t been turned on for hours. The refrigerator cooked the milk. Lee decided that dry food and bottled water were good enough and moved all the cereal and things that wouldn’t spoil into the bedroom. She closed the door on the living room and the rest. That night the shadow of the moon came in through the closed curtains and sat suspended above her bed. It skimmed ominously across the dark sky, finally touching her arm, near the elbow.
“Tomorrow, I’m moving to the closet,” she told it. There weren’t any windows in the closet.
When she was a child, there were many places to hide in her mother’s house. The buffet in the dining room was well-ventilated, and when the light came down through the decorative lattice, it felt snug and safe, like a confessional. She liked the cubby under the stairs, too, where she kept her stuffed animals, neatly surrounding her on shelves, a protective totem. Patiently, she would explain to them that they’d have to be quiet, and for a while they’d stay still, but then the noise level would rise and rise until she couldn’t stand it anymore and had to send them away—one by one—to the outside.
As she climbed into the closet, she finally saw where she was headed, saw how wide the mouth of the funnel had been in the beginning before she’d shrunk down to where she was now, moving inexorably towards the pinch.
She left once to go to the bathroom. In the mirror, she noticed that her hair was matted. She touched her face and saw that the figure in the glass was moving a full second later than she was. It startled her that her reflection had turned hostile. She went back to the closet and vowed not to go out ever again, for anything, ever. After a week, the air grew thin. Lungs, belly, and bladder all moved over to the enemy, and evil fairies dropped electrical sparks onto her eyes whenever she moved. Mutiny and surrender.
Ray had tried everything—knocking, calling, yelling. Finally he called a locksmith and broke in.
“You sure this is your place, mister?” the guy asked, looking at the barren room. “Looks like you’ve had trouble.”
“No,” Ray said, reaching into his pocket for the twenty dollars it would take to make him go away, “just my girlfriend.”
The guy laughed and took the money.
“Just like my ex-wife. Stripped the place clean.”
It was very quiet after the locksmith left.
“Lee, it’s me…” He looked in the kitchen, the bathroom and finally the bedroom. The apartment was very still.
His eyes shifted to the closet, to the fluid leaking through the crack under the door. He took hold of the knob and jerked it open. The stench was sharp enough to make his eyes water. She was curled in the corner with her arms folded over her head, her face pressed against the wall like a beautiful bat. He pulled himself upright, closed all the doors—closet, bedroom and entry—and walked outside. Standing on the porch, he saw that the sky had taken on a murderous hue of gray. He groped through the pile of discarded things and finally found an umbrella, which opened to protect him as he stepped down into a world of twitching trees, shaky ground, and uncertain weather.
Laroo Jack lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches critical thinking, writing, and the occasional horror class to undergraduates. Recent work has appeared in Dark Moon Digest and Ghostlight: The Magazine of Terror.