The Mould

Short Story von Lisa Schmerschneider, GKEn 11.3

George looks into Mary's eyes. Beat. Mary smiles weakly, she leaves the library, turning around one last time. Mary winks. George watches her leave, then, a moment later, he realizes what he is doing and hurries after her. She is almost gone when he catches her, they exchange numbers. George smiles as he sees her leave a second time. …

„You need to clean this place.“ She scuffed, kicking something on the ground away. A bit of mould had gathered there.
„I know“. Harold was lying on the Sofa, bent over some paper. He was writing. A little play, one that he had been working on for a few days now. His hand ran over the paper at a good speed. He smiled.
„I will, I want to, just give me a minute“. Mary, he thought, Mary alone in her house. Mary smiling. The woman in his flat got down to pet the cat, that had sprung out of a little banana peel pile a few feet away.
„Sure, but Harry please, don't forget what happened last time. You'll have to do it soon“
„I will I will“ he scuffed „just, give me a minute“ and a few more days passed. Harold had remained on the sofa, he was about ten pages in. „Mary“ he whispered „Mary and George happily in the kitchen“ as he let his gaze shift over the furniture. He could have sworn plants had once been there, he could have sworn books as well. The sun dawned on the empty Soda cans scattered around him, it looked quite pretty, he fell asleep to the sight.
A few more days went by.
„The cat“ he said, jumping from one free space to another, as he made his way through to the kitchen „I could have sworn I had a cat“. But there was no cat, it did not smell of cat, it did not sound like cat. For all he knew, there was no cat. And the little mountain of teabags he had just kicked to the side let his face light up. Yes! He thought. Mary and George in the café, fighting over the tea she spilled. Perfect. Another week passed.
„Harold“. The familiar voice came from below, from outside. He got up and pushed his way through a few bag and paper towels. Through the window, he saw her on the pavement. She waved.
„I can't get in Harold, what are you doing up there?“
Harold turned around. Through the translucent shimmer of a plastic package, he spotted the door. „A few things in front of the door“ he said. „You gotta use a bit of violence, wait, I'll help you“. The way to the door was entirely hidden, hidden under tons and tons of things that had lost all their meaning in the mass. He set a foot into it, the mass moved, slight waves coming from it, but all seemed stable. Harold moved again. The waves became a bit bigger, but nothing to worry about. Having gained more confidence, he went another step. A save second passed, then a pizza carton slipped. His food did too. A vibration went through the pile as it all shifted and fell and tumbled away. The rubbish had caught him, sucked him in. Harold tried to grab onto a bit of sofa sticking out, but all he could see was the circle of light closing up above him. Straws and socks covered his sight as he disappeared. The waves went on for a bit, crashing on the walls, spilling over the window frame, crumbled tissues falling down to the street. But soon a calm settled on the place, and all was silent.
The silence of an uninhabited home.
Harold, in the meantime, was falling deeper and deeper into the chaos. All colours and forms around him suddenly perverted. Deep down, there were hints of light coming out of cracks and holes, he rubbed a yogurt package out of his eyes and looked around. This was a strange land he had entered, but soon the shock was replaced by fascination. This was the rubbish in his living room, it had formed a world next to the sofa he had been living on. A little fish swam by in front of him. He cupped it in his hand, opening them wide enough to peek through and watched the creature swim, it ate little pieces of rubbish that were floating in the air. Or water, whatever it was in here, that kept both of them alive.
“What do you think little fella“ he said to the fish, that was looking at him with his glossy little fish eyes „Should I let Mary and George break up? I've given them quite a lot of tension, and Mary last stormed out, smashing the door behind her“. The fish blinked. „Well I suppose I could let them talk it out as well, she is an impulsive character, she gets angry faster and calms down faster“.
„I'd suggest you don't think about those people in your head when your entire body is currently stuck right up in rubbish.“
Just as Harold assumed the fish had spoken, he noticed the cat that had appeared next to him. It hit his hands with its little head till he opened them.
„Your problems should be elsewhere“ and it swallowed the fish whole. Harold hesitated for a beat.
„Are you..“ „The cat you've forgotten? Certainly. Though forgotten is only an assumption based on that empty food bowl I keep checking. But there's plenty of food here“. The animal put a paw into an old shampoo bottle and tore another fish out of it.
„I wouldn't suggest you stay here for long, this is a rotten place, a dangerous one“ The cat hissed.
„What are you doing here anyway?“
„I wanted to get to the door, I think so at least, but I feel like I need a moment to figure out what my characters should be doing. I'm writing a play you see“
„Oh I saw, I liked playing with your paper back when I was living on the surface“. The cat looked around, worried.
„But I'd suggest we leave, the mould is approaching“
The cat lead him through the empty tubes and bottles it had appeared out of. They went through a garden of old clothes, a dust dessert, a nutshell cabinet... it felt like he'd walked a mile underneath his living room.
“What is the mould” he's heard himself asking “oh you don't want to see it, it's all those damn fruits you leave in here, they don't last forever don't you know? Not even I would eat what becomes of them, it grows and swallows you whole when you're not careful enough”
“I'm confused”
“I can't blame you, but I learned how to live here last time”
Last time, Harold remembered. His last play he'd written. He liked it, it was a fun one, his flat had looked like it did now back then as well. Last time he didn't slip.
“How did I fix it last time” He asked the cat.
“Why are you asking me, I'm merely a cat. I don't understand clean and unclean, woke up one day, and it looked different”.
Harold frowned. George, he thought, George walks to her house. George fumbles with the number she gave him a few weeks ago. Yeah, that might be something. He did not notice that the cat had stopped and ran right into it. "Watch it” the cat hissed. “Here we should be safe for a second. Harold now noticed the environment. A little cave within the mess. Walls out of paper and bubblegum. The cat went over to a little pile of milk and rolled one over to Harold with its forehead. “I can survive in here for days if necessary, but I don't know what to do when the mould arrives. Built one somewhere else I suppose. But the smell is getting worse by the day”
Harold took a sip of the milk “I think I might kill George” he chugged the bottle on the floor, a bit of milk spilled out “yeah that would fit, kill him, yeah”. The cat tapped over and sorted the bottle away to the rest while Harold had started scribbling on the cave walls.
“Why do you write so much, Jesus do you focus on anything but ink at all?” The cat cocked its head “this is your home isn't it?”
“I wanna get it done”
“and then?”
“what then?”
“well..” the cat hesitated “I.. do I?..” it sniffed the air, then went to the cave's wall and tore a piece away.
“My god! Harold my dear pack all ink and paper you need, the mould is faster than I anticipated, three days early!”.
“Wait wait, just one more description, I need a second” but his paper had begun to melt and fall as mould spread over it. There was fur. There was slime. It was a wall of disgust that ripped the man's work apart and was about to absorb him as well. The cat tore on his pants, desperate to leave, and finally, he did. The two ran through the rubbish. Mold right behind them, devouring its path. Harold fought himself through all the rubbish that looked frightening and familiar as the world around him got darker, as package upon package swallowed all remaining light, and as the smell took away all his attention that previously stuck to George. George, he tried, George is a quiet character, he can barely handle her...argh he can.... he... he felt a sting in his shoulder. Something seemed to grip him, something seemed to ran down his spine. The mould had caught on, the cat was out of sight. It melted his arm, his torso and head. He felt himself become one with the mass, felt himself growing through the room, felt himself expand. Maybe, Harold thought, maybe I should've done something against this, maybe, he thought, just maybe I should prioritize this. But as the decay started to go to his brain and as his vision softly faded, a light broke through the mass. The cold lamplight of his room, it filled the mass, and some rubbish parted to make place for something thin and long. Harold noticed them to be long fingers, that were slithering through the rubbish, down to him, that gripped his hand, a hand that suddenly had formed itself out of the mould again, and Harold was lifted upwards. He felt light, dragged, by an insane strength. And the plastic caps eventually parted just enough that he could reach the surface again. Whole and in flesh.
The hand belonged to her, she looked at him softly.
“I got in” she said “Are you ok? Why were you on the floor, did you stumble?”.
“I'm fine” he said, petting the cat that had poked its way out of some old cardboard box. It looked hungry. “I'm... aware of the situation”. …

Mary and George sit on the rooftop. They look up into the stars.
Mary: “I tend to get lost in them”
George: “Let's not get lost right now”