FICTION: Watermoon by Elena Malkov

A large, square window dominated the front room. Under it stood the dining table. An antique sideboard laden with cut crystal bowls and vases hugged the opposite wall. There was no curtain or blind to shade the window, and in the afternoon, its geometric profusion of light overwhelmed the small space. When rain poured, it beat against the glass in violent, chaotic bursts.

One such night I sat at the table, watching the lamp’s reflection in the window. The lamp stood behind me, casting light out of its thin frosted dome, and the rain smeared and distorted its shape.

For a moment it poured harder, and a rooftop echo seemed to linger above, descending into the building. I went in to the back room and listened to the noise scattering through the walls.

Some creature—just one, but the rain amplified and mimicked its movements into a vibrating wave—must have gotten in from the roof.

Retreating to the front room, I still heard the thing behind the door, familiarizing itself with the insulation, clattering limbs against the pipes. But it didn’t follow me, its wretched pacing confined to the back, for now.

There were others in the building. A man across the hall, a family downstairs. They clanged pots and pans or opened their windows to smoke. I walked out onto the short landing. I didn’t see my neighbor often, but his phone calls were exuberantly loud, and I always knew when he was home. We were the only ones on the top floor.

The rooms breathed through many lungs, through us parasites who lived and bred in its inner cavities. The houses here were all alike, old, brick, thickly-gabled, covered in shadows torn down by naked tree limbs. Their inhabitants would have left the city altogether had this suburb not caught them on their way out. There was a park too, where I paced around a pond and a scattering of bronze sculptures—whimsical shapes, squat female bodies, mythologized beasts. My soul sang out to past generations or distant lives, but my body remained inert in its daily ritual, gathering weight around the hips as ballast.

The city called, the whole world called, my bones ached with want. And now there was a new infection. In the back room, on the top floor. Perhaps the rain washed it out of an upper abyss, a deep looming void overhead, the creature in my walls its malformed offspring.

Pale light hung from the landings. The front door clapped open, rain flung itself across the stoop and brought Rit inside. He looked up—I was leaning over the balustrade, face nearly cloaked in hair but returning his gaze—and worked quickly up the steps.

He didn’t take his boots off when he came upstairs, but stepped straight across the floor, mud caking off his pants and feet, and took over my chair.

“Let’s drink!” he exclaimed, pounding a palm on the table and lifting a bottle out of this pocket with the other. He was looking at my reflection in the window, so I tried to rest my face at its most pleasing angle, then turning to retrieve cocktail glasses and a bottle of milky brown liquor from the sideboard.

Rit was in a great mood. His large, bagged eyes flickered, and his hair was drying quickly from the rain, resuming its usual bushiness. He poured something translucent but sugary from his bottle. My stomach tried to eject it as soon as it came down my throat, but I let him refill my glass and forced myself to keep everything in until my mind softened a bit.

“There’s something in the bedroom.”

“Mmm?” He was still looking at me through the window’s reflection.

“I think it’s alive. Something in the wall.”

“Ah…” He poured himself another drink and I swigged from my own bottle, afraid of the sweet remains of his alcohol in my glass.

“So, I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?”

“It’s in the bedroom?”

I nodded.

“How did it get in?”

I shrugged. His eyes darkened.

“Do you not want to fuck?”

Tears appeared in my eyes.

“No it’s just—we can’t with that thing in there!”

Glaring at me, drinking again, he walked over to the back room, stood inside for a moment, then quickly walked back out. Even more annoyed, he looked right past me to the bottle on the table, which he grabbed, screwed shut, and repocketed, hitting it once against the empty glass, which chimed loudly but did not break.

“You’ll have to call someone about that…” he muttered, already out on the landing, just before closing the door. When its echo died, I heard the creature pattering with stern insistence. I knotted my hands in my lap and mashed them together, forcing the knuckles to grind against one another.

Then I waited, pacing and drinking. When the walls began to slide around before my eyes, I sat down on the rug between the window and the table, leaning my back against the wall. The night oozed into my skull through the cracks in the plaster trailing from the window ledge to my head.

Rit used to work for the university. The campus lay splayed between the suburb and the city, and I had a temp job digitizing archives in the library, which is where we met. He came to borrow books about networks and hiveminds, then sit with me on the third floor, in the periodicals corner, whispering jokes and laughing at them full-volume. I liked his hugeness, his clattering mass. Less person than biome, settled and humming.

Now he worked somewhere deep in the city center and came over a few times a week. My contract expired, and a grandmother’s death brought a willed stipend, enough for rent and food if I stayed put and didn’t alter my routine. But I’d need new clothes soon, and I was hoping Rit could help me find something in his office. I had planned on talking to him about it. Perhaps he would like to have me close by more often.

The thing’s muted stepping or dragging started up and died down throughout the night. I kept drinking the buttery liquor until it welled back up and I stood at the kitchen sink, letting it retrace its steps. Then I sat and stared at the sideboard, watched it lightening finally to a muddy pallor, the sun blocked out by a thick marbling of clouds. The lamp, whose reach extended into a small orb around itself, faded into the burgeoning dawn.

The back room was quiet.

I got up, bones and limbs cramped from sitting on the floor for hours, turned off the lamp, attempted to stretch, and, pain creeping into my heavy head, walked towards the door.

When I turned on the light, a thin scraping and a half-hearted thump sprang from somewhere behind the dresser.

If I walked through the streets in the correct pattern, it would go away. So I prayed, black silk heart sinking to the bottom of a glass. I wanted someone else with me, but only painful people existed in my memory—friendships crushed under their own weight or simmering in shadow.

Several days passed, I continued sleeping in the front room, under the window. Most nights, the sound of the rain lashed just above my face. After sunrise, I walked the hopeless knot of streets, rain now transformed to dewy, semi-permeable ooze.

The world is endless and completely pure, a pearled half-shell filled with reflections of its own sweet light.

I didn’t go into the other room often, only when the noises stopped for a while. Timid and hopeful, I opened the door, turned on the light, and waited. Then it would start scraping the inside of the walls again, burning my spine and forcing me back into the other room, bones bruised and molding into the flat square of rug. When it thrashed deep in the night, I moaned into my ribcage, trying to cancel it out with self-made vibration and filling my body up with a well of self-pity.

In a few days, Rit called. “I thought you were coming over?”

Clouds descended over the valley of the suburbs, stretched gray over the house, and wrapped tight around the big window in the front room. But Rit lived downtown, on the side of an enormous hill, and his flat would be suffused with mellow dusty light. The bells of invisible churches rang through the clear hillside air every hour. I could hear all of it pouring out of his voice on the phone, alongside the impatience. My throat filled with sour longing. Not for him, but for his high-ceilinged rooms and leather couches, waxy sun brimming from the windows, which stretched the length of the walls, layered with gauzy curtains of white, violet, and yolky yellow. Rit had an indeterminate number of roommates who filtered quietly in and out of their bedrooms. I could sleep on a sofa, undisturbed, sanitizing my soul with sunlight against it—

“I can come over now.”

“Come in an hour.”

My car was parked several blocks away, and the windshield was smeared with dry brown leaves hardening into a thick cake under the wipers. I lurched, gears shifting nervously, up the hill, past scraggly trees that had been foaming over with green leaves so recently. Rit lived in a massive whitewashed apartment block, which jutted over the suburbs, each of its immense windows blinking away wisps of stray cloud. His flat was not near the top, but it protruded farthest over the hillside, and looking out through his living room windows felt like standing inside a giant’s fleshy mouth.

“Did you seriously come here just to do that?” He was laying across one of the couches, sunk into the leather and watching me at the window.

“I wanted to get away from that thing in my room.”

Rit stared up, I stared out.

“You heard it, right?”

“Yep.”

“What do you think it is?”

“…Why are we talking about this?”

“Because it frightens me!”

Silence hung for a moment, but Rit shook it out of the air with a long, mean laugh.

His pupils gleamed and dilated. I tried focusing my thoughts on the sky, which domed out away from the hill, hanging ash blue with a froth of cloud at its edges. Rit shifted irritably on the couch, but I stayed put, not looking at him.

“I guess I’ll go.”

“What the fuck? Why?”

“I don’t really feel like doing anything.”

His smirk turned grim. “Okay, well, go then.”

When I returned home, I stood for a long time in the downstairs foyer. The floors above cast deep shadows across my vision as I brooded, not wanting to face the thing again. Behind me was the empty street, twilit and barren. I had only to climb. Something of Rit’s words separated out in my thoughts: “I don’t think it’s anything bad. You probably shouldn’t worry.” He had his hands over his face when he said it, maybe talking to himself. The stairs were already giving into my footsteps with heavy wooden sighs.

The wet dust smell coming up from the rug sent me—for a moment—to a soft, closed
half-memory, something I wanted to wrap myself in but couldn’t articulate. An impression of a past life in peaceful slumber that my stomach tightened around with a bright-white heat. I tried to carry this sensation with me, but it diluted quickly in my bloodstream. Emptied, I came to the top, staring for several seconds at my neighbor’s door, willing it to open…

No use.

Walking in, my gaze met the window, casting its dark eye out for my benefit. Already it had become habit to strain my ears for the thuds and shuffles in the next room. I heard them now. Still nothing like a voice, just movement, drifting sharply corner to corner. My heart pounded, I broke into a sweat, but managed to cross the room, open the door, and turn on the light without stopping for a moment’s reflection.

The creature’s desperate scraping began once more. I shut my eyes, and the muscles above my brows spasmed in distress. I needed a memory to envelop me again, so I could cradle the fear, keep it from leaking out. The noise in the wall grew louder, expanded and surrounded my head with its begging, incessant, frightening nothingness and I felt my body bloat and blossom, stretching my skin taut, until it pressed up against the walls and ceiling, separated from the thing by just a thin layer of plaster. The creature sensed me now too, and trembled. After a brief stillness, I heard it chewing through the wall. In seconds it penetrated the boundary between us and I felt a wet suckling on my arm—it pierced the distended flesh and consumed the bile that bloated me. The wound emptied, I deflated, and, thrown down by the sudden lack of girth, I shrunk down onto the rug. The thing lay next to me, choked on my poison, itself a distorted black rag, wrinkled and flat. I could find no eyes, just a slit of a mouth, opening to a tube lined with tiny teeth. My arm throbbed.

It took a long time to clean the room. With rubber gloves and many rags I transferred the creature’s corpse into the trash, and scooped and wiped as much of the bile as I could, retching over its cloying stench. The rug and bedding had to be replaced, so I sold the cut crystal from the sideboard in the front room. I sold the sideboard too, since there was nothing left to store in it. The flat was bare, but clean and quiet, the walls calling out only when I slept.

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Elena Malkov

Elena Malkov Photo

Elena Malkov lives in Richmond, Virginia and works in technical publications, writing her fiction by night at a tiny desk in a tiny apartment perched among the magnolias and crepe myrtles. Her first published short story, “Enough Blue,” was recently featured in Typishly.
If you enjoyed ‘Watermoon’ leave a comment and let Elena know.
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