Authors: Andersen Prunty
Hi I’m a Social Disease
’m a Social Disease
copyright © 2011 by Andersen Prunty
Cover photography copyright © 2011 by Michel Omar Berrospé
Cover design copyright © 2011 by Brandon Duncan (www.corporatedemon.com)
All rights reserved.
Also by Andersen Prunty
The Sorrow King
My Fake War
Morning is Dead
Jack and Mr. Grin
The Overwhelming Urge
She moved into Room 29. That was the one right over mine. I wish she had moved somewhere else.
The first time I saw her, I was coming home from the store, a bottle of whiskey wrapped in a paper bag clutched in my right hand. She had three cardboard boxes in front of her and was bent over one of them, lifting it. Dirty strawberry hair hung over the right side of her face so my gaze drifted lower to the skin between her blue stockings and thin yellow sundress. I tried not to let it stop me but I had to stare. She finally hoisted the box up against her chest and turned, startled, to see me standing only a couple of feet away.
I’d like to help you,” I said. “But I can’t... I just can’t.”
Yeah,” she said in little more than a resigned whisper. Her face was thin and pretty. Everyone was thin these days but most people who were left weren’t very pretty. She turned her back to me and started into the shell of the building.
I stood there until she disappeared into the darkness. There hadn’t been a door since before I moved in. I took a deep breath and looked up at the ashy gray sky. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen the sun. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a pretty face. Once I was sure I wouldn’t run into her again, I went into the building and into my room, Room 19.
I walked through the trash strewn about the floor, flipped the television on, and sat down on the wasted, moldy couch. I put the bottle, still in the bag, on the saggy upright cardboard box that served as an end table. Upstairs, I heard her clunk the box down on the floor. Static flickered across the television. There weren’t any stations. Electricity, for now. Electricity was useless. It would keep the refrigerator running but there wasn’t anything to put in it. It would keep the television going but there wasn’t anything to watch. It would keep the lights on but, Christ, who wanted to see?
I heard her shuffling back down the hall, just outside my door, to get another box. Three boxes was pretty impressive. That was a lot of stuff to own. No one owned anything anymore. Things were just status symbols anyway and now there wasn’t anyone to impress. She was probably wondering why I wouldn’t help her. Or maybe she wasn’t. One tended not to wonder about much. We’d seen it all. All of our nightmares had blazed to life right in front of us so if a stranger didn’t offer to help you carry a few boxes, well, she was probably just thankful I didn’t drag her into the building and have my way with her. Because I could have. The law was too busy to concern itself with something like rape.
The truth was that I was afraid to go toward the back of the building. And you had to go to the back to get to the stairs. The landlord, Mr. Grangely, lived back there. Until the girl showed up, I was the only other person in the building. He didn’t charge rent but if you died in his building he would cook you up and eat you. Sometimes I think he helped that death along. I never went near him by choice.
I looked at the unwrapped bottle.
The screams were coming on. I could feel them way down in my guts. My ma used to say that was a demon. She said it explained the way I acted much of the time. I didn’t believe in demons. I thought Ma was full of shit, rest her soul.
I knew what happened if I didn’t let the screams out. I had to. It was like a release valve. But it was going to be embarrassing now. Now that there was someone besides a cannibal to hear me. What would she think? Did it matter what she thought? Probably not.
The screams came on all of a sudden. I dug my fingernails into the arms of the chair, reached down deep past my diaphragm and dragged the first scream out. It was long and brutal and painful. Twelve more followed it. I screamed until I could taste blood in the back of my mouth. Then, with sweaty, shaky hands, I opened the bottle, tossing the bag and the cap on the floor, and dumped the first swallow into my mouth.
Ah, the numbing fire.
There was a knock on the door.
I didn’t say anything. My voice was gone. The screams always stole my voice, not that it usually mattered.
Are you all right?”
I took another slug of the whiskey and doubled over, resisting the urge to run to the door and throw it open. But I didn’t because I knew it could only end in pain.
You okay in there?”
She twisted the knob but it was locked. When sharing the house with a cannibal of questionable ethics, one does not leave the door unlocked.
I’m right upstairs if you need anything, kay?”
Then she was shuffling away, back that dark hall toward the stink of Grangely’s room and up those rickety stairs. Right above me. I heard her moving around. Opening boxes. I sat in the chair, drinking and watching static until night fell.
I must have dozed off or passed out in the chair. When I came to I could hear her crying upstairs. It was so loud it sounded almost like she had her face pressed to the floor. It was the most melancholy sound I’d ever heard. I must have still been half asleep because I imagined her tears seeping through the floorboards, falling through the rancid stale air like drops of seawater, hitting me in the face, trickling into my mouth. I drifted back off, my belly full of whiskey, sadness, and longing.
The next morning I woke up stiff and sweaty. The days were like this. Most of them were cold but there were these occasional sticky, humid days. I didn’t know what season it was. I’d had a calendar once but lost it and then stopped caring. I stood up, stretched, went into a corner and pissed. You get used to the smell. The whiskey bottle was empty. I don’t know why I didn’t just piss in the whiskey bottles. Whiskey in. Whiskey out. Now I’d have to go to the store. I suppose I could just clean the store out but going there gave a sense of routine and normalcy to the day.
I opened the door and saw her standing with her back to it on the other side of the hall. She was looking at the wall of little metal mailboxes. Most of their doors were hanging from the hinges or torn off completely. I quickly shut my door and imagined her turning around. Then I heard her going away. I opened the door again and stepped out, looking at the mailboxes. I looked at the one for 29. She’d added her name to it. Blue marker on a piece of masking tape. Anita Marvel, it said. I ran my fingertips over the tape and thought about that tiny expanse of pale skin above her stocking. I could still smell the fumes from the marker. I thought about my dead wife and my dead kids and wondered if I could ever feel that way about another person. I didn’t know.
I came back from the store and hoped to run into her again but she wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Her room was silent above me. Sometime in the afternoon I had another bout of the screams and started drinking shortly thereafter. Night fell and I heard Grangely leave the building on one of his excursions. Hunting. That’s why he was so fat. He went into the city at least once a week and returned with fresh feral children, wild animals, whatever he could catch and cut down in the dark back alleys of the city. They were always dead when he brought them back. I don’t think I could have stood it if they were still alive. What he did was ghoulish enough without having to listen to some poor innocent struggle as he took them out of this rotten world.
The girl, Anita, began moving around shortly after he left. She walked back and forth across the floor. It squeaked and wobbled. What was there to walk back and forth to? What reason was there to even move? I thought about going up to her room, knocking on her door, introducing myself, but I was pretty sure I was too drunk to stand up. After a long while I heard her settle down and begin that weeping again. Some people scream. Some people weep. The sound of her weeping made me sad but there was something about it more human and beautiful than I had heard in a very long time.
The days and nights continued like this. She became part of the routine, as unchanging as the cloud-covered sky. But I never forgot about her. I longed for her. That became a constant too. That became part of the routine. I watched her check her mail each morning, always in that dingy yellow sundress and blue stockings. She never received anything. I listened to her pace and cry at night. I thought about going up there all the time. I should have. At the very least, she needed warned about Grangely. She needed to know what it was he did, what would become of her if she happened to die here.
I never went.
One evening, something banged against my door and I snapped out of my drowse. My hands had gone numb and I thought I was blind in my left eye. I flexed my hands and blinked. I stood up and went to the door. I opened it but there wasn’t anyone or anything there. I thought Grangely had accidentally bumped into it on his way out. But I could hear him at the back of the hall. I looked at him. He was down on all fours, sniffing. I looked down. If he was sniffing the floor there was a good chance something was there. Something was. A thin trail of blood.
Anita was my first thought. Grangely and I were accounted for. The blood trail led outside. I turned to face Grangely. “Get back in your room, Fatass.” There wasn’t any need to shout. No noise. No other people.
He stood up. He was a large man, tall and robust in a skeletal age.
You don’t boss me,” he said. “I’m the fuckin landlord.”
I know what you do. If I wanted, I could tell someone. There aren’t any landlords anymore. There aren’t any titles anymore. Just people.”
You’ll fuckin get yours.” We stared at each other for a few uncomfortable seconds before he turned and went back toward his room, slamming his door shut behind him.
I turned back toward the opening of the building, staring out at the dark milky night. I didn’t see her. The trail of blood was thin at first and then, by the time I had reached the curb, it had tapered off into sporadic splashes. I didn’t want to venture out any farther. Not at night. I thought about yelling for her but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. She didn’t even know me. I looked back down at the final splash of blood. I’d never be able to find her that way.