ISSUE 5 · FALL 2010




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Copyright © 2010

Jason Jordan





Pestilence

JASON JORDAN

 

 

On Monday mornings we cart out the dead,” I tell the reporter. It’s Sunday night, and we’re in my living room on my couch. He has his handheld recorder on, though he still jots down what I’ve said on his small pad of paper. He’s lean and in a black suit. He’s balding, but he has short blonde hair on the sides and back. Glasses, too. “Which paper did you say this was for again?”

The Gazette, Mr., uh,” he says, leafing through his pages trying to find where he wrote my last name during our phone conversation earlier in the week.

“One. You can call me One. Everyone else does.” I point upward, alluding to my four housemates.

“Why does everyone call you One?”

“They just do. It makes sense. I live on the first floor, so they call me One. Two lives on the second floor, et cetera.” I wanted to look regal for the interview, so I’m wearing a suit also, a white one. I tap my watch. “Do you mind if we return to the matter at hand?”

“Sure. I’m sorry. So on Mondays you carry out the dead?”

“Yes. Actually, listen, why don’t you call your editor to see if you can stay with us the whole week? We’re granting you an exclusive interview, and if an article will be published, I want it to be done right. Does that meet with your approval?”

“Yes, sir. I understand. Thank you for the opportunity. I’ll check with my editor.” He removes a silver cell phone from his pocket. “Excuse me a moment,” he says. He makes the call and proposes the idea to his superior. From what I gather, his editor approves. “All is well,” he says, closing his phone.

“Very good. I suppose you’ll need to visit your abode to collect supplies for the week.”

“Yes. I’ll be back shortly.” We stand and shake hands. I’m not convinced he knows what he’s getting into, but that’s the nature of journalism, the nature of the beast.

“And remember,” I say, “I’ll entertain a few poignant questions about the house itself later this week. First and foremost, it’s of the utmost importance that I introduce you to my fellow occupants and relay what happens here, so you and I can both be prepared come tomorrow morning.”

“I’m not sure I understand, but I’ll take your word for it.”

An hour later, the doorbell rings, and I open the door to find the reporter holding a digital camera and a red duffel bag.

“Mind if I take some pictures?” he asks.

“Be my guest, but I’d prefer you refrain from taking photographs of the front of the house because I don’t want miscreants wandering about after reading the article. I trust my address will also be withheld. It’s unremarkable, honestly—nothing more than a five-story red brick house.”

“Do your neighbors know what goes on here?”

“Yes, they’ve caught wind of things, but I don’t want this to go national. Not yet. Would you like to come in?”

“Thanks.”

“So this is my floor,” I say, closing the front door. I wave my hand over my domain. While our house is five stories, I presume he’ll be staying on the first floor with me. “You saw it earlier tonight, of course, but I think an occasion like this calls for formality, don’t you? As you can see, the interior is all white and silver. The carpet, couch, and recliner—the living room furnishings, essentially—are all white. The bathroom and bedroom are down the hall. The kitchen adjoins the living room. No windows anywhere. We don’t want anyone watching us.” I lead him on a tour of my floor, avoiding the black banister staircase in my living room.

“You said ‘silver’ as well. What’s silver?” he asks.

“Ah, yes. The silver is anything used for entertainment, cooking, and eating purposes. For instance, the TV and DVD player are silver. The microwave is silver. The silverware is, fittingly, silver. That brings us to the banister,” I say, escorting him to it. “Are you recording?”

“Yes.” He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out his tape recorder.

“Good.” I lean over the rail and look up. “Hey Two! We’re coming up!” I lean toward the reporter and whisper, “He’s likely inebriated.”

Two is drunk. And fat. And a slob. He’s naked, passed out face down on the floor in front of his TV. There’s an empty bottle of Grey Goose a few inches from his outstretched arm.

“Ignore the nude lush,” I tell the reporter. “As you will note, Two’s floor is entirely orange and silver. The staircase is the only black thing in the house, and one step on each floor is without its bar pickets so you can enter and exit the staircase. Made of iron. Sturdy material.” I look up into the stairwell. “Three! We’re coming up!”

“Greetings One and all,” Three says when we reach his floor. I state the obvious to the reporter: this floor is blue and silver. I tell Three that the man accompanying me is a reporter. “It’s a pleasure to see you today, One, and so nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. Reporter.” Three is in a blue tuxedo, like usual, and I tell the reporter this as if Three isn’t standing in front of us.

“You can let go of his hand,” I tell Three.

“Oh, I offer my apologies for extending my greeting longer than necessary. Now, may I offer you fine gentlemen a drink?” he asks.

“No thank you,” I say.

“No, but thanks anyway,” the reporter says.

“Very well. If you don’t mind, I’ll be returning to my opera,” Three says.

Three walks over to his coffee table, picks up the DVD remote, and resumes his opera. He takes a seat on the couch. The opera’s loud enough that I feel I can divulge a few facts about Three.

“Three is the tallest of us by far,” I tell the reporter. “He’s exactly seven feet tall. All dark features, as you see for yourself. He’s a tidy person—again, notice the room and its arrangement. He’s quite the opera aficionado, and also, a queer fellow. I don’t mean that in the contemporary sense of the term, mind you, but ‘queer’ as in ‘odd.’”

“You never know these days.”

“You most certainly do not,” I say, “and that’s off the record, if you don’t mind. Shall we move along?” I walk to the stairwell and begin climbing.

“Aren’t you going to warn Four that you’re coming up?” the reporter asks.

“No need,” I say. “He’s always gone. I doubt he’s present now.”

“I see.”

The fourth floor is green. I point out Four’s ashtray full of cigarette butts, the green clothes on the floor, the green dishes in the sink. “Bit of a sloth, this one,” I say.

“Where is he?” asks the reporter amid snapshots.

“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to explain just yet.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You see, there are certain aspects of our lives that must remain mysteries for now. You’re welcome to report on the house’s layout, décor, and other properties—as well as what takes place within its walls—but not about us, the inhabitants.”

“Why?”

“We’re saving those details for the national media. I hope you understand.” I notify Five that we’ll soon be in his domain. Five pays no heed, however, as he’s meditating on his red mat in the center of his red living room. “He’s busy,” I whisper. “We’ll come back later.” I inform the reporter that we’ll be making our way to the bottom floor now. He leads and I follow closely behind.

“Like I was saying, on Mondays we cart out the dead.” We’re on my couch, like we were an hour ago. “Since you’ll be staying the week, what’s mine is yours, so please don’t hesitate to utilize my things when the need presents itself.” I check my watch. “It’s getting late. I should retire for the evening. We’ll have a busy day tomorrow.” I pat the couch cushion and say, “This is your bed. I’ll retrieve extra bedding from the closet.”

“Thanks for everything.”

“My pleasure.” I visit the bathroom, and then my bedroom, closing the door behind me. I hear the reporter call.

“Yes?” I ask. I’m peeking out from behind the door.

“Why doesn’t this place have any windows again?”

“Windows are like rules.”

“How so?”

“They’re made to be broken.” I chuckle and return to the silence of my room.

. . .

In the morning, the scream wakes me. I venture into the living room in my undergarments to find the reporter sitting on top of the couch with his back against the wall. Our eyes meet and he points to the corpse in the middle of the living room floor.

“What the hell is that?” he says. His voice is shaky.

“Oh that? That’s a corpse, a skeleton. One of the dead. Don’t be frightened.”

“How’d it get here?”

“If we knew, we’d be able to prevent it from happening. Like I told you last night, on Mondays we cart out the dead.” I look at my watch to ensure I don’t require more sleep to adequately function. “It’s early, but not too early to commence. Care to join us?”

“What do you mean?”

“Haul out the dead. I’ll show you.” I approach my walk-in closet, which is directly across from the bathroom, and explain the process. There are seven doors inside the closet—one for each day of the week. I open the door that has MONDAY carved into its wooden façade. There’s a white wheelbarrow leaning against the wall. I turn it upright, wheel it out, place it underneath the chute. “Here’s the chute.” It’s three feet wide and six feet above the carpet. The bodies from the other floors will land in the wheelbarrow and I’ll cart them out front.

“What are those?” he asks, pointing to the white gas masks lining one of Monday’s closet shelves.

“I’m glad you asked.” I remove two from the shelf, handing him one. I don mine and instruct him how to use his. “The stench is ghastly.” He nods. I consider asking him if he understood what I said, but I decide not to. I pluck two pairs of white gloves from the shelf and hand him a pair. On the wall is an intercom. I press two, which buzzes Two’s floor, signaling that I’m ready for him to send down his dead.

The first body hits the wheelbarrow with an oomph—the body is that of a chubby, middle-aged man in a suit and tie. The second does the same, but is quieter because the first corpse breaks the fall of the second. The second body is a young, skinny naked woman. The woman is relatively fresh. She hasn’t been deceased long. The man, however, is showing advanced signs of decomposition.

“They’re in various stages of decay!” I yell to the reporter, the gas mask muffling my voice. “Sorry if you can’t understand me! I’m not used to talking to anyone while engaging in this activity!” I buzz Two again. He buzzes me once to indicate that his floor is free of corpses.

“Where do they come from?” the reporter yells.

“I don’t know! We’ve got enough for a load, so we’ll take this outside! We’ll load the corpse in my living room on top!” I push the wheelbarrow next to the corpse on my floor. “Help me!” I say to the reporter. He shakes his head no. I nod my head yes. I’m near the corpse’s head, so he walks to the corpse’s feet. Its bones are dirty white. “Pick up the ankles and I’ll pick up the shoulders.”

We pick up the skeleton and lay it on top of the other corpses in the wheelbarrow. When I cross the threshold, on my way to the front yard, the corpses disappear. I place the wheelbarrow onto the grass, where it will stay until we resume. I motion for the reporter to join me a number of yards away to rest underneath the shade of a nearby oak tree. We remove our gas masks.

“Who in the hell are these people?” he asks as soon as his mask is off. “And where they’d go when you got them out of the house?”

“I wish I knew. When someone attempts to remove a corpse, it disappears.”

“Haven’t the police been here to investigate this?”

“Of course! The first time I found a corpse on my floor, I called them. Strangely, the corpses reveal nothing. They have fingerprints, yes, but the police were unable to obtain matches. No dental records, either. Officially, these people—these dead people—don’t exist. When they tried to wheel out the corpse, it disappeared. Any studies must evidently be conducted within the house’s confines.”

“Why aren’t the police here every Monday?”

“Simple: it’s a waste of their time. That’s what they told me. They were here every Monday for months, until, one day, they decided the effort to identify these people was a waste of time and money.”

“What happens if you don’t move the corpses?”

“They’ll disappear at midnight.”

“Interesting.”

“Indeed. I expect it will make for a grand article.” I smile, putting on my gas mask. “Thankfully Two was sober enough to deliver his corpses. We won’t have such luck with Four. He’s likely still away.”

Three sends us three corpses. I don’t bother buzzing Four. Instead, the reporter and I walk up to the fourth floor and we toss the four corpses down the chute. Another batch extracted from the house. Five sends us five corpses.

Once all five floors have been emptied and our gas masks have been stored away, the reporter asks, “If they disappear at midnight, why go to the trouble of taking them out of the house?”

“I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t wish to spend the rest of my Monday in a place that smells of rotting flesh.”

“Good point. What do you do the rest of the day?”

“We pray in our own ways. We commune with the gods, asking them to banish the afflictions from our abode. We don’t pray all day—we take breaks—but we try to pray as much as time and energy allow.”

“What should I do while you’re praying?”

“You can pray, too. In fact, in light of Four’s absence, you’ll make a worthwhile addition. We could use any prayers you have.”

“How did you have the money to build this place? How do you make your money?”

“I’m afraid I can’t be overly forthcoming, but I will say that I was on the receiving end of a large inheritance, an inheritance from someone whose name is household.” The prayer mats are in the closet, so I take two out and put them on the living room floor.

“So you know,” I say, “we’ll need to begin preparing for tomorrow—Tuesday—no later than 11:30 p.m.”

“What happens tomorrow?”

“Soon you will find out.”

. . .

At 11:30 p.m., I fold our mats and place them whence they came. The reporter follows me to my closet, where I open the door that has TUESDAY on it. Within: two white beekeeping suits for head to toe protection from Tuesday’s impending affliction.

“What’re we gonna do with those?” he asks, pointing at the hanging suits. “Fence?”

“I wish. However, we shouldn’t lollygag. I’ll assist you with your suit.” I remove the suits from the closet and hand him his. Always keep a spare. That’s my motto. Unfortunately, it’s nearly midnight before we’re fully outfitted, so I don’t have much time to explain when the reporter inquires more about the “situation,” his word. “Be prepared,” I say. “Apologies for the pun, but come midnight, this house will be infested with bees.”

“Bees?”

“Yes, bees.”

Midnight arrives, and suddenly, all at once, my floor is covered in bees, like we’re in a giant hive. The buzzing is loud, and bees are flying in every direction, displaying systematic chaos at work. The reporter and I are standing in the living room while the bees tend to their business. I tap the reporter on the shoulder and motion toward the front door with a finger. He nods. We stomp on hundreds of bees in order to exit the house. None of them try to escape through the open door.

“That was something out of a sci-fi movie,” he says. We sit on the ground in the moonlight.

“You can remove your hood, if you like.”

“Won’t the bees get to us out here?”

“No,” I say, having tested it numerous times. “Nothing the house spawns can leave the house. The house doesn’t damage itself. The house will instantaneously return to normalcy by midnight of the same day, at which point another plague will descend.”

“How do you take care of practical matters in a situation like this?”

“Such as?”

“How do you eat? How do you use the bathroom? How do you sleep?”

“Nature provides respite in those regards. We’re able to engage in those activities out here. In fact, we spend approximately half our time living outside our dwelling. We have living quarters on the roof.”

“Why half the time?” the reporter asks. He’s picking at blades of grass, tossing them into the yard when he’s finished with them.

“The other plagues have essentially left us no choice but to flee our domicile. Wednesday is the day of water. The house is filled with water. We wear SCUBA gear on those days, if we want to stay inside the house that is.”

“Can’t you just open the door?”

“The water stays inside no matter what we do.”

“What’s Thursday?”

“Ah, yes. Thursday—the day of soil.”

“Soil?”

“Soil.” I dig my gloved hand into the earth and pull out a mound of black soil, let it fall through my fingers. “The house fills with soil. Attempt to remove some, and it regenerates. The house will not be trifled with, I’ve learned. Thursday forces us to remain outside for its entire duration.”

“And Friday?”

“Friday is a day of rest. Or, we simply haven’t ascertained what the house does on Fridays. It could be miniscule. Unnoticeable. Tell me, what have you heard about this place?”

“Honestly?”

“Honestly,” I say. I sit up straight.

“Stories, rumors,” he says. He breaks eye contact with me repeatedly. “I don’t know what to say other than people told me this place was haunted.”

I laugh. “And what do you think?”

“I think there are some things you can’t explain. There are things that will remain a mystery.”

“Intriguing.”

“What happens on Saturdays?”

“Fire. That, too, is a day we’ve no choice but to sleep elsewhere.”

“Sundays?”

“Sunday is the day of intermittent oxygen. When you were here Sunday evening, you were fortunate enough to not experience lack of oxygen. We leave the house whenever the oxygen is removed. It’s temporary,” I say, shrugging it off.

“Do you mind if I make a call?”

“By all means.”

The reporter unzips his suit and takes out his cell phone. He walks away from the house while holding the phone to his left ear. He talks in a low voice, and I, for one, believe he doesn’t want me to hear what he’s saying. Eventually he’s at the end of the driveway, bordering the street.

Minutes later the reporter ends his call and walks back to me. “I would stay,” he says, “but I think I have enough information for my article. Thank you for your time.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong. You told me about everything that goes on here, so I need to start writing the article since it’ll be Sunday’s cover. It’ll undergo multiple edits—so on and so forth.”

“What about your belongings?” I ask, knowing full well they’re inside the house.

“Keep them. I have plenty of clothes.”

“I’m sad to see you depart, but you’ve been most kind. I trust you’ll do justice to the story.” We shake hands in the night. “If you ever feel like testing your mettle, please stay with us the full week,” I tell him. He removes the suit and hands it to me. After, he sets off in his car, a maroon Taurus he left parked outside our house for the past two days.

When he’s out of sight, I walk around to the back of the house and climb the ladder to the roof. None of my housemates have arrived yet, but the provisions are as they should be. There are five sleeping bags. I lie down on my sleeping bag and stare at the starry night sky.

. . .

A complimentary copy of The Gazette arrives early on Sunday morning, a few days after the reporter’s departure. On the front page is the following headline: “Real life Jumanji house.” To say I’m appalled would be a gross understatement. I flip open the paper, letting the rest of its contents fall to my living room floor while I skim. The color picture is a pile of corpses in my wheelbarrow, a load the reporter and I hauled out on Monday morning. It’s a gruesome sight, but not inaccurate.

“A travesty,” I say. I walk to the stairwell and peer up. “Two!” He’s probably asleep and will be hung-over for most of the day. “Two!” I wait a minute for a response. I go to the buzzer and push the second button several times. Then, I return to the banister where I hear rustling above. Footsteps approach the banister. I could use the intercom to communicate, technically speaking, but I would rather expel my anger via shouting.

“What?” he yells.

“Have you read the article yet?”

“What article?”

“The one by the reporter!” I enunciate as clearly as I can.

“What reporter?”

“Goddamnit, Two, you drunken fool!” I glance at the article. If I gaze for too long, it will further infuriate me.

“Well what’s it say?”

“It says we’re living in a Jumanji house!”

“Ju—what?”

“Forget it, Two! This article is a goddamned travesty!”

“You mean ‘tragedy’?”

“No! I distinctly mean ‘travesty’!”

“I think you mean ‘tragedy’! ‘Travesty’ isn’t even a word!”

“Go back to bed, you blubbering idiot!” I fling the paper on the floor in disgust. The thought that there will be more reporters—dogged ones determined to get our story in its entirety—leaves me ill at ease. Perhaps this was an error in judgment on my part. I retrieve the paper from the floor and rip it up. I throw the pieces in the toilet, flush it, and promise myself to never, ever bring this up again.

In an instant, the oxygen withdraws from the room. It’s Sunday—the day oxygen randomly vanishes from this dwelling. I gasp for breath, but there’s none to be had. I run to the front door, unlock it, swing it open, lunge outside, fall down, take a deep breath, breathe the oxygen into my lungs. My housemates must be using their oxygen tanks. Otherwise, they’d be out here too.

I take a moment on the concrete sidewalk leading to our door. I remain on all fours, though the concrete is rough on my hands, like sandpaper. I sense someone’s presence, so I look toward the street. There’s a white news van parked on the curb. At the end of the driveway, a cameraman and a female reporter begin walking toward me. How did they find us? I remember that there’s no other five-story building within miles. The reporter is holding a microphone in her hand and a newspaper under her arm. Instantly, I realize the true madness has begun.