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June stared at the dead rat in her closet, at a loss. For months she’d been hearing it scuttle around her apartment at night, little feet on the hardwood floor, droppings in to morning to mark where it’d been. With disdain she’d sweep up the little black pellets with her hand broom and deposit them in the trash. Almost every morning. So often it’d nearly become routine.
The mousetrap that had snared it, she’d put down within the first week after discovering that the thing was running around her apartment. She’d almost forgotten that it was even there. Just another feature of the closet. So it had come as quite a surprise to her when she’d opened the sliding door to find a twisted, furry little body pinned beneath the trap’s wire jaw. It was quite decidedly dead, its little face pointed up in the air, mouth open, frozen in an expression of agony and surprise. Its yellow teeth gleamed in the morning light.
Its neck was crushed in the trap, made nauseatingly flat—nearly decapitated, actually. It made June sick just to look at it. She felt horrible. She’d been so concerned about getting rid of it, she hadn’t thought about the consequences of what would happen when… She put a hand to her neck subconsciously.
Just the thought of having to touch the thing to throw it away—she felt like she was about to puke. She glanced at the clock. Not to mention she was going to be late for work. She didn’t like the idea, but it would have to stay where it was for now.
Hesitantly, she shut the closet door.
Kerry was on top of her, sweat dripping from his forehead into her eyes. He was grunting like an animal, putting all the weight onto her shoulders, squeezing her so hard, she was certain there’d be bruises tomorrow. She looked him in the face, avoiding his pale gray eye, trying to judge if he was going to hit her tonight or not. His teeth were bared and she could see the excitement in his face, his eyes dancing around her, her mouth, her neck, her breasts. His breathing became more rapid, shallow. He growled, lips curled like smoldering paper. A hand came off her, raised above her head. She tried to brace herself, but the slap still staggered her, knocked the breath out of her. Then a fist.
“Stop,” she said quietly. Much too quietly. He brought the fist into her gut, just above where he was thrusting in and out of her. She gagged and doubled up, coughing and gasping for air. Kerry laughed and pushed her back down.
The fist came up again and she wondered where it would come down this time.
A loud thump from the closet and Kerry stopped moving. June pushed him off her, out of her, but Kerry hardly seemed to notice. “What the fuck was that?”
June shrugged. She didn’t really care, nursing her stomach. Kerry rolled off the bed, still hard, and walked over to the closet. He opened and quickly recoiled. “Jesus Christ, June. What the fuck is that?”
“What?” June asked, not daring to get up. He motioned her over though, horror on his face. Timidly, she got to her feet and peered into the closet, over his shoulder.
It was the rat, but it was… swollen. Almost twice the size it had been that morning, like its insides had doubled. There was a split neatly down the side of its abdomen, a pile of intestine spilling out of the gash.
Stricken, June reached out and slammed the closet shut. “What’re you doing, you little idiot?” Kerry said. “Throw that shit out.” June shook her head, eyes wide. “You can’t just leave that thing in there. It’s disgusting,” he said.
“Then you get rid of it,” she said.
He looked like she’d just slapped him. One tiny vulnerable moment, and then rage boiled back into his eyes. “I’m not staying here if that fucking thing is rotting in your closet.”
She said nothing.
For a second she thought he was going to hit her again. But then the moment passed. “Fine,” he spat and then turned and started to gather up his clothes.
She couldn’t help it. The twinge of a smile pulled at her lips.
She couldn’t bring herself to look in the closet all the next day. Her work clothes were scattered around the room, so she just left it alone.
Later, at work, some creep at the bar grabbed her ass as she walked by, her arms laden with trays of food. It made her jump and she spilled the food all over him. He screamed, his skin turning lobster red before her eyes.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” she said, repeating it over and over, trying to towel him off. “You clumsy bitch!” the man screamed, shoving her away. The manager came out of the back to see what the commotion was all about and the man ended up ranting at him for about ten minutes solid, plunging the whole restaurant into uncomfortable silence. He threatened to sue. He said his brother was an attorney. Said he would see the place shut down and would see her, thrusting his grubby finger at June, put in jail.
And before she knew what was happening, June was on top of him, throwing punches at his face. Only a few connected and she was fairly certain she hurt herself more than him. Then she was thrown back, landing sprawling onto a table, sending utensils and dirty plates flying everywhere.
“Go to the kitchen! Now!” her manager shouted, not daring to touch her. But June was already running, gathering her things and then sprinting out to her car.
She sat on the edge of her bed, her face in her hands. She wasn’t crying. She couldn’t cry. She was dried up inside. Desiccated. Hollow.
There was a loud rattling sound in her closet, but she didn’t dare look.
Her manager called her the next day to let her know she was fired. Her last check would be in the mail by the end of the week. He also made sure to take the time to let her know that she was lucky that man had been bluffing about suing and that she was lucky she hadn’t had the police called on her. He could’ve pressed charges and then really have seen her behind bars.
She knew that was bullshit, but she didn’t say so. She didn’t say anything at all, in fact. She just listened and took it all and then hung up when he was done.
A strange smell had been coming from her closet ever since last night. Sweet and pungent, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Familiar. Just on the edge of memory.
Uncertainly, she walked to her closet and looked inside.
Kerry showed up that night, scuttling at the lock and then nearly falling into her apartment, dead drunk.
“Where are you, you bitch?” he yelled.
“I know you’re fucking here. I stopped by your work and found out you got fired for fightin’ some asshole.” He cackled. “Didn’t know you had it in you.”
He stumbled into the bedroom and saw her sitting on the edge of the bed. She was staring at the floor, unmoving. “What’s your problem, huh? You just not going to talk anymore, is that it?”
She said nothing.
“Fine by me. We don’t need to talk. In fact, a vow of silence is just what I need. Makes this whole relationship a whole lot easier,” he laughed, but it was a fluttering, nervous thing and it died halfway in his throat. “Hey, seriously. What’s your deal.”
She looked up at him. Her eyes were glossy, distant. She lifted a thin hand and pointed towards the closet.
“What? That rat still in there?” he sniffed the air. “Fuck, it does stink in here.”
She shook her head.
“What? What is it then?”
The hand stayed, unmoving.
“Well, fine, if you aren’t going to tell me…” His legs were shaking, but he teetered towards the closet anyway. Fingers trembling with alcohol and nerves, he grabbed the door to the closet and threw it open.
Where the rat had once been was now a wall of flesh. A huge, pulpy mass of glistening organs and muscle—twitching, writhing. It was strung between her clothes on thick cords like tendons, suspended and piled in roping coils. There were teeth and clusters of eyes—tiny black eyes. They blinked at him, clicking wetly.
The thing moved as he watched it. Its muscles shifted and a hole began to open in its core. A field of squirming flagellum.
He wanted to scream, but another voice screamed for him. A high tone of fury coming from behind him. Pounding footsteps, a fist clutched at his hair and he was thrust face-first into the hole—now unmistakably a mouth. It sprouted a thousand of rodent-like incisors around him. They closed in on his neck, an enamel collar. They were very sharp.
June found a new job at a café just down the road. She liked everyone who worked there. They were all very nice to her.
She drove home, unclipping her hair and letting it fall down to her shoulders. It was a good day. She’d walked away with almost sixty dollars in tips and had been asked out by one of the regulars. He was cute, but she’d respectfully declined. He hadn’t seemed too broken up by the rejection, which was good. She didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
She pulled up to her building and parked in her assigned spot. The weather was nice that day, the wet smell of flowers on the breeze. Although, she thought, that might just be the smell venting from her apartment. It was hard to say sometimes.
She jogged up the stairs to her apartment, unlocked it and stepped inside.
It was dark and the sweetness in the air was thick as syrup. She fumbled around and flicked on the light. Her walls glistened and pulsed around her. Calmly she kicked off her shoes, staring disinterestedly at the eyes watching her from the ceiling. Pale grey irises contracted in the sudden light, blinking. The wetness under her feet was calming. Undoing buttons, she let her clothes fall off around her.
She walked into the bedroom, each footstep squelching, to where his face stared out. She was relieved to see that he didn’t look scared anymore. He almost looked calm, mute eyes watching her. She smiled at him and gave him a little wave. The sound of breathing filled the air, two massive lungs hanging from the ceiling, inflating and deflating rhythmically.
He couldn’t talk, but that was fine by her. It made the relationship a whole lot easier.
She walked into the kitchen to make herself some dinner.