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Howard Radley was locked in his own apartment. No clear way out, no obvious exit, and nothing to look forward to but that awful dripping sound.
He knew where it was coming from. He had seen the little water droplets falling from his ceiling right near the corner where he kept the wood-burning stove he never used. But for the life of him, he could never tell what was causing it. His apartment was in the middle of the building, so it couldn't have been coming from the rain. Maybe a pipe burst? Or maybe there was some kind of nasty flooding in a room upstairs that never got fixed? It was hard to tell exactly what was going on, but it had been happening for three solid weeks with no end in sight.
The water damage made that spot a hideous sight. It became blackened, and rotten, and ugly. There was definitely mold in that area. It would be quite an expensive hassle to repair.
But those things didn't bother Howard. Those were all things his landlord would fix - whenever he'd see him again - and if he had to pay a little extra rent, that was fair.
What bothered him was the noise. The insufferable pitter-patter of the tiny drops of whatever falling in perfect succession one after another, hitting the ground and making tiny little splashes. Hitting the pots, pans, and bowls he put underneath them, or just hitting the hardwood floor.
It was a frustrating sound. A distressing sound. It always meant the roof was getting worse, or something underneath it was getting ruined. It wasn't just the sound of dripping water, it was the sound of his living conditions deteriorating even further.
Howard was not the ideal neighbor. His room was in a miserable state of disrepair. His walls were battered and full of holes, his apartment was full of rats and bugs, and worst of all - he was a compulsive hoarder.
It was all junk, not a single item of even the most remote value. Things he had no use for and didn't even truly want. He just wanted to be surrounded by massive piles of junk. It eased his constantly panicked mind. It felt as though he was surrounded by massive walls that protected him.
It was all worthless crap he procured from a number of different places. Yard sales, goodwill stores, thrift shops, even the curbs of suburban homes on garbage day.
Books that had never been read and only served as clutter, clothes that had never been worn and wouldn't even fit him, family photos of people he had never even met, children's toys he was too old to have any interest in playing with, appliances he had no intention of ever plugging in because he was mortally afraid that they could cause a fire. Indeed, his apartment was a terrible fire hazard. A single lit match dropped in the wrong place would engulf the entire room in flame.
Everything that wasn't clumsily strewn about the ground was shoved into overstuffed garbage bags and massive cardboard boxes. These boxes were the bulk of the space in his room, forming thick maze-like walkways that made the apartment feel also suffocating in its crampedness.
The mess had become so bad, Howard had remembered owning cats at one point. But now? They were nowhere to be found.
The only part of the room that was not stuffed with clutter was the small space Howard had cleared out so nothing would be damaged by the drip. Not that it would matter, he'd keep the items even if they were severely water-damaged. They were totally valueless anyway. Only there for comfort reasons.
For Howard, sleep was a battle. That annoying drip sound would keep him awake all night. He couldn't handle it. He was a very unnerved out person, and any exterior source of stress was something he couldn't handle. It certainly didn't help that every night, the sound would only because louder and more rapid.
Two pillows locked in position by his arms to smother his head, three layers of blankets covering him, the faded sound of the withered old walkman on the coffee table next to his soiled mattress laying on the floor, playing random cassette tapes he managed to scatter from his mess - these were the elaborate steps he had to take every night to try to drown out the noise.
It never worked. The sound still haunted him. The only respite he would ever receive came from the occasional noise of the rats in his apartment scurrying around through the clutter and garbage, which had become soothing to him, almost like white noise. As time went on, things would only become worse.
Eventually, the dripping became so bad, that part of his roof collapsed completely. Rubble and plaster rocketed to the ground, making a noise almost like a gunshot. Howard's solution was to gather the rubble in a discarded grocery bag and toss it into the mess.
Because of this, the sound became far worse. The aggravating drip was joined by two others. Now, they formed an obnoxious crescendo, becoming almost a song as they inconsistently fell and splatted on the floor.
To make matters worse, more drips began to appear in different areas in his roof. Sputtering and pattering all at different times, making a horrible song as they slammed against the floor, his boxes, his garbage bags and the assorted mess on the ground. He was no longer concerned with his things. They no longer brought him any comfort. He had come to resent the way he lived.
No one ever came to see Howard. No visitors, no neighbors, not even his landlord. He had wondered if his lifestyle had frightened them all away. He wondered if they had left him to his fate, to wallow in his own miserable filth.
He had no electricity in his apartment. He couldn't afford it, and he didn't care to have it. He believed electricity caused brain damage, that it contained microscopic carcinogens that slowly destroyed your body and ate your viscera away. He had running water, but his pipes were old and withered. The water always came out a thin brown color and tasted unpleasant.
Howard hated leaving his apartment and took steps to make sure he never had to. He stockpiled dehydrated food, enough to last a decade. Making it with the water from his bathroom sink made it taste terrible, but after years of only eating it, he had learned to keep it down.
His only interaction with the outside world was looking out of the window right above his bed. The natural light it brought in was the only illumination in the entire room for years. Nights were pitch black, but Howard's eyes had since adjusted to it.
He enjoyed looking out the window, seeing all the people walking by, the cars driving from place to place, the animals frolicking along and the children playing. It was the only thing that ever brought him true peace. He would stare out of that barred window for hours on end, wishing he could be a part of that world again. Wishing he wasn't so afraid anymore.
The window could never be opened again. He made sure of that. He had nailed it shut, screwed prison bars over it, chained it up and locked it tight before discarding the key in a place he was sure he'd never find it again. He had done the same with the door just prior to covering it up with so much clutter he couldn't even tell where it was anymore.
Right under his mattress, he kept his two favorite items: a fire axe and a .38 Special Revolver with a small box of ammo right next to it. It was an old superstition that had been passed down from his father, sleeping with weapons to avoid bad dreams. Owning those weapons made him feel safe. He had a pathological fear of intruders, which was a symptom of his phobia of other people. He needed those weapons, he knew it.
As time went on, the condition of his room only became worse. More of the roof began to collapse. The three dripping spots were now practical faucets that poured in dozens of drops of water every second, each. Howard tried not look up anymore, because the sight of his own ceiling disgusted and revolted him so much.
The roof had become completely decayed and ruined. The areas where the droplets of water would pour out had become warped and rotted, like a festering open wound that had become infected, the black discoloration of the exposed wooden paneling was discolored to a sickly greenish, blackish hue covered in small fungus spores. Around the edges of the gaps of his ceiling were coated in a thick black mold that was accented with tiny green spores. It looked alien and unnatural, it made Howard sick any time he had to look at it.
Even the parts of his roof that didn't have huge tears were covered in thick cracks and seems that seemed to slowly get longer and thicker every time he looked up. His ceiling began to look like a mold jigsaw puzzle with huge pieces missing.
He could no longer deny it to himself, his room was falling apart around him. All throughout the day and night, huge chunks of his ceiling would break off and fall to the ground, sending more water and debris everywhere. He no longer had any place to dispose of them, and had all but given up trying to tame the horrific mess his apartment had become. Sleep became harder to achieve every single night.
The deterioration had become unsalvageable one day, as the seminal spot of the damage collapsed entirely, sending an entire section of the roof and the floor from the upper levels of the building down with it. Howard felt sickened and horrified, but relieved that he no longer had to look at the festering detritus that spot had become. He had a view to the room just above his, which was totally empty and decayed even worse than his was. It looked like it hadn't been inhabited in a long time.
Howard was revolted by the thought of having to leave the darkened room that had served as a makeshift womb for him for the past five years, but it couldn't be helped. The room was falling apart around him, and even the very air he breathed was becoming thick, foul and repulsive. If he didn't escape, he would die. He was sure of it.
He flipped his mattress over and took his pistol and axe with him. He found the holster for his gun in the water damaged mass of boxes and bags and created a makeshift sash from discarded belts so he could sheath the axe on his back. If he was truly forced to join the outside world, he refused to go unarmed.
There were no ladders or ropes to be found anywhere in his room. His only means of traveling upwards was to gather up the soggy and ruined boxes and bags that surrounded him and pile them together in a disgusting, mushy pile so that he might climb up into the fat crevice in his roof to the next room.
Climbing the giant pile he created was a difficult and incredibly uncomfortable task. It was difficult to gain stable footing on the mass due to the slimy, rotten water that was covering it completely, and the moldy goo that had formed all over the place. Even the rats in his apartment seemed extremely unnerved, running around and screaming loudly as if they were trying to escape a feral animal or a fire.
After much effort, Howard managed to settle himself on the pile, and was able to ascend to the rotten hole in his roof. He nearly fell at least a dozen times, and grabbing onto the molded edges of the hole he was trying to escape out of burned his hands like hot oil. But through sheer will, he was able to pull himself up and out of the prison cell that had trapped him for so long.
The new room he found himself in was a wrecked, broken mess. It looked as though a fire had consumed the room, and it had been extinguished only by a flood. The roof was filled with several giant gaps that served as makeshift windows to the rooms right above them. Debris, rubble, and scattered insulation littered the floors, the walls were completely collapsed and coated in water damage. There were thick spots of black mold all over them.
The state of the building grew worse and worse the more Howard traversed it. Holes became craters and breaches as large as doors, entire walls were totally destroyed, rubble had formed its own insurmountable walls that blocked off huge sections of the hallways.
The fire axe had become extremely useful for tearing down obstacles and wall chunks that obstructed Howard. If he didn't have it to smash away at the rubble and clutter, he believed he would have been completely trapped. The state of the building was so withered that there were instances where Howard would accidentally step on a certain spot too hard and the floor would break away underneath him.
The upper levels of the apartment building were completely abandoned. Not a single sign of another person was anywhere to be seen. The only other inhabitants aside from Howard were these strange rat creatures that scurried along the floor and through the shattered walls around him. They, not rats, they were rat-things. They only vaguely resembled rats from a distance, but upon close inspection, they were too mutant and unnatural. They were bloated and fat, their limbs crept and stretched similar to primates or some other more humanoid creature, and their faces were long and skinless and blotted out from wads of fatness where their necks would be.
One thing Howard noticed about the creatures as he was frantically swinging at them with his axe as they ran along the walls and tried to pay him no mind, some of them had the same strange mold all over the walls on their bodies. It appeared to grow out of them, rather than simply cover them.
As he proceeded down the unlit hallways that seemed to become more rotten and moldy as he went along, he began to notice not just rat-things, but large slugs as well. These slugs had worm-like qualities and seemed to feast on the huge mold spots in the walls. They were the size of mice and were covered in tiny, sharp barbs. With nothing else to call them, he simply dubbed them "mold slugs."
The final, and worst of the strange creatures he found lurking in the wasted decay of the building were large piles of mold that pulsed on the ground like organs. They appeared as a fungal mass on the ground that looked to be formed from slime and debris. Upon inspecting up close, Howard found it was moving, and even heard slight breath noise from it. When he squinted at he, he could vaguely make out something that looked like an inhuman face.
Finally, Howard came to the final door the hallways. A massive structure completely consumed by black mold covered in large green boils and gooey webbing. As he stepped near it, he saw dozens of large spider-like creatures that appeared to be wrapped in flesh and viscera dig their way out of the walls and scurry out of sight. Without so much as a second thought, and with no other doors to go through, Howard took his axe and smashed the door down.
The sight before him was the worst he'd ever seen.
The entire hallway had been swallowed whole by the mass of black and green mold, making the entire area look twisted and warped by the organic growth it had become. Only faint glimpses of the building underneath were visible. Large cysts that looked like egg-sacks grew out of the walls. Rat-things were present, but their bodies were completely molded over. Large green, glowing tumors jolted out where their eyes should have been. Their movements were crippled and sloppy, awkwardly waddling around and digging holes in the thick walls of mold around them.
Fluttering in the air were large Fly-like creatures that sizzled and pulsated like organs. These Flying Polyps spun around in the air briefly before setting themselves upon the walls and feeding on the black mass growing all over.
There were thousands of maggots crawling and slithering around, surrounding the many mold eaters moving about in large clusters like schools of fish. Flesh spiders as large as the rat-things were building large webs apparently made of some strange white viscera-goo material.
Howard's mind had no way of coping with what he was seeing. He was terrified, but completely dumbfounded and numb. All he could focus on was trying to find some way to escape.
He happened upon a room without any sign of the otherworldly and unnatural insects and vermin he had been exposed to. A room with giant, large egg sacks the size of human males. The eggs were transparent and green, and from inside he could see completely black bodies gestating in a watery green slime. Their bodies were covered in a strange fuzz and littered with the same green boils he had seen growing out of the walls.
He couldn't help himself from touching one of the disgusting egg-sacks. His finger went right through the tissue of the blob, making a small hole that the watery goo began to drip out of. Howard left the room shortly after.
His movements were deliberate and careful, quiet and tailored not to disturb anything that roamed the halls. He wished not to be seen or caught. He wanted no part in the pulsing fungus beasts, rat-things or flying polyps all around the building.
The final room he happened upon appeared to be some kind of cruel pastiche of a Church room. There were no pews, no stain glassed windows, but there was a great stage and a giant altar all made from mold, webbing, and an unknown organic tissue.
All around the room bowing down and chanting in low hums that formed no words were the same black figures he had seen growing in the pods. Large, humanoid figures that had no features to speak of, save for a disorganized and inconsistent mess of facial pincers, large green boils and tendrils both large and small growing out of their bodies. Some were the size of grown men, and other were the size of children. Some had tentacles growing out of their faces or arms, and some had them growing out of large gashes in their bodies. Some had claws and long fingers, and some had only stumps. Some had mouths and teeth with large tongues growing out, but most had no mouths at all. Some, like the rat-things, had giant green boils where their eyes should be, and others had nothing resembling eyes at all.
Upon the altar they were all bowing towards was a large monster that resembled nothing Howard had seen in his life. A massive, pulsing mass of flesh with dozens of tendrils growing out of its cone-like body. It had no face or head of any kind, and mouth-like polyps growing out of each tentacle. The black, fungal Moldmen clearly worshiped the horrific creature. Looking at the bizarre creature they all worshiped made Howard's head pound.
At the worst possible moment it could have happened, the ceiling behind Howard collapsed, creating a large bashing noise that alerted the strange Moldmen to his presence. They all gazed at him in unison, and though the great tendriled creature had no face, Howard could feel it's gaze.
He unholstered his gun and shot wildly into the crowd, hoping to scatter them or at least make them frightened. It didn't work. They slowly rose up and walked towards Howard, shambling and waddling in inhuman ways. He tossed his gun aside and began to swing at them with his axe. It had little effect. One of the Moldmen grabbed his weapon and pulled it away. All the creatures grabbed Howard with their arms and tentacles and forced him to the ground.
They dragged him away and forced him into one of the empty egg sacks he had seen earlier. The acidic green goo filled his orifices and burned his skin. He couldn't move, he couldn't scream.
Before his mind withered away, before his humanity was lost forever in a foamy green mass, before mold formed all over his body turning him into one of the freakish creatures that shared a hivemind with the strange tentacled monster they worshiped, he could only hear one thing.
The last thing he heard was that awful dripping sound.
Written by DoctorBleed