Written By Geetanjali Ghatak
Mark stared out the window, watching buildings go by. He felt the wind caressing his hair. His eyes were almost shut, and his body relaxed. Suddenly, his body pitched forward and slammed into the seat in front of him. He let out a muffled scream as his arms shot out to grab something to anchor him to his seat. His surroundings continued to lurch violently, throwing him around in every direction. His hands latched onto a door handle, firmly securing himself to his seat.
A loud giggle rang throughout the car. Mark looked up to see Jack, his friend and colleague, laughing while glancing at him through the rearview mirror, eyes twinkling with mirth.
"Sorry," he said, not sounding sorry at all. "There are a lot of potholes on this road."
The sound of his cheerful, bubbling laughter was enough to make anyone crack a smile. Well, almost anyone. Mark’s other colleague, Steve, looked completely unamused as he glared daggers at Mark, having borne the impact of Mark’s collision. He grumbled under his breath in exasperation and turned away. His stony-cold attitude stood in complete contrast with Jack's happy-go-lucky one.
When the car came to a halt, a large bottle of cleaning solution fell onto Mark's lap, like a greeting from the pile of supplies beside him. Mark groaned as he got out of the car and tossed it away.
There were a few sizable houses on the street, all in various states of disrepair. Mark could remember this area being up and coming and full of life, up until a few months ago. After a series of inexplicable disappearances forced all of the residents out, things quickly deteriorated. He scanned the house in front of him. It was a big, two-story structure that had succumbed to the wilderness. Chipped white paint and many brilliant green plants covered the facade. The windows looked scorched from the inside, and the doorway stood empty, like a portal to the abyss. A narrow porch stretched around the house, buried behind layers of mud and dried leaves.
Mark watched the other two disembark and head towards the house, holding some supplies, and followed behind them, surrounded by an eerie silence. A foul scent grew stronger with every step they took towards the entrance. It smelled like rotten flesh, mould, and sewage all at the same time. He found his surroundings engulfed in a strange silence, broken only by the sound of their footsteps.
The floorboards groaned loudly in complaint as they were forced to bear the weight of three grown men. Mark found himself gagging at the stench, while the others far more experienced, appeared unaffected by it.
"Can you not smell that?" He asked, bewildered.
"Smell what?" Jack answered, sniffing exaggeratedly.
"Of course, we can," Steve replied, looking warily at the overcast sky. "We’ve just gotten used to it."
Mark took the broom from Steve while Jack chuckled to himself. While the other two donned hazmat suits, Mark sneakily snapped a picture of them while making a show of sweeping the porch. Jack skipped ahead and went right through the doorway, with Steve following at a slow pace. A loud thud and a yelp came from inside a few seconds after Jack entered. Steve sighed again and headed in, shooting a weary glance at Mark.
As soon as they were out of sight, he carefully propped up his phone against a window frame and began a live stream—"Satisfying Cleaning: Decks Part 5." He began sweeping silently, trying to look good for the camera. Surprisingly, the wretched stench had almost disappeared.
"All thanks to Jack and Steve," Mark thought to himself, "And not because I've gotten used to it."
He scooped up a mound of rubble and pushed it over the edge into the overgrown grass, watching the glass shards glitter in the sunlight as they dropped.
Thunder clapped loudly as it began pouring. Water leaked through the rafters, forming puddles and ruining all of Mark’s work. He hurriedly grabbed his phone and tucked it into his pocket, trying to save it. He considered making a run for the truck, but with the rain pouring down in sheets, he decided against it and entered the house instead. He quickly grabbed a torch and shone it as he stepped in.
"Hello! Anybody home? "
He heard some shuffling and swung the light towards it.
"Stop it!" Jack cried out, covering his eyes from the direct beam.
"Oh hey!" Mark replied sheepishly, turning it off. He could hear Jack’s approaching footsteps as he breathed in a sharp, metallic scent. "Are you alone? Where’s Steve? "
"Steve... isn’t here." Jack rasped out.
"Oh, did he go back to the car? Lucky bastard." Mark glanced in the direction of the vehicle, unable to see it through the heavy rain.
Just then, a flash of lightning illuminated the room. Mark found himself inches from Jack and stumbled back in shock. Jack’s eyes had turned completely black, his suit was in shreds and covered with a dark liquid, but his mouth still held his signature smile.
Jack lunged at him as the thunderclap rang across the room. Mark couldn’t fully avoid the blow but managed to hit back with his flashlight. During their struggle, Mark’s phone fell out of his pocket and onto the ground with a loud thud.
Jack disappeared into the darkness, and Mark felt something wet and slimy latch onto his foot and yank him forward. He fell backward as he got dragged into the room, kicking and flailing to no avail. Just when he thought he was done for, another flash of lightning lit up the room, making the creature screech and loosen its grip. Mark seized the opportunity and crawled back towards the doorway. Before he could reach it, the grip returned. He reached his arms out to try to grab hold of something, and his fingers curled around the familiar, cool handle of his torch.
Instinctively, he switched on his torch and pointed it at his foot, and the grip instantly vanished as Jack hissed in pain and retreated into the darkness.
Mark searched the room, quivering in fear. His heart skipped a beat as he caught Jack, in the beam of his torch in the farthest corner of the room. He began to slowly approach the writhing mess that used to be his colleague. A tar-like liquid bubbled out of Jack’s nose and mouth, pooling on the floor. It reeked of death and decay, and the stench only grew worse as the puddle grew.
He stood in awe as he watched his fallen comrade's body wither away to nothing but a dried husk of its former self. Mark stepped back, shaking, and heard a loud 'squelch' sound as he lifted his foot. Every surface in the room was covered in that same sticky black liquid, which reacted to his torch light and stank of death.