A House With a Hole in its Heart

 Paul woke up to a buzzing sound and wondered, “Is this me?”

The question wasn’t whether or not he was making the noise. The question was whether or not the sound was inside of him. It could have been a dream, or worse, that he was hearing something that wasn’t audible to anyone but him. It would still be real buzzing, but of a particular sort. He hoped that it was the electricity. Or the pipes.

Mornings were very hot. He slept on the top floor, below the attic. He didn’t know why. He could have dragged a mattress onto the porch. The basement would have been better, but he had decided it was off limits, a rule that he broke at least once a day. 

After a time he would fall back asleep. 

He woke for a second time ad listened. No buzzing. Or maybe a tiny bit, but hardly there, so faint that it might just have been the background hum of the world. 

Were the buzzing real, he knew exactly what it would be. 

Yellow jackets were trying to come through the window. If they weren’t he could leave it open but they were so he didn’t. Their corpses were piling up between the screen and the glass. He wondered how long they’d been doing this for. He couldn’t remember when he’d noticed. 

Some would make it through. Every night he shook the sheets and checked the corners. He beat them with a magazine. He couldn’t remember buying any of the magazines. He didn’t think he liked country music, and he only had to look outside to know that he wasn’t excited about homes or gardens. They had stickers on the front that would have shown a name and address but they’d been ripped off, leaving blank rectangles in the lower left hand corner. 

He wondered if they had come from his practice. He was certain he was a doctor. There was a stethoscope in an office that he considered his, and a prescription pad. There wasn’t any identifying information on the pad. And it might not have been a prescription pad at all. There were inspirational sayings on the pages, and what might have been a date, but there was no month that he was aware of that corresponded to zero. 

He wrote out a medicine on the pad. The correct names of drugs just came into his head. Sometimes he tried to go without, but on those days he would recall how frightened he was. Maybe that was the buzzing. One part of himself telling the other that there was only one way forward and that meant standing still and standing still meant dealing with a mounting sense of things being very, very wrong. 

So, a sleep aid. An anxiolytic. Some bloodwork. Something was off. He’d find what it was. He just needed time. 

He’d requested a home pregnancy test. It arrived as usual. An entire shelf from a drugstore, buried in the dirt outside, a long furrow behind it. There were some condoms as well, but he didn’t need them, and a half a pack of diapers, also unnecessary. 

After pissing on the test he was relieved to discover that he wasn’t pregnant. Still, he felt like there might be something inside of him and it was evading detection. If not a baby then what? The toilet wouldn’t flush. This happened a lot. 

The air cooled as he walked down the steps. Frank was in the kitchen eating peanut butter on white bread. It wasn’t clear if Frank was one of his patients. He seemed like he needed help, so it was possible that he was. Frank drank quite a bit. Paul was always prescribing vodka and it was one of the things that arrived reliably. Other objects were prone to contortions of meaning. Writing for soda pop could result in baking soda and a gun, or a Father’s Day card. He wanted batteries but was afraid of what might show up.

“My throat is so dry,” Frank said through a mouthful of peanut butter and bread. It didn’t sound like English. It sounded like drowning. 

Paul opened the refrigerator. The inventory was upsetting. A jar of pickles. A bottle of mustard. Half a loaf of white bread. A terrifying package of cold cuts. And a bottle of milk, almost empty. 

He brought Frank the milk. All the glasses were dirty. 

Frank opened the container, sniffed, and recoiled. It figured. The power went out a lot. The refrigerator was just an insulated cupboard. 

“Water then,” Frank said. The situation in his mouth had become serious. 

Paul turned the tap on. Nothing. The pipes shuddered but nothing emerged. It was a recurring problem. “Water’s not working.” 

Frank scowled and shook his head. He placed his hands on the table. His whole body grew tight. He picked up the milk and poured it into his mouth. His eyes watered. He swallowed. He dry heaved but kept it down and stared hard at nothing. His voice was easier to understand. “Nothing fucking works.” 

Paul felt as though he had to defend the house from the accusation. “It works sometimes.” 

“If something only works sometimes then its broken. Write it on your pad. “Plumber”. “Electrician,” too. Maybe it will work.”

Paul thought about this. “Maybe. I never prescribed a tradesman before.” 

There was a film of dust on everything and grease surrounded the stove. He didn’t know why. None of them cooked. Pizza showed up sometimes, but it was of unreliable quality. Otherwise they ate things that didn’t spoil, or were more tolerable when they did. No one knew how long that lonely pickle had been floating in brine. 

Paul assumed his physician’s voice. “How are you feeling today, Frank?” 

Still sitting, Frank turned to square with him. “Nauseated, obviously. Frustrated too. I’ve been walking along the cliffs for a long time, trying to find a way down to the ocean, but there’s no path.” He was sweating through his wife-beater. “Sometimes I see things under the water. Big things.” 

“Whales?” Paul had always wanted to see a whale.

“No. Bigger.” He drummed his fingers on the countertop. “Whale would be alright. Maybe it would go somewhere and spit me out. No, these things… I don’t know what they are.” 

“You said the ocean is getting closer.” 

“I think it’s getting closer. I’ve put up markers, but maybe somebody’s stealing them to fuck with me. If I could get to the beach, or find a fucking measuring tape, maybe I’d know. A buoy. A buoy and some basic geometry. That would do it.” Frank pursed his lips. “Did you prescribe that math textbook?” 

He had. Paul was diligent in his prescriptions. “Only yesterday. Might be on the porch. Or the mailbox. Sometimes that kind of thing ends up in the bookcase.” 

“Alright. I’ll look later.” Frank coughed.

Paul felt like this was a group home. It was a building with a group of people in it, so it worked definitionally, but maybe more like a place that was managed. Paul thought maybe he was in charge, but of what he was not sure. 

Albert was in the living room. He sat on a fake leather couch with his shirt off. When he leaned forward his skin made a noise as it pulled off of the material. 

He had a video game controller in his hand. It wasn’t connected to anything and the television was off. He’d told Paul that he knew all of this. But he was enjoying himself, so Paul accepted it. 

“What are you playing today, Albert?” 

Albert replied: “Street Fighter.” His fingers were delicate and practiced. The controller was part of him. It was an interrupted machine. Things went into Albert. Food. Drink. Conversation. Couch. Then Albert went into the controller- his energy, and his imagination. Or madness. But it stopped there. Or maybe not. Maybe it plugged into Paul and what he thought about it. 

“Which Street Fighter?” Albert was regularly encountering new instances of games. 

“73.” he said. “I’m play testing it.” 

“How is it?” Paul didn’t play video games, real or imagined. He had too much to do.

“Awesome. They get better every day. The graphics are unbelievable.” Albert leaned forward, imagining some particularly pressing challenge. 

“I bet. Need anything?” 

“Cola,” Albert replied. There were ranks of bottles on the floor, each with a tiny pool of brown fluid at the bottom. Sometimes Albert pissed in the bottles and they would contort. It wasn’t clear what chemical property of urine made this happen. If Albert was ever concerned that he was pregnant it would be easy to assess. 

Paul walked out the front door and onto the porch. The screen door resisted him. He’d have to fix it, but later. Other things were happening. 

Rick was mowing the lawn. Somehow the mower never ran out of gas. Rick pushed it around a grid he was following. The grass was yellow. Paul didn’t know when a plant was dead, but the lawn had clearly stopped growing. But Rick was insistent. “What would the neighbors think?” he asked. 

There were no neighbors. Sometimes Paul felt that he saw a house in the distance, but it was hot and the air got blurry and he decided that his mind had been playing tricks on him. 

Rick turned the mower off. He was sweating. He sprinted through his lawn care. Once Albert had found him face down on the grass, passed out from the heat. They had no ice cubes and the water wasn’t working that day so the best they could do was leave him under the porch. The basement was cool but it wasn’t clear exactly what was happening down there.

“I’ve been thinking,” Rick mopped his forehead with the bottom of his t-shirt, “We should plant some trees. Maybe get a garden going.” 

“That would be great. But we already ordered some and all we got was a dimebag.” They had tried to smoke it the night it arrived to make up for the disappointment, but no one had a working lighter and the pilot light on the stove had gone out. “And we don’t have water for a garden. I can’t remember the last time it rained.” 

“Just two days ago. You don’t remember?” Rick ran his hands through his hair and droplets of sweat fell to the ground. 

“No.” This bothered Paul. He just remembered heat and the buzzing. He remembered his patients. And that nothing seemed to be working. 

“You should get that checked out. It was such a happy day,” Rick looked wistful. “We all came outside, even Albert, and we laid down on our backs. Even when the lightning started, we were just lying there. I figured there was going to be a change, with the grass at least, but it wasn’t even damp the next day.” He looked resigned. 

Paul read between the lines. Things didn’t appear to be changing. No one thought they would. For himself, he couldn’t even remember what they were like before… this. 

He tried to hide that he was lost. “You need anything? Looks like you knocked the lawn out early.” 

“No. I’m not done. I think the property line is further out than it used to be.” They were the only people for miles. They might have been the only people at all. But Paul was sure that Rick deserved some sense of being oriented and so he said nothing. “Water. I could use some.”

“Water isn’t working. I’ll try again. We’re getting about a half hour a day.” He thought that maybe they were missing some in the middle of the night, and that Albert was up most of the time. Maybe he could keep an eye on it. 

“Soda then.” 

“Alright. But Albert is going to fight me.” This was true in the literal sense. Albert didn’t eat food or drink water. Everything about him came from those two liter bottles of knock-off cola. 

Paul walked back toward the house. It was papered with documents. Mostly academic articles, and usually only the methods section. He’d only found two abstracts and a single conclusion. One was about a writer and their treatment of meaning. The other, a physicist talking about consciousness. The conclusion came at the end of, presumably, an analysis of the channeling of the zeitgeist in a popular book about near death experiences. Paul understood what point could have been elaborated in such books.

As for the rest, they were baffling. There were legions of numbers attached to acronyms that meant nothing to him. He wanted them to. Maybe they would provide him with some sign post that would allow him to orient himself. But they didn’t and so he remained unmoored. This embarrassed him. As a doctor he felt he should have some ability to penetrate truth, and the thing that truly frightened him was that perhaps he had already done so. 

This was one of the reasons he’d been prescribing text books. Maybe they would provide some way to penetrate the language. Then he might understand. 

The folding ladder hadn’t disappeared yet, though things tended to. Rick had used the last of their garbage bags to tether the mower in place overnight, so they retained the mower and threw their garbage on the lawn. 

The ladder was still there but broken. Rick had been spotting him on it a few days ago. Paul felt he had developed a method. He would have to identify the words first, then he could make sense of the math. Here and there among the acronyms a phrase would appear that sounded familiar and he would write it down. All they had were magic markers and they dried out fast in the heat so he would rotate through, recapping them after a minute’s exposure. It didn’t seem to help, and with this Paul realized that time was unpredictable, or at least his own relation to it. 

He tested this. There were always experiments occurring around the house. He’d punched a hole in the cap of one of Albert’s soda bottles, and then he and Rick had counted in their heads the amount of time it took for them to empty. Paul had counted to 168 seconds. An entire half an hour elapsed for Rick. Paul had felt that it had gone on forever, while for Rick it had passed quickly. 

Paul wasn’t overly worried about the ladder. The medications usually arrived in some kind of container, like the display that the pregnancy test, condoms and diapers had arrived in. He’d be able to climb on them to reach the pages that were higher up. He’d asked for heating oil once, and there had been a tanker pushed against the house for a period of time. He’d slashed the tires but it had rolled away regardless, though slowly. It was probably for the best. Sometimes Frank got very angry and he’d threatened to blow them all up with it. 

When he walked back inside Albert was still playing Street Fighter. He was wearing one of the diapers. He said it bothered his fans when he stopped playing. Albert was streaming for several thousands imaginary people and he hated to disappoint them. 

He had to pass in front of Albert to get to the bookcase. 

“Yo, Paul. What the fuck man?” growled Albert. 

“I have to check for books. You know we only get them for a few days.” 

Albert narrowed his eyes but left it alone. Getting too angry would mean stopping what he was doing.

What Paul said was true. The books did have due dates inside, but they were smeared and when legible expressed that the books were to be returned on 1/0/YEAR. Paul didn’t know the date, but if they were around for more than seven days the words stopped making sense and Paul found it hard to remember what he’d read. 

There was the geometry textbook that Frank wanted. It was old but Paul felt confident that geometry wouldn’t change very much. He flipped through it. After the calculations of area there was a long logarithmic function and a pop-up tab, or three, that expressed some sort of a tunnel. The math did not make sense to Paul, but the pop-up conveyed what numbers couldn’t: This was a tunnel from nowhere to nowhere and the observer was important to its existence. On the next page was a picture of a rabbit with a soft patch emerging from the page. He touched it. It felt nice. He wondered why it was there. He thought perhaps it was because rabbits tunnel, or maybe just that after all those calculations a person would have to ground themself through touch. 

Because he was a doctor he’d requested a psychiatry textbook. It was very old. There appeared to be mold upon it. He couldn’t understand how mold grew in a place that was so dry. He flipped through. There were detailed instructions on how to perform a lobotomy and also a diagram of a number of karate maneuvers. He figured he should read it. He was very interested in whether any of the people he lived with were mentally ill. 

On his way out Paul took a half empty bottle of soda from the table to Albert’s left. Albert yelled again. “What the fuck!” He tried to grab Paul, or maybe the bottle, but Paul knew how this went. Albert wouldn’t follow him. He’d tried to splash him with piss once, but he ended up soaking himself and then he had to wait for the water to start working and Albert didn’t like to wait. 

He walked it out to Rick, who took the bottle and drank, no hesitation, then spit the mouthful on the ground. “Warm!” he yelled. Paul thought maybe Rick was concerned that it was piss. 

“Sorry. The fridge isn’t working. Electricity isn’t working.” 

Rick rolled his eyes. “No. The fridge is broken. The electricity is broken.” Rick squinted. “Did we pay the electric bill?” 

Paul thought about this but came up with nothing. “No idea. Do you think we didn’t? Is that why there aren’t any lines running into the house?” 

Rick looked around. The only thing in the landscape was the two of them and the house, along with the flotsam that seemed to wash up on its shore. “You should prescribe some batteries Paul. And I think water. Or at least we should start filling up bottles when it starts to flow.” 

“We should. But everyone is pretty wrapped up in their own thing. Albert doesn’t want to leave the couch. Frank has his drinking. You’re maintaining the property. And me, I try to keep everybody well.”

“Yeah. I don’t say it enough Paul, but I really appreciate you.” He put a warm hand on Paul’s shoulder.

He looked at the ground and tried to wave the gratitude away. “Oh, it’s cool man. Happy to help.” 

Rick insisted. “No. It’s not cool. We’re a bunch of ingrates.” 

Paul didn’t understand why this made him tear up. And this wasn’t a house that smiled on crying. It wasn’t right to burden people. He wiped his eyes. 

“Thanks Rick. We’ll get that water ordered, and some batteries.” Paul knew that if he ordered these things they would likely show up in some unintended way, but sometimes they preserved the original meaning.

Paul returned to the house. Albert had forgotten that he was angry and Frank was drinking. He nodded to Paul as he opened the door to the basement.

The steps were wooden, the floor and walls bare concrete. There were a great many boxes not that long ago, and full of things he didn’t think he would have bought. If he loved Jesus he felt that he would remember, so the life sized plastic manger and the giant Easter bunnies couldn’t have been his. He’d felt threatened by them. He didn’t know the month. He kept running into zero: On the milk carton, on the prescription pad, on the ‘due by’ dates on the books.  He hoped that Christmas wasn’t anytime soon. It was so hot. 

All of these things were gone. Slowly at first, then faster and faster. He never saw them move or fall or leave, but they were absent and only the hole remained. 

It wasn’t clear when it appeared. It wasn’t a particularly big hole. He had no way to measure it. The only tape they had disappeared, and he’d spent a hopeful day looking for a piece of paper of known size. He could have measured a piece of string and built a system of measurement from there, but there was no paper that was standardized, so he began building a system of measurement off of a Gideon Bible he’d found. 

The hole was only four bibles in circumference. He checked it regularly. It had grown steadily, but it wasn’t clear since when. 

He spent most of his time here. It was cool. There was no dust, which raised questions. There was dust everywhere. He felt dusty, and he was. With the yellow jackets around it would have been foolish to bathe with cola. All the water was for drinking. 

The absence of dust indicated something to him, and that something was that the hole exerted some kind of attractive force. It was pulling. The idea that it was pulling raised a question: What if it were to push instead? What would emerge? Was there world enough for it? He felt that as long as it pulled things would be manageable. 

He was attempting to prove its attractive force. That would be a reassuring thing to know, definitively. And so he had placed a pebble on the floor, with a line drawn in marker in front of it. He checked it everyday and everyday was disappointed to find that the pebble hadn’t moved. 

Still. It was half a bible closer to the hole. He came here to theorize. If the hole was drawing things towards it, but the pebble had not advanced, then perhaps it was a more fundamental pull that was occurring. Maybe the floor itself was disappearing into it. After the floor the house, and after the house whatever world was outside. A secret that he kept to himself was that there was water here. It ran in a steady stream from a seeping place in the concrete, then down the wall and insistently toward the hole. He felt validated. It was happening. He hoped. 

This was where he filed his prescriptions. He would write out the things that everyone needed. Vodka for Frank. Soda for Albert. Water for Rick. Another book about psychiatry. He was sure he would come back to himself if he could remember what he’d lost. He remembered that he needed to ask for a plumber. And an electrician. He wrote it down on his pad. Today’s inspirational quote was “No matter where you go, there you are.” He didn’t agree. Here he was, yet he wasn’t here.

He balled them up and threw them down the hole. He’d brought the older books down and he threw them in as well.

He’d attempted to gauge the depth of the hole. He’d tied the string to an extension cord and when that wasn’t enough he’d cut the cords off of the lamps. They weren’t working anyway. It never hit bottom. After that he’d duct-taped Frank’s empty bottles to an oblong rock and thrown it in. He never heard the glass break. He couldn’t say that it was bottomless, only that he hadn’t found the bottom. 

He found ten yellow jackets in his room that night. He killed them with a magazine about cats, then dreamed of being a hive insect, sleeping among thousands, protected and warm. 

It was very hot the next morning. The buzzing was loud. He stood on his mattress with a pile of magazines underneath. He couldn’t balance for long, and he only gained six inches, but the buzzing was louder, so it was likely real. There were loud voices downstairs. 

“Your bees fucking bit me!” Frank was drunk, but not drunk enough. 

“My bees are in the jar. If there are bees in the kitchen then they’re your bees.” Rick was in the kitchen. 

Rick was holding a jar full of them. They made a tiny sound when the bumped against the glass, then they would fall to the bottom before taking flight again. They were stinging each other, wrapped in combat. Neither would live, but the one that died last would try and fail to begin circling. 

“What’s up with the bees, Rick?” Paul thought Rick must be brave. Swatting them was safer than preserving them. 

“Honey. I’m going to start a hive. I’ll peel some of the siding off of the house and pile them up, let the bees go and make a home there.” He pointed to a bucket. “We can make honey mead when we kick all the siding over.”  

Paul wasn’t convinced. “Does that work for yellow jackets?” 

“Guess we’ll find out.” Rick shrugged his shoulders. 

Frank wondered aloud, “Do any of us know how to make mead?” 

They were all silent through a long pause. Frank was lost somewhere inside of himself then returned abruptly. “It has to be adding honey to mead. That makes the most sense.” They all nodded soberly.

Paul saw that Rick had been taking water out of one of the toilet tanks and he only had half an eight oz. bottle. 

“Did any of the stuff show up?” 

They both said, “No!” in unison. 

This had happened before. Sometimes a potato would show up instead of the vodka. As for water, they’d gotten a dowsing rod once, and a well pump another time. Albert got an eighball of cocaine on at least three occasions, and a bottle of Aunt Jemima and a bottle of seltzer once. He used each of these things. Rick and Frank’s misses weren’t as fortuitous. 

“Did the electrician or the plumber come around?” 

Rick gestured towards nowhere in particular. “Yeah. They were sleeping on the North side of the house. You slept late…” he paused, confused. “What time is it?” 

Paul and Frank shrugged their shoulders. 

“Well, they woke up. I was looking at them for a while. They looked too clean to be sleeping on the ground. They got up and I asked them to look at the water and the electric. Plumber said there wasn’t any water to look at. Electrician said there wasn’t any electric. They walked off. Direction of the cliffs.” Frank would be in withdrawal soon. It had happened before. 

Paul wanted to catch them. If he told them more they might be able to help. It wasn’t that there wasn’t water, it was that there wasn’t enough of it. Same for the electric. Frank followed. He had maybe a half hour, then he wouldn’t be able to move. Paul had put an orange that they’d gotten one morning and he’d thrown it in a bucket, hoping that it would ferment. Maybe Frank wouldn’t die if he drank some. He hoped they would be back in time. 

They walked through the living room and passed in front of Albert. “What the fuck!” he yelled when they passed between him and the television. He threw an empty two liter bottle at them and it bounced off of Frank’s shoulder. 

Rick peeled off of them when they stepped into the sun. The heat was different outside. Not less or more, just different. “I’m going to get started on the siding.” 

Paul and Frank walked toward the cliffs. It always took a long time to reach them. As they closed with it they saw two men. One jumped. Paul hoped it was the electrician. If they got power again all of Albert’s dreams would be shattered. The remaining man turned toward them.  

“Are you the plumber?” Paul asked. 

“I am.” 

“Why did he jump?” Paul looked toward the water. If it was fresh they might have been able to drink it. Even if they couldn’t find a way down they could have tied a bucket to a rope and hauled it up. 

“He said that you didn’t have any power. He got all quiet and he said he didn’t have any power either. Then he walked here to jump. I followed him. Didn’t have anything better to do.” 

Frank was looking around. “Did you see some wood up here? It had t-shirts tied to it. White ones like this.” 

“Yeah, the electrician took them. He said there wasn’t any measuring any of this.” He gestured at the entirety of the world.

Frank was sweating heavily. “How close were they to the edge?” He turned to Paul. “Last time they were 20 bible lengths away.” 

“No idea. He’d already pulled them up. I was behind him. I got hung up, arguing with that kid in the diaper.” 

Paul looked at the water below, and he did see things, or got an impression of things. They were too big to think about and too big to make out. He was frightened that they were there. He would think of jumping sometimes, but he had an enormous fear of being swallowed up. Things that large would only eat something as small as him accidentally, but still, it frightened him deeply and physically. 

Frank sat down. He looked unwell. “What about the water?” he asked. 

The elecricitan replied: “You don’t have any.” 

Frank looked truly lost then, on the verge of panic.“But we do have some, sometimes.” 

“Do you have any right now?” the man asked.

Paul shook his head. 

“Then you haven’t got any water.”

“But there’s some in the basement. It’s dripping into the hole.” Paul glanced at Frank, who did not appear to be paying attention. He didn’t want him to know this. 

“If there’s water dripping into the basement then that water is coming out of the ground. A hole can do that, just pull something in. You can’t get away from them. Go somewhere else, you’ll find another. Maybe you could figure out a way to catch it. Or lie on the ground with a straw and suck it up.” He walked towards the edge. “Good luck with everything. I’m going to take off.” He walked away. He had any easy stride, like maybe he knew something comforting, or so bad that there was no way to worry about it that made sense. 

Frank couldn’t stand up. He was muttering to himself. As a doctor, Paul was sure this was delirium tremens. He could have dosed him with the bottle Klonopin that arrived at some point in the past but Albert had a nose for these things and would very likely have used them all. 

“Don’t worry Frank, I’m going to get that bucket with the orange in it.” He began walking toward the house. Sometimes it was hard to find if you got too far away from it. The trick was to not panic. Paul would use rocks to mark his path but he’d been in a hurry and had forgotten to do it. He did not know how long it took him to find his way back, but he felt a gentle pull and he let it lead him. 

Back at the house Rick was stacking wood. He used his bare hands to tear the siding off of the house and he’d left gaps through which Paul could see the rest of the house. “Big project, Rick.” Rick gave him a thumbs up. “Any of the stuff show up?” Thumbs down. 

Albert smelled and he seemed to not be bothered by it. One of the diapers had been left on the floor, the clean one’s were spilling out of the package, and Albert was wearing one that looked relatively new. He yelled at Paul for blocking the television and then went back to what he’d been doing. 

The bucket was in a closet that was completely empty besides pipes that Paul now knew to be worthless. It was heavy. He’d not been doing very much with his arms recently. He hauled it out of the closet, was hit with a soda bottle, and waddled towards the cliffs. He wouldn’t be able to leave a trail.

He was very tired by the time he arrived and he didn’t see Frank. He walked distances he couldn’t measure over spans of time that he didn’t understand and there was no Frank, and no marker either. Maybe the cliff had receded again. Those shapes that were too large to understand would have seen him fall. Frank had never seemed scared by these things, or curious, or excited. They were factual and existed no matter what and Paul wished this would comfort him but it didn’t. 

He wasn’t going to carry the bucket back. He kicked it over the rim and it didn’t turn end over end like he expected and he lost sight of it before it would have hit the water. It’s impact would have been drowned out by the surf. 

The day had passed, though it felt nothing like the span of time in which… he didn’t know. What was a day? He knew it was just a symptom of a larger phenomenon, but what exactly that phenomenon was was unclear to him. The house looked more peaceful in the dusk. He wondered what it would have looked like if they had lights. Haunted? Comforting? 

Rick wasn’t outside and he wasn’t under the porch. Several of his jars were open. Only one remained. Most of the wasps inside were dead and the ones left alive had given up their attempts at flight. He took the jar inside with him.

There was hardly any light. He could see Albert on the couch. That he wasn’t holding his controller was a momentous statement. Something was shifting. 

Paul couldn’t hear anyone else in the house. “Albert. Where’s Rick?” 

Albert didn’t move, but Paul could hear him breathing through blocked sinuses. There was a hitch in his voice. He’d been crying. “I heard him yelling. Something was hurting him. I could see a little bit through the window. He was slapping himself and pulling his hair. He kept getting further away.” 

Paul nodded. No one had ever gone in that direction for more than a half an hour. Things were jumbled up there. Too confusing. “Albert. What’s wrong? You’re not playing your game.” 

“I keep losing. It just got to be too hard. I’ve been sitting here all day. No one wants to watch a loser.” Paul wondered about this. Albert didn’t have a sense of what other people might be thinking. “I wanted to help Rick. Really. I tried to get up but I’m stuck.” 

Paul walked towards him. “I’ll help you.” 

“No Paul. You don’t understand. I’m too stuck. I can’t stand up. In a day or two I’ll be gone and then the sofa is just going to be here and no one will even remember me.” 

Paul lied. “I’ll remember you.” 

He could see Albert shaking his head. “No. You won’t. You can’t.” He picked up the controller. “I’m going to try. One more time. Could you be careful about blocking the television?” 

Paul nodded. “Of course.” 

He walked upstairs with the jar under his arm. In his stifling room he stacked the magazines under the attic and pulled the stairs down. The buzzing was tremendous, thundering but constant. There were so many thousands of the wasps. How long had they been building their nest? Paul couldn’t remember a morning without the sound of them above. They began to fly downwards, not angry, simply exploring. Paul opened the window and let the screen fall out, then walked to the basement. 

He sat on the edge of the hole. It was exhilarating, the pull and its tension. He unscrewed the lid. The wasps that were still alive found their way out and their fury pulled them back from the brink of death. They circled the room and looked for something to hurt but Paul was still and they paid no attention to him. 

Their circle closed. Their hivemates were descending the stairs one by one and they joined in the tightening arc. Paul could remember watching water drain from a sink and the breadcrumbs marking it’s progress, though he didn’t know when this had occurred. When they reached the precipice of the hole they had no agency. They were aloft but sinking, spinning on an axis marked by their heads.

Jumping was inevitable, kind even, but Paul couldn’t stop himself from wanting to see what happened. When the darkness was full he would push off, but until then he would watch. He realized that if a person fell forever it was no different than flying. 

Liked it? Take a second to support becomingmycelial on Patreon!

Leave a Reply