's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Dirty Dishes

Submitted by Age (email)

Dirty Dishes

My parents didn’t know that I got kicked out. And my landlord, like my friends had assured me, he was cool. I would be able to stay for at least six more months until I ran out of savings and I would go back to my home town and move in with my parents again, tail between my legs. It would destroy me. In the meantime I was unemployed. My only hope was to apply for jobs online. All I did was pace back and forth between my computer, my fridge, and my bathroom, in new and exciting configurations. My island of dirty dishes, on a rotation of sorts ever since the start of the first semester, had turned into a tower.

When the crumbs from my microwave pizza fell into the wet dish, it rested against a black mole. And the mole rested back. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, it enveloped the crumb. It was expanding, growing, living. And it was doing so in real time. Visible to the naked eye. A mutant strain of depression mold that moved faster than any known strain. I knew right away how incredible this was, at least vaguely. But I had to verify. So I fed it some more.

I kept this up for a while. Probably a week or so. Tending to the black mass, watching it, feeding it leftovers from my microwave dinners, flushing away the parts I didn’t like. It gave me routine, a life ring to cling to while I kept drowning. I would eat my expiry bin hot dogs and frozen pizzas before the sun went down, trim it before going to sleep. Eat, mold, video games, mold, reddit, mold, sleep. I really needed that structure, though.

The only thing that woke me up was realizing how close it was to creeping out of the kitchen sink. I had nurtured it to the point where tendrils of black mold reached the edge of the sink, ready to spread onto the cabinets. And when I tried to flush the errant tendrils I realized I couldn’t, because the sink was clogged. The pipes were choking on all the leftovers and grease and mold that I had washed away. In order to return to my daily routine I would have to unchoke it. Bleach maybe. Of course, I didn’t just have bleach lying around. Why would I? I bought the food I was hungry for, anything else would just eat into my rent.

Going to the store was part of the script. I would take a shower to avoid suspicion, lock the doors, walk downhill, avoid eye contact, reach into the discount bins for near-expired dinners, open the freezers for the cheap pizza, pay in card, walk uphill, avoid eye contact, unlock doors, eat. But the basement was not. I had only been here once, when I was a student, when the landlord gave me the tour. I had shrugged at the basement. Lawnmowers and rusty bikes and chemicals? But desperate times call for desperate measures. I used my door key to unlock the basement door and in the light of my phone I found a half empty bottle of bleach. Nobody had seen me.

I poured it into the mass, and from there it circled into the drain. It pained me to watch my garden melt away. And it made me realize that a kitchen sink, honestly, that was a rather irresponsible place to keep mold. I scooped out the heart of the island and dropped it into some empty pasta sauce jars. It would be easier to monitor this way, too. I would feed it, log the growth, make some more notes on the extraordinary ability of this strain. If this became known, then so would I. That was the hope that had kept me going all this time. I called the campus finally, because I definitely had enough evidence by now that this mold was something unique.

There were two of them, both with white face masks. Their clothes were nicer than I was used to seeing from the campus, this was a special occasion to them. They were surprised, they said, at what I told them. I demonstrated how quickly it could eat a slice of pizza. They were shocked. They saw something in this mold. They asked me if I could donate it to them. This was a breakthrough, they said.

I was no medical student. But there was a time where I thought I was. I knew from the way they looked at me, and from the way they drooled over my glass jar, that they didn’t care about what I wanted to say. They were on the way to the next chapter of their careers, and I was only a hurdle for them to jump over. I could donate the mold to them and it would travel the world with them while I was stuck inside this apartment that I couldn’t pay rent for. Or I could negotiate. So I took a step back. I held the tray of jars with an iron grip. I demanded payment. They yelled at me. I yelled back. I raised the tray over my head. An ultimatum. Thirty percent royalties or I would smash them, right here right now. They raised their hands submissively and took a step back, afraid. Then the guy on the left opened his mouth. Twenty?

Of course, breaking the glass was mostly symbolic. It didn’t matter to me. Because it was already growing inside me. It was already growing inside all of us.