's 2019 Horror Write-off:

The Stench Was Unbearable

Submitted by PartlySmith

I never knew my apartment neighbor very well to be honest, but he always seemed like a nice enough guy. But I began to catch him in the hallway every now and then, dragging large, opaque plastic garbage bags behind him. I found it odd but shrugged it off, giving him a polite little “Hey” as I usually would, but his responses always seemed purely reactionary, with a hint of distracted concern in his voice. I decided that this was none of my business and let him be.

This had become a regular occurrence. The bags were becoming larger, more numerous, and more frequent. I would greet him whenever it felt appropriate, but the responses dwindled, eventually becoming nothing more than grunts of acknowledgement. He always seemed so preoccupied with the task at hand.

One day, I saw him lugging a particularly large load and offered to help him. He quickly snapped his gaze towards me, and I saw his face for the first time in days. His forehead was slick and unwashed; his eyes reddened and damp, sunken and heavy with tears; and his lips… darkened by some unknown stained, and glimmering with mucus. He slowly turned away and continued his deed. I couldn’t even begin to guess what was wrong with him, but I knew I could no longer let this slide.

I noticed a foul odor building up over the past few days. Faint enough to no penetrate within my own apartment, but undeniable in the hall. For a while, at least. The stench ripened as the days went on. I complained to the landlord, assuming it was a sewage issue at first. That was, until I noticed the door to my neighbor’s apartment was open by just the slightest crack. There was no denying it; the smell was coming from inside. Pungent, sickly sweet, curdled fumes wafted from the sliver of an opening. I could not bring myself to investigate further, the intensifying nausea pushing me away. I rushed into my own apartment, opening all the windows and leaving the fans on at full blast, and immediately notified the landlord as soon as I was capable of opening my mouth without vomiting.

The stench was unbearable. It took an entire hazmat crew to clear out the place. My neighbor was nowhere in sight, it appeared that he had been gone for some time. My mind raced back to those bags. What could possibly produce such a smell? Bodies? Rotting limbs and innards, soaking into the floors and walls? That would explain his odd behavior… But that answer didn’t sit well with me. Something told me the truth was distressingly simpler.

I wish I was wrong. I almost wish he had been a serial killer. Serial killers are plausible. They function in ways we understand. But there were no dismembered corpses pulled from that apartment. It was garbage. Literal garbage. Trash, waste, refuse. It had been strewn about the rooms, covering every inch of the floor. God, why couldn't I have just lived next door to a murderer…

I was trudging home from work a couple nights later. My mind was still desperately trying to wrap around my neighbor’s actions. I’d lost sleep over this nonsensical bullshit! Suddenly, a noise cut through the fog of my thoughts. A clanging, rustling sound coming from the alleyway. Near the dumpster. I should’ve turned away, should’ve gone inside and try to get on with my life. But I had to know. I slowly crept towards the alley, fearful of what I had hoped to find. And found it I did. My neighbor.

His back was turned to me, and he was hunched over a trash can. His clothes were mottled with all stains imaginable, and his face deeply buried in its contents, like a dog eating from its bowl. Eating. Dear god. I could hear the nauseating wet smacking and munching as he made his way through the trash. He reeked of a small fraction of the smell from his apartment, but it was still strong enough to push the bile to the tip of my throat. I calmed my stomach down as best I could, and apprehensively called his name, as if I had some hope of helping him. But I knew he was far too gone.

He lifted his head from his meal in surprise. He paused, the vague memory of humanity slowly surfacing in his mind. He slowly turned to look at me, and I was greeted with his repulsive visage. His skin resembled the rind of a lemon, thick and dotted with pores, and it glistened with a layer of oil, his unwashed hair matted to his forehead. His eyelids appeared to be nearly swollen shut, discolored a sickly fleshy pink, and with the gloss of an infected wound. The corners of his mouth had been stretched well beyond their limits and could no longer be covered by his straining, thin lips. His gums were bloated and discolored, writhing with what appeared to be cilia, plump like sausages. Within the tip of each tentacle was set the remains of a tooth, a painful, worn down sliver scarcely serving its function any longer.

I stood in silence, my mind and body refusing to accept what I was seeing. He wheezed, his breath labored and phlegmy. He finally spoke, mucus gurgling in the back of his throat. “I… can’t-” he coughed and heaved violently, black flecks escaping his mouth. “I can’t stop.” He paused, the act of speaking taking some toll on him. “I no longer wish to.” He heaved again, doubling over, a small trail of bile spilling from his mouth. I stared in a cold sweat. He slowly rose again, and returned to the can to resume his feast, seemingly forgetting that I had ever been there at all.

I laid stiff and unblinking in my bed that night. I stared at the ceiling for hours, my mind racing, yet thinking nothing at all. I eventually dozed off, and when I awoke, it seemed that the impact of the night had finally hit me. My stomach was churning, feeling like it had been filled with boiling water and writhing eels. I rushed to the toilet, and vomited, hot fluids and mush rushing through me. I was prone on the floor, panting violently. I wasn’t finished. I shakily raised my head again and gagged. Something solid caught in my throat, painfully scraping it’s way out, and landing with an audible splash. I wearily opened my eyes and felt the hot pit of my gut suddenly grow cold. I panicked and wept, racking my mind to come to some explanation, but reaching none. Floating atop the pool of blackened bile was something distressingly mundane: a crushed soda can.

(ANOTHER NOTE: it's probably obvious, but this was sort of my "adaptation" of one of the Trick or Treat Door/Horror Pals, specifically this one: