I woke up to a loud rapping at the door. It was my landlord again, looking for the rent. It was the middle of the month and he’d been at this for days. Every few hours he’d bang away, screaming his head off. I’d let him get it out of his system and then he’d usually give up after about twenty minutes.
Today was different though. He said that he was going to go downstairs, get the keys, and come in. I really didn’t want that to happen. I had to think fast. I rolled up my small Persian rug and poured a jug of water on the floor right in front of the door and grabbed a cast iron pan. I figured that when he busted in, he would slip on the water and I could bring the pan down on his head and that would be that. I waited with the pan held high, ready to attack.
I heard him approaching at last, thank god, because that pan was heavy. He jingled the keys for a while before I heard him mumbling and cursing to himself and then to me that he didn’t have the right key but that he would be back.
That night I went to bed early, leaving the pool of water in front of the door. And I got up early, awoken by fleeting memories of the dream I was having. Me, out on the streets, begging for money, getting stabbed in an alley for some cigarettes.
I got out of bed and walked over to the door and I saw that the wood had warped terribly because of the water. It was a dump of an apartment and there were cracks in the old wood floor. They had gone dark from being soaked through the night. I guessed the landlord was going crazy looking for those keys. It made me feel pretty satisfied. Not just that I was getting away with this, but that I was torturing him.
I heard someone coming up the stairs and poured more water on the floor. This time, however, the knocking was softer. It was the landlord’s wife, a small weasel of a woman, and she was screaming and crying that the landlord had fallen ill.
But when he recovers, you animal, keys or no keys, he’ll be back and he’ll knock the door down and you’ll be out once and for all.
What can I say, I felt like a dog with two tails, knowing I wouldn’t have to worry about him for the time being. I snuck out of the apartment to go for a stroll and to the store for enough provisions to get me through another week.
And when I came back, some hours later, I noticed that a little fairy circle of mushrooms had grown out of the rotting, soaking floor. At first I was disgusted, but after crouching down and studying the strange fungus, I decided I quite liked them and so left them where they were. I cooked myself a meal of potatoes and dandelion greens and went to bed early.
That night I had another dream, this one more vivid. I was still on the streets, but I was robbing instead of begging, and I was stabbing someone for cigarettes instead of being stabbed. Still on the streets, sure, but I was getting better at surviving out there.
I took this as a sign that I was making the right decisions.
I wasn’t quite prepared for what had happened while I was sleeping. It wasn’t just mushrooms that were waiting for me but a forest of some kind of birch tree. It had taken over the area in front of the door. Strange green plants grew out of the bookcase and branches wrapped up and down the coat rack. The small Persian rug was completely gone, but I noticed that some flowers resembling crocuses in shape had grown where the rug once was and that their fleshy petals had taken on the Persian pattern. The whole forest was about half the size of the room, yet I sensed the shufflings of an animal concealed in a patch of bushes and, later, heard the strange calls of unknown insects all through the night.
The next day, when I saw that the forest had grown in height, I admit I was a little reluctant to enter. I was drawn to it, though, and I ate my dinner on the floor at the opening, listening and watching the movement in the woods. I watered the crocuses at the foot of the trees and fell asleep on the floor.
I didn’t dream at all that night and woke up to the hot breath of something that was gone before I could adjust my eyes. Though I had fallen asleep at the edge of the forest, I awoke surrounded by it. It had grown double in size overnight, now encompassing the whole front room. Bulbous fruit in the shape of my doorknobs grew from a tree near my closet and upon close inspection, you could read passages of the books from my bookshelves running up and down the stamens of several of the plants. I walked a little deeper in to see if I could find the front door. I made it as far as the fairy circle that had started it all, and yet I still couldn’t see the door. I felt the presence of an animal nearby and I decided to head back towards the kitchen light. In the distance behind me I could hear my landlord and his wife screaming and pounding away at the door. But they were so far away.
I stayed in the kitchen for a few days after, as that was the one place in the apartment the forest hadn’t taken over. I couldn’t cook anymore because when I did, tiny creatures would brave the kitchen and bite and scratch at me and steal my food. I was living on raw vegetables and canned meat but I didn’t have that much more and I knew I would have to go through the forest eventually.
The trees in the forest bore only fruit that tasted like cheap furniture. From the floorboards grew vegetables that left you with splinters. It provided nothing. It seemed even hungrier than I was.
It wasn’t long before the forest spread to the kitchen, too. Vines were growing along the walls and tubers had taken over the oven. I heard the animal getting closer. He must have been sick from starvation because he was moaning desperately and it was driving me crazy. He was circling me and I could hear him breathing and I could see his movements by way of the tall grasses and he was getting closer by the minute. He was close enough that I could feel the hot sour breath stinging my eyes and making them watery. I could feel that he was twitching and ready to pounce. I grabbed my cast iron frying pan.
And yet he never did attack me. I remember getting sleepy at some point and going to find my bed but ending up getting lost. I wandered around all night looking for it. I wanted to go to sleep, to be back on the street. Eventually, I passed out from exhaustion and when I awoke, I couldn’t move and couldn’t speak. I was flat on my back and I was choking on the mushrooms that were growing out of my mouth. Their slippery stems were rising up from my throat and the caps, rising above my lips, were just in my line of sight. I was dark and damp like rotting wood and life was growing out of me all over.
Justin DeCarlo grew up in New Jersey. He now lives in New York.