It was with a peculiar sense of unease that I set out on my visit to the Hasbrouck residency at the behest of a worried mother. Her frantic calls to my medical practice had filled me with concern and a sense of unexplainable dread; it was her vague comments regarding her son’s deteriorating mental and physical health which made me ill at ease, not bickers of anything definite, but the added sum of her vague suspicions, and what she hinted at, what she left unsaid. The pleading tone of her voice had at last convinced me to go on a home visit and examine her son. It was a chilly late autumn afternoon in late October, and the darkened, low-hanging clouds held the promise of rain. As I approached my destination the surroundings filled me with an overwhelming sensation of profound gloom and decay; the atmosphere was curiously dense and oppressive, highly concentrated, almost palpable. The house was located right next to a parking lot and the highway, but despite of this I was struck by a sense of isolation and extreme remoteness, like this property existed outside of the busy and chaotic world surrounding it.
The surrounding garden was in a most sorrowful state; left to waste away untended thorough years of neglect. There stood oddly twisted and gnarled trees whose roots drew nutrition from the diseased, watersoaked earth; in their shade grew pale, worm-eaten fleshy fungi among the rotting leaves in great numbers. A utility trailer of severe dilapidation and surrounded by weeds caught my eye as I made my way towards the entrance. The house itself was a ramshackle building of advanced dilapidation, giving off a strong aura of abandonment and neglect, and I couldn’t help but wonder how people could have allowed things to slip so far into decay and abandonment. The paint was peeling and much cracked; dry-rot and fungi seemed to have infested the building long ago. As far as could be ascertained the curtains in every window were drawn shut, and I was struck by the thought that the house was slumbering.
I knocked on the door, and it appeared my arrival had been expected, for the door was opened quickly. “Mrs. Hasbrouck?” I greeted, looking at the woman who stood in the doorway. She nodded her head and quickly ushered me inside the darkened interior. She was not old, but her appearance was somewhat haggard and she appeared weary and tired. She might once have been a woman of some beauty, and it was sad to see how the worn and neglected outside of the home seemed to mirror not only the interior, but its inhabitants as well. With her rather cadaverous complexion and bruise-like shadows under her large pale blue eyes, I wondered if it was not her who I should have examined instead of her son. Even her fair hair seemed lifeless and as if all colour was draining from her along with the spark of life. “Thank God you’re here,” she whispered, her eyes shining with unshed tears from the horrors endured in this worm-eaten, crumbling house. There was a certain hoarseness to her voice, and it made me think she had recently been crying, an impression strengthened by the bloodshot quality of her haunted blue eyes. The lustre in them was waning – her spirit was broken. “We really are at our wits end,” she let slip with an almost fearful look on those haunted blue eyes as she took my outer coat and hung it on the coat-stand.
The air was curiously oppressive, and there was a strange and wholly unnerving scent that seemed to permeate the house; a vague smell of dust and of abandonment, and less savoury things best left a mystery. “I didn’t quite catch what exactly it is you suspect ails your son,” I spoke up as we entered the parlour, where she proceeded to serve tea with trembling hands. I sat down on the sofa with my back to the window – faint, grey daylight shone in through a narrow crack in the curtains. An old grandfather clock – the distant sound of traffic on the nearby highway reminding me of the outside world. She let out a short, hysterical laugh, spilling tea on the tablecloth, before she finally caught herself. “He’s sick!” she finally whispered, looking rather fearful and nervous, her eyes begging me to help. “When did you first notice this change in him?” I queried, taking the tea-mug from her and helping her to pour the rest of the tea in order to prevent further mishaps. “He’s always been a little different,” she said with a nervous chuckle, quickly taking her cup and sipping the scolding hot tea with gay abandon. “There was a noticeable change in him around 2016,” she added in a near-whisper, quickly followed by a low, mirthless giggle of nervous agitation. “Now he just sits down there all day! He hasn’t been outside in years! He won’t even come down on Christmas, or whenever we have relatives visiting,” she was unable to hold back the tears, and I handed her my handkerchief. Her voice was insistent, yet scarcely above a whisper, as if she feared to be overheard. “I can hear him move around down there at night,” she hiccuped, burying her tear-stricken face in the handkerchief as a shudder of terror passed through her frail body. What on earth could cause a mother to be this disgusted and fearful of her own flesh and blood?
“We let it pass till we caught him with his sister’s panties,” she continued at last, clutching the handkerchief between her trembling fingers. There was a look of shame and misery that made her pale face flush pink with the same and passion of her admission. “When I was pregnant with him, it was strange… He was different. They wanted me to terminate, but I wouldn’t.”
Unable to let her go on further on her ramblings, seeing how greatly this affected her, I got up and put a hand on her shoulder. “I will talk to him. See what I can do for him.” With a last, comforting squeeze to her shoulder I made my way through the room, heading for the basement door, I had barely been able to see in the darkened hallway as I removed my coat. The door swung open on its hinges, but not without some force on my part, since it was oddly uneven, and the floor too; the whole house seemed to have shifted, and was shifting still. With the door opened, I stood still for a moment, hesitating; the hallway was dark, and I began to feel ill at ease, feeling rather like Hermóðr on his journey down to Hel. Dusty beams, cobwebs and that nauseating smell of decaying fungi greeted me in the darkness as I slowly made my way down the rickety, creaking staircase, and the faint artificial light visible from below the only light to guide my path.
As I held onto the wall for support, another smell made itself known; the malodorous odour of unwashed genitalia and sour sweat was of the most offensive kind – the rank stench permeated the dimly lit basement room, and felt my eyes begin to water as I fought the urge to gag. “Zach?” I called out as I had reached the bottom of the stairs, and looked out at this subterranean dwelling my patient had occupied for so long in solitude. There was a strange kind of grunt in response, in a harsh-sounding tone, though without any intelligible words. I introduced myself as my eyes searched for its source. He sat on a swivel chair in front of a desk littered with all kinds of knick-knack and trash. His head was turned towards me in an unnatural angle, and I was at once struck by the impression that his neck was abnormally malformed and twisted. “Where’s the light switch?” I wondered aloud, searching the surroundings in the awful gloomy dimness with my fingers. “No! No light! And close the door!” came a sudden, sharp exclamation from my patient. “But it’s so dark in here!” I protested, though obeying his wishes. “Yes, deliciously dark,” he said in a voice that made me shudder; it was somehow gibbering and gelatinous, and it filled me with a strong sense of uneasiness and loathing unlike any I had ever felt before. “I can hear the mould growing in the dark, and the rising damp climbing up the bed-legs,” Zach continued with a sigh of cocksment, before turning his attention back towards the computer screen.
Though I knew his exact age from his worried mother, I could not have guessed it based on his appearance alone. He had a ghoulishly sallow complexion, and his shifty squinting slant-eyes betrayed his Asiatic ancestry. He gave off the impression of being somehow malformed, though I wasn’t able to point to anything definite, though he was noticeably bow-legged, and hunchbacked. The only sound was that of his fingers eagerly tapping away at the crusted keyboard. With some difficulty I was able to find a way over to him over the floor so littered with trash, and up close, in the glow of the computer screen his sallow complexion took on a truly sickly tone, like pallid and mottled, and the gleam in those shifty eyes caused me to shudder. He didn’t dignify my presence as he kept typing furiously on the keyboard – all Caps Lock it seemed. “You mother called me, told me to check in on you,” I began feeling my mouth go dry as I spoke in this acrid atmosphere. He turned to look at me again, and I had to fight not to recoil in terror at the sight; he was frothing at the mouth, and in his eyes there was the weirdest look of semi-sentience; below that of man, above that of a beast. “She told you I’m mad, didn’t she?!” he said in a surprisingly shrill timbre. “She is worried about you,” I stuttered, taken aback by the harsh accusative tone of voice. “Do you think I do this for fun?” he wheezed, looking at me with utter contempt burning in those slanty eyes. He seemed exhausted by the violent outburst, and quickly sunk back down to his usual hunched-over posture.
I was desperate to change the subject away from his mother and the reason for my visit, and I caught sight of a large, though highly peculiar collection of DVDs occupying the nearby shelves, along with well-worn books of children’s literature. “You seem interested in movies,” I commented, inspecting some of the titles as best could be done in the dimness of the room. “Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of movies,” he responded in that dull, monotone voice of his without even looking away from the screen. Curious what could be of such interest, I threw a casual glance towards his screen and caught sight of the vilest and most revolting and degrading hardcore interracial pornography as he scrolled through a folder. He didn’t seem to care at all, though my stunned silence must have told him of my discovery of the disgusting images, of which he appeared to have a massed a rather sizeable collection. “They are wrong,” he stated suddenly, breaking the terrible silence. “Who?” I looked at him in confusion. He turned to face me in annoyance at the interruption and there was a gleam in his eyes – unmistakable hatred and madness. “The incels online!” he seethed with a frightful quivering, pointing with a finger trembling with agitation at the screen. “They are obsessed!” he yelled.
I recoiled in horror at the ghoulish look on his face, and the abnormal way his neck seemed to move. He noticed my nervous reaction and look of horror; and his lips curled back in a grotesque, mirthless grin, and his tongue somehow reminded me of the awful, abnormally large slugs I had seen outside in the neglected garden. There was something so loathsome and off about his appearance, as if something was not altogether human. This vague sense of dread rose to new heights, as his revolting grin widened further, and the gaping blackness of his mouth revealed something inside. I was at once gripped by a terrible and horrific impression of something hiding in the skin of man. I think it was the oddly loose quality of the skin, the lack of facial animations, and that dreadful mouth that put the idea into my nervous mind, and once there it grew and grew till, at last, the idea was so strong and unbearable that my entire being trembled with terror. My terrified and revolted reaction seemed to please him, and his ghoulish grin widened further still, and he let out a low, gruesome wheezing chuckle from that open mouth; the jaw hung open, seemingly not fully attached. “What do you think, Doc?!” he chuckled ghoulishly, staggering to a standing position with some difficulty. He stood there on unsteady legs, struggling to gain some semblance of balance. He raised his long, thin arms to his mouth, and, while I stood there, too shocked to avert my gaze, he began to pull back his mouth; to my absolute terror I saw how his mouth extended beyond what should have been physically possible, and worst of all, how there were white strands of mycelium and festering dry rot visible within him.
The shock to my senses and nerves was so profound that my initial reaction, or reflex, was merely to close my eyes. I believe that alone is what saved my sanity. Blindly I staggered backwards in horrified shock, the loathsome stench of dry rot festering in necrosis was so pugnant that it was like a physical barrier. My horrified reaction must have pleased him with a revolting sense of pride and enjoyment, for the wheezing cackle grew in strength, despite how pained he sounded. Then, came the sound of tottering, unsteady footsteps; they sounded oddly soft and hollow-sounding on the trash-littered cellar floor, and I knew that he was advancing on me. An involuntary cry of deathly fear and terror escaped my lips as I recoiled till at last, I was up against the damp, slimy basement wall, and my hands touched something lined up along the wall with all the other knick-knack stored there – an old baseball bat.
That realisation made me break from the horrible grip of fear, and launched me into action at last. I grasped the bat, and before the shambling shape in the darkness before me could react I struck it with full force. Time after time I swung the bat, and my horror only intensified at the hollow sound as the bat struck the body, till at last it burst open like a bladder from the force of the blows. It was as if his body was as hollow, soggy and worm-eaten as the half-decayed fungi in the garden outside, for there was a softness to the rotten hollow body as if the bone had become mushy, and even after the head had caved in the body continued to tremble and writhe about on the floor. Still, I knew that it would be an unforgivable sin not to continue until all was over.
When the rage and shock which had alone saved me began to subside I dropped the bat with a clatter to the floor and staggered backwards towards the stairs. I felt nauseated and light-headed from the rush of adrenaline, and my mind was still ringing from the dreadful shock my nerves and senses had been subjected to.
As I ascended the basement stairs, leaving the thing which had masqueraded as a human on the floor behind me, I felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I cannot even begin to guess at the relief his parents and sister would feel. I staggered into the hallway and shut the basement door behind me. The mother stood in the doorway to the parlour, her hands clutching at the wall in nervous agitation and for support. “It’s finally over,” I stuttered. Her eyes searched mine for any final confirmation that the horror was over; after so many years, could she dare to hope? “It’s finally over,” I repeated, a little more calmly and held her gaze till the realisation finally sunk in, and she fell to her knees and thanked the Lord; her frail body shaking with tears of joy and relief that the nightmare that finally been brought to an end.