He got a call from Patrick.
“Hey, Alan, want to come over and hang out for a bit?”
He hadn't spoken to Patrick in three years.
“I know it's been awhile, but I figured hey, we aren't too far from each other.”
There hadn't been any reason they stopped hanging out, just the transition from high school to college getting in the way, Patrick moving on to a four year while Alan chose to go to a community college, and then to load trunks in a warehouse, though he wouldn't really say he chose that one.
“I'm renting a place, an old house, great deal given the amount of space in this thing. It's off of Parks and Druding.”
Not as if he ever disliked Patrick, and the place was pretty close.
“I've got a twenty-four pack, and there's no way I'll get through it alone.”
Wasn't a hard decision. Alan said he'd come over.
The building was more than just old. It looked all but run down, practically condemned, and Alan might've thought he'd been given the wrong address if he hadn't seen Patrick's thick, freckled face and red hair in the window, hand waving for Alan to come up the sidewalk to the place.
The lawn was a patchwork of scraggly grass and healthy enough weeds. He even saw a few yellowed newspapers and decaying phone books by the front door. As he stepped up to the door he could see the building itself looked sturdy, just ugly from lack of paint. The door opened smoothly into a sparse living room.
Stepping inside Alan realized sparse was being too generous. The whole home looked completely empty. There wasn't a single piece of furniture to be found, his footsteps echoing on the wood flooring as he glanced over at the window where Patrick had been less than a minute before. He tilted his head around the wall to see a grandfather clock, pretty new, or at least well kept, ticking off each second. Next to the clock he saw a small wooden table with an old style rotary phone on it, the plastic black, but just like the clock, the phone itself looked brand new.
“Patrick?” he called out, heard his voice echo in the empty building, his eyes crawling over the peach color walls, the staircase leading up to a second floor, hallway off the living room going back into a kitchen, and a door along the wall beside him opening into a dark closet. Place did look like it had quite a bit of space, especially for one person, and given the cramped studio Alan had been calling home for the past year, he briefly wondered what kind of rent a house like this one would go for.
“Yo, Patrick, you here?”
“In the kitchen,” Patrick called out.
“Didn't tell me you just moved in,” Alan said as he walked through the place with the sound of the ticking clock following him, a picture starting to form, to make more sense given the situation. Maybe something had come up in Patrick’s life, something bad enough to make him move out right away, so he thought of Alan, and figured he could get help moving, pay him off in beer. As a whole Alan figured there were worse ways to spend his Saturday afternoon.
As he walked through the hall towards the kitchen he wiped the sweat from his forehead, realizing just how hot the building was. Wasn't exactly cool outside, but the place felt sweltering, certainly no AC going.
“Think we can open up some windows?” Alan asked, stepped into the empty kitchen, no Patrick, and no beer, to be found. The kitchen didn't even have a fridge where beer might be, nor did it have a window for him to open, the room just as empty as the rest of the house, but also, Alan thought, there wasn't a door leading anywhere. The place was a dead end. He frowned and looked around to find where Patrick could've gone.
“Is this some kind of a joke?” Alan shouted at the house. He waited. There weren't even any footsteps, just the faint ticking of the clock in the living room, muffled by the walls. He looked around the room again, opening up the cabinets, the drawers, trying to find a tape recorder, some sound system to explain Patrick's voice, show it was all some odd joke at Alan's expense, though he couldn't fathom why Patrick would care enough to play one on him.
It didn't matter if he couldn't find anything. “Screw this,” Alan said to himself, wiped more sweat from his face, his t-shirt sticking to his body. He marched back down the hall to the living room, the sound of the clock getting louder as he approached, sounding a bit duller to him now, but the sound of the clock struck him as less important than the missing window.
Frozen in the living room, Alan realized it wasn't just the window missing, but the door leading out as well. The walls were so smooth Alan had to wonder if there had ever been a door to begin with, and had he not found himself somehow in the house, he might've thought there hadn't been. Alan ran over to the wall, face dripping more as the heat seemed to swell within the building, the clock still thumping away behind him. His fingers ran over the paint, tried to find where the door had been, but as he pressed his fingers to the wall he realized they were warm and wet. He expected his fingers to come away with paint on them, but whatever covered them was a clear liquid, made his fingers itch, almost burn a bit.
Alan turned back to the room, throat drying up, and fingers feeling hotter with each second. His eyes ran up the stairs to the second floor, but looking closer, Alan realized there wasn't a second floor, the stairs ending in a low ceiling, something he swore hadn't been there before, but then, a window and door had been there as well.
“Phone,” he said, saw it still on the table beside the ticking clock. Alan really didn't have any hopes to be let down when the phone offered him silence. His cell phone couldn't get a signal. He found himself laughing more than cringing as he set it down, a giggle shaking his body, the situation offering him nothing to cling to, nothing to give him an ounce of understanding as to what was happening around him. Alan walked out into the middle of the empty room and looked around at the walls glistening more with liquid, the stuff running down the walls now, pooling on the wood floor around his feet. He could see waves of heat in the building, his hair stuck wetly to his forehead, lungs filling with acrid air that made them burn inside him.
The walls were changing colors, turning pink behind the liquid pouring out of them. Alan hurried back over to where the front door had been, his feet splashing in the stuff filling the room. He brought up his sneaker and slammed it into the wall, tried to break through, and saw white mush smear across the wall from his shoe.
Alan lifted the sneaker enough to see the rubber soles melting off. He wiped the sweat from his eyes, touched his finger against the wall, had to pull it away as pain flared up, the skin on the tip a painful red as his flesh hissed from the substance all around him.
“There's just no way,” Alan whispered to himself. The clock had gotten louder. Alan spun towards it, but rather than the clock, he saw the room itself shrinking, the walls mostly pink now, pulsing in rhythm with the clock, except it sounded far more like the beat of a heart than an actual clock anymore.
At that thought Alan's eyes rose to the ceiling, towards where a staircase had been, but now he just saw a hole in the flesh, and looking up, he saw pulsing shapes, what looked like organs beating to the thump of the heart of whatever he stood within.
His feet burned within his shoes as the material was eaten away. The fumes within the small room seared away his skin, burned his eyes. He understood that this wasn't a home but a living creature, even if Alan couldn't fathom how it was possible.
Pain arched up his legs. Alan tried to claw into the wall of the stomach, felt the thing shudder as his fingers tore into the flesh. His hands burned from the stomach acid filling up the place, digesting him further with each second. Alan couldn’t break free, and didn't expect his efforts to really succeed, but he still dug into that flesh even as his own fingers were melted away to the bone. He clawed until he saw blood pour from the scratch, his legs giving out on him, dropping him to his knees into the liquid fire, but Alan managed at least a small smile as he saw that blood pouring out, felt the shuddering creature beneath his dissolving hands.
It was a small victory, but it was still his.
Two months later the house on the corner of Parks and Druding stood empty except for a clock along the wall and a small table with a phone on it. The house was silent aside from the ticking clock, until another sound broke through, one of flesh coming into life as a face formed in the wall. The painted wall pulled forward, eyes sinking into a skull, hair sprouting, and upper body halfway out when the process finally stopped.
There Alan hung, created from the waist up, hanging limply down at first above the phone until the body jerked awake with a sharp inhale. His head rose, eyes looking vacantly around the room, lost in thought, until the lips parted and he said to the house, “Brian Hollen, lives ten miles away.” He then nodded to himself before reaching down to pick up the phone.
On the fourth ring Brian answered. “Hey, Alan, where the hell have you been? People have been looking all over for you.”
“I moved,” Alan said.
“Really? You didn't tell your sister?”
“Something came up and I didn't have much of a choice. Hey, you want to come over? I wanted to talk to you about a few things. You know where Parks and Druding is? Not far from the Central elementary school?”
“Yeah, I know the area.”
“It's the house on the corner. Can't recall the number off the top of my head, but it's hard to miss, two story place. I'll leave the front door open.”
“Sure, I'll be right over.”
“Great. See you soon.”
Alan hung up the phone. As his body pulled back into the wall a door formed to his left and cracked itself open.