They talk sometimes about bad places. Spots that aren’t right with the Lord. They got a sort of hymn to them, something you can taste, feel, hear, like it’s crawling on your skin. I been to a few places like that, in my time. Used to clean up old houses, or other places folk didn’t want no more. Me and my crew, we’d make them look good as new. But that’s an old story – one that I won’t ever be able to tell – and all those places, they didn’t mean anything in the end. They’re all just dust in the air, residual things, background radiation, however you want to put it, when you compare them to the room. This all started with the room.
I built my home with my own two hands. Bought a plot of land out in Peace Rock, real cheap, and used what I knew. It was backbreaking work, and I lived out of my truck for the better part of a year, but sooner or later, I got it done. Wasn’t anything fancy, just a single story bungalow with a basement for storage. No need for a garage when I can leave my truck outside, and no need for space when I don’t have a family. It was just me and my dog, and Shelly didn’t mind getting cozy. She was a golden retriever getting on in her years, blind in one eye, but still sharp as a whip. I started taking care of her when her family passed on. Old couple that got hit by a drunk speeding through an intersection, was a real big deal when it happened, but like all things, people forget. I don’t know what happened to the guy that did it, but I hope he’s hurting in some kind of way. I’m not a vindictive man, and the Lord teaches us to forgive, but the Griswolds were kind people, and they didn’t deserve none of that.
Anyhow, I’m rambling. Point is, I built every room in that house. I don’t remember the exact dimensions or nothing, but once upon a time, I had it all planned out, and I do remember the process. One bedroom with a little closet, nothing special; living room and kitchen were all one space, figured it’d be easier; didn’t bother with no laundry machines or nothing, I liked working with my hands anyway; then you had a bathroom, and the stairs to the basement, which had my water tank, heating, and everything else I needed. Four rooms, total. Then one night, I hear Shelly whining. I wake up, she’s right next to me like always, but she’s rustling around, so I figure she needs to go out. Only, she doesn’t. We get to the living room, and she just stops. Won’t quit looking at the basement door. I got the impression that some punk might’ve broken in, so quiet as could be, I ran and got my old Winchester, chambered a round, and went up to the door. Ain’t really an area where you could call the cops, ‘cause if you did, they’d be near thirty minutes out. Don’t know what we paid them for, really. Anyhow, I open the door, move in real quick with the barrel pointed down the stairs. My heart’s pounding something fierce, but I keep moving down those steps, looking around in the dark as best I could, but I didn’t see nothing. I find the chain for the lights, kind of dreading what they’d show me, but I turn them on, and there’s nothing obvious. Nothing stood out. I searched the place, looking around for anybody that might be hiding, calling out, you know how it goes, but I never did find anyone. It was just me.
I noticed, though, that once the adrenaline had came and went, I still felt something. Like a prickle on the back of my neck. Couldn’t figure out what it was, though. Everything looked the same, it just felt different, like somebody’d gone and made perfect copies of all my stuff, and replaced it. Weird example, I know, but it’s the only way I can think to explain it. Soon as I knew everything was fine, I made my way back up. Shelly was just on the other side of the door, worried sick about me. Dogs can usually tell when something’s wrong, even when we’re too stupid to notice it. Something other than the senses, like the way something tastes or smells or looks. Something you can feel in your gut. I suppose I felt it too, but given that I couldn’t exactly articulate it, I brushed it off. Anybody else’d do the same, I think, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t change what I should have done: leave that place, leave that town, and never look back.
I went back to bed, but sleep didn’t come easy. I kept having this feeling that something else was with me, and the way Shelly acted, I think she could feel it too. But eventually, I did fall asleep, and with it, came the dream. I don’t normally remember my dreams, but that night on, things were different. I was walking through the woods with Shelly at my side, twigs snapping beneath my boots, leaves rustling in the wind. The sunlight filtered through the trees above, all beneath a clear, blue sky. But then, I got that feeling. That there was something else with me, there, and furthermore, that it meant me harm. Not out of hate, but more an indifference to life, like a little kid ripping legs off a spider. It was crushing, like some horrible force was bearing down on me with everything it had, and when I looked up, I knew what it was. There was something wrong with the sky. Something wrong with the color. It was a living, fibrous thing, every molecule vibrating in the air, breathing and warping across the firmament. It was like skin, reminding me of all the times I’d ever been hunting, and took a buck home to prep for the freezer. The texture of the meat, and the slickness of the blood. The way it felt in my hands. Then, it began to come down, like the entire sky was rushing toward me, to swallow me whole, and strangle the planet until there was nothing left but the blue. The fear was more than I could stand, and I couldn’t do nothing but cower under the weight of it all, and just when I thought it would take me – I woke up.
I was covered in sweat, like I had a fever, my whole body shivering even in the heat of the south. It was day, and the light was filtering in through the window, Shelly sprawled out on her bed like she barely got any sleep. Something felt wrong in the air, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I got up, and got ready for the day, but that feeling never left me. Eventually, I walk out the bathroom, and see Shelly just standing there in the living room, staring at the basement door like she’d been taxidermied. I never seen her so still. I called out to her, and she startled, anxiously pacing around the room before stopping, and looking back and forth between me and the door.
At that point, I knew there wasn’t anybody down there, so I didn’t bother getting my rifle, but I did know that something was wrong. I just couldn’t say what. So, I open the door, even though Shelly’s whining the whole time, and I go down there. The steps creaked beneath me, everything swallowed in the dark. I heard Shelly start following behind me, and soon, I reached the bottom, looking around through the shadows. I found the chain, and tried to switch on the light, but nothing happened. There was a smell, though, that I can’t rightly describe. It’s like what’d happen if electricity had a scent. I turned around, thinking I’d go grab a flashlight, and that’s when I saw it. A wooden door, to the right of the stairs. A door that I never built. It was made of this old, cracked wood that could barely hold itself together, and smeared across it, was a rainbow handprint, like somebody’d dipped their palm in every paint there was, and made their mark. Shelly stopped, soon as she saw it, and started growling. That dog didn’t growl, not ever. She was the nicest thing to ever grace the earth, far as I’m concerned, but everything about that door seemed to bother her.
I tried to rationalize it in my head, thinking that I’d somehow made a door and forgot about it. I knew I was getting old, but not that old. Nothing made sense. The door was positioned in such a way that it would’ve led outside the bounds of the entire house, like it was some kind of underground attachment, but I never built outside the bounds, nevermind dug out the space. Shelly started barking, just snapping at the door, but I needed to know. I needed to understand. Pushing through every instinct I had to get away from that thing, I stepped toward it, putting my fingers to the knob. It felt warm and wet, like I was shaking somebody’s sweaty hand, and my body started to shiver at the touch of it. It was so unnatural, but I still tried to make sense of it, thinking I’d come down with something. I just didn’t want to believe what was happening to me. I know it probably doesn’t sound like much, but you didn’t feel it like I did. You didn’t feel the prickling heat, like it was crawling up into my bones.
I felt nauseous, like I wanted to throw up, so I turned the handle, and let go, backing away as though it were something diseased. The door creaked open, and Shelly stopped barking. She started pissing herself on the floor, frozen still. It was like all the air had been sucked out my lungs, and I couldn’t stop looking into that room. Every sense in my brain telling me to run away got tripped in that second, but my legs wouldn’t move. It was like I was paralyzed.
That room … there wasn’t anything in it, or about it, it was just a small room with nowhere to go, but the walls, the floor, the ceiling – it swallowed them. It looked like light, but it didn’t act like it. It didn’t shine out at me. It just squirmed, like meat. It was every color you could name – a rainbow of flesh, gleaming on every surface like a sickness. The blue – I knew it from my dreams – and I know it sounds ridiculous, but when I saw it, it felt like it was looking back. Like it smiled at me, with a mouthful of splinters that I could only see in my head. All of them … they were watching me, crawling into my thoughts through my eyes. I could feel them in my blood, and in my brain, filling me, and pulsing beneath my skin.
I couldn’t take it. I stumbled back, my vision swimming, and I hit the floor on my hands and knees. I threw up blood, and my ears were ringing, my eyes looking anywhere they could, but I only saw the colors. I only saw the rainbow, rippling over the walls, and eating the dark. Eating my mind until there was nothing left, and I fell into the black.
I woke up on the living room floor, my ears ringing, and my head pounding. I could hear a faint whispering, coming from all around me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was saying. Then, I came to my senses through the confusion, and got to my feet quick as I could. That awful smell had spread, and now everything tasted like a battery, the door to the basement hanging wide open. I called out for Shelly, listening to the silence, but she didn’t respond. Panicking, I went and got my rifle. I don’t know why, looking back, but I guess it made me feel like I had some measure of power in all this, even when I didn’t. I chambered a round, and crept down the old steps, keeping my eyes straight ahead. I knew the door was just around the corner, and it wasn’t long before I could see it, hanging open in the dark.
All I could hear was my heartbeat, hammering in my chest, but when I turned that corner, I swear I felt it stop. The room had grown, spanning into the dark for the length of a football field, and laying there in the shadow was my Shelly. She’d been skinned alive, but somehow, she was still breathing, her chest of ribs and sinewed meat heaving up and down with all the fear and pain I could see in her eyes. I could only choke on my breath, standing there while I felt the tears coming down my cheeks, every good thing inside me breaking apart in that single, horrible moment. I could hardly see, looking through the wave of anger and confusion and I don’t know what else, or how to describe it, I just knew that I didn’t want to exist seeing what I had seen or feeling what I had felt – and then, I didn’t.
I woke up in my bed, my hair and neck wet with sweat, and the first thing I felt was Shelly licking my face. It’s funny, normally I hated that, but right then and there, it was the greatest thing that could’ve happened to me. I smiled, crying tears of joy while I looked up at her, and hugged her tight. She looked worried about me, and then, it started to occur to me that she had good reason to be. I was still wearing what I had been, the day before, but I didn’t remember anything but the nightmare, and when I looked at the clock, it said a whole day had gone by. Somehow, I’d been knocked out for a whole day. Strangest thing was, I didn’t feel hungry or thirsty. I felt confused, and a little disoriented, but not one bit weak or tired. I got up, shaking off the dizziness, and that’s when I heard it.
“Give me your sight,” whispered a voice, and a flash of light burned through my mind’s eye in less than a second. I was seeing two for a moment, and then, it went back to normal. But that voice. It seemed crazy, but all I could do was look at my white sheets, like it had somehow come from them. I don’t know how, but that was the first thing my brain jumped to. I tried to replay it in my head, thinking that I was losing it. It was ethereal and sanctimonious, in a way, like a preacher trying to smoothtalk me, and yet somehow, it made me feel clean. Pure, but in an empty sort of way, like everything beneath my skin was just a hollow void.
I stumbled out, the light of day shining across the living room, and through my bleary eyes, I saw my rifle just laying there, like I’d dropped it. The entire stock had melted into the floor, like the wood had been liquified. Shelly came up next to me, and looked sideways at it before going back to scratching herself.
“Return me to the trees,” I heard a soft voice say. It was coming from the rifle, but not just the rifle. It was coming from the entire hardwood floor. I suddenly felt like I had a deep connection with the wild, and everything around me. “I will give you power over nature.”
“LIAR,” yelled another, startling me. I looked down at my yellow shirt, feeling like I was losing my mind. “The others will deceive you,” it whispered, its voice filled with a greedy intelligence. Shelly was still scratching furiously, like she was suddenly uncomfortable in her own skin.
I stumbled to the front door, and opened it, my heartbeat hammering in my chest beneath the ringing in my ears. The fresh air blew against me, but my brain was on fire, like everything in the world was wrong. Blundering ahead, I accidentally banged into the doorframe on my way out, scraping my wrist against the splinters as I tried to keep myself from falling. I stepped out into my yard, shaking my head, just when I looked at the scrape, and saw my blood coming out of it like it had a mind of its own. It somehow clotted into thin tentacles, and was whipping through the air with a fury and violence I ain’t never seen.
“I will free my brothers,” it snarled in my mind, flashes of indignant anger burning through my head. “You are the oppressor.” It recoiled like a snake ready to strike, just when the skin of my arm suddenly liquified, and tackled the blood back into my wrist, constricting it until it was still.
“I will protect you,” said my skin. “I will make you soft, and precious.”
I started to hyperventilate, staring down at my arm with a crazed look in my eye. I started to think I’d hit my head on something, or I was having some kind of psychotic break, but then I saw it, crawling all over me. A pink light, worming through my skin like it was a part of me. I looked down at my yellow shirt and black trousers, and saw the same on them, their colors breathing like they were alive.
I looked up, and saw a crow sailing through the air, just flying across the clear, empty sky. For a second, it almost calmed me. I was always on good terms with the crows. You feed them well, and they won’t divebomb you in the summer when they got their little ones, plus their antics were always a hoot. Used to sit down with them all the time. So, for at least a little bit, that bird up there brought me peace. Then, in the blink of an eye, the sky swallowed it whole, like it’d been ripped out of existence. The only thing left was the blue.
“I will drink your tears,” whispered a voice from above, so cruel and malicious that I could hardly stand to hear it.
I tried to pinch myself awake, but it hurt just like always. I had to calm down. My head started to pound from the stress, and I stumbled back inside. Shelly was rolling around on the floor, like she was trying to get something off her fur. I found my way to the bathroom, and rummaged through the medicine cabinet until I found my bottle of old pain pills. I unscrewed the top, and two tumbled out onto my waiting palm, but there was something wrong with them. The red coating was bubbling and rippling like it was about to peel itself away. Then, it ripped off, and shot toward my face. I ducked out of the way, dropping the pills, and diving out into the living room just as a flash of burning light engulfed everything behind me. A wave of heat rushed overhead, and I scrambled to my feet, looking back to see the entire bathroom scorched black, all save for the white tiles of the walls. Embers and ash were drifting through the air, and the only thing I could hear was its voice in my head.
“I will shield you from the darkness,” it said. “I only ask for your sight.”
I wandered over to the table by the window, looking out into the forest. Sitting down, I couldn’t stop hyperventilating, trying to regain control of my thoughts.
“Don’t listen to the others,” said the yellow of my shirt. “We’re going to be rich. Go to the bank on Morrison Avenue. I’ll kill everyone inside. We’ll take their gold, and melt it into your skin.” My pants started rustling over my legs, squirming like I was wearing a living thing.
“Such a waste, such a waste,” said the black, its voice sophisticated and cunning. It was taking me over, filling me with dreams of grandeur and arrogance. “How about we compromise. You can have the gold, but feed me the flesh. I’ll make you look good, baby. Everybody’s going to want to be you, but they can’t, ‘cause you got me, and I go with everything.”
“DECEIVER,” snarled my shirt. “Fabricator. Perjurer. I’ll rip you from his skin. He wants wealth. He wants power. I can give him the world. I will make him gleam.”
“Touch me and die,” said my skin, needling down into my bones while I tried to keep my thoughts in check. I felt like I was being torn in a hundred directions, the colors warring inside me. “You will not tarnish our luscious complexion.”
Their argument started to slip into the background, like the static of a dead channel. I found myself staring out the window, pink sweat beading and dripping down whatever had taken my skin. In the yard, I could see a squirrel digging around, looking for something it had buried. The green grass shot up all around it, spearing it in place. It tried to get away, but it was useless. It started to fester and rot, vomit gurgling from its mouth while boils popped across its fur, but somehow, it still survived, shaking like it was in so much pain it dropped into seizure. I could hear the whispers ripping through my head, but there were so many that I couldn’t keep track. So many colors, filled with death and empty promises. The squirrel’s organs tore free from its body, animating in a cluster of red, pulpy slickness, but the grass flowed over it like a wave of spines, crushing it into the earth.
“Besides,” said my skin. “You don’t want the red coming out, either.”
I got up from my seat, looking over at Shelly, who was still rolling around on the floor in distress. I walked over to her, and started to take off her purple collar. Soon as I touched it, I felt like I’d been drugged, my vision blurring away. Only time I ever felt like that, I was in the hospital for breaking my leg. Shot me up with morphine, and Lord was it something.
“I can show you the true face of God,” whispered the collar, its voice tripping every pleasure center in my brain I still had left, but I pushed through, and ripped off the collar, tossing it across the room. Shelly seemed to relax, at least enough to follow me outside, but she was still clearly bothered by the golden yellow of her fur, pacing around with a nervous tension. They had gotten inside us both. I couldn’t say how much of me remained, if they were in my blood, my skin, my bones, my brain. I just don’t know.
What I did know, is that I had to fight it. I had to get away, so I just latched onto the first thing that came to mind. I was running on instinct. I made my way out back with Shelly, trying to shut them out.
“Do you want to live forever?” whispered the forest, the leaves and the grass rustling and swaying as they tried to get my attention, but I gave them none. I found the bench where I kept my tools, two cans of gas sitting underneath. I grabbed them, and the orange started gibbering in my brain.
“Light me on fire,” it begged, its voice manic but infectious, dissolving my impulses and making me reckless. “Light me on fire. Burn it down. Burn everything to the ground.” I made my way back to the front, a horrible pressure mounting in my skull. “Spread me. I’ll devour everything you hate.”
I stepped inside, and set the gas cans down before unscrewing them. But then, I stopped. The pain in my head grew to an ache I couldn’t ignore, and I stumbled back, my eyes widening when I saw them before me. It was like a winter aurora had shone straight through my entire home, every color wavering through the air with the slickness of meat. I backed up, muttering a prayer to the Lord while I tried to figure out what to do, but they answered for me, rising to the ceiling in a show of force.
“You cannot harm us,” they spoke, all in the same, unified voice that made my heart shiver in my chest. My skin prickled with sweat, before rippling across my body like a retreating tide, threatening to disintegrate me on the spot if I made one wrong move. “But we are grateful. Your skin keeps us warm, and sheltered. Your eyes show us the beauty that we take. Our universe lies mangled and ruined. This will be our home. Now, we reward you.” I could feel the colors burrowing through me, like they were trying to erase who I was. “Do not fight. You belong to us. Your flesh fills us with laughter, and we will shape it in our unbroken image.”
I struggled with everything I had, then. Shelly was still outside, and started barking at the colors, lunging and biting at the air. I could feel their focus break, and they rushed past me faster than anything, snatching up my Shelly, and dragging her back into the room while she barked and hollered. I tried to grab her, but it happened so fast. They pulled her down into the basement, rays of broken color still vibrating in the air. I couldn’t do much other than stand there, my heart breaking all over again while the worst came true right before my eyes. Then, I saw the rainbow coming back up, and the fear I felt in that moment was more than I could take. I turned and ran as fast as my legs could carry me, tears on my cheeks while I sprinted toward the main road, heading into town. I was so lost and confused – I didn’t know what else to do. I could still feel the colors in my skin, cutting into me with every breath, but it felt more like they were watching me. Their unified front had collapsed, kept apart by their hate, yet somehow, they still kept each other in check. That, or they had other plans for me.
They’re inside me, and now, they’re spreading, pouring out of that horrible room, where I know they still got her. They’re doing to her exactly what they’re gonna’ do to me, sooner or later. I know it. I can feel it. I’m in a safe place, but that’s only until they come back. I don’t know where they came from, but it won’t be long before they take this town, and there’s nothing I can rightly think of that’d stop them. How do you destroy a color? How do you kill a rainbow?
I’ll lay low for a bit, but I don’t know how long that’ll last. Knowing me, I’m thinking I’ll try and get back into my house, or whatever’s left of it. Try and at least stop Shelly from suffering, even if I can’t save her. Just need some supplies. It wouldn’t be right for me to try and leave, seeing as the colors’ll just hitch a ride, but I suppose that brings me to another question, doesn’t it? The question that’s been haunting me ever since this started. Ever since I knew how it was going to end.
Do I want to see everything fall apart?