Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
The pungent, acrid smell permeated the old home that was now mine; I knew that the smell would fade with time, and that I would become accustomed to it as time went on. It was a beautiful little two-story Victorian home in the heart of a small historic town in Virginia. With that being said, neighbors weren’t nearby. Therefore, I wasn’t bothered. I somewhat enjoyed the scent of the home, and was looking forward to learning about the history about the town.
I soon got to unpacking, eager to make the place feel more like home. After the death of my wife, my last home no longer felt like home, and only brought on painful memories. I only want to hide for a while; a few months, maybe a few years. I was hoping this place would do the trick.
It was getting close to 1 in the morning when I decided to relax for the rest of the night and leave the rest of the unpacking for the morning, and I sat down with a glass of wine, next to the fireplace. It was then that I heard the tapping. It was a slow, steady sound, almost as if something was hitting against the pipes down in the cellar. I’m not sure if it had been steady making the sound all day, or if it had just started. Now that it was calm and I was no longer dropping boxes or shoving furniture around, I could hear it distinctly.
I made note of where the sound was coming from down below, and then made my way to the cellar. The smell was even more potent down below due to the humidity; I worried at this point that the basement might be flooded due to the old pipes, and that the sound was from water leaking. I scurried down the basement stairs, clutching the railing on the way down, hoping that the old stairs wouldn’t give way.
I made it to the bottom, relieved to find that the floor was completely dry. I remembered that the pulley for the light was at the bottom of the staircase when I first viewed the home, so I reached for it. Dim light flooded the cellar, revealing an empty room, aside from the pipes, an old water heater, and a few wooden shelves along the wall. The smell of the old cellar was musty and old; it was the pungent smell of wood which had moistened and dried over many years.
I heard the tapping sound again, much louder now, reverberating against the pipes above. I searched the basement, only to discover a small chain, dangling from a hook, clanging against the pipes every time there was a gust of wind that blew from a small cellar window, which was opened. I closed the window, and pulled the chain down from the ceiling. The cellar went silent, and the air began to warm without the cool breeze from the open window.
I turned to head back upstairs, before something caught my eye. Along one of the shelves was a small, wooden cabinet, adorned with small onyx pull handles. I walked over, and opened the small doors. Inside, there was a beautiful stained glass box. It was rectangular in shape, and mostly red and purple. It looked to be an old jewelry box. It was particularly dusty, but with one swipe of my hand across the lid, the glass came clean, and the vibrant colors shone in the light.
I brought the box upstairs to clean it off, under running water. Dust had particularly collected at the bottom, regardless of the lid being closed at the time, which I found unusual. Once it was clean, I set it next to my desk. It was so colorful under my desk lamp, and it made me wonder why someone had left it there, and if the owner misses it now and wonders where it went. I pondered on how old it was, and if it had been passed down for many years. I finally headed to sleep at 2:15 AM that night, and fell asleep almost instantly.
I awoke the next morning very sore and not feeling rested at all, but rather feeling the effects of the hard work over the past few nights. I sat up, rubbing the back of my neck, and got up to retract the blinds. The sunlight shone bright through the window; it was then that I saw the little box again, gleaming in the sun. It was beautiful, and I couldn’t help but be absolutely mesmerized by it once again. I took a seat at my desk, and held the little box. It was clean, and almost perfect; it was free of almost all scratches. I was sitting, almost hypnotized by the little box in front of me, when a loud crash came from behind me. It was the sound of something crashing into my window, and it scared me to the extent where I dropped the box, letting it crash to the floor. It bounced off the carpet, undamaged, but left a small scrape on my leg in the process. I dashed to the window, and grimaced at the sight of the dead bird below.
I spent the rest of the day unpacking and decorating the house, after burying the bird out back, between two oak trees. I was exhausted by nightfall, and decided to head to sleep early. I was finally done emptying every box in the house, and it was still early, but I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life. I fell into a deep slumber, once again.
The aching, radiating pain was unbearable, and it was the first thing I woke up to in the morning. I pulled aside the covers, only to find the cut on my leg now red and inflamed. I felt the area, and it was hot to the touch. “Shit…” I mumbled to myself, “It must be getting infected.” I stumbled to the bathroom, and retrieved the rubbing alcohol from the cabinet. I soaked a few cotton balls in the alcohol, and gently swabbed the area. I wasn’t worried; I knew I had my tetanus vaccine recently. So, I resorted to wrapping the wound and resting for the day. I knew that old box had much dirt and dust in it when I found it, so there’s no doubt it got in the wound. I was relieved that the box wasn’t damaged. It was so beautiful, and I wanted to keep it from getting damaged. I laid down to rest that night, with my leg in less pain than it had been before.
I awoke the next morning to a very unfamiliar, putrid smell. I pulled the covers off of me, and choked at the sight of my leg, almost retching. The scratched area had now swollen and had turned a putrid, blue-grey color. What shocked me the most, though, was the fact that it was no longer painful at all. It was just there, on my leg, only about an inch or two in circumference. The tissue looked completely dead. I was hours from any hospital, and no doctor’s offices were open, as it was Sunday. I cleaned and dressed the wound the best that I could that night.
I awoke the next morning, and was shocked to find that the wound had grown in size significantly, now taking up a quarter of my leg. It oozed with any slight touch, and the smell of tissue decay from the site was overwhelming. I went to brush my teeth later that same morning, and felt something rolling about in my mouth. I opened my mouth wide, only to find a large molar sitting atop my tongue. I then noticed that my tongue was now a blue-grey color, the same rancid color of my leg. Afraid for my life, I headed to the hospital, knowing I could wait no longer – but not before I threw the little box in my bag.
Once I arrived, I sat quietly in the waiting room, silent with fear, while awaiting my turn with the doctor. I examined the skin around my nails; the skin was now fraying at the cuticles and pulling back. With a slight pull at the nail, it fell off. One more pull, and another fell off. They began to come out as if nothing was holding them together at all. I then looked to my arms, and watched as blood vessels began to slowly become visible behind the skin of my arms. I glanced up briefly before turning around, but something caught my attention in the reflection of the glass in front of me. I glanced back at my reflection, and saw my own face, now sunken in and riddled with a marbled appearance. I looked lifeless. And with this, I began to scream.
Doctors tended to me almost immediately, shocked at the state that I was now in. I was whisked away on the gurney, down the narrow halls, into a room with bright lights above me. They examined my leg, then my hands, and every inch of my body. Then came the needles; I became a human pincushion, with lines of red streaming from my body. Vials of my blood were taken away, in order to be tested. Words like “sepsis”, “necrosis”, “hemorrhagic”, and “debridement” were exchanged between doctors, interns, and nurses alike. I was taken in for an MRI, and biopsies were taken from my wound, before I was finally reeled back into my room and left to rest.
It was a little under two hours later, when a single doctor from the group walked into the room, and pulled up a chair, staring at his paperwork, and only slipping glances my way. He seemed frightened, which frightened me. “I don’t really know how to tell you this so that you’ll understand….” he trailed off, “…because I don’t understand it myself.” I looked towards him, shaking, wanting him to continue, and afraid for my life. “Your body is breaking down your red blood cells at a rapid rate, causing you to have this…appearance. We tested your blood for viruses, any virus at all, and it came up clear. There are no signs of cancer or any tumors at all, and you don’t have a fever. In fact…your temperature is very low.” The doctor cleared his throat, as I looked on in bewilderment. “Your body is also releasing gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide, which, in these levels, are really only characterized…..with the decomposition of the entire human body. I…can’t explain how you are alive right now.”
The doctor returned his gaze to mine. “Sir…have you any idea how this started?” Trembling, I pointed across the room. “That…that box” I told him, my voice quavering. He walked over, picked it up, and brought it back to me. “This?” he asked. He opened the lid. There was now a small piece of newspaper clipping inside of it. “Is this yours?” he asked, while handing it over to me. I shook my head no, knowing full well that it had not been there when I had originally found the box. I took the clipping from him, and opened it slowly. “MAN FALLS DOWN STAIRS AND BREAKS LEG; IS LEFT TO SUFFER AND FOUND DEAD BY FAMILY ONE MONTH LATER”, the heading said. Underneath the heading was a photograph of the man, and beside the man, was a photo of the house I now lived in. The story told how the man, Steven Cascio, had fallen and suffered a compound fracture in his left leg; since he was old frail, he was unable to gain enough strength to get back up the stairs, and died slowly, with his cries for help left unheard. He had been alive for at least four days before he died due to blood loss and infection. His family, who became worried about him, had found him in advanced stages of decomposition. Due to the state of his body, his family opted for cremation.
It was then that I knew what the dust at the bottom of the small box was.
It has now been almost one month, and I just keep rotting in this hospital bed. I can’t even remember the last day I had a pulse.
Credit To – Vacantia