Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
Whenever Gideon said something like “This is going to be fucking awesome” the end result was, inevitably, disaster. But that was ok. Aidan loved disaster.
So when Gideon showed up on that gleaming summer Thursday morning and asked if he wanted to do something, Aidan immediately said yes. The repetitive buzzing hum of the Arizona suburbs bothered him less when the boring reenactments of days prior were brokered with the faint illicitness of Gideon’s minor transgressions.
” Where are we headed?” Aidan asked, forgetfully adding “bitch” at the end of his question. Their skateboards rattled past the identical houses. The mailboxes tried out as extras for “The Persistence of Memory” in the morning sun.
“Swimming pools” Gideon didn’t look around at all . Just stared straight ahead at the indistinct scenery.
“Dude, fuck you didn’t say something? I don’t just wear bathing suits under my shorts.”
“We aren’t swimming.”
“Then what about pools?”
Gideon did a kick stop and then skated off, faster than Aidan could, without looking to see if he was following, without saying anything.
“God. Hate you, dude.” He sped up, chasing his friend’s rapidly disappearing frame.
They rode to the bus stop. When the bus came, late and already crowded, they shuffled in, slipping in between the crowd to maneuver to the back.
“Fucking hate riding the bus, man.” mumbled Aidan. “Ugh.”
“It was better before the routes got slashed to save money. They blame it on unions and pensions but that’s not it.”
“It’s this economy man.”
“It’s not the economy. Everybody says that. Like these bus driver pensions are going to bankrupt the whole world. Because retired bus drivers live a life of unimaginable luxury.”
“Right?” laughed Aidan.
“Dudes drove busses for like thirty years. Busses. For thirty years. And then they retire and then the company starts complaining about their pensions? Dude, they knew how much the pension was going to cost. And so did the bus drivers. That’s why they were bus drivers.”
“This economy though.”
“Hate it when people say that. Because the economy got messed up we should be fine with no pensions? No savings? No security? No jobs? Because why? Were those gifts, and
we should have been grateful? But the fucking rich white dudes on top — no offense –”
“None taken.” Aidan’s dad owned a construction business which had done quite well in the the housing boom. Now it was slowly going bankrupt and bleeding out. Most nights he fell asleep to the sounds of his dad’s beer cans opening. They sounded like gunshots or maybe distant storms.
“-they stay just as rich? Fuck that.”
The bus lurched out of a red light. Gideon looked around.
“Corner of Marx and Lenin ?”
“Intersection of icepick and Trotsky” he reached across the aisle and pulled the signal. “Ding.”
They had drifted into another section of suburbs. It looked exactly the same. The comfort of stranger’s subdivisions. Streetcars named Paxil.
“Now where?” he asked.
“Left for like, five minutes.”
They rode in silence, cars roaring past them. The sun continued rising.
They had turned down Elmore Avenue with its no outlet sign and neighborhood sign (“Shepperton Estates”) and Gideon pulled up on his skateboard. Before the two of them was a long, blank street of identical houses.
“This, motherfucker, this is what we are doing today. Every single house on this block was foreclosed. And every single one has a completely empty swimming pool.”
The houses stood, open and abandoned. Some had for sale signs still, crooked in the glaring light. Others had just given up, with dead front yards and empty driveways.
“They all have pools? When the fuck did everyone think they were rich enough to buy pools?”
“Middle class people got all fucked up on some crazy bullshit and thought they were noveu riche and shit. I saw this on some skate site. Dudes are going around the country, mapping abandoned areas. There are places in California where you can skate through like twenty miles of pools.”
“Fuck yeah, Great Recession.”
“Right? One other thing:”
They were skulking up the one driveway of the first house on the right. Aidan kept looking around, as if some crazy was going to come out screaming to get off his lawn but no. This was an ultra modern boom town after the boom. This was where the ghosts lived.
“In one of these houses, the whole family killed themselves, rather than leave the house. They were all found in the pool.”
“So, there’s that.”
They had waked into the first backyard. Everything was desolate yet almost seemed like it was paused, like if someone hit a button, life would start again.
But things weren’t paused. Things were stopped.
They skated through the swimming pools, gloriously empty. They jumped fences and ducked into unlocked back doors. They ran laughing through wrecked McMansions, walls ripped up from copper wiring being ripped out. They threw rocks into windows and heard the glass sing back symphonies of subprime hymns.
At the fifth house, the terminal point of the cul-de-sac, the rain came without warning. Raindrops like tiny wet bullets hit their still breathing bodies. They rushed from the edge of the drained swimming pool to the shelter of the overhang.
“Dude. I didn’t think it was supposed to rain?” Aidan asked.
Gideon had already pulled out his phone, staring intently into its screen. “No. It’s says no rain for the rest of the week.”
“It might be wrong.”
“I know but look,” he held out his phone, “it doesn’t even say it’s raining now.”
They watched the rain pelt the patio. Storms in the desert come on suddenly and seem to threaten to annihilate the entire world with their veracity. And then they vanish, never to be seem again. Aidan heard a sound over the rain and saw Gideon opening the sliding glass patio doors.
He stood outside and listened to the splashing and then heard Gideon call for him to come the fuck in. Immediately.
He came in. And stopped.
The interior of the home was untouched. Completely furnished. The kitchen fruit bowls teemed with apples and bananas and avocados and oranges. The refrigerator was open. All the shelves were filled with perishable food items. Cruelty free eggs and grass feed beef and almond milk. Pictures on the wall. A happy family. Smiling dad. Smiling kids. Smiling mom.
“I thought these were empty?”
“They are!” The panic twisted Gideon’s voice until his sentence rose almost an octave. “That site said this shit is empty!”
“I think the site might not be completely right here, man?” He was trying to keep his voice down but he still half shouted. He and Gideon were arrested last year when the cops found them smoking pot in the mall parking lot. They were both on probation. Things had been so awkward.
The real world of judges, lawyers, and probation officers pressed down with an unbelievable precision against his chest. “We have to get out, man. Somebody is obviously living here. We’re breaking and entering.”
“No, look, look man.” Was Gideon pulling out his phone? Was he launching Safari at a time like this? “Let me show you…”
“Oh my god.” Aidan whispered.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
“Someone is upstairs. Let’s get the fuck out.”
He turned and ran to the sliding glass door. Which was now closed. And locked. He could see the pool from where he was. It wasn’t empty anymore. The rain drops pounded into the shimmering water of the somehow full pool. Adirondack chairs with beach towels over the back encircled the pool. The towels had flamingoes on them.
“Can you fucking not be fucking intellectually disabled ” Gideon’s little sister had Down’s and he was hypersensitive about the r-word, “about this shit? Open it!”
Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
The noise was coming to the staircase.
“Not opening!” he hissed, “Not opening!”
Gideon pushed him aside and grabbed the door. Nothing happened. The door stayed closed.
The first stair croaked and groaned and creaked.
Gideon ran into the kitchen and grabbed a stool and hurled it at the door. Aidan covered his face and the stool bounced back and clattered on the tile floor.
“Fuck.” Gideon said. “Oh.”
And a body bounced down the staircase.
“Oh my god.”
The body barely resembled a body. An essential part of its identifiable humanity was missing, in the same way deer on the side of road go from obviously being a dead deer on the side of the road to becoming increasingly swollen, distorted and then, finally, an unrecognizable burst red thing beside the median strip. A violent trace of history.
The body was wearing a blue dress with red flowers on it. It had been dead for a long time.
Water poured out its mouth and ears and the holes that used to be eyes. The water spread out and touched the stool which still rattled.
“Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” Aidan couldn’t tell if that was him or Gideon. Maybe it was both. Maybe it was something else speaking.
Another body clattered down the stairs. And then another. Then, finally, another. All were swollen and discolored, as if they had been underwater too long. He stared at a hand of one of the smaller bodies, the way the fingers were so wrinkled that it looked like a twisted up and dead grey flower petal.
And then the flower bloomed.
The hand moved.
The body stood up, hesitantly, awkwardly, like a tourist in the subway. Unsure of where to walk or perhaps even how, the thing moved side to side. Fetid waters gurgled out from its feet. It pushed limp and wet blonde hair, matted and foul smelling, away from its face. Whatever it used to be, it had long stopped being.
The other three bodies had risen. They leaked and squelched and moved with a hideous slowness. Aidan lost all sense of himself. He couldn’t turn and look at Gideon. Was he even alive anymore? Had he hit his head and bled out in an empty pool? Was this hell? Was this a desperate hallucination in his dying brain?
The drowned things surged, all at once, as if they had latched onto a secret undertow, and were being pulled by an invisible ocean. The bodies smelled of drowned cities and flooded worlds. They smelled of forgotten wet horrors.
The father thing brushed against him. He could smell it. He was touching it. The father thing’s body was full of water and collapsed with contact, like blackened and rotten fruit. It groaned. Water ran from his toothless mouth, down his ruined and twisted neck and onto Aidan’s Vans.
Somehow, the door had opened, and they left the house and walked out, past Gideon and Aidan and onto the patio. Watery trails followed them.
The two watched from the kitchen, in the shadow of the stainless steel refrigerator, in the valley of the Viking range, in the bosom of the god of the material world, as the parade of the dead reached the pool.
At the edge of the pool, the malformed pressed mutilated arms against deformed stumps. They stepped down, slowly, into the shallow end.
And they began to make the terrible noise.
The noise penetrated into the house and reverberated in Aidan’s ears. It was the sound of guilt. Of hunger, horror, fear, revulsion and nausea at the world. At their imitation of existence. The screaming sounded like something Aidan had heard before but he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember anything.
They walked into the water. The screams grew louder. The raindrops pounded into their faces, their cheeks. Chunks ripped off and splashed into the shallows. And then Aidan saw the change.
The deeper they went into the water, the more the decay faded from them. The boy had eyes again, instead of holes. The mother’s lips turned red from grey. The father’s torn and flooded clothes resembled khakis, an Oxford shirt. The girl was suddenly awkward and tall and possessor of an immense and awful sadness that there was never to be anything else.
The family moved into the pool and the waters rose into them. The waters poured into their open mouths. The screaming stopped as their mouths filled and they sank. Their arms and legs kicked, even after minutes underwater. The parents held the children down, when they tried to swim away and then – nothing. Bubbles stopped escaping from their mouths.
The screaming. Aidan finally recognized the screaming. It was the same noise he would make in his dreams. The dreams he always forgot about upon waking. The dreams where he died.
The rain had stopped, like it had never been. The patio was dry and glimmered in the desert heat. The pool was empty, as drained as it had been before. The family was gone.
Aidan finally looked at Gideon. Gideon was crying and he realized, surprised, that he was too.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here. Fuck this forever.”
Gideon’s words echoed over the broken tiles, through the empty house with its broken windows and cracked doors and giant aching holes on the walls where pictures should be of happy families, smiling for the camera.
Credit To – O.H. Manchester