Being a recluse was unexpectedly easy.
A lot of buying and selling junk on the internet paid a good part of the rent. I sold short stories to magazines as much as I could, too. It was easy to write since my dreams were vivid and, consequently, branded into my mind’s retina. And it was therapeutic to get the images out. Even if I couldn’t do anything about the things I dreamed, I could at least do this. I could tell people what I saw. Maybe they’d be more careful. At any rate, I was getting paid.
I managed four years alone by emailing and dealing with the mailman through the door. I took vitamins, did yoga and kept the apartment filled with sunlight as much as possible- vitamin D prevents jaundice. I had a very strong interest in staying indoors. I was not getting sick if I could help it.
And then I was surprised to find a craving for real human interaction. It sat as a confusing tension in my shoulders and, despite all my studying and self-administered therapy, it grew into a sleep-disrupting anxiety in my limbs.
I did my best to ignore it. I had pets. I was fine.
My pets and plants passed peacefully each time. That I never saw it coming made them nice company while they lived.
In the end the goldfish and hamsters just weren’t cutting it. Four years was my limit. I was going to have to leave my apartment.
The night I made that decision I dreamed. It shook me as though it were the first time.
His hair is little more than soot permanently fused to his head. Lips dry and cracked seem to be receding as they do on the dead. Where his teeth and gums are not missing or black with decay, blood hardly brighter than the rot drips and congeals. His jaw is slack, like the muscles simply couldn’t hold any longer. Writhing slowly in his mouth, his tongue moves as though it, at least, it alone hasn’t lost hope of escape. It is swollen and split deep down the middle. Every push upward opens the rent so that it looks vaguely like the mouth of a sickly pale child crying out with blacked lips. A sore just on the inside of his cheek breaks fresh as the jaw opens wider in preparation for a compulsive swallow. He registers the slight change in the one sore. His eyelids creep lower over the course of several seconds making it appear as if plums sit in his eye sockets. The only real indication of life is the slight movement of the skin stretched thin across his ribs. It can only be his breathing.
My dream didn’t have the morbid surreality I was accustomed to. The air was cold and I gagged on the cloying sour musk of long unwashed male mixing with the acrid ammonia smell of a failing body. My feet stung from the frozen floor and I shivered as much from that as revulsion.
Death and destruction had kept me occupied for as long as I could remember, but I had never been so close to their handy work. For all my research, all the years of witnessing the worst representations of the pain of strangers and people near to me alike, I was completely unprepared to face tangible horror.