Gregory awakes one morning from uneasy dreams. It is a Sunday and light is slanting in through the bedroom window. He is sure that he has slept late. He looks around for his alarm clock but there is a stabbing pain behind his eyes and his gaze falls once more upon the window. The view is of rooftops and a grey sullen sky into which reach the bare winter limbs of trees. He watches the clouds and sounds start to emerge from within the house. He can hear the waterpipes. The immersion. His parents somewhere below.
It’s warm in his room. He is half in the sheets and half out and he feels a great weight upon his back. The pain in his eyes is in fact a uniform pain across his entire body that renders movement difficult. He tries to move his arms and legs but finds them oddly numbed. He closes his eyes and sighs and when he does so his throat feels thick and mucosal and he wonders if perhaps he’s coming down with something.
His head feels stuffy and there’s something muddled in his mind. He tries to recall last night. Vague memories begin to surface of the evening meal he shared with his parents. How he’d sat there sullenly eating and how he’d replied monosyllabically when they’d asked him of his day at school. He tries to recall what they ate. Salad leaves come to mind. Salad leaves in some kind of dressing. He starts to salivate at the thought of it. Then what happened? He remembers wanting to be anywhere but there at the table with them. He remembers the disgust he’d felt at the sound of their mouths masticating and the food that had dripped down his father’s chin. Afterwards his parents had fallen asleep in front of the television and he’d watched them slumped in their armchairs before retiring to his room. Lying in bed he’d had his collection of magazines out from under the mattress and had lost consciousness with his hands down his pants.
Funny that he can’t seem to feel his clothes now. He wonders if perhaps he slept naked. There’s something viscous around him. A wetness across the sheets. His muscles contract and he can feel a jellylike substance oozing beneath him. He looks down at the floor. Scattered across the carpet are his tracksuit trousers. His shirt. The discarded balls of his socks. His pants are there also but these are torn in two. Then there are his magazines. The lot of them flung across the floor. A trail of dried glistening slime is slathered across them and the cheap pulpy paper is starting to crinkle. His erstwhile favourite shots are wrinkled and diaphanous. Strange that when he looks at them they leave him cold and fail to elicit in him his usual feelings of arousal.
He hears movement from downstairs again and in a sudden panic that his parents might be coming up to check on him he attempts to reach down for the magazines but again finds his limbs oddly numb. He shifts his body and the wetness from before sucks loudly between his flesh. He tries to roll over but is unable to. Something is stopping him. Something attached to his back. He tries three or four times to right himself but each time there is a tapping against the wall and each time he sinks back wetly onto the bed.
He makes another futile attempt to reach out for the double page spreads across the floor but he is still paralysed. What could be causing it? Pins and needles from an uncomfortable sleeping position? He slept soundly enough and doesn’t remember once waking in the night. Perhaps he’s coming down with something far more serious than a cold. Something like locked in syndrome. He gasps at the thought of it. Tries to gasp at any rate. In fact no sound emanates. He becomes conscious of the same wetness around his mouth as on the sheets beneath him. He finds that he can move his lips but his tongue feels strange. Pitted and furry. Stranger still are the sharp and innumerable rows of teeth in his mouth.
Now as he lies there, pondering these odd oral developments last night’s dream starts to come back to him. In it he was in a chrysalid. There was a gluey resin covering his body that seemed to have originated in his groin. He couldn’t move and the membranous walls of the chrysalid were a thinly veined tissue of red. The sound around him was muffled as if he were submerged. There were long tentacles enwrapping him and feeding into his body. He looks down again at the magazines spread across the floor. All of them detail the same kind of scene. A circus of naked erect men stand around a nude kneeling woman. The woman in open mouthed ecstasy is dripping with their collected discharge. In the magazine on top of the pile she’s gripping a swollen member in each hand and the discharge covers her body. In another in much the same pose the woman is caressing herself as tattooed men ejaculate in her hair. In yet another her tongue is poised to take the discharge from a tip. The slime is becoming weblike as it dries and the pages are glued to the carpet in a viscous mess of semi opaque gelatinous fluid. He looks towards the window and then up at the ceiling and discovers that he can do this without seeming to move his neck. He scans the rest of the bedroom. Everything is in its place. His schoolbooks. His stereo. His pot plants. The tissues by the sink. It is only when his eyes are travelling back that he catches sight of an apparition in the mirror. A vermicular mass of slimy gleaming flesh. Light brown in colour. Quivering and punctate but for a glabrous lip encircling its lower extremities. It contracts and a great ripple runs the length of its body. Lathering secretions froth and pop beneath it. He screws his eyes shut. Perhaps he is still sleeping. Perhaps this is still a part of his chrysalid dream from which he is yet to awaken.
With trepidation he opens his eyes and only after some moments is he able to summon forth the courage to look back towards the mirror. The mass of flesh is still there. Light through the window glances across its stippled skin as it ripples and quivers. The froth continues to bubble beneath it and the longer he looks at it the more troubling its location in the room becomes. It is on the bed. The bed where he should rightly be. The sheets upon which it is spread are soaked through with wet bubbling slime and there are undulating watermarks on the sides of the mattress. Upon its back is a great shell. Brown and whorled and resting against the wall.
His eyes travel its length. All the way to its rear. To the tip of its slowly twitching tail. Back across the shell that reaches almost to the ceiling. At its front end there are four sets of tentacles. He stares at the two uppermost. They stare back at him. He shifts his gaze. The tentacles follow. His impulse is to run and he tries to move his legs but cannot. In fact each of his attempted movements is mirrored by the fleshy mass upon the bed. He recoils and the flesh recoils. He tries to back away and the great shell of the creature taps against the wall.
Footsteps sound on the stairs. He listens to them growing nearer and watches as the seething mass of froth beneath the fleshy body on the bed recommences. He hears then his mother’s voice. Calling out to him. Calling his name. Gregory. Saying that she’s bringing up a cup of tea. That he needs to get up because they’re going to see his grandmother today. He hears the footsteps upon the landing. Watches as the bubbles seethe and pop. His eyes dart towards the door. The handle starts to turn. He looks down at the magazines spread upon the floor. The sticky residue slathered across the bare breasts.
As the doorknob turns he is gripped by a sudden impulse. It comes to him so instinctively that he is barely conscious of what is happening. He starts to withdraw. A great sucking sound fills his ears. Sticky and sibilant. He sees a smoothly curved lip above him and then he is receding beneath it and can no longer see the door. Can no longer see the room. Everything is muffled. Some register of his mother’s scream reaches him but the sound is remote and everything seems distant to him now. He tries to picture his mother. He tries to picture his father. His sister. Yet the notions associated with these words start to loose definition. The fact of his being on a bed in a house becomes at first absurd and then incomprehensible. The wetness envelops him entirely and he doesn’t even remember what he’d been thinking about.
Instead he starts to dream of salad leaves.
Christopher Boon spent his formative years in a small village in rural Hertfordshire. He studied English at Manchester University and, upon graduating, worked for three years as an English teacher in Ogaki City, Japan. He now works as a teacher in southern France. He started working on his first novel, The Passing Of tHe Forms That We Have Loved, after his father died of oesophageal cancer in 2008 and whilst writing it his mother also succumbed to cancer. These experiences helped shape the novel.
The Passing Of The Forms That We Have Loved was published by époque press in September 2021 and can be ordered online via our bookshop here, or from all good bookshops.
About the short story featured here, Christopher states:
‘I’m not a great superhero fan, but there’s a scene in the 2002 Spiderman film in which Tobey Maguire involuntarily shoots a string of web silk from his wrist in the school canteen. It’s a thinly veiled metaphor for puberty. My Kafka-inspired story combines the concept of withdrawal with the theme of puberty. A teenage protagonist, waking up covered in a strange secretion, desperately tries to conceal it from his mother by withdrawing into himself and shutting her out of his life.’