Crawling up the five steps to the apartment, Charles could feel his shoes slouching behind him. He could feel the laces snag on the sharp corners of the steps. Each time this occurred, the staircase would only reluctantly release the forlorn laces. A funny thought suddenly developed in the depths of Charles’ mind: what if I just let go. It would not be so hard to let the weight of his stubborn shoelaces allow him to fall. Albeit only five steps, the trick would simply be to not stand up.
As Charles stood, contemplating the willful demands of the staircase, a man surpassed him. The man, who must have been wearing something akin to velcro shoes, leapt up the staircase with puddles of sweat speckled on his forehead. As a mere afterthought the man turned back to Charles to inform him that he should tie up his laces.
Charles could only look down at his green and brown laces in embarrassment, the moment to fall was gone. So he shuffled to the side to put his laces in order.
When Charles neared the door of the apartment, a peculiar smell hung on his thin yet rampant nose hairs. He had not visited in weeks, and the inclination to turn around and leave pulled on him, like laces on a bristly staircase. Despite this, Charles reached for the keys in his pocket and unlocked the door.
As he entered, a perceptibly sour, yet musty smell could be seen oozing from the dark bathroom. Charles stepped away from the front door, and peered into the cavern, only to see that a spindle-like grime had coated the moist space. As he withdrew from the bathroom, Mont had curled himself around Charles’ feet. The cat meowed with a sense of relief, as Charles bent down to drag his fingers through the fur. Disentangling his feet from Mont’s furiously purring body, Charles stepped forward into the hallway.
It was the smell of meat that led Charles farther into the apartment. In the kitchen, plates were scattered on every surface, with indistinguishable food hiding beneath piles of paper and cough drop wrappers. The fridge was slightly ajar, allowing Charles to see the open containers of fat-free yogurt and sliced ham which seemingly winked back at him.
While looking into the fridge, Charles felt a rope of disgust tighten around his stomach as the smell of the uncovered steak hit him. A green mass had begun to engulf the festering meat, while maggots could be seen vehemently burrowing into the flesh. A light spray of sour milk had also been spread over the fridge’s writhing contents. Despite this evidence, Charles could not locate any remnants of a milk carton.
Before Charles could investigate further, Mont disturbed him by scratching at the bedroom door. Charles left the kitchen and turned down the hall to see that Mont’s paws were flecked with blood. In his impatience and frustration, the cat had splintered his nails right down to the blood vessels. By the look of the lined and peeling door, the cat had long been at it.
Charles’ eyes followed the many furrows that led up to the bronze doorknob. As his hand grasped the knob, a constricting sense of anxiety began to spread in his chest. The latch slid to the side, and Charles hesitantly opened the door. A waft of stale air rushed out to Charles as if he had released a soul eager to be forgotten.
Velvet drapes hid the small room from the greedy fingers of the outside world, where only a few rays of light kissed the dusty contents. Charles could see the shape of many a thing shrouded in the darkness, yet what drew him was the blanketed mound that rested on the bed.
Charles quietly began to step forward, but before he could place his foot farther into the room, Mont slithered through his legs and into the darkness. With this, the breath had caught in Charles’ lungs, almost refusing to leave the body.
As soon as Mont leapt up onto the bed he disappeared, molding with the dark shapes of the duvet. Straining to see, Charles stepped farther into the room, careful not to tread on the scattered pill bottles and shards of broken plates.
He was only a few steps away from the bed when he first heard the crunching sound. As Charles instinctively bent closer to the floor boards, the noise began to inch up his spine and tighten around his throat. Clutching his chest in an attempt to steady his bounding heart, Charles stepped closer to the shadowed mound.
Now that he was close enough to see, Charles’ breath escaped him in an icy rush. Mont was hunched beside the body, with his snout buried in the flesh. A veil of dread spread over Charles as the cat snapped at tendons, and licked the blood that drained from the body.
His mother’s flowery nightgown had been pushed aside to reveal the wrinkled skin beneath. Her wound was just above her hip, where Mont was beginning to scrape against the bone.
Charles stood thinking of what his mother would say if she could see this, after all those mundane years of feeding that ‘damn cat.’ Before Charles could do any valorous act, a tinkling sound began to reverberate from his pocket. It was his reminder to ramble off to work, as he had trouble remembering such things.
Looking around with only a hint of regret, Charles backed out of the room and headed for the front door. He could still hear the violent crunching as he turned the door knob and released the latch. At the main doors of the apartment building, Charles sheepishly held the door for an older couple. He hoped they would not discover the state in which he was leaving his poor mother.
Charles hurriedly began to descend the five steps, but as it had rained since his arrival, they were slick and perilous. In his haste, Charles missed the fourth step, and ungraciously plunged to the ground. Unfortunately no soul had noticed Charles’ fall, so he laid there for some time.
Perhaps, Charles thought, that this is how he should spend the remainder of his days. Reclining on the five steps of his mother’s apartment, watching the people stroll by. Charles’ alarm began to beckon once again, yet this time he reached into his pocket and removed the battery from his protesting phone.
He rested his head against the step, and closed his eyes, wondering what animal might come to devour him once he retired to the endless sleep.
Photograph by Mack Lamoureux