Rot

Kindness is the beginning of the end.
Photo: Vlad Kazhan
Two tangerines rotting on a plate.

by Jack Dingwall

Elizabeth was walking through the woods on her way home from work when she came across a rotting corpse. It was lying in the shadows of the tree line, just off the forest trail. Elizabeth looked at it with pity, observed its filthy, torn clothes, its matted hair, its blackened teeth. And the corpse spoke to her.

I am in need, it hissed. These bones do not belong here in the mud and the muck. Bugs crawl into my eye sockets, and maggots eat at my flesh. I would like to once again be granted the dignity of resting in a house. Please, this I beg of you.

Elizabeth continued to stare at the poor thing. She thought of her own house, so big and empty, with drafty windows and floorboards that never seemed to settle. Maybe they would both be comfortable this way. She stooped low and scooped the corpse up in both of her arms, carrying it down the path as if it were her bride.

When they arrived at her house, she gently placed it on the front step so she could unlock her door. Inside was Elizabeth’s kitchen, small but well stocked. Beyond the kitchen, the house opened up to a grand living room with tall standing lamps, a plush carpet, and a large cushy armchair sitting by a fireplace. It was in this chair that Elizabeth placed the corpse before bending down to light a fire.

As the warm glow began to fill the room, Elizabeth returned to the corpse, slumped over and slackjawed in its chair. She pushed its torso up, so it sat in a reclining position. She closed its mouth, so it looked a little less ridiculous. Then, as an afterthought, she picked up its right leg, crossed it over the left one, and placed its hands on its lap.

Thank you. Your kindness and understanding have given me peace that I have not known in quite some time. But, now that I am resting in a chair, in a house, I am feeling much as I did when I was alive. I am quite hungry. Might you have some food to spare for this poor old bag of bones?

Elizabeth stopped for a second to consider. She had plenty of food, and she loved to cook, but what’s the use in cooking for a corpse? How could its rotted taste buds enjoy anything they encountered over the taste of death? Eventually, she made her way over to the fridge and dug out of the back a punnet of raspberries that were starting to look a little squishy anyway.

She brought them back to the corpse hesitantly, unsure how to go about it. She slowly reached one hand out to the corpse’s face and opened its jaws once more. Then, she grabbed a handful of berries and gently placed them in the corpse’s mouth. As soon as the berries touched its teeth, it came alive, devouring them with nothing less than unrestrained ferocity.

Elizabeth made to pull her hand away but before she could, the corpse grabbed her wrist tightly. It brought her hand back to its mouth, and its swollen tongue began to lap at her fingers, licking away any remaining juice and pulp from the berries. When it was satisfied, it let go of Elizabeth and dropped its hand to its side, inert once again.

I thank you for the second time. I am quite tired. I will rest now.

And so, it sat there silently.

Elizabeth, feeling rather overwhelmed by it all, climbed the wooden steps that led upstairs and went straight to bed.

The next day, when Elizabeth awoke, she went straight down to check on the corpse. It was sitting in its chair in the same position she had left it in the night before. She eyed it cautiously, as if it might come alive again, but it just sat there. Then she noticed that the chair beneath it had changed; there was a large dark splotch right underneath the corpse, as if the chair was rotting.

She got to work making breakfast, eggs and bacon. No sooner than the food started to bubble and sizzle in the pan, the corpse spoke up again.

Is that food you are making, my dear?

“Yeah,” she called back, “just my breakfast.”

It looks so delicious. Would you mind terribly if I partook as well?

Elizabeth looked down at the eggs and bacon in her pan, made just how she liked them. She sighed. She dumped them out onto a plate and retrieved a fork, walking over to the corpse. This time, she knew what to expect when she put the first bit of egg into its mouth. It chewed so carelessly that it kept crunching down on the fork as well. Once the last piece of bacon was gone, Elizabeth went to make herself more, expecting the corpse to remain idle now that it had eaten.

She had just cracked a new egg into the pan when it spoke again.

More.

“Excuse me?”

More, I need more.

Elizabeth stared at the food. She was hungry. But she served up another round of food anyway. That couldn’t satisfy the corpse either. The corpse kept demanding food until there were no eggs and bacon left at all. It asked what else was in the fridge. Each food item she named, it demanded for itself. Leftover pasta, unopened quarts of yogurt, luncheon meats, a stick of butter. As it ate, the dark rot beneath it began to grow, working its way down the chair and into the floor below it. Once the fridge was empty, it asked about the pantry. Elizabeth’s stomach was growling with hunger, but she knew the corpse had gone without food much longer than she. So, she continued to feed it cans of tuna, tomato soup, a jar of peanut butter. The corpse downed all of it with the same disregard for decorum.

Finally, the corpse had just finished licking the last drops of a jar of honey when it once again wailed more, MORE, and Elizabeth was forced to say, “But there isn’t any more. You ate all of it.” The corpse was silent for a long moment. Elizabeth was beginning to think it had settled down again; maybe it was satisfied. But it had more to ask of her.

Please my dear, after all those days sprawled so uncomfortably across the forest floor, I grew so very sore. I think if I were to simply have a hot bath, I would feel so much more like myself again.

Wearily, Elizabeth pushed her hunger aside and went upstairs to draw a bath with steaming water. She retrieved the corpse and was very careful not to bump its head as she brought it up to the bathroom. Gently, she laid it down in the tub. She turned the spout off and left to give it some privacy.

Back downstairs, Elizabeth spent a second examining the rot coming from the corpse’s chair. It had expanded, surrounding the chair, breaking down the living room carpet. It stank too, the smell of death thick in the air like a relentless fog. As she was examining, it grew even more, expanding outwards right before her eyes. It wouldn’t be long before there was no living room carpet left. Elizabeth didn’t know what to do.

In the kitchen, there were drops and bits of food on the floor from her rush to get it all to the corpse’s mouth. She fished a rag out of the cupboard under her sink and began wiping the food away. She went back to the sink to wash the rag off but, when she turned the water on, the liquid that came out was as black as ink and carried the same rotting stench that the corpse was spreading all over her house.

With an inkling of what the problem might be, Elizabeth ran back upstairs as fast as she was able. She burst into the bathroom to find the corpse sitting in a tub full of the repulsive, black water. Pushing down her nausea, she plunged her arms into the mire and wrapped them around the corpse’s torso. She heaved its now waterlogged body out and slung it over her shoulder.

As she carried it downstairs, she saw the rot that had taken over her living room was now spreading through the pipes, leaving veins of foul grime crisscrossing across her walls, fattening by the second.

She stumbled down the last few steps and dragged the bloated corpse back to the husk of her living room so she could throw it into what was left of the armchair. She stood staring at the corpse, wondering how she could have let it go this far. She was just so lonely. And the corpse had looked so sad. She couldn’t help but give it everything it asked for. And, of course, it asked for more.

Cold. I grow cold. The first night I was here, you so lovingly lit a fire for me. Do you think you would be able to light it once more?

Elizabeth wasn’t even sure she could. All the firewood was rotted, and the fireplace had sunken in on itself, crumpled like a discarded wrapper. But she placed new logs where she could squeeze them in and struck a match. To her surprise, it caught almost instantly. The corpse let out a noise, like a contented sigh, though Elizabeth could feel no heat coming from the fire. Elizabeth collapsed onto the decomposing floor, hungry, exhausted, and soaking wet. She lay there, staring up at her ceiling as her house wasted away around her.

My dear, spoke the corpse, it has been so long since my last meal. I feel hunger gnawing at my stomach even now. If you could spare som

“I don’t have any,” said Elizabeth, sitting up to look the corpse in the eye. “I have no more food.”

Well, in that case, might I have som

“I don’t have anything. There is nothing here for you anymore. You took everything.”

The corpse seemed to consider this. It sat still for a moment. Then, abruptly, it stood up and walked out of the house at a strange, jerking pace. On spindly, shaking limbs it walked back down the path and into the forest, leaving Elizabeth and her house behind. She didn’t have the energy to chase after it, or to call out to it. She didn’t even have the energy to stand up. She just sat there, on her living room floor, and waited for the rot to consume her as well.

Author bio:

Jack Dingwall grew up in Lakeside, Ontario, a town so small it didn’t even have a gas station. A horror lover, Jack has many morbid fascinations. When he was 13, he wrote his first horror short about a family being eaten alive by a demon. He currently attends Algonquin College and resides in Ottawa despite not being able to tolerate cold weather.

Rot” will be featured in By the Fire: Tales from the Ashes, the upcoming fiction anthology to be published by Algonquin College Professional Writing students in spring 2024. Follow Spine Online on Facebook at facebook.com/ACprofessionalwritingprogram or Twitter/X @ourspineonline for updates on anthology launch dates and ordering information!

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