A Touch of the Morbid. (Flash Fiction)

“Jessie, I…” Mort’s voice was a scalpel through the room’s silence and it startled him. But Jessie didn’t react. Her sleep was deep lately. And lengthy. She hardly seemed to be out of bed at all.

Mort snuggled close to her and inhaled the damp of her hair and scalp. Beneath that smell, or perhaps above it, he could smell himself. Stale sweat and earth still wept from his pores despite his evening shower.

“Jessie, I saw something today. Something’s going on. With Smith.” Mort draped his arm over her body. She was cold. He pulled the comforter tighter around their bodies and fought to go to sleep. But the smell of earth, of decomposition, pulled his mind back to what he had seen in the yard that afternoon.

Mort had spent the day helping Smith, their neighbor, with some manual labor. Jessie and Mort rented the second floor of Smith’s house, and he often asked for help with odd jobs. Things like mowing and raking. It was good work, and it was the kind of thing that a shut-in like Mort looked forward to.

“Holes. His yard was full of holes. I was helping to fill them in,” Mort sat up in bed. He stretched his arms above his head and yawned, which lead to a fit of coughing. The air in the room was musty, still and almost stifling. There was a slight odor of rot, something that didn’t belong to the piles of unwashed clothes on the bedroom floor. Mort wheezed and rattled, but Jessie didn’t stir.

Catching his breath, he continued: “And there was stuff in those holes, Jessie. Shapes that I know I’ve seen before. And when I asked Smith about it, he just said ‘Neighborhood dogs, Mort. They’re digging up my yard and burying their bones. Probably got half the city’s dead rodents in these holes.’ But Jessie I don’t think dogs dug those holes. They were too round, too straight.

“But I kept shoveling dirt in, even though I thought it funny that some dogs would have left the dirt in such polite piles. The dirt kept falling, but those shapes didn’t go away. They were bones alright. And dead things. But not rodents. Not vermin.” Mort put his hand on Jessie’s shoulder and squeezed. Her skin was clammy and stiff like the wax of an extinguished candle.

“Those things in the holes, they’re people Jessie. Kids, probably, judging from the size of the holes. And I know Smith’s got two kids, but I haven’t seen or heard them running around lately. God. What if he did something? Like murdered them.”

Mort moved his hand from Jessie’s shoulder to her cold neck, and onto the back of her head. He scratched her scalp with his fingers, tugged lightly on her auburn hair, and a clump of hair peeled away into his hand. She didn’t move. And he didn’t notice the blood, just like he didn’t notice her growing reek.

“If Smith… if something happened and Smith is responsible, well I’ll have to say something. I’ll have to call the police. I should have already said something. God, Jessie. We could be living above a murderer.”

Mort slid back under the comforter and pulled himself close to Jessie. He held her tightly, shivering from the cold contact of her body. Jessie’s body remained still. His breath stuttered as he leaned his mouth close to her ear.

“Jesus. Jessie, I’m scared.”

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