At first the hole was the diameter of a toothpick. I’d been clearing some books from the end table next to my bed when I noticed it. What caught my attention was the exactness of the circle- completely symmetrical, as if something from the other side had poked through somehow. After decelerating the gears of my imagination, I decided to “keep an eye on it” as my father would say after jerry-rigging a repair around the house. Three weeks later, the hole was bigger, about the size of a dime, asymmetrical with plaster dust spilled on the end table, clearly indicating something had been pushed through. I was a bit freaked out for a second but after calming down, I retrieved a small penlight from the drawer of the end table and looked inside the hole. Nothing. I’m not sure what I expected. I called my sister that night to get her take on the situation.
“ Are you sure it wasn’t there all along and you’re just imagining that it’s grown?”
“Thank you for invalidating my concerns. “
“From the inside. Something appears to have been carving out the hole.”
“Something? Have you looked inside?”
“Come over and look for yourself.”
“I’ll be right over.”
I poured myself a glass of wine to calm my nerves while I waited on my sister. She didn’t live too far away and at the time she was completing work on her doctorate in evolutionary biology so should there be any weird speciation goings on, she’d have an angle on it. This was my imagination in high gear again. I tried to talk myself back from the edge and then the doorbell rang.
My sister was stumped although she did concede that there was something to my worry. Little consolation, but it did motivate me to buy some steel wool and spackle from the hardware store the next day and cover up the hole. I’d touch up the paint when I had a chance, just to seal the deal and be done with the mystery. I figure, out of sight, out of mind. Silly me. The next day the hole was even bigger.
I had left work early that day. I knew there was something wrong before I even entered my apartment. The stench punched me in the face as soon as I got off the elevator. It was a cross between roasted garbage and rotten eggs that knotted at the back of the throat, expanded, and threatened to cut off the air supply. I had to retreat back into the elevator to catch my breath. Once I did, I covered my mouth and nose with my jacket. With reconstituted resolve, I made my way out of the elevator and moved toward my apartment door.
I made my way through the living room. The stench seemed to hang in the air and cling to the walls and was so bad I couldn’t think. Then it hit me- the hole! That was where the malodor seemed to be emanating from. My blood ran cold. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and texted 911 to my sister. She responded immediately.
“What’s going on? Are you alright?”
“Yes, just get over here fast. The stench…”
“You’re sounding muffled, is your phone…”
“I’m covering my mouth and nose,” I quickly yelled.
“I’ll be right there.”
In the meantime, I opened another window and checked the kitchen. Nothing. I retrieved a scarf from the closet to give to my sister for the smell. Then the doorbell rang.
“Oh my goodness,” she managed to say while coughing.
“Here, take this,” I said, handing her the scarf. She wrapped it around her face and I gestured for her to follow me to the bedroom. At the threshold, I scanned for the spackled-over hole near my end table. My stomach dropped. The hole was now a jagged-edged gaping wound in my wall about three feet wide As we got closer, I could see what appeared to be hair hanging out of it. There wasn’t that much of it but as I got closer I could see it resembled human hair. My sister frowned and walked into the living room. She had her cell phone out.
“I’m calling 911,” she said in the living room. And then she went into the hallway. I followed.
“And tell them what? There’s a mysterious hole in my wall and a stifling stench emanating from it?”
“Keep your voice down. It’s ringing,” she said as she pulled her jacket across her face because of the smell. I could tell she was scared because she always crosses her arms when she is scared.
“Hang up,” I said, “I have a better idea. We’ll go down to the firehouse around the corner and get some help. I don’t know what I’ll say, but it’s better than talking to some dispatcher sitting at a desk.”
“Alright,” she said, and hung up. With that I told her to wait for me in the lobby and that I had to get my jacket and my keys and I’d be right there.
The last thing I recall is looking for my keys in my apartment and a shadow behind me interrupting the light. I froze. My blood ran cold. I waited a second and then forced myself to turn around. Nothing. I made my way into the living room. What I saw there, I will never forget.
Seated on the sofa was a person, with the head and arms of a praying mantis, eating something. The torso and legs were definitely human. It looked up at me, as I slumped against the threshold.
“It seems I’ve developed an appetite for plaster,” it said, rising off the sofa. Suddenly, I was in the uncanny valley. Its mandibles were still working on the plaster, antennae moving in sync with every chew. I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out.
“I want to thank you so much for hosting my metamorphosis.”
About the author
James Kowalczyk was born and raised in Brooklyn but now lives in Northern California with his wife, two daughters, five fish, and four cats. He teaches English at the high school and college levels. His flash fiction and poetry has appeared in online as well as print publications.
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