Peter stretched his arms and legs, enjoying the comfort of the mattress. He rubbed his eyes and was unsurprised to find them encrusted with gunk. I must have needed that sleep, he thought. Been working too hard lately. Long hours and for what? Physical and mental exhaustion. He’d been running on empty for months. His performance was slipping. He wasn’t reaching his targets. But now, waking up after a restorative, invigorating sleep, Peter felt ready to jump out of bed and take on the world.
He reached for his mobile phone from the bedside table. He never set the alarm on Sundays but would usually wake up anyway – stupid body clock knew what time it was but not the day!
The phone was dead. No biggie; it could charge while he was in the shower. He threw back the duvet. A cloud of dust rose up and several spiders went scuttling for safety. Peter blinked. He checked the ceiling in case it had fallen in, but as far as he could see in the dim morning light, the ceiling was intact.
He swung his feet to the floor, instinctively seeking his carpet slippers. They were where he had left them but there were cobwebs forming an elastic mesh. Peter gasped and drew back his feet. Ugh. The spiders certainly had been busy while I slept, he thought. He would give the room a good going-over later. Day of rest, indeed!
He padded barefoot to the bathroom. There were cobwebs there too. He lifted the lid of the toilet and screamed. There was a rat, drowned, in the bottom of the bowl. The stench of foetid water reached out and struck him in the nose. Peter slammed the lid down. He flushed but nothing happened. There was no water in the cistern. Desperate, Peter urinated into the sink. He turned the taps to sluice it away but again there was no water. He’d have to call the landlord – when the phone was charged.
He went back to the bedroom and opened the curtains, disturbing more dust. The fabric crumbled in his hands, rotted through. Peter wiped his hands on his pyjamas. The windowpanes were grey with grime, too opaque for him to see the street.
He decided to get dressed and go out. He could eat at the local cafe and have a cheeky wash in their Gents. But every item of clothing he picked up, from the floor, from the drawers, from the wardrobe, was coated with mildew and mould. Little brown toadstools had colonised the carpet.
Revolted, Peter made his way downstairs. A couple of the treads snapped beneath his weight, snatching at his feet like the monsters of his childhood imagination. Peter clung to the handrail – also dusty – and gingerly reached the bottom. The house was shrouded in cobwebs, dust and mould. Surfaces glistened with the trails of wandering slugs. It was like the set of a haunted house movie.
I must still be dreaming, Peter thought. I must still be snug in bed, fast asleep…
Something squelched underfoot. In a corner, something chittered.
Peter opened the front door – with difficulty: the lock and bolts were rusted shut.
Acrid air assaulted his face. Where his quiet suburban street had been was now a desolate wasteland. The tarmac was cracked where pale, eldritch plants had thrust their way through. Of his neighbours’ houses only rubble remained, the ruins reclaimed by weeds and fungi.
In the distance, something huge sent a raucous cry to rend the sky. Smaller creatures, abominations of fur and scales, scurried through the undergrowth to escape what was on its way.
Peter clung to the doorpost for support.
Shit, he thought. How long was I asleep?