American Putrefaction
rating: +12+x

Yesterday, it rained. It will rain again today.

Slick grass squelches underfoot, moistening his sneakers. Each blade rises perfectly to his ankle, green-clad soldiers saluting the titan in their midst. It crunches under his heel, or perhaps it was a cast-off piece of plastic. It does not matter to him, like whether the thunder in the distance means lightning or cars traversing concrete arteries. He turns his head 60 degrees left, and stares at the highway structure.

The colossal motorway is composed of two parts. Above, massive pillars hoist the elevated road above the wet ground, for the travelers who wish to make record time going nowhere. He wonders what would happen if someone swerved off and jumped the guardrail into oblivion. He knows the answer. Life would go on, same as it always has.

Below, in eternal shadow, the locals go about their business. The homeless set up camps, ever the intrepid tamers of the concrete jungle. He sometimes gives one a twenty if he has one in his wallet.

In his mind’s eye, he pictures one of the men he sees often. The man wears a faded band hoodie that’s slightly too big for him, and authentically worn jeans. He holds a cardboard sign, slightly damp from the rain. “Anything Helps,” our protagonist thinks it says. He ponders the difference between him and the other man and knows it’s smaller than he thinks.

He slips from his body, exiting out the mouth into the humid air that never really seems to go away. In the summer months, anything more than a brisk walk is like wading through amniotic fluid. Without a physical form, traversal is much easier.

He winds his way down the road, past cars and trees and houses. He sees people, doing the best that they can. He presses up against a window, and watches an older couple watch a sitcom.

Nobody has kids on this street. The thought saddens him, and just like that, his mind is drawn elsewhere.

He hovers inches above the asphalt, feet from a shipping container dozens of miles from its proper home. He hears the droning hum of the air conditioning unit, and yet he can’t seem to get any fresh air.

The supermarket complex spans a city block or two. The parking lot spans six. Where it begins and the road ends is anyone’s guess. Orbiter businesses, islands unto themselves, try to cash in on the gray sea traffic. A complex mesh of living interactions remains petrified, a trace of the true drifting around the false like perfume.

The supermarket itself takes up the majority of the building area, with hangers-on Frankensteined to the periphery in the same beige concrete. Pathways crisscross the installation like spiderwebs, running past steel fences and forever-closed doors in dark passageways. When he was a boy, he would fear being attacked in their confines. Now that he’s grown, he feels the fear dripping from the tiles themselves.

He doesn’t want to be here. His thoughts skate on the surface of the oil slick, flow with the runoff, and gurgle down the storm drain.

Past the manhole covers is where sensory input stops and the constructions of his mind begin. On bad days, he comes down to the dank pocket of black he’s built down there to think.

On worse days, he lays down in the subterranean pipes and lets the bile of the city anoint him as a concrete martyr. The ebb and flow of scummy water does not clean him. Rather, it gives him companionship.

Today, he goes deeper. It doesn’t matter why. Maybe it’s to get away. Maybe he doesn’t want to face reality again. Maybe he’s chasing that dream of not having to think but not having to die. In any case, he’s swimming. He’s swimming until his arms and legs and eventually his ego desert him. He doesn’t process the sickly-sweet smell until it’s already overpowering.

That’s where he finds it.

It’s cold and wet, but not in the way he’s used to. It’s a disgusting gray-green, leathery to the touch, and roughly shaped like an inverted teardrop. Purge fluid gathers at the bottom and drips ever so slowly. Rubbery tubes extend from its topside and trail up into the abyss, until they rendezvous with the underbelly of the city in fleshy terminals. It’s about the size of his fist, and yet it’s bigger than he can imagine.

It’s the manicured grass. It’s the overpass. It’s the supermarket and the parking lot. It’s not beating.

He doubles over and vomits on the grass.

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